Thursday, October 29, 2015

Points of View

You've heard that the Design Thinking process begins with Empathic Inquiry. in this posting we're going to explore why. It has to do with the outcome of the inquiry, which is called Point of View.

POV is more than understanding the story, its seeing the world from someone else's perspective. POV means you understand not only the other person's biases and beliefs at the same time yo are aware of how their perceptual filters influence their view of the world. The Heinz Kohut said empathy is "...what allows an individual to know another's experience without losing one's objectivity."

Have you ever found yourself in a conversation and realized that the differences of opinion we so great that you may as well have been speaking different languages? It's partly the result of the way the human brain(s) work.

You have three "brains" Each is constantly working, but they perform different functions.

The neocortex is where conscious, rational, thinking occurs. It is also where the creativity and planning for the future happens.

The Limbic Brain is the seat of your feelings and emotions.

The Reptilian, or Primitive Brain controls your basic bodily functions and acts to keep you life and safe.

Your consciousness is constantly influenced by the operation of these three brain areas, like a three ring circus.

Stressful events release hormones which shift deeper into the brain, suppressing concentration, short-term memory, rational thought and inhibitions. If you've ever been in an argument, you've seen the results of that first hand. In addition, individual reactions to stress vary. Some folks have a longer fuse than others, but one thing you can be sure of is that unmitigated stress is the enemy of creative thought. If your goal is to foster creativity, it's important to regulate the stress level so that the Primitive Brain doesn't take over and shut down the non-linear, what-if, thinking.

Design Thinking calls for being aware of what is happening on all three levels. But there is a aspect to it which may not be obvious; If you are working with someone or a group which prefers using their Limbic or Reptilian Brains they may need more help when Brainstorming or understanding the latent (unexpressed) emotional factors in the situation.

There are ways to get a hint at someone's preferred brain mode by observation of two of their natural attitudes regarding time and person when they are under stress. I call this their Preferred Stress Quadrant; The axis are Me <-> Them and Now <-> Then.

People who tend to concentrate on their immediate self prefer the Me/Now Quadrant. They are probably less comfortable with ambiguity and "Blue Sky" activities. 

At the other extreme are the people who think about the future and others. They are more comfortable in the Them/Then quadrant and are likely better at What if? thinking and brainstorming. 

Note that these conditions exist on continuums and the balance is constantly shifting. Since Design Thinking visits all four quadrants, it would be good to have an understanding of this, as it can be an indication of what to expect as you move thru the phases.

Tuesday, October 13, 2015

Dancing with Ambiguity

Melani Allen's webpage; Dealing with ambiguity and developing resilience describes ambiguous situations as;

New - Having unfamiliar cues or precedents
Complex - Having a great number of cues and/or stakeholder interests
Insoluble - Ones that can’t be solved in the usual ways.

The last one particularly brought to mind the answer to the question of what types of problems Design Thinking works best on; WICKED.

In order to really "solve" a problem you need to understand enough about it to develop a solution which does more good than harm. The trouble is, most of the time we don't know everything we need to know and there is some sort of limit to the time and money that can be expended figuring things out.

The other huge issue is that other people are usually involved in the situation, so not only do we have to consider the factors which are related to inanimate stuff, but we also have humans in the mix. This can be particularly difficult if the available pool of "soft skills" is limited.

As a designer - or Design Thinker - your primary tasks are to learn and act to effect a change. The things you have to learn vary depending on the circumstances, but generally fall into one of two broad catagories; Things that have to do with animate (people) or inanimate objects (stuff).

Moreover, if you intend to get others involved in the process, its very important to know what their skills and attitude are in regard to ambiguity and effecting change.

Melanie lists a handful important traits with a common root;
  • The ability to choose and act without knowing everything. (Just enough to try)
  • The ability to change plans, tasks and activities quickly and smoothly. (Plans B to Z)
  • The ability to tolerate and be comfortable with risk and uncertainty. (Learning... to fail)
The question is; How can you know who does or doesn't have these skills? (Including yourself.)

Up Next; The Power of Points of View

Design Thinking as Learning and Teaching

The Microsoft Education Success Profile web page has a list of traits a successful Primary and Middle School teacher should have. Its pretty impressive, but it also points out that teaching and Design Thinking have a lot of core skills in common.

