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Steve Jobs by Walter Isaacson March 11, 2012

Posted by doviknissim in Design Thinking, Design-related Books, [Books] Leadership & Change, [Books] Ways of Thinking.
Tags: , , , , , , , , , ,
2 comments

“Because the people who are crazy enough to think they can change the world are the ones who do”
(Apple’s “Think Different” campaign, 1997)

I’ll begin with a confession – Steve Jobs was my hero! I found his unique personality fascinating. On one hand, he was the genius with the Midas touch, the man who discovered the secret sauce for designing great products and the subject of legends while still alive. On the other, Steve Jobs was notoriously known for his bad temper and controversial character He was a very difficult man to work with. These contrasts generated a colorful personality that is normally attributed to great leaders and crazy inventors. When I learned that Mr. Isaacson wrote this book at the request of Steve Jobs and with his cooperation, I was eager to learn more about who Steve Jobs really was and what was his secret sauce.

Summary:

“Steve Jobs” – the book tells the life-story of Steve Jobs and the stories of the companies and products he created. It is beautifully written. Isaacson uses simple language and simple story telling techniques to tell the tale of a complex man. He uses a chronological order, combining commentary from Jobs, his friends, his family, his co-workers, and his enemies, who offer contextual information that ties these beautiful stories to the man and his reputation. The author strips Jobs from his celebrity status and knowingly pays attention to the man behind the curtain, emphasizing that Jobs is not the “Wizard of Oz”

Critical Analysis:

The book gains credibility as it portrays and contrasts both sides of Jobs’s personality: The brilliant creator whose outstanding products changed our lives versus the obnoxious, untrustworthy, manipulator who stole ideas from others. In that sense the book does justice with some of the talented people that worked with Jobs and were hardly recognized. A great example for that is Jony Ive, Apple’s VP of industrial design and the man who should be credited as the designer of the iPhone.

But the book is not perfect. I was particularly disappointed with the author’s failure to pursue and document Jobs’s “secret sauce” for designing great products. While many believe that Jobs only used his intuition, there are indications that he had a set of clear, well-defined design rules (a.k.a. “the secret sauce”). An example for that is the story of both Jony Ive and Steve Jobs separately picking up a beautifully crafted knife in admiration, and then dropping it with disappointment, pointing out the same reason that made the knife’s design flawed. These rules should have been tracked and shared as Jobs’s legacy, as his gift to mankind. The author failed to realize that.

Another disappointing fact is the author’s failure to bring John Scully’s point of view. John Scully was Apple’s Former CEO and the man who mentored Jobs for a while, later on he publicly clashed with Jobs, and finally ousted him from Apple. John Scully played a pivotal role in Jobs’s life and Jobs even mentioned him at his Stanford commencement speech. The choice not to bring his perspective was a poor one.

The Story:

The book begins with a wonderful historical overview of how a beautiful valley filled with apricot and plum orchards boomed to become the Silicon Valley. The author walks us through how it all started when Dave Packard and Bill Hewlett launched their company at a Palo Alto Shed and how Stanford created an industrial park for companies to commercialize students’ ideas, opening the door for a booming economy based on technology – A great read for all residents of the bay area.

The author uses stories to rationalize Jobs’s complex personality. A good example is Jobs’s famous “reality distortion field” (e.g. his ability ignore certain realities when he didn’t like them or when he thought they were insignificant, like his cancer). The author uses the story of how Jobs’s foster parents treated him as the “chosen one” to rationalize Jobs’s belief that certain realities did not apply to him as he was “enlightened”

Similarly, the author tries to track the origins of Jobs’s design perceptions. He describes how Jobs’s father, while building a fence around their house, taught him how important it was to perfectly craft even the parts you could not see. The author also mentioned Jobs’s admiration to the clean design of his childhood home (built by Joseph Eichler) that instilled on him a passion for making great designs at an affordable price for the mass market. Furthermore the author ties Jobs love for simplicity, utility, and beauty to his trip to India to search for enlightenment and his interest in Zen Buddhism.

