reflection posts

Portigal year in review, 2013 December 20th, 2013

It’s time to sum up some of the noteworthy writings/happenings of the year. Let’s get to it!

All those years ago: 2012, 2011, 2010, 2009 and 2008.

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Portigal year in review, 2012 December 20th, 2012

Lots of emotions as the year winds down, with another one waiting just around the corner. Here’s some of what went down this past year.

Journey through the past: 2011, 2010, 2009 and 2008.

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ChittahChattah Quickies February 23rd, 2012

Why You’re Doing Customer Research All Wrong [Inc.] – It comes as no surprise that many innovative ideas hit the cutting room floor before ever seeing the light of day in consumer testing. The author suggests that too many great ideas don’t get chosen for testing and this is where the problem lies. While I agree that this is a grave problem for customer research, it’s not nearly as reprehensible¬†as the omission of consumers from ideation sessions, and the failure to converge in the ideation process. In fact, I’d argue that the problem could be averted with two steps upstream in this process. First, start with the end in mind when planning a brainstorming session and invite customers and executives to help generate stakeholder-inspired ideas. Secondly, make sure those ideas get clustered and prioritized before anyone leaves the room. Ideation should include both divergent and convergent thinking!¬† This results in more collaborative value-added ideas and less ‘intuitive’ choices about which ones merit further testing.

Affinnova studied 100 testing campaigns that its clients had done in the past. Typically the testing process went like this: A company came up with a long list of potential ideas to test, whittled it down using mostly executives’ intuition, and then tested the much shorter list of ideas. Affinnova, on the other hand, took the initial brainstorming list and tested everything on it, presenting the ideas in groups and asking participants to select their favorites.

Looking To Hire And Keep Great Innovators? Focus On The 3 Rs [Co.Design] – When companies look inward in a quest for amping up their innovation capabilities, they undoubtedly see the potential of their human resources. The three Rs of getting and keeping innovative employees are Recruiting, Retraining and Rewarding. Given the very premise of the article a fourth R, Reflection, seems mighty important. While the ROI (yikes, another R word!) of a strategic debrief may be hard to justify in some cases, the cost of ignoring valuable lessons learned from experience can be catastrophic. Consider how many times companies learn the same lessons over and over again. It’s Ridiculous. Besides, a healthy organization that engages its employees in regular reflection is likely to keep those folks feeling engaged, valued and loyal, thereby reducing the need to look outside for more innovators.

Innovation relies on people more than other processes. This reliance on employees, management, and executives in an organization requires that the “right” people are attracted, and then given the appropriate tools and techniques for a sustained innovation success. Their passions and capabilities also must be ensured to align with the needs and expectations of the firm.

Building Self-Control, the American Way [New York Times] - Although this article is focused on parenting strategies for cultivating self-discipline, I think the lessons can be applied to nurturing innovative thinkers. This article talks about the importance of play in allowing children to practice and develop skills like self-control, self-esteem and social interaction. Companies who rely on their people to continually generate creative ideas should explore opportunities for productive play experiences that challenge and nurture their employees’ essential abilities to manage themselves through intrinsic motivation.

Fortunately for American parents, psychologists find that children can learn self-control without externally imposed pressure. Behavior is powerfully shaped not only by parents or teachers but also by children themselves. The key is to harness the child’s own drives for play, social interaction and other rewards. Enjoyable activities elicit dopamine release to enhance learning, while reducing the secretion of stress hormones, which can impede learning and increase anxiety, sometimes for years.

 

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Talking to Strangers: Eugenio and Grace January 20th, 2012

Where I see boundaries, you see opportunities. – Steve, to me

On Monday Steve and I stumbled into a conversation that surfaced this difference between us in how we think about communicating with people. I’ve been reflecting on it all week and considering how it affects my interviewing practice. Mostly I have been paying more attention to how I am thinking during conversations and what kinds of opportunities I am seeing and looking for. Hot on the heels of Steve’s post with tips to improve interviewing skills, I hoped to surface a new point or two.

