Experiments = Experience + Insight

elephant therapy

We who work in innovation, transformation, change, and all the capital letter functions trying to make the world a better place for you and for me,

It has been a weird journey to understand the cultures around the greater market of ‘I’nnovation. Capital ‘I’ Fancy stuff, that is. Whole world is full of us, it is. You’re probably familiar with how innovation works in your own world already, you are. Likely this post will bore you, it will.

Anyways here goes my attempt at sense making based on all the social media conversations, articles, and interactions I have been able to participate in in my short time in innovation spaces:

Who isn’t innovating these days?

Who isn’t venturing or starting up?

Who isn’t trying to sprint, lean, agile, iterate, synergise, partner and ally?

Who isn’t platformifying?

We’re inundated with these words that we’re using so much they are quickly going to be meaningless for us all. (If they aren’t already in our ‘cliche’ box).

The question for all of us is: Who is experimenting?

It is from experimentation that the seeds of innovation grow. It is the brave  and lucky who we hold up as innovation heroes. Those who were courageous enough to increase their risk radar to experiment and then kept at it long enough and got lucky to produce value. Those folks are our innovation heroes. There is your Tesla, your Musk, your Edison. They had a process and for some of them it was called the scientific method, a rigorous framework for experimentation.

How can we innovate without experimentation? Can we call it an innovation if someone happens upon a perfectly tailored and commercialisable solution by coincidence the first time? First of all it is doubtful that will happen. Research and development departments, university research labs, most of science, and some of design have all put forward their own specific ways of experimenting. We’ve been experimenting forever in kitchens, in cobbler’s shops, in the fields, over hills, and in the dales. Yet somewhere along the way some folk out there have flogged the experimentation out of the innovation. Too constrained in their risk approach to even approach a true experiment. Always wanting to know the R.O.I. (return on investment) before the first line of the story has been written. We get stuck in a loop of business cases to run experiments to build better business cases. (p.s. nothing against business cases, they are super useful). How will we ever run fast enough and iterate enough in order to innovate enough to save ourselves, our species, our planet?

Here comes agile to the rescue, and its good friends lean start-up, 5 day sprint, special intraperneurship, design thinking, idea battles, concept development carousels, and a whole host of ways to speed up and discount the costs and risks of innovation. So if we make it small enough and palatable enough the experiment will gather support and the snowball will begin its momentous roll uphill or downhill. In this world no matter where you sit it is a matter of storytelling and some charisma to get your experiments off the ground. Sounds pretty full of bias that decision making process does, better build a  solid ROI and business case for your experiment, you might. The little business suit wearing calculator in your head might now be thinking, “Gee don’t know how you plan to run a profitable business while throwing all that cash at your so called ‘experiments’.”  Well that’s the deal kids! Most experimental and innovative places don’t turn a profit…for a really long time! Start-up business models have only in very recent history provided us with the stories of instantaneous IPO payout glory.

It is not an experiment if you know the outcome.

If you know the outcome you can call it all sorts of things but not an experiment.

How do we in the face of so much activity in the name of ‘I’nnovation sort the wheat from the chaf? How can we define a real experiment? More importantly how can we bulldoze the space to run true experiments and not just evaluative confirmatory studies?

Teach your bulldozers what they need to know to be the best possible bulldozers they can be. Your bosses, their bosses, their bosses, and onward all need to be empowered with a clear narrative of what you want to learn from your experiment. Learning is valuable, and people pay for learning and information. All we need to do as experimenters is be able to tell the value story of the knowledge we are pursuing. What do we want to know? and why will this experiment help us know more than we did before? How can that knowledge help us make better decisions and help us allocate what we’ve got now better in the pursuit of what we want tomorrow?

Abstract hack of an experimental process

Completed prior to the experiment

1.Title of experiment: Make it meaningful and descriptive

2.Purpose: What do we want to know when we’ve done this – 1 or 2 lines to describe the objective of the experiment, or your focal question (Customer, client, & stakeholder ecosystem & needs)

3.Materials: list of all the inputs required

4.Procedure: the steps and plan that will be enacted to run the experiment, including the exact data collection plan (& dates if you can include them)

Completed during and after the experiment is run

5.Data collection: observations, data points, &  readings from instruments

6.Data analysis: method and findings of analysed data

7.Discussion of learnings: synthesis and meaning making out of analysed data

8.Design recommendations for next experiment: ideation, preparations, & planning of next experiment

Then once you’ve conducted the experiment,

SHOW YOUR WORK! SHARE YOUR WORK!