The author uses the early years of Apple to emphasize Jobs’s unique understanding of user needs and market trends, his strategic thinking, and his business sense – Apple wouldn’t have existed without these “superpowers”. Conversely, the author uses Jobs’s ousting from Apple as a platform to emphasize some of his weaknesses, such as: his a-political nature, his mood swings, his difficulty in building relationships, and his obnoxious behavior towards his colleagues.

But by far, the best part of the book tells the story of Jobs’s “restoration”, his second run to greatness. The author emphasizes Jobs vision, design principles, and business acumen as the main reasons behind the tremendous success both Apple and Pixar had. The author also uses detailed descriptions of the different product launches (iPhone, iPad, and iTunes) to emphasizing Jobs’s intuition and his attention to details.

Steve Jobs was a man on a mission and the author emphasizes that through his descriptions of his sickness. Cancer did not define him; in fact Cancer was pushed to the background. It focused him on what’s important (in his mind), it motivated him to pursue his destiny and create some of Apple’s boldest products.

Conclusion:

Oh and one more thing, the last words of book are Steve Jobs’s own words about what his legacy would be. After reading these words, I couldn’t stop but thinking how different and how much better our world would have been if only Steve Jobs was given one more year to live.

The relevance of the book:

The book shares some of Jobs’s thoughts about design as a competitive strategy. These are, in my opinion, the “tip of the iceberg”, indicating why there was only one Steve Jobs. Here are some of those thoughts:

Jobs about design principles:

  • Less But Better: Simplicity is the ultimate sophistication. Jobs made devices simpler by eliminating buttons, software simpler by eliminating features, and interfaces simpler by eliminating options.
  • Simplicity comes from conquering complexities, not ignoring them: Simplicity is not just minimalism; you have to deeply understand the essence of a product in order to get rid of the parts that are not essential
  • Design is not just about how the product looks like: it reflects the way the product was engineered, manufactured, packaged. A manufacturing mistake will ruin the greatest design.

 Jobs about designing great products:

  • It is not about the money, it’s about making great products!
  • Figure out what people are going to want before they do: People don’t know what they want until you show it to them. Never rely on market research. 
  • Focus: deciding what not to do is as important as deciding what to do. Free your resources to focus on what you do best. 
  • Design a great user experience end-to-end: tailor the purchasing experience, the ritual of un-wrapping the product – such experiences should be theatrical, and tell a memorable story.
  • Design drives engineering, not the other way around: Innovate via the design. Engineering will fit the boards and wires into the new design.
  • Do not allow hacks or customizations to your product: that way you control the user experience and make sure it executes your vision. 
  • Constantly refine your art: If you are not busy being born, you are busy dying. 

Jobs about the design process:

  • Ban PowerPoint Presentations: “People who know what they are talking about don’t need PowerPoint” 
  • Build models you can touch: instead of endless design documents and convoluted diagrams. Iterate often. 
  • Use intuition, instincts and fluid conversation as a review mechanism:  instead of formal design reviews that often lead to major disagreements.
  • If it’s not right, do not be afraid of making last minute changes: even if such changes will cause significant delays. It has to be right. 
  • Design all products in one place: gives you a sense of how all the newly designed products relate and connect with each other.

 

Drive February 27, 2012

Posted by Brett Conner in [Books] Leadership & Change.
4 comments

Drive: The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us
By Daniel H. Pink
Reviewed by Brett Conner

Why do we do the things we do? That is the question addressed with thoughtful panache in Drive, the 2009 bestseller from Daniel Pink (A Whole New Mind). The answer turns out to be highly counterintuitive, and challenges the basic assumptions we share about how to get the best work out of the people around us.

