December 31, 2013

My Favorite Books of 2013

Filed under: Book Review,Girl Gets Geeky,Personal — Emily Reeves @ 10:25 am

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In 2012, I read 60 books and set my 2013 goal at 75. In 2013, I read 89 books (and I just might finish one more today to make it an even 90). I am not going to lie: I am pretty proud of myself for this accomplishment and will likely brag about it for the next 12 months.

As with last year, I am sharing my top five reads in each of three categories. The links are to my reviews on Goodreads.

Business books (or, what I consider books that I can apply to my business):

  1. Epic Content Marketing by Joe Pullizi
  2. Get Lucky by Thor Muller
  3. Without Their Permission by Alexis Ohanian
  4. A/B Testing by Dan Siroker
  5. The War of Art by Steven Pressfield

Other non-fiction books:

  1. Quiet: The Power of Introverts by Susan Cain
  2. How To Be Interesting by Jessica Hagy
  3. Die Empty by Todd Henry
  4. Haiti: A Shattered Nation by Elizabeth Abbott
  5. The First 20 Hours: How To Learn Anything Fast by Josh Kaufman

Fiction books:

  1. The Circle by Dave Eggers
  2. The Luminaries by Eleanor Catton
  3. The Twelve-Fingered Boy by John Hornor Jacobs
  4. Mr. Penumbra’s 24-Hour Bookstore by Robin Sloan
  5. A Constellation of Vital Phenomena by Anthony Marra

For 2014, my goal is 120 books. Ten books a month: I don’t know if I can do it, but I will have fun trying. If you follow me over on Goodreads, you can keep up with the books as I read them.

December 9, 2013

Book Review: Epic Content Marketing

Filed under: Book Review,Digital Strategy,Marketing — Emily Reeves @ 6:37 pm

Epic Content Marketing: How to Tell a Different Story, Break through the Clutter, and Win More Customers by Marketing Less, by Joe Pulizzi is a comprehensive guide to content marketing. Pulizzi covers an overview of content marketing, why businesses should be doing it and how — very specifically — to use it. This was a great book that I am going to recommend to any online marketer. And it is one that I am sure I will reference several times in the near future.

For a business book, this is a dense read at 300 pages, however, Pulizzi has broken the book into process and parts, making it easy to digest and understand.  On the first page of the book, Pulizzi powerfully states:

“Advertising is not dead, but content marketing is the driver that leading companies now use to capture the hearts and minds of their customers.”

While content marketing has been around for a long time, the term “content marketing” just started to trend with in the last 12 months. What exactly is content marketing and what is the difference between it and “content?”

“What makes content marketing different from simple content is that content marking must do something for the business. It must inform, engage, or amuse with the objective of driving profitable customer action.”

Do your customers really want content from you?

“Eighty percent of buyers prefer to get company information in a series of articles versus ad advertisement. Seventy percent say content marketing makes them feel closer to the sponsoring company, and 60 percent say that company content helps them make better product decisions.”

“Millennials, now between the ages of 19 to 34, actually expect brands to develop content for them, with 80 percent wanting to be directly entertained through content marketing.”

Throughout the book, Pulizzi provides example after example of brands that have had success with content marketing and exactly how they have done it. And the examples include big brands with big budgets and small companies with few employees.

The bottom line is that brands are now publishers. They have to be in order to pull in audiences and build relationships with them to influence their buying behaviors. This book provides that introduction and steps to becoming a content marketer. I highly recommend this book.

November 9, 2013

Book Review: Smarter Than You Think

Filed under: Book Review — Emily Reeves @ 5:13 pm

This book is the antithesis to The Shallows: What the Internet Is Doing to Our Brainsby Nicolas Carr. In The Shallows (link to my review of the book), Carr tells us how the internet is ruining our brains. In Smarter Than You Think: How Technology is Changing Our Minds for the BetterClive Thompson tells us how it is making us smarter and more powerful. Thompson covers the tools we use to aid and memorialize our memories, how more people are writing and writing for an audience, collaborative problem solving, inspiring creativity, making education accessible, knowing your friends better and social and civic activeness. In short, technology makes a broader world available to us and it can make us and the world a better place when put to good use.

