Being Awesome, Empathy, Micro-Patterns, Motivation, Persona

Why Do We Search For Identity?

Growing up, I was a fan of the San Diego Padres baseball team. Well, specifically Tony Gwynn, but the Padres came with him. There have been years where I watched them trade away quality top talent, in hopes of landing a large quantity of moderate talent. Why have one 5-star player, when you can have three 2-stars? So when a team I loved had replaced every player at every position with new players, were they still “my team”?tonygwynn

This is the crux of the thought experiment raised by Plutarch. Not Hunger Games Plutarch; I’m talking about ancient Greek Plutarch. He wanted to know when the Ship of Theseus stopped being the Ship of Theseus, if it was replaced with replica parts, one by one. You can check out a discussion at Brain Pickings.

At least make sure you watch the video in the Brain Pickings article, which can also be found here: Who Am I?

Humankind asks “Who am I?” At least since we’ve been able to think these types of thoughts. There may be some earlier humans who never really contemplated their place in the universe, or if Oog and Thag talk about them when they’re not in the cave… I digress.

Both the video and article are fantastic for explaining what is at the heart of the conundrum. However, I want to know what’s at the heart of the human. This leads me to a different question.

Why do we ask “Who am I”?

“Who am I?” gets at identity. I want to understand why we question it. I am going to spoil the end of this post and tell you right now, I don’t know. But it does generate interesting questions that need to be explored. Surely, some folks have explored one or more of these. I want to to talk to these folks. If you are one of these folks, let me know! I want to talk to you.

Questions

  • Is who we are different from time to time? From place to place? From situation to situation?
  • Is “Who am I?” even what we want to know?
    • Should it be “Am I being who I want to be?”
    • Should it be “What’s my place in the universe?”
    • Should it be “Who do others think I am?”
  • Do people with extreme levels of self-confidence ask “Who am I?” (extreme = really high AND really low)
  • Does “wearing many hats” fragment our identity?
    • Why can’t we be the same person and keep our identity whole?
    • Are the forces on the need for “many hats” external or internal?
  • Does finding an answer to “Who am I?” solve anything?

One Last Thing Before You Go

This search for identity generates a new-to-me connection. Our inability to satisfyingly answer “Who am I?” leads to a void that “things” have been able to fill.  If I buy a cat, I open the door to becoming a cat person. If I buy activewear from Nike, I showcase my athletic identity. Heck, you can’t even properly root for the Padres without buying some team gear. Maybe that’s part of how we cement part of our identity answer.

“Who am I? Well, I got all these Padres hats and shirts, so clearly I’m a Padres fan.”

It feels like those are the easy answers to what is supposed to be a deep and soul-searching question. “Who am I?” sounds like a status report on the path to the ideal you want to achieve.

But still, I gotta know, why are you asking?

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Being Awesome, Brainstorming, Ideation, Innovation, Systems

Divergence, Convergence, and Roses

I’m going to show you an image and tell you a story, and you will believe it. You’ll believe not because I told you to believe it, but because you want to believe it is true.

The Story

plant cementThis is a place where mankind has sanitized, homogenized, and developed using a rigid and typically unforgiving material; concrete. A downfall of concrete’s hard-line take on the world is that sometimes cracks form. Cracks that let the organic spurt through. Dirt and rain make their way down, plants make their way up, and we’re left with this analogy. Creative ideas can grow in restrictive environments.

And it is true. I’ve even written about it here. But there is caution to the tale.

The Balancing Act

Just because creativity can grow like a plant in concrete doesn’t mean we don’t have to nurture it. You can’t go laying concrete everywhere in your innovation and expect the good stuff to always break through.

There is a time to let things diverge and a time to let things converge.

rosebush
Your brainroses can growses, you knowses.

Imagine creat be thought is like a rosebush. You nurture it and let it grow; branches twisting and turning in their own way. Some are full of thorns, while others yield the most beautiful and fragrant blossoms. You, as the gardner, have your choice of the best idea roses for your bouquet.

Now imagine that when the rosebush was very small, you had placed a funnel on top. Everything that the rosebush wants to do, must be forced up and out a narrow opening. It’s like the Highlander but for plants; in the end there can be only one blossom. The funnel converges too soon. The only divergence happens just above the root, but it’s not enough to allow a variety of blossoms because they’re all now competing to get out of the funnel. When you go to trim, you don’t get a choice. You get the one idea-bloom that managed to make it out of the funnel, and you’ll never know if it was the best you could have produced.

