Macgvyering our way to Danish design: from opportunism to conscious curation

Innovation and design exist to meet unmet needs of people. As designers and design researchers we pursue understanding how to define problems that illuminate unmet needs and how to effectively align resources in order to best meet those needs within constraints. Uncovering unmet needs can be delicate time consuming research through careful conversations, or unmet needs can come straight to your face in the shape of the slap of bad customer feedback. Defining what problems (unmet needs) you might approach solving, in what manner, with what time pressure, with which resources, to achieve which outcome is the beauty of being human and critical in the art of doing anything, especially business.

I am on a professional and personal journey to shore up my fundamental foundations and redesign my values. In this exploration I found that my belief in Macgvyering as a core approach needed broadening and exploration because I was putting myself into situation after situation where I over committed and became harried. I was determined to do everything “I had to do” and everything “I wanted to do.” Also everything always felt, to me, like it was on fire. I couldn’t figure out how to make space and hold space. I did this at home, at work, on the field, and in life. I would solidly pursue meeting one need to the neglect of the others. I wanted to play to my strengths, and through over feeding those strengths I saw them become my weaknesses. I wanted to do what felt good while still reaping the rewards of doing the hard work to learn the lessons and work through the challenges. You know what happened? I did it, I am doing it, but I can see what price I am paying to do it. I am tired. I am choosing to be harried and playing too many roles. Macgvyering is a strength of mine, but any strength can become a weakness over time.

One lesson I learned is that when it gets cold, the answer isn’t always to throw more wood on the fire. I can throw on a sweater, or find a cuddle buddy, or move to Aruba. So when it gets cold and Macgvyering more isn’t going to meet my needs, I’ve pulled together a spectrum of strategies to consider depending on the design challenge and resources before me.

Here are my first thoughts on Macgvyering our way to Danish design, from opportunism to conscious curation:

cofPART 1:

Survival ⇒ Thrival ⇒ Design ⇒ Sustainability

Survival: pursuit to survive / escape the immediate threat / pain / death by unmet need

Thrival (thriving): pursuit to not only survive but do so in a manner that meets another need i.e. doing it in a clever manner / without or with help / “Ah-ha look at how they did that with so little, aren’t they clever” (meets supporting need of admiration / stroking)

Design: pursuit to create a solution that satisfies multiple needs of one or many stakeholders i.e. designing a cup so that the drinker enjoys drinking from it and the factory can easily produce them cost-effectively

Sustainability: pursuit to create a solution that satisfies multiple needs over time, satisfies changing needs, or creates a dynamic self-sustaining / self-iterating system that can grow and morph to meet changing needs over time

PART 2:

Pressure of unmet needs (time pressure) VS. Resources obtainable (prioritization of investment)

The inverse relationship between the pressure of unmet needs and the resources obtainable is a product of the march of time. If I had more time then the pressure of the unmet need would not be so great. If the pressure of the unmet need was less then I would have more time to solve for it.  If I had more time I could find more resources. Many of the questions we ask in business and strategy worlds lie along this spectrum, with the added kicker of how will we make money? If we consider money as simply an account of value then,  this one is just an addendum to the entire spectrum because it is a part of the whole lot: from survival to sustainability.

Questions for understanding the pressure of the unmet need:

  • How much pain does the unmet need cause me? (desirability to fix)
  • How long can I stand for the need to be unmet? (viability)
    • i.e. How much time do I have until BOOM? (when the response is ‘I don’t know’ our adrenaline, lizard brain kicks in and moves it up in the ‘on fire’ queue)

Questions for understanding the resources obtainable / prioritization of investment:

  • How much do we care about solving it? (pain / opportunity / viability)
  • How important is this problem? (values / purpose)
  • How often do we see it? (frequency)
  • How long does its impact last? / How many people / communities does it affect? (scale)
  • What do we have to work upon this problem? (feasibility)

 

PART 3:

Each of the approaches below builds on the approach preceding it. This is a process of building the space to carve more time out to create and innovate. Maslow captured this same mechanism in his pyramid of the hierarchy of needs. Author Jared Diamond chronicles it on a civilization level in his books Guns, Germs, & Steel and Collapse. He writes about how civilizations had to satisfy the basics before they could create things to satisfy complex needs that stand the test of time such as guns, steel, Moai idols, pyramids, and other monolithic builds. ‘You gotta walk before you can run.’ or in my fire analogy ‘You gotta gather wood, light the fire, get warm, so that you can spin the wool to weave the sweater, so you can warmly attract a cuddle buddy, so you can both make the journey to warm Aruba.’

