Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Interviewing with Empathy

Interviewing with Empathy can be one of the more challenging Design Thinking skills to learn. One method is to observe someone else who knows how to do it, but I recently came across the web page of an organization that appears to have been polishing their empathic listening skills since the 1960's.

The Center for Nonviolent Communication emerged from work done by Marshall Rosenberg with civil rights activists, mediating between rioting students and college administrators and working to peacefully desegregate public schools.

There are four core principles in NVC;
  • Observation: Observing  of things which are seen, heard, or touched, without evaluation of their meaning or significance, and with a focus on specific to time and context.
  • Feelings are viewed as an indicator of whether we are experiencing our needs as met or unmet.  Identification of feelings is said to allow us to more easily connect with one another by allowing ourselves to be vulnerable and helping resolve conflicts.
  • Needs: Universal human needs, as distinct from particular strategies for meeting needs. NVC states; "Everything we do is in service of... needs."
  • Requests are distinguished from demands in that one is open to a response of "no" without attempting to force the matter.  A "no" should also not lead to giving up. Solutions are found by empathically understanding what is preventing the other person from saying "yes." Requests should be stated in clear, positive, concrete action oriented terms. 
The core model of NVC represents two sides of an empathic conversation:
Empathetically Listening:
Honestly Expressing:
NVC is self-described as;

"With NVC we learn to hear our own deeper needs and those of others, and to identify and clearly articulate what “is alive in us”. When we focus on clarifying what is being observed, felt, needed, and wanted, rather than on diagnosing and judging, we discover the depth of our own compassion. Through its emphasis on deep listening—to ourselves as well as others—NVC fosters respect, attentiveness and empathy, and engenders a mutual desire to give from the heart. The form is simple, yet powerfully transformative."

Three unique tools of NVC are their Universal List of Feelings and associated lists of Satisfied and Unsatisfied Needs, which could be useful for developing the empathy maps of Design Thinking.

Some Useful Tips

Establish trust with participants
Create an atmosphere in which people feel comfortable enough to open up. 
  • Listen patiently. 
  • Do not interrupt. 
  • Allow for pauses. 
  • Give participants time to think. 
  • Use non-verbal gestures, such as eye contact, nodding, and smiling, to reassure participants you are engaged and interested in what they are saying. 

Get the most out of your interactions 
Encourage people to reveal what really matters to them. 
  • Ask participants to show you the object or space they are talking about, 
  • Have participants draw what they are talking about. 
  • Keep asking “Why?”, particularly in response to consecutive answers. 

Be on the lookout for;
Actions and statements which reveal what people care about. 
Keep in mind that they may contradict themselves!
  • Look for cues in the things that people surround themselves with or the way they carry themselves.
  • Notice any workarounds and adaptations people have done to make a system or tool serve their needs better, for example: Lowering the height of bulletin boards to make it easier for children to read them.
  • Explore things that prompt certain behaviors, for example: a line around a track field that causes people to run within a certain area.

Capture what you see
Take lots of notes and photos of what you see, hear, feel, smell and taste during a field visit. 

  • Capture direct quotes. 
  • Write down your immediate thoughts without worrying about an interpretation.
Here is an interesting graphic from ComLab India which illustrates how active empathic listening implies being aware of a blend of communication elements;

Tuesday, September 9, 2014

Why Deep Innovation Can Be So Hard

In an article published in Forbes on August 4th, 2014, Edward Hess of the Batten Institute at the University of Virginia's Darden School of Business asked the question "Why Is Innovation So Hard?" In it, he makes several comments about innovation, ranging from the difficulty in defining it to some reasons for its rarity. Hess then makes some observations about humans, emotions and failure, mentioning our biases, need for self affirmation, how we act when we feel threatened, and the ways that hinders innovation.  (I've summarized them at the bottom of this post. - df)

Hess concludes that that innovation requires an organizational environment that encourages failures and mistakes and uses IDEO, Pixar and Intuit as examples. Then he makes two very interesting statements concerning IDEO and Intuit;

"IDEO takes it even further, characterizing failure as good because it helps people develop the humility that is necessary for empathy—a critical skill in user-centric innovation."

"Intuit spent the past eight years building a culture to better foster experimentation-driven innovation. Humility, empathy, and the devaluation of hierarchical rank were critical to making this new culture work."

In the closing paragraph Ed states: "Creating a “big new” or a “big different” for your business requires innovative thinking, and innovative thinking requires the right kind of organizational environment. That is why innovation is so hard."  But, Ed stops short of explicitly stating what kind of environment that is.

If you wrap back in the observations about IDEO and Intuit, the recipe for creativity looks like this:

Creating an innovative environment for your business requires an organization built on humility, empathy, and the devaluation of hierarchical rank.

By the way, this same message is a key element in Ed Catmull's recent book; Creativity, Inc. - Overcoming the Unseen Forces that Stand in the Way of True Inspiration.

