Posts tagged “ideas”

Creativity, Sex, & the Karate Kid

One of my favorite tools to inspire radical new thinking is a technique I call forced connections. It is, fundamentally, a cognitive math problem: x + y = ? (assuming, of course, that x and y are seemingly unrelated things). This concept, also described as combinatorial creativity, is amazing because human brains are wired for it. The brain experiences cognitive dissonance when you try to hold two or more dissimilar things in your mind at the same time. It wants to resolve that tension so it creates resolution in the form of a new idea. Understanding how ideas work helps us design tools that facilitate idea generation. The articles and talk below explore ideational procreation through the lenses of neuroscience, quantum theory, psychology, and anthropology.

Musical Creativity and the Brain [The Dana Foundation] – This article explores some big theoretical and empirical questions about creativity, namely what it is and how we do it. My researcher heart jumped for joy with the introduction of an operational definition of creativity that comfortably applies across a range of artistic and business contexts: a fundamental activity of human information processing. The researchers discuss the brain functioning behind creative problem solving and the processes that make up creative behavior. Not surprisingly, it is a study in polarities: creativity is deliberate and spontaneous, cognitive and emotional, improvisation and composition, productive and consumptive. One of the authors, Charles Limb is a surgeon who also studies creativity and talks about your brain on improv.

During any creative act, from language production to marketing techniques selling the latest iPhone, ideas or past experiences are combined in novel and significant ways via the interaction of such cognitive capacities. The creative cognition approach is the current model dominating the neuroscientific study of creative thinking. According to this approach, creativity is far from a magical event of unexpected random inspiration. Instead, it is a mental occurrence that results from the application of ordinary cognitive processes.

How the Mind Creates Ideas [Psychology Today] – I often use forced connections when facilitating brainstorming as a deliberate idea-generating activity with specific stimuli (i.e. research insights). Quantum theory offers a more expansive approach to thinking about ideas as unmanifested sub-atomic particles that represent endless possibilities and countless possible combinations. The key to harnessing your quantum creative potential is to harvest as many ideas as you can: observe, record, interact, react.

We are taught to be exclusionary thinkers, which means we exclude anything that is not immediately related to our subject. Creative geniuses do not think this way. They know that the sky is a billion different shades of blue. When they brainstorm for ideas, their first objective is to observe and record all thoughts and ideas as possibilities. They observe without judgment. This is why all their thoughts and ideas come into existence as possibilities. Creative geniuses also think inclusively which means they include everything no matter how unrelated or absurd. This is a basic requirement of creative thinking. Creative thinking requires the generation of associations and connections between two or more dissimilar subjects.

Matt Ridley: When ideas have sex [TED] – The notion of ideas having sex is not, in fact, a new idea and the fruits of idea coupling have been applied and studied in a variety of areas. Ridley brings to life this concept with a tour of human evolution that offers material culture as evidence of our inescapable need for cross-germination in the collective brain. If you are interested in such creative romancing you can also find some practical tools to set the metaphorical mood here.

What The Karate Kid Can Teach Us About Agile and UX [UIE] – While the selections above discuss the process of ideational procreation, this article illustrates the progeny of forced connections: Daniel-san + UX=Lessons in Agile Mastery. Gothelf suggests that ritual and repetition breed expertise in both the hard skills (i.e.rapid rendering) and soft skills (i.e. trust and transparency) necessary for collaborative cohesion. Mr. Miyagi would certainly approve of this evolution of “Wax on. Wax off.”

Daniel found this level of mastery in the final tournament where he anticipated his opponent’s moves and ultimately defeated him. An Agile team achieves this when they trust each other implicitly, react as a cohesive unit to change and manage that change as well as any conflict with little impact to productivity or quality of work.

*Nota bene: The forced connection as metaphoric literary trope is not necessarily novel. In fact, some might convincingly argue that it is overplayed for its linkbaiting ability to seduce readers with catchy headlines. Personally, I am a sucker for such headlines and I have yet to grow tired of this tactic because I liken it to creative calisthenics. Reading and writing such pieces forces the brain to contemplate a familiar topic through a new lens. It requires the brain to constantly make new connections and it nurtures our divergent thinking capabilities. If you are looking for such exercise, try some of these: What Jay-Z Can Teach Us About The Future Of Education,What Downton Abbey Can Teach Us About the Future of Energy, What Nature Can Teach Us About Design, and What Visual Designers Can Learn From Biggie Smalls.

