Dikinomics

The effects of extensive and deliberate retrenching by organizations intended to undermine customer gratification. The act of prioritizing all business needs of an organization over everything else, even when the benefits of doing otherwise are apparent.

“Tobias’  decision to charge a $6 convenience fee tickets ordered online came down to a matter of dikinomics.” 

The Status Quo

A study from last year suggests many of us might not actually like creativity as much as we say we do. That should come as no surprise for anyone who has tried to push for change within their organization.  People talk a good game about creativity in the form of cliches, but their actions demonstrate otherwise.

Most of us like the promise of creativity and it’s potential outcomes, but we’re either worried or suspicious of the process. If you try to think about it from their perspective, it’s not unreasonable.

For those of us who like to push the envelope, upset the apple carts, and turn the world upside down, think about the following. Most of us only find creativity interesting when it’s new, like a puppy. Over time it’s novelty wears off and it’s just a dog. We still love the dog, but we were smitten with the puppy.

Ask yourself whether you’re trying to solve problems with the status quo, or just trying to express yourself. The former is the difference between creativity and innovation. The status quo is innovation’s rival. It’s probably the result of a prior innovation which took a lot of work and requires a lot of work to maintain.

Those who built and benefit from the status quo have a vested interests in it, even if it’s not getting the job done. The really innovative people in an organization are the ones pointing out  problems long before anyone else sees them, or is willing to acknowledge they could exist.

I’m not saying you should give up, even though it is an option, it’s just important to know what you’re up against. 

Pursuing something innovative for the sake of creative expression isn’t worth it. That might be what’s in the back of some people’s mind when they shoot down an idea. Anyone can have an idea, but somebody has to execute. If you don’t have ideas on how that will happen, or the impact on others, then don’t be surprised if they’re not as thrilled about the idea as you are. They might think your baby is ugly too.

Design For America presentation

I had the good fortune today of attending the Summer Celebration for Design For America

Today was the day the teams presented their projects to sponsors, mentors, and peers. It was truly inspiring. Back in August my company, Idea Momentum, ran a prototyping workshop for them. It was one of a series that was part of their Summer Studio program. 

For those of you unfamiliar with DFA, it’s a freaking cool program that was started at Northwestern University by a professor named Liz Gerber. It takes students from various majors like engineering, biology etc. and introduces them to user-centered design methods. The goal is to come up with solutions for pressing social issues. 

Our workshop was towards the end of the process, so we were able to see all the ideas before they had a chance to really gel. So it was especially interesting to see how much the ideas all evolved for the better in such a short period.

For this Summer’s studio program, there were four teams with different assignments:

  • Reduce falls among the aging
  • Reduce obesity among young children through healthier eating habits
  • Reduce water waste at restaurants
  • Reduce unemployment among the disabled

If you’re like me, you’re probably thinking they’ve all bit off more than they can chew. Today’s event was a presentation of all four teams ideas for solutions. Not only did each group present great ideas, they presented plausible solutions. 

These kids all came up with solutions that were easy to grasp and totally feasible. To me that’s at the heart of innovation. Otherwise, who cares if you can come up with big ideas to big problems if they’ll never get implemented. That’s just an exercise in futility.

Lastly, I don’t want to leave out Sami and Thea, who are doing an awesome job running the day to day and nitty gritty. Thanks for inviting us.

When A Kickstarter Campaign Fails, Does Anyone Get The Money Back? : All Tech Considered : NPR

When A Kickstarter Campaign Fails, Does Anyone Get The Money Back? : All Tech Considered : NPR.

So I call Kickstarter co-founder Yancey Strickler, and ask: What if Uhrman isn’t able to deliver the consoles? Would Kickstarter get involved?

“You know, that would be new ground,” he says. “I don’t know. I mean, no, I don’t think that we would. But certainly, the kind of thing you’re talking about is not a bridge that has been crossed yet. Someday it will. And you know, I think if something did go awry, it would be — it wouldn’t be my favorite day.”

Whoa, back up. After all the hype I’ve been hearing about Kickstarter, I had no idea they had such an incompetent person at the helm. Even if “crossing that bridge” is official company policy, you shouldn’t say it out loud. Regardless of whether I think the world needs another iPhone case, graphic novel, or farm-to-table Podcast, they are still dealing with intellectual property. 

I find most of the stuff on the site contrived, and pointless, but there are some cool and worthwhile projects (think SparkTruck). However, I wouldn’t invest in any of them.

VCs will tell you, they don’t fund ideas, they invest in people. They also know there’s a chance they could lose their entire investment. If Kickstarter wants to be funding platform, that should be part of their message even if it might put a damper on things. Until then, they’re just a marketplace for ideas and ideas are cheap. Implementation is where the money is at. 

