Never ending work

When I travel, I am continually amazed at the lack of good design in airports. Check out the picture above. This is the scene that confronted me this morning as I waited for my bag in the jetway. We wait in a long line, then when our bag comes we go grab it, only to bump into every other passenger trying to grab his or her bag. This setup is by default, not by design. But why should this surprise me, you or anyone else?

Good design is hard. Really, really hard.

Hard, but not impossible. Running 26 miles is also hard, but many can do it with the right training.

I believe the most important tool for good design is empathy. The training mostly involves taking a stand, trying something, failing and then trying again to make it better.

It is an art – not a science. And one thing I am beginning to love and hate about making art – it is never finished. The artist is always trying to make “better” art.

Good design is hard because it requires time. Time to plan. Time to observe. Time to collaborate with others. Time to test. Time to refine.

Who has this kind of time? You do. I do. We all do. If you are doing something important (aside: what are you doing that is not meaningful in some way?) then it is worth taking the time to make your doing is “by design” not “by default”.

I failed on this front just yesterday (another entry for the #FAIL folder!)

I was leading an important meeting for our department to discuss some recent changes that occurred in the organization. I walked into the meeting having given it only a couple minutes of thought. This important meeting was being run by default, not by design.

How could I have designed this meeting?

Step 0: gain some empathy for the team
Step 1: establish the goal is for the meeting
Step 2: think through what behaviors would help accomplish the goal
Step 3: bounce this plan off of someone else
Step 4: refine based on feedback
Step 5: have meeting
Step 6: evaluate the meeting to see if goals were met
Step 7: use experience to do this better next time

This may sound tedious, but remember good design doesn’t happen by chance. It takes hard work.

While I’m a fan of learning from failures, I think a better approach is attempting to design for success – not to launch into something saying “this is probably going to fail, but I’ll learn something.” What is it you want to learn? Write those things down and see if after you learned them after you are done. If you didn’t you need another test.

But testing again is ok. Because like I said designing is making art. It’s never finished. It’s never ending work. But that’s a great challenge. There is always an opportunity to improve.

For me, it’s oddly freeing to know that I can never “arrive.” I am on a journey that I can never complete. This would lead (and has led) many to despair.

It’s freeing for me because if you can’t “arrive”, then the joy must be in the actual journey.

I am enjoying the journey.

Choose to be excited

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A few posts ago, I wrote about creating a #FAIL folder. One of the entries that occupies my #FAIL folder goes like this…a co-worker had just watched the 60 Minutes program on David Kelley and Design Thinking. When this aired in January, I was beyond excited. I felt like this 30 minutes lended validation to what I had been working toward for the past year. No longer was my way of solving problems just uncomfortable and unfamiliar, it was on 60 Minutes!

BUT…and a crucial “BUT”….but, this aired six months ago. So when my co-worker mentioned his excitement around the show, rather than choosing to be excited and stoke his excitement, I responded coldly…”you mean the one that aired six months ago?”

What a complete asshole move. I had a choice, I could have chosen to be excited, but it was old news to me and I made it known.

Why is it so easy to throw cold water on someone’s excitement? I’m guilty more that I’d like to admit. With my wife, my kids, people at work, etc.

You find yourself busy, disappointed, or just generally having a bad day and someone in your life is excited. They had a fabulous day, made an A on their spelling test, or read an article that they think you’ll find exciting. You have a choice…do you show support and celebrate whatever has made them excited? Or do you just respond with Eeyore like enthusiasm?

I’ve faced a similar choice today…and thankfully I chose to stoke the excitement. And what happened? I found myself becoming energized and excited along with my co-worker. It was infectious.

My take is that a life well lived is really about living for others. This means that much of the time you are denying yourself. If I am having a rough day, and someone comes to me with excitement, my natural desire is to stay busy, disappointed, etc. Denying myself means engaging with those around me and letting go of my to-do list, or inbox, or important project to instead be a human with other humans. To listen to what is on someone’s mind. To develop relationships that make life rich. To develop community.

I want to be excited when my family, friends and coworkers are excited. To laugh with them. To cry with them. To live life and build community. To make a choices that show I care for and love others more than I care for myself.

Will you join me?

 

Getting credit for learning

I sat in a colleague’s office several months ago and we actually googled “getting credit for learning.” We were in the middle of a difficult period in which we were making many changes. The two of us knew that the last six months had taught us many lessons that would prove beneficial going forward, but learning doesn’t lift ROIs, increase sales or improve margins. The CFO can’t spend what we had learned. So how do we get credit for learning?

Sadly, google failed me and I didn’t walk away with a good answer. It wasn’t until I read The Lean Startup that I found my answer.

…if the fundamental goal of entrepreneurship is to engage in organization building under conditions of extreme uncertainty, it’s most vital function is learning

 

In the Lean Startup model, we are rehabilitating learning with a concept I call validated learning. Validated learning is not after-the-fact rationalization or a good story designed to hide failure. It is a rigorous method for demonstrating progress when on is embedded in the soil of extreme uncertainty…

 

We were deep in the soil of uncertainty, so using validated learning would have aided us in showing progress. The key to Ries’s methodology is in it’s rigor. The Lean Startup method relies on a Build, Measure, and Learn cycle.

photo credit: http://e7systems.com/

My main take away from build, measure, learn is that you start work in reverse. Here’s how to use the framework:

  • What is it you want to learn? ex Do our customers prefer a new product feature?
  • How can you measure this? ex We will measure sales on a A/B basis. Group A gets the new feature, group B doesn’t
  • What do you need to build? ex We build the systems capable of issuing products with both features.

But the process can also work with process or something personal. Here’s an example of building a new process:

  • What is it you want to learn? Is the new product development process viable?
  • How can you measure this? How long in months does it take to develop a product in the new process?
  • What do you need to build? We take two similar products down two alternative tracks.

On of the reasons I am so attracted to the Lean Startup is that it borrows many of the principals of design thinking.

In other words, we need the scientific method. In the Lean Startup model, every product, every feature, every marketing campaign – everything a startup does – is understood to be an experiment designed to achieve validated learning. This experimental approach works across industries and sectors…

 

Source: static.ddmcdn.com

These decisions are experiments set up by design, for a specific purpose. An work done that doesn’t result in us learning something about a customer (or process) is waste. Also, it should be clear that iteration is an important part of the process.

In design thinking, the process is moving us towards prototyping and testing. It’s a given that your first idea will not be our best idea and we use prototyping as a way to gain empathy – so it would be wasteful to spend an extra 2 months on the prototype because what we’re really after are the empathy and insights.

In the Lean Startup method, we are trying to get to “learn” as quickly as possible and then the cycle starts again.

Do you (like me) want to get credit for learning? If so, please check out Ries’s book and become a student of the scientific method. Be clear ahead of time which hypothesis you are trying to test (what are you trying to learn?) and how you are going to measure success. Think of yourself as a scientist running a lab of experiments.

Please share if you have experience with lean methods. I’ve love how this book has helped me to re-frame work issues. Read the Lean Startup if you want to be stretched and waste less time on features, process, steps and don’t help create learning.