 

Information Overlord

We are seduced by and dithering with some mind-boggling stuff these days – magical gadgets, apps to enable whatever the hell comes to mind, wireless (!), interleaving social networks, the delight and terror of being geo-located, etc. These objects and experiences are often lumped together and referred to as “technology.” We don’t yet get what we sacrifice or gain by this tech-driven new world order, or how it will ultimately affect us as individuals, as generations, as a culture. Of course, our underlying motivations as human beings remain pretty stable (from survival straight through to enlightenment), but the way we can go about things now is all different. Implications abound. A faceless evil foe emerges from the uncertainty: technology itself (never terribly well defined when the witch-hunt is on). The foe is also the enabler. Agnostic pipes blissfully propagate these ideas, unaware they are being demonized, allowing us to consume them on whatever miraculous screen we happen to be peering at.

Here are a couple recent examples of technology – in particular the volume of information it allows us to access – being discussed in the popular press.

The Visionary: A digital pioneer questions what technology has wrought [newyorker.com] – Jaron Lanier has spent his incredible career envisioning ways for technology to delight and empower us, but is disappointed by the dominance of information in the system. We’re not thinking creatively enough. Technology is a harsh schoolmarm. It limits us with its relentless focus on information.

Such objections have made Lanier an unusual figure: he is a technology expert who dislikes what technology has become. “I’m disappointed with the way the Internet has gone in the past ten years,” he told me at one point. He added, “I’ve always felt that the human-centered approach to computer science leads to more interesting, more exotic, more wild, and more heroic adventures than the machine-supremacy approach, where information is the highest goal.” … Unlike more Luddite critics, Lanier complains not that technology has taken over our lives but that it has not given us enough back in return. In place of a banquet, we’ve been given a vending machine. “The thing about technology is that it’s made the world of information ever more dominant,” Lanier told me. “And there’s so much loss in that. It really does feel as if we’ve sworn allegiance to a dwarf world, rather than to a giant world.”

The Elusive Big Idea [nytimes.com] – According to the more academic Neal Gabler, information is overwhelming ideas in our culture. Technology is a sandstorm. It blinds us, prevents rational thought. The compelling notion that our culture is drifting towards a post-Enlightenment and post-idea state is undermined by his facile assumptions about how people use technology and in particular in this quote, social networking tools (and why, and for what).

For one thing, social networking sites are the primary form of communication among young people, and they are supplanting print, which is where ideas have typically gestated. For another, social networking sites engender habits of mind that are inimical to the kind of deliberate discourse that gives rise to ideas. Instead of theories, hypotheses and grand arguments, we get instant 140-character tweets about eating a sandwich or watching a TV show. While social networking may enlarge one’s circle and even introduce one to strangers, this is not the same thing as enlarging one’s intellectual universe. Indeed, the gab of social networking tends to shrink one’s universe to oneself and one’s friends, while thoughts organized in words, whether online or on the page, enlarge one’s focus. To paraphrase the famous dictum, often attributed to Yogi Berra, that you can’t think and hit at the same time, you can’t think and tweet at the same time either, not because it is impossible to multitask but because tweeting, which is largely a burst of either brief, unsupported opinions or brief descriptions of your own prosaic activities, is a form of distraction or anti-thinking.

Can we please get beyond Twitter-is-for-talking-about-sandwiches? Interaction and ideas on Twitter and other technology-enabled platforms for human communication are as rich and prosaic as humanity itself. It’s quite easy to find “thoughts organized into words” and “grand arguments” on any social networking site on any given day. These are not trivial forums for discourse at any level. To reduce the effects of technology on social interaction in this manner is simplistic. It does not live up to the quality of intellectual thought that the author himself calls for as the central idea of the article. I guess we might interpret this as just more evidence of the ill-effects of Twitter on our culture. The aforementioned Jaron Lanier, himself a player in and product of the world of technology, seems to be, incidentally, the kind of big thinker that Gabler pines for.

We sacrifice agency when we cast technology as an outside force acting upon us. Technology is still, as of this writing, made by and for human beings. There is no technology. If technology prevents us from having ideas and represses our humanity, then we do that to ourselves.