Crowd funding is compelling. I think it’ll come into it’s own like e-commerce. When it does, I just don’t think it’ll look like Kickstarter. 

Prototyping Workshop for DFA

Monday, I led a prototyping workshop for the teams at Design for America. It’s one in a series they hosted for their summer session at Northwestern University.

There were four teams, each at very different stages of their projects. One team was especially interesting. They were addressing in-home safety for seniors, specifically, reducing falls during the night. The understood that most accidents happen in the dark when people get up in the middle of the night.

The other three teams had all coalesced around similar solutions and were just trying to figure out the best way to execute. This one team was different. Each team member had very different ideas of how to best address the problem. The prototyping workshop was especially helpful because it enabled each person to articulate their distinct visions with each other. Once the concepts were out in the open, they all had a clearer picture of what the other had in mind. The ability to say, and show each other something more tangible moved the conversation ahead by leaps and bounds.

Before the workshop, they all had a hard time getting concepts across to each other. They were stuck. Every one of them thought they had the right idea. It wasn’t until they started making tangible things that each one of them understood what the other was thinking.

McDon’t

I don’t know how much value McDonald’s has really generated in listening to their critics over their fans.

McDonald’s doesn’t have to be the healthy restaurant. They should learn from the lessons of Vegas. The harder that town tried to be family friendly, the worse it got. Now they’re back to their roots as a hedonistic destination and families (with any sense) stay away. Now you don’t have the right to complain if you go there and you’re appalled. You’re supposed to be!

With McDonald’s, I don’t know why they care if people think their offerings are healthy. That wasn’t their purpose or value proposition. The idea behind McDonald’s was fast food. They nailed it. When I go to a McDonald’s I don’t want any of their so-called healthy options anyhow, because 1) they’re not appetizing compared to their other stuff, and 2) it’s not what I would consider better for you.

If you want to eat healthy, processed foods aren’t the answer, no matter what people try tell you. And even if they’re not off the mark in terms of nutrition, they’re really not worth it. For example, apple slices at McDonald’s can’t possibly touch a regular apple sliced by yourself, or at least a whole apple. Why? Because the sliced apples require extra processing so they don’t turn brown minutes after they’ve been sliced. That entails sealing them in air tight bags filled with nitrogen gas. It’s not unhealthy, but it’s really over-engineering something meant to be simple.

McDonald’s should embrace what they do, and do it well. Focus on the food that people enjoy like Big Macs, Quarter Pounders, and fries. They don’t have to go overboard like Burger King who seems to embrace their inner diabetic.

It seems like the only people who give McDonald’s a hard time about their menu are the people who are least likely to eat there. It’s people who I would argue, aren’t interested in their success. If that’s the case, they probably have an ulterior motive. When I’m [trying] to eat healthy, it’s usually because I’m on a health and fitness kick. It’s a mode I go in and out of, not a life choice. That’s probably the case for most people. I do know a few people who I’d actually say live a healthy lifestyle. Most of their food choices are predetermined for them and the thought of McDonald’s with our without a healthy menu probably wouldn’t cross their mind.

I only eat at McDonald’s 5 times a year, but that has more to do with my tastes, than health. When I go there, I’m in a completely different frame of mind. I may not be proud of myself for fall off the wagon when I eat there, but I still want the experience to deliver.

 

What’s stifling innovation in large corporations

There’s a common lament about the lack of innovation coming out of large corporations. I don’t know why anyone is surprised. I can think of at least three non-trivial issues staring us in the face and they have to do with incentive and motivation.

Executive Compensation
It’s common sense, not socialism to be angry at the lopsided way people are compensated in big companies. Why in the world would anyone in their right mind do something new when the only people benefiting are those who are already making 10-20 times as much as me? Money is a powerful motivator for innovating. But if you look at many publicly traded companies, innovation isn’t rewarded. When it comes to money in big companies, them that got is them that gets. People in the C-Suite are outrageously compensated even when the overall company underperforms. If you were to do something innovative in a big company, there’s a good chance only a select few will reap the rewards, not including yourself of course.

A way to fix this problem would be for companies to put their money where their mouth is. If you actually want innovation, you need to reward the innovators within your organization the way you reward your managers. The other option would be to reward innovation, not cost cutting, at the highest level. Innovative leaders can inspire and motivate those beneath them to do the same.

Process
In large companies, “the process” is the culture. And yet, process is the antithesis of innovation. It’s about standardizing and normalizing, i.e. ensuring consistent results. Process is meant to drive out uncertainty, ambiguity, and serendipity, all key innovation ingredients. Most large companies reward you for how well you follow a process paying little attention to the outcomes.

