Thursday, May 26, 2005


Listening to a Forum this morning about "Green" MBAs, I was struck by the fact that they were not really talking about environmental questions so much as starting to look seriously at teaching business people that think holistically about the non-marketing effects of their business.

Individually, businesspeople are starting to realize that work/life is not a balance, but rather all "life." One panelist, an MBA student, professed a desire to stop compartmentalizing her life - seems to me that she's not alone.

A caller made a wonderful point about how capitalism is about extraction and processing of resources for profit. This force has accelerated through the Industrial Revolution, and now we must turn our attention to cultivation and management of resources with the understanding that these activities affect more than the bottom line. In turn, the bottom line must change to better measure these things.

"Sustainable business" includes being responsible about resources, but also indicates a growing awareness of as a change in attitude about how the corporation is involved in it's community. Things like GE's Ecomagination and BP's focus on environment and society are easy to view cynically, but maybe we should take a step back and see them as people within business trying to change their organizations from within. To be sure, there are external forces guiding the efforts, but the employees are also global community members.

The tenor was strikingly similar tenor to our discussions of "design thinking" and our attempts to use design practice to influence business decisions. Nod to Peter for pointing out that we do not hold a monopoly on this type of thought; the discussion this morning on Forum shows that we, gladly, have plenty of company.

Another panelist mentioned that business is a "conversation" with customers. Design practice can help business deeply understand the discussion with it's clients (Internet projects) and internal ones about processes (intranet projects). These conversations are growing in their influence on the business strategy and, maybe, just maybe, on how the "bottom line" is calculated.

We may not be back in the go-go days, but it seems that some of the prophecy mentioned throughout the Cluetrain Manifesto is finding some light of day - the web is breaking down the control of these conversations. Companies are starting to figure out how they can change to better understand these different aspects of the discussion. I, for one, am happy to contribute.

Friday, May 20, 2005

Noise Baton

With Paradox of Choice, I'm nervous there is no answer. Noise just gets louder, as we buy Real Simple magazine and retreat to Pottery Barn for mock rustic reminders of simpler decades.

Christina, What we are learning now is that the 50's was the WRONG answer to the scariness that was WWII and the crumbling of our fantasy of isolationism. The Marshall Plan was a gruff admission that we needed to expand our idea of "neighbor." Now, we know that someone halfway across the world should be considered a member of our community based on shared knowledge or experience or need for some piece of information we have.

The term "intelligencia" is evolving from "one with knowledge*" to "one who extracts knowledge from the whole of available information." We can no longer go to one mentor to relieve our worry of noise. We have to rely on a patchwork of our own intuition, the exponentially expanding body of information, and a cadre of sages and interesting thinkers to help us craft our own knowledge base.

Jonathan J. Harris is one of those people. You are one of those people. I have hope (and humility) that my talents are conspiring to take me there. Press on!

*As defined by a learnedness based on the generally accepted classical theorists, mostly from Western cultures.

Certainly Not Perfect, But I Can Live With This

Thanks, Bloglines. Over the last few weeks, I've increased my blogreach 500% with no effort. None. If anything, I've come to truly understand how much interesting* thought is out there and how blogging might not feel contrived.

Through metacool, comes Good Enough is the New Perfect, which I am usurping to generate momentum for this blog. Half-baked ideas? Help me finish them up. Sneaking suspicions? Call me a rumormonger. Brilliance? Only if we're really lucky (odds akin to winning the lottery).

I have a tendency to let ideas simmer within for a good long while before trotting them out for public consumption. Lately, I've started to realize that my "blinks" are ready for observation and will help me iterate them more quickly.

So watch out UXers and geek voyeurs, here we go. Feel free to poke and prod. We'll all learn something.

*Aside from the fact that the picture is certainly not from Wisconsin.

Thursday, May 12, 2005

Too Much of a Good Thing?

Thomas Vanderwal's post on The Art of the Pivot is right on. Our current media environment allows us new kinds of serendipity that even Al Gore couldn't have envisioned. I, too, would like more opportunities for this kind of interaction - especially on the iPod.
Man, I love that Kings of Convenience song. Wish I could rate it right now, because I'll certainly forget later.*

However, there is a flip side to this benefit, one that is disturbing and portends an epidemic of ADD/ADHD-type syndromes/disorders. The fact that when you can forever pivot, you may never get anywhere; the Internet assumes a bit role as interactive TV.

covers some of the dangers here in a plea for more attention and analysis from current design students. She's been flexible in teaching her design students, but they are losing the ability to focus on anything long enough to make simple connections.
And so I ask, Are my students condemned to put forth half-baked design ideas in a world that desperately needs their help? Are they--and we--losing analytical skills? Those questions hang heavily in the back of my brain like over-ripe apples about to fall from a tree.

