Posts tagged “flow”

Innovation for Introverts

We here at Portigal are diverse practitioners, particularly when it comes to the polarizing spectrum of introversion and extroversion. Many a delicious dinner have been sprinkled with questions about how our preferences impact our practice. Steve, who identifies as more of an introvert, was interviewed by Gerry Gaffney for his User Experience podcast late last year and discussed the context of interviewing as a place where this gets manifested and managed. This topic is not new, but some recent articles remind me how important it is for innovation efforts that we acknowledge the valuable differences between those who draw energy from within and those (like me) who draw energy from the people around them.

The Rise of the New Groupthink [NYtimes] – Collaboration is the new black and, not surprisingly, it is not without its discontents. The author cites a range of studies (and Steve Wozniak as an exemplar) for why uninterrupted alone time is necessary and brainstorming in groups is not as effective as solo ideation. It doesn’t take loads of creativity to cherry-pick studies and successful individuals that support your case, in fact I think that’s called confirmation bias. Most disappointing is the characterization of collaboration as Groupthink which implies assembled individuals are stifled creatively and unable to reach their maximum creative frequency of Flow. Rather than supporting the case that collaboration isn’t worthwhile, I see a need for better communication, alignment, and understanding of diversity by the individuals that make up the group. A gifted facilitator, dedicated to stewarding collaborative creative processes and balancing different ideation styles, may offer a valuable remedy for this divergent diagnosis.

One explanation for these findings is that introverts are comfortable working alone – and solitude is a catalyst to innovation. As the influential psychologist Hans Eysenck observed, introversion fosters creativity by “concentrating the mind on the tasks in hand, and preventing the dissipation of energy on social and sexual matters unrelated to work.” In other words, a person sitting quietly under a tree in the backyard, while everyone else is clinking glasses on the patio, is more likely to have an apple land on his head. (Newton was one of the world’s great introverts: William Wordsworth described him as “A mind for ever/ Voyaging through strange seas of Thought, alone.”)

Woz on Creativity: Work Alone [brainpickings] – My favorite source of cognitive candy offered a lovely, gentle rebuttal to the above article. It suggests, as do I, that creativity benefits from collaboration because fantastic things happen when ideas bang against each other. Neuroscientists tell us that new ideas are born of cognitive dissonance (when the brain struggles to hold two seemingly contrary concepts in the mind at the same time). This process has various monickers (forced connections, ideas having sex). In my experience it is guaranteed to produce innovative thinking and often works best when those two dissimilar ideas come from different people.

This, of course, should be ingested with caution – when taken out of context, it could easily become a distorted extreme. As Steven Johnson argues in Where Good Ideas Come From, innovation happens when ideas collide with one another, which can’t happen in isolation – an environment conducive to such collisions is essential for combinatorial creativity.

Federal Buzz: Does the government need more extroverts? [The Washington Post] – If you don’t have time for an in-depth study of the MBTI (Myers-Briggs Type Indicator) then this article offers a quick little lesson in some key distinctions between introverts and extroverts, as well as why there can be confusion and cases of mistaken identities. The article is a response to the argument that the government must hire more extroverts if it has any hope of fostering innovation. Plenty of voices chime in to dispel myths of introversion vs. extroversion and illuminate the challenges of employee retention within a work culture that neither nurtures nor rewards innovative contributions.

Several [introverts] also professed to being mistaken for extroverts because any personality type can exhibit the qualities of a good leader. Explained Kenneth Wells, an employee with the Navy, “I have been in positions where I had to act like an extrovert and make decisions quickly and decisively. Just remember that person who you think is an extrovert may be an introvert. All he or she wants is to get the job done, and then spend a little alone time to recharge and work on the next assignment.”

Stockholm’s School Without Classrooms [Architizer] – The Swedish Free School Organization Vittra is innovating the learning landscape with a new school designed to inspire creativity and community. The interior architecture is reminiscent of design studios (which are criticized in the above Groupthink article for lacking personal spaces). I, for one, drool at the thought of my son getting to attend a school designed to promote openness and interaction. Of course, my son is an extrovert like me so he would likely flourish in a school without walls. How is this kind of open environment experienced by a more introverted child? How do the teachers nurture and honor diverse creative kids in this context? I acknowledge my own confirmation bias here in suggesting that the teacher-as-facilitator seems like a viable anecdote for ensuring the students learn to stretch and shine, both alone and together.

The principles of the Vittra School revolve around the breakdown of physical and metaphorical class divisions as a fundamental step to promoting intellectual curiosity, self-confidence, and communally responsible behavior. Therefore, in Vittra’s custom-built Stockholm location, spaces are only loosely defined by permeable borders and large, abstract landmarks. As the architects explained, “instead of classical divisions with chairs and tables, a giant iceberg for example serves as cinema, platform, and room for relaxation, and sets the frame for many different types of learning,” while “flexible laboratories make it possible to work hands-on with themes and projects.”

The role of a story

Evocative example of stories and flow as elements of problem solving from Town of Cats, a Haruki Murakami story in the New Yorker. Note: emphasis mine.

He had been regarded as a math prodigy from early childhood, and he could solve high-school math problems by the time he was in third grade. Math was, for young Tengo, an effective means of retreat from his life with his father. In the mathematical world, he would walk down a long corridor, opening one numbered door after another. Each time a new spectacle unfolded before him, the ugly traces of the real world would simply disappear. As long as he was actively exploring that realm of infinite consistency, he was free.