My favorite highlights from the book:

“Our brains are remarkably bad at remembering details. They’re great at getting the gist of something, but they consistently muff the specifics.”

“The explosion of online writing has a second aspect that is even more important than the first, though: it’s almost always done for an audience…Audiences clarify the mind even more.”

“When you can resolve multiples and connect people with similar obsessions, the opposite happens. People who are talking and writing and working on the same thing often find one another, trade ideas and collaborate.”

“…knowledge has always been created via conversation, argument, and consensus.”

“We are social creatures, so we think socially.”

“It is no accident that the ‘maker’ movement, a worldwide collection of nerds trying to learn and teach everyday mechanical and electronic know-how, has arisen in the age of easy video documentation. If you want to know how to build something, seeing it happen is crucial.”

“…memory for facts is quite specific to our obsessions…”

“…we forget things in a predictable pattern: More than half our facts are gone in an hour, about two thirds are gone within a day, and within a month we’re down to about 20 percent.”

“To be really smart, though, an online group needs to obey one final rule–and a rather counterintuitive one. The members can’t have too much contact with one another. To work best, the members of a collective group ought to be able to think and work independently.”

“By following…friends’ updates, … [you can begin] to sense the rhythms of their lives.”

“Each little update–each individual bit of social information–is, on its own, pretty insignificant, even mundane. But taken together over time, the snippets coalesce into a surprisingly sophisticated portrait of your friends’ inner lives, like dots forming into a pointillist painting.”

“But ambient awareness is all about slowly amassing an enormous, detailed contest. Follow someone’s ambient signals for a day and it seems like trivia. In a week it seems like a short story. In six months, a novel.”

“To make social change begin to snowball, we need to make our thoughts visible. When members of society think public and keep in ambient contact with one another, it creates a new environment–where we’re increasingly aware of what changes might be possible.

This was a fascinating read, but a heavy read. I definitely recommend this to those interested in digital trends and future predictions.

October 26, 2013

Book Review: Without Their Permission

Filed under: Book Review — Emily Reeves @ 4:53 pm

Without Their Permission: How the 21st Century Will Be Made, Not Managed by Alexis Ohanian (co-founder of reddit) is a book about entrepreneurship online. Ohanian tells the story of how reddit came to be, as well as the hipmunk, his venture after reddit through to becoming an investor and mentor to online startups. He ends the book by talking about his involvement to prevent SOPA and PIPA from becoming law and his passion for the open Internet to remain open. I learned a lot about SOPA and PIPA that I did not understand, but the true value of this book for me was the advice for startups and entrepreneurs. Ohanian has a straight-forward and honest way of writing that makes it easy to understand. This is yet another resource I wish I had read before starting my own business this past summer.

My favorite words of advice from this book include:

“All links are created equal.”

“An open Internet means a platform where what you know is more valuable than whom you know.”

“Everyone who creates something online has lost control of their message but in the process has gained access to a global audience.”

“You need three things to create a successful startup: to start with good people, to make something customers actually want, and to spend as little money as possible. Most startups that fail do it because they fail at one of these. A startup that does all three will probably succeed.”

“Make something people want.”

“Don’t be afraid to show your users that you give a damn. It should shine in everything you do, fem the design of your website to the way you respond to feedback emails.”

“Magic happens when you give a damn.”

“…you must be ‘relentlessly resourceful’ as a startup because you have so little going for you.”

“…pure hustle…”

“In the early stages, surrounding yourself with the right people is infinitely more important than having a good idea. Your relationship with your co-founder(s) is what’s more likely to make or break your company than the idea itself.”

“Find your customers right now and talk to them.”

“If you are not willing to really understand the industry you’re aspiring to reinvent, don’t bother starting a startup. Having industry experience is not only invaluable for building a great product or service, it also shows investors the dedication a successful founder needs to have.”