ChittahChattah Quickies

  • [from steve_portigal] National Onion Labs, Inc. – [Bet you didn't know that there was a national onion lab, or that there were standards for onion certification. Now you do. You're so very welcome!] People use onions for their unique and distinctive flavors and by looking for the appropriate NOL certification you can be assured that the onion you choose will be appropriate for your use. Look for NOL’s trustworthy quality certification Certified Extra Sweet®, Certified Sweet®, Certified Medio™ and Certified Sizzler™ when selecting onions.
  • [from steve_portigal] From Muses To Music: Where Ideas Come From [NPR] – [Transcript of a Talk of the Nation episode at the Aspen Ideas Festival, with a broad cross-section of participants.This was my favorite snippet.] Q: Joining us now is Eric Fischl. He's a painter and sculptor…Not where do your ideas come from, but how do you come up with them? A: I'm a painter of people, so one of the sources of my inspiration is body language. And when I see people sitting, standing, moving, twisting, turning in very specific, very idiosyncratic ways, I'm riveted by it. I don't know why. If I have my camera with me, I take a photograph of it. And then back in my studio, I look at that photograph and try to find a context for explaining why I was fascinated by that particular gesture.[They don't all work out] but the process is always fascinating.
  • [from steve_portigal] Technological Superstition [The Technium] – [KK takes a direct look at how we imbue objects with meaning, although he frames it as "superstition." Funny how that word really agitates me, whereas my term (meaning) is pacifying. In our work, perception often is reality, but I'm refreshed and challenged by Kevin's close reading of reality, just plain reality.] They honestly believe that artifacts can transmit the aura of a human who uses it. In this case, the steel transmits the bravery of the firemen rescuers, and the innocence of the civilians who died. But it can also transmit cooties. They believe that wearing Hitler's sweater would be a bad idea, while sleeping in a room (completely remodeled) that Lincoln slept in is a good idea. This is magical thinking….In the end, a historical technological artifact is one of the reservoirs in the modern world where superstition still flows freely.

ChittahChattah Quickies

  • [from wstarosta] How to beat Apple [Kottke] – [Apple's fu is strong. But Kottke has some thoughts on how to beat Apple. I would add to his list: Design integrity. Apple didn't invent it, but for some reason their competitors have allowed them to own it.] In the near term, companies making iPhone and iPad competitors are never going to beat Apple at their own game. Apple has supply chain advantages, a massive number of their customers' credit card numbers (why do you think Jobs brings this up at every single Apple event…it's important!), key patents, one-in-lifetime personnel like Steve Jobs and Jony Ive, solid relationships with key media companies, and an integrated ecosystem of stores, apps, applications, and hardware. They are an imposing competitor.

ChittahChattah Quickies

  • [from wstarosta] Disney Helps Reboot Commodore and Amiga Brands [Brand Channel] – [The Commodore 64 is getting a re-boot from Tron, the movie. The company is updating the old school computer with a 1.8Ghz processor, Blu-ray drive, and HDMI! ] When Tron: Legacy was released in December, the product tie-in that drew all the attention was for Ducati. It's a product placement the Italian motorcycle maker told us was unpaid, but highly valuable. Now, the release of Tron: Legacy on DVD introduces a whole new marketing tie-in. This time for… Commodore 64?! That's right — Disney is helping promote the relaunch of the Commodore and Amiga brands, with the relaunched computers going on sale the same day (April 5th) as the DVD went on sale.
  • [from steveportigal] How To Steal Like An Artist (And 9 Other Things Nobody Told Me) [Austin Kleon] – [While the frame of reference is being an artist, you could substitute a lot of other descriptors and it’d work just as well – designer, innovator, ethnographer, what-have-you. The riffs here manage to be wide-ranging and incredibly concise.] Your job is to collect ideas. The best way to collect ideas is to read. Read, read, read, read, read. Read the newspaper. Read the weather. Read the signs on the road. Read the faces of strangers. The more you read, the more you can choose to be influenced by. [Thanks @anneincal!]
  • [from steveportigal] Recreating the Legendary Commodore 64 [Commodore USA, LLC] – [Many of my favorite themes here: reviving dead brands, retro technology, enthusiast fans become producers instead of just consumers, and of course, boat-loads of irony] The new Commodore 64 is a modern functional PC as close to the original in design as humanly possible. It houses a modern mini-ITX PC motherboard featuring a Dual Core 525 Atom processor and the latest Nvidia Ion2 graphics chipset. It comes in the original taupe brown/beige color, with other colors to follow…[We were] founded by Barry Altman in April 2010, with the express purpose of reviving and re-establishing the famous Commodore computer brand. We are Commodore and AMIGA fanatics, just like many of you. We ask ourselves what could have been, and we are appalled by Apple revisionism. Commodore is back, and we’re determined to bring the much loved brand back to the mainstream and restore its prominence in the tech industry to that which it richly deserves. It ain’t over ’till we say so.

