Cause of death: Em dash to the heart

(Reading time: 3m, 30s)

Yesterday, list members’ comments about the potential of AR in museums got me thinking about ways to evaluate technology and how to decide where to allocate resources.

Aside: I wonder if this meandering approach to writing may be divisive. I can see how it might be interesting to some people and super annoying to others who can’t get out of bed in the morning without a plan in place. But then, I bet digressions and asides like this may grate on some people’s nerves, too. And there are plenty of people who prefer pithy paragraphs — the skimmers. Let’s see if we can lose all those people right now — Hold on while I fill this paragraph up with a bit more air … Just a little more … I can see them disappearing in the rearview … Ah, there they go — Looks like the inconsistent metaphors finished them off. Let’s drive a superfluous em dash through their hearts to make sure they never come back to haunt us:

That’s better. Now it’s just you and me.

Over the past few weeks, the question of how to evaluate what tech to adopt has come up over and over again — probably because there are a few criteria that people often seem to overlook, and it's one of those things that drives me a little nuts, so my brain is always primed to find examples.

The first that comes to mind is accounting for how the product works for all users. Decision-makers will often judge how a system functions based on how easy it is for employees to use. But donation systems and CRMs often have public-facing elements, like forms that are embedded in websites. Visitors are the ones who will use those elements, and they usually don't have any say in the matter. Employees want to escape the problems of the previous system, so they can understandably become overly focused on how the backend of the system works. And they may not be aware that testing with strangers is possible. As a result, they risk adopting a system that winds up undermining the fundamental goal of the system — e.g., acquiring more donations or members.

Another criteria that’s often overlooked is whether the software can integrate with other software products. One of the first things I check is whether the software can connect with Zapier. Zapier and services similar to it let you create rules and scenarios for different software products to pass information to each other and trigger different events. It’s remarkable what you can do Zapier, but I won’t get into that today. If a piece of software integrates with Zapier, that tells me that substitutes can be had. That is, even if a software product does have some terrible front end that threatens to undermine users’ efforts to complete core tasks, so long as it connects with Zapier, we can substitute another, better system for those public-facing interactions.

The more a software product promises to do, the more I want to know if it works with Zapier. Generally speaking, a solution that promises to do everything is one that does many things poorly. Decision-makers are often drawn to these all-in-one solutions. It’s understandable — having one system to manage many functions seems like it would make life easier. But the more a solution promises to do, the more blind spots and surprises you’ll find after you adopt it. Integration can be an incredibly valuable insurance policy.

Finally, there’s the question of whether a system can serve multiple purposes — in particular, whether it can be used to improve the organization more holistically. This is the criteria I touched on in yesterday’s letter. It’s not really about evaluating software, but it’s related — it’s more about deciding how to prioritize where to devote resources.

For example, should we invest more resources into our website or in developing some AR system for visitors?

Which has the potential to provide us with actionable feedback as to how we might improve our organization?

Well, websites and their adjacent systems have evolved to a place where they can function as two-way streets without a lot of expensive wizardry. Google Analytics is free, for crying out loud. Intercept surveys are not rocket science.

I’m not sure AR can provide similar insights in an affordable way.

Or you might look at something like social media advertising through the same lens. Beyond the return on investment, to what degree does social media advertising give us a better view of how we might provide more value to our audience compared to other communication channels?

I suppose this is really just an exercise in remembering who the one-trick ponies are.

So, those are a few ways to evaluate and prioritize decisions that people often seem to overlook or undervalue. I don’t even have a name for the third one.

I’m sure there are others — are there any you can think of? Are there times you find yourself trying to get people to take a different view in evaluating how to allocate resources? I’d love some examples — hit reply and let me know.

Thanks for reading,


Kyle Bowen