I would like to suggest that some things cannot be learned without devoting one's full and undivided attention to them--no matter how much we celebrate multi-tasking. I suggest that it may be impossible to grasp difficult ideas and remember useful facts by surfing from one Web site to another. Without our personal storehouse of well-reasoned ideas and reliable facts, we cannot hope to be analytical, at those many times when life and work require us to use all the gray mater we can fire up.

Amen, Susan! I think all of us have felt the pressure to read everything and know everything and do everything. Not only to we have to be aware of the pivot opportunities, we also should be aware that every time that pivot appears, we're going to lose some of those that are trusting us to lead them down a path.

Let's remember that we need to open up the pivot opportunities to allow for wonderful, new connections, but also enable those who are looking for us to lead them to knowledge, not just data, information, or recommendations. We can do so much more.

*Ok, the fact that writing this post reminded me to rate that song heard in the car on the way home today proves Thomas' point. So be it. Please excuse me while I take care of that small detail...

Wednesday, May 04, 2005

A Tiny Bit Farther

Livia has been asking how is IA practices can assist with innovation in business. As time goes by, I think we're seeing more reference about how this can work.

Victor notes that Chris Conley from IIT is selling a New Kind of Professional. I like how Victor pictures different disciplines vying for the "prize," but won't make it until they realize that a great way to make progress more quickly is to cooperate and share knowledge. Some of you, I'm sure have been part of project teams that actually worked together.

At this same time, Roger Martin from Toronto's Rotman School of Management tells Fast Company:
"Business people don't just need to understand designers better -- they need to become designers."

Well, the opposite is true as well. Designers need to become more business savvy in their practice. Who better to learn from than the business people? Why not teach each other on-the-fly? And, of course, we could share knowledge with engineers as well.

The Fast Co. article also mentions that designers (and, by extension IA practice) examine a "mystery" and propose a "rough solution" with our imaginations. We can also help make sure that solution is validated and refined. This approach balances out the business tendency to boil down new problems into familiar analogies and apply old solutions in new ways.

In practice, both approaches will balance each other out as we come to appreciate the other's expertise and ways of thinking. We've all over-thought design solutions, esp. within groups of designers. It would be nice if, occasionally, someone said, "why don't we just... like we did over there?"

Then, throw in Dan Pink's A Whole New Mind, which, from what Christina and Dan Brown say, is an amalgamation of analytical and creative thinking on a level that we only toy with at the moment. Certainly there are some of these people out there right now, we all know a few. I'm happy to follow in their footsteps and find how my talents and experience lead me to a set of skills portable no matter the economic environment.

These issues are what have encouraged me to join the "other side" as a product manager. From the business perspective, however, I'm learning that my situation is asking me to use my IA chops more than pure business ones and try to find ways to illuminate UX principles in the business context. Progress seems to come in fits and starts, but it is happening. Stay tuned...

Watch Out, Big Boys

I hope others with passion for UX find it heartening to see companies like 37signals (Basecamp) & the iRise suite getting some notoriety these days. For me, they exemplify the idea that solving a difficult problem simply and well can often trump over-engineered, feature-laden applications.

These two solve distinctly different problems but do so in a space that's very analogous - a (seemingly) simple, yet very functional approach to tasks/needs that most individuals or organizations deal with on a regular basis. Until now, the choice has mainly been to institute ever larger and more complex software, MS Project or RequisitePro, respectively.

Whether or not these two applications actually do/do not knock MicroSoft or IBM off of their pedestals is beside the point. Rather, I believe that this is the start of where simple, flexible tools and processes start to trump the bloated, micro-managed practices put in place in large organizations and allow small groups of people to make big leaps very quickly.

In fact, 37signals just launched Backpack for your personal information. Hey, they knocked that silly project management thing; why not tackle something a bit more difficult.

In the end, it's about people sharing their contexts, listening to each other, capturing the results, and doing something with the collective intelligence. Most of us need less time haggling about requirements or "managing" the project. Instead, let's build things that solve real problems.