“Give more damson than anyone else, because there aren’t a lot of things a startup has going for it, except that its founders and employees certainly care more than the competition. And that makes all the difference.”

“If you’re looking to build a website and you’re not a builder, you’re more than likely going to have to try to become one.”

“Awesome people feed off one another and combine to form something greater than the individual parts.”

“These days, everyone you meet is part of the media.”

“I try to write emails in fewer than five sentences. Precision with impact is one of the most effective writing skills one can have.”

“Do or do not…there is no try.”

This is yet another book I highly recommend for those interested in starting a business based online.

October 23, 2013

Book Review: Do The Work

Filed under: Book Review — Emily Reeves @ 10:30 pm

I have been on a bit of a Steven Pressfield kick lately with a third book in a row by him, this one titled Do The Work. Like the War of Art, in this book Pressfield writes a manifesto encouraging creators to push past the barriers that are keeping them from creating. This is a short book and a quick read. With quips like, “Don’t Think. Act.” and “Be Stubborn.” Pressfield gives us permission to be ourselves in our work and stop trying too hard to meet others expectations.

My favorite quotes from the manifesto include:

“Don’t prepare. Begin.”

“Start before you are ready.”

“Let the unconscious do the work.”

“Outline it fast. Now. On instinct.”

“Figure out where you want to go, then work backwards from there.”

“Panic is good. It is a sign we are growing.”

“Start (again) before you are ready.”

Now, go do the work.

October 22, 2013

Book Review: A/B Testing

Filed under: Book Review — Emily Reeves @ 9:31 am

A/B Testing by Dan Siroker and Pete Koomen, founders of Optimizly wrote this book as a 101 guide to testing elements of digital communications. Through full case studies down to short examples, the book teaches which elements can be tested in communications, how to do it and most importantly, how to convince your colleagues to let you do it.

Everything online can be tested and should be tested against pre-determined goals and objectives for the communications. After reading this book, there is no valid argument for not testing. Even for those that worry testing delays the project, in truth, it makes the development process more efficient because the end project is more effective.

Notable passages:

First determine “What is your website for? If you could make your website do one thing better, what would it do?”

“Pinpointing the specific actions you want people to take most on your site and that are more critical to your business will lead you to the tests that have an impact.”

“If all you measure is clicks, you’ll have know whether the content of the actual post is good. More telling metrics might be call-to-action clicks, comments, shares and repeat visits.”

“Data is what matters.”

“You have to have a rule that if anybody feels strangle about testing something, you test it.”

“We usually give folks some pretty straightforward advice when they ask about how to improve their calls to action: verbs over nouns. In other words, if you want somebody to do something, tell them to do it.”

“Consider weekly, monthly, or quarterly results-sharing meetings with key stakeholders.”

“A/B testing is by nature interdisciplinary and cross-departmental. Collaboration is key.”

“Always Be Testing.”

“One of the reasons why A/B testing is so important is that there are no universal truths when it comes to design and user experience. If universal truths existed, then A/B testing wouldn’t: you’d just look at the rulebook.”

“The truth is that every business is different; you won’t know until you test.”

“Maintain records about who tested what and when, how the test was set up, and what the result was. This will enable your organization to work collaboratively to build up a set of collective wisdom and best practices.”

The book is complete with an appendix of recommended elements for testing. This is a definite must read for any website strategist, designer or developer.

(Thumbs up to Dustin Williams for the recommendation.)

October 19, 2013

Book Review: The Icarus Deception by Seth Godin

Filed under: Book Review — Emily Reeves @ 9:02 pm

I picked up The Icarus Deception by Seth Godin on a whim in an airport bookstore months ago. I’ve pick it up and put it down a dozen times since then and just finished it tonight. Not because it wasn’t a gripping book, but because it is written in a way that allows you to pick it up, read a few pages, get inspired and go do something. The Icarus Deception is about overcoming your fears and the things that are holding you back to create “art.” And “art” is liberally defined; in fact, the cover description says “Steve Jobs was an artist. So were Henry Ford and Martin Luther King Jr.” We can all be artist and share our creations with the world if we stop holding back. I am walking away from this book with these directives: speak up, make connections, take risks and work hard on the things you love.