They are all here; Empathy, Bias Towards Action, Fluid & Flexible Thinking, Persistence, Challenging assumptions. Prototyping is even here if you consider that nearly every day a teacher starts a new exercise.

For that matter, maybe we need more teachers to run for public office, start new businesses or take over existing ones that are struggling. These skills are a recipe for success almost anywhere;

  • Creativity: Generates many new and unique ideas; makes connections among previously unrelated notions; is unafraid to use unorthodox methods; is seen as original and value-added in brainstorming settings.
  • Drive for results: Pursues everything with energy, drive, and a need to finish; does not give up before finishing, even in the face of resistance or setbacks; steadfastly pushes self and others for results.
  • Functional/technical skills: Possesses required functional and technical knowledge and skills to do his or her job at a high level of accomplishment; demonstrates active interest and ability to enhance and apply new functional skills.
  • Integrity and trust: Is widely trusted; is seen as a direct, truthful individual; presents truthful information in an appropriate and helpful manner; keeps confidences; admits mistakes; doesn’t misrepresent himself or herself for personal gain.
  • Interpersonal skills: Is warm and easy to approach; builds constructive and effective relationships; uses diplomacy and tact to diffuse tense situations; has a style and charm that immediately puts others at ease and disarms hostility.
  • Learning on the fly: Learns quickly when facing new problems; analyzes both successes and failures for clues to improvement; experiments and will try anything to find solutions; enjoys the challenge of unfamiliar tasks.
  • Listening: Practices attentive and active listening; has the patience to hear people out; can accurately restate the opinions of others even when he or she disagrees.
  • Managing and measuring work: Clearly assigns responsibility for tasks and decisions; sets clear objectives and measures; monitors process, progress, and results; designs feedback loops into work.
  • Motivating others: Creates a climate in which people want to do their best; can assess each person’s strengths and use them to get the best out of him or her; promotes confidence and optimistic attitudes; is someone people like working for and with.
  • Personal learning and development: Is personally committed to and actively works to continuously improve himself or herself; recognizes the need to change personal, interpersonal, and managerial behavior; actively seeks feedback.
  • Planning: Accurately determines the length and difficulty of tasks and projects; sets clear, realistic, and measurable goals; sets priorities and time parameters to accomplish tasks and projects; anticipates roadblocks and develops contingencies to redirect tasks so momentum is not lost.
  • Time management: Uses his or her time effectively and efficiently; concentrates his or her efforts on the most important priorities; adeptly handles several tasks at once.
  • Valuing diversity: Manages all kinds and classes of people equitably; supports equal and fair treatment and opportunity for all; fosters a climate of inclusion, where diverse thoughts are freely shared and integrated.

Saturday, October 10, 2015

Cosmic Disruptive Design Thinking

Clayton Christensen is the smartest (and humblest) Legend You've Never Met.

He holds a B.A. with highest honors in economics from Brigham Young University, a Master of Philosophy in applied econometrics from Oxford, was a Rhodes Scholar, has a MBA with high distinction and a Doctor of Business Administration from Harvard. While at Oxford, Christensen, who's 6 foot 8, was also the starting center for the men's basketball team. In 2011, Forbes called him "one of the most influential business theorists of the last 50 years." He is best known for the theory of and series of books on Disruptive Innovation, which explores how and why businesses fail.

At its core, Disruptive Innovation asserts that businesses are created to fill needs )"do a job") and in order to survive they must adapt to constantly changing conditions or they will be displaced by more efficient delivery systems. 

Considered on a theoretical level Disruptive Innovation seems like pretty dry stuff. What is really interesting about Clay is that he is also a deeply spiritual individual with a very human-centered side - which takes us to the subject of this blog posting; Those who follow this blog will recall my previous posting about the influence of Rene Descartes, who laid the foundation for the modern method of Scientific Inquiry, which is probably how you and your children were taught to learn and solve problems.

If we take a step back and consider Scientific Inquiry in the context of Disruptive Innovation, an interesting question arises; Science and Religion as competing businesses models - will one Disruptively Innovate the other out of existence?

The Cosmic Battle of the Artists and Engineers

If you change the context of the question to consider essential elements of human nature, a fascinating point of commonality emerges; How do you deal with ambiguity?