The Summary

Constraints and restrictions are still valid. We put up fences because we don’t want ourroses rosebush growing into the neighbor’s yard. These restrictions come from your users (it needs to be mobile, it has to do [task] faster, etc). However if we don’t let solutions diverge from the root of the problem, we wont have a chance to converge them into the best bouquet of products possible.

Wouldn’t you rather have your choice and trim some back than stake it all in one bloom?

The Challenge

How might you encourage the timing of divergence and convergence in your life?
Being Awesome, Brainstorming, Breakthrough, Failure, Going Forth, Ideation, Innovation, Innovation Mindsets, Sustaining versus Disruptive, Uncategorized

Boss Battle Breakthroughs

villainI can’t imagine a less appealing career than being a video game villain. No matter how hard you try, or how many henchmen you hire, the hero is destined to win the game. Castles broken. Airships grounded. Treasure looted. So what does the video game villain do next? They build a different castle, marginally tougher, but still pretty much using the same stuff. Insanity? Maybe. But definitely on the way to a breakthrough innovation.

“Whaaaaa?” you exclaim in disbelief. We’ll get there, but first we need to take a slight detour. Let’s set some common terms by grouping Innovation into three levels.

Level 1 is sustaining innovation.

  • This is where you do what you’ve done, just better. You are reorganizing pieces of what you have, maybe pushing a piece up a notch or two1, and in the end you have a better version of what you do. Fits in your  existing business model.

Level 2 is breakthrough innovation.

  • At this level you are still remixing your existing components like in Level 1. However this time you find a magical combination that is greater than the sum of its parts. It takes you into new territories. Still fits the vision but pushes the limits of your business model (if it doesn’t force you to change).

Level 3 is disruptive innovation.

  • This involves some new elements to the mix. Maybe its new technology, processes, or market strategies, but you are definitely off the status quo path. If you remixed every piece of your org, you wouldn’t arrive at this innovation which means you’re definitely looking at a new business model.

Video game villains are great at sustaining innovation. With the same blocks and baddies from their Stage 1 Basicworld, they are able remix a whole suite of levels. The first is very simple, but with each defeat the villain concocts a new version that’s moderatly tougher. They’re taking little bets by using what they have in this stage.

Breakthrough innovation happens between the stages. This is when the core obstacles remain the same (something is trying to run into you, smash you, or blast you), there is a new twist that adds the unique value to the stage. This time the villain built his defenses under water forcing you to swim to victory. This time the villain set up shop in the sky, saying “I wonder if the hero can stop me if I just remove the ground?” Still mostly the same core mechanics of hopping, dodging, and running, but they’re being used in new ways.

So when you’re ideating around some sustaining innovation, embrace your inner video game villain! Still use the Basicworld pieces you have but what is a unique twist you can add to them to make it a new stage. What’s your Lavaworld? What’s your Spaceworld? Be the ruler of your own Awesomeworld!

 

Being Awesome, Buy In, Going Forth, Innovation, Like a Startup, Theme Park of You, Writing

Your Words Are Your Brand

word (1)For more than 150 years, the National Weather Service has been providing weather updates IN ALL CAPS. Even as weather forecast technology made great leaps and bounds, the National Weather Service was content in sticking with all caps. It’s due to the old limitations of how they communicated their reports. However on May 11th, the National Weather Service will be speaking more softly.

The change is accredited to “changing social norms” around how we talk to each other. Tweets of all caps are taken people talking with VERY LOUD VOICES for a wide range of emotions. I wonder if there isn’t a missed opportunity here.

Two fantastic examples of owning a unique text style are ee cummings, an American poet, and FAKE GRIMLOCK, a giant, robotic dinosaur. ee cummings was famous for using non-traditional capitalization and punctuation as its own poetic device.

“To be nobody-but-yourself – in a world which is doing its best, night and day, to make you somebody else – means to fight the hardest battle which any human being can fight; and never stop fighting.” ee cummings

FAKE GRIMLOCK proudly makes large exclamations of awesomeness and getting stuff done. He does so with a very direct vocabulary and all caps.

“WHY TALK THIS WAY? BECAUSE AWESOME!” – FAKE GRIMLOCK

This is why I feel the National Weather Service is missing out on something. What if they incorporated ALL CAPS into their brand, instead of abandoning it to fit in with the crowd? They should make no apologies for their loud text. T-shirts would be emblazoned with #PARTYCLOUDY, expressing the irony of a wishy-washy weather system that bombastically declares itself. They could even say “YES. WE BROADCAST IN ALL CAPS. WEATHER IS SERIOUS BUSINESS. WE SHOULD ALL PAY ATTENTION TO THE CLIMATE.” But instead, they chose to fit in; get lost in the sea of status updates.