  • Solely opportunistic (flailing for survival) ⇒ outcome is survival
  • Selectively opportunistic (Macgvyering) ⇒ outcome is thrival (meets more than 1 need)
  • Partial curation (prototyping & iteration) ⇒ outcome is design (meets multiple / complex needs)
  • Conscious  curation (Danish design: fit for purpose design to meet complex needs over time) ⇒ result is sustainability, meeting multiple needs over time / a dynamic system

I survive and learn through flailing, which can be a painful process, but this gives me the creativity and skill to know how to Macgvyer. Once I am Macgvyering and solving things in clever one-hit-wonder solutions meeting a couple of my needs, I can start to know my capabilities and materials enough to begin to play with design. I play with design through prototyping and iterating on how to meet multiple complex needs and begin to see the opportunity to carve out some space. With this newly carved space I can begin to think about how to solve the need with a system or a fancy dynamic system meeting multiple needs of multiple people over a long period of time.

For example: once I am fed and rested, I can begin to solve today’s immediate issues. In solving those problems I learn about my world through the failures and successes. These failures and successes I can now weather because I am surviving. I now have time to invest in prototyping and iterating to solve things well enough to meet my need for more space and time. Now my solutions are a bit more fit for meeting more unmet needs and I can earn myself even more time to properly ponder the conscious curation of a Danish design system built to stand the test of time and meet needs for many people for years to come. Example: foraging ⇒ hunting ⇒ agriculture ⇒ science + art & space food

Solely opportunistic (flailing for survival) ⇒ outcome is survival

This is when survival is paramount, time is short, pressure of unmet needs is high, resources are scarce, and you just ‘have to do something.’ I will take any kind of help offered to me. This is the space of literally shriveling up from unmet needs and provides very little space for choice, creativity, or invention. AND yet the human spirit is so inventive and resilient that in this space we still see remarkable solely opportunistic solutions throughout the world. Desperation can be at times the mother of invention. In this space the thing I do may not be the right thing. I will flail for help and flounder in how to use the scarce resources I have to survive. I will find creativity in the in the pressure and the pain, but if I am successful I will learn and come back again.

Supporting strategies for the solely opportunistic approach:

  • satisfy the base physiological needs if you can: breathe, drink water, eat, sleep
  • change your location / space / anything
  • begin any self-talk / anti-panic / anti-anxiety rituals you have i.e. meditation / emergency procedures etc.
  • reach out and ask for help
  • re-frame the problem
  • reconsider if the time pressure is real or a cognitive burden induced state due to your own unmet needs
  • prepare yourself for not achieving optimal solutions / forgive yourself / set expectations of the community and stakeholders appropriately
  • prepare to capture learning for next time

Selectively opportunistic (Macgvyering) ⇒ outcome is thrival (meets more than 1 need)

I define Macgyvering as selectively opportunistic because Macgvyer still has a choice in how he approaches problems and he has some resources i.e. chewing gum, his brains, and a little bit of time. In these situations there actually IS something to work with and some capabilities from which to begin. This space is the difference between people literally starving from unmet needs (survival) who need welfare and aid immediately and those who are creatively crafting a path forward with the materials at hand. For me this approach has become my powerhouse, my safe harbor, how I defined my value (dangerous at times). This is where the adaptable, flexible folk live. A place of easing into collaboration and crafting consensus in a community, but one that can over time become unfit for purpose, require lots of energy, and transform beautifully flexible people into harried haunted shells of their former selves. Beware hanging out in this space solely. One person / team cannot be endlessly adaptable or perform too many roles indefinitely. Being a constant burning platform fire fighter can create addictive, unhealthy, unsustainable games with unpredictable payoffs that can diminish over time as the team tires, makes mistakes, or worse sending you back into survival mode.

Supporting strategies for the selectively opportunistic approach:

  • include all the supporting strategies for the approach above
  • change roles / wear different hats
  • do more research if you can: interrogate the unmet needs / their sources
  • question the definition of the problem / question the lenses, bias, approaches
  • plan for variety / progression up the design approach spectrum
  • create opportunities to specialize  / focus deeply on a specific challenge i.e. move into the ‘design’ approach
  • build in in contingency plans approaches wherever you can / hedge your bets
  • provide different / obtain more resources

Partial curation (prototyping & iteration) ⇒ outcome is design (meets multiple / complex needs)

Partial curation I call the process of prototyping and iteration because it definitely takes more resources and time than Macgvyering but doesn’t provide sustainable systemic outcomes like conscious curation i.e. you’re probably going to have to do it again at some point. Most of innovation we see in businesses lives in the spectrum of these first 3 approaches and more and more businesses are aiming for the ‘Danish design to stand the test of time’ conscious curation approach. It is in this tier of approach the I can truly begin to feel the maturity of problem defining, solving and design take shape. This is like the lessons we learn from dozens of housemates or living in many cities before we decide to settle down. It is the serious dating phase of the design approach maturity journey.

