Crisis of Confidence — Why People Think Your New Idea Is Scary and What To Do About It

For most Americans, every April brings a certain sense of dread as the tax filing deadline looms. There are few things more intimidating than a tax code that’s thousands of pages long. Luckily, the tax filing app, Turbotax, does a great job of replacing this fear with confidence by removing ambiguity, giving control, and providing education for it’s users. And it’s a good thing, too. Fudge some arithmetic, and you could be subject to an audit by the IRS and ultimately prosecuted for tax fraud. Yikes. Not only are the stakes high, but the rules of the game are obtuse to say the least. Practically no one using Turbotax understands the tax code, so Turbotax really has its work cut out for it when it tries to replace that overwhelming fear with confidence.

Turbotax takes this fear dynamic so seriously that it actually begins its tax filing tutorial with an emotional check-in, asking its users how they’re feeling before they get started. Just by acknowledging that the people using their software might be a little bit nervous, Turbotax is letting its users know that it’s there for them. Next, Turbotax very clearly suggests to its users the most common path to filling out tax returns, but it very clearly lets them know that they can go back to any step at any point, so they don’t need to worry about getting the answers absolutely perfect the first time. Each step along the way is clearly marked and its completion celebrated. Finally, Turbotax offers tax experts to help with any questions. An explanation about a confusing tax rule is just a tap away. They’ve truly created a system of education on demand.

While filing taxes is an extreme example, the truth is every new thing we design creates a crisis of confidence for our users. New things always come with a bit of fear. Your users might have some idea of what to expect, but you can’t really say for sure. As designers and innovators, we need to be aware of this initial fear and work to counteract it. Instead of trepidation, we need to instill in our users a feeling of confidence. This confidence will give them the will to move forward through the experience and is a key ingredient to make sure they love what you’ve created.

All the Feels — Designing for Emotion

The man needed to go to the store, so he drove to the store and got what he needed. 

Pretty boring story, right? But it is, in fact, a story. It has a hero. It has a beginning, middle, and end. It even has a challenge that the hero overcomes. But it’s awfully boring. So what’s the deal here? What’s missing? Just like with anything in life, stories can come in all sorts of varieties. Some are unbelievably compelling, and some, like the one above, leave a lot to be desired.

Great stories take us on an emotional journey. The not-so-exciting story of the man and his epic quest to get to the store is entirely devoid of any emotion. It’s dry as a bone. But it’s also simple. And simple is good, right? Shouldn’t all designs be as simple as possible? Isn’t it the simplicity that everyone loves about Apple products? Well… kind of. Simplicity is a crucial, but not sufficient. Great designs also have to evoke emotions. What if we were to tell you that the man in the story above was actually a father going to pick up a puppy for his daughter for her birthday, and he hadn’t seen her in six months? Your emotions would start kicking in a little more.

The Power of Conflict — How Musk, Jobs, Disney, and Ray Dalio Fight Failure


Have you ever noticed that pretty much every superhero has experienced some sort of terrible trauma before they transformed into someone extraordinary? Ironman was kidnapped. Batman saw his parents murdered. Ditto for Wonder Woman’s aunt and Spiderman’s uncle. This kind of transformational trauma seems to happen in the real world too. Some of the greatest innovators of all time faced major failure in their careers.

Evolving towards greatness — 3 habits to find the right path

SpaceX LandingPhoto by SpaceX via Unsplash

When you look for innovation inspiration, it’s natural to look at others that have been successful.  Netflix, Google, Disney, SpaceX, and more have all risen to the tops of their industries by producing innovation after innovation.  And while it’s exciting when Google announces that they’ve developed an assistant that can make phone calls to schedule appointments for you and pass as a real person, it can also be somewhat deflating.  Of course Google can do that. They have billions of dollars and 80,000 employees.  How could little ol’ me ever hope to do something like that?

Fortunately there’s hope. None of these companies started off with a billion dollars.  And even though they’re all in different industries, there’s one thing they all did from the very beginning.  They learned how to evolve. Rather than come up with one big “disruptive” idea over night, they found success through evolution.  By starting small and then taking one small step at a time, they got better and better.

It’s one thing, though, to commit to making small continuous change, but it’s another thing entirely to know what to change or how to change it.  Without any kind of direction, you’ll wind up in an endless spiral. Fortunately there are three tried-and-true methods for finding what to change: feedback, retrospectives, and research.  Through these methods you can ensure that your changes are taking you in the right direction, setting your organization on the path of true evolution.

