Sunday, August 31, 2014

Capturing the Conversation

Really listening to someone else's story can be a bit of a challenge, particularly if the things they are talking about aren't interesting to you. Even if you are interested, the act of writing the story down, accurately recording your observations about their posture, any emotional expressions like their tone of voice or inflections, can be a real challenge.  This is why the Stanford method strongly suggests that two people do the interviewing, one to ask the questions and the other to record the replies and capture the emotional components of the conversation. If you've ever tried to take notes during a lecture, you know how hard it is to simply capture the ideas, let alone take actual dictation. Listening, reading and writing seem to use different sets of cognitive skills.

Richard Feynman conducted an experiment where he practiced counting at a steady rate while simultaneously performing other actions, such as running up and down stairs, reading, writing and counting objects. He discovered that he “could do anything while counting to [himself]—except talk out loud”.

The balance of these cognitive skills appears to vary from person to person. Feynman shared his discovery with a group of people, one of whom (John Tukey) had a different experience: Tukey could easily speak aloud, but could not read while reciting numbers to himself.  Feynman concluded that he was “hearing” the numbers in his head, while Tukey was “seeing” the numbers go by.

The point here is that regardless of the blend of listening/writing skills you may have, it's best to have one person ask the questions and another record the replies and physio-emotional content of the conversation. If you can't get someone else to help, use your smartphone or a camera to make a video recording of the interview, with the subject well enough lit and positioned that you can clearly see their facial expressions and posture and clearly hear their voice, so that you can analyze the conversation later.

It's a good idea to get permission to record the conversation before you start. You might say something like; "Would it be all right if we recorded our conversation so I can be sure to not miss anything important?"

The thing that makes Interviewing with Empathy different from other types of interviews is that with IFE, you want the other person to express their emotions and tell you their story.

In a recent blog posting called Help with Emotional Interviews, Chip Scanian quoted Joe Hight, managing editor of The Oklahoman about how to handle emotionally laden interviews:

"Most people... need someone who’s compassionate and human."

The traditional bias has been to keep things unemotional ("factual") during an interview, if at all possible. With DT, you want the other person to open up naturally and comfortably about their problems and frustrations - their "Pain Points."

One way to reveal these is to ask questions like; "What are some of the most frustrating aspects of the situation?" or "What do you love or hate most your circumstances?"

The observations you capture in the interview will be used to populate an "empathy map";

Empathy Map

Thursday, August 28, 2014

Design Thinking’s “Deep Secret" & Why it Works

A revelatory moment
There has been a lot of digital ink spilt over the question of what Design Thinking is and whether it works. Is it a method? Is it a frame of mind? How is it done? Is it new, or just a restatement of another pre-existing method?

I’ve been participating in a few online forums discussing Design Thinking - much of which has been a lively back and forth between a variety of views. These have typically fallen into one of two broad categories; Differences of opinion resulting from difference in experience (“The Blind Men and the Elephant") and Tower of Babel / Lost in Translation / Why don’t we understand each other even tho we are using the same words? sort of head bashing.

A couple of days ago, I found myself in another of these situations when I was presented with the description of something called Presumptive Design, being advocated by Leo Fishberg, a very smart guy at Intel. It advocates a shoot, fire, correct, aim approach, with lots of rapid prototyping and testing. That looks a lot like Design Thinking in terms of the parts of the process, but didn’t line up in terms of the order. Which got me thinking about if order really makes a difference.

Is is possible to enter Design Thinking in any phase? If so, why do Tom and Dave Kelley clearly state that Design Thinking "starts with empathy”. What difference would it make if you didn’t begin with empathy?

Have the mindset of a novice.

Many of us received our design training at an "institution of higher learning”, with all the competitiveness that attends that environment. Many students believe deeply that good grades are the best indicator of a future profitable career. Even when we are put into teams in a classroom environment the grade we receive at the end of the course is individual. In addition, the tradition of the odd but brilliant individual contributor continues to be a part of our collective story. Much of our backgrounds biases us towards individual recognition and success. Sometimes we carry that bias with us our entire careers.

