Posts Tagged Design
Most of the content for this post comes from a presentation I gave at a job interview which I did not get; so take that for what it’s worth. For the most part the presentation was well received, however I probably could have used a bit more polish. The idea itself came (not surprisingly) from the good people at IDEO. Or at least, from their words and deeds.
The T-shaped individual.The phrase by itself is quite meaningless. You need to dig a bit and take it apart in order to understand what it means. As a T might look like a person, you have to imagine the height of the T indicates the depth of expertise you have in a given field (generally your specialty.) The cross on top indicates the breadth of knowledge or set of skills you have across disciplines.
Not long ago (at least to my recollection) all we heard about was how the people who were the most specialized would get the best jobs. This terrified me. I abhor specialization. I like to know a lot about a few things, and a little about everything. That’s just the way my ADD-addled brain works. So you can imagine my happiness as I read about how IDEO (the company I clearly idealize) looks for T-shapedness when hiring. They do so because they argue that this leads to better team formation; individuals with varied backgrounds are able to communicate more easily and with more empathy (because they understand each other’s backgrounds somewhat more – of course, empathy itself is something that is looked upon favorably at IDEO when hiring). Instead of occupying silos of expertise, teams are cross-functional – you get recombination and variation (basically like sex with ideas) and in general, better ideas and results.
Of course it’s great. But the metaphor is incomplete. I went on to read about the importance of I shaped individuals by Bill Buxton, who, while not actually from IDEO himself, is apparently good friends with Bill Moggridge, the co-founder of IDEO. The difference here is that the bottom of the I is a grounding in practical experience. So, you have breadth of knowledge, deep expertise in one domain, and to cap that off, a lot of experience relevant to that domain.
Giving T-shaped people their feet.For my purposes, the presentation had to do with getting liberal arts majors interesting co-op positions, so I argued that while the liberal arts majors are quintessentially T-shaped individuals (pretty much the only reason I have a History degree is because I also got to study Astronomy, Biology, Physics, Spanish, Anthropology, Geography, etc etc) and therefore able to help connect individual silos within organizations, they are in need of their feet (ie. the practical experience that will help them achieve their goals in whatever it is they do in life). Hiring a liberal arts major is akin to giving them their feet. And with these feet they will march off into the world, secure in the knowledge that while they are alumni of a major educational institution, they are also alumni of the first order at your organization, because that is where they brought their heads out of the clouds and got their feet muddy in the practical world of experience.
What does it mean?*It means it’s a great time to be alive if you believe in curiosity, creativity, and caring about the work that you do. I used to believe in the world my parents grew up in – the one where you made the decision about what you would do with your life before you were 25, were most likely married, and probably had kids. And that world made me feel very out of place. This is what I’ve known I would be since I was 16: a doctor, a professor, a business guy of some type, a writer, a professional traveler/travel writer, a teacher, back to some type of business guy, and currently a marketing dude. Will that last? I doubt it. I’m pretty sure there are a lot of other hats I want to seriously try on before I die, and I hope that the experiences and skills I’ve picked up a long the way will help tell the story of a very empathic T-shaped individual who is trying to make the world a better place, one day at a time.
*Because I can’t help but try and be funny in the middle of being serious, some of you will catch the reference to the Complete Double Rainbow Guy. If you don’t, go to youtube, and google that immediately.
Related links/further reading:
I’m going to make this a regular feature of the blog (at least that’s the plan) – so I’m going to be kind of making up the rules of the reviews as I go along. I’m going to try to keep them to 100 words or less but I haven’t figured out how I’ll rate them yet. If you’ve read any of them, or have any specific questions, let me know.
Full disclosure: I keep an ‘I’m reading’ list on my profile on LinkedIn and will be using the reviews there as the basis for my reviews here. If I could just import them here, I would, but there doesn’t seem to be an easy way to embed them right now. Also, by doing it this way it forces me to think about what has changed since I wrote that review, and the update will hopefully make the review more accurate.
The Ten Faces of Innovation: IDEO’s Strategies for Defeating the Devil’s Advocate and Driving Creativity Throughout Your Organization
by Thomas Kelley, Jonathan Littman
I’m only through the first two parts of ten, but I can say already that if you’re interested in making a design-focused organization, or even just improving your marketing through empathy and understanding your customer, you’re going to want to have this book on hand. Update: I’ve kind of stalled on this one, though it isn’t because I don’t like it – I just got caught up in a few other books at the same time. While this book is not exactly how-to, it has a lot of great ideas and case studies to make things happen and provide inspiration.
