Tags: Business, innovation, Modeling, Prototyping, Serious Play, Simulation
Models are efficient tools of collaboration. So says Michael Schrage. His book, “Serious Play,” is about building many models, prototypes, simulations – and using these tools for all the learning, sharing, and forecasting they can provide.
“Serious Play” tackles the goals and pitfalls of modeling. It focuses on the diverse roles of modeling, and on the interplay between simulation, communication, and innovation. The book encourages rapid prototypes and simulations as tools to facilitate collaboration between groups. This is where “play” fits in. Collaboration, ideation, enhancement, and the simple fun of trying new things each have a role in the process “Serious Play” advocates.
Through anecdotes and case studies, Schrage explains modeling, simulating, and prototyping, and emphasizes how the three tools of “Serious Play” can promote collaboration between engineering, manufacturing, design and management. Numerous styles are mentioned, including: spreadsheets, 2D and 3D electronic drawings, sculpted models, printed prototypes, and manufactured prototypes. Costs and benefits are associated with each.
According to Schrage, creating value is the essence of the prototype. With each cycle of prototyping comes the opportunity to improve the quality of the product. More than just quality, however, rapid prototyping can allow a variety of different focuses. Improvements, cost reductions, and product enhancements can all be explored through iterations of the prototyping process.
While collaboration and value creation are each big picture goals of prototyping, many pitfalls also exist. These pitfalls can hinder the value of a prototype. “Serious Play” suggests avoiding models that have no inherent purpose, that fail to benefit a particular party, that are too elaborate to effectively use, and that fail to facilitate a discussion between different product teams. The book also argues that the value of each model should be considered and evaluated by realistic business metrics.
Schrage’s style is almost exclusively anecdotal. Stories of product designers, modelers, and innovators blend together as the book progresses, and behind each story lies a hidden gem of insight. Each insight is as valuable as the last; creatively achieved, and relevant to the real world. Schrage argues effectively for the value prototypes bring to communication and collaboration, and for the value that cheap modeling has brought to the economics of business.
The book’s value is in its insights. But while very insightful, it struggles with organization. At times the book loses itself in its anecdotes, and fails to thematically tie its insights together into coherent themes. Selected blurbs are blocked out of the page, and are as likely to agree with a poignant point as they are to summarize an anecdote, repeat a commentary, or make their own point. The problem with this is that, although the points are insightful in themselves, it becomes difficult for the reader to quickly grasp where each point fits into the bigger picture.
The book seems determined to offer ideas for a multitude of scenarios, model types, and businesses, and in so doing loses some focus. However, the variety of business practices, prototyping styles, and methodologies help provide a examples, or if you will, a “model” for a large section of reader needs. The variety allows the savvy reader to re-read particular sections that may apply specifically to their business strategy, and to pick up general practice techniques as they go along. This should be beneficial to the sect of readers who are currently exploring prototyping within their business model, and for those of us interested in ideology that guides when, where and how we should prototype.
Fortunately for those of us “time-pressed” innovators, Schrage recognizes that “Serious Play” is not easy for everyone to quickly read and apply. He recommends that some of us instead read “Seven Habits of Highly Effective Innovators,” or “The One Minute Modeler.” For the generalist, looking for tools to apply, I agree. However, to give us some quick tips, Schrage concludes his book with a “User Guide,” where he outlines specific steps that even the time-pressed can take to seriously play.
The Opposable Mind April 10, 2011Posted by isheikh in Opposable Mind.
1 comment so far
The Opposable Mind points out that the way that most of us think about solving problems is suboptimal and that some great business leaders have achieved success though integrative thinking. The numerous examples that are mentioned through the book show how business leaders use integrative thinking to develop creative solutions. Example after example is given where leaders are given two choices, each of which has negative and positive aspects and there isn’t a clear winner between the two. Rather than settling for a less-than-perfect choice, they come up with a third option that isn’t a compromise. Rather than settling for “or” they choose “and.”