ChittahChattah Quickies

  • [from steve_portigal] book lovers never go to bed alone – [A Tumblr blog consisting only of photos of bookshelves, from homes and bookstores. Why? Because they can.]
  • [from steve_portigal] Ideal Bookshelf – [More examples of books as a identity system] This is an ongoing project called "Ideal Bookshelf". I paint sets of books as a form of portraiture: a person's favorites (of all time, within a genre or from a particular period in their lives); the ones that helped make them who they are today. We show off our books on shelves like merit badges (the ones not on our Kindle, at least), because we're proud of the ideas we've ingested to make us who we are, as we should be. The spine of a book is a sort of code for the giant cloud of ideas the author included within it. Just ten of them together on a sheet of paper tells the story of the mind that picked them in a way that is easily digestible but allows for endless study. We also display our books hoping to connect with others. When I paint someone else's bookshelf and they have the same book I do, it instantly makes me happy.
  • [from steve_portigal] Mr. Peanut’s New Look? Planters Went Old School [NYTimes.com] – Mr. Peanut is getting a voice as part of efforts to revitalize the character and brand for contemporary consumers. [Also] a new look, meant to give him a more authentic appearance by evoking designs of the character from the 30s & 40s. He is now brown, rather than yellow, and sports a gray flannel suit…Nostalgia is not what it used to be, particularly when it comes to younger consumers, so the goal is to be perceived not as old-fashioned but rather as old-school ­ from an earlier era and worthy of respect…Mr. Levine hastened to reassure fans that “he’s still Mr. Peanut, with the top hat and monocle and cane….We’re taking him back to his roots.” In addition to getting a voice, Mr. Peanut has a new sidekick. Mr. Peanut’s buddy is named Benson, shorter than Mr. Peanut ­ one nut in his shell rather than two. “Benson is quite enamored of Mr. Peanut,” Mr. Levine said, but they are, as the saying goes, just friends. Benson does not live in Mr. Peanut’s house, Mr. Wixom said.
  • [from steve_portigal] White poppies banned from P.E.I. market [CBC News] – [Disruption – whether innovative or not – starts with ideas. The poppy itself is not harmful or otherwise objectionable, but the idea it – arbitrarily, mind you – represents is transgressive enough that the establishment reacts as only the establishment can – by banning the representation of that idea. I assume, for further irony, that these are plastic poppies, not "real" poppies. The power of symbols!] The Charlottetown Farmers Market turned away people selling white poppies on Sunday for Remembrance Day. Volunteers with the Island Peace Committee had arranged to hand out the controversial poppies at the farmers market for the second consecutive week. Committee members say the alternative poppies stand for peace and are also to remember civilians who die in war. The white poppies have drawn an angry response from the Royal Canadian Legion, saying they detract from the original red poppy…For now, people will have to contact the Island Peace Committee directly to get a white poppy.

How a gut feeling becomes a hunch

A bit of inspiration from a recent New Yorker – Tree Line, Kansas, 1934, a story by David Means.

That afternoon, as he crawled back to Barnes, the gut feeling worked its way up his throat and struggled into his head. Note: A gut feeling finally becomes a hunch when it is transmuted into the form of clear, precise, verbal statements uttered aloud to a receptive listener-internal or external-who responds in kind. A hunch twists inside the sinews and bones, integrating itself into the physicality of the moment, whereas a gut feeling can only struggle to become a hunch, and, once it does, is recognized in retrospect as a gut feeling.

