Who pays? (1)

Who pays for what can have a dramatic effect on your work.

Infinite Demand

If what you do is free, and enough people like it, you have a situation of infinite (or as good as infinite) demand. This is fine if you can serve everyone – we all win. Digital products – this blog, things on youtube – are good examples. No-one misses out.

But if your capacity is limited, infinite demand is a problem. Who do you serve? If you could charge a bit more, could you serve more people?

We had a discussion about this today at the charity. ‘Free’ – or rather, ‘we pay’ – was our old model. It was great: we had a long waiting list, and we did good work. But we could only afford to train and equip about twenty teachers a year – on the good years when we didn’t have to shut down operations for a month or so in the summer because we had no cash.

A shift to ‘user pays cost’ (the cost of the materials that they receive, the food they eat during training) means that new users pay for themselves: we can serve as many people as we are physically able, rather than being limited to those we can afford to pay for. We can serve more people, and do more good.

A shift to ‘user pays cost and a bit’ means that we cover our overheads and start to have some space to play with – we can hire new people, invest in new resources that help us improve the quality of what we do, or hire new people to increase our capacity. We serve even more people, and do even more good.

But what about the people who really can’t afford to pay? Do we leave them behind? You might, if you’re not careful. A colleague challenged us about this in our meeting today.

We talked things through, and all agreed that everyone would lose out if we went back to free.

And we all agreed that we didn’t want those with the least to lose out the most.

Reducing our prices isn’t the answer – it makes little difference to those who have the resources to pay. and not enough of a difference to those who can’t.

Our solution: full-price, or free. We price our service at “cost and a bit, and a bit more” as standard – and offer one place in ten completely free – training, materials, meals – as a gift.

Steve Krug on Simplicity

The last of three posts on the themes of clarity, simplicity and focus – here’s Steve Krug from his incredibly helpful and practical Don’t Make Me Think:

“Don’t make me think!”

For as long as I can remember, I’ve been telling people that this is my first law of usability.

It’s the overriding principle – the ultimate tie breaker when deciding whether a design works or or it doesn’t. If you have room in your head for only one usability rule, make it this one.

For instance, it means that as far as is humanly possible, when I look at a Web page it should be self-evident. Obvious. Self-explanatory.

I should be able to “get it” – what it is and how to use it – without expending any effort thinking about it.

Think of it this way:

When I’m looking at a page that doesn’t make me think, all the thought balloons over my head say things like “OK, there’s the _____. And that’s a ____. And there’s the thing I want.”

But when I’m looking at a page that makes me think, all the thought balloons over my head have question marks in them.

When you’re creating a site, your job is to get rid of the question marks.

It comes back to clarity: to achieve what Krug describes you need to have absolute clarity about what your site is supposed to do, which is inseparable from who the user is and what they are looking for, as well as what you think they need .

Krug is particularly good at encouraging empathy with our users – we’re sunk without it. And without it, what would be the point?

It’s the same thing Zinsser says about writing, and the Heath Brothers about communication in general. And it’s true of any product or service.

Clarity. Simplicity. Focus.

Don’t make me think. Everything that could be easy, should be easy. So that I can spend my attention on the things that matter.

William Zinsser on Simplicity

Here are some excerpts from Zinsser’s ‘On Writing Well’, which I mentioned in yesterday’s post:

… the secret of good writing is to strip every sentence to its cleanest components. Every word that serves no function, every long word that could be a short word, every adverb that carries the same meaning that’s already in the verb, every passive construction that leaves the reader unsure of who is doing what – these are the thousand and one adulterants that weaken the strength of a sentence. And they usually occur in proportion to education and rank.

He’s right, of course… or mostly right (Zinsser concedes that there’s a place for well ornamented writing, as long as it’s well constructed)…

He goes on to ask how we can free our writing from clutter:

The answer is to clear our heads of clutter. Clear thinking becomes clear writing; one can’t exist without the other. It’s impossible for the muddy thinker to write good English. He may get away with it for a paragraph or two, but soon the reader will be lost, and there’s no sin so grave, for the reader will not easily be lured back.