Martin breaks down the process of decision making into four steps: Salience, Causality, Architecture, and Resolution. Salience refers to the features related to the decision that you find important. Causality refers to the connections between the salient features. Architecture focuses on the order by which you will come to a decision. And resolution is the end result.
Integrative thinkers recognize more (or maybe just different) features as salient and see greater causal connections between these features. Perhaps most importantly, integrative thinkers keep all the ideas in their head simultaneously rather than breaking it apart in the architecture of the decision. They might work on individual parts, but the system view is always in mind. This, in my opinion, is what really sets the best integrative thinkers apart from the rest. More salient features, with greater connections, that are all kept in mind at the same time results in a highly complex puzzle to solve. In the resolution, they don’t settle for tradeoffs.
The mental models that we create simplify reality, and in doing so might leave out important aspects of the issue. So, it is important to recognize that what we think is true, often is incomplete. Similarly, specialization dives deep into a small area of the problem, but doesn’t have a view of the whole picture. The reason that our mind simplifies is to create order in how we see the world.
Given our limited view of reality, it is Important to reflect on the actions that we take, the outcomes that result, and the thought processes that led to deciding to take those actions. Martin points out that reflection often stops at action, but it is important to analyze the thought process too.
The idea of integrative thinking is compelling, and clearly those that are good at it have achieved success. However, I think it could be summarized far more succinctly than Martin did here. Repeating the same ideas over, and over, and over again is my main critique of the book. I think he could have communicated the core material in less than ten pages.
While Martin attempted to teach the average reader how to think more integratively, I don’t think he did it successfully. But I also think that teaching that skill is virtually impossible through a book. Integrative thinking is hard, and very few people can do it well. I personally think it’s more driven by creative talent than anything else. Often, the line between creative solutions and integrative solutions was unclear in the examples he cited. And my final critique is that he did not even mention how execution fits into the “solution.” Having good ideas might be important, but executing even mediocre ideas could lead to greater success. I would have liked him to deal with how integrative solutions are executed, and how that process differs from conventional methods.
I have not read any other books focused solely on integrative thinking, but I have read other books like Natural Capitalism that touch on integrative design. I do not recommend reading more than the first couple chapters of The Opposable Mind because the same ideas are simply repeated. I would have liked to see Martin find examples of integrative thinking applied to design of physical products or processes, rather than simply business models (which Hawken et al. do in Natural Capitalism).
I agree with Martin that interdisciplinarity is required to solve many of the complex challenges that face the world today. While having deep knowledge of a specialty is useful, it is even more important to be able to think across disciplinary boundaries.
Restore Balance to the Force: Critiquing A Whole New Mind February 7, 2011Posted by meganrast in A Whole New Mind, Design Thinking.
Tags: A Whole New Mind
A review of previous Haas MBA’s blog posts on Daniel Pink’s 2006 book A Whole New Mind shows depth on describing left-brained vs. right-brained, background information, and the ever-easier ability to poke holes in dated information. Pink does an excellent job describing neuroscience, making the case for design-thinking in business, and supporting the softer, holistic side of human abilities above the long-standing analytics of your typical knowledge worker.
In light of the forces of automation, globalization and affluence, his points regarding the need for design-based holistic thinking for in order to stay on innovation’s leading edge are well made. If it weren’t for a belief that my skillset is unique in the post-MBA marketplace, the lengthy discussion of “Abundance, Asia and Automation” would have instilled panic at my life choices. The short of it is to ask yourself: can someone overseas do it cheaper? Can a computer do it faster? Am I fulfilling a transcendent, unmet human need?
Whether Pink sparked this discussion, or encapsulated design in the zeitgeist of emotional intelligence in leadership, his book is still a good read for new-comers to the space. His values of “Story,” “Empathy” and “Meaning” are particularly important in light of the Great Recession when consumer trust in corporations has eroded significantly.
