Of Paradigms and Lateral Thinking

You guys know folks used to think the sun revolved around the earth, and the earth was a fixed body at the center of everything, right?  People clung to this paradigm for a long time, even though it generated more inconsistencies than it explained.  Then along came Copernicus in 1530, promoting a completely different paradigm in which the earth rotated daily on its own axis and yearly around the sun.  Poof!  All the unexplained stuff could finally be explained.  Course, no one believed him at first.  But today, we take this paradigm for granted and consider Copernicus the founder of modern astronomy.

Copernicus had to apply some serious lateral thinking to this geocentric problem.  When we think laterally, we free ourselves from the limits of traditional thinking.  We arrive at our conclusions by circumventing the logical progression of thought – simply put, we look at an intractable problem from a completely different, sometimes completely unorthodox angle.

 To your list of New Year’s resolutions, I’m asking that you add one more:

 I am going to rethink the “tool-centric” paradigm of ebusiness.

Why?  ‘Cause your commercial Web site isn’t a glorified form of software or a fancy tool!  And if you think it is, then you’re gonna miss the boat!

Okay, okay.  If you’ve got an ebusiness where your only visitors are folks who know exactly what they want, and all your products have unique identifiers that make it a snap for you to construct an on-site search engine that gets your visitor to the precise item she wants in one click, then I’ll allow you to think of your Web site as a fancy tool.  You just need to work on building the best tool possible. 

And you can go chat at the water cooler, while I carry on with everyone else who gets visitors who sorta know what they want, or have an interest in the products or service, but might not actively be in a buying mood.  Because for these visitors, the “Web site as software/tool” paradigm won’t cut it.  For them, you need the “Web site as persuasive architecture” paradigm.

I’m typing this article in Microsoft WordTM.  That’s software, or as The American Heritage Dictionary says, “The programs, routines, and symbolic languages that control the functioning of the hardware and direct its operation.”  Software makes hardware work.  My word processing program helps me generate this article physically, but it doesn’t tell me what I’m going to write about.  It doesn’t lay out the argument for me.  And the Paperclip Help Dude notwithstanding, it doesn’t offer me much useful advice or help me figure out how I might better achieve my goal.

If I wanted that sort of exchange, I need to engage in a dialogue. 

The same is true of your visitors.  Most of them are looking to you for a dialogue, a persuasive dialogue.  Most come to you intentionally, hoping to find something that’s relevant to them.  It’s your Web site’s job to keep them engaged, help qualify their needs and then provide relevant solutions – always in a manner that accommodates their personality needs.

As would a salesperson.  So tell me you think of your sales staff as tools or forms of software!

Technology’s grand, and tools and software offer brilliant ways to expand what we are able to offer and how we can package it for our audience (heck, even pop-ups are sometimes useful tools).  But by itself, the “Web site as software/tool” paradigm will never persuade a buyer or motivate a sale – it will only provide a platform and facilitate the physical action.

So start thinking laterally.  Think about your ebusiness goals, about how humans make decisions, about how you will measure your success.  Then consider the paradigm of your Web site as a dynamic, iterative, persuasive architecture and start generating your own little Copernican revolution.

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