Posts tagged “innovation”

My 2017 UX Research “tips”

The LA User Experience meetup group asked me for three tips (more like thoughts than tips, I think) for 2017. You can see all the collected tips here.

  1. Research is everywhere. I continue to marvel at the growth of research. Back in the day, people would write to ask me if they knew of any research openings; now they write to ask me if I know of anyone who they could hire for their research position. We shouldn’t get cocky, as demand for research can lead to commodification, degrading research to a tactical, evaluative tool rather than the strategic powerhouse it is.
  2. Research is necessary but not sufficient for innovation. It’s just one of many parts in making business decisions. Research identifies unmet needs but design, technology, service, etc. all figure out how to address those needs. Research assesses solutions but only in certain contexts. Some things can’t be fully evaluated until after they exist (consider the invention of the Post-It, for example). This is an innovation problem, not a research problem.
  3. Harness storytelling for teaching and learning. Stories take us through a process of an experience, from the beginning, to the middle, through to the end. Crucially for learners, they can highlight mistakes and failures as much as successes. And stories can tell it like it is, providing a level of authenticity that more traditionally presented instructional material can’t convey. And finally, we respond emotionally to stories: drama, suspense, pathos, humor all facilitate engagement and end up sticking around in our memory
  4. .

Listen to Steve on Wise Talk

Insights

I was interviewed by Sue Bethanis for Mariposa Leadership’s Wise Talk show. In an episode titled The Art of Interviewing Users we talked about how to see and notice in a different way, being aware of our own filters and biases, and constantly rediscovering what the problem you are trying to solve really is. You can listen to the interview below, or at Wise Talk.

To download the audio Right-Click and Save As… (Windows) or Ctrl-Click (Mac).

Announcing: Pro Bono Management/UX Consulting for Small Businesses

In collaboration with Sarah Rice, we are pleased to announce the launch of our pro bono management/UX consulting service aimed at small businesses in the San Francisco Bay Area.

We’re looking for small business owners who are interested in growing or who are feeling “stuck.” Using what we’ve learned in years of consulting, we can help you think about what’s working, what to improve, and how you can go about making those changes.

With one or two short sessions at your offices or at ours, we can help you clarify business goals, look for ways to improve your customer’s experience, prioritize strategic objectives, identify tactical next steps and so on. Each consultation will be customized to you and your business needs.

As part of the process, we’ll document and share some of your story to raise awareness and inspire others.

If you’re a small business in the SF Bay Area and you’d like to know more, please get in touch with us! Email WeCanHelp@seneb.com or phone 408-315-8961.

About Sarah and Steve
Sarah Rice is principal of Seneb Consulting, a solo consultancy helping companies of all sizes understand and influence customer behavior. Past clients include Microsoft, eBay, PayPal, Princess Cruises, Yahoo! and NetApp.

Steve Portigal is founder of Portigal Consulting, a boutique agency that helps companies to discover and act on insights about their customers and themselves. He’s also the author of Interviewing Users: How to Uncover Compelling Insights.

Let’s talk about death, baby

death

Curious to come across Death Cafe.

At Death Cafes people come together in a relaxed and safe setting to discuss death, drink tea and eat delicious cake. The objective of Death Cafe is “To increase awareness of death with a view to helping people make the most of their (finite) lives”. Jon Underwood founded Death Cafe in 2011 based on the work of Swiss sociologist Bernard Crettaz. Bernard offered ‘Cafe Mortels’ in Switzerland and France. Jon was already developing a project to get people talking about death and immediately knew that Bernard’s vision clicked with his.

Searching on my zip code, I found (within a large-ish geographic radius) 7 events in the next 6 weeks and 3 that just passed. I can’t speak to the attendance levels or quality of the events but this strikes me as a notably well-established movement.

The Death Cafe site is one of the projects by Impermanence, “a not-for profit social enterprise that undertakes innovative work around death and dying.” Seems a challenging but wide-open area for innovating.

Innovation is evolution not revolution

While The Internet killed (the perception of) Innovation is most definitely hyperbolic, this take on our culture of accelerated expectations and escalated promotion is worth a read. Do you agree that innovation is made of many long series of evolutions – not revolutions?