While math was like a magnificent imaginary building for Tengo, literature was a vast magical forest. Math stretched infinitely upward toward the heavens, but stories spread out before him, their sturdy roots stretching deep into the earth. In this forest there were no maps, no doorways. As Tengo got older, the forest of story began to exert an even stronger pull on his heart than the world of math. Of course, reading novels was just another form of escape-as soon as he closed the book, he had to come back to the real world. But at some point he noticed that returning to reality from the world of a novel was not as devastating a blow as returning from the world of math. Why was that? After much thought, he reached a conclusion. No matter how clear things might become in the forest of story, there was never a clear-cut solution, as there was in math. The role of a story was, in the broadest terms, to transpose a problem into another form. Depending on the nature and the direction of the problem, a solution might be suggested in the narrative. Tengo would return to the real world with that suggestion in hand. It was like a piece of paper bearing the indecipherable text of a magic spell. It served no immediate practical purpose, but it contained a possibility.

Flow in the interview

Earlier this week the San Francisco IxDa hosted a talk by Peter Stahl about The Rhythm of Interaction. As part of his presentation , Peter talked about Mih?°ly Cs??kszentmih?°lyi’s notion of Flow – “the mental state of operation in which a person in an activity is fully immersed in a feeling of energized focus, full involvement, and success in the process of the activity.”

Yesterday I came across a podcast I did a few years ago with the folks from Lunar where we talked about how speed, creativity and innovation intertwine in the design process and about getting results through design research. You can listen to the podcast at the bottom of the post; meanwhile I’ve pulled out a snippet where I describe entering a flow state when interviewing users.

And all the power of noticing and stepping back and slowing yourself down and just disengaging yourself from the need to be making things happen, is just sort of creating that space and t hat’s where insights happen. That’s where creativity can happen. And I’m sure you guys have seen that moment when you’re in the field, where you have all this responsibility to be managing a session and managing the other people in the session and making sure you stick to your time, and it’s a lot of, lot of work. Your brain is just firing on all its cylinders. And then sometimes for me there’s that moment where you kind of – it’s almost like a hyperspace moment where the starts start to just stretch out. Things just get really, really quiet in my head and suddenly, I’m just riding it. Things are sort of happening and I’m riding it, and that can be – it’s, I guess, a flow moment, right? Things can be really insightful at that moment. I don’t know that I’m bored, but if I had to contrast that to the stimulation of trying to run everything and run everybody, that seems to be a really kind of creative moment for me when that happens.

Listen to the podcast:

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

Leading with Error Recovery

JetBlue counter, Sea-Tac airport

This sign directs JetBlue customers to a counter based on their specific situation. The first item listed is Kiosk “Oops” Messages. JetBlue is bold enough to acknowledge that things aren’t always going to work perfectly and they’ve made the path to error recovery prominent. This is good customer service, and it’s good design: allow for – and acknowledge that you are allowing for – failures, and reframe them positively.

Benchmark, Mockup, and Prototype

Fast Company describes how Alaska Airlines has been redesigning their check-in environment. Some nice bits of process to note

White assembled a team of employees from across the company to design a better system. It visited theme parks, hospitals, and retailers to see what it could learn. It found less confusion and shorter waits at places where employees were available to direct customers. “Disneyland is great at this,” says Jeff Anderson, a member of White’s skunk works. “They have their people in all the right places.”

The team began brainstorming lobby ideas. At a Seattle warehouse, it built mock-ups, using cardboard boxes for podiums, kiosks, and belts. It tested a curved design, one resembling a fishbone, and one with counters placed at 90-degree angles to each other. It built a small prototype in Anchorage to test systems with real passengers and Alaska employees.

It appears that Alaska had some obvious (and shared) design goals: increase throughput and reduce confusion. There’s a whole class of environmental redesign projects where the goals aren’t as clear. In those cases, there’s some generative research needed to understand what aspects of the overall experience could and should be different.

Signs to Override Human Nature?

We see these in small retail all the time – handwritten signs exhorting the customer to follow some non-natural path of behavior in order to simplify the merchant-centered purchase process. Here’s a fun one, where the experience is pretty cool anyway, and the creativity and ineffectiveness of the signs is something to smile about, rather than grimace.
The setting certainly helps. In the town of Waimea, on Kauai, on your way to getting a sweet and cold treat – shave ice.

The cash register sits underneath the most awesomely diverse and interesting list of flavors. You approach the guy at the cash and of course you want to say how many you want, and what sizes, and (after having gaped open-mouthed at the display for a few minutes) the flavors.

The signs attempt to warn you off from doing that, but it’s human nature. And with each person that tries to ask for a flavor, the cash guy tells them ‘I don’t care about flavors. I just need to know what size you want.”

They are so dogged with their insistence, but they’ve designed an experience where it’s entirely natural to ask for the flavors right then. Nope.

He’ll go and get the plain shave ice (with ice cream, if you want it) and then at another counter they take your flavor order. It may end up being the same guy working the other counter, or someone else. But they don’t care about flavors, until you get to the flavor counter.

It’s not so terrible that they go through the same thing over and over again, it’s just a great example of design and human nature and the ever-present sign which purports to fix the whole thing by simply warning people what not to do!

This sign is posted behind the cashier.
1. How many Shaved would you like (ice)?
2. What are the sizes you would like?
3. Would you like ice cream on the bottom?
4. Would you like our tasty creams on the top of your ice We have Vannilla Cream And also Haupia cream (which is coconut)
5. We do also sale extras so this would be the time to ask for them
Mahalo (thank you)

The cutaway detail of the Halo Halo Shave Ice is pretty neat. Nice combination of 2D and 3D presentation of the details:
Haupia cream topping
Shave Ice
Haupia cream topping
Halo Halo
Ice cream opsional [sic] with Halo Halo


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