Supporting strategies for the partial curation approach:

  • include all the supporting strategies for the approaches above
  • just because you have more resources doesn’t mean you can get precious, keep experimenting that’s what you worked so hard to create the space for
  • forgive yourself because you are still not building a sustainable system, this is a model of the pyramids, not the real thing
  • be prepared to spend more time / focus/ energy here, so take care of yourselves!
  • fix one thing at a time, it is basic experimental design so you know what each variable does
  • scenario test / war-gaming / love-gaming
  • capture, capture, capture – you cannot iterate without a record of your data
  • stop before you’ve exhausted all your resources because you’ll need some to deliver and communicate the final iteration

Conscious  curation (Danish design: fit for purpose design to meet complex needs over time) ⇒ result is sustainability, meeting multiple needs over time / a dynamic system

The holy grail, at least until we use conscious curation to design an even more sustainable, dynamic, self- adapting, mind predicting, magical unmet needs meeting solution. That is if we can handle the happiness of having our needs met. See the movie the Matrix if you want to know what I mean or read The Big Leap by Gaye Hendricks which discusses how we have upper limiting behaviors to stop us staying content for long periods of time  i.e. we might still design in some difficulty or variety because humans can’t handle it too easy for too long.  Conscious curation is a globally renowned specialty of the Danish and their thoughtful life curating approach to all things design and need-meeting approach to life called hygge. The Danes are known to be content and have worked as a civilization to create a designed place where people’s unmet needs are met through all aspects of life: transport, social structure design, industrial design, community design. You name it the Danes have found a way to consciously curate it and begun to conquer the unmet needs of the people on a dynamic, cultural, systemic approach level.

Supporting strategies for the conscious curation approach:

  • include all the supporting strategies for the approaches above
  • diversity and inclusion of thinking is a non-negotiable input at this point to design across a spectrum of unmet needs across time and space
  • map the network or ecosystem thoroughly, and then do it again, and again, and imagine multiple futures of how it could evolve
  • start with thourough introspection / self-reflection / design research as to what the unmet needs are and where they start and end
  • understand ecosystems and networks holistically and test the effects of the solution on all parts of the systems
  • start with a systemic output in mind
  • design for re-design / iteration / dynamic change / resilience
  • double / triple / quadruple the budget or time required as systems need lots of space to be developed
  • do not undertake the conscious curation lightly, aiming high is well and good but you might be less stressed with lofty goals if you are solid in your survival, macgvyering, and prototyping and iteration skills first.

Final thoughts

In my own journey throughout childhood my family progressed from survival to ‘thrival’ (thriving). In my education I pursued the luxury jump from thrival to design, and now as I have some understanding of the need for space and how long life might be, I pursue sustainability. Each of these approaches is a crucible in its own right which I can use to refine my abilities and awareness. I can use these experiences along the journey to fortify me for the jump into the next hottest crucible which will meet my next new need for challenge. My final bit of advice is to curate your values, your purpose, you environment, your  travelling companions, and most of all yourself on this journey as strongly as you would curate any set of tools you plan to use to survive, thrive, and sustain yourself for the long life journey ahead to a sustainable, dynamic, ‘Danish designed’ future.

cof

Advice to my future self: Don’t run before you can walk, gather firewood, light a fire, spin yarn, weave a sweater, ask for a cuddle buddy, and run off to warm Aruba.

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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.

 

 

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

 

http://waitbutwhy.com/2015/11/the-cook-and-the-chef-musks-secret-sauce.html

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.

Aproveche!Slide1

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Motivation Motif: The most elusive of them all

 

I sit here in the living room with Rachel as we intend to write an interim report for our Human Computer Interaction course project.

 

We are supposed to be working on a report, but we don’t always do what we are supposed to do. Rachel has spent half the day online chatting to a few folks, writing emails, and intermittently researching. I have spent the whole morning gathering dinner supplies, playing goop killing games on Ipod, and reading articles on why middle aged women suck at dating. Obviously we either have concentration issues or are particularly unmotivated.