Tech news is saturated with the equivalent of “Sears and Roebucks redesigns catalogue” and “Zenith to improve knobs on radios.” We mistake updates to Facebook or some new feature on the iPhone for a business trying to innovate. The PR departments of these big consumer-facing tech companies try to cloud out the rest of the news cycles. Those tweaks represent a business trying to compete – not innovate. Those are not the same things.

Even though its confluences can cause rapid shifts in technology, innovation is made of many long series of evolutions – not revolutions.

Take the good ol’ microprocessor. You’d be hard pressed to find a technological developments in the last century that’s more important. Critics of today’s progress love to point at it and say, “Why don’t we have moments like that anymore?” Yet it took decades, a century even, of research to finally put the workable technology in practice.

But what did the public see? They saw companies like Fairchild Semiconductor put it all together and come out of nowhere to dominate the industry (for a while).

Pleasure Principle

limon

In 2009 I wrote about my visit to Jimmyjane, a company that designs non-crappy vibrators and scented candles and the like. While claiming to evolve intimacy, they lacked any point of view on either the mechanical or the emotional aspects of sexual and sexy.

I’m excited to learn about another company, Minna Life who say they are “bringing user experience innovation to the pleasure product space.” They have one product already (Ola) and are raising funds on indiegogo for another (Limon).

It’s hard to trace the source of their “innovations” – which might just be cool features (or at worst, feature-creep) such as change-how-hard-you-squeeze-to-change-how-hard-it-vibrates, highly multi-purpose form, and recordable vibration patterns.

What’s very cool, specifically with Limon, is that there’s a video that includes people discussing what they like about using it (no, it doesn’t show them using it!) and the text of the site includes quotes from “early testers.”

My initial reaction (e.g., from looking at their site) is that Minna Life is making incremental improvements in their category. Of course, how hard is it to recognize innovation? I’m not a user of these products, so what do I know? Does an innovation have to smack you in the face (if you will)? Do you look at it and immediately understand how it changes everything about how you have been going about a behavior? Or does it sneak in the back door (if you will), arriving in a recognizable form but ultimately enabling something dramatically new? I remember thinking that the iPad was just a comically large iPhone. While I can’t say what in fact it turned out to be, it so clearly was not that and has indeed proven to be something dramatic.

At worst, a company in this category is taking a user-centered and creative approach. At best, there’s a perspective about facilitated sexuality that will bring significantly new experiences to the world.

Steve interviewed by Denise Lee Yohn about Interviewing Users

I was interviewed by Denise Lee Yohn – we chatted about interviewing, insights, innovation, iPods and probably some other words that start with the letter i.

Listen at the link or through the widget below.

To download the audio Right-Click and Save As… (Windows) or Ctrl-Click (Mac).

Innovation commoditization reaches a new low

Earlier this week I stayed at a Marriott hotel. When I checked out, they were unable to get me a bill. My room service from 2 hours earlier was not in the computer. The clerk tried to raise someone on the walkie-talkie but it was to no avail. They offered to email it to me, but 36 hours later as I prepared to submit my travel invoice to my client, I still didn’t have the bill. I explored the website, dealt with several different types of support, and it still took another 12 hours to get the bill!

Today comes the inevitable customer-satisfaction survey. With the audacious subject line Help us innovate your experience at Marriott hotels.

innovate

Besides the horribly ugly phrasing (“innovate your experience”?) how hard must they be kidding here?

Someone has hypothesized that escalating the language of the invite they can increase their response rate, but outright lying is really not the way to start the dialog.

Customer satisfaction surveys are not a way to innovate. Sure, it’s possible that this type of tool could uncover unmet needs, but those are going to be the needs that they already know about, right? Honestly, when have you ever taken a corporate customer satisfaction survey that has done anything but treat you like an idiot? This sort of tool is only used for ass-covering, at best, and at worst for one group to preempt any negative feedback that might go to another group that oversees or funds them.

The word innovation has become a meaningless catch-all for any sort of improvement and here Marriott stoops even lower, using it as a proxy for any sort of customer interaction, despite the low likelihood of any change or improvement resulting.

