How do successful people become successful?

I came across two articles that were of interest to me. One discussed whether talent is overrated, and the other discussed how learning can be improved through a change in mindset. I also read a book called Psychology of Flow.

Why are some people able to accomplish certain goals better than others?  Is it because of talent?  Or is it inherent ability?

According to Stanford psychologist, Carol Dweck, it is one’s outlook and attitude towards learning a task or concept that makes a big difference.  Attribution Theory, which examines people’s judgements on causes of events and behavior has  a big impact.  When someone fails at a task, is it attributed to a lack of ability or is attributed to something the person can control (e.g. environment, effort, etc.).

Learning to “master” a goal or concept is different than having “performance goals.”   When learning has “performance goals” attached to it, the person is less likely to take risks, and each task is a challenge to their self-concept.  Because the person becomes risk-adverse, experiences that will help them grow or flourish maybe ignored.  However, when trying to “master” a concept or task, people do not worry about failure and take the necessary risks, experiment and tinker with new approaches.   With a “mastery” mindset, the person believes that intelligence can grow and has a growth mindset, whereas, someone with “performance goals” may believe that intelligence is fixed and possess a fixed mindset.

The differences between a fixed and growth mindset are noticeable.  In a recent study, a group of Stanford undergrads with the growth mindset found it easier to transition to college life.

I read the book “Think Big,” by Ben Carson, who grew up in a poor neighborhood in Detroit.  His mother did not even have a High School education.  He grew up in a single family setting.  In the fifth grade, his classmates taunted him and called him stupid.  Currently, he is a neurosurgeon at Johns Hopkins University.  In his book, he mentioned how the majority of people are “surface skimmers,” people that engage in “performance mindset,” and looking to acquire adequate information in order to pass a test.  There is a minority, known as “in-depth learners,” who learn for the sake of acquiring knowledge and understanding, also known as people with a “mastery mindset.”  Dr. Carson was doing in-depth learning while many of his classmates were not.

With the growth mindset, in order to grow, one’s current abilities must be stretched beyond one’s current abilities.  This is called Deliberate Practice.   With sustained practice, that is how one grows.  It is certainly unpleasant because practicing an activity that is beyond one’s current abilities is quite mentally demanding, otherwise it becomes mindless.  In other words, Deliberate Practice must be repeated many times.  Feedback on results must be continuously available.  A teacher, mentor, coach, parent is vital for providing crucial feedback.  Deliberate Practice requires much focus and concentration, which makes it “deliberate.”  This growth activity must be hard because it is mentally demanding, it is difficult to be sustained for a long period of time.   Since this is a growth mindset, one needs to focus on their weaknesses.  Because if one only focuses on what they are good at, they already know how to do it well and one does not grow.

Isn’t work Deliberate Practice?  No, because it is typically mentally demanding and tiring, but it is not because of the intense focus and concentration, but rather engaging in activities that one already knows how to do and spending long hours doing this.

A fixed mindset sticks to what is safe and reliable, which is does not help one grow.  Engaging in Deliberate Practice makes it tempting to frame one’s mind into the fixed mindset.

To grow, successful people have immediate goals and long term goals.  The immediate goals are the activities that need to be completed today.  These goals are used as a stepping stone to whatever the long term goal maybe.  These goals must be exact not vague.

While performing a task, successful people have an excellent ability to self-regulate themselves.  When self-regulating oneself, one becomes engaged in metacongnition, which is thinking about one’s thinking and actions.  “What do I already know about this problem?” “If A is about X, what does B mean?”  An example is working out.  It can be painful especially if one pushes oneself to the max.  It is easy to think about other thoughts because it is painful.  But athletes would think about the specific muscle they are developing in their head.  Working out becomes as much as a physical challenge as it is a mental one.

Successful people after completing a task or activity, don’t simply think that their performance is merely good or okay.  They have specific goals and standards.

In one of Dweck’s experiments in 2002, Parents that praise their children for their intelligence rather than for effort, drained the children’s motivation.  The most disturbing aspect was 40% of the children who had their intelligence praised overstated their scores to peers, and made them lie.

To conclude, one must examine one’s mindset.  Does one have a fixed or growth mindset?  With a growth mindset, sustained Deliberate Practice that is mentally challenging and has a specific, measurable goal and can be performed with metacognition is essential to how successful people operate.  This experience may not be pleasant, but pushing oneself beyond one’s personal limits is so important.  It is easy to avoid these challenges, and that is what is endemic with a fixed mindset.

