Empathy, Ideation, Lenses, Tool, Understanding the Customer

You, Me, and Jon Snow: The Power of Knowing Nothing

Shaken, but emotionally under control, Bryan Mills (played by Liam Neeson) picks up the phone and talks to his daughter’s captor.

“I don’t know who you are. I don’t know what you want. If you are looking for ransom I can tell you I don’t have money, but what I do have are a very particular set of skills. Skills I have acquired over a very long career.” – Liam Neeson, Taken

Like Liam Neeson’s character, I don’t have all the answers. It’s actually very cathartic to admit. Let’s say it together. Ready?

“I don’t have all the answers.”

In creative or innovative work, we sometimes feel like we should come up with new and interesting solutions on the spot. And if we can’t, no one is harder on us than ourselves. But we don’t have all the answers, nor should we.

We should have are all the questions.

Ok, maybe not ALL the questions, but a pretty good list and the skill to keep asking. At least we can channel our inner child and ask “Why?” over and over. Seriously, that’s a proven tactic. So if asking questions is the fast track to empathy, why do we feel compelled to know the answer ahead of time?

I don’t know.

youknownothing

Anticlimactic I know, but it’s true. I’ve asked myself many times, so I’m beginning to know why for me. But this is a personal quest. A side quest to be sure, but a personal one.

Let me give you some starter questions:

  • Do I feel like I need to prove my innovative spirit or creativity by readily spouting out solutions?
  • Do I feel others are expecting immediate and ground-breaking ideas?
  • Do I feel like my value drops if I have to “figure it out” in the conversation?
  • Is it related to stress, anxiety, impostor syndrome, and my fight or flight reflex?

Sherlock Mode

One of my favorite shows is Sherlock (the one with Benedict Cumberbatch). Sherlock Holmes is a character that seems to have the answer to everything, even to problems we didn’t know existed. But the show does a masterful job of showing how Sherlock’s mind (albeit fictional) works.

Time slows. We enter Sherlock’s mind. We see him call out the wet spot on the sleeve of a woman’s jacket. He internally questions how her sleeve got wet.

I try to engage my own Sherlock mode; slow it down, ask the questions.

Silence is Golden

We don’t have to shout out answers immediately. Amazing things happen when you listen and offer your ideas last. Check out this video where Simon Sinek talks about being the last to speak.

It doesn’t make us less valuable to say “I don’t know, but I want to. Help me understand.” Asking questions improves our learning. That’s why schools are promoting critical thinking and project-based learning (which involves lots of questions).

So we need to take a cue from Liam Neeson and create our own Taken-inspired,  problem-facing monolog.

“I don’t know what your problem is. I don’t know what your jobs to be done are. If you are looking for a solution I can tell you I don’t have one… YET, but what I do have are a very particular set of skills. Skills I have acquired over a very amazing career. Skills that make me a nightmare for problems like this. If you will answer my questions, that’ll be the start of it. I will look everywhere for insight, I will pursue each hypothesis, I will create tailor-made solutions for you, and I will go forth and be awesome.”

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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?

Empathy, Innovation, User Experience

The Monopoly Hotline

51% of Monopoly games result in an argument, according to a Hasbro survey of roughly 2,000 players. You have the same odds of having an argument with a friend of family member over Boardwalk and thimbles, as you do at calling a coin flip. In order to help smooth things over during the holidays, Hasbro UK and Ireland has launched a Monopoly help-line, which you can read about here.

While a noble gesture, my question is “why?” Does it address the problem at the root of the heated arguments? Does it add unique value that the players can’t achieve on their own? Their survey also collected the top ten reasons for Monopoly-related madness. I’ve added a column to their results to sort responses into categories.

Stated Problem Category
1. People making up rules Rules and mechanics
2. Unsportsmanlike conduct of winners The unspoken code
3. People buying un-needed property you want The unspoken code
4. People taking too long on their turn The unspoken code
5. Bank heists Cheating
6. Deliberate miscounting when moving Cheating
7. Who plays banker Rules and mechanics
8. Property auction process Rules and mechanics
9. Choice over tokens Rules and mechanics
10. Rules of “Free Parking” Rules and mechanics

Now some of these categories, Hasbro would have a hard time fixing. Cheating is already against the rules and has more to do with inter-player trust and false accusations from sore losers. The unspoken code feels like baseball, where you have to tip your hat when a pitch plunks a batter, not get too excited about a home run, or slide too hard.

