What We Can Learn from Grasshoppers

Photo Credit: http://www.freedigitalphotos.net/images/view_photog.php?photogid=2234

One of my favourite stories my father used to tell me when I was a girl was about a scientist and a grasshopper.

The scientist used the grasshopper to conduct an experiment.

He began by placing the insect in a metal box and telling it to jump. The grasshopper jumped.

Then the scientist picked up the grasshopper, removed one of its legs, set it back down in the metal box and asked it to jump again. It did.

The scientist then removed another leg and repeated the steps. Again, the grasshopper jumped.

The scientist removed a third leg, then a forth. Each time telling the grasshopper to jump. But each time, having to say it more than once, and with increasing volume.

Upon pulling the 5th leg off, the scientist set the grasshopper down and shouted at the top of his lungs “JUMP”. It did. Feebly.

Finally, once the 6th leg was plucked off, the scientist set the grasshopper down and said “Jump. Jump. JUMP!” until he was red in the face. The grasshopper did not jump.

Excitedly, the scientist reached for his notebook and proceeded to write his conclusion “The loss of all legs caused grasshopper to go deaf”.

I used to laugh at such a ridiculous conclusion. But now, such ridiculous conclusions are made at disturbing frequency in the land of all things Web. The reason might be attributed to too much data, not enough context. A common complaint from the wise Avinash Kaushik. Unhelpful piles of data with no one to correctly interpret them.

Or perhaps the reason is convenience. It’s convenient to conclude that no one is clicking “Buy My Book” on your website because people just aren’t interested in the book. Rather than, people aren’t clicking on it because the button is too small, or is hidden at the bottom of an internal web page. Or perhaps people ARE clicking on it, but can’t finish the purchase because no one conducted a usability test on your website – and there’s actually an error preventing people from completing a sale.

Ah… conclusions. They can be so wrong and so damaging. They can also make you deaf.