 Summary

Pink brings together decades of research on motivation to reach this conclusion: society’s system for rewarding good behavior and punishing bad needs to change. He argues that extrinsic motivators such as money, while serving an obvious purpose that indeed can stir a person to action, are ultimately counterproductive. They lead to poor performance, less satisfaction, a lack of motivation, crushed creativity, and other undesirable outcomes. Leave it to Dilbert to prove the point:

The Boss is doing exactly what most managers would do: set a monetary reward to achieve a reasonable, clear goal. The results are as Pink would predict — bad. His remedy for this is to focus instead on intrinsic motivators, as exhibited by what he calls “Type I” people – those for whom tasks provide their own rewards. These people stand in opposition to “Type X” personalities, for whom extrinsic rewards are paramount. Time and again, research and case studies show that Type I workers are happier, more productive, and achieve better results than Type X’s.

 There are three components of intrinsic motivation:

  1. Autonomy – the ability to exercise personal control over what you do, when you do it, how you do it, and with whom you do it.
  2. Mastery – the opportunity to engage in a challenging task and progressively increase your abilities.
  3. Purpose – the capacity to frame your work within a higher, meaningful context.

 When these three elements are in effect, a person is motivated for sustained achievement at the highest level.

 Here is a wonderful YouTube video that summarizes Drive in 11 highly creative minutes:

Critical Analysis

This is a well-researched book that provides tremendous insight into the complicated world of motivation. There is a good balance between scientific research and corporate case studies, which I found very illuminating. Pink writes in a punchy conversational tone and composes his arguments well.

That said, there is a peculiar contradiction lurking over Drive. Dan Pink is a hugely successful writer, and undoubtedly got some serious coin to write this book. If the presence of extrinsic motivators like book advances leads to diminished performance, how did this ever get written? The basic thesis would suggest that the promise of a financial reward for writing it would degrade any personal satisfaction Mr. Pink would take from a job well done, thus curtailing the level of effort and creativity required.

The book does provide some insight into this conundrum. Pink makes the point that extrinsic rewards like money are not bad per se; people deserve to be compensated for their efforts and expertise. The trick is to (1) maintain compensation at a fair and equitable level based on the work done and (2) reframe rewards from “if-then” benefits contingent upon completion of the task to “now that” ones that are unexpected and provide valuable feedback.

However, I do not believe that is the whole story when it comes to compensating for creative work. The problem is well illustrated by a study cited in the book. A group of scholars studied artists, some of whom were paid a commission to create a piece (extrinsic motivation), while others received no compensation and presumably worked for the love of it (intrinsic). As the theory suggests, the pieces created by the intrinsic group were judged more creative than those made by some of the paid artists. Some, but not all, and therein lies the problem: the paid artists interpreted their rewards differently, and those perceptions affected the outcome. Some felt the commission was “constraining,” while others found the same reward “enabling.” The decrease in creativity came only with the constrained group. This suggests that one’s beliefs surrounding a reward can counteract the negative consequences of extrinsic motivation. Said another way, it is unclear what the problem is: extrinsic rewards themselves, or how we feel about such rewards. I would like to see further research on this issue.

Another problem I see is the author’s failure to show the downside of intrinsic motivation (he spends a great deal of time describing the shortfalls of extrinsic factors). I’ve spent most of my career in the theater, and I have seen firsthand the price a person can pay following this path. Actors fit perfectly into Pink’s definition of Type I – they are encouraged to work in a highly autonomous style, spend a lifetime mastering their craft, and feel a deep sense of purpose in their work. However, they are also saddled with extremely high unemployment, economic instability, and a higher rate of depression than the general population.  I expect the same can be said for many intrinsically motivated people. Clearly being Type I is not necessarily a guarantee of happiness, and this is worthy of further exploration.

Conclusion

Drive is a natural follow up to A Whole New Mind. In his earlier book Pink argued that our time calls for a new set of skills and new ways of working. Drive is a manual for how to motivate people in this new paradigm. For the kind of creative work designers and innovators will be called to, the application of intrinsic rewards will be crucial for success.

I could not end this review without noting that Pink’s three intrinsic motivators are reflected in the Haas guiding principles. “Question the Status Quo” has a strong autonomous streak, “Students Always” is a call to mastery if ever there was one, and “Beyond Yourself” shows how deeply a sense of purpose is held at this school. It’s great being a student at an institution that has these forward-thinking principles so close to its core.

