Kristina Halvorson: In 2001 I was a website copywriter and I was feeling super lonely because not a whole lot of people were calling themselves that at the time or really specializing in that specifically. The Internet was still a shaky proposition. No, I’m just kidding. As I went online to sort of look for resources there were maybe like three books available in 2001, and two of them were by a guy named Gerry McGovern. One of them was called the Web Content Style Guide, one of them was called Content Critical. I bought these books and they became really touchstones for me as I sort of expanded into my freelance website copywriting career and then on into content strategy.
Gerry’s spoken at a number of Confab events over the last couple of years and we really feel like he’s sort of embodies the spirit of Confab. He’s energetic. He’s collaborative. He’s committed to online customers. I did ask all of our speakers today to tell me about a time that they took a big risk, and Gerry’s answer was starting a new business with absolutely no parachutes, going into debt, failing, failing again, and then coming out of that on top. We’re so lucky as a community that he stuck with it over time.
I am honored and thrilled to welcome to the stage this morning Gerry McGovern. (Who is wearing Confab purple.)
Gerry McGovern: Yes, thank you. Good morning everyone. We’re going to start actually with a survey, if that’s okay. I just want to ask you a simple question. In relation to heart attacks, nine seconds can save a life. One of these questions basically saved nine seconds. This ambulance company in Australia, they experimented with language. At one stage they asked people, “Tell me what has happened?” and “Tell me what’s happened?” One of these was nine seconds faster, so they got the ambulance out to the people nine seconds faster.
I just want to ... you’re voting away there, just to see which one is the most successful. Which one actually saved nine seconds? I’m not going to give you the answer to that just yet. I’m going to come back to it in a few minutes. We can go to the presentation. You can keep voting as we go along. We can go back to the actual presentation. I’m going to come back to that in a few minutes in the actual presentation.
Trust. One of the issues around the world at the moment is a real collapse in trust. Edelman do a trust survey every year and in 2017 was their biggest decline ever. Of all the factors, all the various areas whether in politicians, in religious leaders, in 40 or 50 countries around the world the biggest decline in actual trust.
Viacom did a survey last year of young people. 30,000 young people under 30 and basically they had done it in 2012 and they asked them, “Where are you at?” About 77% were saying they were happy, 31% saying they’re a bit stressed, 42% were saying they trusted religious leaders, and 27% were saying that they trusted politicians. That was 30,000 people all over the world. When they ran it in 2017, these are the figures. Still the same level of happiness, but look, 2% of people, 2% of young people around the world trust politicians. 9% trust religious leaders. There’s been a big collapse in trust.
But actually, is there a collapse in trust or a shift in trust? Because if we no longer trust, why do we trust strangers? You know why do we use Uber and why do we use Airbnb? If there’s so much trust that has dissipated, if there’s a collapse in trust, why are these new sort of business models growing incredibly fast where we allow strangers into our homes and we get into cars with actual strangers?
Would you trust that guy? Would you trust Kalanick, who founded Uber? Would you trust Uber management if they say, “Oh it’s safe?” You know, probably not. Where trust has shifted is it’s not that trust has collapsed, trust has moved. We are no longer trusting figureheads, authority figures. Oh some of us are. It hasn’t moved absolutely. There’s still a significant percentage of people in the world that are looking towards great leaders or people who will lead them to the promised land, but there’s a huge other percentage of people who are shifting away their trust and their dependability on hierarchies and structures and more going to the network, to people like them, because it’s not so much this driver that you trust. It’s the people who have used the driver.
The trust shift is away from authority. Away from opinion towards use. Towards people who have actually used the things. What you’re looking for here as well is that this person isn’t rated by just one person or two people. It’s at a certain amount of scale before your trust actually builds in the process. Trust has shifted. It’s not that trust has disappeared, it’s that it has shifted more to the network and away from a hierarchal structure.
How many people do you think it takes to figure out that this is the Higgs Boson in science? How many scientists is it required to really understand that or make a breakthrough on that? Well, it took 5,154 scientists to write a single paper on the Higgs Boson. It’s the record breaker at the moment. This occurred in 2015, but what we can see here is a massive growth over time in science in collaborative science. If you go back to 1900 or 1910 the typical scientific paper was written by one scientist, but you come to 2000, there’s a massive growth in collaborative science. In science written by multiple authors.
I don’t think it’s any coincidence that the rapid explosion in multiple authorship has actually occurred with the introduction of the web, because the essence of the web is the network. The essence of the web is creating a capacity for people to work together in a more collaborative function. There’s an explosion in science around the world of multi-authorship. The idea of single authorship is almost an anachronism in science today.
