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Profiting from Uncertainty December 7, 2009

Posted by Hannah Davies in Profiting From Uncertainty, [Books] Ways of Thinking.
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I was intrigued by the title of this book – it seemed to me an interesting concept – so I thought I’d check it out. Its central tenet is that we live in an uncertain world; that people dislike uncertainty and find it hard to make fully rational decisions around dealing with uncertainty. If you can therefore find an effective way to prepare for uncertainty as a business leader, you’re in a great position to get ahead of your competitors when uncertain events strike.

What the book essentially offers is a framework for business leaders to prepare for uncertainty, drawing on elements of different strategies such as scenario planning, options thinking and dynamic monitoring. It is very methodical and simple in its approach and its tenet is, I think, a strong one – the evidence it gives to support it is certainly compelling. The author also draws on some excellent examples of businesses which have and haven’t prepared appropriately and these, too, provide very real, interesting insights.

Despite the intriguing title, this book turned out to be quite a traditional, dry business book. What it offers is a compelling argument and a great business framework, and one that I could certainly see myself using as a business leader. But it didn’t leave me feeling challenged or open my mind up to completely new perspectives or approaches in a way that many other elements of the course has done. I guess I felt a little disappointed that it was so firmly in the traditional ‘business’ realm. Whilst it delivered on its value proposition, this book would not feel out of place in any of my other MBA classes; and I’ve come to expect a little more from Design Systems thinking books!


December 7, 2009

Posted by Hannah Davies in Wired to Care.
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Wired to Care

This book was right up my street. The idea that businesses can actually do better for themselves if they care about their customers is exactly what I want to hear! With a marketing background and a desire to move to CSR, it summed up everything I believe in (or want to believe in at least), in a very readable, interesting, engaging format.

The book explores the role of empathy in business. It starts with the story of Pattie Moore, a designer who wanted to fully understand how to design for an elderly customer segment. So she took the concept of ethnographic interviewing one step further and dressed as an old lady on her weekends then wandered around the city experiencing life as an old person. Later on, the book picks up her story again and it turns out she was one of the designers behind the ‘good grip’ OXO kitchen brand which has been extremely successful because of its universal design appeal and easy-to-use utensils. Pattie’s ability to get under the skin of her target market allowed her to deliver products which were so customer-friendly, they couldn’t fail to be successful.

Written by a professor at the Stanford Design School, the book is full of great stories and examples of how empathy can help you connect with your customer and ultimately be more successful in business; whether through greater customer loyalty, better designed products, a clearer understanding of what your customers want, or happier, more motivated employees. It fell on very receptive ears so I feel a little biased in my opinion; but whilst I’m willing to confess that it did make the same point over and over again in different ways, I would also argue that it’s such a great point that it’s worth hearing over and over! The book was well written and interesting, the stories were compelling, and overall I would recommend it as a read.

Hannah Davies on Design Thinking September 30, 2009

Posted by Hannah Davies in Design Thinking.
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What I loved in these two readings was the proposition that innovation and ideas generation does not happen best by a lone individual with a genius creative mind, but by a team of people with complementary but vastly different approaches to learning, thinking and expressing ideas. And also that even learning styles are learned! Rather than being born with a talent for generating ideas, or for technical tasks, or assimilating and ordering information, instead your environment, experiences and education can all help to shape your individual learning preference. This idea has a huge impact on understanding the role of a leader in an organization too, since it could suggest that those best at providing vision and direction are the ‘chameleons’ – the people who are best at adapting their learning style to the demands of a particular situation, cycling through the full innovation process to generate the most appropriate solution. It could also suggest that the best leaders are those who are most adept at identifying people’s different learning styles, bringing them together and managing the tensions and frustrations inherent within a disparate team to ensure each contributes equally to the innovation process.
The other theme that struck a chord was the description of the ethnographic method of consumer research, particularly understanding meaning through observing and understanding culture. Can there be any better place in the world to be an active participant observer than at Haas, when the class has come from all over the globe? Reading the description of participant observation, it seemed to me to describe exactly what happens at Haas as a normal element of daily living. I’m constantly caught out by my assumptions of what is universally known vs what is culturally unique – words or phrases I presume everyone uses and which turn out to be colloquial; attitudes, activities and habits I have always thought to be the norm and which in fact are anything but; and the privilege of participating in fellow classmates’ cultural and religious traditions. Maybe that’s partly why Haas attracts a high number of innovative, entrepreneurial students!

