From Pain Points to Numb Points

August 19, 2008 at 1:01 pm | Posted in Attention Management, Globalization, Uncategorized | 5 Comments

I’ve heard marketing folks in the IT space use the term pain points for years.  According to the Buzzword Compliant Dictionary “Business consultants use ‘pain points’ as a term to describe the places where a business feels the ‘pain’ due to poor operational structure, bad software or good, old-fashioned inefficiencies.”  If you’re in marketing for a software, hardware, or services firm or in IT and trying to secure budget or resources to address a problem, it’s a good idea to isolate the pain points and then describe how your recommended solution will ease the pain. 

But I noticed today that many of the IT issues I’ve been writing about lately don’t lend themselves to pain points.  It’s more like they are numb points.  Users don’t think day-to-day about the symptoms of the underlying problem because they’ve been there so long and are so difficult to put your finger on, that they have become numb to it and just treat any resulting inefficiency as business-as-usual.  For example, in my report on Enterprise Attention Management I wrote:

Most people treat attention management problems like e-mail overload and interruptions from IM and phone calls like they do the weather. Everyone complains about it but no one does anything about it.

That’s what I mean by a numb point.  A second example I’ve run across is the cost and expense of translating and localizing content that was created for one language without regard to how easy it will be to localize later.  A third is collaborative authoring.

But trying to get people to address a numb point is not easy, despite the criticality of the issue.  For a parallel, think about the human body.  Both pain and numbness can indicate very serious problems.  A host of dreaded conditions involving circulation or damaged nerves can lead to parts of the body going numb, signaling major trouble.  While the human body is wired to respond instantly to pain and force you to attend to the problem, numbness is more sneaky.  It can go unnoticed at first.  And once it is noticed, the numbness can be scary and lead to dread, but doesn’t inspire the same quick reaction as pain.

To get someone to address a numb point you have to first make them aware of the numbness, the nature of the efficiency loss it is causing, and how it is a symptom that is likely to get worse.  You have to tap that numb part, show how that isn’t normal, and shake them awake into dealing with it rather than accepting a slow decline in function.  That’s what I and others in the attention management / information overload space are trying to do in different ways.  That’s what I hope to do with collaborative authoring and other content authoring trends in my current research.  And I hope that over time, IT and business executives become more sensitive and aware that sometimes numbness, not just pain, demands immediate attention.



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  1. […] tackled these needs head-on because they are not a pain point. Indeed, they have become a numb point. Authors have become used to clumsy workarounds such as e-mailing files around for comment, […]

  2. […] is so tricky.  There are many to choose from, not least that collaborative authoring is a “numb point “, not a pain point for most […]

  3. […] is so tricky.  There are many to choose from, not least that collaborative authoring is a “numb point “, not a pain point for most authors. But the reason I keep coming back to is just human […]

  4. […] the business for pain points may skim over areas of maximum value since those tend to reside in numb points that long ago spawned band-aid processes that would look silly to an outsider but everyone else is […]

  5. I was curious if you ever thought of changing the layout of
    your blog? Its very well written; I love what youve got to say.
    But maybe you could a little more in the way of content
    so people could connect with it better. Youve got an awful
    lot of text for only having one or two pictures. Maybe you could space it out better?

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