Let's compare Design Thinking to other methods in that regard;  In "traditional" approaches someone - often an "entrepreneur" - gets an idea for a new product or a better way to do something, prototypes it and (hopefully) tests that with potential customers. This is the “Build a better mouse trap and the world will beat a path to your door” method.  With Design Thinking you start with customers - ask them to tell you their stories, find their pain, and then reiteratively build and test prototypes until they tell you it’s what they want. 

Many of the world's business appear to have been built around the first model. It was what I was taught at business school. You design something and take it into the marketplace. Find the customers who will bring in the orders and the money. Ever watch Shark Tank? Have you ever seen someone come in and say "Hey Sharks! I don't have a neat new product! I have customers with unfulfilled needs and I want you to give me $5 million dollars to help fill them!"  Right... Next contestant.

You wanna piece of my pie?
With Design Thinking you go into the marketplace and say; “Hey! My friends and I have some skills that may be useful. Does anyone here need any help?” The more it hurts the more we care! With traditional design approaches its; “Hey! I’ve been working on this thing, which I think is pretty cool, for months (years.. decades…). It’s still not done, but I sure would like to know how many people here would like to buy it!”

Can you see the difference?  In one case there is a lot of time and effort spent building something that may fill the needs of a handful of people who may have the same need as the designer - entrepreneur, who is often very different from “the rest of us”.  

In the other case, the designer, who’s personality, skills and creativity make them very different from “the rest of us”, is trying to fill the deep and often unexpressed needs of "the rest of us", and starts by putting a lot of effort into discovering what they are.  Not to put too religious a spin on it, but that's similar to 1 John 4:19; "We loved him because he loved us first."

There is another benefit from this; When people are given the opportunity to participate in creating their own solutions, they are more fully invested and committed to a successful outcome.  Design Thinking’s open, collaborative, customer needs driven approach excels in investment, literally and figuratively, because it starts with a built-in customer base for the solution.

Vive la différence!
As usual, all images are copyright their respective holders, Disney in particular, and used here for non-profit, educational purposes.

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

How Design Thinking Got Me in Hot Water at the Airport

Someone recently asked me why one of my online resumes doesn't mention that I've taught Design Thinking. That got me to thinking about the times and places when I have given a presentation on Design Thinking, demonstrated it, or used it at work and how well that was received.

I must admit that I'm a long way from being an objective, casual observer of DT. In my experience, it works really well on a number of levels and I'm an enthusiastic supporter of it.  At the same time, I also have to admit that being a evangelist and practitioner has not always been easy or welcome.

One story in particular comes to mind. For about three years I indulged myself in my passion for aviation by working as an airline customer service agent. (It certainly wasn't because of the pay.) The carrier I worked for was on contract to a much larger company and one part of the agreement was that late departures incurred late fees. As a result, the timing of the boarding process was critical.  During my efforts to master it, I discovered a couple of areas which were particularly failure prone. One in particular had to do with getting an accurate "on-board" count. This was accomplished by a two part process.

The gate agent would collect the larger portion of the boarding passes and count them. On the aircraft the flight attendants would count passengers. If the totals matched, all was well. If not, a recount would occur, which almost always resulted in a delay and often arguments over who was responsible for it. Even on a smaller Regional Jet there could be as many as 50 boarding passes to correlate and tally. That was a lot of small pieces of paper to handle.

One trick some of the agents would employ was to gather the stubs into piles of 10 and staple them together. This would have worked pretty well, if the staplers had been up to the task. Unfortunately they weren't and the result was often a bigger mess.

I set out to find a stapler that could handle ten pieces of paper at at time - and found one at Staples (Model #51009) that was on sale. Even better, it had a unique action that allowed even people with weak hands to use it easily. There were 30 boarding gates so I bought 30 staplers and arranged for them to be delivered to work.

Sometime later I got a call from the station chief, telling me to report to their office. The staplers had arrived and were in shipping and receiving. The chief wasn't happy about it.  They had arrived without the necessary paperwork and there had been a lot of confusion about them.  I was told to remove them from the premises and that any future purchases of staplers were to be approved by management and selected from the office supply list.  No matter how hard I tried to suggest that the staplers were an answer to a pressing need, it was of no avail.

Over the next few weeks I made personal gifts of the staplers to several other agents. One in particular who had very bad arthritis. Theirs was the only thanks I recall getting for thinking outside the box.

Tom and Dave Kelley recommend not being too revolutionary or radical in evangelizing DT. There is a lot of history and momentum to overcome in many organizations.