Wired To Care February 12, 2012

Posted by Laura Brandner in Wired to Care.
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At least eight times a day, every day, for two weeks.  That’s how often I tested my blood glucose as part of a clinical study at work (Abbott Diabetes Care).  I had two transmitters adhered to my body, carried around two glucose meters (that couldn’t be more than 10 ft away at any time), and lugged supplies like test strips, lancets, a lancing device, and hand sanitizer with me at all times.  I had volunteered for this study for the experience.  I wanted to get a small glimpse into what life was like for someone with diabetes – understand their frustrations with a product, prick my fingers constantly, figure out how to test discreetly, and feel what it was like to answer the inevitable questions I would get when testing.

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Around the time I started the study I also started reading Wired To Care, by Dev Patnaik.  The book focuses on how empathy for customers can help companies create better products and services, and even how this empathy can create meaning around one’s job.  As I turned the pages and felt the pricks in my fingers, I identified completely.

The book describes many compelling examples that show how empathy for customers has created value for companies.  It shows how companies thrive by hiring the customers they are serving (Microsoft’s Xbox, Harley Davidson, Nike), how companies struggle when they lose touch with their customers (Maxwell House’s Robusta Blend, American car manufacturers’ incentive for employees to buy only the cars they make), and how companies’ close contact with customers helps them adapt over time (Zildjian cymbals, London Farmers’ Markets).  All the stories demonstrate that in order for companies to succeed, they should rely on the human impulse to care.  People want to do what is right; the issue may just be that the employees are so removed from the customers that the company forgets who it is serving.  This connects closely with the problem reframing we are learning about in class.  One needs to understand the customer’s issues and circumstances to define the true problem before creating something that works for them.

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The book gives more stories and examples than actual tools to create empathy, but there are a few suggestions:

1. Make it easy

2. Make it everyday

3. Make it experiential

Some examples of these tactics include:

– Target headquarters in Minneapolis has a Target store next door so employees can easily hang out with shoppers

– Sporting goods company Spalding built basketball courts outside the main office so employees are encouraged to use their products constantly

– Nike headquarters in Beaverton, OR has miles of running trails on campus and images/memorabilia of their athletes everywhere so employees are inspired and energized

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For some companies it would be more difficult for employees to walk in customers’ shoes (investment firms, pharmaceutical companies, senior citizen care), but the effort should be made to truly understand the customer and what matters to them.

At my company, we get constant reminders of the people we serve.  We have letters up around the office from customers who say how much we’ve helped them manage their disease.  At all-hands meetings, we see videos of families where young children are growing up with diabetes and how our products become integral parts of their lives.  Once a year we have a “Connect to a Customer” event where we get the opportunity to listen to customer service calls and hear what customers are saying about our products.  It is eye-opening to hear real-time examples of issues people have with things we think are so intuitive.  Since we are so close to the product, it is important to step back and realize how people are using them in the real world.  It is also important to step back and realize the impact we are having on peoples’ lives.

The last few chapters of the book begin to focus on how corporate empathy can actually make an organization a better place to work.  When employees feel like their work is valued and that they are part of something larger, the work is more meaningful.  All products and services do have the potential to make someone’s life better; it just may take some digging to figure out the right message for both the customer and the employees.  A strong connection to the people with diabetes I serve makes it easier for me to go to work and know that what I do is important to someone’s well being.

Since humans truly are wired to care, we should focus on cultivating that to make our careers and companies more valuable.  This book helps bring examples of empathy to life and shows how widespread empathy can make a positive change in organizations.

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Wired to Care February 18, 2011

Posted by Alison Meier in Leading Strategy Change, Wired to Care.
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Wired to Care by Dev Patnaik and Peter Mortensen

Review by Alison Meier, School of Information, master’s class of 2011

Wired to Care is written by Dev Patnaik and Peter Mortensen from Jump Associates, a strategy consulting company based out of San Francisco and New York. Wired to Care’s basic premise is that businesses are successful when they empathize with their customers.