Engaging in Deliberate Practice also ensures one is in the state of Flow.  This is when one abilities and ones challenges simultaneously are it its optimal peak.  When one’s mind is in the state of Flow, there is a merging of action and awareness which people are so involved with what they are doing, they stop being aware of time.  Learning becomes an autotelic experience, which means that engaging in self-contained activity that has no expectation of future reward but by doing it is in itself enjoyable.

Ethics of Neuroenhancers

In some professions as well as in many schools, people are turning to using Adderall and Provigil pills in order to be competitive.   This becomes a moral and ethics issue.  Is it acceptable that students and society are turning to pills to improve performance? What is that saying about our society as a whole?

In April’s New Yorker magazine article, it mentioned that some drugs that are used to treat ADHD such as Ritalin, are being used as cognitive enhancers.  These pills are being taken by people in highly competitive environments such as colleges and highly competitive and high-pressure professions such as Management Consulting.

I have a friend who is currently in law school, which is a highly competitive environment because students are vying for the top 10% of their class.  She has told me that it is quite common for students to use Adderall and Ritalin.  She says people would combine these with energy drinks for-all nighters or to improve their concentration.  Since it is such a common practice, pills readily available either through buying these pills from other students or by diagnosing oneself as having ADHD.

This is a quote from one of the students who takes Adderall:

One of the most impressive features of being a student is how aware you are of a twenty-four-hour work cycle. When you conceive of what you have to do for school, it’s not in terms of nine to five but in terms of what you can physically do in a week while still achieving a variety of goals in a variety of realms—social, romantic, sexual, extracurricular, résumé-building, academic commitments.”

Since these pills are a common place, aren’t users afraid of side-effects?  Many students know other students who in their childhood took those drugs, and were diagnosed with ADHD, this minimizes the fear.

The market for neuroenhancers is staggering.  From students to working professionals to aging people who do not want to lose their memory to small children, so they can be placed in the best schools.  Sales of Provigil, a stimulant, known generically as modafinil used to treat narcolepsy, had increased tremendously from $196 million in 2002 to $980 million in 2008.

The New Yorker magazine gave an example of a professional poker player who uses both Provigil and Adderall to stay focussed for fourteen hours at a time for several days.

In 2002, there was a study done at Cambridge University.  60 young male volunteers were split into two groups:  one took placebos before performing some cognitive tests, and the others took modafinil. The test results showed that the subjects that took modafinil excelled in the cognitive tasks.

If one took these pills, then it would give one a competitive advantage over those who do not take these pills.  An argument from the article was taking these pills would extend work productivity, and help people’s memory as they age.  Another point was if other countries were permitting the use of those drugs, wouldn’t this put our country at a disadvantage?

I feel that taking an artificial pill as a neuroenhancer is a poor idea, it is because these pills contain Dopamine, which can lead to the addictions.  I do not want to live in a society where to survive daily, a pill needs to be taken.  If one’s country cannot compete in a given area, then change focus and innovate.  There are many potential areas to be developed.  On the other hand, if a student at school takes these pills, it puts the other students at a disadvantage.  Perhaps if it is so wide-spread, maybe drug testing maybe needed.

I want to know what you think.  Do you think it is ethical to rely on these pills in order for one to compete at school or at work?  Do you think companies that capitalize on this latent demand are ethical?

Designing better user experience

Have you ever had a poor user experience and thought to yourself, that you can improve this?   I usually keep a log of bad user experiences and make notes on how to improve design.  Here is a very interesting blog post by design firm, Adaptive Path. This sort of design thinking can be done by anyone.

The posting discussed five user experiences from visiting nursing homes; buying a car; making parking garages more people friendly; receiving medical care and improving personal energy consumption.

If I were to think of an example, it would be to redesign human interactions between sales staff and service staff at an automotive dealership.  Much too often, there is a strong emphasis on customer service for new or pre-owned vehicle sales.  The sales person has a vested interest to ensure that the customer receives the best service as possible in order to make a sale and make some commission off the transaction.  What happens to the after sales experience?

Automotive dealerships make more profit margin off the servicing of a vehicle than the selling of one.  It would make sense that the after-sales experience for the customer be enhanced, right?

Does the service advisor and technician know you as the customer?  I feel there is a huge contrast between the customer service from the sales staff versus the service staff.  Ensuring that loyal customers are willing to stay with the brand is easier than trying to conquest new ones.  Personal relationships drive customer loyalty.

