Governor Jerry Brown, c1976: an approach to protest

I would be part of the entourage and we’d go to some public event… and there outside the event would be the usual protesters about one thing or another. And I’d find myself trying to get Jerry [Brown, Governor of California] in, and we’re all of us late, “Come on, let’s keep moving,” and then he’d see the protesters and he’d veer off and go over and talk to them.

And we’re rolling our eyes, but here’s how he’d talk to protesters: he’d go over to whoever it looked like was being a spokesman, maybe they had the loudhailer or something, and he’d say “Glad you’re here, what’s on your mind?”

And they would start to say their trip, and he would listen for a bit and he’d say, “I think I got it… let me see if I got it.” And then he would say back to them their stance, often better than they had stated it, and you’d see them just melt. Because the thing that they wanted to have happen was for him to be aware of their position, and to understand it, and he’d just shown that he’d done that.

And they had the further hope that since it was known that Jerry occasionally changed his mind and his policy on things, that not only had he heard their position, he might even adopt it at some point. And so he could always engage and diffuse opposition with the fact that he could be persuaded out of a position that he’d publicly taken.

He was not a good speaker, he was not a charismatic character for the longest time, basically an introvert in public life, and yet that characteristic as much as any other – he did a lot of policy, he was very bright and eventually a very capable politician – but that characteristic I think opened him up to a very successful political career.

Stewart Brand speaking on The Tim Ferris Show #281

Expectations: tell us what you do

We’re staying at a simple hotel in North Sulawesi.

The setting is idyllic.

Our hosts are unfailingly pleasant and helpful.

Good food is served three times a day, at regular times… plus or minus an hour.

Our room is cleaned… intermittently, and our bin emptied when we take it to reception ourselves.

We have lights, running water, and even air conditioning… until the power goes off around 7 a.m. each day, after which there’s intermittent generator power until the evening. There’s no coffeemaking or showering unless the power’s on.

All of these things are fine, and part of the fun – but for the first few days the uncertainty was inconvenient and uncomfortable.

Problems like this can be made to disappear with little effort, at no cost, and without changing anything. All it takes is communication and a bit of consistency:

  • “We serve breakfast at 7 a.m. daily. Lunch will be served between 12 and 1 p.m., depending on what time the dive boat gets back.”
  • “We will clean your room once every three days. If you need your bin emptied between times, please leave it at reception and collect it empty later in the day.”
  • “Because we’re on a small island, the power supply is unreliable after 7 a.m. A thermos of hot water will be available for making coffee, and we will run the generator during the heat of the day, from 11.30 a.m. to 3 p.m. for air conditioning. Mains power usually comes back on around 5 p.m.”

These could be shared with guests before booking, and again on arrival, so everyone knows what’s going on. No more questions to staff, no more confused or disgruntled guests.

Communicate clearly. Create the right expectations. Fulfill them. Everybody wins.

Expectations: flaw to feature

We decided to explore the garden before we ordered our food. The manager caught us just as we were starting down the path. He was apologetic:

“Excuse me… sorry… the food can take a long time to come at the restaurant – up to an hour after you order it. We suggest that you order first and then enjoy the garden while you wait.”

It was good advice. The food took about an hour to come, but the gardens were big and beautiful, so we had a good time waiting. And the food was worth the wait.

We were glad he caught us, too – with two young kids, it would have been one of those minor parenting catastrophes if we’d explored and then ordered and then had to wait.

I chatted to the manager later, and he explained that people often complained about this, but the thing was, their food was fresh, often picked-to-order, and cooked ‘homestyle’. Good food takes time.

The thing is, he didn’t need to apologise – he just needed to turn the slowness of the food slow from a flaw (and apparently one that he had to explain and apologise for to every guest) to a feature.

Not: “Sorry to inform you, but the food takes a long time to come here.”

Instead: “We serve slow food here. Good, wholesome, freshly picked food which takes time to prepare. If you prefer fast food, go to McDonald’s. Please order on arrival, and enjoy the gardens as you wait.”

Promote it on the website. Put up notices and point them out to people on arrival.

“This is what we do and how we do it, and why. You are welcome.”

Make the wait deliberate, part of the experience that everyone signs up to and enjoys, and you’ve turned slow service into selling point – an oasis of time to share with friends. You’ve made a restaurant that prepares you to enjoy your meal at the same time your meal is prepared for you.

You’ve turned a complaining guest into someone who’ll tell their friends about the fantastic time they had slowing down for an hour in your garden-oasis.

The Gardenia Country Inn is in Tomohon, North Sulawesi. Worth the trip, and worth the wait.

Learning between the lines

You can’t ever just teach one thing.

Whether we like it or not there’s always other stuff going on: we’re teaching what we think of our students, whether we value other people’s time or feelings, how we think we should speak to people, how a person might be in the world…

All the time – consciously or not, or both – teachers are sending messages about what it means to be at school, about what education is for, whether this stuff we’re learning is part of the thrill of a lifetime or a necessary chore.

We play a huge role in determining whether or not our students like school, and the qualities that we reward and emphasise – risk taking or obedience, creativity or following the script, delight or the humdrum, kindness or indifference or worse – shape our kids’ days and so – their futures.

As with so many things, what we do and how we do it speaks louder than what we say.

What are you teaching today?

What else will you be teaching?

Structure Counts: Information Architecture reading list and who’s who

I know almost nothing about Information Architecture, but I’ve been thinking a lot about structuring information recently.