13 Things that Don’t Make Sense: The Most Baffling Scientific Mysteries of Our Time
by Michael Brooks
This book is blowing my mind. There are so many interesting scientific anomalies that currently exist – from death as an aberration to the problem (or not) with dark matter – this book is definitely for the scientifically curious. Update: (I wrote the previous part a few weeks ago) I actually just finished this book last night. The last few chapters were not as good as the first few, but it’s hard to say if that was due to the mysteries being less interesting or me getting a bit tired of them. Maybe 11 things that don’t make sense would have been better.
Visual Explanations: Images and Quantities, Evidence and Narrative
by Edward R. Tufte
So far this is simply an amazing book about the role of design in great communication. When you read the part about the Challenger Disaster you will learn about statistics, understanding data, and communicating risks properly. Edward Tufte is a true gem. Update: we both hate PowerPoint. That is all.
Founders at Work: Stories of Startups’ Early Days
by Jessica Livingston
This book is great for anyone interested in entrepreneurship in general or specifically tech start-ups. It is really making me want to get something rolling on my own, which is both distracting and very exciting. I highly recommend this book. Update: I still highly recommend this book. I haven’t picked it up in the six months since I read it, but I do still plan on using one of the interviews as a basis for a one hour lesson in my entrepreneurship class at BrainBoost.
Teach Like Your Hair’s on Fire: The Methods and Madness Inside Room 56
by Rafe Esquith
I’m about to be teaching a course again and this book is giving me a nice grounding in the non-technical aspects of teaching that I want to accomplish, or re-accomplish, as it were. Very entertaining and enlightening. Update: I am teaching that class now, as above, and this book was inspiring, but perhaps it’s more for someone who hasn’t done a lot of teaching. Then it will really get you excited to teach.
Nudge: Improving Decisions About Health, Wealth, and Happiness
by Richard H. Thaler, Cass R. Sunstein
I’m reading this book because I’m a bit of a junkie when it comes to books about the brain, how it works, and how we can improve outcomes for people in general. If we can improve the lives of others by changing design, why shouldn’t we? Let the default be a great option. Update: Started reading this again recently. It’s still pretty awesome, and definitely a great place to start if you’re fairly new to the subject.
Built to Last: Successful Habits of Visionary Companies
by Jim Collins, Jerry I. Porras
A great book if you ever need to create a BHAG for a company you know little about and then give a presentation to its CEO less than 48 hours later. The Sauder MBA Capstone program – good times! Update: I haven’t looked at this one for quite a while now. It’s not for everyone, but it is particularly useful if you own/run/work for a small business and you want to set a course for the future.
The Fortune at the Bottom of the Pyramid: Eradicating Poverty Through Profits
by C.K. Prahalad
A great book that features tonnes of actual pragmatic advice and lessons learned from companies opening up the bottom of the pyramid. Perfect for anyone interested in making the world a better place through business. Update: This book makes you want to move away and go help the less fortunate all over the world. That feeling passes – however, that is probably a good thing, as there is always a lot of good you can do in your own backyard – like volunteer in Vancouver.
Duct Tape Marketing: The World’s Most Practical Small Business Marketing Guide
by John Jantsch
Another book I’m only part way through, but this one has had some real gems in it. For example, mapping your customers out to see any interesting relationships between them. What if half your customers all came from the same neighbourhood? What does that tell you? Maybe you have an evangelist there, or maybe seeding a new neighbourhood with customers would be a good idea as perhaps it’s just friends talking to friends? You never know what you will learn from this exercise – and this is just one among many. Update: See, this is why I force myself to do this – why haven’t I picked this one up in a few weeks? I need to finish this one right away.
The Back of the Napkin: Solving Problems and Selling Ideas with Pictures
by Dan Roam
Clearly I’m reading way too many books at the moment, but this is also a keeper. It helps show my current theme/interest, which is learning to communicate more effectively and efficiently through a number of different mediums. A lot of what I have found in here is fairly intuitive, however, like many things in life, forcing yourself to sit down with the intuitive can sometimes be quite enlightening. Update: I’m guilty here – I’m totally skimming the exercises and that is making the whole experience a lot less useful. I will update this one again in the next set of reviews assuming I go back and do these drawing exercises. Mea culpa.
One of my favorite Tufte posters – click for full-size:
“You can look at a problem, and either go ‘oh, this is a problem, or you can, KABOOM! Blow it up and turn it into something great! You literally KABOOM the problem.”