I propose that we are unmotivated and hence we are unable to concentrate. Our brains are craving something, anything interesting that has no relation to what we are supposed to be doing. What needs to be done is not unbearable. Its not a difficult task to accomplish. So what is the issue?

Why is it so hard to motivate ourselves?

For one, we have noticed that whenever we are writing anything: a paper, a report, a blog post; the instant we get stuck and don’t know what to write, our fingers flick to the web browser. The web browser is territory particularly rife with motivation landmines. On the internet you can quickly loose your focus, and begin swimming in the oceans of information and useless time-consuming content. Before you look twice you have swum so far from the shore, that you can’t even see the coastline.

Secondly, you simply don’t want to do what you don’t want to do.  When I don’t feel like doing something, it takes either a lot longer to get done or gets done almost immediately. If it gets done immediately its probably a simple task to begin with or it gets completed somewhat shoddily. When it takes forever its because I am dragging my feet to even sit down at the task. Then it feels like the task takes EVEN longer to accomplish, making you want to accomplish the task even less.

Finally I must inform you that I rarely want to write reports and conduct research when there opportunities that are infinitely more fun. When the sun is shining and the wind is warm who wants to sit chained to their laptop? Not that this is a problem in sunny Dundee, which maybe the sunniest city in Scotland but that isn’t all that sunny.

How do we lay the smackdown on our motivation mojo?

To confront the problem of drifting off topic and off task on the internet, we must adopt self awareness and discipline. It takes some serious effort to notice when you are being a slacker on the computer or internet. I think, “oh, well I am sitting at the computer not watching movies or playing games, so I must be working.” LIES! This is patently not true. There are millions if not billions of ways to be online and not be productive. Just because I am sitting at the computer, does not mean I am working! When you sit down at the computer, you need to open only the programs necessary to work, and constantly self check what you are doing on the internet. Furthermore, just because I get stuck on my task does not mean I deserve a break to check facebook or upload and edit photos. Rachel and I just say “NO!” and smack our hand as if we were naughty children reaching for the cookie jar before dinner.

It is a significantly more difficult to force yourself do something you don’t want to do. I attempt to solve this problem one of two ways. When first tackling a task, I break it into bite sized activities, and figure out which parts I would prefer to do. Then I structure the work in such a way that I get to do a fun, productive task between the chunks of more unpleasant work. This works well when there is no other way to accomplish the task, but I have another method which I enjoy much more. There is a way to turn work into fun.

For example, I am assigned a report to write, and I really don’t want to do it because the topic is bland and the format stale. What can I do to inject it with some life? I look for some aspect of the work that can excite me. In every project there is a possibility to do something creatively or differently. If I can focus on this part of the work then it is easier to get motivated. I know it is impossible to make everything fun, but why not try? Only you know what is fun for you, therefore it is up to you to extract the fun. Turn on some music, find someone who you can work alongside, or just be silly while you work and formalize the work later for the final presentation.

If all else fails, I know that at least when the task is done I will be free, and focusing on that can really help. This is the only thing that helps when I am just itching to go outside and play, and instead I have a pile of work a mile high. My trick for this is simple: go outside and play. Sitting miserably over a pile of work, while your mind and heart long to be elsewhere, will not only make you feel worse but the work will suffer as well.

Rapid Review:

1. Don’t waste time online.

2. Find the fun.

3. Unless you have an imminent deadline, allow yourself to go outside and play.

I am still trying to tackle my motivation mojo problems, but its a slow process. It takes patience, perseverance, and mindfulness. I am learning to be constantly aware of what I am really doing, and not what I tell myself I am doing. They say practice makes perfect,  but I am not trying to achieve perfection. I am practicing because good habits can only be formed through practice.

Tea Time

Eight days ago was the first day of this new semester for the Masters of Design Ethnography course and the Masters of Design course. On this first day we were split up into teams of two and assigned the task of creating instructions for how to make a cup of tea for someone who does not speak your language.

Cora Albrecht teamed up with me and we were off and running. She thought the best format for our instructions would be a flip-book (a short book where the flipped pages create an animated image). I agreed with her and we sat down to work. We worked quickly and with no conflict. It was clear to us that we had to keep it simple and leave out the words because that would go against the constraint of language. I was immensely pleased with our final effort and Cora’s hand drawings gave the flip-book a nice personal touch. Later Cora photographed our work and set it to music resulting with this lovely video. Enjoy.

I think this was a wonderful example of our quick prototyping abilities and a good way to introduce us to the meaning of Strategic Information Design. It made us immediately consider the complexities that underlie the need for strategic information design and it was fun.