Monthly Archives: October 2008

What an Obama victory next week will mean for Apple and its users

I’m in the process of making final plans for my next trip to the US, where I’ll be visiting Florida (Miami Beach, Fort Lauderdale and Boca Raton), then off to Macworld in San Francisco for my Powertools workshop on Apple’s Keynote (details upcoming).

After, I’ll stay on to do some more training, hopefully picking up some workshops, but likely leaving California before the Presidential Inauguration in January. Certainly, I will be able to pick up some of the feeling of change by the time I arrive in Florida on Christmas Eve (look for my reindeer).

Here in Australia, we experienced our change from a tired, conservative, “let’s go to war with George W.” fear-mongering government almost a year ago, and the relief has been palpable. Many of those who took the time to write to newspapers and blog about the shift noted a sense of human dignity having been returned to the Australian landscape, when a more progressive government was elected in November, 2007.

Now, because of the way I think about presentations (and how to best use Keynote), I am very aware of the power of presentations to persuade, using engaging and involving methods based on cognitive neuroscience, adult learning principles, and knowledge management. I am picking up “gigs” from individuals and organisations who wish to learn how to use these methods with their particular audiences, whether they be colleagues, politicians and their advisors, or church attendees.

In many respects, the Democrat party has been lousy at delivering persuasive messages, ineffectual at dealings with Republican hubris. In my presentation at Macworld this year, I discussed the power of emotions to persuade, and referred to psychologist Drew Westen’s book, The Political Brain, as evidence of this.

Here is part of the slide I used, showing a quote from the book:

My slide from Macworld 2008, featuring Drew Western

Drew Westen and Macworld 2008

I wanted the Macworld audience to understand the pervasiveness of emotions, whether in presenting, in politics, or in teaching, and how this aspect of human behaviour could be harnessed to make message giving more persuasive.

Westen’s thesis is that the Democrats have been poorly informed in how to deliver messages, allowing the GOP and its fear-based messages to hold sway, none more so than what the world is observing with the McCain/Palin team. (Believe me when I say the world is watching the US elections intensely, and we can see how poor economic management in the US has global effects. Ask the Icelanders, whose state-based airline just went bankrupt).

In Australia, surveys have shown that about 75% of Australians want an Obama victory next week. And we’ve had a year of living through “You’ll be sorry” messages from the conservative elements within Australia. So far, despite the economic challenges, the current progressive Government is managing quite well, and we here have been afforded some protection from the worst of the impending global recession.

If you heard last week’s Apple Q4 earnings call (I played some of the audio from the iTunes podcast at this week’s iMUG AGM as part of my President’s report), you would have heard CEO Steve Jobs singing the praises of Apple customers, of how they cleverly choose Apple products despite their premium price, even if it means waiting a little longer to afford them. He spoke of the economy’s unpredictability while speaking of Apple’s being protected from the buffeting the PC world is experiencing with their razor-thin margins and lack of innovation. Great products and $25 Billion in cash and no debts is a great means by which to weather the current turbulence.

In an insightful column recently, Robin Bloor wrote of “the sound of crashing Windows” referring to his observations, backed by data, that the Mac is making incredible inroads into the public and corporate mind and market share, challenging Windows’ dominance.

About Microsoft he wrote,

“Microsoft has very little territory on which to fight. In fact it almost feels as though the game is already over. It has no direct retail footprint and it doesn’t do hardware. It even suffers from the indignity that while you can run Windows under OS X, you cannot run OS X under Windows. Because of virtualization, Windows has become a Mac app for running legacy PC applications in the Mac world – and the Mac world is currently expanding at 3 times the rate of the Windows world.”

In other words, at least with respect to IT, change is on its way and it’s inevitable.

I want to suggest to you that an Obama victory next week will hasten that change significantly.

It’s not just that Obama is a switched-on technophile (as compared to the near-technophobic MacCain), able to better use social media to get his message across, but he far more mirrors how Apple operates. He comes from a minority background and must overcome huge resistance to change by conservative elements who prefer a “the herd might stink, but at least it’s safe with them” mentality that has prevailed hitherto.

But pain in the hip-pocket, loss of jobs at home and children in a flawed war, and the sub-prime mortgage fiasco, appears to have Americans asking themselves if the Microsoft-style FUD the GOP is asserting about Obama remains tenable.

If Obama succeeds, then a shift in how FUD is experienced by the voting public (we here in Australia have compulsory voting) will be demonstrated. FUD can only be effective if the product you have to offer has “good enough” qualities compared to the “as good as it gets”, and thus price and conformity are preferred over innovation and difference. The failure of Vista to even make the “good enough” grade has proved a tipping point for Microsoftian FUD.

Obama winning next week will be like the horns at Jericho blowing, bringing down many walls of separation between sections of the American populace, in place for hundreds of years. It will have far reaching effects, locally and globally, and the world will definitely alter its attitude to the US and its citizens after eight years of President Bush and his administration.

My assertion is that an Obama victory will loosen up many prejudices, while others will harden in the first year when the vanquished sit around ready to pop out the inevitable “told you so”. But the overarching effect I expect many will feel, including nations other than the US, will be a sigh of relief together with the generation of hope.

Many of us who have been part of the Mac world, experiencing prejudice and being squeezed out from the mainstream despite preferring the better, more emotionally satisfying product, will perhaps also feel a sense of joy if Obama succeeds. That’s not to say all Mac users are Democrats – far from it. But even progressive Republicans will prefer change this election, having had enough of the present administration with its central message of “family values” and a “war on terror”, and not wishing its de facto continuation with McCain/Palin.

Just like the effects of Roger Bannister running the first sub-four minute mile in 1954 saw many others quickly follow with their own sub-four records, thus breaking through a shared psychological barrier, the breaking through the race barrier next week, should it happen, ought to see many other shared psychological barriers also fall over.

I believe one of those barriers will be that artificially imposed on the Mac in industry, schools, and personal use. If there is one negative here, it’s that despite the psychological shift that would occur with an Obama win, the economic recession America will experience (is currently experiencing?) may see excessive financial conservative belief reflected in a “stay the course” with Windows attitude, despite evidence of its failures, doubts about getting Windows 7 out on time, and of course total cost of Windows ownership. The continuing moves to Open Source, a further threat to Microsoft, will parallel the openness of an Obama led government I would hope, in strict comparison to the incumbent’s history of secrecy.

I can’t vote in the US election, even though my father served in the US military at Fort Bragg in WWII, but I have a real love for the nation and its original principles, and a dislike for the faux patriotism displayed by those who believe they represent “real Americans”. I’m hoping when I get to the US in December I will experience the winds of change blowing through.

We did it here in Australia, and we’re doing OK, all things considered. Perhaps we’ll chat about the election results at Macworld in January. See you there.

(Today’s New York Times has an interesting piece on how Drew Westen’s ideas are influencing the Democrat’s message delivery process here. If his process is show to be effective in an Obama win, it will also put another nail in the Powerpoint coffin, with its “just fill in the bullet point cognitive style”, in preference to a more visual and emotionally effective Keynote-style I will be teaching at Macworld 2009).