ChittahChattah Quickies

Patton Oswalt’s Letters to Both Sides: His keynote address at Montreal’s Just For Laughs 2012 [The Comic’s Comic] – We’re regularly exposed to wicked-problem discussions about complete upheaval in many industries: manufacturing, newspapers, music, books. Patton Oswalt addresses the upheaval in comedy, how he struggles with it, and how he thinks performers and producers can address it. Inspiring stuff.

You guys need to stop thinking like gatekeepers. You need to do it for the sake of your own survival…Our careers don’t hinge on somebody in a plush office deciding to aim a little luck in our direction. There are no gates. They’re gone…Comedians are getting more and more comfortable with the idea that if we’re not successful, it’s not because we haven’t gotten our foot in the door, or nobody’s given us a hand up. We can do that ourselves now. Every single day we can do more and more without you and depend on you less and less…I want you, all of the gatekeepers, to become fans. I want you to become true enthusiasts like me. I want you to become thrill-seekers. I want you to be as excited as I was when I first saw Maria Bamford’s stand-up, or attended The Paul F. Tompkins show, or listened to Sklarbro Country.

For More Pianos, Last Note Is Thud in the Dump [NYT] – Another example of the old slowly, gradually, and then finally being replaced by the new.

The value of used pianos, especially uprights, has plummeted in recent years. So instead of selling them to a neighbor, donating them to a church or just passing them along to a relative, owners are far more likely to discard them, technicians, movers and dealers say. Piano movers are making regular runs to the dump, becoming adept at dismantling instruments, selling parts to artists, even burning them for firewood…It is strange to think of them as disposable as tissues. Yet economic and cultural forces have made many used pianos, with the exception of Steinways and a few other high-end brands, prone to being jettisoned. With thousands of moving parts, pianos are expensive to repair, requiring long hours of labor by skilled technicians whose numbers are diminishing. Excellent digital pianos and portable keyboards can cost as little as several hundred dollars. Low-end imported pianos have improved remarkably in quality and can be had for under $3,000. “Instead of spending hundreds or thousands to repair an old piano, you can buy a new one made in China that’s just as good, or you can buy a digital one that doesn’t need tuning and has all kinds of bells and whistles,” said Larry Fine, the editor and publisher of Acoustic & Digital Piano Buyer, the industry bible.

Facebook, Twitter and Foursquare as Corporate Focus Groups [NYT] – A misleading headline; social media allows high quantities of shallow consumer input. In focus groups, the numbers are much smaller but there is the chance for a discussion.

Frito-Lay is developing a new potato chip flavor, which, in the old days, would have involved a series of focus groups, research and trend analysis. Now, it uses Facebook. Visitors to the new Lay’s Facebook app are asked to suggest new flavors and click an “I’d Eat That” button to register their preferences. So far, the results show that a beer-battered onion-ring flavor is popular in California and Ohio, while a churros flavor is a hit in New York. “It’s a new way of getting consumer research,” said Ann Mukherjee, chief marketing officer of Frito-Lay North America. “We’re going to get a ton of new ideas.” When Wal-Mart wanted to know whether to stock lollipop-shaped cake makers in its stores, it studied Twitter chatter. Estée Lauder’s MAC Cosmetics brand asked social media users to vote on which discontinued shades to bring back. The stuffed-animal brand Squishable solicited Facebook feedback before settling on the final version of a new toy. And Samuel Adams asked users to vote on yeast, hops, color and other qualities to create a crowdsourced beer, an American red ale called B’Austin Ale that got rave reviews. “It tells us exactly what customers are interested in,” said Elizabeth Francis, chief marketing officer of the Gilt Groupe. Gilt asks customers to vote on which products to include in a sale, and sets up Facebook chats between engineers and customers to help refine products. “It’s amazing that we can get that kind of real feedback, as opposed to speculating,” Ms. Francis said.

Women Outdoors [Metropolis] – A review of an interesting new book Why Loiter? Women & Risk on Mumbai Streets.