Yesterday morning I was walking a trail along the ocean. I heard a woman remark to the man next to her, “Well that was very creative of you!” I tried to keep walking, honestly I did. But I love creativity almost as much as I love talking to strangers so I had to backtrack- two loves in one conversation was irresistible! “Excuse me. Hi, I’m so sorry to interrupt you, but I overheard you say something about him being creative and I’m so curious! What creative thing was he doing?” So began my 20-minute interlude with Grace and her husband Eugenio (as Grace explained, “It’s pronounced ay-you-HEN-ee-oh”).

He is an artist, a painter. “I prefer mostly abstract and figurative painting. But you have to find your own voice-You can’t do too much school. I did some school when I was younger, in Mexico City. But if you are in school too long you become a mannerist. It just gets harder to find your own voice and be honest with it.” He told me about Joseph Beuys and Hockney (who Eugenio insists is overrated). We shared our mutual love of making art in and with nature. “You haven’t seen The Crack by Goldsworthy yet? Oh, you have to take your son to see it.”

Grace is the mother of a 43 year-old and retired from some job that required her to sit in front of a computer all day. “I already spent a lot of my life in front of a screen. I don’t want to do that anymore.” They don’t have email addresses and don’t bother with the Internet. They do walk by the ocean everyday, each one carrying a soft ball to squeeze. Grace has a red ball she kept turning in her gloved hands. Eugenio’s is a faded dark turquoise-y blue. “The hands of an artist require dexterity” he told me, fingers flexing. They laughed when I pulled out my iPhone to take notes so I would remember the names, the words, etc. and agreed that I could take their picture for this story but didn’t care to see it.

At some point early in our chat I became aware that I wanted to blog about my encounter with this couple. This awareness immediately transformed my thinking. I found myself struggling to just listen to their words once I started searching for a story I could later write. I prefer listening to, over listening for when I meet new people. It feels more organic, more natural. It also feels hard to stay present when my mind wants to narrate.

Thanks to a conversation with Steve, I got curious about the art of inquiry and how we have different perceptions of conversational openings. Thanks to Eugenio (and my love of talking to strangers) I got curious about the local work of an artist I admire for his love of the ephemeral. People (and conversations with them) are fleeting opportunities to pique curiosity and learn something new. I guess if any tip emerged from this interaction it would simply be to stay curious. And look for learning.

And that’s what art’s about, isn’t it? … It makes you see things in a different way than you would normally. – Andy Goldsworthy

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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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Portigal Consulting year in review, 2011 December 12th, 2011

Another year is speeding towards its conclusion and we wanted to share our highlights for 2011.

Really nostalgic? Check out summaries from 2010, 2009 and 2008.

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Observing Hong Kong, 2011 March 8th, 2011

Over on Flickr I’ve posted a bunch of pictures to Flickr from my recent trip to Hong Kong, where I was speaking at UX Hong Kong. Here are some favorites:














Also see: Hong Kong, 2006 and my UX Hong Kong slides here and here

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ChittahChattah Quickies December 30th, 2010
  • [from steve_portigal] My Year Without Star Wars [io9] – [Screenwriter/producer reflects on the lessons learned from stepping back from his beloved Star Wars] How many modern blockbusters seem like cargo cult versions of that childhood inspiration? How many times do I have to walk out of a theater thinking "I just paid to see a laundry list of beats that "worked" in Star Wars" before wondering if our collective doorway to archetypal storytelling hasn't become a Trojan Horse? Star Wars may have taught the Hero's Journey to entire generations, but it is our responsibility to use the paradigm and to forge something with its own emotional integrity. All creators imitate, emulate and steal. All maturing artists engage in a dialogue with what came before… but I can't think of a single instance in history when so many of us are so actively engaged in paying homage to a single work of art. Bluntly: we are all cribbing our best moves from the same two-hour movie and it has to stop. There just isn't enough meat on the carcass.
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Portigal Consulting year in review, 2010 December 20th, 2010

2010 has been an amazing year for us. While we can’t talk about many of the incredible experiences we had doing fieldwork and working with clients, below are some of the highlights that we can share:

You can also see previous summaries from 2009 and 2008.