If a customer were to purchase a new or pre-owned vehicle, I would let the customer choose their Service Advisor and Service Technician.  Websites and communities such as Yelp.com, where users rate and provide user-generated feedback on various facets of Dealership service would be essential.  Those two people along with the Sales Consultant are accountable for all service related issues for the duration of the ownership of the vehicle.  Follow-ups and reminders would be done by the three, as well as contributing to any discussions in an owner support forum provided by the Dealership.  A relationship would be forged between the owner and the three people.

Do you have any experiences to share?  Please share them and discuss how to make them better.  Let’s get a discussion started.

Ethnography and its uses in business

As we are becoming more of a mass customization and transformation-based economy, more and more business are looking to use ethnography in designing better customer experiences. In this article, Procter and Gamble, Google, and others are doing it.

For Google, it involves observing and videotaping how people search online.  A success story was when they observed how difficult it was to search for keywords for Chinese consumers.  A tool called “Google Suggest” was created, when a user types a few characters, the search engine suggests alternate or possible completed key terms.

For Procter & Gamble, Managers and even Senior Managers engage in “immersion research,” in order to spend time with consumers in their natural habitat – their home.  They try to understand what their customers’ aspirations, desires and needs are, as well as what the role of their products are in the consumers’ daily lives.  An example was when P&G launched a laundry detergent and it failed because of a lack of empathy for its Mexican consumers.  Using ethnography, a key insight was derived when they discovered the importance of seeing the laundry detergent’s foam to Mexican consumers, which their product lacked.

The case for developing empathy for customers is clear.  What are some methods of developing empathy for them?  According to this article, using ethnography to better understand the consumer is key.

In conducting an ethnography, watch their behavior around their natural habitat. What artifacts do they use?  How do they go about their daily chores? Why would the customers engage with a particular experience? How they go about engaging in this?

Pay close attention to the language they use.  People speak in metaphors.  Metaphors reveal much about the person’s attitudes and mood.  For example, some customers may view retirement as the beginning of a journey, and viewing everyday is living life to the fullest versus viewing retirement as the ending of a journey.  When conducting ethnography, try to videotape, voice record or even take photos.

When conducting these studies, there will be multiple personas that can be classified demographically and psychographically.  These can be utilized by two purposes.  One is to present these to the client or marketing department, so that the client and the marketing department understand who their target consumers are.  The other is to humanize the customers.  Give these personas names, behaviors and motivations, demographic information, identification of what keeps the consumer up at night, and statement about the person’s personality in their voice (e.g. “I’m a detail-oriented person, who appreciates and loves intricate designs”)

Currently, I’m involved in an ethnographic study.  Because of the economic downturn, many people are being laid-off.  My study is about what motivates and inspires people that are unemployed or under-employed while job searching.

How can Twitter be a viable marketing tool?

Is Twitter a viable marketing tool? Some argue in favor of it, and some argue against it.  I think it boils down to whether an interesting conversation can occur as a result of this. Are there interesting anecdotes that can be utilized to explain the brand story? Are businesses simply using social media for the sake of it? Upon further examination, the pluses and minuses of this approach will be discussed.

Some of the advantages of Twitter would be the design of the platform.  It is simple, scalable, and easy to develop APIs for Twitter.  These APIs are modular and can exist cross-platform.  This is also a “cloud” application, where storage of the information is not placed in the users’ computer, but on Twitter’s servers.  Mostly, the advantage is that people are able to organize around topics, events, companies and causes offline and online with real-time conversations surrounding these.  It is human nature to be curious to know what others are doing and thinking.  Twitter is also a viral platform for everyone’s content, and it provides context to people’s conversations.

On the other hand, some challenges for Twitter can include finding content that would be of interest to potential customers.  For example, if one’s client sold table salt, what content can be tweeted?  The target demographic, busy moms, probably do not have the time or the interest to follow a table salt company’s tweets.  It takes much time and energy for twitter campaigns, and in the end is it really worth it?  What meaningful conversations can come from 140 or less characters messages? With so many people tweeting, isn’t burdensome to read all of those tweets?

I think despite some of the challenges, twitter can be useful if the brand has a compelling story to tell.  Reaping rewards of Twitter for more mundane products/services (e.g. table salt or housecleaning) becomes a greater challenge for marketers.  If there is an exciting narrative that surrounds the brand, Twitter becomes an easier tool to utilize.