Entrepreneurial people within organizations find ways around the processes to get things done. This understandably makes some people nervous. Therefore, outsiders and deviators of the process are pariahs even if their intentions are good.

A way to fix this is to let those who want to be entrepreneurial have their say. Don’t immediately tell someone to drop their suggestion in the box. They know that’s meaningless. Instead of putting more process in place, allow for more conversations. Don’t just have meetings to check the status of projects. Meet to actually talk about ideas. Yes, those meetings may last more than an hour, but they could pay off later in less work.

Exclusivity
Innovation within large organizations is something only a few people get to do. At cutting edge companies like Apple, only a select few are in a position to do something innovative. In fact, for the majority of people that work there, it’s preferred they keep their opinions on products to themselves. Having worked there, I found it very frustrating. Meanwhile, I can’t say it was always a bad thing. There was no shortage of armchair quarterbacks who thought they had the one great idea everyone should listen to.

Unfortunately, confining creativity and innovation to certain roles, people, or groups breeds contempt. After all, who wouldn’t want to be labeled innovative when you see how much the press fawns over them. The only difference between an innovative person, and everyone else is they have lots of ideas – good and bad – not just one silver bullet.

A potential fix is to make sure there is some cross pollination of people from different groups within your organization. When people who think they have a great idea get to interact with people who actually have lots of ideas, they see how much work it is to being innovative. They also see it’s not all that it’s cracked up to be. There’s a lot to be said for people who can be effective operationally. Not everyone needs to be the mad genius.

Great user interfaces aren’t just a matter of taste

I pulled the following from a Crain’s Chicago Business article about the many bold moves the Sun-Times is making here. While I think it’s great to challenge the Trib, there was one line that stuck out at me.

With regard to his digital strategy, Mr. Ferro said he’s trying to create a “great user interface” for a tablet application that is in the works. On that front, he praised the example set by the New York Post tablet application.

Maybe what he meant to say was their app is consistent with their brand. Like the New York Post newspaper, their app is sloppy, rude, and just slapped together, but it’s not a great user interface. The thing that bothers me, is that someone in a leadership position is saying the user interface (a very specific term) is an important part of their digital strategy, then cites one of the worst possible examples of a tablet experience.

Has anyone else seen the New York Post iPad app?! It’s a hot mess express. It doesn’t follow any of the conventions of most iPad apps. Not that it needs to, there are plenty of great iPad experiences that don’t. The NYPost app, on the other hand, looks like a mistake. It’s like someone tried to Xerox the entire newspaper onto an 8.5 x 11 sheet at the Kinkos color copy sale.

Look at this mess
You literally get an experience that leaves stories cut off on the edge.

I’m may be splitting hairs when I say he should have used a term other than “user interface”. However, it’s not uncommon for someone higher up the food chain to insert their opinion on the UI as if it were just a matter of taste.

By now, every exec has read the Steve Jobs bio, so they get the user interface matters. Unfortunately, they don’t necessarily understand how it actually happens. So the lesson here is don’t let all your hard work and critical thinking get pissed away because someone thinks it’s subjective. Spend the time comparing and contrasting the dos and the don’ts. Show your work. Don’t just build something and say, “here it is, what do you think?”

Take the time to explain why it’s important, don’t assume they’ll know.

via Sun-Times owner: ‘We’re not buying the Trib’ – Consumer News – Crain’s Chicago Business.

What you need to know about prototyping

Prototyping is a pretty hot topic within the design world. Most of the time, things veer off into discussions about tools, techniques, or methodologies. You only need to know two things about prototyping – when to start and when to stop. Start when you have questions like “what if” and “how about”. Stop when you have to choose between two desirable, but incompatible options.

Decision-making is inextricably linked to design, and prototyping is most effective when you and others can see what the choices are. Otherwise, you’ll just find yourself talking about your options instead of evaluating them.

Why Publishers Don’t Like Apps

via Why Publishers Don’t Like Apps – Technology Review.

They allowed themselves to be convinced that producing editorial content for the apps and developing the apps themselves would be simple.

We have several clients in the publishing industry and see first hand the pain they go through when it comes to developing apps.

According to a study by Miratech, people prefer apps over mobile web. Even if that’s not totally true, another study estimate some 30% of US adults own an E-Reader / Tablet now. Even if publishers don’t love apps, it would appear their customers do. So they need to do something about it.

The problem is adding another format, like an app, to your workflow is non-trivial. Unfortunately, if I’m a customer, that’s not my problem. We see great user experiences coming from other companies, in some cases small and obscure, and wonder why these big corporate publishers can’t follow suit.

Publishers have to figure this stuff out and make some hard choices in order to survive. Hopefully, they’ll err on the side of a creating a better user experience and not on a form that is easier for them to deliver.