3 min read

Invisible Controls

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I listened to a podcast today that touched on this idea – it's Butterscotch Shenanigans, which is a comedy about game development. So, basically, nerd fodder.

They were talking about how one of them runs a support group for people who are struggling at World of Warcraft – I think I played that once and didn't get why people were into it, which is true for most video games for me. I like them, but I don't love them. They are an entertainment choice among many other choices I could make, and it's been a long time (think, original NES being cool) since I was obsessed with them.

In that podcast, they said something that really resonated: when people were struggling in World of Warcraft, it wasn't because they didn't know what they were supposed to do. It was because their control screen – the thing that only they can see while they play the game – was set up improperly, or they didn't know how to use some tool in the game, or just didn't realize that they were doing things less frequently than other players.

Most of what makes us work, and makes most businesses work, is about harnessing those types of individual controls.

For example, ranking #1 for a term on Google often comes down to a few very minor things that are invisible to people visiting a website: how the metadata is set up, how many other sites link to that page, and the specific order of words in your first paragraph. As someone who reads a random webpage, you'd never pay attention to anything but (maybe) the order of words on the page.

There are entire businesses built around giving you advice for ranking at the top of Google precisely because it's so not obvious what you need to do. Heck, I ran a business that capitalized on that invisible information every day.

It gets harder when you start to think about how you see the world versus how other people see the world. I'm talking about this literally – my wife and I see some colors differently: she'll call something dark blue that I'll call grey. If I stare at something long enough, I'll agree with her on her description, but my first look just doesn't look the same to me as it does to her.

My kiddo gets his neurons fired by a TV show completely differently than I do, and completely differently than I did at his age. We both get excited about things in the same way: we both run off with an idea that's come out of that stimulation. That doesn't mean we're actually fired the same way, though – just because the outcome is the same doesn't mean that the way something is processed is the same.

I see this when my wife coaches me, or other coaches: they cycle through a bunch of different ways of describing a movement until I'm doing it right. They might tell me "get your butt down" in a squat, and that won't resonate the way "get your chest up" will for the exact same body position, because the way I hear moving my butt is different than how they see the world. Coaches – at least good ones – have learned that people hear and see things totally differently from each other, and that the easy way to hack through that is to cycle through a whole bunch of options before you hit the right one, and then remember that choice for each person they coach.

In real life, this would be exhausting. If I had to remember how everyone likes to receive information from me, I'd never want to talk to anyone. Most of us are like this – we rarely adjust how we deliver information based on who is receiving it. Sometimes, that's what's needed, though. Like when we have explain to kiddo that apps exist primarily so that other apps can advertise on them and that he can ask us to spend money on those mostly-useless games.

When he's old enough, I think I'd rather spend money on World of Warcraft.

That's it for today. Thanks for reading!

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