Change Your World: Making Breakthroughs Happen with Kathy Sierra

Here are my raw notes from Kathy Sierra’s session. Let me preface this with a note about how amazing and energetic she is, which also means that it was exceedingly difficult to take notes, so I expect you’ll find a few mistakes. For example, my numbers don’t quite match up :)

Change Your World in 50 Minutes: Making Breakthroughs Happen – Kathy Sierra

Start with where you are now and then the goal of where you want to be. There is usually a big f-ing brick wall in between. You can’t break the wall down with step by step incremental progress.

Incremental vs. breakthrough. Incremental step by step is awesome, but this presentation is for when you need to do something drastic to break down the wall.

Incremental = arms race with users and competitors. marketing, viral, whuffie arms race can be exhausting.

Breakthrough ideas or breakthrough performance (being way better at something).

Your USERS need breakthroughs.

Being an expert is a function of ability and time – you have to have both if you want to kick butt.

Being better is just better. Word of mouth (WOM) vs. Word of obvious (WOO). If you are better, you can take advantage of it. Being better is better than saying you are better.

Are your users stuck in in “P” mode (like cameras) – people won’t become passionate about something that they don’t take advantage of and they resist upgrading because of the loss in productivity.

Anyone can compete. If you can help people kick butt better than your competitors.

How to know someone:
1) iPod playlist and …
2) Flight vs. invisibility (superpower)

What superpower do we give to our users? What could we provide and how would it change what we do? What would we put on the suit? (Pivot table guy / Photoshop channels guy). Auto-correct spelling man is not a superpower. Would it work as an action figure? Twitter man doesn’t look like a super power, but it is. Increasing productivity is not a superpower – they want something cool that comes as a result of increasing productivity. Productivity is the broccoli; the result is a rich dark chocolate.

14 ways to make breakthroughs:

2) Superset game – Think about something bigger and figure out what it is and go after the bigger superset. What cooler thing is my thing a part of? If you blog about your company, this isn’t cool to your readers.

3) shortcuts – 10,000 hours to be amazingly world class good at something. 2 ways to shrink it: Learn the patterns & shorten the duration (accelerate those hours).

4) deliberate practice – kicking butt in less than 1,000 hours if they do deliberate practice. How can you do it and how can you help your users do it? After 1-2 years, experience is a poor indicator of performance. Offer exercises, games, contests, tutorials that support deliberate practice of the right things. Work on improving your strengths more than your weaknesses. Much of what we do needs a sell by date: 1st hits on google for a solution are old, outdated, and not updated.

5) Make the right things easy and the wrong things hard. What would it take to do this? make it easier for the users to have a breakthrough than to stay stagnant.

6) Get better gear (and offer better gear). Expensive equipment is usually more expensive because it is much better and can help people make breakthroughs. Help them justify it. Find, make and offer higher end gear that bumps them to the next level, If you don’t do it, partner with someone who does.

7) Ignore standard limitations. How would it work if you didn’t know the limitations.

8.) Total immersion Jams. 16 hours over 2 days is better than 16 hours over 2 months. Goal is not to be good, but to just get something done and profound things can happen. “the surest way to guarantee nothing interesting happens is to assume that you already know how to do it” Less *Camp, More *Jam.

9) CHange your perspective. Look at something differently. Don’t make a better [X], make a better [user of X] (don’t make a better book, make a better software developer who reads the book).

10) What movie are your users in? Look at your user’s journey with your product / service. Who are your users allies and mentors? What role to you play? Your tech support? “Your company is to your user as ____ is to Frodo. Exercise: What movie are your users in? What movie might they want to be in? Don’t forget the soundtrack.

11) Don’t ask your users. They will give you incremental improvements, but not breakthroughs. You need to ignore everybody to make the real breakthroughs. What users says is usually different than what they want. Individuals vs. consensus. You can end up adding too many features that alienate the happy users. Breakthrough: ask other people’s users and get inspiration from elsewhere.

12) Be brave. Concepts often get filtered down by fear and you end up implementing something mediocre out of fear.

13) Easy to use isn’t always better. Difficult and challenging can be OK.

14) Rethink deadness: reexamine things that you sent to the dead pool. Sometimes things that seem to be dead aren’t always. Look at how popular Etsy & Make are.

14) Change the EQ. EQ sliders: Price, number of features, quality, services, performance. these are incremental changes. Incremental changes the position of the slider. Breakthroughs add new sliders that weren’t being used before. Modify and change what’s on the slider. How @garyvee changed wine businesses

15) Don’t mistake narrow for shallow. lolcats translation – ridiculously narrow, but not shallow. People become experts in narrow areas. Passive aggressive notes blog. The “Blog” of “unnecessary” quotation marks.

16) Be amazed. Think about how much things have changed and how amazing things are now. It’s all about perspective.

2 Responses to “Change Your World: Making Breakthroughs Happen with Kathy Sierra”


  • Thanks for posting this, Dawn. This list is No. 16: amazing.

  • Thanks Dawn. Speaking for those of us back home in PDX (well, OK just for me), that was a good quick look into what was probably an energizing session. Some good stuff in there.

Comments are currently closed.