But Rules and mechanics, this should be in a board game’s wheelhouse. Let’s examine Hasbro’s solution. You are having an argument and you call the hotline to say you are having a problem. On the other end of the phone is a person with the same rule book you have, and they will read the rules back to you. Tell me this doesn’t sound maddening. If it can be solved with someone reading the rulebook, a player already has the tools in hand to solve it.

This feels like a case where player empathy has only hit the shallow end of the solution pool. With 50% of the top ten resulting from Rules and mechanics (or lack thereof), we can dig a little deeper and create unique solutions beyond the rulebook.

PROBLEM: Rules of “Free Parking”

This results from generations of House Rules that disagree with the rulebook. One idea would be to write out the House Rules as amendments to the existing rules. Also, this would be one main point of a “Quick Play Rule Blitz”. After years of playing the same game, we all play the game on our memories of the rules. Let’s have a fast and furious refresher that hits the three to five most contentious points.

PROBLEM: Choice over tokens

Look, we all have our favorite. And sometimes, many people share the same favorite. This can be quickly solved with any number of minigames: draw straws, guess a number, draw a card. How about a token draft? Start with the youngest and draft up. Or the person who played the game the most recent. Lots of options here if we step beyond the “free-for-all” lack of structure.

PROBLEM: Property auction process

See “Rules for Free Parking” solutions above. There are rules, people use their own rules, agreements need to be made.

PROBLEM: Who plays banker

The Oregon Trail Card Game has a great solution for this. The youngest player is the shopkeep until someone dies, then they are the shopkeep. Monopoly could institute a similar selection process. However, the bank seems to be a constant point of cheating accusations as well. So let’s not have one person be the banker. Let the banker responsibility move. The player with the least amount of properties could be the banker. You catch up, then the responsibility shifts. If you’re cheating, you can only cheat so much before someone else gets a chance.

PROBLEM: People making up rules

This also feels like years of House Rules from different houses combined with faulty memories. Again, I think the “Quick Play Rule Blitz” at the beginning of a game gets everyone on the same page. There is also a chance for people to submit a House Rule, an alternate rule, that the rest of the players can vote on. Perhaps an extended part of the game token draft.

The next step is to try some of these solutions. They could smooth out the pain points, they could make them all worse. We won’t know until we try. The best part is they’re all actionable with only minimal planning. In fact, we’ll try these on our next playthrough of Monopoly.

Go forth and be awesome, and if you pass Go, collect 200 imaginary dollars.

Empathy, Innovation, Understanding the Customer

Listening for Hidden Solutions

positivedevianceEvery cloud has its silver lining. At least that’s what were told, usually when things go bad. There has to be a nugget of hope somewhere. I can only imagine that thought ran through Jerry Sternin’s mind when he visited Vietnam in 1990. As part of Save the Children, Sternin was there to help the malnourished.

You see, at the time in Vietnam, nearly 65% of children under the age of 5 were malnourished. Water quality and poverty were known problems, but not something Sternin could fix. And he only had limited time before his visa expired. Not exactly fertile grounds for silver linings.

Picture a stream in the woods; twisting, turning and babbling. Until a stray boulder blocks the flow. In innovation, we commonly see user experience flows that abruptly halt due to pain points. As humans on Earth, we experience them first hand. As innovators, we are quick to seek empathy and design new solutions.

But focusing on only the pain points causes two problems.

The first is that you miss the hidden problems. During World War II, The Army Air Force asked Abraham Wald to figure out where to put more armor on their bombers, in order to survive more flights. They showed Wald, part of the Statistical Research Group, where bullet holes grouped on various parts of planes that returned home. Wald instructed them to place more armor where the bullet holes weren’t. You see, planes with holes in those areas, don’t make it back to be analyzed. This was the hidden problem.

