Archive for December, 2009

Run with the Bulls

I was reading a book titled “Run with the Bulls” on a flight recently to our offices in Covington, KY.  The book was written by Dr. Tim Irwin, an organizational psychology consultant to Fortune 100 companies.  In his chapter on “Getting to the Arena,” I read something about courage that really captures the kind of “laser focus” that all of us should have in our approach to work and how to go after something with the idea of winning. 

Irwin talks about Courage using the Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade movie.  In that last scene where Indy’s father is intentionally shot by the bad guy knowing that only water from the Holy Grail can heal him.  Right at the edge of the lethal gauntlet where several have died, the villain shouts at Jones, “Now is the time to decide what you really believe!”   Does Indy believe the Grail is real?  Is he willing to risk his life to pursue his quest in earnest? 

The part that hit me was the belief part.  There are a lot of people who have “about-ism.”  That is, they talk “about” what they want to do. Lots of ideas, possibilities, or dreams.  Even great ideas about business deals. But these are not beliefs undergirded with conviction for which the person is willing to take significant risks.

 Once you are convinced of your beliefs, and not just talking “about” possibilities, it will drive how you approach work.  This is especially true for areas of high risk or where you are moving into areas of new possibilities.  To be successful, you have to know (and believe!) that your previous experience is going to pay off.  This kind of conviction will drive the focus of how you approach the work so that you have a greater chance of being successful.  When we are not sure about our convictions and experience, we can easily be distracted by all kinds of activities that don’t relate to doing well on what we really should be going after.


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Think about a book in which the plot thickens chapter after chapter and you “just can’t put it down.” Think about Final Jeopardy and waiting to see who will come up with the correct question. Think about pulling for you team to make that last second field goal to win a game.

Suspense! It’s so much fun, right? Wrong. Your brain hates suspense. Where do you think that the cliché, “The suspense is killing me!!!!” comes from? Okay. Now, think about the kid (back in the day) who was told, “Just wait until your Father comes home!” That’s more like it! You can imagine how much that kid wants the hammer to fall. The wait is worse than the eventual punishment.

Well, then, why does some kind of suspense seem so pleasurable? Historically, many psychologists believed that the pleasurable sensation came about as a result of anticipating a desired future state. That is, your brain was secreting a bit of the fun-hormone (dopamine) to give you a taste of how you’re going to feel when your team wins (or whatever). Other psychologists believed that a combination of heightened focus and an increase in activation level created the pleasure-sensation – something on the order of a “runner’s high.” But, YET AGAIN, neuroscience research steps in to make all the -ologists look stupid.

It’s now been demonstrated (through research at the National Institutes of Health, UCLA and Baylor’s Med School – among others) that in suspenseful situations our brains reward us for discovering any clues about what’s going to happen, i.e., what the outcome is actually going to be. Thus, the current belief is that this little squirt of dopamine isn’t anticipatory. Rather, it’s a reward for vigilance, the watchfulness that leads to self-preservation. It’s what kept our forefathers alert for any signs of attack by the heathens and our foremothers on guard for anything that might prove dangerous to the kids. In fact, that’s why you should never get between a mother grizzly and her offspring. You see, even our fore-bears got these rewards for protecting their cubs.

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Twitter Follow Friday

Some of the learning or technology related Twitter subscribers we follow include:


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Does an approach to instructional design and technical communication that minimizes the amount of content vs. the usefulness of the content always work better than a more comprehensive or “systems” approach?

Well, it depends.  It depends on the user, the medium and/or modes of delivery and, in some cases, who is authoring the content/instruction.  Generally, a minimalist approach to instructional design and end user documentation focuses on the novice user of a technology or tool.  Complex task domains and power users may not be the ideal audience for a minimalist instructional design and documentations approach. 

Expert users often require richer, more scenario driven content than a minimalist approach can (or should provide).  Understanding the level of task that the audience needs to have represented is the key to documentation/instructions for expert users.

For instance, training and/or documentation on how to use a new feature of a surgical device may require more than the step action, task based approach commonly used in minimalist systems documentation.  The surgeon needs to know the context in which the device should be used, what a “successful” use of the device looks likes, and, most importantly, what the consequences of an error might be and how to recover from it.

Since their goals are well defined expert users want to spend little time reading procedural information and more time working with the software (or other tools). A key minimalist guideline is: allow experts to avoid excessive reading.  Providing directions they can pursue rather than step-by-step instructions takes advantage of their interest in exploratory learning. 

Instructional designers and technical writers tread a very fine line in looking for the right approach, that will enable the best performance for the right user at the right time.  Guidelines for the development of instruction for novice users are numerous – but few and far between for the development of instruction for expert users. Barbara Mirel (User experience and Usability lead at University of Michigan National Center for Integrative Biomedical Informatics) lists five themes that help lead instruction for complex tasks away from the conventional:

  • Develop rich scenarios about activity in context rather than narrow scenarios about unit tasks.
  • Build interactivity into instruction instead of presenting, for example, view only semantic maps and graphic browsers.
  • Provide multiple cases that are thematically linked and not just single cases (elaborated examples).
  • Bring misconceptions to the surface and examine them as part of instructing users in detecting, diagnosing, and recovering from errors.
  • Develop multiple analogies, metaphors, and examples that mutually support a single point or purpose and not merely one analogy, metaphor or example per point.

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Season’s Greetings from TiER1

From all of us at Tier1, we would like to wish you all a happy Holiday Season. We hope that you get to spend time with family and friends celebrating a season of joy.


Thank you for a wonderful 2009, and we look forward to an even better 2010!


-The TiER1 Team

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If you’ve received a Google Wave invite, perhaps you were overwhelmed and confused the first time you logged in like I was. Or maybe you’ve never even heard of Google Wave. Either way, I recently found a great FREE resource to get you up to speed on Google Wave.

Appropriately titled “The Complete Guide to Google Wave,” this online guide describes everything in simple terms. They start with the basics like what Google Wave is and how to sign up, then build up to Wave-specific terminology, possible use cases, and advanced features. I especially liked this video explaining how Wave is different from and improves on email:

Don’t let the prominent “$6 Buy Now” graphic throw you off – that’s for the PDF version download. Not that 6 bucks is a lot, but you can read the whole guide on their site for free; just scroll down and click on the chapters.

I’m still exploring and tinkering with Wave myself, but it has a lot of potential to improve communication and collaboration – for work and play. So get yourself signed up for a free invite and read the free guide while you’re waiting. Then you’ll be ready to wave like a pro when you’re given the green light.

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