The authors remind us that companies are made up of people who create products and services for the benefit of other people. As people, our brains are made to understand other people: we have “mirror neurons” that help us understand how others think and feel when we interact with them (we are “wired to care,” as the authors put it).

For companies, understanding how customers think and feel have enormous business advantages, from being able to anticipate market shifts to building customer loyalty to helping employees believe in their work. Yet most companies fail to interact with the customers on a regular basis, relying instead on market research reports. Wired to Care argues that research reports aren’t enough: companies need regular, sustained interaction with customers in order to meet their needs.

Wired to Care illustrates its points through dozens of anecdotes of companies and individuals that embrace (or fail to) a business model of empathy. Some companies that did a good job of understanding their customers were:

  • Harley-Davidson, which requires employees to spend a certain amount of time with motorcycle riders and often hires riders as employees;
  • Nike, whose campus is covered with running trails and athletic facilities, and product designers spend time observing kids college campuses to grasp fashion trends;
  • and Microsoft’s Xbox team, made up of hardcore gamers designing for other hardcore gamers.

In contrast, some companies that failed to understand their customers were:

  • Maxwell House, which led the coffee industry to introduce poor quality beans to coffee blends from the 1950s to the 1990s. Market tests showed that current coffee drinkers didn’t notice the incremental changes, but eventually new generations of coffee drinkers didn’t want to start drinking coffee;
  • and Microsoft’s Zune team, which was the same team that built the highly successful Xbox, but this time they couldn’t figure out who their customer was.

The Empath-O-Meter on their website lets readers votes on how well other companies manage to understand their customers, which helps frame the book’s argument in more real-world examples.

The authors of this book do a good job of illustrating empathy success stories. They demonstrate that some companies have experienced significant growth once they started understanding their customers. Moreover, it makes me want to work for a company that is good at empathy.

The last company that I worked for would likely fall on the “low empathy” side of the Empath-O-Meter. I worked for a major textbook publisher. I never had any contact with the students who would actually use the products we were making, nor did anyone I worked with. We would occasionally hear how a book was selling, but in general, we didn’t know anything about a book after it printed. This made if difficult to think about how our work affected the end users. When a book was running behind schedule or was sloppily prepared, it was easy to think that the only thing this affected was the lead editor’s bonus, when in reality it meant that classes were waiting for the books they had ordered or students were struggling to use texts with errors. Although we knew this in theory, having a chance to see this in person would have pushed us to work faster and better.

Many companies, particularly those that do “design,” are beginning to understand the value of user experience research. In general this means hiring a team or individual specifically to do user experience research, doing ethnographies, contextual interviews, observations, and interviews with the end-users. Wired to Care doesn’t comment specifically on user experience research; instead, it advocates that every member of the company be involved with its end customers. For many companies, this would require a major shift in its daily practices, hiring practices, and maybe even geographical location.

One criticism is that the book does not go into specifics about how to actually practice empathy, beyond hiring Jump to understand your customers for you (though this seems to negate the premise that the entire company needs to be involved in this process). The examples do not provide a roadmap as to how to start this process because they are so varied. In some cases they suggest that hiring your customers is a good place to start, but as the product designer for Nike illustrated, knowing what he wanted a good shoe for running is not enough; he also needed to know what young people found fashionable. Granted, the roadmap would likely be different for every company. However, the book leaves me convinced that empathy is important but no good way to start practicing it.

Review: The Ten Faces of Innovation February 11, 2011

Posted by berniegeuy in Uncategorized, [Books] Leadership & Change.
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The Ten Faces of Innovation, by Tom Kelley with Jonathan Littman

Review by Bernie Geuy, EWMBA class of 2012

The Ten Faces of Innovation provides a prescriptive approach to building successful design teams by focusing on key roles that members can play in the overall design process.  Tom Kelley debunks the myth that creativity only flows through specially trained professionals and defines IDEO’s successful design process as a team sport that includes participants with very diverse interests, talents, and backgrounds.  He makes the design process more accessible to the non-design professional by describing ten contributing roles that people can readily identify with.

