Human Behavior and Data: The Performance of Trees

A highway lined with trees with colored leaves.

In a park anywhere where there are trees is a tree I’ll call Tree. One day Tree thought how nice it might be to check its performance as a tree.

So it counted up its branches and leaves to see how many it had. Every season, year after year, Tree tracked its leaves and branches. It learned that during winter when it slept, its branches were bare. In spring, every branch lit up in a burst of color as it flowered and swayed in gentle breezes until each flower became a new leaf. Tree counted its flowers and how many became a leaf. And year after year, Tree grew taller and expanded its roots deeper into the earth.

Tree watched its performance as a tree and felt proud of its numbers of branches and leaves.

Also in the park that is anywhere there are trees is a tree I’ll call Oak. Every year that Oak celebrated its birthday with a new ring, it would rejoice in its blessing at being an Oak. It too grew taller and its branches spread out in all directions. Oak monitored its growth the same way that Tree did, counting branches and leaves and measuring its growth.

What can you do to stand out from your forest of competitors?

As was typical for the park that is anywhere there are trees, people came to visit.

When the children saw Oak, they would run fast and leap up into its branches, climbing higher and higher. Couples would arrive on very hot days, bringing a blanket and picnic lunch of sandwiches and wine. Walkers and runners stopped for rest and shade at Oak’s side and sometimes a human would spontaneously wrap their arms around its large trunk and whisper thanks for its majesty and beauty.

Years passed. Oak grew, but also lost limbs during storms and sometimes it withered a bit from drought, but still the humans came to visit. Tree was a good tree that withstood the same weather conditions. It would count the number of birds who visited, but none would stay to build a nest. Sometimes a human would walk up to Tree and admire it and Tree would add that visit to its collection of data, but would do no more.

Oak was less interested in vanity metrics. Some years humans in work clothes would arrive in the park to trim its branches. And still the children came to climb. Birds and squirrels found safety and sustenance with Oak and made it their own community. Humans would take out their cellphones to get pictures with Oak in the background. Oak was always fascinated by these interactions and wondered what it could do to bring them all more joy? Based on data and observations, Oak decided it wanted to do something more.

After a time, Oak collected enough data that helped it create something new based on how it was being used by one specific set of users — humans. It had listened to their words as they spoke on their picnic blankets and knew what made them sad, afraid, and happy or at peace. Oak discovered that children begged to return for more visits. So, based on that observation, Oak devised a way to test a theory which was that providing something humans desired would attract more visits.

And so Oak, being wise and of the earth, created a new, very strong larger branch that extended over the nearby creek. It took some time, but one day a family came to visit the park and they brought their children, a used rubber tire and rope which they attached to Oak’s very strong new branch. Oak watched in delight as the years continued to pass and every summer humans came to swing over the creek from its very strong branch to jump into the creek and swim. Day after day, year after year, Oak hosted humans and wildlife with such joy that it eventually no longer counted its branches and leaves or monitored its performance. The test proved Oak’s theory that providing something humans wanted or needed to improve their experience would increase visits.

Meanwhile, Tree continued to count its leaves and branches and grow taller. But it was rarely noticed by people because Tree didn’t care about what they did, why they might stick round longer or even if they left. Tree didn’t want to be useful and didn’t measure how long any human or wildlife stayed around. It gathered facts, but didn’t ask questions. Whenever people came to the park and passed Tree by, it didn’t think to ask why that might be. All that mattered to Tree was how many branches and leaves it had and that it continued to grow taller.

For Oak, its metrics had to be actionable and help it make better decisions. Oak watched the activity around it, who used it and how it engaged with its users. It looked for more opportunities for growth and patterns of use. From that it learned it was loved, recommended and shared.

And for Tree, its quarterly evaluations didn’t change because it didn’t bother to look past the data and into what it could do to make improvements or create desire.

I hope you enjoyed this simple introduction to data analytics, evaluating results and making decisions to improve usability and conversions.

Perhaps you will one day stand out in your forest of competition.

Originally published in Medium Nov 17, 2015

Human Behavior and Data: The Performance of Trees
Scroll to top