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,


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.



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 😉 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. – Sun 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.








PROTOtyping 2010 Day 1

PROTOtyping 2010 is a symposium centered on the roles of craft in prototyping and of prototyping in craft. It has been arranged by the Victoria & Albert Museum and the Duncan of Jordanstone College of Art and Design in conjunction with the inaugural Craft Festival of Scotland. The symposium brought together 16 diverse speakers from different industries to discuss the role of prototyping in their practice.

The conference attendees are a varied bunch that represent the cores of a long list of industries and fields including: space architecture, jewelery, history, business, gaming, consulting, blogging, media, arts, design, and so forth. It seems like no two attendees come from the same background. In fact the diverse mix of speakers and attendees makes for a truly eye opening and innovative experience.

First let me introduce you to Dr Louise Valentine,  she is the principle researcher and lead coordinator for the Past Present Future Craft project . She has set the theme and tone of the conference. The attendees are comfortable and relaxed. Everyone is intellectually stimulated, motivated, and very well fed. The caterer’s are fulfilling every growling stomachs wishes. Who knew listening and concentration created such hunger? Coffee and tea keep the lecture theater of creative people awake and kicking at least until the discussions at the end of sets of speakers. During the discussions, moderated by  people of various moderating skill levels, the audience sometimes get the chance to chime in and ask the burning questions.

Our opening speaker for the day is Constance Adams, from Synthesis International. She is dynamic and energetic and her tone is very matter of fact, at times comedic. I love her Americanness, bold and open, and it makes me a tad homesick. Her discussion of the Techne and Logos at the Edge of Space centers on her experiences designing environments for space. She leads the audience through the variety of design concerns and parameters that face a space architect (seriously cool job title).  I was really appreciating learning about the plethora of considerations in designing space environments and the layers of complexity that over lay her work on getting man to Mars. Others in the audience only visibly perked up their ears when she unveiled a woven tapestry that would line the space capsules (which are in NASA tradition only decorated in white, nay, and beige)  with GASP! patterns on it. This small bit of ornament being designed into a NASA space environment could not be taken at face value. Her structuring of an argument for NASA to accept the pattern quickly became the focal point of the tail end of her discussion. The pattern would indicate which way is up, which by the way is the major takeaway from Constance’s talk. Which way is up, something us gravity bound earthlings take for granted, is a crucial and major paradigm shift that Constance must consider in every design decision.

Leonardo Bonnani from the  MIT Media Lab spoke next focusing on The Tools and Tool-Makers of the Bazaar: New
Paradigms in Computer-Aided Craft,
which means he takes us on a journey through the world of open source and more. Leonardo had a spectacular line in his talk. He really hit my heart strings when he poignantly posed the question, “What artifacts should we make?” Check out his illusion shattering work at www.sourcemap.org, his project illustrating what things are made of and where it comes from or  “a platform for researching, optimizing and sharing supply chains.” – from the Sourcemap website

Hazel White, from  University of Dundee led us through the projected she crafted while artist in residence in the Shetland Islands. She along with the programming skills of Paul McKinnon put together the Hamefarers Kist, which is an interactive multimedia memory chest.   Check out the video of her son explaining it to an intended user of the Kist.

The first three speakers then came down for a discussion chaired by Dee Cooper, Product and Service
Director from Virgin Atlantic Airways. These discussions after sets of three speakers provide the attendees to satisfy their own personal curiousities by opening the floor up to an open discussion. This in fact facilitated nice exchanges between the other speakers in the audience, the audience, and the speakers sitting in front of the lecture theater.

In his own words, the ‘lucky first-speaker-after-lunch’ spot was awarded to Michael Schrage, from the illustrious halls of  MIT originally from Chicago’s Hyde Park. I was quite interested to hear his talk, after all his book is called ‘Serious Play,’ which sounds like something a business games craftswoman such as I would like. He is a behavioral economist by training and I thought it would be mighty interesting to see him speaking to this audience filled with the design intelligentsia. His talk was quietly titled Crafting Interactions: The Purpose(s) of ‘Serious Play.’ His brashness won over the audience and his talk was received. Well after all he was preaching to the choir, when he insisted that businesses must play (prototype?) in order to innovate and that in the long run not playing can be detrimental to an organization’s competitiveness.

Next on the program was  naptime, because the next speaker (Catharine Rossi, RCA/V&A Museum) bored  most of the audience to tears. Her prerecorded script lauding the revolution in the world caused by the Italian design collective Memphis did catch the attention of one Mr. Carr in the audience who insisted that the focal designer of her talk ‘never considered the pieces referenced prototypes at all!’ Poor Catherine!

Dr Elizabeth Sanders from The Ohio State University and maker of Maketools rescued the afternoon with her frank and concrete talk about Prototyping for the Design Spaces of the Future. Her presentation was so beautiful. It was so simple and direct, but she never meandered or wandered. Her talk went through how the co-creation process can and should be used at a variety of points in the design process and not only in the tail of development. Later on she gave us wonderful advice about our current projects and different suggestions about how we could incorporate co-creation into this summer’s masters project. Her genuineness and kindness didn’t stop there, she even left us with a same of the materials she uses in her make kits, so we could recreate them. A new role model was born for me.

To provide a sharp contrast to Liz Sanders, Alex Murray-Lesley from Chicks on Speed spoke about Guitar High Heel Shoe Prototyping. Followed by a discussion lead by Chris van der Kuyl, the CEO of Brightsolid Ltd and one of Dundee’s local heros.

Whew! What a jam packed mind stretching day! Can’t wait for tomorrow!

Online Overload

This morning in Strategic Information Design class I was overwhelmed. Lauren Currie came to speak to us about social networking and online presences. She outlined the major web tools she uses to network online including Facebook, Twitter, Skype, blogging, and others. The discussion focused on the creation of your public professional online presence and how you can accomplish what you want to with it. I was overwhelmed and exhausted by this discussion.

I don’t want to live on the internet. I came to study Design Ethnography precisely because I was interested in studying and helping people. When I was graduating from my undergraduate university (wrapping up intensive work in international business, Spanish, and marketing) I was lured into considering a Masters in Business Administration.  I seriously thought about the implications that would have for my future and then I promptly turned on my heel and walked away. I was not going to be boxed into a gray humdrum existence as a mid-level manager. So I set out on this grand adventure to become an ethnographer.  Today I consider myself an ethnographer, and an quite happy in the path I have taken and the things I am learning.

There is a looming cloud on my horizon. I will have to put on my marketing hat again. Today has reminded me of the importance that presenting and selling yourself has, especially in an emerging field like Design Ethnography. Yet, I am tired by the thought of carefully crafting and managing this endeavor. Overall though I am going to suck it up and do it. In fact I am doing it right now by blogging thoughtfully and slowly weaving together the facets of my life. I think it all comes down to cohesion. Its so hard to be wholesome and even more to become whole while still presenting yourself to the world.

I think I will begin by listing the online services and tools that I use. Then I will decide which ones are useful and which ones I should add. I will go through my bookmarks and organize them. I will set up my homepage on my browser so that it really represents what I look at first and what I need to see when I open up the internet. I will begin to consciously manage my online time and interactions.