Now they’ve done studies about scientific discovery and breakthrough, et cetera, and this is one of the recent studies they did in the Royal Society. What they found was that multi-country collaborative science, so not just science within a particular country, the United States or Canada, but where we’re bringing together perspectives from multiple different environments leads to higher productivity. The best science that’s coming out in the world today is not science that’s occurring in Switzerland or the UK, it’s science that’s occurring among multiple countries collaborating in the process. What we’re finding is not within single disciplines, not within single countries, but the best science.
This is another study of 80 million scientific papers over a number of years. What they found is that it’s not just about multiple country science but it’s multiple discipline science. Science that doesn’t just have engineers. Doesn’t just have biologists, but brings biologists with engineers, with physicists, multiple discipline science is delivering the best science.
The world is not simply about collaborating within a discipline. Multidisciplinary collaboration is delivering the best breakthroughs. The best innovations in the world today. I think this is driven, this is made possible by the web. This is made possible by the network. The power of discovery and progress today is collaborative but multiple disciplines involved in that collaboration.
What is the opposite of that? What is the other spectrum of that? Where have we come from? Of course, progress is never even. We’re always moving forward and moving backward. Mao Tse-Tung, the great leader concept. Back in the 50s Mao said we’re going to increase agricultural production in China. We need to increase agricultural production in China. Of course, he was going to come up with all the great ideas because he was amazing, he was extraordinary, and he was the great leader.
One of his ideas was about sparrows. He didn’t like sparrows, Mao. He thought sparrows were pests. He was out in the countryside one day and he saw these sparrows and they were eating the grain, and he said, “Oh, sparrows are bad.” He says, “I think sparrows are bad.” He brought out a dictate and he said, “Kill all the sparrows.” He said, “If we get rid of all the sparrows we’ll have more grain. We’ll have better agriculture.” They got the people to go out and to basically attack the sparrows and whenever the sparrows would land on a tree they’d start shouting and screaming, and yeah, they got rid of practically all the sparrows.
They had loads of other great leader initiatives as well. He’d come up with all sorts of wonderful ideas of how he’d improve agriculture. Well the end result was that an estimated 36 million people died in one of the greatest famines in human history that occurred because of these great men who have these great ideas and they don’t like sparrows so let’s kill all the sparrows, forgetting that sparrows killed a lot of the pests that created the diseases in the crops, et cetera.
Let’s jump forward to another Chinese farm productivity project. Between 2005 and 2015, where there was an 11% increase in crop production, which in China is a very significant increase in crop production. Along with a 17% reduction in fertilizer use. They used less fertilizer, less fertilizer damaging the environment, and increased crop production by 11%. How did they do it? How did they do it?
They were 1,200 scientists. 1,200 scientists involved. They were 65,000 local officials involved, 140,000 industry reps, 21 million farmers covering 37, 40 million hectares of land. Is that hard? Yeah it’s hard. Is multi discipline bringing these groups together difficult? Of course it’s difficult, but do we want the good results? Do we want to get increases in crop production? Do we want to get reduction in fertilizer use? Well this is how we do it.
You know what? They didn’t use any new technology. There was no new technology used. It was people sharing ideas, saying, “Oh we tried it at this density here and it worked, et cetera.” They shared the knowledge. They worked collaboratively. They brought together all the elements that solved the problem. There’s no point sitting in our little units saying we’ll write the content, you do the UX, et cetera. That doesn’t work. You know we always, in so many traditional organizations, we seem to have time to do it wrong, but we never have time to do it right. We have to find the time to do it right and if we want to find the time to do it right, we do it right by bringing together all the components of the problem into a unified, cohesive, collaborative effort.
A number of years ago we worked with the European Commission around trying to figure out what it is that Europeans need to do connected with the European Commission. We found there was about 80 tasks, 80 important things that citizens and businesses needed to do. Then we went and we mapped those tasks to the departments, to the separate divisions within the European Commission. We found that every single one of them was shared by at least 12 other departments. What did that actually mean in reality? That if you wanted to know something about law within the European Commission, well it could be here, it could be here, it could be here, and it could be nine, at least nine other places.
Where do you go? How does the citizen know which—they call them DGs, director generalists in the European Commission—how do people know where to actually go? Of course they don’t know where to go and consequently they were not finding what they needed. Not being able to do what they needed as citizens and businesses.
The idea is not to get rid of the silos. Silos have very useful functions. That’s why they exist. We need bridge builders. We need to bridge between law so that there’s a single unified journey or idea of managing the law environment. That’s what the European Commission is trying to do today and the European Union. Is it easy? No it’s horrible. It’s incredibly hard to bring 20 DGs together and say let’s work together. It’ll take years and years and years, but is it the right thing to do? Is it the thing that will deliver truly good results? Absolutely it is.