ChittahChattah Quickies

  • [from steve_portigal] The opposite of user experience design [Jorge Arango] – [I've experienced the bewildering confusion of bureaucracy in another country but have always assumed implicitly that for "those people" it was tenable. Jorge's tangible frustration and brilliant insight puts the lie to my ridiculous parochialism] One of the advantages of living in the developing world is that I am exposed to a wide variety of UX disasters. If you find it hard to define UX, try dealing with a Panamanian government office. You will quickly see what a lack of UX thinking looks like, and this will in turn aid your appreciation and understanding of good UX. A few weeks ago I had to go to the Panamanian immigration office to take care of some paperwork. When I got there, I found chaos…I’ve come to understand that the opposite of UX design is not shitty design, thoughtless design, or piecemeal design. It is anarchy. Only strong leadership with a clear user-centric vision can transform the organization’s culture and improve the experience of its constituents.
  • [from steve_portigal] Please vote for our SXSW 2011 Panel – Mommy, Where Do Good Products Come From? (with Gretchen Anderson) – [Thanks for your vote!] Business case studies are the ultimate in reductionism: A complex business activity rooted in a specific context of people, company culture, time, and place is boiled down to a few key ideas. People confuse the terms innovation and invention; looking for breakthrough ideas sends companies into a frenzied search for "new" things not great or disruptive things. In this session, we will explore some different pathways to creating great product ideas. As designers and researchers, we're experienced enough to know that design research isn't the only approach or even always the best approach (a point of view that Don Norman vehemently argued in recent writings). For instance, design research wouldn't be sufficient to create a disruptive innovation like Gowalla. We'll outline a framework that looks at different approaches to idea generation, including corporate competencies and culture, customer needs and cultural context, and technological innovation.
  • [from steve_portigal] Please vote for my SXSW 2011 Panel – Diving Deep: Best Practices For Interviewing Users – [Thanks for your vote!] The skill of getting the right information from users is surprisingly complex and nuanced. This session will focus on getting past the obvious shallow information into the deeper, more subtle, yet crucial, insights. If you are going to the effort to meet with users in order to improve your designs, it's essential that you know how to get the best information and not leave insights behind. Being great in "field work" involves understanding and accepting your interviewee's world view, and being open to what they need to tell you (in addition to what you already know you want to learn). We'll focus on the importance of rapport-building and listening and look at techniques for both. We will review different types of questions, and why you need to have a range of question types. We'll also suggest practice exercises for improving your own interviewing skills and how to engage others in your organization successfully in the interviewing experience.
  • [from steve_portigal] The Minds Behind the Mind-Set List [The Chronicle of Higher Education] – [Freshmen in 2010 have never known a world in which a website can't get a book deal. Yes, the Mind-Set List book is coming] Mr. McBride, a professor of English and the humanities, says the list started on a lark back in 1997—some old college hands unwinding on a Friday afternoon, musing on how much freshmen don't know about recent history and culture. But such blind spots are to be expected, they had agreed, given the relative youth of the incoming class. They had concluded that professors should be mindful of how very different their students' life experiences are from their own. With colleagues, they had brainstormed about the cultural touchstones for that year's entering freshman class, whose members would have been born in 1979. That was the year of the Iran hostage crisis, the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan, and Three Mile Island. The resulting list was passed around and eventually found its way into the hands of a Wall Street Journal reporter, who subsequently wrote about it.
  • [from steve_portigal] Beloit College Mindset List 2010 – [The annual list, in time for this year's freshmen, telling us older folks how our view of the world differs in key and/or bemusing ways]. For most of their lives, major U.S. airlines have been bankrupt. A coffee has always taken longer to make than a milkshake.

