Behaviour change… that old chesnut

Elon Musk is a master of behaviour change. His ability to set goals and reassess them towards a final solution to a wicked problem is pretty awesome. I’m sure he hires some brilliant folks too, it’s what smart people do ūüėČ I’d like to invite you take your time and go read the article which so evocatively and succinctly captures the magic of decision making by a master such a Musk. It is so craftily captured by waitbutwhy in this awesome drawing of how Elon makes things transform from wants, to goals, to strategies.

wait but why elon musk secret to success sauce

Goals and strategies, its always been about the motivations and the moves needed to execute on them. The path of behaviour change is a strategy that many of us apply to ourselves, our tribes, and into the world. Always striving to have a growth mindset we often pursue a series of behaviour changing paths. In obtaining external goals we also see individuals and organisations seeking to change and influence behaviour for the greater good or for their own gains.

The supreme art of war is to subdue the enemy without fighting. РSun Tzu

How might we subdue our own change challenges by applying Tzu’s principle of not fighting?

We might do so by understanding the motivations for behaviour change on individual and group scales. I’ll be focusing on the individual this week and in preparation I wrote a bit about how motivations tie into the structure of behaviour change success. I learned that insight is drawn from the source of desires. The ‘why’ behind a motivation can make our brain prioritise burning the requisite calories in order to sustain it. Today, on the plane on the way to lovely Portland I hand wrote this wee piece about behaviour change from another frame.








What is an ethnographic interview?

Recently a renewed discussion with an important colleague of mine resurfaced the common use of the phrase ‘ethnographic interview.’ We had previously discussed our concern that any old folk would be running around and using the powerful adjective of ‘ethnographic’ without putting any deep¬†ethno power behind the phrase. This weekend I sat down on the dock with Charlie, my dog,¬†and wrote out my thoughts in long hand, hence you’ll have a chance to¬†enjoy¬†the loopy cursive, occasional misspelling, and unedited sentence structures. It is hopefully worth a read, I promise you a twist is in store for those lucky readers who stick it out!

p.s. if it is truly¬†awful to load the scans or difficult to read let me know and I’ll put it on the to-do list to type it up soon ūüėČ


Ethnography in the strategic core, non-attachment, & weaponising empathy

(*This is a post on ethnography, strategy, & non-attachment written in first person voice for ease of reading, in many cases there are many ‘we’s’ involved and entire villages that helped me see clearly)

There is this older blog post of mine where I proposed uniting agile & ethnography through their common thread of stories . It has been getting heaps of readers this week. To be very honest the stats kept pinging through which reminded me I should maybe write something of interest for my future self to recall this time in life and my vision emerging from the fog.

Lately I’ve been attempting to weave. Working to weave together the concepts of ethnography and the strategic core of business decision making. In the last year I felt my career vision crystallising into “how can we get empathy to be felt & utilised in the core strategic business decision making machinery?” This is a timely vision with the huge shift in the market place toward purpose driven businesses. I feel this mirrored through our species beginning to awaken¬†to the fact that if we don’t figure out how to be¬†kind to our home and ourselves we might not even want to live on a diseased and discontent rock swirling around a fireball.

This recent thinking brings me to today’s musings and proposal: I propose we meet the world’s wicked problems with weaponised empathy, there is no better way to make a better world.¬†The risk of confinement to a single mindset exceeds the cost of expanding your skillsets into the realm of weaponised empathy.