If you don’t share your learnings what are we fighting for?

 

Do you have any better experimental frameworks you can share with me?

Let us go forth and know not what our outcomes might be but focus instead on each step of our journey.

 

 

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 😉

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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.

I’m learning how to unlock the passion of the explorer.

People who get into the business of design ethnography and qualitative customer insight research do it because they love it.  We have studied and worked in this field because we truly believe that this kind of work  can eventually make someone’s life better. Some days I help improve and redesign error messages and swipe interactions, but these little poorly designed cognitive burdens add up and make your life harder than it needs to be.  Other days I conduct in-depth research with customers on touchy personal topics of great social importance. Having such love for your domain sometimes makes it hard to step back and get perspective. I am  *almost* a passionate explorer, but I could use some work and I will always keep learning. I found some good tools to help re-frame how I thought about work and my passion and I am going to share them with you here.

This year Deloitte published an interesting report out of the Centre for the Edge, a future focused think tank based in the USA, Europe, and Australia. John Hagel and John Seely Brown head it up, you should Google these fine folks to see their fabulous careers and awesome research cred. John Seely Brown was at Xerox’s PARC for years, that is where ethnography and UX collided in the early days of people who did things like design ethnography, but didn’t call it that yet. John Hagel is a strategist and innovator, who not so secretly  has a bit of a passion for passion? I’ll explain.

My point is that the Centre for the Edge has put forth some interesting ideas regarding the difference between the standard (read antiquated) employee engagement measures and the new world of the passionate worker.  The passion of the explorer is a set of characteristics that are displayed by a category of workers that are more likely to be employed at successful companies. By reverse logic, if you employ these people, your company will increase the probability of healthy dividends.  Passion of the explorer can be identified by 3 core concepts: commitment to the domain, questing and connecting. You can watch John Hagel’s video explaining the core concepts of the report.

What impacted me is that, we can become even more passionate explorers, and what’s more is that others can be uplifted into this realm even if they had no interest in it before. The caveat is that I am assuming being a passionate explorer is awesome and that many people in the UX, design, and design research industries are already obsessed with being one. We can now identify and measure our own individual progress as passionate explorers and make plans to work on the parts crucial to our way of working. I really enjoyed this report and the way it laid out a very simple way of understanding the difference between passionate at work and miserable at work.

Additional resources to keep exploring the topic of a passionate workforce

Full Report:  Unlocking the passion  of the Explorer:  Report 1 of the 2013 Shift  Index series From the Deloitte Center for the Edge

A Blogpost from John Hagel about what passionate workers want: John Hagel’s blog on the Manifesto of the Creative Passionate Worker:

Report on the way we need to redesign our work environments physically and experientially in order to move towards more creative and passionate work: Work Environment Redesign Case Studies

DISCLAIMER: I work at Deloitte Digital, but I posted this because I really liked this stuff and it helped me in understanding my own goals 😉

Agile Ethnography: A proposition

In the midst of yet another awesome agile project I turn my thoughts to the idea of Agile Ethnography. It could be amazing. You could have the best of both worlds.
In the midst of yet another awesome agile project I turn my thoughts to the idea of Agile Ethnography. It could be amazing. You could have the best of both worlds.

Ethnography is a rather labour intensive study of people in their contexts. It grew out of a very rigorous academic world filled with armchair anthropologists and explorer’s gone native on pretty Pacific isles. Like the second half of the word suggests ethnography, was all about the -graphy. Writing (lots of it) is the fundamental communication tool that was used to describe the findings in the field and to chronicle the emotional response and observational bias that came from the researcher being self aware of the impact his or her presence was inflicting upon the research. To put it succinctly ethnography is traditionally a self conscious, in-depth, laborious, time-consuming, exercise whose major benefit is in uncovering the deep motivations and patterns of specific people in specific contexts. Oh lawd almighty, it is so fantastic, you have no idea how thrilling it is until you are out there in the field having insight after insight come pouring into your notebook.