It doesn't matter what the nature is of what you don't know. 
What matters is what you -  or your client - does in response to not knowing.

The Human Response to Ambiguity

Ambiguous choices are different from risky decisions. With an ambiguous choice you know neither the outcome nor the probability of success. "Psychologists would say ambiguity is the discomfort  you feel from knowing there is something you don't know and wish you did," says Colin Camerer, an economist at the California Institute of Technology.

Ambiguity is accompanied by activation of the amygdala and orbitofrontal cortex, two areas of the brain that are involved in the processing of emotions. In particular, the amygdala has been found to be closely associated with fear.

A correlation between aversion to ambiguous decisions and activation of emotional parts of the brain makes sense from an evolutionary point of view, Camerer says. "Freezing in the face of danger is an old, emotional response which probably was evolutionarily adaptive in our ancestral past." In the modern human brain, this translates into a reluctance to bet on or against an event if it seems at all ambiguous.

Both Science and Religion attempt to resolve the existential discomfort humans feel when confronted with ambiguity. This isn't their only purpose, but it is an area of significant overlap. What is very different, at least on the surface, are the rules and tools which are allowed. Science wants "hard facts" religion embraces feelings. Science is about what we observe outside ourselves and others Religion is about what goes on inside and this is where I think things are about to change.

Over the past few years Science's ability to literally look inside our heads and observe in real time what is happening neuro-chemically in the brain has pulled back the curtain on all sorts of human behavior. At the same time genetic science has begin to illuminate the characteristics of the neurons - which is like understanding the sensitivity of an analog circuit - so we can predict more accurately how the system will respond to an input (stimulus).

What comes next are longitudinal studies which will help to inform questions like; How long does it take to learn and integrate a change in human behavior? What are the limits of response, which influence the range of behaviors someone is capable of? What is learned or learnable and where are the limits of the system as currently "defined" by individual DNA?  In the Nature vs. Nurture Debate; Are how soft or hard are the boundaries, both in surface and location?

Perhaps the the core difference between preferring a faith based or scientific approach to problem solving is the result of how comfortable someone feels with the discomfort of ambiguity.

Thursday, October 8, 2015

Design Thinking Piaget

I was recently struck by the similarities between Piaget's theory of Cognitive Development and the elements of Design Thinking, both in the context of the processes and the traits needed by the Design Thinker.

For now, I'm calling this the Developmental Stages of Creativity. It may be helpful to review Piaget's Theory of Cognition and become familiar with the phases of Design Thinking before considering this material.

Developmental Stages of Creativity

4Individual-reflexiveYoung Adult
YouthConcrete operational
  • Stage 0 – Guided primarily by the client's beliefs about the safety of their environment (i.e. comforting, safe and secure vs. hurtful, neglecting and abusive). Being in a "safe" environment  contributes to tolerance of ambiguity, which is a core aspect of the early stages of Design Thinking. Conversely, negative experiences lead to fear of the unknown. (A hint about this may be found in the designer's comfort with the process of "brainstorming." which can generate significant ambiguity.)
  • Part 1 – Relative fluidity of thought. Knowledge is obtained through experiences, stories, images, contact with other people and use of rapid prototyping and sketches.
  • Part 2 – Discovery of pre-exisitng firm rules or "limits"). The "Deep Dive".
  •  (Note: Use of metaphors and symbolic language in this stage may lead to misunderstandings or conflicts between stakeholders.)
  • Part 3 – Discovery of existing authorities or standards. (Note; Some stakeholders may want to ignore core or "guiding" principles, or other's POVs, in an effort to reduce conflicts arising from inconsistencies. Stopping here could result in failing to "solve the problem".)
  • Part 4 – Challenging of core assumptions, which leads to exploration and discovery of new interrelationships and the need to resolve conflicts within those as well.
  • Part 5 – Discovering the interrelationships and conflicts resulting from inherited assumptions. Conflicts are resolved by deeper understanding of the complexities and multidimensional, interdependent factors which cannot be understood or explained simply.
  • Part 6 –  Understanding and integrating other's points of view and responding to them fluidly and flexibly with a broad range of tools and skills.

If you ever find yourself, or your clients, stuck in your problem solving process, it may be helpful to consider everyone's stage of creative and emotional development and move towards an activity that can help move thru the blockage.