I have summarized the Ten Faces of Innovation roles below and my interpretation of how to engage in each practice:

Role Characteristics In Practice
Anthropologist The ethnographer who goes out into the field, observes first-hand, talks to people, the customer and their customers, and sees what others do not see. Adopt the Zen principle of a “beginner’s mind” and willingly set aside what you “know” and have a truly open mind.
Experimenter The classic inventor, who loves to play, to try LOTS of different ideas and approaches, learns from failures, and ultimately makes an idea tangible through prototyping. Fail often to succeed sooner. Break the rules and challenge assumptions.
Cross-Pollinator A translator that sees connections across disciplines and who can create something new through unexpected juxtaposition of seemingly unrelated things or ideas. Break down the organizational silos; hire people with diverse backgrounds and “T-Shaped” people (breadth of knowledge in many fields and depth in at least on area).
Hurdler A tireless problem-solver and risk-taker that overcomes obstacles with ease, does more with less, and pushes the limits when others give up.   Challenge the status quo, and reward entrepreneurship.
Collaborator The cheerleader and project advocate that brings people together and creates teams. Build and coach a team that includes all Ten Faces of Innovation.
Director The go-to person for sparking positive change who can lead a brainstorming activity and who lets others take center stage. Challenges people and creates a safe space for risk taking and recovery from failure. Practice contagious enthusiasm.  A good director knows “directing is 90 percent casting.”
Experience Architect An empathetic person who focuses relentlessly on creating remarkable customer experiences and who can identify what is truly important to a customer in their overall encounter with your product and/or service. Map the customer journey and learn what is most important along the way – customize, personalize, and improve the service.
Set Designer Facilitates creativity through careful attention to the work space of the team and understands the power of place. Change things up. Provide flexible spaces and remember “sometimes changing the arena can change a team’s performance.”
Caregiver They make you feel you are the only customer in the room, they have empathy and they show rather than teach.  Caregivers nurture relationships. Look for ways to simplify and humanize care.
Storyteller A person who easily captures our imagination with compelling narratives and persuasive ideas. Find the narrative behind each project and tell it often through words, show-and-tell displays, and in good design.

Tom Kelly describes The Faces of Innovation as a strategy for competing with the idea-killing devil’s advocate role.  I think the real value of the book is how Kelly demonstrates and illustrates the impact of including different ideas, motivations and perspectives into the creative process.   I think the book provides a different organizing principle around the process of design that is translatable into many business innovation settings.

A professional designer, architect, or engineer, may see the ideas as amateurish and totally inappropriate for traditional design projects like developing plans for a new building or an airplane part, but this book is addressing innovation processes that are trying to find new solutions to often everyday problems and engage the people that may be best equipped to relate to the needs of end users.   

As we begin work on our team design project, there is value in reflecting on the roles described in the book and identifying who on the team can play what role and if there are any gaps.

Wired to Care, by Dev Patnaik April 18, 2010

Posted by basikthings in Wired to Care, [Books] Leadership & Change.
2 comments


Photo of a big bunny rabbit!

Dev Patnaik’s, Wired to Care, is a reminder that businesses are built to operate with the efficient mechanisms of a machine, but in the end they exist to serve the dynamic sentiments of human beings. We are all human, and all humans have certain dispositions that do not adhere strictly to a logical foundation. Instead we couple logic with a carnal need to perpetually feel out our world. Patnaik maps out an innovative strategy that hinges on the empathic ability of the human mind to feel for others as a means of driving smarter business decisions.

Wired to Care is a manifestation of all the experiences that Patnaik has had during his work as a consultant at Jump Associates, a firm that he started. By walking us through a plethora of anecdotal evidence from his work, he illustrates how a company that makes use of empathy practices can positively affect the bottom line. This book is valuable because he was able to leverage all the experience that he has gathered to provide meaningful actions to effect a business. He provides a number of ways that a company can really reach outside the organization and connect with the people that they serve.