If we work in silos, we work to fail. If we’re just producing content, if we’re just producing designs, if we’re just producing code and we’re not intimately interacting with all the parts of the problem, we will fail. We will certainly not achieve anything close to the true success. Science understands this. There was tremendous rivalry in science, but they’ve learned if you want great science it’s multi-country, it’s multidisciplinary, it’s bringing many, many minds together to solve the actual problems.
The UK government is looking at the problem as well and trying to manage not based on department, but based on what people are trying to do. They’re setting up these communities around starting a business. They’re saying, “Oh what’s involved in starting a business? Well there’s the revenue department. There’s work and pensions. There’s business. Imagine if we could bring it all together into the same place.” There’s a department of education. There’s companies house. There’s international trade. Is this complicated? Yes it is, but often we choose the easy things to do and we do lots of those things. We need to begin to choose the harder things, the more complicated things, the more messy things, which are around collaboration.
Then if you’re a food business, you need food standards, so there’s a lot of elements involved in starting a business. The best organizations, the best countries in the world today, are organizing around the customer. Around the outcome of what people are trying to do rather than being internal. It’s easy to create a production for content or for code or for designs. It’s a much more difficult challenge to create a system that manages the actual experience of the people. But the system and the collaborative system is what delivers value.
Let’s take an example: performance. There’s a lot of talk today about website performance. About speed, about how important it is for stuff to download quickly. For people to get pages that download quickly. Lots and lots of stats, lots and lots of studies that say, here Kissmetrics, a one second delay, one second delay in page load can reduce conversions by 7%. That’s a very significant reduction. Here is an image of Rachel Andrew, a great pioneer and thinker in the digital space, from Aaron Gustafson, who’s a wonderful person when it comes to performance. If you really want to know about performance, really check this guy out.
He just talks about you know dealing with images. We know about this stuff over many years about how, if you change it to black and white, because they’re focused on how quickly can we get this page done. Right? You’ve got a reduction there of 7%. Then if you crop and resize you’ve got another 68% reduction and then they can get 75% of the weight out of that particular image so that it downloads more quickly. That’s just one thing. They look at the code. They look at lots and lots of stuff in relation to how can we get this page downloading quickly, b
ecause seconds, not just seconds, milliseconds. There’s studies that show basically 1/10 of a second has an impact on human behavior.
Let’s go back to our study please, to show the results. So nine seconds. When you’re an ambulance, cardiac arrest, heart attacks, nine seconds is an enormous amount of time. I asked you which question saved more lives. “Tell me what’s happened?”—29%. “Tell me what happened?”—71%. Well it’s a good job we’re not managing ambulances because a lot of people would be dying, right? “Tell me what’s happened?” saved the nine seconds because when they said to people, “Tell me what happened?”, “Well he got up this morning and he wasn’t feeling too well and he had the breakfast,” but when they said, “Tell me what’s happened?” it became more, “Oh he fell and then he started holding his chest.” The what led to a much longer story from people on the phone when the person was talking. They began to give far more context than was actually necessary.
Now the issue here is not whether we’re right or wrong. The issue here is that we need evidence that if we want to create a collaborative environment, a multidisciplinary, collaborative environment, we can only do that if it is unified around common agreed things. Multidisciplinary, the biologist and the physicist, will not merge around opinion. Oh I think, you think, I think, et cetera. We cannot get collaborative groups from multiple disciplines to be cohesive if they are driven by opinion. We need evidence of what is working and what is not working. The web is the first real vehicle that gives us a huge range of evidence of what actually works and what doesn’t work in the environment.
This, an apostrophe, can save lives. Think of the power of what we do. Right? The power of content. The importance of words is extraordinarily critical in the digital environment. If we go back to our concept of performance, performance. “Oh let’s get the page down quickly. Wonderful.” Is that the whole story of performance? Is that what it’s all about? Get the stuff there quickly. “Oh we got the ambulance to the house really quickly.” They actually didn’t get out of the ambulance, but the ambulance arrived, then they smoked a cigarette and they said, “Oh, it’s a nice day.” It’s not enough for the ambulance to arrive, they have to get out of the ambulance. They have to go into the house. They have to know what to do. They have to actually save the life.
The ambulance actually arriving, the page downloading, is only part of the story. It’s only part of the story of performance. Over the years we have analyzed a lot of behavior. A lot of things people are trying to do on the web. One of them was with Cisco where a big task where hundreds of thousands of engineers every week were needing to download software. So we observed. We watched lots and lots of engineers downloading software within the Cisco environment. Back in 2010 we analyzed a whole range of software downloads. The typical environment it took 15 pages, 15 steps or 15 pages of content and an average of 280 seconds.