The second is that you miss hidden solutions. The woodland stream, without your interference, may find its own solution to the rocky intruder. It may divert its flow, pool around, or erode away until it can burrow through. This is where Jerry Sternin comes back in.

positivedeviance

He didn’t impact nutrition for the children in Vietnam by instituting changes. He looked for positive deviance. He was searching for outliers who had access to the same resources as the 65%, but somehow their children were healthy. And sure enough, he found them. They were making small adjustments to the diet, very simple adjustments. We’d call them lifehacks and they’d get on all kinds of top ten lists on social media. But Sternin did not have the power of Buzzfeed or Facebook. Instead he had the families with the positive deviance hold cooking classes with the other families. Doers impacting doers.

Next time you are digging in to gain empathy as part of your Design Thinking framework, or examining pain points and jobs to be done as part of your Value Proposition Design, be on the lookout for that positive deviance. Include questions into your user interviews in search of outliers of outrageous fortune. Your designed solution has much to learn by the handcrafted workaround by the user. If they solved it without you, you need to give them a reason to solve it with you.

Empathy, Innovation

CAN versus SHOULD

lawnmowerCAN you make coleslaw with a gasoline-powered lawnmower? Of course you CAN. But SHOULD you?

This post is not about being afraid to do risky things or to break expectations. It’s about understanding who you are innovating for; your target audience.

lawnmowerIf I am inventing a new way to make coleslaw, I’m not going to sell you a lawnmower… because it doesn’t mesh with your jobs to be done. The “coleslaw crowd” most likely wants something that shreds cabbage in a snap, requiring minimal storage space, and clean up should be a breeze. The mower ticks one of the boxes, but it fails on the other two. It also introduces new pain points, such as monitoring gas levels and the eventual spray-back of finely shredded cabbage on your kitchen walls.

While it CAN do the job, it SHOULD not do the job.

We see this too often when a tool or solution exists, typically crafted for a different problem or audience. “Wow! This thing is neat. CAN I also use it for this?”

“Wow! This mower cuts through yard foliage fast. CAN I also use it in the kitchen?”

CAN should be an innovator’s stop word. When a customer says “CAN it also do this?”, you should dive deep into why they even want to solve that problem this way. Think to yourself “How SHOULD we design a solution to this problem?” Sample questions to respond (out loud) to a CAN include:

  1. What is it about Solution X, that interests you in solving Problem Y?
  2. Why is Problem Y a problem?
    1. How does it make you feel?
    2. Where are you when you encounter Problem Y?
  3. How do you currently solve Problem Y?
    1. What don’t you like about your solution?
    2. What do you like about your solution?
    3. What do you wish your solution also had?

We should be designing solutions that customers SHOULD be enjoying, not simply delivering solutions that CAN kind-of work. CANs are tempting because the customer is happy that a solution is at hand. But it is an imperfect fit and will ultimately fail. SHOULDs take longer because they require customer empathy, build-measure-learn loops, and hypothesis testing. But SHOULDs perform better than CANs in user experience and long term feasibility.

Be brave and courageous enough to steer your customer away from the siren call of the CAN.

Design the SHOULD.

Empathy, Innovation, Learning, Pre-Mortem, Testing

Knowing What You’re Seeing

Our minds were young and fresh not that long ago. Sure maybe we were a little naive, but that is because we looked at the world with wide, trusting eyes. And then it happened. We could no longer trust what we saw and lines were drawn between viewpoints that separated brother from sister. It was… The Dress.

theDress

Was it blue and black? Or white and gold? For a few weeks, the internet boiled with heated discussions and color / lens filter analysis. Finally resolved, the world began to repair the bridges burned. Until tragedy struck again weeks ago. I present to you… The Jacket.

theJacket

Blue? White? Brown? Black? We’re still waiting for the first districts to report their votes on this one.

This is a pitfall can trip-up even the experienced innovator at two crucial waypoints.

1. Understanding the Customer and Pain Points.

When researching and listening for pain points, they can often go misinterpreted. It is most common when customer empathy has not been explored enough. The famous quote attributed to Henry Ford applies here.