Patnaik’s ideas seem to be the marriage between business and design. He echoes the customer orientation that is taught in many marketing classes and injects it with this concept of need finding. By looking harder at how companies can truly find the needs of their customers, he unveils a layer that goes way beyond just simple personas and decision mapping. His ideas have the potential to empower business managers with “gut-level certitude” in their decision process. With this frame of mind, companies are not just going through random tools to try to understand their customers; they know their customers and they are their customers.

What worries me about his frame of mind is that it seems too ideal. It would have been nice if he could talk about areas where taking the time to go through his methods would ultimately not affect the bottom line in a positive way. I’m sure there are a number of examples where churning out product with machine like efficiency could have a better impact on the business as a whole. In either case, his points are well taken, just possibly too good to be true.

Although Patnaik has a very personal direct voice in his writing, the book lacked a structure that I feel could have better emphasized the key lessons from this book. What I would have liked to see was a short succinct exposition on the more theoretical backgrounds to why such a management style is important in business, followed by the anecdotes mixed in that was organized by company. When the author speaks about each company he should re-reference the points that he has made earlier. Instead Patnaik chose to intersperse his key lessons with anecdotes that jumped the gamut of possible companies from page to page—producing a disorienting read. The sections about mirror neurons, the limbic system, and the human connection to business would be particularly suited for the theory section.

This book lends itself well to either a business or a design student. It would appeal to the business student who wishes to include design practices to better affect their pursued businesses and appeal to the design students who want to see the business impact that need finding can have. Overall I think that it is a great read if you can forgive the author for his sporadic structure.

Made to Stick: How to Make Your Ideas More Memorable April 10, 2010

Posted by Khuram in Made to Stick, [Books] Leadership & Change.
4 comments

In the same vein as Malcom Gladwell’s bestselling book The Tipping Point, Made to Stick takes a historical perspective of products, ideas, myths, trends and movements which caught on with the masses, and explores what it is about each that “made them stick” in the consumers consciences, making each a success.

Dan, a consultant at Duke Corporate Education, wrote Made to Stick with his brother Chip, a professor at the Stanford Graduate School of Business. At Stanford, Chip teaches a “Making Ideas Stick” class, where he consistently finds the more polished and talented speakers are generally not the most likely to get their ideas across. Greater impact comes from less-trained speakers who make their point by telling stories or focusing on a single point rather than ten. Think Obama.

The greatest value in Made to Stick comes from learning how to get and keep people’s attention. The book offers plenty of examples from advertising to teaching, illustrating effective ways to communicate ideas.

While the text is highly entertaining, the core provides an understanding and dissection of ideas that don’t stick, due to the Curse of Knowledge – once we know something, we find it hard to imagine what it was like not to know it. They attribute this villain to:

  1. Getting lost in a sea of information – what journalists call burying the lead
  2. Focusing on the presentation instead of the message
  3. Decision paralysis, often the result of too many choices or ambiguous situations
  4. The critical need to bridge the gap between knowing the answer and being able to tell others effectively.

To help readers create a “sticky” message – an idea that is understood and remembered, and that creates a lasting impact – the Heaths developed the mnemonic SUCCESs: Simplify the message, which is sort of like boiling the Ten Commandments down to the Golden Rule to get at the core of your idea. Root the message in something Unexpected, to grab your audience’s attention. Use Concrete evidence. Be Credible. (Ask yourself, Will anyone believe me?) Tug at Emotions to make people care. And use Stories that prove change is possible. Is this as easy as it sounds? Of course not. Is it worth doing? Yes.

Made to Stick contains sound lessons for business and communication today. Reading it will force you to think about simplicity in what you ask for. You’ll polish your communication skills if you read Made to Stick twice: once for entertainment, and once again to focus on the core skill you’ll develop in creating ideas that stick.