That was the entire environment for an engineer to download a typical piece of software within Cisco. We analyzed the actual performance of the pages, the technical performance, the downloading. We found that on average each page was taking 3.6 seconds to download within the Cisco environment. Some pages maybe two seconds, some pages maybe four seconds. But the 15 pages, the 15 different steps, were taking 3.6 seconds, which was coming up to 54 seconds. So it takes 280 seconds in total to download the software. Of those 280 seconds, 54 of those seconds are to do with the actual performance. What’s the rest?
The rest is actually using the bloody page when it has downloaded. The rest is to do with content. The rest is to do with forms. The rest is to do with links. It’s okay. It’s great to make that from 3.6 seconds to two seconds. That’s actually wonderful, but you’re not really dealing with the bulk of the performance with the environment, because the bulk of the actual performance is using the actual page when it is downloaded.
We have analyzed this over hundreds and hundreds and hundreds of actual tasks, whether in health or in universities or otherwise. We’ve found a typical breakdown. 20% is the technical performance that Aaron deals with and others, but 80% is actually using the page. At the top of this iceberg is the page load speed, but the huge area is the actual use, and that’s where content works in particular. Why don’t we manage the entire performance? Why don’t we get together and work and say, “We’re going to make this fast?” We’re going to make this fast for people. We’re going to work together. Yeah, how do we make it fast?
Oh, we make it fast, you know we do these technical things. We work with the code, but if we work together in an entire team and created a performance budget, not simply about the actual download, but the entire performance of the environment, then I think we could deliver a lot more value to people. Instead of us sitting within our silos, sitting within our structures, if we focus on the entire environment, working together with the programmers, with the designers, with everybody that’s absolutely necessary, we’re going to deliver better value to the people who are using the environment.
Here, looking at the old models of how we currently measure, we measure what we do. We measure what we produce. This is the world that we come from. The world of measuring what is produced rather than measuring what is used. This was a menu where on one side we see it’s like a longer menu and on the other side we see it’s been shortened. It’s been simplified. Then we see heat mapping. We say, “Oh look, red signifies people are looking at this a lot. You know the other they didn’t look at the revised one quite as much.” What does that mean? We don’t really know do we? I mean in traditional, “Oh, they looked at my content a lot. They read the page a lot. They spent a lot of time on the actual page.”
Our metrics of production. How many seconds? The cult of volume. How many people came to our page? How many times did they click, et cetera? These are seen as good things because we measure what we do within our silos. What we do. But when they actually asked people after they had read the menus to actually, “Oh, what’s in the sushi platter?” They asked them to actually order from the menu, the more they looked at the menu, the less they could remember. There was a 34% reduction in the ability to actually remember what was on the menu. If we’re measuring the internal metrics, the old metrics of what’s actually happening on the page, you know how much are they looking at stuff? That is not measuring success in the vast majority of environments. We need to measure from the outside in. We need to start with was that person saved? Did we actually, how many people have we saved who have had heart attacks? We need to measure the outcome.
To achieve the best outcomes, we need to come together. We can’t say, “Oh, I did my bit of the process.” That’s the old model which is not nearly as efficient. In Belfast they have a museum called the Titanic Museum. It would typically take the Irish to come up with a museum about a ship that sank, right? They’re very proud of the Titanic in Belfast. Once I saw this great poster, or sorry not a poster, it was a t-shirt. On the front it was a picture of the Titanic and on the back was the phrase, “It was alright when it left here.” You know and that’s not enough. It has to get to New York. Right? It’s not enough that it was alright, oh in my content it worked, et cetera.
We’ve got to break out of our models if we really want to achieve success. The more we can bring in multiple disciplines, different disciplines. Bring people into our teams who are coming from very different perspectives, because the complex problems are better solved by many minds coming together from different perspectives, but we need a unified structure to bring those groups to a cohesive focus. The unified structure is evidence, is evidence of what is actually happening within the environment. We need to measure not our opinions, because most of the time we’re all content experts and 70% of us got it wrong. 70% of us got it wrong. Right?
I do these all over the world and it’s 70, 80% of the audience getting it wrong every time. We cannot trust our gut instincts. The things that we think are the greatest are invariably the worst, because we’re into this. We’re into content. We love our disciplines. We love our disciplines far too much. Right? We can love our disciplines, but we have to love even more the evidence. We need to work together collaboratively in multidisciplinary teams and we need to bring those teams cohesively together through evidence of what is actually happening out there. What is the customer actually doing within the environment?
Thank you very much.
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