Here’s the metaphor: Jacques Carelman‘s famous Coffee pot for Masochists.


See Impossible Objects at It’s Nice That


All the pieces are there, but it just. doesn’t. work.

We’ve all used badly put together tools, instruction manuals, software, doors. At best they’re slower and frustrate us. At worst, they cause us to lose out or harm us.

It’s the same with ideas. Whether we’re communicating simply to transfer knowledge or for emotional impact (your priorities may vary, but if you want to do either you really need to be doing both), the way they’re put together counts.

Let’s do a Zinnser on that last paragraph.

It’s the same with ideas: the way they’re put together counts. The structure of your ideas is crucial whether you’re communicating to transfer knowledge or to create an emotional impact, and really, if you’re serious about doing either you really need to be doing both.

Better? I think it’s a bit better. Must try harder.

So without further ado, here’s my Information Architecture Reading list:

Information Architecture: For the Web and Beyond, 4th Ed

 by Louis RosenfeldPeter Morville and Jorge Arango


Love that polar bear

The introduction and first chapter that are included in the kindle sample are pretty compelling, but I can’t find an short quotation from it that doesn’t make it sounds boring, so I won’t.

Oh okay, I think this bit is cool:

[The] abundance and pervasiveness [of information] makes our lives better in many ways, but it also introduces new challenges. With so much information available in so many places, it can sometimes be difficult to cut through the noise to find the information you need and understand it once you have found it.

Information architecture (IA) is a design discipline that is focused on making information findable and understandable. Because of this, it is uniquely well suited to address these challenges. IA allows us to think about problems through two important perspectives: that information products and services are perceived by people as places made of information, and that these information environments can be organised for optimum findability and understandability.

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It’s possible that I like this book because it makes me feel like I’m in the matrix.

Intertwingled: Information Changes Everything

by Peter Morville

Big in Japan:

I’ve started this, and referenced Peter before. I thought I’d shared a link to a talk about the book on youtube, but can’t find the post, so here it is:

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The Information: A History, a Theory,  a Flood

by James Gleick

So far: fascinating. Need to think more about it to say how it’s helped and changed my thinking – watch out for a future post.

Letting Go of the Words: Writing Web Content that Works 2nd Ed

by Ginny Redish

On the strength of the couple of chapters that Ginny shares for free on her website I paid £25 for this. It’s worth it for the first few chapters alone.

Don’t Make Me Think

by Steve Krug

It’s brilliant and funny. More from me about him here.

The Design of Everyday Things

by Don Norman

Look! It’s the coffee pot. This book is how I know about the coffee pot for masochists in the first place. It’s supposed to be brilliant, and it’s good so far.

Information: A Very Short Introduction

by Luciano Floridi

Stumbled across it on Amazon just now. Middling reviews, but Floridi directs a lab and straddles multiple chairs at Oxford; has well appointed office; wears tweed and high cheekbones). Might be a good starting point?

Two Websites

A Brief History of Information at The Register. At least one of my best tech friends reads this site often, so I expect this article is good. It’s on the list.

historyofinformation.com

HistoryofInformation.com is designed to help you follow the development of information and media, and attitudes about them, from the beginning of records to the near present. Containing annotated references to discoveries, developments of a socialscientific, or technological nature, as well as references to physical books, documents, artifactsart works, and to websites and other digital media, it arranges, both chronologically and thematically, selected historical examples and selected recent developments of the methods used to recorddistribute, exchange, organizestore, and search information. The database allows you to approach the topics in a wide variety of ways.

Pow.

Right, almost time to go – quit while you’re only five books behind and all that…

Surprise Bonus

Living in Information: Responsible Design for Digital Places

by Jorge Arango

This guy is supposed to be great, and I like the cover. He’s an actual (bricks and mortar) architect who became an information architect

(Information) literacy

Unlike “the three Rs” of reading, writing and arithmetic which are woven within the K-12 curriculum, information literacy falls through the cracks. It doesn’t fit into any one subject area, and teachers fail to include in class. And it’s an big problem, because the internet makes literacy more important, not less.

When I was a kid, I had a mom, a dad, and a single volume of the encyclopedia, and I trusted them to answer my questions. Now Google offers us billions of answers, but the difficult question is trust…

Evaluating accuracy, objectivity, currency and authority is easier said than done.

Peter MorvilleIntertwingled

This is good, and true, and important – and I recommend the book.

But it also misses a trick: what Peter Morville describes so well in Intertwingled mostly falls within the scope of a good definition of literacy.

There is no literacy that doesn’t involve managing information. I’ve described literacy as:

… being able to read with fluency and with critical understanding, and to write both to communicate and to think.

That’s concise, but these information skills – understanding structures and relationships within and between pieces of information, and deconstructing or assembling them in a way that suits your purpose  – are key components of critical understanding, and of communicating.

We might need to extend the concepts of reading and writing to cover new skills, and the relative importance of organising information might have grown – but we should be teaching these skills wherever we’re teaching people to read and write.

And we always should have been, because they’ve always been vital.

Note to self

Writing is a great tool for sharing ideas with other people.

It’s been dawning on me over the last few days that one of the people I’m communicating with is me.

When you take the time to record something accurately, or to express something clearly, or to reference carefully, it’s often a gift to your future self.

So do it often and well – chances are, you’ll thank yourself for it.