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ChittahChattah Quickies June 18th, 2010
  • [from steve_portigal] ALT/1977: WE ARE NOT TIME TRAVELERS [Behance] – [Alex Varanese's thought-provoking concepts go beyond blogosphere-hipster-silliness to really provoke reflection on design and functionality often taken for granted] What would you do if you could travel back in time? Here's what I'd do after that: grab all the modern technology I could find, take it to the late 70's, superficially redesign it all to blend in, start a consumer electronics company to unleash it upon the world, then sit back as I rake in billions, trillions, or even millions of dollars. I've explored that idea in this series by re-imagining four common products from 2010 as if they were designed in 1977: an mp3 player, a laptop, a mobile phone and a handheld video game system. I then created a series of fictitious but stylistically accurate print ads. I've learned that there is no greater design element than the anachronism. I've learned that the strongest contrast isn't spatial or tonal but historical. I've learned that there's retro, and then there's time travel.
  • [from julienorvaisas] 10:10 Tags Symbolize Committment to Climate Change [10:10global.org/uk] – [The fact that this tag is tangible but also symbolic rather than overt, and versatile enough to be carried on the body as a daily reminder of a commitment to the cause of climate change can help change behavior and improve compliance, as well as subtly telegraph solidarity.] The 10:10 Tag is made from a recycled jumbo jet, and can be worn on the neck, wrist, lapel or leotard to symbolise your 10:10 commitment. Whether you pin it to the lapel of your business suit or thread it through the laces of your skateboard trainers, your 10:10 Tag shows others that not only do you know how to accessorise; you’re also part of the solution to climate change.
  • [from Dan_Soltzberg] Grateful Dead scholar in heaven at UC Santa Cruz [SFGate] – [More big things happening at my Alma Mater] The ultimate job in Dead-dom is in Room 1370 at McHenry Library at UC Santa Cruz. The door is marked by the steal-your-face logo, and superimposed over it reads the name Nicholas G. Meriwether, Grateful Dead Archivist.
  • [from julienorvaisas] Ariely’s Upside of Irrationality: using irrational cognitive blindspots to your advantage [Boing Boing] – [We've seen the principles of behavioral economics applied to help us understand and explain consumers irrational choices in a business context, now here's a self-help book helping us apply them to our own everyday lives.] Upside of Irrationality is a mostly successful attempt to transform the scientific critique of the 'rational consumer' principal into practical advice for living a better life. 'Mostly successful' only because some of our habitual irrationality is fundamentally insurmountable — there's almost nothing we can do to mitigate it.
  • [from steve_portigal] Text 2.0 – What if your book really knew where you are gazing at? – [This is essentially one of the concepts we proposed from our Reading Ahead research – where an eyetracker in a digital book manipulates the text dynamically based on your gaze. In our use case, we addressed the interrupt-driven commute reading revealed by our research. If the book saw you looking away, it could mark your spot to enable more efficient resuming]
  • [from steve_portigal] Twitter a hit in Japan as millions ‘mumble’ online [Yahoo! News] – Japanese-language Twitter taps into a greater sense of individuality in Japan, especially among younger people less accepting of the Japanese understatement and conformity. 16.3% of Japanese Internet tweet 16.3% (vs. 9.8% in US). "Japan is enjoying the richest and most varied form of Twitter usage as a communication tool…It's playing out as a rediscovery of the Internet.” It's possible to say so much more in Japanese within Twitter's 140 letters. "Information" requires just 2 letters in Japanese. Another is that people own up to their identities on Twitter. One well-known case is a woman who posted the photo of a park her father sent in e-mail before he died. Twitter was immediately abuzz with people comparing parks…"It's telling that Twitter was translated as 'mumbling' in Japanese," he said. "They love the idea of talking to themselves," he said…"In finding fulfillment in expressing what's on your mind for the moment, Twitter is like haiku," he said. "It is so Japanese."
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ChittahChattah Quickies April 24th, 2010
  • Brains, Behavior & Design: A toolkit by graduate students at IIT Institute of Design – In the real world, people are often irrational. Over the past few decades, researchers have codified many of the patterns that describe why people behave irrationally. As researchers, how can we be on the lookout for these patterns of behavior when we go into the field? As designers, how can we use our understanding of patterned irrational behavior to help people make better choices? We are developing tools that apply findings from the fields of cognitive psychology and behavioral economics to the design process. These tools provide a head start on framing research as well as developing new strategies for solving user problems.
  • Reading on iPad before bed can affect sleep habits [Los Angeles Times] – Staring at the screen before bed could leave you lying awake. That's because direct exposure to such abnormal light sources inhibits the body's secretion of melatonin. Light-emitting devices, including cellphones and the iPad, tell the brain to stay alert. Because users hold those devices so close to their face, staring directly into the light, the effect is amplified compared with a TV across the room or a bedside lamp, said Frisca Yan-Go, director of the UCLA Sleep Disorders Center in Santa Monica. Some say e-ink is easier on the eyes than the screen on a computer (tablet or otherwise). However, the Wall Street Journal published a report this month to the contrary. Yan-Go was eager to point out the advantages of books over e-readers. Paper books are often lighter; they can be dropped when you doze off holding them; and if they get wet, it's not the end of the world. And they won't mess with your sleep cycle…However, "Kindle is better for your sleep," Avidan wrote in another e-mail.
  • A New Character in Archie’s Town [NYTimes.com] – A new man is moving into Riverdale, the home of comics’ perennial teenager Archie Andrews and his gang. His name is Kevin Keller, and he’s blond-haired, blue-eyed and gay. Kevin will be introduced in Veronica No. 202, in a story titled, “Isn’t it Bromantic?” The inclusion of the character meets twin goals, one real world and one in-story. “Riverdale has to reflect the diversity of the world today,” said Jon Goldwater, co-chief executive of Archie Comic Publications. “We want to be all inclusive.” Mr. Goldwater also said he’s not afraid of any repercussions. “We think everyone is going to enjoy the story,” he said. “It’s completely in the tradition of your typical Archie comic.” Dan Parent will be writing and illustrating the story of Kevin’s introduction. “Veronica is always chasing guys and getting what she wants. Who could we introduce that she could not get?” Mr. Parent said Kevin would be more than a one-off character with future stories already mapped out.
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Get our latest article: Hold Your Horses June 30th, 2008