It would be hard to change a lot of the fundamentals behind how our planet is run by our 8 billion strong tribe. After all, culture is a very slow technology, and don’t let the speed of subcultural developments fool you. The fundamental mechanisms of scapegoating and emulating drive our desires and actions in such deep ways that even those most committed to the growth mindset fall into their traps. We must have examples of good and bad in order to learn, and we learn by mimicking and reading reactions to behaviours. Even the most profound buddhist teaching of non-attachment must be passed through language and example. (I resonate with these words about non-attachment)

Now back to the vision that’s been emerging:¬†“how can we get empathy to be felt & utilised in the core strategic business decision making machinery?” My hypothesis behind this is that ethnography’s power lies in the transformation of the observer. Not in their ‘going native’ but in their ability to take on perspectives in order to expand their own knowledge and conciousness. I’ve only been doing ethno-work for a few years now, and I feel so empowered to spread the influence of the customer into the minds of leadership in organisations. In fact I got so attached to this role of going into the field to bring back the points of view that I threw quite a few tantrums earlier in my career when the bulldozing of the space to get out into the field took too long or caused the precious time spent with customers in the field to evaporate. Then 2 years ago I flipped my thinking & my role, I started to work to become¬†the best bulldozer I could be and began teaching others to do the work. I became non-attached to doing the work and the outcomes of the work. Any ethnographic thinking was more helpful than none at all. At least there was a glimmer of a chance of empathy. I simply delighted in the ability to get to propel others out there to have the transformational perspective taking experiences that I had had the privilege of having previously.¬†That moment was my first true understanding of combining a growth mindset with non-attachment.

Now about ethnography at the strategic core. This is a hypothesis many of us have heard of, or attempted, or mused upon. It’s one of those funny things which feels weird when you mention it to people… ethnography? in core strategic business decision making? You must mean ethnography to ideate on which products to build and how to build them. You might mean ethnography used to transform the organisation itself so it produces better upon its strategy… That’s not what I mean. I mean ethnographic practice that directly transforms the leaders, employees, & customers themselves into the powerhouse of driving strategic decisions & change. We’re all in it together and we can only learn from each other. Empathy through ethnography to empower a changing of the lens as we move into the era of purpose driven businesses. For all these very reasons most design thinking methodologies begin with empathy and insight discovery tools.

We’ve read and heard how PARC at Xerox & Intel have done it at times in a variety of ways. It is likely there could be a company out there kicking a** at it right now, but I’d never know. It is weaponised empathy, a smart business wouldn’t announce their latest greatest strategy artillery to the world. But on the other hand you see it everyday in the world’s most successful Kickstarter campaign, TED talks, start-ups, & radically astute¬†solutions to world problems. Weaponised empathy is at the strategic core in all these cases, and those weapons are aimed directly at the world’s wickedest problems.¬†

Let’s come back to non-attachment and why it matters to the weaponisation of empathy, that thing we need to tackle the world’s issues. If¬†you can imagine everyone getting a little bit of an ethnographic skillset. Give folks out there just a touch of ethno-mindset to help them take on perspectives through a human centric, design research methodology. Sure it would be hard to teach so many people something so deep. If we were to non-attach ourselves to the business outcomes, and just injected those ethno-skills as well as we possibly could, what would happen? Would we not achieve the business outcomes anyway? Would people not be more open and observant of others? Would communications and actions in organisations not become more mindful of perspectives? Would customers needs today and tomorrow not be more easily understandable or accessible? Would insights not be readily available at the finger tips of every single employee? Would those employees not be more happy, effective, and mindful of customers current & future needs? Would not these people create better outcomes… even if those were not the outcomes traditional business strategies would dictate?

Wicked problems take empathy to tackle because the only thing in common in every wicked problem is that there are people and motivations involved. If we were to become non-attached to the outcomes and just did the absolute best we could from a place of compassion and empathy… how could our results not be ‘better’?

A great many of us in the innovation world, the ethnography world, the whole world just want to make an impact that makes this world a better place. We want to give a little bit of a contribution so that the next one along or the one next to us can learn from our journey. We can’t let the machinery we’ve been born into crush our ability to act upon and for the best outcomes for¬†this place. No more can we become attached and paralyses by the outcomes we might achieve or fail to achieve, we simply must strive to do our best. I propose our best is to meet the world’s wicked problems with weaponised empathy.¬†

From @picardtips: “Picard economic tip: The risks of confinement to a single planet exceed the costs of interstellar travel.’