But I am a Haas MBA, and thanks to our dear Dean Lyons, we have our own well-designed symphony of cultural values to give meaning to our time in business school: one of which is “Questioning the Status Quo.” So instead of propping up the book with another mildly positive posting, I’m taking a critical stand that Pink’s book undermines itself. Let me explain.
Chapter 2 is dedicated to principle that cognition requires both the left and right sides of the brain. Pink argues that pseudo-science wasted years arguing which side of the brain was more important, when our current understanding reveals the need for both sides of our brain to work in concert. That is to say the strength for someone analytical and logical (a “left-brainer”) comes from building up our holistic, perceptive capabilities (from the “right-brain”).
Subscription to the Daniel Pink orthodoxy would have me run away from my MBA towards his described “new MBA”: the Masters of Fine Arts. In his fever to make this point, however, Pink goes full-tilt towards the right brain and loses the balance inherit in modern neuroscience: that we need BOTH sides. Businesses that hire MFAs without a shred of financial and analytic capabilities are doomed to make sub-optimal decisions. Businesses that hire MBAs without exposure to design-thinking and story-telling are going to miss the “big picture” and strategic opportunities in the competitive landscape. The power comes from being multi-disciplinary, not from one side over the other.
To take the argument one step further, we newly minted MBAs are already getting a heavy dose of the “right-brained” skillsets in design-thinking, leadership communication, story-telling and emotional intelligence (for any current Haas MBAs, I only need say the word “BILD”). I doubt my counterparts getting their MFAs are similarly multi-tasking in financial models or analytics. Just as I doubt MBAs from 10 or more years past are exposed to these concepts.
But though I’m an idealist sort of MBA, I know the real economics of the situation. Bestsellers rarely become so by using moderation and qualifications, which means we are doomed to read books with an overly-extreme point of view. A title of “A Whole New Mind: Why Right Brainers (with the skillsets of a Left Brainer) or Vice Versa Will Rule the Future” just doesn’t have the same pithy ring.
1 comment so far
Named the “father of the post-modern corporation” by the Los Angeles Times, Tom Peters is the author of the bestseller, In Search of Excellence, published in 1982 and the book, Re-imagine! Business Excellence in a Disruptive Age, published in 2003. Design: Innovate, Differentiate, Communicate, captures the essence of business innovation from the previous Tom Peters’ books in redefining business thinking. The main message that Peters conveys in the book is to have his readers “so pissed off” that they will do something after reading the book. The book explores topics in the design of new business enterprise, systems, experiences, and branding. Basically, “it is not optional” anymore to stay in the status quo and do business the same way it was in the last era.
As a student pretty much most of my life at this point, it is a bit hard for me to be really “pissed off” at the existing practices in companies that are exactly the same few decades ago and have not yet incorporated innovation and design into their core business models. However, as a consumer, I do see how different firms have realized the importance of design and changed their value propositions to provide more innovative services and experiences during the last decades. As Peters mentions in his book, the traditional business model “deals with one of your needs” while the new one “helps define who you are”. One of the compelling arguments Peters make n the book is about designing women, the fact that men cannot design for women’s needs. He uses a story, from his female architect friend, about the location of the laundry room in a house to illustrate the fact that men has traditionally neglected the needs for women in designing products and services that are shared by different genders in the society. In his book, Re-imagine, he devotes an entire chapter that further elaborates on designing women as part of the new trends and markets nowadays.
The elements of design can also be seen in the presentation of book. Unlike most business writing, Tom Peters uses a very informal and colloquial tone in his writing and incorporate different font sizes and colors to emphasize certain ideas in the book. Each chapter starts with a list of contrasts comparing the business “was” and “is” and ends with a Top 10 To-Dos such that the ideas not just merely ideas but concrete actions which has made the book a very practical guide to business design. For an “amateur” reader like me, who have not read a lot of design books, it was quite hard in the beginning to follow the flow of ideas in the book because the style is very different. There are lots of figures, diagrams, and side notes. But, with a little more effort in trying to understand the book, the message becomes very clear to me that it is necessary to “be weird” and different to invoke innovation and changes in people’s behavior and businesses.