There is a Scottish proverb that says “You should be the king of your word” and it fits in this case as well. Take pride in the words you choose. They are a reflection of you. Don’t let your words blur the lines between you and the millions of others out there. Supercharge your words to stand out against the grain because that’s when you’ll have a #100%CHANCEOFTHUNDERSTORMS!

Go forth and be linguistically awesome!

Being Awesome, Innovation, Lenses, Uncategorized, Understanding the Customer, User Experience, UX UI

Poetic UI UX Design

“I’ve got so many MBAs, but what I need is a poet. Poets are the original systems thinkers.” -Max DePree

Poetry uses “condensed or compressed form to convey emotion or ideas to the reader’s or listener’s mind or ear” as defined by Poetry.org. Which felt like the perfect site to define poetry at. If we re-word it a little, we get “the shortest path that gives a desired feeling to the user”. Just extrapolate that “feeling” out to include usability a perception of value, and good poetry becomes good user interface and experience design.

poetry (1)Now, this is a new analogy to me, something that I am going to try on my next prototype. I am going to design the user interface and experience through the lens of poetry. I will link to my findings here (when they exist). However some key components of poetry feel ripe for picking when designing.

Imagery

Imagery in poetry actually relates to the five senses (not just relying on images). What are ways that a good user-centered design uses imagery? The friction felt when moving components around that gives it a real feeling. The audio cue when an action is triggered. Even the icons selected play a part in the overall imagery scheme.

Rhythm

Poetic rhythms range from the famous iambic pentameter to the unknown by name (but you totally know it when you hear it) anapestic tetrameter. Rhythm plays such a huge part that a lack of rhythm is used to create its own feeling. What kinds of rhythms do we create in our designs? Can we keep the user in a good flow state? Do we break the rhythms to call their attention to important pieces? I envision a UX rhythm being the user experiencing the entirety of the innovation, with each major beat striking true.

Word Association & Connotation

In an effort to be concise, poetry uses what the read brings along with them to add extra meaning to words. Each word chosen by the poet is specially selected to bring across a bouquet of feeling to the reader, without writing the bouquet in. This is the “show, don’t tell” writing advice. Clearly a UX can use an envelope to signify email, and a disk to represent saving, but what other rich connotations can we bring? One word of caution here: this requires some strong empathy and knowledge of your core user if you are going to rely on the baggage they bring to tell your story.

Enjambment

First of all, its just fun to try to say “enjambment”. Enjambment is breaking up a line in poem across two lines to create a sense of anticipation and intrigue.

“A thing of beauty is a joy forever:
Its loveliness increases; it will never
Pass into nothingness but still will keep
A bower quiet for us, and asleep
Full of sweet dreams, and health, and quiet breathing.”

Endymion by John Keats

Notice that the three middle lines can’t even stand by themselves. The line break pauses the reader in extracting meaning from what they are reading. How can we use enjambment in great UX UI design? Where do we need to create pauses or breaks that are beneficial to the user? Can we leverage that anticipation into a positive feeling while using our product?

Repetition

This is used over and over and over to drive a point home. Poetry uses it to call out the important stuff or bring certain images back into view. A good design uses repetition to make sure the user is comfortable knowing when and how to take action. But when does repetition lead to boredom? Maybe this has some parallels to rhythm?

I don’t have the answers yet. But I’m willing to try to find them. Like I said, this is a new lens / analogy for me and one I’m eager to test out. If you test it out or already think of it this way, let me know! I’d love to start a conversation around Poetic UI UX Design.

Being Awesome, Going Forth, Innovation, Innovation Mindsets, Learning, Theme Park of You, Tool

AngularJS Showed Me 5 Innovation Truths

learningIn an effort to broaden my t-shaped skills portfolio, I dug in and started learning AngularJS. Being able to mock things up quickly (and by myself) allows me to get prototypes into the hands of the core users faster, cheaper, and more closely aligned with the hypothesis I’m testing. So while I am certainly no master of the craft, I can do enough programming to get some ideas off the ground and feeling real (ok real-ish).

While learning AngularJS, I observed some truths that apply to the innovative process as a whole.

It’s good to be a beginner at something.

Being a beginner means you see things with fresh eyes. You have no established patter or status quo in this skill or topic yet, so you don’t have to break old habits to be personally innovative. Also, there will be moments when you’ll discover a faster, easier way to accomplish something because you don’t “know” enough to build in the old-guard way of doing things. Bill Gates said he chooses “a lazy person to do a hard job. Because a lazy person will find an easy way to do it.” I say that applies to beginners as well.

Break your mental models.