Mumbai’s public spaces belong to all of its 13 million inhabitants, but at any time of day or night the ratio of men to women is glaringly disproportionate. Men have no qualms about hanging around on street corners or at tea stalls, but women make a point of looking busy, striding with purpose, or talking on their cell phones. Thousands of women travel by trains or buses, but it’s not easy for them to find a toilet, a park bench, or any public place in which to linger. “If Mumbai is the best city for women in India,” says the sociologist Shilpa Phadke, “then the bar is set very low indeed.” Why Loiter? Women & Risk on Mumbai Streets, coauthored by Phadke, the architect Shilpa Ranade, and the journalist Sameera Khan, takes a close look at the public spaces of a city where women are said to live more independently than anywhere else in India. But over three years of “extensive, not intensive” research through ethnographies, mapping, interviews, and workshops, the authors found that the city doesn’t quite live up to its egalitarian reputation. And while the book is specific to Mumbai, the ideas in it apply to any metropolis – are public spaces anywhere truly gender neutral?

Can Geoengineering Solve Global Warming? [The New Yorker] – A discussion of innovation in the context of a wicked problem provides some delicious quotes.

“What is fascinating for me is the way the innovation process has changed,” Eisenberger said. “In the past, somebody would make a discovery in a laboratory and say, ‘What can I do with this?’ And now we ask, ‘What do we want to design?,’ because we believe there is powerful enough knowledge to do it. That is what my partner and I did”…”There is a strong history of the system refusing to accept something new,” Eisenberger said. “People say I am nuts. But it would be surprising if people didn’t call me crazy. Look at the history of innovation! If people don’t call you nuts, then you are doing something wrong.”

ChittahChattah Quickies

Chick Beer | America’s Beer for Women – Products that claim to be designed especially for women cloak themselves in empowerment and equality. Yet they easily ring false. Beyond issues of feminism, I see this as any type of design failure: not offering a specific understandable benefit that makes your promised experience tangible. In other words, why is this beer for “chicks?” Even if it was made by chicks, that’d be more than what they’re telling us here.

We brew Chick at America’s second-oldest brewery, located in beautiful southern Wisconsin. With over 160 years of experience, we know how to brew great beer. For centuries, beer has been created, produced and marketed by and to men. At Chick, we think that it’s time for a new choice. Chick Beer celebrates women: independent, smart, fun-loving and self-assured women who love life and embrace all of the possibilities that it has to offer. Above all, we think that beer is supposed to be fun! So enjoy! Grab a cool Chick and Witness the Chickness!”

The crayola-fication of the world: How we gave colors names, and it messed with our brains [Empirical Zeal] – Words are a culturally unique approach to categorizations. But some science folks have looked into identifying a universal, cross-culture map of colors.

There are plenty of other languages that blur the lines between what we call blue and green. Many languages don’t distinguish between the two colors at all. In the Thai language, khiaw means green except if it refers to the sky or the sea, in which case it’s blue. The Korean word purueda could refer to either blue or green, and the same goes for the Chinese word qƒ´ng. It’s not just East Asian languages either, this is something you see across language families. I find this fascinating, because it highlights a powerful idea about how we might see the world. After all, what really is a color? Just like the crayons, we’re taking something that has no natural boundaries – the frequencies of visible light – and dividing into convenient packages that we give a name.

Joel Hodgson on ‘Mystery Science Theater’ and Riffs – [NYT] – I love the insight into the process they used. As well, I am sick with jealousy over the folks that got to participate in a class, called RiffCamp2012, led by Hodgson. What could be more fun than that?

If “Mystery Science Theater” was part insult comedy aimed at movies, there was also something congenial in the show’s tone. (Perhaps it was the puppet robots, or that it was all being produced in Minneapolis.) Six writers had to deliver a 90-minute episode every week, Mr. Hodgson said, with 600 to 800 riffs per movie, “when all the pistons were firing.” In devising the lines, no reference (Bella Abzug, Roy Lichtenstein) was too outré or rejected initially, Mr. Hodgson said. As he tried to convey to the students at Bucks, it’s best to brainstorm nonjudgmentally first and figure out what’s funny later.

The Science of ‘Gaydar’ [NYT] – Gaydar is provably real, and the framework used by these scientists describes a couple of different ways that we cognitively process what we see as faces.