Using Twitter searchTinker and other search tools are very important to ascertain what people are saying about one’s brand; one’s industry; competitor products/services; brand’s product/services and the topics of conversations of one’s target market.  These could be complaints, compliments, uses of the product or service.  Also joining in the conversation between one’s company and the customer is very important.  A success story from this was when a customer was complaining about their Comcast Internet service.  This customer tweeted their complaint, and instantly, a Comcast customer care representative responded.   This built up relational capital between Comcast, that particular customer, current customers and any potential customers.  This example of quick customer service became viral across the internet.

Can Twitter’s business model be monetized?

twitter users.001

Twitter’s online growth has exploded last year. It is becoming more popularized with news organizations, celebrities, businesses and users. With the increase of users can Twitter’s existing business model be sustainable? Can it be monetized? This article from Wharton explained how the Twitter website increased its user base from 475,000 in February 2008 to over 7 million in February 2009.

Has this venture been monetizable?  It has not been so far.  Some of Wharton’s professors have argued that the service can be replicated by rivals such as Facebook, and question whether it is simply a fad (e.g. ICQ, Friendster and MySpace).

Part of its draw for marketers and celebrities is the ability to tap into conversations real-time, providing instant online commentary for an offline event and to join in conversations with consumers.  From a user standpoint, it is easy to track like-minded people, friends and celebrities.  Can data mining be used as a revenue model?  The social networks on twitter tend to be less meaningful than on Facebook or even MySpace, and thus, the information would be less value to marketers.  Facebook is a platform that contains more personal information about the user such as the conversations that surround the user’s offline and online activities (e.g. photo albums, interactive quizzes, etc.).

With the large increase in users, could Twitter charge for premium services such as being able to input more than 140 characters or even charging for advanced search options for twitter search?  There needs to be a balance between growth and earning profits.  Currently, the demographics for twitter are mostly with Generation X (people born between 1964 and 1979).  Compare that to Facebook, where much of the growth was with Generation Y (people born between 1980 to 1995), and it expanded to other age groups.  This clearly illustrates that Twitter’s growth maybe stunted.

I think there is money to be made with the development of the APIs.  As Twitter’s base expands, more developers will want to develop more applications for it.  As this occurs, the additional features will attract more users.  Once a critical mass is reached, Twitter can start to charge developers for making APIs on their platform.

What do you think?  Can you think of possible areas that Twitter can be monetizable?  Or do you think it is simply a fad?

Behavioral effects of Social Media Networking websites

Ever wonder why people post on the wall on Facebook rather than sending direct e-mail?  It is because people want to be visible and to be  recognized.  This is an example of online social grooming behavior.  Social grooming offline consists of exchanging pleasantries and small talk with people.  Social grooming amongst friends consists of checking-in (e.g. what’s up? what’s going on?, etc.)

On Facebook, there are applications such as online quizzes that reveal people’s interests to others, these are interactive, in which friends can comment and share the results to others.  These activities are mostly used by Generation Y as a way of self-expression.  The “about me” sections on Facebook and MySpace as well as the decoration of their profiles on MySpace are other examples of individuality and self-expression.  Generation X is the fastest growing demographic on Facebook, because of the need to reconnect to old acquaintances, and is driven by the curiosity about the status of former high school and college friends.  Gen Xers tend to use it as a social utility to communicate with the past versus Gen Yers who use it to strengthen with their current friends and acquaintances.

Ever wonder how some people on Facebook have over 500 friends? Is it even possible they have too many of them? It takes much mental computation to keep track of all of them.   There is a number called the Dunbar number, which states that most people cannot keep track more than 150 friends.  Even though we are more connected more than ever, it does not necessarily mean we have better connections with them. We continue to keep in contact with a select few number of friends.  According to this article in the Economist, the statistical breakdown for men versus women in the number of friends are the following:

Thus an average man—one with 120 friends—generally responds to the postings of only seven of those friends by leaving comments on the posting individual’s photos, status messages or “wall”. An average woman is slightly more sociable, responding to ten. When it comes to two-way communication such as e-mails or chats, the average man interacts with only four people and the average woman with six. Among those Facebook users with 500 friends, these numbers are somewhat higher, but not hugely so. Men leave comments for 17 friends, women for 26. Men communicate with ten, women with 16.

An issue that may arise is if one does not want to continue to communicate with some acquaintances  online on Facebook, MySpace and other social media networks or offline.  The difference between online and offline friend behavior, is that offline, meeting people occurs in a short period of time, afterwards, you may not see them again.   Online once you add a friend, “unfriending” them becomes politically onerous.