Next time, I'll send the "staplers" to my house and sneak them in.

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

KISSing the Design Thinking Process

Front Cover of Experiences in Visual Thinking
In Experiences in Visual Thinking, first published in June of 1973 by Robert McKim, the design process is summarized as Express, Test Cycle.

Express, Test, Cycle from Experiences in Visual Thinking
Bernie Roth explained this process as; Express an idea by coming up with a trial solution, then Test  the idea to see what does and doesn't work about it, then Cycle, by using what you've learned to come up with a modified or new idea.  Repeat until the problem is solved, or you run out of resources.

This illustrated the basic elements of a design process which adds rapid prototyping and visualization tools to traditional methods of problem solving using Cartesian analysis.

Another foundational text is The Universal Traveller, first Published August 1st, 1974.  In it Don Kolberg and Jim Bagnall present a multi-phase process for ideation success.

Travel Map from The Universal Traveller
The seven process steps; Accept Situation, Analyse, Define, Ideate, Select, Implement and Evaluate look spiral, but are actually circular and interconnected, since you can jump off to any of the other steps once you have done the evaluation.

Its not too far from Kolberg and Bagnall to a more current expression, by IDEO:

Design Thinking Process by IDEO
Or this one, currently in use at the;

Design Thinking Process by the

The difficulty I have with all these images is that they don't really convey the phases and cyclical flow of the Design Thinking Process clearly, as currently taught and practiced at the, so they are inaccurate guides for the novice.

To that end, I propose the following compilation and re-interpretation of the process diagram;

The phases and goals surround the user by putting Point Of View in the center. Starting at the top (Empathy, of course) you go clockwise around the cells until you get back the start arrow.

I like this even more because it answers the question; What am I supposed to be doing in each phase - as opposed to How am I supposed to be doing it?

Research <-> Synthesize <-> Ideate <-> Prototype <-> Test

Next, we'll examine each phase (cell) of the process;

Note: Throughout this blog we're going to pay attention to the Five W's and an H;
Who, What, Why, When, Where and How.

Research - Starting with Empathy

One of the primary goals of Design Thinking is to understand a person’s thoughts, emotions, and motivations (what)so that you can determine how to innovate for them (why). In order to do that, in the words of Tom Kelley; "You have to talk to customers."

By understanding the choices that people make and the behaviors that they exhibit, you can identify their needs. This can be done directly, thru interviews, or indirectly thru observation, although direct interviews can reveal much more because of the opportunity for two way interaction.

Rules and Tools for Interviewing with Empathy


1. Ask “Why?" - Even when you think you know the answer, ask people why they do or say things. The answers will sometimes surprise you. Be prepared to ask at least a few times.

2. Ask "open ended" questions - Binary (yes/no) questions can be answered in a word; you want to be hosting an in-depth conversation built on stories. (See below)

3. Be Patient - A conversation, even started from one question, should go on as long as it needs to. 

4. Don’t be afraid of silence - Interviewers often feel the need to ask another question when there is a pause. If you allow for silence, a person can reflect on what they’ve just said and may reveal something deeper.

5. Don’t suggest answers to your questions - Even if they pause before answering, don’t help them by suggesting an answer. This can unintentionally get people to say things that agree with your expectations.

6. Look for inconsistencies - Sometimes what people say and what they do are different. These inconsistencies often hide interesting insights.

7. Pay attention to nonverbal cues - Be aware of body language and facial expressions. Watch their eyes, movements, posture and gestures.

8. Encourage stories - The stories people tell reveal how they think about the world. Ask questions that get people telling stories.

9. Be prepared to capture - Interview in pairs whenever possible. Get permission to and make a voice or video recording.  It is very difficult to properly engage someone and take detailed notes at the same time.


1. Probe for feelings - Ask questions like; "How did that make you feel?" or "What do you feel about that?"

2. Ask about a specific instances or occurrences“Tell me about the last time you ______.”

3. Ask questions neutrally - “What do you think about buying gifts for your spouse?” is a better question than; “Don’t you think shopping is great?” because the second question implies that there is a right answer.

Interviewing with empathy is all about the other person, their thoughts, their feelings, their beliefs, actions and motivations. Your job is to submerge yourself, your own ideas and identity as much as possible and capture their story. You'll have plenty of opportunity to add your individuality and creativity into the process shortly.