It’s widely accepted in cognitive science that when viewing faces right side up, we process them in two different ways: we engage in featural face processing (registering individual facial features like an eye or lip) as well as configural face processing (registering spatial relationships among facial features, like the distance between the eyes or the facial width-to-height ratio). When we view faces upside down, however, we engage primarily in featural face processing; configural face processing is strongly disrupted. Thus our finding clarifies how people distinguish between gay and straight faces. Research by Professor Rule and his colleagues has implicated certain areas of the face (like the mouth area) in gaydar judgments. Our discovery – that accuracy was substantially greater for right side up faces than for upside-down faces – indicates that configural face processing contributes to gaydar accuracy. Specific facial features will not tell the whole story. Differences in spatial relationships among facial features matter, too.

A Peek Inside The CIA, As It Tries To Assess Iran [NPR] – A cultural and process overhaul to help intelligence analysts see beyond the obvious conclusions. Applies to the analysis process in design research as well.

The post-Iraq changes at the CIA also involve new analytic techniques, highlighted in a “tradecraft primer” in use at the agency since 2009. The manual is now used at the Sherman Kent School, the agency’s in-house training institute for new analysts. The manual opens with a section on the “mind-set” challenge. “If you’re only looking at [an issue] through one narrow view of the world, you’re not looking at the whole picture,” says John, who teaches at the Kent School. revealed. “Your biases will get you things like a confirmation bias: ‘I’ve seen it before, so it must be happening again.’ Or an anchoring bias: ‘We’ve come up with that conclusion, and I think it’s true, and it’s not going to change.'” One exercise now in use at the CIA is called “Analysis of Competing Hypotheses.” Analysts who may be inclined toward one explanation for some notable development are forced to consider alternative explanations and to tally up all the evidence that is inconsistent with their favored hypothesis. “You’re looking for the hypothesis with the least inconsistencies,” says John, who’s been at the CIA for 34 years. “We call it the Last Man Standing approach.” Such exercises are employed throughout the CIA’s Directorate of Intelligence. Each office now includes a “tradecraft cell,” staffed by specialists whose mission it is to make sure their colleagues are using all the latest analytic techniques and challenging their own judgments.

To Profile or Not to Profile? : A Debate between Sam Harris and Bruce Schneier [Sam Harris] – Bruce Schneier’s stuff is pretty amazing. His command of logic and skills in debate make his essays and other appearances mandatory for thinking about design, systems, and of course the post-9-11 security- and attendant cultural-issues.

When implementing any human-based system, the interests of the people operating the system often don’t precisely coincide with the interests of those designing it. This is the principal-agent problem, and it manifests itself in your profiling system as the TSA agent who thinks “If I wave this person through without checking out the anomaly and he turns out to be a terrorist, it’s my ass on the line.” Because the cost to the agent of a false positive is zero but the cost of missing a real attacker is his entire career, screeners will naturally tend towards ignoring the profile and instead fully checking everyone. And the screener’s supervisor is unlikely to tell him, “Hey you need to ignore the next old lady that beeps,” because if he’s wrong then it’s his ass on the line. The phenomenon is more general than security; discretionary systems tend to gravitate towards zero-tolerance systems because “following procedure” is a reasonable defense against being blamed for failure.

A Simple Tool You Need to Manage Innovation [HBR] – You may have seen Ansoff’s Product Market Matrix (perhaps like me, without knowing its name); this is a nice evolution of that model.

In the lower left of the matrix are core innovation initiatives – efforts to make incremental changes to existing products and incremental inroads into new markets. Whether in the form of new packaging, or slight reformulations, such innovations draw on assets the company already has in place. At the opposite corner are transformational initiatives, designed to create new offers – if not whole new businesses – to serve new markets and customer needs. These sorts of innovations, also called breakthrough, disruptive, or game changing, generally require that the company call on unfamiliar assets and to develop markets that aren’t yet mature. In the middle are adjacent innovations. An adjacent innovation involves leveraging something the company does well into a new space. Adjacent innovations allow a company to draw on existing capabilities but necessitate putting those capabilities to new uses. They require fresh, proprietary insight into customer needs, demand trends, market structure, competitive dynamics, technology trends, and other market variables.

