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, Micro-Patterns, Tool, User Experience, Writing

Fish & Clicks

When I was a kid, we used to go trout fishing up in mountain rivers. I used to put artificial and fleeting faith in the type of bait I was using. I would vary my bait rapidly in search of the magic fishy elixir. This fake cheese stuff, some scented “marshmallows”, salmon eggs, and even the fancy plastic worms that I think I liked more than the fish did.

Fish bait catches fish, so click bait catches clicks. Not groundbreaking, but why is there so much of it? Do we honestly not believe that there are ways to repurpose bread ties and toilet paper tubes? I feel like that’s something we’ve been doing since arts and crafts time in elementary school.

We know click bait isn’t designed for the reader. It does not care if you save money on your insurance, organize your life, or identify that celebrities are people too. In fact, it generates more traffic by the reader never learning. It becomes Pavlov’s Buzzfeed, where the reader salivates at the sound of a bell and not the presence of food.

People are craving authentic connections. With their loved ones, with their companies, with their world. See here, herehere and here. And yet clickbait pushes a different narrative.

These 12 calls-to-action will make you jump! Number 7 will make you ask “How high?”

powersForAwesome.jpgLet’s stop. We don’t have to stop with the listicles, the lifehacks, or even the quizzes to find out which pizza topping gives you life. But let’s start turning those into something. Something that gives you a great starting place but encourages you to add to the list. Something that teaches you how to solve problems in unconventional ways. Something that helps you understand yourself and how you think. Let’s use our powers for awesome.

Let’s start making engage bait, or learn bait. Even better… change bait. Let’s start making things that draw readers into a worthwhile experience that leaves them better off. As Scott Stratten says in his book Unmarketing:

“What is stopping you from calling yourself one of the experts in your field? Being an expert is not an official designation. You don’t get  a certificate in the mail, nor do you get a cookie.”

splinterWe’re all experts in something. If you have experience, a special skill, or training in something, you can be an expert in that thing. Maybe not THE expert, but definitely AN expert. So be an expert and train someone. Channel your inner Splinter. The mutagen turned the teenage turtles into mutants, Splinter made them ninjas.

We already know how to make people click, now let’s lead them to something better.

CHALLENGE

  • What are you an expert in?
  • How will you become the Splinter of that?
  • What’s your change bait?
  • Let us know in the comments!
Brainstorming, Ideation, Lenses, Tool

Light Rays, Toothpaste, and Ideation [100 Word Challenge]

Jon Acuff used only 100 words to restrict a recent post.

Restrictions can drive creativity like toothpaste channelled through a narrow opening. You can concentrate your brain squeezings onto a precise AND ACTIONABLE solution.

Toothpaste everywhere doesn’t help you brush your teeth.

Tim Brown, IDEO, says that leaders need to define Purpose (goal), Challenges (stepping stones to get there), and Vision (defines constraints because some stones wont lead to the goal).Screen Shot 2016-05-30 at 9.19.31 AM

Like light rays, our brainstorms and rambling thoughts can also be focused by passing through constraints.
If light rays can be focused, so can bright ideas!
Only 97 words!
——–
CHALLENGE
Constraints are sometimes imposed upon the innovator. Try this challenge for your next ideation session.
Roll one six-sided die, and based on the roll, apply the following constraint to your ideas.
1: No new technology; use what exists.
2: Focus on only untapped customer segments.
3: All solutions must start with a person-to-person interaction.
4: The idea must not include any training; intuitive at its highest power.
5: You can only use print material in your solution.
6: Your solution must have playable game elements.
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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.

Brainstorming, Going Forth, Grand Canyon, Ideation, Innovation, Lenses, Prototyping, Systems, Tool

The Donkey Stuck in the Status Quo

Once upon a time, there was a donkey. This donkey, with all other conditions being the same, would eat from the hay closest to him. Kind of an easy win strategy. Well one day the donkey was walking down the road and his hunger grew immensely. There was a bail of hay up ahead, and an equal sized bail of hay, the exact same distance behind him. With neither being closer, the donkey stood still, not choosing one nor the other until he died.

The end.

This heartwarming tale is called Buridan’s donkey and it is a paradox about free will. Often, we become the donkey. There are disruptive ideas out there to follow, but we sit in the middle, too afraid to give up one for the other.

Nassim Taleb, in his book Antifragile, says that “when some systems become stuck in a dangerous impasse, randomness and only randomness can unlock them and set them free.” The donkey just needs a little push; just one fly to land on its ear and nudge it towards one hay pile.

Organizations, teams, and people need that dose of random, unexpected, and different to get ideas moving.gonowhere

These little nudges can feel scary, but there are ways to minimize the risk and fear. Start by breaking down the problem you want to solve into its core pieces; boil it down to its base essence. Then start looking for small things to move the needle. If you were to solve this problem, what’s the first thing you need to figure out? Find a way to prototype and test that thing. Prototyping is great for keeping cost low and risks at a minimum (especially when it is with paper).

“Prototyping is one of the most effective ways to both jump-start our thinking and to guide, inspire, and discipline an experimental approach.” – Peter Sims, Little Bets

Regularly we will need to unstick ourselves. Each idea we naturally think of is a byproduct of your point of view, past experiences, skill set, and what you had for lunch. That’s why I am going to give you a tool to help, a tool forged in process-driven chaos. It’s called…

Donkey Dice

The rules here are very simple. In fact, there’s only three:

  • CARD: On a notecard, write down six lenses and number them.
    • Things like “How would WordPress do it?”, “How would I never solve this?”, or use a random word. (Random words should be generated before each use of Donkey Dice.)
  • ROLL: Roll 1 six-sided die and identify lens selected
  • THINK: Generate ideas with lens

It’s simple, but effective. As you get good at Donkey Dice, expand your card up to 12 lenses and use two six-sided dice. You can unlock the extreme level and list 20 lenses and roll a twenty-sided die. Soon your donkey will be making his way towards relief, instead of stuck in the muck of status quo.

“I wondered about the explorers who’d sailed their ships to the end of the world. How terrified they must have been when they risked falling over the edge; how amazed to discover, instead, places they had seen only in their dreams.” -Jodi Picoult, Handle With Care