Here are my favorite passages from the book:

“If your team is filled with people who work for the company, you’ll soon be defeated by tribes of people who work for a cause.”

“Courage doesn’t always involve physical heroism in the face of death. It doesn’t always require giant leaps worthy of celebration. Sometimes, courage is the willingness to speak the truth about what you see and to own what you say.”

“Correct is fine, but it is better to be interesting.”

“It’s what we wrestle with every single day. The intersection of comfort, danger, and safety. The balancing act between vulnerability and shame. The opportunity (or the risk) to do art. The willingness to take responsibility for caring enough to make a difference and to have a point of view. Moving your comfort zone when the safety zone changes isn’t easy, but it’s better than being a victim.”

“A lifetime spent noticing begins to turn into the ability to see what others can’t.”

“Anyone who cares and acts on it is performing a work of art.”

“Success can be just as fraught with danger as failure, because it opens more doors and carries more responsibility. The alternative, though, is to be invisible and to deny your dreams. How can we even contemplate this?”

“Complaining is stupid. Either act or forget.” – Stefan Sagmeister

“Habits of successful artists: learn to sell what you’ve made, say thank you in writing, speak in public, fail often, see the world as it is, make predictions, teach others, write daily, connect others, lead a tribe.”

“…whatever happens, things are going to be fine in the end, …pain is part of the journey, and without the pain there really isn’t a journey worth going on.”

“The biggest black mark on your working resume is the road not taken, the project not initiated, and the art not made.”

This is a great book to keep on your desk and read a few pages at a time when you need a little inspiration and encouragement to take a risk and do something you believe in.

October 16, 2013

Book Review: The War of Art

Filed under: Book Review — Emily Reeves @ 8:01 pm

The War of Art: Break Through the Blocks and Win Your Inner Creative Battles by Steven Pressfield is one of those books that keeps popping up on recommended reading lists that I come across. So I finally picked it up and read it. And I am so glad that I did. I loved it, it was a quick read and it feels like a kick in the ass (just like the quote on the cover says it is).

The theme throughout the book is overcoming resistance. Resistance comes in many forms and keeps us from achieving works of our art, whatever those may be.

Here are my favorite quotes from the book:

“Resistance has no strength of its own. Every ounce of juice it possesses comes from us. We feed it with power by our fear of it. Master that fear and we conquer Resistance.”

“Casting yourself as a victim is the antithesis of doing your work. Don’t do it. If you’re doing it, stop.”

“The counterfeit innovator is wildly self-confident. The real one is scared to death.”

“The more scared we are of a work or calling, the more sure we can be that we have to do it.”

“The professional tackles projects that will make him stretch. He takes on the assignment that will bear him into uncharted waters, compel him to explore unconscious parts of himself.”

“The amateur has not mastered the technique of his art. Nor does he expose himself to judgment in the real world. If we show our poem to our friend and our friend says, ‘It’s wonderful, I love it,’ that’s not real-world feedback, that’s our friend being nice to us. Nothing is as empowering as real-world validation, even if it’s for failure.”

“A professional accepts no excuses.”

“A professional recognizes her limitations…She know she can only be a professional at one thing. She brings in other pros and treats them with respect.”

“Whatever you can do, or dream you can, begin it. Boldness has genius, magic and power in it. Begin it now.”

“We’re too distracted by our own nonsense.”

“Creative work is not a selfish act or a bid for attention on the part of the actor. It’s a gift to the world and every being in it. Don’t cheat us of your contribution. Give us what you’ve got.”

If you are having trouble getting started with anything, read this book. It is wonderful motivation to get off you ass and just get started.