Insight Inspired Innovation: Notes from CPSI

Last week I had the pleasure of attending and presenting at the Creative Problem Solving Institute (CPSI, pronounced sip-see, for short). The conferences is in its 58th year of delivering engaging, hands-on learning about how to use creative thinking to tackle complex challenges and develop innovative solutions. I have attended for the past 6 years, often presenting and always learning new tools and techniques for facilitating creative collaboration. Here I will highlight a few insightful and inspiring events for me and share a bit about the workshop I gave.

The incredible lineup of keynote speakers this year included one of my longtime creativity crushes, Teresa Amabile, the Edsel Bryant Ford Professor of Business Administration and a Director of Research at Harvard Business School who spoke about her new book, The Progress Principle. It offers an insightful peek into the challenge of management and motivation based upon research with 12,000 diary entries provided by 238 employees in 7 companies. For those interested, this downloadable daily diary tool allows you to conduct an autoethnographic inquiry into your own inner work life. For me it inspired new thinking about the impact of culture on corporate innovation efforts, specifically the gap that can exist between what a manager believes an employee needs and what that employee actually needs (and may not even realize).

I was captivated by John Hunter, an educator who uses the World Peace Game to teach fourth grade students about the complexities of world peace. A complex simulation that separates children into four countries and continually bombards them with challenges that are political, economic, cultural, environmental, etc. Without any coaching or intervention from the teacher, the students must try to win the game, e.g. raise the net worth of each country and avoid war. And they do it, over and over and over. Hunter helps these children develop communication and collaboration skills that enable them to resolve conflict, embrace compromise and honor diversity. Who would have thought that 9 year olds are capable of solving the most complex and wicked problems of our day? You can watch his acclaimed TED talk here. I was inspired both as a parent and an innovator about the kinds of facilitative techniques we can use to empower stakeholders to solve complex challenges in ways we may have never imagined possible.

I offered a workshop called Insight Inspired Innovation: How to use research as creative fuel. Attendees came from diverse contexts with varying experiences in research and creative problem solving processes so we had some rich discussions about language and process. The slides from the presentation are below.

 

During the workshop attendees used simulated insights about the organizational challenges of integrating insights into ideation activities to brainstorm new approaches.The key opportunity questions were:

How might we allow people to easily access insights?

How might we enable people to ideate together regardless of time or location?

How might we keep the human touch in communication?

This was, admittedly, a rather recursive activity. They used insights to ideate about ways to help people ideate with insights. My hope was for them to walk away both with new knowledge from the presentation and some new ideas for how to utilize insights creatively. In a little over 10 minutes these 3 groups came up with nearly 100 ideas that they captured on sticky notes. After a quick convergence each group presented their favorites. I’ve culled through all of those sticky notes and pulled out just a few to share (with their permission). If you’re looking to activate research within your organization, you just might find some gems in here.

  • “Opposites attract” idea buddies
  • Have ideation slumber parties, lock-ins, sock hops-
  • Insights become part of my screensaver
  • Live Suzy [a consumer/research participant] for a day
  • Make a bedtime/sleeptime listening CD
  • Ideation cruise
  • Insights suit, makes them personal
  • Insights speed dating
  • Diary rooms
  • Ideation signaled by a “bat signal”
  • Insights karaoke
  • Twitter brainstorm
  • Make a graphic novel of the insights
  • Pay the children to repeat them to their parents

 

ChittahChattah Quickies

Innovations Like Instagram Are Tough for Large Companies [NYT] – Large companies try so many different ways to create subsets of their culture that is somehow more free. Ray Ozzie did it at Microsoft, through architecture and interior design. I do wonder how many leaders treat this like a cultural problem, though, and bring the appropriate solutions to bear.

Leica, Nikon, Canon, Pentax and Olympus didn’t build Instagram, either. Michael Hawley, who is on Kodak’s board, said the answer could be summed up in one word: culture. “It’s a little like asking why Hasbro didn’t do Farmville, or why McDonald’s didn’t start Whole Foods,” said Mr. Hawley. “Cultural patterns are pretty hard to escape once you get sucked into them. For instance, Apple and Google are diametrical opposites in so many ways, have all the skills, but neither of them did Instagram, either.” Neither could Facebook. If it could, it wouldn’t have paid $1 billion to acquire the small team of engineers and access to the program’s 30 million users. The challenge of creating something small and disruptive inside a large company is one that many face today.

