improvement posts

Tips to Improve Your Interviewing Skills (and a request for more!) January 10th, 2012

I’m working on some of the final chapters of my book about interviewing and am interested in the ways that people have developed their own skills as an interviewer. I’ll list a few but this list can only get better with your input.

  • Practice, man, practice. It’s how you get to Carnegie Hall and it’s how you get better at interviewing.
  • Create your own practice occasions: that chatty seat mate on an airplane, the extroverted cashier – ask them a question and then ask them a follow up questions!
  • Reflect, just like a football coach who reviews the game films; watch your videos, read your transcripts, and look at what worked well and what you might have improved
  • Be interviewed whether it’s for a survey or a usability study or a poll, experience the interview from the other side of the lens
  • Critique the interviews of others (without resorting to your just-got-your-drivers’-license-know-it-all we all were at 16)
  • Observe others at work including great interviewers and poor interviewers – this can be in your work context, or in the media (Marc Maron, Charlie Rose, Terry Gross, and others) 
  • Collect war stories (more on this coming very soon)
  • Try improv 

That’s my starter list, but what have you done to get better as an interviewer?

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Encouraging Stick-with-it-ness January 5th, 2010

I purchased a new shaver recently, and tossed in among all the paperwork (warranty info, ads for accessories, instructions in multiple languages) is this bit of afterthought:

This just screams of missed opportunity. In product development, a lot of effort is put into creating an attractive package that will encourage people to buy; some effort is put into the OOBE, or Out Of The Box Experience (what happens when you take everything out and see it for the first time and then try to set it up and use it); and while there’s a lot of us who talk about the overall user experience, it’s distressing to see products be delivered to the customer with such a lack of finish around something so crucial.

The developers have reason to believe that the first time you use the product, you may be disappointed. Or at least not delighted. Nor the next time. Nor the next time, for 30 days, at which point (gradually, we assume), you’ll be receiving the optimum results.

The automotive industry has framed this sort of issue as “break-in” where you the customer are responsible for taking extra care of the vehicle during that period (with specific dos and don’ts like top-speed, etc.). Consider the difference between “It won’t work at its best for a while” and “Be sure to take care of it while it breaks in.” If the issue was the customer learning curve you might see messages like

Congrats on your purchase of a new Kodak digital camera. If you’ve (somehow) never used a digital camera before, you’ll probably find you are taking a lot of crappy pictures (hey, no film, right?). But after a while you’ll get the hang of it: you’ll figure out how to best aim, focus, and expose your picture, and you’ll also clue into the need to delete all your failed pictures. Until then, you might feel a bit frustrated, but that’s just the regular learning curve and it takes most people about 30 days of regular picture taking before they feel more confident.

The shaver people have to do more than toss a piece of a paper in the box to properly reframe this initial-sub-par-evolving-to-primo-experience. Some ideas (and I’m sure if you’re reading this you have others)

  • A 30-day supply of shaving lotion: “By the time you use up this lotion, you’ll be shaving at peak smoothness!”
  • 30 days worth of calendar stickers showing a progressively more smiling shaving man that you can put on your calendar after each shave (variation: 30 Post-Its that go on your bathroom mirror and are pulled down one-by-one as you count down from 30)
  • A phone call (or text, tweet, email, or snail mail) after 30 days congratulating you on reaching the optimum phase for your shaver and making you mindful of the experience you are now having
  • A 30-day subscription to a local newspaper that will fit into the morning routine. Stickers on the paper remind you who paid for it and count down towards optimal shaving
  • A social media app (i.e., a Facebook page) that alludes to a 12-step program, where members receive their 30-day tokens as they complete their trial period with the shaver (“I’ve got 30 days clean and shaved”)

The specific ideas, while fun to generate, aren’t really the point as much as the need for companies to think a little more broadly about optimizing the links between their promises, expectation management, and overall experience.

See also: The Experience Before The Out-of-the-box Experience

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Don Norman says design research is great for improvement but useless for innovation December 7th, 2009

Don Norman, in a sneak preview to an upcoming column in interactions, posts a dramatic and thoughtful critique of the supposed applications for design research

I’ve come to a disconcerting conclusion: design research is great when it comes to improving existing product categories but essentially useless when it comes to new, innovative breakthroughs. I reached this conclusion through examination of a range of product innovations, most especially looking at those major conceptual breakthroughs that have had huge impact upon society as well as the more common, mundane small, continual improvements. Call one conceptual breakthrough, the other incremental. Although we would prefer to believe that conceptual breakthroughs occur because of a detailed consideration of human needs, especially fundamental but unspoken hidden needs so beloved by the design research community, the fact is that it simply doesn’t happen.