Hedge your bets because we’re all in it together.

The risk of confinement to a single mindset exceeds the cost of expanding your skillsets into the realm of weaponised empathy.¬†Love is all you need to make the world a better place, but the knack is in how you use it. Weaponise your empathy and you can aim your sights at the world’s wickedest problems. Ethnography for all and into the strategic core. Intrepid explorers! Who is¬†coming along on the journey?

“If there is one ideal that the Federation holds most dear, it is that all men, all races can be united.” – Captain Jean-Luc Picard






Warning! A rant on thoughtless interactors!

thoughtless interactor

Have you ever been on the receiving end of a thoughtless interactor? Have you ever been approached by a person whose thoughtlessness in their communication to you created irritation? An interaction that simply bamboozled you in its obliviousness and immediately annoyed you? Someone who just made you shake your head in disgust and ask:

  • Why are you emailing, texting, or calling me at inopportune moments?
  • Why are you¬†sending massively verbose documents and requiring feedback via email?
  • Why do you think that I don’t want to interact with you?

As a thoughtless interactor could it be that you are on the receiving end of these negative client/customer* situations?

  • Because you haven’t taken the time to get to know me enough to gauge how I will take your message. Stop charging ahead with what you want from me before you understand me.
  • Because you keep making more work for me. Stop adding things to my to-do list and make it easy for me to talk to you.
  • Because I don’t like your thoughtless approach to getting what you want from me. Stop and think before you¬†create an interaction.

Basic human interaction design principles centre around lessening the ‘cognitive burden’ on the client or customer of the interaction. Many daily interactions could be better with a small dose of human interaction common sense!

Basic interaction design principles would encourage us all to:

  1. Understand the client/customer & their world
  2. Know your role in interacting with the client / customer
  3. Craft your messaging, medium, & response required from the client / customer to fit or exceed their expectations
  4. Follow through & follow-up to create follower-ship (the making of advocates)
  5. Be fun, different, & a breath of fresh air (apply the power of positivity)

Let’s all be thoughtful interactors! Huzzah!

Rant over.

*Remember that everyone you interact with is your client or customer in one way or another. When in doubt follow the chain of customer-ship.

Bot chat is like most chat, even bots miscommunicate

Here is a video of two bots having a chat by Igor Labutov, Jason Yosinski, and Hod Lipson of the Cornell Creative Machines Lab. I find it wonderful that two bots, created by man and machine, still have the same issues communicating that most of the world does. In fact if you try to read into it and blow the metaphors out of proportion you see how this robo chatter can relate to the entire history of the western world, just think like an undergrad, I know you can do it.

Really do watch the video its so funny.

Check out the original engadget post that Cora Albrecht shared on G+, after all that’s where I learned of this cool thing.

Concept Video

This is a concept video for the project Kate Saunderson and I are embarking on as we speak.

Creative Commons License
Live Ideation by Alicia Dudek & Kate Saunderson is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported License.
Based on a work at

Communicating Clearly: Isn’t Working

Grasping at the meaning of a message can leave us throwing our hands in the air.

Obfuscating correspondence during sign-mediated information interchanges between two parties, to the exclusion of the proletariat is a bourgeoisie affectation that succeeds only in disassociating and causing dereliction from the paramount intentionality of the initially initiated interaction.


Communicating is difficult. It is only made more difficult by using specialized jargon (slang specific to certain groups or situations). It is further complicated by making simple messages more complex in hopes of impressing, persuading, or generally making mountains out of molehills.

In all these long years of education, I have finally come to realize that it is a bigger challenge to make things simpler rather than more complicated. “It’s so true, distilling something to its elemental form is hard and sometimes nearly impossible,” was Rachel’s response to my probes about how she also came to this conclusion. Its been a long hard road to arrive on the side of simplicity and clear communication. In high school Rachel and I would constantly revise papers in order to “sound smarter.” We would inject our essays full of lovely words like defenestration, epiphanical, and antidisestablishmentarianism, hoping to give our writing an air of intelligence and sophistication. Little did we know this was the literary equivalent of¬† playing dress-up and putting on mommy’s high heels. Big words and complex sentence structures are fine when used¬† thoughtfully and carefully.