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My fourth interactions column, Hold Your Horses, has just been published. I talk about the creative process of uncovering insights and the need for gestation and reflection time.

Get a PDF of the article here. As the interactions website only has a teaser, we’d like to offer a copy of the article. Send an email to steve AT portigal DOT com and (if you haven’t given us this info before) tell us your name, organization, and title. We’ll send you a PDF.
Other articles

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India pics posted to flickr April 17th, 2006

I have completed the mammoth task of editing and posting all my Asia pictures to flickr, with the completion today of the set from India (Mumbai and Bangalore). Previously: Bangkok and Hong Kong. All told, about 650 pictures.

Whew.

I’ve written two long pieces (and many smaller pieces on this blog) about our trip. An article for Core77 here and a more personal assessment here.

The process of taking time and reviewing the pictures with increasing distance from the event is pretty interesting, giving me a chance to reflect and revisit, to see things that I certainly didn’t see at the time I opened the shutter, and through the interactions on flickr, to gain insight and clarifications about things I observed but did not understand, especially with the pictures from India, where a pretty good dialogue has emerged (seen in the comments posted on the various pictures in that set Oops, not any more). The document of the experience is scattered, the interactions are scattered, but as the publisher of this content, I’m personally at the hub of all of it, so I’m taking full advantage. But clearly technology (even the ability to take several hundred pictures on a two week trip) is enabling some powerful behaviors; we know this, of course, but stepping back and noticing it is always pretty cool.

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Photos from 2002 Tucson Road Trip December 23rd, 2005

In 2002 we drove to Tucson and stayed in a couple of B&Bs – one out in the desert and the other downtown. I didn’t have a digital camera but took my video camera that included a basic digital photo capability. I recently went through all the pics and cleaned up the best ones. Enjoy.
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