“If I had asked people what they wanted, they would have said faster horses.”

If you’re only listening to what a customer wants, you’re missing 75% of the picture. You’ve got to observe them, understand how they feel, and try to get inside their head.

A great way to do that is to journey map while interviewing a customer. Ask them to describe the entire pain point; from the earliest decision to well after the pain point. Pay attention to their tone of voice, the words they use, and their gestures. Ask many questions to get at the root cause of the pain point. This often shows possible growth opportunities as well.

2. Analyzing Tested Prototypes

There is nothing more frustrating than looking at test data (for example: 56% conversions) and then looking at yourself and saying “Is that… Is that good?” What you need is a solid feedback loop, and this is something games do very well.

Which final results screen would you rather see?

The one on the left tells you that you won, you completed all the parts, and you should move forward. The one on the right tells you… that progress was made? There is one star, but the empty space makes it feel like there could be more? How many parts did you complete?

You can set your own prototype test to give you all the feedback you need. Before the test illusion (1)ever begins, set the success metrics that will define your test and your prototype. It is beneficial to know the benchmark metrics that you are trying to surpass (if they are available) and how much difference you are trying to make. Use this data to plan for enough testers to be confident in your results. After the test, you will have a clear understanding of your outcome, and whether to pivot or persevere.

Don’t get caught wondering if your prototype was golden, or left you black and blue. Use journey mapping and success metrics to know what your seeing.

 

 

Being Awesome, Empathy, Going Forth, Innovation, User Experience

Making Customers Feel Cool

coolCurves are the enemy of fast moving trains. Just ask Denzel Washington and Chris Pine in Unstoppable. Nearly 30 years before the movie, The British Rail Research Team unveiled the APT. The APT was a train that tested out at an amazing top speed of 160mph, and could safely sprint 40% faster than any other train through curves. And it failed.

In 1981, the first public riders traveled aboard the APT and felt motion sick from the uncommon tilting that allowed the train to rip through the bends. Data, speed, and savings aside, the customers did not feel cool while leaning and the train quickly picked up a nickname. The Queasy Rider.

“If people are made to feel uncomfortable in the kitchen, they won’t go in there.”- Giada De Laurentiis

The APT was technically a marvel, doing something that the long, rigid rectangely trains never could before… lean into the curves like a well-trained sprinter. However it was the user experience that lacked the sparkle. It’s hard to argue how neat it is to go 40% faster when the rider is busy holding onto their lunch. The user experience is a major key.

Design thinking encourages us to find the real root problem for customers, and to evaluate what jobs they need a solution to do. Yet if your solution solves the problem at the expense of user experience, then it is doomed to fail. There is a famous quote by Leo McGinneva, while talking about how customers don’t go to the hardware store to buy quarter-inch drill bits. He said, ‘They don’t want quarter-inch bits. They want quarter-inch holes.” It’s easy to abstract this into a postulate:

Customers aren’t buying products, they are buying a version of their life with a problem solved.

People purchase products because they can make life easier, more enjoyable, more rewarding. This is why medicine comes in flavors now. Why choke down an unpalatable tonic when you can get the same benefits with bubblegum flavor?

It is easy for us to focus on the tangible features when developing a prototype. But it is crucial to bring user experience into the equation as early as you can, and for as many steps possible. There needs to be devoted thought to the future user and making them feel like they’re getting ahead of the game by using your product. Fast Company has a great article tackling the marketing angle of this. In it, Belle Beth Cooper (co-founder of Exist) says “A feature is what your product does; a benefit is what the customer can do with your product.”

“Empathy is about standing in someone else’s shoes, feeling with his or her heart, seeing with his or her eyes.” – Daniel Pink

APT eventually returned in 1984 after some work to shore up the uneasy feeling in the tilt. This time the reviews were much better, but not good enough to save the train. The negative user experience and nickname lingered, and all APT’s were removed from service by 1986.

Think about your project. Is it full of fantastic features but leaving the core customer queasy? Maybe it is time to lean into some user empathy and tilt your solution in a different direction.

After all, our customers shouldn’t just be able to go forth. They also need to be awesome!