Above all else its important to find the core message and to communicate it as simply as possible. Cut out the bullshit because in our super busy world no one has time to sort through all the miscommunication in order to recieve the message.

I had the most amazing sculpture professor at the University of Tulsa. His name was Chuck Tomlins and he taught me one thing. Sculpture is not about adding things and building things. Sculpture is knowing how much you can take away and still leave the essence. Communication is just like sculpture you need to know what the crucial bits are and how much you can strip away before they lose their meaning. In order to construct successful clear communications we need to be able to take away the things that are in the way of the message, not add them.

There is a calling for us all, to take away instead of add, and maybe, just maybe those who listen to us may have a message to take away.

‚ÄúWriting is not like painting where you add. It is not what you put on the canvas that the reader sees. Writing is more like a sculpture where you remove, you eliminate in order to make the work visible. Even those pages you remove somehow remain.‚Ä̬†¬† – Elie Wiesel

Dubious Delivery: How dull are the words Design Ethnography?

Earlier this afternoon I was asked, “what exactly is design ethnography?” A simple and common question that my classmates and I get asked chronically by a variety of people. I have answered this question in a plethora of ways in the past. Sometimes I would chirp back, “people watching with a purpose,” which is one of my favorite phrases. It came to me during one of the first assignments we had on our master’s course. We were exploring our personal definitions of the course. Other times I would launch into lengthy discussions of our mother subject, anthropology and the methods of ethnographic study that grew out of it. To designers and artists, I would emphasize the influence and relationship design ethnography has with design, by providing indicators and actionable insights (which basically means that it helps people tailor design better to actual needs and uses). Patrons of the pub I used to work at would ask, “what are you studying?” They had no idea of the can of worms they were opening. I would smile back and clearly enunciate, “design ethnography.” Then 9 times out of 10 the bloke or bird would roar with laughter and reply, “Design and PORNOGRAPHY?” I would crack up, they would crack up, and it was all good craic¬† in the end (craic = fun).

Two Polish people living in Oklahoma, who happen to be my parents, still don’t really understand what it is that I study. I can’t seem to be able to get the concepts to communicate correctly in Polish. The know its some kind of social science-y voodoo magic, and they hope it will make me happy and successful. Friends from my university days back in Tulsa find it hard to grasp as well. I will carefully explain it to them, and then it flies right out of the other ear. That’s because it’s a mouthful and it’s hard to communicate. I fail at this communication constantly.

No matter how I deliver design ethnography the transmission error makes communication failure imminent. Occasionally, I get so caught up in trying to make someone understand where I am coming from, this realm of design ethnography, that I completely botch the delivery. I end up sounding like a schizophrenic Frankenstein, who couldn’t possible study people for a living, because I obviously cannot communicate an answer to one of the most common questions we get asked, “so what do you do?”

Regardless of all these issues, I don’t live in fear of being asked, “what do you do?” I just view each person as a new opportunity to tailor my message, and maybe one day I will hit the nail on the head discovering the universally understandable definition of design ethnography. Though I highly doubt that will ever happen, because a new issue has arisen. I don’t think I know what design ethnography is anymore. Every time I glance in the direction of design ethnography it morphs. It melds itself. It is a shape shifting chameleon that everyone wants to use and abuse but no one seems to stand behind. We are constantly being pushed to higher and higher levels of insight and achievement within design ethnography. What is appropriate? Where do the demands end? How far can you stretch the powerful tool of design ethnography before it snaps?

Could it be that design ethnography will save us or will it implode under the pressure?

To some degree design ethnography is people watching with a purpose, but lately I am conflicted and confused.