I’m excited to see this because it connects to a number of things I’ve been talking about with clients and in some recent presentations. Anyway, the article makes some good points but I believe there’s much more to be said.

  • Absence of evidence is not evidence of absence – Design/design thinking/design research are in their infancy in product development. The airplane, automobile, telephone, etc. are not examples of the failures of design research to innovate, because they represent time periods when design research was not actively being used. As Don points out, the failure rate for potentially innovative stuff is insanely high. So we have very few examples over a few few years to even look at to understand the influence of design research.
  • Innovation is not a solo act – There’s probably a good Andrew Hargadon link I could add here, but I think you get it. We point our client to opportunity areas. Many of those opportunities do not get fully explored, and almost none to the point of solving the ridiculously challenging technical and business challenges to make them viable. The Conversation was potentially a breakthrough film not only because of Coppola (a successful innovator) but because of Hackman and Murch. And many other talented people. When our design research leads to a divergent set of concepts, other factors come into play. The remote-activated-deodorant-ray (yes, this came out of an actual client project) goes through the design team, the business unit manager, eventually into the technology development part of the business, and the market feasibility. Most times that doesn’t happen. And maybe this just makes Don’s point for him, but then I’d suggest the problem is not with design research but in how it’s deployed, applied, and integrated. Because it absolutely could happen. The underlying conditions need to be there.
  • Can insight and technology be partners? – There are presumably a number of paths to innovation. If we uncover opportunities through design research, a technologist can say “Well, let me go try and make that” (or, “I’ve already figured out how to do that”). Or if a technologist approaches us with a set of capabilities, we can try to answer the question “What would people do with it?” Again, maybe I’m making Don’s point for him, but if so, I don’t see it as a negative.
  • Isn’t this still a mostly mysterious process? – Twitter is a successful product with a low barrier to usage but a high barrier to adoption. It’s success is somewhat counter-intuitive. The traditional market-research processes that failed the Aeron chair and the Post-It note are already consultant-classics. Maybe I’m admitting something terrible but I don’t think Tim Brown or Larry Keeley or Roger Martin can identify the next breakthrough product any more than Hollywood can figure out the best way to guarantee a blockbuster or the recording industry can sign the next number-one band (indeed, look at the amount of marketing hype and me-too that goes into the product development approaches of the last two).
  • Innovative (if that’s what they are) outcomes take years to launch – I’ve written about this before. Maybe what I’m calling innovations are really what Don calls improvements. But I don’t expect ever to contribute to the next Telephone/Airplane/Computer, but I don’t expect to be President of the US, or win an Academy Award, or have one of my songs hit number 1. That doesn’t mean the work isn’t worth doing and the results can’t be tremendously successful, impactful, and result in real change.

I think Don has written a thought-provoking piece and my intent is to reframe rather than refute. This is an important discussion that needs to continue and I am eager to see what others have to say. If you’ve written about this, please post a link here!

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ChittahChattah Quickies September 29th, 2009
  • Richard Eoin Nash, Social Publisher – What “social” means is that there’s going to be more information about books, more scope to interact with the books (your own commenting & annotating and reading others’), more scope to interact with the author, more scope to interact with one another. (This latter item, to get semi-techy for a sec, is something that the broad horizontal book social networks—Goodreads, LibraryThing, Shelfari—do well, though, so we’re likely to focus on using their APIs rather than asking people to build their own bookshelves anew.)

    “Social” is taking the book and making it much easier to have a conversation with the book and its writer, and have conversations around the book and its writer.

  • L-Prize – Lighting Competition – I've written before in frustration about money spent to push the CFL at us instead of spending money solving the product problem. The DOE is sponsoring the L-Prize to create a low-energy bulb. "The competition also includes a rigorous evaluation process for proposed products, designed to detect and address product weaknesses before market introduction, to avoid problems with long-term market acceptance."
  • Princeton tests of Kindles for textbooks doesn’t go well for Kindle – “Much of my learning comes from a physical interaction with the text: bookmarks, highlights, page-tearing, sticky notes and other marks representing the importance of certain passages — not to mention margin notes, where most of my paper ideas come from and interaction with the material occurs,” he explained. “All these things have been lost, and if not lost they’re too slow to keep up with my thinking, and the ‘features’ have been rendered useless.”

    “For some people,” she explained, “electronic reading can never replace the functionality and ‘feel’ of reading off paper.”
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