What you do have is a status-quo in your brain that shows you how to decipher the world. If life was a map, your mental models are the legend. A squiggly line over here seems to match with the mountain shape in my legend, so I will plan for it to be a mountain. However, what if that squiggle is actually a lake, you just didn’t have lakes in your mental model? Learning something new breaks your existing legend, expands it to include new models, and gives you more lenses in your innovation toolbox. The trick here is to constantly find things to break your legend.

Get something live quickly.

Learning code is awesome because you need to have a working “thing” in order to see if what you’re mashing into your keyboard is right. And the quicker and more often you can have a working “thing”, the less down the wrong road you travel. Imagine writing a 15-page term paper to only find out it is all garbage because your first sentence was wrong. Having something live minimizes risk down the road. And by live, I’m not saying it always has to be market-ready. But functioning to some end helps stakeholders and customers alike envision your innovation. There’s great stuff in Creativity, Inc. by Ed Catmull on this… about having the story always viewable, even if it is just rough sketches.

Iterate, iterate, iterate.

Keep going, keep trying, don’t stop. Once you feel you have a handle on your new thing, it’s time to do it again and see if you’ve REALLY got it. Don’t just put a new skill on the shelf. It isn’t a conversation piece, it’s a working tool. The next problem you are trying to solve in your innovative journey, spend some time thinking about how you can solve it with your newly learned skill. This is why we learn… the abstract application in real-life.

Ladder up into the unknown.

Learning a new skill or topic usually has a definitive end state. “Once you can do this, you’ve learned all I can teach you for now.” But this is where the magic happens. What ELSE can you do with this new thing you’ve got? Unity3D has a popular tutorial that teaches people how to make a ball game. The ball rolls around a surface and collects items when it collides with them. But innovation isn’t simply doing what people tell you to do, or give you step-by-step directions to do. I’ve seen ball games that have the ball teleport through different dimensions or become Newtonian physics simulations. You have to take your new skill one more step up the ladder into the unknown.

Challenge: Learn something new

  • What new things have you wanted to learn?
  • What’s preventing you? How can those roadblocks be eliminated?
  • After you’ve learned your new thing, do something more awesome with it!
Being Awesome, Diffusion of Innovation, Going Forth, Ideation, Innovation, Innovation Mindsets, Systems, Tool, Uncategorized

Beyond the Right Tool for the Job

Today I did a few odd errands around the house. A typical Sunday afternoon. I finally went to hang the new tiles with our house number on them. For 30 minutes I bore into the front of my house. I switched screw types and drill bits. The sad truth was I had barely made a dent. The tiles lay on the front lawn mocking me.

powertools
Notice the state of the art powerdrill I was using. And Jebediah was no help at all.

I decided to do some research online and found just what I needed. And thus the standard pilgrimage to the local home improvement store rewarded me with some concrete screws. The tiles went up almost instantly.

I had chosen the correct power tool, my handy dandy drill with screwdriver bits, but I failed to be detailed in how to apply the tool. I was using the wrong screws and all that got me were unhung tiles and two shallow, but noticeable holes in the front of my house.

“We become what we behold. We shape our tools, and thereafter our tools shape us.” – Marshall McLuhn

This can be the bane of the innovator as well. Powerful tools within their grasp, but the details about the application and the context evade them. This has two potentially disastrous outcomes:

  1. Problems remain out of reach, still unsolved.

2. You can cause new problems, like holes in your house.

It is important to invest time in identifying the details behind the tools you use. Even if your innovation toolbox is stocked with the best tools around, it’s the details and the context that can throw you off.

“Stop. Hammer time.” – MC Hammer

The following places have excellent tools for your innovation toolbox, and some supporting details to help you know when to use them.

Stratgeyzer by Alex Osterwalder, Yves Pigneur, Greg Bernarda, and Alan Smith- Value Proposition Design is always within grasp. I may keep a spare in my glovebox. From learning cards, to testing matrices, Strategyzer’s VPD is a solid foundation for any innovator.

Designing for Growth by Jeanne Liedtka and Tim Ogilvie – This fantastic book has tools and details around the full innovation timeline. From “What is?” to “What if?” to “What wows?” to “What works?” No matter what your question is, Designing for Growth has something for you.

Joe Greaser has a post over on his blog about some tools for detecting weak arguments.

Also, we’ve got stuff right here at Go Forth And Be Awesome!tools

  • New Lenses for finding new ways to look at the world around you.
  • Donkey Dice for rapidly going through lenses with a little bit of chaos.
  • Premortems help you prepare for failure before you test a prototype.

Avoid the frustration and embarrassment of drilling all afternoon with nothing to show for it. Even if you’ve got the right tool, pay attention to the little details too.