Hannah Davies on As the Future Catches You September 30, 2009

Posted by Hannah Davies in As The Future Catches You.
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“What makes us special is not the number of genes…
Or the fact that we share many of these with worms, plants, bacteria.
What is particular to humans is the complexity with which we network…
Our biological selves.”

Wow. I don’t know whether to feel elated or depressed after reading this book. It is a great celebration of our uniqueness as individuals, our closeness to other animals through the whole circle of life, and the impressive capacity of the human mind to figure it all out.
But what a terrifying indictment of human nature, if such advancement in knowledge is for the exclusive gain of the ever-decreasing chosen few, at the greater expense of the many. Can it possibly be true that such enlightenment is leading us down the path to greater global injustice? And that such technological and scientific innovation is suppressing, rather than catalysing, social innovation and improved social structures? How eerily ‘Brave New World’.
What struck me most about this book though, was President Clinton’s quote:
“We are learning the language in which God created life… without a doubt, this is the most important, most wondrous map ever produced by humankind.”
Above all, the book has left me feeling uncomfortable about the moral issues it raises. Are genomics a fulfilment of our creative potential as individuals, or a step too far in our desire to play God? Coming from the EU, where the debate surrounding genomics is particularly fierce – from our distaste of genetically modified food to a deep unease with ‘test-tube’ babies – I find myself troubled by our constant craving to control and manipulate the very essence of what we are. Especially if such ‘advancement’ is not for the greater good, but only the privileged few.
And yet, in the final call, I can’t help but admit that I’m one of those so-called golden billion, with much more to gain than to lose from genomic and technological advances. One of my best friends was diagnosed with a brain tumor eight years ago. Three operations and extensive radiotherapy later, the tumor is in temporary remission but the long-term prognosis is fragile. Morality and global injustice aside – if genomics holds the potential key to a permanent cure for my friend, do I want to be part of it? Yes, of course I do. For better or for worse, it seems the desire for survival is a more powerful element of human nature than any ethical considerations. I guess that’s written in our genes, too.

Hannah Davies on Back of the Napkin September 30, 2009

Posted by Hannah Davies in Back of the Napkin.
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“Visual thinking is an extraordinarily powerful way to solve problems, and though it may appear to be something new, the fact is that we already know how to do it.”

Comforting words indeed to someone as drawing-illiterate as me! The whole idea behind this book is that not only is it more effective to convey ideas and solve problems using pictures rather than words, it’s also easier. OK… I have to confess to more than a little skepticism when I started this book. I could happily buy the first bit. But, really – easier to draw than write? Yeah, right…

This book did not, by any stretch of the (un-visual) imagination, provide an epiphany of creative discovery. To be honest, I really can’t see it even changing my business presentations from the traditional PowerPoint deck to a new, funky back-of-the-napkin style (I am an MBA student, after all). What it did do, though, was provide a really interesting, useful, simple framework for tackling and communicating about problems from different perspectives, which I can definitely see myself using in both a business and non-business context.

The basic premise is that you should use three in-built tools to solve problems: our eyes, our mind’s eye or imagination, and our hand-eye coordination. Using this process helps us to really ‘see’ all aspects of a problem in a more holistic way, which makes it easier for us to find the right solution. The book takes you through a step-by-step process to doing this effectively, using six fundamental questions to guide the ‘seeing’ process (see the toolbox on the Wiki for a summary of the process). It also gives examples, techniques and lots of practice problems to help you get started. Plus, as you’d expect, it’s full of great illustrations!

Visual thinking is not something that feels familiar or easy (the main reason I chose the book). And whilst the Back of the Napkin hasn’t magically turned me into a great artist or superb visual thinker, it does offer a very simple, intuitive and clear framework to follow which I believe, with plenty of practice, really will help me to improve my problem-solving and presenting skills. I’d definitely recommend it.