Now a bit about Agile. It is a methodology to run a project in a manner that is supposed to be all about focusing on working on the most highly prioritised requirements of a project first in order to come out with a minimum viable product first and work on refinements and additional features in further iterations. PM Hut kindly pointed out that a common definition of agile varies slightly from my own experience, ” Agile is mostly defined as working with as little requirements up-front through small iterations, until satisfaction is achieved.” In my experience with Agile, and I am certainly no pro, everybody has their own way of defining and doing Agile so there are as many perceptions of Agile out there as there are projects.  There are all sorts of ways that Agile projects are run using things like scrums, stand-ups, story cards, epics, story points, and many more. I won’t bore you with explaining them, I know you can Google like a boss. The moral of this story is that Agile is all about being lean, moving quickly, and iterating. In an ideal situation Agile is a no waste methodology where your efforts are directed to only the most promising candidates in your to-do list (a.k.a. backlog).

So how do we reconcile a labour intensive and detail oriented science like ethnography, which focuses on holistic contextual understanding of people in a situation, with something like Agile, which a structured approach to quick and dirty development with shiny results? Well from where I stand there are actually a lot of similarities. In ethnography you follow your nose and go where the leads take you. Agile and ethnography can jam on that harmony, but wait there is more! Agile and ethnography have a heart string in common, the all powerful story. Ethnography at its core is about telling the story of a people in a compelling manner to draw out the insights that highlight new knowledge about the people and their context. Agile is centred on developing requirements in a very specific story format: As a (fill in the description of the user), I want to be able to (fill in the description of the function), so that (fill in the description of the motivation/reason). Somewhere in this deeply story-centric core of Agile and Ethnography lies the opportunity to expand and extrapolate new methods that can create synergies between the two to benefit both schools of thought.

In my case I am really interested in making design ethnography tools for the Agile managed project. These are user experience research tools that help you flow the ethnographic quality of user stories straight into the requirements of the Agile methods. I want to be able to eliminate the double-handling, the constant collation of data, the endless transcription. Who says we can’t just ask users to write their own stories? who says we can’t interact with our participants on the same level and with as much transparency as possible? Who says we can’t remove the obstacles and just get on with the art of getting the stories of real people incorporated directly into the things we build for them? Isn’t that why people do design ethnography or user experience research? That’s why I do it, and I am going to find more fun, interactive, and direct ways to have the participants participate.

Why should you do user experience at the highest corporate level?

Why should you do user experience at the highest corporate level?

You should do it at every level in your organisation and everyone should own it.

It is a damned good question. One that is in the hearts, minds, and wallets of  many executives. The ever-increasing community of CI, CX, UX, UI, UCD, DE, etc. practioners are all scrambling to get their ideas included in discussions at increasingly higher stratas of companies. It is our newest incarnation of “the customer is always right” philosophy: new and improved, specially tailored to our rapid, demanding, technological, complex, and abstract world. After all it is harder to understand your customer when they aren’t coming in to have a chat at your shop like in the old days. Business is big and the public is savvy.  The battle for what we want is getting tougher for both businesses and consumers. Business competition is rough and the world’s economic challenges aren’t making it any easier. Consumers are being bombarded by insane amounts of messaging all demanding behaviour changes and dollars from their hard-earned pay checks. Then why don’t we work together to  create mutually beneficial situations? Like Apple, makers of what consumers want: an ecosystem that eliminates decisions regarding logistics and focuses all your decisions on content wrapped in an intuitive package. That is a very mutually beneficial situation and the sales say it all.