Besides being one of the funnier episodes of Parks and Recreation in recent memory (this scene alone has several classic lines), the Kaboom philosophy* is actually kind of fun to live by. We started using it (or perhaps overusing it – at least as a part of speech) at BrainBoost Education not that long ago. Of course, literally kabooming problems makes little sense (though it’s fun to say), but the practical aspect of kabooming as we decoded it – that is, not getting too hung up on details early on a project, not allowing the role of Devil’s Advocate to take hold, and trying stuff with a view to iterate quickly – all of that is, in many ways, great management philosophy.
If you wanted to test out a new layout for some physical space in the office, you would discuss it briefly, get approval (usually to applause), go off and kaboom it and then get feedback. For bigger projects, we didn’t stick to the one day timeline as it was often too restrictive, but if something had in the past taken months to do we were pretty sure we could kaboom it in a week or two (like our website). Again, getting it right the first time is less important than getting it finished. Perfectionists will find this a difficult trade-off to swallow; after all, there is always something you can improve – many perfectionists would prefer it if a project was never ‘done’. The simple solution is that nothing is ever truly ‘done’ – any end state is a subjective assessment that generally comes about when either a) further inputs to the project return marginal and/or diminishing gains, or b) there are other projects that will deliver sufficient ROI.
For example, it’s easy to finish a web design, get your site ready to go, only to postpone going live because you are gathering more data. You can gather information forever, but as noted by Nielsen, you really only need a handful of users to test it before you’ve found all of the important problems.
Of course, as noted in Nielsen’s findings:
The most striking truth of the curve is that zero users give zero insights.
So clearly, this project is not suffering from inputs that produce diminishing gains. It is not kaboomed.
First and foremost, kabooming is not about being careless. By all means, do some testing, allow some time for reflection, but get your web design or whatever project moved quickly to ‘done’. Kabooming is about optimizing to two constraints: time and completion. The interesting thing here is that time and completion trade off against one another. Completion is defined as the sum of a set of states that represent different features, actions or tasks. The more features that make up a project, generally the more actions and tasks are required to bring those features about, and in general, the more time this requires. The upshot of all of this is that setting up the scope of the project requires kabooming itself. It generally goes (or should go) something like this:
D: If we do that, then we need to redesign the website, and that’s a big task.
M: No it’s not – we can kaboom it.
D: Do you really think so?
M: We’ll literally kaboom it.
D: OK, what are the minimum requirements?
M: X Y and Z.
D: I think that will take one month.
M: Then cut Z.
D: Two weeks it is. Kaboom.
As the project rolls along, generally two phenomena will occur. The first is a reluctance to stay committed to the deadline as you realize you can’t make it. You will try to move the date backward. If you have a manager that understands kabooming, they’ll hold your feet to the fire and remind you that because it’s a kaboom project the only thing you absolutely have to do is ship on time. This second thing is that this generally leads to great spikes of productivity individually and as a team, particularly as the deadline draws near. You make the deadline either with all the features or without, but that’s the end of that cycle of production and the project has been officially kaboomed. Whether it needs another cycle of kaboom with the same team, a different team, or no team (there are more productive projects available) is up to the project owners. Generally, if all features have been completed, some small subset of the team will set about refining the project, but the engine will roll on to the next big thing that needs kabooming.
“Remember: take a man kabooming, he kabooms for a day. But you teach a man how to kaboom…kaboom, kaboom, KABOOM!”
Kabooming is addictive and I’ve adopted it to suit many of my own projects. I think part of the attraction is that when you commit to kabooming something there are two positive feedback mechanisms: first, you will experience a sense of blissful productivity as you knock items off the feature, task and action list; second, no matter the results, you get a strong sense of accomplishment even when the final result is unpolished. There is no better example of a kaboomed project than this website/blog. When I set out to get this website rolling, I began thinking about all the little obstacles that were in my way. I would have to decide on a domain name, a provider, a hosting service, a blog title, a layout, whether to use a CMS, – and quickly I would feel overwhelmed and rather than begin I would try to do something else. However, when I decided the project was kaboomable, I gave myself a four-hour window to finish the project. It wasn’t polished at the end, but the deadline forced me to make all kinds of decisions rapidly and I was proud of the output. Now that it exists I can devote smaller increments of time to its upkeep and optimization.
* Despite what happens later in the episode, KaBOOM is actually a real thing and they really do build parks for kids (though I’m not sure if they do it in a day).