Just to be clear on what we're talking about here;

"Humility is variously seen as the act or posture of lowering oneself in relation to others, or conversely, having a clear perspective, and therefore respect, for one's place in context. Humility, in various interpretations, is widely seen as a virtue in many religious and philosophical traditions, often in contrast to narcissism, hubris and other forms of pride." - Wikipedia

Blending a twist onto C.S. Lewis;  A key component of successful creativity is thinking of your customers more than yourself.

Summary of Ed's talking points from the article:

* Hard to define because it means different things to different people. 
* Exists along a continuum, from incremental improvements to disruptive innovation. 
* Occurs "through an inefficient process of ideation, exploration, and experimentation."
* Usually arises from thinking differently than we normally think.
* Arises from learning.
* Neither innovative nor critical thinking come naturally to most people.
* Innovative ideas rarely emerge from an “aha!” moment.
* Innovation requires the willingness to fail and learn.

* People have cognitive biases
* People seek to affirm their self-image.
* People tend to rationalize information that contradicts their beliefs.
* When they feel threatened, people defend themselves and their views.

* Emotions influence and are integrally intertwined in our cognitive processing.
* Fear of failure, looking bad, or losing our job hinders the process of innovation.
* Failure is an unavoidable part of innovation experimentation.

Thursday, September 4, 2014

"Vat are you sinking?"

Is this it?

One of the questions that frequently comes up in the eSphere is "What is Design Thinking?" Is it a method? Is it a Mindset? Are there rules? Why does it seem to vary from situation to situation?  I'd like to share a couple of ideas about that in this posting.

How about this?
In order to have any sort of understandable conversation about something, it's a good idea to be speaking the same language. Beyond that, it helps to have an agreement regarding the meaning of words, particularly when the word can serve as both a noun and a verb. Such is the case with the words Design and Thinking;

Wait... maybe this one!
Design as a noun is defined as; A plan or drawing, produced to show the look and function or workings of a building, garment, or other object, before it is built or made. Some synonyms for Design include: plan, blueprint, drawing, sketch, outline, map, plot, diagram, draft, representation, scheme, and model.

Used as a verb, Design is defined as; To decide upon the look and functioning of (a building, garment, or other object), typically by making a detailed drawing of it - or - To do or plan (something) with a specific purpose or intention in mind.

Similar verb phrases include;  plan, outline, map out, draft, draw, invent, originate, create, think up, come up with, devise, formulate, conceive; make, produce, develop, and fashion.

The same is true of the word Thinking; it has both noun and verb usages;

As a noun Thinking is an opinion, judgment or mindset which is characteristic of a particular group, time period, etc.

As a verb; Thinking is the action of using your mind to produce ideas, decisions, memories, etc., or the activity of thinking about something.

This presents a two by two matrix representing four possible meanings of Design Thinking:

Noun - Noun   |  Verb - Noun
Noun - Verb   |  Verb - Verb

The Noun-Noun pair combines A drawing with an opinion.

The Noun-Verb pair combines A drawing with the action of using your mind.

The Verb-Noun pair combines to produce; The action of deciding upon the look and functioning of something which is an opinion, judgment or mindset.

The Verb-Verb pair becomes; Deciding upon the look and functioning of using your mind to produce ideas.

I'm not sure any of these really make much sense.

This HAS to be it...!
Its interesting to note that one definition of Design states that the result of a design activity is a design. I suppose that makes sense, except that the result of Thinking is called thought.  What does A scientist call the result of design?

Note that the "design" exists before the reality. In that regard the design is theoretical, untested and unproven. What do you call it once it's been tested and proven?  (A product of the design process?)

There is another slant on this; What if Design is used as an adjective to describe a type of thinking?

David Kelley explained that this was his meaning when he first started using the term - that it meant the way designers think. In a 2003 meeting with IDEO's CEO, Tim Brown, Kelley had an epiphany: They would stop calling IDEO's approach "design" and start calling it "design thinking.”

"We moved from thinking of ourselves as designers to thinking of ourselves as design thinkers. We have a methodology that enables us to come up with a solution that nobody has before." -- David Kelley

That still leaves a number of questions; Is it accurate to say that there is one way of thinking which is common to all designers?  Decades of research have gone into this question, starting at least as far back as the 1960's when the way software was written became an intense area of study. That effort expanded into the study of systems, aka; operations research.

I think there is one more unspoken element to Kelley's statement; He was speaking of designs and designers who are successful - which can survive, even thrive in the marketplace.

Are we there yet?
Which leads us to another idea; If Design Thinking is the method used at IDEO, arguably one of the most successful design firms in the world, what is the method used for?  The simplest answer I've heard to that question is; to solve problems. Wicked problems in particular.

I like this answer because it lets us temporarily defer dealing one of the terrible questions; What is creativity?  and focus on the How of the matter.  How do you solve problems? How can you be more creative in your solutions?

Let's take a closer look at this in the next blog; The Fundamental Nature of Problem Solving.

Tuesday, September 2, 2014

The Spirit of Design Thinking

I came across a wonderful series of videos by GE today and one of them in particular expressed what I feel is at the heart of Design Thinking;

I'll be adding more as I find them. Please feel free to send in your suggestions!