Overall, I think that the book is a really good read because it provides a very good foundation on why and how to redesign business thinking in the 21st century. The book is especially helpful for “novice” people who is interested in design in business but do not have a lot of exposures and ideas about design. The birthday cake example, discussed in our Design as a Competitive Strategy class, was presented in the book to illustrate the change in the dynamics of value conceived by consumers. The concept of bio-mimicry is also talked about in the book with the example of elephant dunk and termites to show how beautiful system could be. The book, Design, also does an excellent job in summarizing all the important concepts in the previous book, Re-imagine, which goes into more detail explorations in innovating business through new context, technology, value, brand, markets, work, people, and mandate. As a closing thought, here’s a quote from book on the staple of successful business:
“Stick your neck out.”
Design for the Real World April 18, 2010Posted by Yuan-Yu Kristy Liao in Design Thinking, [Books] Ways of Thinking.
1 comment so far
About this book
It is not possible to explain this “Design for the Real World” with a few simple words, but it is a must-read for those who are interested in “really” doing design. The book does not have many newest, most advanced cases, neither did it tell us how to design practical, pretty, fancy products; but Victor Papanek taught us the most basic yet fundamental aspect: the design attitude. He explored issues from many levels, from the basics to the profound; including the true meaning of design, how to originate thinking from human and as human, how to integrate design and life, how to create values in design sustainability, how to benefit the society with design, and how to design with natural laws.
Victor Papanek analyses and explains the essence of “design for the real world” from many aspects. He starts with analyzing global enterprises and government policies, explaining how they consumes carelessly the world resources for their own profit, while disregarding our environment; thus reminding designers to care for the social and environmental sustainability. He discussed the true essence of aesthetics, how the superficial and depth (including functional) aesthetics differ, and he proposed may practical problem solving skills. As far as he is concerned, the biggest problem in school education today is that it has missed the most important point: facing the real problems. In short, besides really practical design issues, he has brought into light the many design problems in today’s society and schools.
Critical analysis of the book
This book levels a tremendous impact on me. As a designer in this field for nealy 10 year, I fully appreciate how designers, because of their total devotion on their works, overly placed emphasis on philosophical design process, design aesthetics, and deep design concepts, and ignore the most fundamental human needs. This book allows designers to reflect and return to contemplate the meaning of a living design.
Basically I agree with all his points, especially his insightful questioning of the status quo — with the exception that I feel that he did more criticize rather than praise. He has pointed out many problems, no doubt, but unfortunately he left out those match “Design for the real world” cases. It would be helpful to address both, so readers may also discover the existing methods that they can draw inspiration and enlightenment (rather than just despise) from.
The value of this book
Written 30 years ago, this book now bears the aura of a prophet, calling the awakening of the designers’ consciousness in sustainability, green, the love of Earth, the love of nature. The author’s insight and wisdom make this book a book for all time, a book for all lives.
The relevance of the book
This book establishes a basic design approach from “attitude” and “contemplation,” but in order for readers to gain a broader perspective in the field of design, or for them to become a real professional in design, three areas must also be addressed. First is to have more real case studies and modern industrial design works. Second is to build, form the human-centered perspective, design that involves human body (as well as psyche) consciousness. Third, plunge into the nature and experience in first person the core objectives of eco-design.
The following book recommendations are related to the three areas.
- Designing for the Digital Age: How to Create Human-Centered Products and Services (2009) Kim Goodwin, Wiley-Academy.
- EcoDesign: The Sourcesbook (2002) Alastair Fuad-Luke, Chronicle Books LLC.
- Ecodesign: A Manual for Ecological Design (2006) Ken Yeang, Wiley-Academy
- The Chair: Rethink Culture, Body, And Design (1998), Galen Granz, WW Norton & Company.
- The Design of Everyday Thing (2000) Donald A. Norman, MIT Press.
- The Meaning of the Body: Aesthetics of Human Understanding (2008), Mark Johnson, The University of Chicago Press.