Notes from Kathy Sierra’s Business of Software 2009 conference presentation

I’m a huge Kathy Sierra fan, so I was delighted to have this chance to watch her speak. You’re better off watching this video of Kathy Sierra speaking at the 2009 Business of Software conference, but it’s an hour long, so if you’re in a rush you may find these notes useful – I took them while watching the video myself. Enjoy.

Kathy Sierra video

Kathy Sierra video notes

Before the purchase – sexy marketing material is aspirational.
After the purchase – help docs are not sexy, all about mastering the tools, not why you want to use them.
(Seems like Apple has mastered the post-purchase sexiness factor.)

misattribution of arousal – the brain can’t distinguish between something that caused a strong feeling and everything else around it, e.g. remembering music that played when something important happened in our lives.

Therefore, if you help someone have a great experience, YOU are linked to that great experience.

The more you learn about something, the richer your experience is with that thing.

You win when you create better users, not a better company / product / brand.

Word of obvious, not word of mouth. Don’t make users explain what they’re doing – make it obvious that they’re benefitting from your service / product. Make it obvious to others, and make it obvious to themselves. Get the user to upsell themselves.

Motivate users past the “suck zone” – get them to keep using the product even when it’s not pleasant / meaningful / awesome yet.
Kathy Sierra has discussed this before – find examples.

The superset game – make people better at the bigger, cooler thing that your product / service is a subset of. E.g. photography and self expression instead of just using your camera.

Make your user a superhero of your product / service. What would live on their shirt? E.g. Pivot Table Man.

Talk to the brain, not the mind.
Remember, it’s brain behavior (unintentional), not mind (intentions, goals). Lizard brain, not frontal lobes.
This is important because learning requires that we get past the (lizard) brain’s preference to only focus on fight / flight issues. Life-threatening issues.

“I will learn what I feel.”

What do people pay attention to?
– Emotions – fear, sexiness, etc.
– Cute things – babies, animals, etc.
– Faces.
– Narratives.
– Things that are unresolved.
– Anything out of the ordinary.
– Combo – cute things in trouble!

Brains prefer to conversation not formal.

1. Focus on what the user does, not what you do.
Don’t build a better X, build a better user of X. Alternative from Joel Spolsky: Help $typeOfUser be awesome at $action. If you focus on product you do too many features and disenfranchise users.
Not “what problem do we solve” but “what bigger cooler thing is enabled”.

2. Give users superpowers *quickly*.
Give them an 80 / 20 document – 10 important things as a newbie.

3. Offer better gear and help them justify it to others.

4. Motivate / inspire. Motivation is for things people want do do but don’t, e.g. using your product. What is the “stuck zone” that users are chilling in? This is the real reason they don’t upgrade – because they’re competent at the basic mode.
Make the right thing easy and the wrong thing difficult.
Peter Bregman –
Motivation comes from belonging to a group. What does it say about your user to be one of your users.

5. Make them smarter.
Exercise makes you smarter – oxygen to the brain.

6. Shrink the 10K hours (from Outliers)
– Show them the patterns.
– Shrink the hours.
– Help them practice while doing other things.
Bruce Wilcox – wrote an AI that could play go. As a result he became awesome at go.
– Make practicing the right thing sexy, fun – contests, games, etc.
– Include cognitive pleasures – thrill, discovery, etc. – look at game design.

7. Make your product / service reflect what the user really feels, e.g. lost / confused.
– Help & FAQ are not enough, b/c written for people who are in a good place.

8. Create a culture of user’s journey. The hero’s journey.
– Be the hero.
– Get people to ask and answer questions. No dumb questions AND no dumb answers. Recently-former-newbies are best for answering newbie questions.

9. Don’t insist on “inclusivity”. Passionate users talk different. Let top users be ass kickers and different. Don’t make them dumb it down.

Evolution of awesome: products -> referrals -> testimonials / benefits.
– “Look at this awesome thing I’m doing” -> “I’m awesome”

…and that’s it. Want more Kathy Sierra? Good luck – she’s disappeared again in what is a real tragedy, but I can’t blame her after everything she’s been through in the past few years. Fortunately, she’s kept the archive of her original blog, Creating Passionate Users, alive so you can find more great writing there.