Book Review: David and Goliath by Malcom Gladwell

Filed under: Book Review — Emily Reeves @ 7:42 pm

Malcom Gladwell is a master storyteller who weaves his thesis proof points throughout the stories, leaving you nodding your head in agreement and mouth agape with amazement. I thoroughly enjoyed The Tipping Point, Blink and Outliers. I was less than impressed with David and Goliath: Underdogs, Misfits and the Art of Battling Giants.

The point of the book is to acknowledge the limitations of your own advantages and shift your perspective to use your advantages to achieve the greatest success. Gladwll uses several stories to illustrate this point, including the classic David vs. Goliath tale. But he also uses examples from education, wealth, crime and war to demonstrate how a simple shift in perspective has the power to turn what may seem as a disadvantage into a winning approach.

Here are my favorite quotes from the book:

“Underdog strategies are hard.” -> “That’s why attitude plays such a big role in this, because you’re going to get tired.”

“To play by David’s rules you have to be desperate. You have to be so bad that you have no choice.”

“He who doesn’t have it, does it, and he who has it, misuses it. Wealth contains the seeds of its own destruction.”

“…in certain circumstances a virtue can be made of necessity.”

“…[do] we as a society need people who have emerged from some kind of trauma–and the answer is that we plainly do. This is not a pleasant fact to contemplate. For every remote miss who becomes stronger, there are countless near misses who are crushed by what they have been through. There are times and places, however, when all of us depend on people who have been hardened by their experiences.”

“…power has an important limitation. It has to be seen as legitimate, or else its use has the opposite of its intended effect.”

“…’more’ is not always better; there comes a point, in fact, when the extra resources that the powerful think of as their greatest advantage only serve to make things worse.”

“The powerful are not as powerful as they seem — nor the weak as weak.”

“The excessive use of force creates legitimacy problems, and force without legitimacy leads to defiance, not submission.”

In my opinion, thought I am glad that I read it, this is one Gladwell book you can skip.

October 2, 2013

Book Review: Die Empty, by Todd Henry

Filed under: Book Review — Emily Reeves @ 9:21 pm

“We have only a certain amount of time available to us and how we choose to spend our days is significant.”

After I read Todd Henry’s first book, The Accidental Creative, I boldly declared it my new life guide. Die Empty, Henry’s second book has replaced it. He outdid himself with this book. I had to restrain myself from underlining every passage in the book.

The thesis of Die Empty is to do work each day that matters to you in some way. Rather than working a to-do list every day and living for the weekend, Henry proposes that we have a purpose each day that we are working to achieve. That does mean throwing the to-do list away; it is a necessary part of getting work done. Instead, make time for giving your ideas brainpower and ultimately potential to bring them to life.

The timing for this book is particularly relevant to me as these are principles I have been working to follow this year as part of my new year’s resolutions, though Henry articulates them so much better than I did. I love the idea of living for today and making a difference each day that you live. I know too well that tomorrow may never come.

My favorite takeaways:

“If you want to avoid the path that leads to apathy and mediocrity, at some point you are going to have to step outside your comfort zone.”

“Be fiercely curious.”

“Can I lay my head down tonight satisfied with the work I did today?”

“Ensure that you are intentionally disrupting your own work rather than circling the wagons and protecting the ground you’ve already taken.”

“Structure and freedom are two sides of the same coin. Structure yields freedom to creatively roam.”

“Say yes.”

“It is never too late.”

“Great work results when you stop doing only what you know you can do and instead begin pursing what you believe you might be able to do with a little focused effort.”

“Most of the great work that’s accomplished is done in the context of a community. Very few people are able to stay aligned and engaged without others in their life to help fuel their passions.”

“Dream a little.”

“Urgency and diligence are the foundation of ‘hustle,’ and hustle is the best antidote to lifelong regret. If you hustle, you never have to wonder ‘what if?’”

This is one of those books that won’t get filed away on my bookshelf. It will be left on my desk where I can pick it up and reference it frequently as a reminder to live with purpose and have something to be proud of at the end of each day. While it is morbid to think about death, it is inevitably going to happen; don’t wait for tomorrow to make a difference in the world.