Note: If these sound like ideas for marriage counseling it’s because they are about building and strengthening relationships… and they’d work there too!

NEXT... Capturing the conversation.

Saturday, August 9, 2014

Design Thinking Images

I've been reflecting on some ways to express core Design Thinking principles and one thought occurred to me which led to this:

Tuesday, August 5, 2014

Design Thinking Video Clips

Tom and Dave Kelley spoke about Design Thinking at MIT's Media Lab back in 2013. The entire session was recorded and is available on the web, but it's 90 minutes long.  I wanted to condense it down to a handful of segments which could each viewed in a few minutes.

Here are the Best of Tom and Dave at MIT and two small infomercials.

Monday, August 4, 2014

The Johari Window as a Design Thinking Tool?

I've recently learned of a technique developed by Joseph Luft and Harrington Ingham used to help people better understand themselves and others. One aspect of it is particularly interesting in the context of Design Thinking - the Unknown Area.

The process is conducted by a group of individuals making selections from a list of 57 adjectives used as possible descriptions of the participants. The adjectives don’t represent good or bad traits in and of themselves, they are markers of the way the participants are perceived by themselves and others.
  • able, aggressive, ambivert, accepting, adaptable, bold
  • calm, caring, cheerful, clever, congenial, complex, confident
  • dependable, dignified, energetic, extrovert, friendly
  • giving, happy, helpful, idealistic, independent, ingenious
  • intelligent, introvert, kind, knowledgeable, logical, loving
  • mature, modest, nervous, observant, optimistic, organized
  • patient, powerful, proud, reflective, relaxed, religious
  • responsive, searching, self-assertive, self-conscious, sensible
  • sentimental, shy, silly, smart, spontaneous, sympathetic
  • tense, trustworthy, warm, wise
The adjectives are then mapped onto a 2x2 matrix with diagonal axis of self-other and known-unknown;

Adjectives that are selected by both the participant and peers are placed into the open/free area. [1]

Adjectives that are not selected by the participant but are selected by their peers are placed into the blind area[2]

Adjectives selected by the participant, but not by any of their peers, are placed into the hidden area. [3]

Adjectives which were not selected by either the participant or their peers remain in the unknown area. [4]

In effect, all adjectives start out in the unknown area and are moved into other quadrants by a mutual process of selection.

The open area is also known as the ‘public self arena’ or ‘area of free activity’. This is the information about the person – behavior, attitude, feelings, emotion, knowledge, experience, skills, views, etc - known by the participant and the group. This quadrant contains the things that a person is happy to share and show to others. It provides a common view of the person and can be discussed openly.

The hidden area of the window or ‘private self’ refers to what is known to the individual but kept hidden from, and therefore unknown, to others. The hidden area could also include sensitivities, fears, hidden agendas, manipulative intentions, and secrets - anything that a person knows but does not reveal, for whatever reason. It is natural for personal and private information and feelings to remain hidden. In fact, certain information, feelings and experiences have no bearing on work, and so can and should remain hidden.

The blind area contains what is known about a person by others in the group, but is unknown by the person themselves. This area could also be referred to as ignorance about oneself, or the zone of self-deception. A blind area could also include issues that others are deliberately withholding from someone else or public view.

The unknown area contains information that is unknown to anyone – self and other people. Often referred to as the ‘undiscovered’ quadrant, this is a potential source of personal creativity and other resources which may never have been investigated or suspected.

Unknown issues take a variety of forms: they can be feelings, behaviors, attitudes, capabilities, aptitudes, which can be quite close to the surface, and which can be positive and useful, or they can be deeper aspects of a person or situation, influencing outcomes to varying degrees.

It also occurs to me that the blind and unknown areas present opportunities to embrace the ambiguities in a problem statement and that this mapping technique might be useful in guiding a Design Thinking cycle thru it's phases by revealing areas which are not known or poorly understood. 

A given problem statement would probably require a different set of adjectives, as these are primarily personality traits, but if the DT group were given the opportunity to build a list of adjectives based on their individual and collective knowledge of the situation, the matrix could point to the opportunities hidden in the ambiguities.

There is a nicely presented Johari Window Kit currently available thru Management Diagnostics.