The Biggest Factor in Brand Loyalty You’re Overlooking

Simba or Hamlet.pngLeft Photo by Hans Veth via Unsplash Right Photo by Phil Kalina via Flickr CC

Most organizations define their brand through “Brand Guidelines.” While these are a step in the right direction, they just aren’t enough to create a brand that people love. Just look at the name “Brand Guidelines.” Would you think that has anything to do with how team members interact within the organization? Nope. Does that name even really imply injecting emotion into your designs? Not really. The word “brand” itself has a connotation of an assumed visage, a mask. Most of the time, these guidelines are just seen as a marketing effort to make sure that the visual aspects of our designs and ads are consistent (Our color hex code is #2196F3, not #1E88E5. Can you please change the text to match that color?) This not only continues to perpetuate the myth that design is only about the visual elements, but also does nothing to help us create truly unforgettable experiences for our customers.

People don’t fall in love with brands because of their color scheme. People fall in love with brands because they think of brands as, well, people. When you meet a new person, you make all kinds of judgments about whether this person is going to be just a casual acquaintance or a friend for life. But more important than aesthetics is their personality.

Kaizen — How One Little Word Can Change the World

The Lean Startup. Lean Manufacturing. Six Sigma. If you’re a student of entrepreneurship and organizational efficacy, you know there’s one principle that has been the key to success for thousands of companies — Kaizen. But if you’re like most people, you probably haven’t heard of Kaizen. That’s because Kaizen is actually a Japanese word that literally means “improvement,” but today most people use it to mean “continuous improvement.”

How to Build Authentic Products

You hear lots of people talk about the importance of authenticity, but why is authenticity so critical for innovation? Well as it turns out, your users will treat their relationship to your innovation (and you, by extension) as they would any other personal relationship in their lives.  So, even though your innovation is most definitely not a person, your users will tend to think of it like one. They’ll think of it in terms of personality, and sometimes even gender!

As soon as we realize that our designs are being thought of as a personal relationship, authenticity becomes critical. We don’t like people in our personal life that are inauthentic, and our users won’t like products that are inauthentic. Your users are smart; they can tell when you’re being inauthentic.  Once they sense that you have a purpose other than what you purport it to be, they will lose their faith in you.

How to Think Like an Idealist

Idealist.pngPhoto by Tim Gouw via Unsplash

Feedback is absolutely essential to producing a successful innovation. Innovators and designers probably subject themselves to more feedback than just about anyone else. And while feedback is good for the product they’re creating, feedback can take a toll on the creator. Sure it’s truly great to discover what kinda sucks about what you’ve made. But hearing over and over again that what you’ve made isn’t all that great can wear on you. This is why innovators need to be resilient. They need to embrace the mindset of an idealist.

Idealists are strange folks. They’re relentlessly optimistic, but they’re not blind. Far from it. They’re keenly aware of all the imperfections in the world. Seeing so much wrong doesn’t get them down, though. Idealists are the kind of people that believe all problems are solvable. They’re both rationally unsatisfied and emotionally optimistic.

Maintaining this balance takes work, but there are three habits you can practice to help bolster your idealist mindset.

What Hollywood’s Best Directors Can Teach Us About Innovation

Director.pngPhoto by Jakob Owens via Unsplash

One of my favorite movie series of all time is Back to the Future. Back to the Future gets everything right. On a macro level, the story is about an ordinary kid that gets thrown into an extraordinary situation stuck 30 years in the past. He spends the rest of the movie trying to get home and along the way learns that “If you put your mind to it, you can accomplish anything.” But it’s not just the overall plot that makes Back to the Future great; it’s the thousand small details. During the opening scene as the camera pans across Doc Brown’s empty lab, you can hear the faint sound of a TV commercial in the background proclaiming that “October is inventory time at Statler Toyota.” Two movies later, as our hero finds himself in the Old West, he rides past a sign for “Honest” Joe Statler’s horse and buggy business, suggesting that the Statler family has been in the transportation industry for generations. These blink-and-you’ll-miss them moments demonstrate the filmmaker’s attention to detail and inspire the loyalty of countless fans like myself who watch these movies year after year.

Our Education System Is Preparing Us for Disappearing Jobs

Education SystemPhoto by NeONBRAND via Unsplash

With headlines like “Yes, the robots will steal our jobs” gracing the news almost every day, it’s time we face the facts: Our education system is preparing us for jobs that won’t exist in 10 years. Teachers, traders, and truck drivers are all in serious danger of seeing their jobs replaced with software from companies like Khan Academy, Robinhood, and Tesla. The world’s economy is undergoing its most radical shift since the Industrial Revolution. Our education system needs to keep up. Luckily, there is some hope. In the past, radical technological and economic changes were what drove changes in education. In fact, it was the Industrial Revolution that produced the system of education that we have today. But we have to keep changing; otherwise we’ll be stuck with a system perfect for the 1800s but woefully unequipped to prepare us for the 21st century.