August 10, 2013

Book Review: Venture Deals

Filed under: Book Review — Emily Reeves @ 8:14 pm

If you would like to hear me read this post, here is the audio version:

My Saturday night date.

My Saturday night date.

You know your life is all work and no play when you find yourself reading Venture Deals by Brad Feld and Jason Mendelson on a summer Saturday night. But my mind is on my business these days, so that is exactly what I found myself doing this weekend.

This is one of those books that I wish I had read before forming our business. It is 100-percent still relevant to me as we approach our ARK Challenge Demo Day and will officially be seeking investors. It is overwhelming to think about all the legal details that go into investment deals and the terminology has been foreign to me. This book cleared up the things I didn’t understand and explained in layman’s terms what these deals really mean, what I as an entrepreneur should worry about and which terms I should not really worry about. This book is now my go-to Bible for the investment deals we will enter after Demo Day.

Here are my key takeaways from the book:

  • Read and understand every contract you sign. If that means the deal takes longer, so be it.
  • Know what terms are most important to you before you enter into a negotiation.
  • Don’t be afraid to negotiate.
  • Remember that these investors are going to be your business partners going forward. You want to have a good relationship with them. Do everything you can to foster that relationship.
  • Most importantly: hire a good lawyer, that you like and has experience in startup deals.

This book was not intimidating and made me feel so much more knowledgeable about the world I am entering into as an entrepreneur seeking investors. It is a must read for anyone even thinking about founding a business.

Book Review: Get Lucky

Filed under: Book Review — Emily Reeves @ 1:32 pm

If you prefer to listen to me read this post, here is the audio version:

photo

Serendipity = “the art of making an unsought finding.”

“Serendipity is chance interacting with creativity.”

I received a copy of the book Get Lucky: How to Put Planned Serendipity to Work for You and Your Business this week as part of our ARK Challenge participation. Lane Becker, one of the authors, spoke to our group (though I missed it as I was in Little Rock that day). Thor Muller, the other author of the book, was one of PressBaby’s 30-minute mentors for MentorCamp on Friday. Had I been planning ahead like I should, I would have read the book before meeting either of the authors. Instead, I didn’t realize they wrote the book until I picked it up late Friday afternoon and then did a mental forehead slap. Color me embarrassed. (Even more embarrassing is that I received a copy of this book at Startup Weekend Little Rock in April and it is still sitting on my nightstand in Little Rock, its bind unbroken.)

I loved this book. I read it in two sittings–last night and this morning–and underlined constantly, making notes of ideas that I had while reading. What I found most valuable about this book was that it presented its concepts from both the point-of-view of an established company needing to grow, change and shift and from the point-of-view of a startup in planning for building a business that allows for serendipity. I am currently sitting squarely in the middle of both situations, so I could see how to apply the ideas to each business.

Get Lucky is organized into chapters around eight skills that “will contribute to making your life luckier:”

  • Motion
  • Preparation
  • Divergence
  • Commitment
  • Activation
  • Connection
  • Permeability
  • Attraction

While it may seem that these eight skills might contradict each other, Becker and Muller did a good job of addressing these contradictions and showing how they each balance and complement each other.

One of my favorite parts of the book was when they gave a definition of a “geek:”

A geek is someone who has “an obsessive curiosity in an area of knowledge that causes them to forget themselves…Geeks are people that pursue their interests not because it’s their job, but because they are compelled by an irresistible force. They simply can’t get it out of their minds.”

I think I like this because I am a self-proclaimed geek.

My only complaint. One of my pet peeves with business books is that the same case studies are used over and over again. When Get Lucky started in on the organization of the Pixar offices and then 3M case study, I did an eye roll, but pressed on. I am glad I did. These were the only two case studies in the book that I had already read in many other business books. There were many, many other examples in this book that were worthwhile and intriguing.

