Making sense of big numbers

It’s impossible to have an intuitive feel for a big number, like $1.2 trillion. It puts our intuition on TILT. We have a very real sense of how $1,200 is different than $200. With $1,200, you can make a mortgage payment (at least in my part of the country). With $200, you pay the cable & utility bills. But we have no intuitive feel for how $200 billion might be different than $1.2 trillion. What can you do with $1.2 trillion that you can’t do with $200 billion, or $50 billion? What is $1.2 trillion worth? And how do you manage to communicate its worth to others?

David Leonhardt of the Times has written a brilliant and hugely important column that grapples with this issue in the context of the Iraq war. It is essential reading.

Training your spouse like an exotic animal

When I read this fabulous Amy Sutherland piece in the Times last June, my Stickiness Radar started blazing. In fact, I wasn’t even aware that I HAD a Stickiness Radar until that moment. Much less that it could “blaze.” Does a radar “blaze”? Doubtful.

Sutherland discusses how, in the course of studying the methods used to train exotic animals (like elephants and baboons), she had a thought: Hey, I wonder if these methods would work on my husband. This piece is 6 for 6 on the principles of stickiness. After publication, she stayed on the Times Most E-Mailed List for what felt like 2 months. Now, bizarrely, she has re-emerged on the Most E-Mailed List, 7 months after the publication of her piece. That’s damn sticky. And it has given my blog post the veneer of topicality.

The Stickiness Aptitude Test

We worked with Guy Kawasaki (and the folks at Electric Pulp) to create a “Stickiness Aptitude Test.” It’s designed for entrepreneurs who want to assess the stickiness of their message. Check it out!

Also we had an interesting Q&A with him, including some discussion of the stickiness of products. In non-Made To Stick news, there’s a great blow-by-blow analysis of Guy’s LinkedIn page by two LinkedIn insiders. They’re essentially trying to make Guy’s page stickier (though they don’t use that language). Chip and I have been talking a lot lately about how to apply stickiness principles to personal promotion, as in a job interview situation. More to come.

Power drill demo

This is from an email that I want to frame and put above the mantle:

I am the president of a power tool company. I read your book on Monday on a flight from Charlotte, NC to San Jose, CA. I had a customer meeting on Tuesday and had to completely change my pitch. Instead of our typical power point telling the customer how much better our tools are, I decided to be “concrete”. I disassembled our power drill and a competitor’s drill right in the middle of the meeting to show the customer how our product stacks up to competition. They loved it.”

The Great Bathroom Disempowering Project

I was in an airport bathroom recently, and here’s what I saw: A bunch of grown men, standing in front of a row of sinks, who were flapping their arms, contorting their hands, and waggling their fingers. Beseeching the faucet for water. Beseeching the dispenser for a paper towel. Often they succeeded. But at what cost to their vanity?

And it occurred to me, this scene is wrong. Deeply deeply wrong. How did we convince ourselves that simple bathroom controls needed to be yanked back from, and made inaccessible to, human beings? Somewhere, there is an MBA with a diabolical spreadsheet showing that airports would enjoy a NPV of $735 for switching to infrared faucets. That spreadsheet seemed sensible to the airport procurement officers of America. But nowhere on that spreadsheet, of course, appeared the “Liberty Value” of turning on a faucet for oneself and having water pour out, as scheduled.

We have been denied the simple joy of control over a tool. Why do we have to beg the Light for service? What have we reduced ourselves to? Why have we designed machines that make us beg them for service?

Let’s kill this idea. Resolved: People should be given the right to turn on a faucet. People should be trusted to turn on a faucet. How do we make this idea stick? Help me.