Being Awesome, Bias towards action, Going Forth, Innovation, Innovation Mindsets, Pre-Mortem, Systems, Uncategorized

Thinking like a Producer vs Producing like a Thinker – And Three Things You Can Do About It

bigproducinglikeathinker

A bias towards action.

It’s one of the most sought-after characteristics in a lean, mean innovation team. However, can too much of a good thing be hazardous to the quality of your work?

Creating movement and getting stuff in the hands of the user is great, but just quickly delivering what was asked for only perpetuates mediocrity. We need a strategic bias towards action.

“Work smarter… not harder.” – Allan Mogensen

I have succumbed to blind efficiency in the past. And to be honest, I’m not cured of it… but I am getting better!

I wanted to be a rapid responder. I was delivering what was asked for at lightspeed. Yet after completing task after task, I was able to look at my products and realize… I wasn’t solving the job to be done. I was merely doing what was asked for.

I was thinking like a producer when I should’ve been producing like a thinker.

All of my thoughts and energies were around producing a large bounty of checked-off to-do items. I wasn’t making an impact. I was delivering the “fast food” version of my craft; speedy and filling, but it wasn’t a noteworthy meal.

My bias towards action was misplaced.

“You can not dig a hole in a different place by digging the same hole deeper.” – Edward de Bono

“Thinking like a producer” and “Producing like a thinker” is not a dichotomy. Instead of seeing one as bad and the other as good, view it as more like a sliding scale. There are times when one mindset will serve us better than the other. Unfortunately, we can get stuck in ruts.

So let’s get unstuck!

One of the original goals of Go Forth and Be Awesome was to not be another voice providing abstract discussion on theoretical ideas. Oh, I will get theoretical and abstract, but I will also provide tools, process, and things you can use today. I want to be more “activity book” and less “newsletter”.

So let’s dig into how I got myself unstuck, in hopes that it can help you do the same.

A woodsman was once asked, “What would you do if you had just five minutes to chop down a tree?” He answered, “I would spend the first two and a half minutes sharpening my axe.” – C. R. Jaccard

Before we start chopping away at jobs and projects, these tips will help you sharpen your axe, before you strike your first blow.

Identify Triggers

If you’re like me, there are enough projects in your past that you can analyze. Look for the key phrases or situations that shift your mindset into thinking like a producer. Is it a rapidly approaching deadline? A small project window? An easily completable request? Find your triggers.

Add a Process

With your triggers identified, you can now build a gameplan. Do this before your triggers are triggered; outside of the heat of battle. When you’re in the thick of it, you become blinded by the pursuit of progress. You need a calm heart and clear eyes to devise this process. When the triggers strike, what will you do? How might we stay in the “Producing like a thinker” mindset when our reactions argue differently?

My “response to triggers” process  is to go through a quick succession of questions, including:

  • What are they really trying to do?
  • What are alternate ways to accomplish this?
  • What fits with their story?
  • What would I do if time was not a constraint?

Reflect

Developing a process for triggers is like a pre-mortem, so it makes sense to have a post-mortem as well. However, we often don’t make this kind of time for ourselves. It is very crucial to check the direction we’re sailing often, or we will run aground on the shore while trying to sail out to open waters. Make time for this. Schedule it.

“If you create a vision for yourself, and stick with it, you can make amazing things happen in your life.” – Pete Carroll

Get out of the ruts and be free to steer where you need to. Don’t serve up the “fast food” version of your skills. Give them your five-star finest! Make time to identify your triggers, design a process, and reflect on your work. It’ll feel like some projects are too short and too quick to work in a “thinker’s” process. But I say the shortest projects with the tightest timelines are the ones most in need of a strategic bias towards action.

______________________

I am a big process junkie. I believe even the most amorphous and intangible concepts can have their own patterns and processes.

Let me know what your process for producing like a thinker is!

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.

Going Forth, Innovation, Lean, Uncategorized

Smallify Your Disruptive Idea

small (1)Way before the Walt Disney Resort drew tourists to Florida like moths to a flame, they needed to buy some land. Had they waltzed over to the East Coast and declared Disney domain over central Florida, imagine what land costs would have been like. No, Walt had a plan to avoid paying “Hollywood upcharges”.

The land he wanted was soon being purchased by other companies. Little companies like Bay Lake Properties, Retlaw, The Ayefour Group, and M.T. Lott Real Estate were buying tracts of land for $80 an acre. The trick was that all these companies were Disney in disguise. Once the veil was lifted, Disney had managed to purchase more than 27,000 acres at roughly $200 per acre. Now before you start thinking Walt was out there fleecing the little land owner, understand that after people found out it was Disney buying the land, the price per acre ballooned up to $80,000.

That’s a 999% increase because they knew he could afford it.

“Ambition can creep as well as soar.” – Edmund Burke

This gets at the heart of taking little bets. Peter Sims wrote in his book, appropriately titled “Little Bets”, about comedian Chris Rock. Rock will test run jokes at a smaller venue, a laugh lab if you will, looking for the five or ten powerful lines to build an entire act around. Like Walt Disney, he’s looking for those little humor land grabs that can add up to a resort of hilarity.

We need to be doing the same thing while innovating. Ideation and business canvases can lead us to the next big things, but we can’t just build the theme park entrance out in the wild. There is some hypothesis testing and market fit analysis that should happen first. Take that big, disruptive idea and start testing those risky assumptions.

The best part is that each smallish prototype you test, only has to connect to the big, disruptive idea to you. Validating your hypotheses only has to look like another little land purchase by M.T. Lott. You’re going to be taking ground in small chunks, seemingly of little value to the market.

It is your big vision that makes the small grabs important.

“To multiply small successes is precisely to build one treasure after another. In time one becomes rich without realizing how it has come about.” – Frederick the Great

The best part of these small land grabs under little prototypes is that no one sees what you’re doing until its too late. It’s like building mini-games consisting of only one mechanic. This game you can only jump. This game you have to solve sliding puzzles. And so on until you use all your validated mini-game mechanics to build the big market disrupting game.

What will be your M.T. Lott strategy?

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!
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, 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.