What Non-Tech Companies Can Learn From Tech Companies
The following insights are based on my career to date, which consists of working for three tech companies, more schools than I’d care to mention, the Chinese government, a handful of charities and now a youth initiative who’s corporate culture is a weird mix of all of the above (apart from the Chinese government, which is unique).
Less is more
The problem with the information age is that we end up having to read reams of crap that we don’t want to. Emails, websites, low quality news, tweets, status updates blah blah words words. Many tech companies have embraced Chapter 5 “Don’t Make Me Think” about omitting needless words, and pare things down to a textual minimum.
Outside the tech world, the philosophy is “more is more”. Give examples, clarify, put in extra paragraphs, make it more convincing with more explanation. And then add more for good measure. Make sure the reader knows allllll about us and what we’re doing.
That’s if anyone actually does more than skim through that great wall of text that lands in their inbox.
This blight particularly affects charities and the like - the mistaken belief that people care enough to want to read epic prose, and that you don’t need to excite them. In actual fact, people expect stuff produced by charities to be a bit crap and amateurish so efforts should be redoubled.
I’ve yet to come across a non-tech company that does user testing. In fact lots of tech companies foolishly dispense with it. User testing helps us know what our users/customers want, not what we think they want.
For instance, last week I discovered that “entrepreneurial” was a widely disliked word by the young people in my user tests and focus group, even the entrepreneurial ones. “In six weeks” sounds like ages away, but “six weeks long” is a short time, and NEET-targeted sites aren’t condescending and off-putting.
Another reason that user testing rocks is when others stick their creative oar in, you can shriek “you can’t take that word out! I user tested it! No, not that one either!”. Yes, when I said “you” in the context of shrieking, I did mean “me”. Although the user testing defence doesn’t work when the CEO gets involved. Don’t even try.
Just five minutes a day and everyone knows what the hell’s going on and five people don’t do the same thing.
It’s better to have something imperfect rather than nothing. Especially when nothing means a whole project gets stalled. I don’t know whether that principle comes from lean or agile or what, but getting stuff done is a high priority in tech startups, while getting everything approved by 8 people reigns in non-tech land.