In my own life, this year I have made the commitment to do more things outside my comfort zone in an effort to expand the opportunities for creative thinking, meeting new people and having new life experiences. Because I am in that mindset already, this book was even more meaningful to me because it gave validation to some of the irrational actions I have taken to grow branches in my life. To quote Albert Einstein:

“Logic will get you from A to B, but imagination will take you everywhere.”

July 30, 2013

Book Review: Lean In

Filed under: Book Review — Emily Reeves @ 5:22 pm

If you would prefer to listen to this blog post rather than read it, please scroll to the bottom to hear me read it to you.

I finally read Sheryl Sandberg’s book “Lean In.” I am still trying to decide how I feel about it. I am fully in support of equal treatment for women in the workforce. But I have never felt held back, discriminated against or intimidated by my gender in my business environment. So, I have trouble understanding that this is a real and continual problem in current business environments.

Maybe I have been lucky. Maybe it is because I have a poor work/life balance with the work side a bit heavier, by my own choice. Maybe it is because I don’t have children. Maybe it is because my boss is a woman.

I agree with all the principles that Sandberg outlined and described in detail in the book. I just believe they should be followed and applied to all people that want to work, both men and women. Which I guess is her ultimate point.

I’ve read most of Sandberg’s articles and watched her TED talk and commencement addresses, so I felt like most of the book was a compilation of those articles and talks with content that I was already familiar with, so the book did not provide me with any new insight. However, if you are not familiar with her talks and writing, it is worth the read for both men and women about drive and ambition in business.

July 28, 2013

Book Review: Lean UX for Startups

Filed under: Book Review,Startup & Entrepreneurship — Emily Reeves @ 3:49 pm

If you would prefer to listen to this blog post rather than read it, please scroll to the bottom to hear me read it to you.

As I am currently participating in a startup accelerator program for a new business called PressBaby, the “Lean” series of books has been recommended many times. I just completed a third book in the “Lean” series: Lean UX for Startups by Laura Klein. When I started this book, we were in the phase of the program where we were thinking about how the end user would be interacting with our product and realized that we were just making guesses at what they would do and building within our own development skills limitations. Lean UX for Startups confirmed that we were approaching it all wrong and chastised us for even thinking that we could possible proceed with any kind of success along the route we were currently on. The majority of the book is about research and testing. I was looking for UX principles with hard and fast rules we could follow for developing a successful product. I quickly learned that there is no such thing. There is only test and learn, and then test and learn some more. I highlighted 54 passages from this book. Here are a few of my favorites:

“If you get nothing else from this book, please remember these three key points: (1) User research. Listen to your users. All the time. I mean it. (2) Validation. When you make assumptions or create hypotheses, test them before spending lots of time building products around them. (3) Design. Iterate. Iterate. Iterate.”

“Climbing to the top of the hill you’re on gets you higher, but it doesn’t always maximize your altitude. Sometimes you need to find a taller hill.”

“It’s probably not worth your time to fret and sweat over every single pixel on every single new page, mostly because you should always plan on iterating. When you’re a startup, any new feature may be killed or transformed in a week’s time.”

“…visual design can screw up interaction testing. If your tester has an immediate positive or negative reaction to the visuals, you’re going to get different information than you would if she could effectively ignore the visuals. Grayscale wireframes or Balsamiq-style sketches make it much easier to ignore the look and concentrate on the interactions.”

“Visual design is how something looks. Interaction design is how something works.”

“A useful wireframe, in my opinion, needs to include all the copy, buttons, calls-to-action, and navigation elements of a real product. It doesn’t have any visual design yet. That comes later. But it’s definitely where you’re taking all the elements that you sketched out and making sure that they not only fit together on one screen but that they also hold up throughout an entire feature or product.”

“Lean UX always has a measurable goal, and you should always figure out how to measure that goal before you start designing. If you don’t, how will you know that your design worked?”

“Trust me, people will forgive ugly faster than they’ll forgive unusable. Whatever you decide to cut, don’t cut getting customer feedback during your development process. If you ship something that customers can’t use, you can go out of business almost as fast as if you hadn’t shipped anything at all.”