Everyone’s interactions with each other, spaces, devices, and almost everything in our increasingly modern world is growing at astronomical rates (see any info-graphic representation of how much email, Facebook, Twitter, sms, YouTube activity has grown over the last 5 years, I can recommend dozens). You can’t just take your customer out of their highly connected information dense environment and study them in a lab. You also cannot just go around asking customers what they want all willy nilly. Too many risks are involved. Did you get the right people? Did you ask the right questions? Did you get insights from the customers that impact what you are trying to do?  Too many people have to contribute too much time to research, create, and sell, for businesses to go firing shots in the dark, that costs a lot of money. We need structured approaches to tackle these problems and we need them to be proven in the field and in the battle for behaviour change. That approach exists and it has many names: CI, CX, UX, UI, UCD, DE, etc.  These are all the exact same thing, a user or customer centric approach to conducting business and creating new assets. Those folks at the top of bog organisations might look at all this and dig in their heels proclaiming, “Those are project or implementation level concerns, I do strategy… BIG strategy. We engage stakeholders just fine to drive that big strategy.” Thank you very much, come again. Well Madame or Sir Big Strategy I have some news for you. However you have been “engaging stakeholders” in the past is fine, but there are systematic and scientific ways to maximise your return on investment in engaging stakeholders. In other words, you are not getting your money’s worth, yet. You might do UX at the lower functional levels, but if incentives, key performance indicators, and overall  management support does not align with a core UX philosophy then what is the point? The awesome UX  will be a one-off affair or the change will revert as soon as you are done. Your money will be like a flash in the pan with no sustained effect. People involved will disengage and become quickly disenchanted with being customer centric if the impact is not evident and lasting. To counteract these risks UX must be embedded and supported throughout all levels of the business’s strategy and management.

You and your customers are in the same boat and making your customer experience strategy the core of the decision-making process will get you both rowing in the same direction. 

One Stop Blogging: What is User Experience (UX)?

Unfortunately, I don't know who to credit for this awesome image. If you know who please let me know.

Here begins a series of blogposts entitled “One Stop Blogging.” These posts will provide a crash course in top picks of videos and articles to absorb while tuning into the hip world of user experience, design thinking, and “cool stuff other people are doing that might make me rethink how I do stuff.”

Today’s topic: What is User Experience?

I’ve not only provided you with a variety of sources and perspectives on the topic, but the bottom of the list you will find some sources that might not traditionally fit into UX work. Trust me they are all important and rather pertinent to sustainable and holistic user experience practices.

Ready to crash this course? GO!

The ROI of User Experience with Dr. Susan Weinschenk
http://www.youtube.com/watch?feature=endscreen&v=O94kYyzqvTc&NR=1

5 UX meltdowns and how to avoid them with Dr. Eric Schaffer
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gGC9MXASdPk

UX Enterprise: the Future of UX Work with Dr. Eric Schaffer
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Vmr35QXP-KQ

UX and UI, Chicken and Egg
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2wZUTe70w1Y&feature=related

A World Without Usability (Used to play in Australia, no longer the case)
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cwoSQypJ5to&feature=related

10 Usability Heuristics
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hWc0Fd2AS3s&feature=related

WHERE GOOD IDEAS COME FROM by Steven Johnson
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NugRZGDbPFU&feature=related

RSA Animate – The Secret Powers of Time
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=A3oIiH7BLmg

Quickly understand the mechanics of choice overload from Sheena Iyengar.
http://www.ted.com/talks/sheena_iyengar_choosing_what_to_choose.html

Rehearsing Your Strategic Story
http://blogs.hbr.org/cs/2012/01/rehearsing_your_strategic_stor.html

The Cumulative Effect of Design

The cumulative effect of design is epic. I am not going into the can be, should be, would be. Simply the cumulative effect of design is epic.

When you first glance at something and you instantly understand it then it is legendary. All that Apple hub-a-lub is exactly what it is because there was an epic effect created by layers and layers of design, technology, and human insight. It is the insight I am interested in most of all.

I am obsessed with design for humans and interactivity. I am specifically trained an focused on the understanding of people and their needs and motivations, but because this is a business world we live in I am spending more and more time integrating what customers want and the businesses goals. It sounds so simple as I write it down here, but it is not.

Business goals and customer wants are simple enough to reconcile when you are directly catering to you customers in order to extract the cash, but modern business is ever so much more complicated. For example what is your “customers” are really your employees? You want them to perform their task as efficiently as possible but they hate the tools you provide to accomplish the task. Your customers could be the volunteers who work with your organization. How do you get people to stay engaged and happy working for free?

It is the cumulative effect of design that makes software seem like your buddy, your work seem like play, and makes your days bearable and sometimes if we are lucky better for us all.