Outliers by Malcolm Gladwell December 15, 2009

Posted by Sean Simplicio in Outliers, Systems Thinking.
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Gladwell starts off with an interesting premise. Outliers—those with seemingly extraordinary abilities or success—can be explained by looking at the environment in which they were raised, the opportunities they were given to excel, and the amount of time they put into honing their crafts (whatever they may be). He spends most of the book citing examples that fit the theory. The Beatles’ meteoric rise to fame was due in part to the thousands of hours of live playing they did together in Hamburg Germany before they made it big in England. Bill Gates was the fortunate victim of a lot of circumstances that gave him more time on a computer as a young man than almost anyone else alive. Robert Oppenheimer, with a genius-level IQ goes on to run the Manhattan Project, while Chris Langan (who?), also with a remarkable IQ, bounces at a bar in Colorado—the differences apparently due to how much social interaction each was given as a child (the more you have, the better able you are to use influence, which you use to be your advocate). There are a host of observations in the book that seem to prove that if you’re at the right place, at the right time, and have the necessary skills in place to take advantage of the opportunity in front of you, you too will be an outlier.

While I enjoyed the read tremendously, I think it actually posed more questions than it answered. Gladwell has convenient examples that fit his hypothesis; their sum total paints a fairly convincing picture of nurture over nature. I guess I can’t blame him, but there’s very little alternative hypotheses presented for him to disprove to make his own point stronger. There’s a reason he’s considered a “pop sociologist”: guess that’s one of them. Also, retroactively we can look to see why someone became what they did: because of the time they spent honing a craft, the encouragement they received to hone it, the “big break” that allows them to put it into practice. But how do we mold our lives now to make that happen for us? The lynchpin is the big break; and, unfortunately, we may not get it. So, Outliers is not a “how to” manual (although one can glean elements to put into practice), but more of a “how they did” retrospective. Oh well, guess there’s a reason I’m in business school…

Trust is an Asset December 14, 2009

Posted by Carlos Lievano in Trust Agents, [Books] Leadership & Change.
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After reading Chris Brogan’s and Julien Smith’s book Trust Agents, I found that the subtitle of the book is a very accurate portrayal of its content: Using the web to build influence, improve reputation, and earn trust (the bolded emphasis is really included in the printed subtitle). Although there is some focus on practitioners that attempt to achieve these three objectives for their businesses and organizations, at its core trust is gained by concrete individuals and many of the examples in the book are people who were able to carry along their gained trust between companies.  As a result, many of the actionable ideas on the book are useful whether you are managing the influence, reputation and trust of an organization, or if you are doing so for yourself.

In my opinion, the second is as important as doing so with a business objective. The main reason is that as I observed, trust is something that is linked to the individual. Therefore, building it before you have a business objective won’t hurt. It is easier because you do so by being yourself, and once you gain it, that trust becomes an asset that you can carry around to all your business or personal activities. In consequence, I found it advisable to start doing it soon, if you haven’t started already.

The first step: start listening. In design thinking terms, start observing or exploring. Join the online social media and pay attention to what others are doing, while thinking on ways that you can use them to fulfill your interests and needs (which in many cases could be similar to those of your audience – the people who might have an interest in you).

Once you have a clear understanding of the tools and possibilities, start using it yourself.  Be reasonable on your use. Imagine social media is a cocktail party and don’t do or say things you wouldn’t in person. The same common sense that applies to face-to-face social interaction, should apply to the online world. This might be the only reason why you wouldn’t start earning trust online: if you lack a real-world common sense, start working on that first!

Why we buy? December 13, 2009

Posted by raimundosilvam in Why We Buy.
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This is a great book. A must read for someone who wants to pursue a career in retail, and a fun reading for anybody else.

This is not a business reading. It is fun and very insightful about the way we do shopping. As customers we never think of the reason why of things inside a store. However, the next time you go to a store, I suggest you to take a moment to think about all the decisions you would have to make if you ran that business. Everything has been studied many different times and there is a reason for the location of the store, the width of the idles, the height of the shelves, the layout of the store, the color of things, the music it plays, the way personnel dress, everything. It has all being carefully planed to improve the customer shopping experience, and ultimately to maximize profits.

The good news is that you can always leverage on the experience of somebody else. There is so much that has already been done that you can use for your benefit. If you ever have to take decisions about a store I do suggest you to get back to this book since what seems to be pretty easy decision, is actually a Science. “The Science of Shopping” Do not improvise on this. Do it good.