Writers must therefore constantly ask: what am I trying to say. Surprisingly often they don’t know. Then they must look at what they have written and ask: have I said it? Is it clear to someone encountering the subject for the first time? If it’s not, some fuzz has worked its way into the machinery. The clear writer is someone clearheaded enough to see this stuff for what it is: fuzz.

Writing is hard work. A clear sentence is no accident. Very few sentences come out right the first time, or even the third time. Remember this in moments of despair. If you find that writing is hard, it’s because it is hard.

This is brilliant advice for writing, and as I read Zinssler I find myself applying what he says about words to my work as a whole. Where are the adulterants and the clutter? Where am I unclear about what I’m trying to do? How can I spot and remove the fuzz in the machinery?

Few pieces of important work come out right the first time, or even the third time. Remember this in moments of despair. If you find that changing things for the better is hard, it’s because it is hard.

And like good writing, it’s worth it.

 

Clarity. Simplicity. Focus.

I’ve been reminded about the importance of clarity and simplicity by three books in the last week:

  • Don’t Make Me Think, Steve Krug’s classic on web usability.
  • Made to Stick, Chip and Dan Heath’s great (so far) guide to how to make ideas memorable and impactful.
  • On Writing Well, William Zinsser’s brilliant and very funny book on… writing well. 

They all share a key message for communicators of any kind: be clear about your purpose, and keep things as simple as possible.

These ideas can help us improve any work that we do, and the rest of our lives too. Omit not just needless words, but needless activity, needless calories, needless consumption. Simplify. Focus. You’ll be amazed at how good you feel, and how much more you get done.

But simplicity and focus (like abstinence and diligence) are only virtues if applied to the right things in the right way, so clarity is key:

  • What do I want?
  • What am I trying to achieve?
  • Who is this for?
  • What makes this good?
  • What would make it better?
  • Why do people buy this from us?
  • What makes it worth it?
  • What will make people come back?
  • What is the contribution that only I can make?

A clear vision of what’s most important is the lens that makes it possible for us focus our energy, to decide what to do (what to think, even), and reduce clutter and friction enough that we have the time and the space to do it.

Clarity. Simplicity. Focus.

And now, it’s Friday night, and I have a clear vision of what it’s for: needless activity, needless calories, needless entertainment.

At the right times and in the right places, the needless is the one thing needful.

for any work that we do, and for our lives as a whole. Simplicity and focus are only virtues when applied to the right things: 

No Guru

I love gurus.

The feeling of hope and promise of new efficiency, productivity and meaning that a good one brings.

Insights. Ideas.

The catch is how easy it is to end up chasing the feeling and not the ideas.  Or to chase the ideas, and not the difference they might make. A weekly in-person meeting with your favourite guru would probably make you feel terrific, but it probably wouldn’t make a revolutionary difference to your project.

Focusing, making a good plan and putting in the hard yards – including the hard work of looking and thinking – and applying what you already know probably will.

Be your own guru.

 

 

One cigarette

Which smoke will kill you?

According to a load of research, smoking just one cigarette a day does almost half the damage of smoking a whole pack.

They expected the health risk of one cigarette to be five percent of the risk of smoking 20 (one divided by 20; this is true for lung cancer risk). But they found that men who lit up just one cigarette a day had 46 percent of the increased heart disease risk and 41 percent of the excess stroke risk associated with smoking a pack a day. For women, smoking one cigarette a day accounted for 31 percent of the heart disease risk and 34 percent of the stroke risk of smoking 20.

It’s not the cigarettes that’ll kill you – it’s the 80/20 rule!

Three things about this for our work:

– What are the things that we aim to cut down on that are killing us? Is it possible to cut them out all together?

– What activities are the opposite of these cigarettes – where it only takes a little to have a big positive impact on you and your colleagues?

– Back to air pollution. Breathing Jakarta’s air at the moment is something like smoking 1/6 of a cigarette a day (see Richard St Cyr’s excellent blog), which doesn’t sound too bad… Until realise that what we’re breathing is probably way more toxic than tabacco smoke. And that smoking the first cigarette takes you half way to twenty. #udarakita