“Patterns start to emerge in usability research after the first few tests. After five, you’re really just hearing all the same stuff over and over again.”

“The single greatest mistake you can make at this point is to start off by telling the test subject what you’re working on and how great it will be for him. Nothing will bias a session faster than you trying to sell him on your ideas. You’re not there to talk. You are there to listen.”

“Start off by asking them to show you how they currently perform some tasks that relate to the problem you’re trying to solve.”

“…this may sound cryptic, but sometimes the best types of problems to solve are the ones that the users don’t really know are problems until you fix them.”

I recommend this book for anyone working on a startup or even just in general working in web development. Even larger, established web companies need to start thinking more like lean startups in today’s digital environment.

July 6, 2013

Book Review: The End of Business As Usual, by Brian Solis

Filed under: Book Review — Emily Reeves @ 6:00 pm

Brian Solis‘s “The End of Business As Usual: Rewire The Way You Work To Succeed In The Consumer Revolution” is one of those books that I want all marketers to read. I restrained myself from highlighting the entire book and ended up with 101 highlighted passages. I am about a year and a half behind in reading it, but the lessons are not old though the data may be a bit dated.

The lesson in “The End of Business As Usual” is that consumers rule brand perceptions and they drive their networks’ perceptions of that brand in turn. Pretending these communities and conversations are not happening is no longer an option.  And just being in the spaces pushing out content is not enough. Consumers know you are marketing to them and they expect you to work hard to win their affections. All you have to do is listen to what they are telling you they want.

This book covers social media, but it is not solely about social media. It is about human behavior and the shifts we are seeing in that behavior as a result of the digital technologies and communications tools available to consumers.

I reviewed my 101 highlighted passages and pulled out my favorite 13 to share with you here:

“Your brand is affected with or without your engagement. Designing experiences and strengthening them based on what’s learned through customer sharing sets the stage for adaption and improvement.”

“People also share experiences because it paints a picture of not only who they are, but who they aspire to be. When they Like a brand or tweet a purchase, it’s not just an update, it’s a form of self-expression.”

“Social media amplifies the noise. But as it is freely available to anyone to embrace, the question is how you will amplify the signal.”

“Consumers are becoming increasingly sophisticated. Their daily habits extend beyond social networking, watching videos on YouTube, and texting. It’s how they make purchase decisions, offer referrals, and share experiences that require an open mind.”

“Connected consumers expect to be rewarded, however they’re showing that electronic badges just aren’t enough. They’re demanding discounts, special offers, and freebies to continue serving their personal endorsements across their social graphs. After all, the activity is mutually beneficial. Businesses attract customers who help spread the word and consumers feel that their presence and network are appreciated.”

“Connected consumers no longer start their online experiences by visiting destinations; they visit their streams.”

“The community is only as strong as our investment in earning the attention of connected consumers and nurturing a community that engages and provokes the sharing of information. The distance between a brand and its customers is measured by shared experiences.”

“People tend to have between four and six real-life groups. For some, it’s school, church, family, sports, hobbies, and so on. And each of those groups tends to have between 2 and 10 people.”

“On Facebook, the average size of the social graph is 130. However, studies show that the vast majority of Facebook users interact regularly with just four to six people.”

“Nearly 20 percent of Millennials attended a brand-sponsored event in the past 30 days. Of those who attended, 65 percent purchased the featured product. But that’s not all. Twenty-five percent worldwide have joined seven or more brand-sponsored communities online! This influential generation is moving beyond the role of traditional consumer and assuming the role of self-ordained experts. Forty-seven percent will write about their positive experiences with companies and products online. On the flipside, 39 percent will share negative encounters.”

“Relevance, as we learn, is earned through constant participation and self-expression and for businesses, relevance is difficult to earn.”

“Context is king and is the key to earning relevance.”

“Access to information is a commodity, but the significance of the network is as valuable as the insights poured into it and the creativity it inspires.”