Thou shalt not commit logical fallacies – A nice library of dark patterns for persuasion, manipulation, and bluster. Available in a printable poster, too.

A logical fallacy is usually what has happened when someone is wrong about something. It’s a flaw in reasoning. They’re like tricks or illusions of thought, and they’re often very sneakily used by politicians and the media to fool people. Don’t be fooled! This website and poster have been designed to help you identify and call out dodgy logic wherever it may raise its ugly, incoherent head. If you see someone committing a logical fallacy, link them to the relevant fallacy to school them in thinky awesomeness.

The Outsourced Life [NYT] – Arlie Hochschild with an insightful and slightly alarming perspective on the consequences of a service society. How does the increasing possibility for outsourcing (also: buying our way into something) change what we bring, expect, or get out of our lives?

The very ease with which we reach for market services may help prevent us from noticing the remarkable degree to which the market has come to dominate our very ideas about what can or should be for sale or rent, and who should be included in the dramatic cast – buyers, branders, sellers – that we imagine as part of our personal life. It may even prevent us from noticing how we devalue what we don’t or can’t buy. A prison cell upgrade can be purchased for $82 a day in Santa Ana, Calif., and for $8 solo drivers in Minneapolis can buy access to car pool lanes on public roadways. Earlier this year, officials at Santa Monica College attempted to allow students to buy spots in oversubscribed classes for $462 per course. Even more than what we wish for, the market alters how we wish. Wallet in hand, we focus in the market on the thing we buy. In the realm of services, this is an experience – the perfect wedding, the delicious “traditional” meal, the well-raised child, even the well-gestated baby.

As we outsource more of our private lives, we find it increasingly possible to outsource emotional attachment. A busy executive, for example, focuses on efficiency; his assistant tells me, “My boss outsources patience to me.” The wealthy employer of a household manager detaches herself from the act of writing personal Christmas-present labels. A love coach encourages clients to think of dating as “work,” and to be mindful of their R.O.I. – return on investment, of emotional energy, time and money. The grieving family member hires a Tombstone Butler to beautify a loved one’s burial site.

Snack makers’ “Red Caviar” Lay’s and “Mango-orange” Oreos appeal more to global tastes [Winnipeg Free Press] – Some possible acquisitions for my Museum of Foreign Groceries.

After noticing sales of Oreos were lagging in China during the summer, Kraft added a green tea ice cream flavour. The cookie combined a popular local flavour with the cooling imagery of ice cream. The green tea version sold well, and a year later, Kraft rolled out Oreos in flavours that are popular in Asians desserts – raspberry-and-blueberry and mango-and-orange…To get a better sense of what Russians like, PepsiCo employees travelled around the country to visit people in their homes and talk about what they eat day-to-day. That was a big task. Russia has nine time zones and spans 7,000 miles, with eating habits that vary by region. The findings were invaluable for executives. In the eastern part of the country, Pepsi found that fish is a big part of the diet. So it introduced “Crab” chips in 2006. It’s now the third most popular flavour in the country. A “Red Caviar” flavour does best in Moscow, where caviar is particularly popular. “Pickled Cucumber,” which piggybacks off of a traditional appetizer throughout Russia, was introduced last year and is already the fourth most popular flavour.

This Week @ Portigal

We are traveling this week and finding time for…

  • Storytelling – We are headed to sunny San Diego this week to deliver the results of a recent project. Though the prototypes were super sci-fi, the results are pretty down to earth.
  • Storymaking – We have converged upon the key insights and narrative for another project and are now weaving that story into a presentation and video.
  • Ideating – We are talking with friends at two different organizations (one hyper local and one far-flung) about innovation collaborations.
  • Retreating – Taking time to huddle at a hip SF coffeehouse to review, revision and recommit to our 2012 goals.
  • Consuming Cow Palace, Christo, and Duarte’s Ollalieberry Pie

Series

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