ChittahChattah Quickies

  • [from julienorvaisas] The Sketchbook Project: 2011[http://www.arthousecoop.com/projects/sketchbookproject] – [For $25 and an output of your own artistic energy, you can be part of this traveling sketchbook project. Choose from themes like "Adhere to me," "Help!" and "Down your street." Great way to practice sketching and story-telling!] Thousands of sketchbooks will be exhibited at galleries and museums as they make their way on tour across the country. After the tour, all sketchbooks will enter into the permanent collection of The Brooklyn Art Library, where they will be barcoded and available for the public to view. Anyone – from anywhere in the world – can be a part of the project. To participate and have us send you a sketchbook that will go on tour, start by choosing a theme.
  • [from steve_portigal] Want Smart Kids? Here’s What to Do [The Chronicle of Higher Education] – [It seems like this confuses correlation and causality, but it is a very actionable finding in that way] Buy a lot of books. That seems kind of obvious, right? But what's surprising, according to a new study published in the journal Research in Social Stratification and Mobility, is just how strong the correlation is between a child's academic achievement and the number of books his or her parents own. It's even more important than whether the parents went to college or hold white-collar jobs. Books matter. A lot.
  • [from steve_portigal] Google Research Director Peter Norvig on Being Wrong [Slate] – We do it by trying to fail faster and smaller. The average cycle for getting something done at Google is more like three months than three years. And the average team size is small, so if we have a new idea, we don't have to go through the political lobbying of saying, "Can we have 50 people to work on this?" Instead, it's more done bottom up: Two or three people get together and say, "Hey, I want to work on this." They don't need permission from the top level to get it started because it's just a couple of people; it's kind of off the books. …Within the company, we're really good at making decisions based on statistics. So if we have an idea—"You know, here's a way I can make search better"—we're really good at saying, "Well, let's do an experiment. Let's compare the old way with the new way and try it out on some sample searches." And we'll come back with a number and we'll know if it's better and how much better and so on. That's our bread and butter.
  • [from steve_portigal] Dangerous Ideas [Big Think] – [When we lead ideation exercises, we often talk about the importance of "bad" ideas and try to empower or teams to be free to come up with bad ideas; it's a way of coming un-stuck, to free yourself from "solving" the problem and just play with the problem. When we suggest trying things that are dangerous or immoral, people laugh, but they are immediately get it. Here's a more serious consideration of the power of "bad" ideas] Throughout the month of August, Big Think will introduce a different "dangerous idea" each day. Brace yourself: these ideas may at first seem shocking or counter-intuitive—but they are worth our attention, even if we end up rejecting them. Every idea in the series will be supported by contributions from leading experts.

ChittahChattah Quickies

  • Segmenting the Hendrix fan [NYTimes.com] – “We believe that there is a Jimi Hendrix fan out there at 99 cents and at $9 and at $20 — all the way across the spectrum,” Mr. Block said. “We want to make each fan an appropriate offering. Is the complete Jimi Hendrix on vinyl something every music fan would want? Absolutely not. Would there be a market for it? Absolutely.”
  • Jerry Seinfeld on ideas [NYTimes.com] – Whatever happens to “The Marriage Ref,” Mr. Seinfeld said that he was out of ideas now. “Ideas are a terrible obligation,” he said. “Who needs something else to take care of? I have kids. I’d rather nurture them than another idea.”
  • The Disposable Film Festival – In recent years a new kind of film has emerged: The Disposable Film. It has been made possible by new media (webcams, point and shoot digital cameras, cell phones, screen capture software, and one time use digital video cameras) and the rise of online distribution (YouTube, Google, MySpace, etc.). These films are often made quickly, casually, and sometimes even unintentionally. Everyone has become a Disposable Filmmaker: directors of Saturday night cell phone videos, actors under the eyes of security cameras, and narrators before their webcams. Let's face it – we live in an age of disposable film. Now it's time to do something creative with it.
  • How to Kill Innovation: Keep Asking Questions – Scott Anthony [Harvard Business Review] – Resource-rich companies have the "luxury" of researching and researching problems. That can be a huge benefit in known markets where precision matters. But it can be a huge deficit in unknown markets where precision is impossible and attempts to create it through analysis are quixotic. Entrepreneurs don't have the luxury of asking "What about…" questions, and in disruptive circumstances that works in their favor.

    So what's the alternative? Substitute early action for never-ending analysis. Figure out the quickest, cheapest way to do something market-facing to start the iterative process that so frequently typifies innovation. Be prepared to make quick decisions, but have the driver of the decision be in-market data, not conceptual analysis. In other words, go small and learn. Pitch (or even sell) your idea to colleagues. Open up a kiosk in a shopping mall for a week. Create a quick-and-dirty website describing your idea. Be prepared to make quick decisions.

ChittahChattah Quickies

  • The Americanization of Mental Illness [NYTimes.com] – Mental illnesses have never been the same the world over but are inevitably sparked and shaped by the ethos of particular times and places…“We might think of the culture as possessing a ‘symptom repertoire’ ­ a range of physical symptoms available to the unconscious mind for the physical expression of psychological conflict."..Those who minister to the mentally ill inadvertently help to select which symptoms will be recognized as legitimate…For more than a generation now, we in the West have aggressively spread our modern knowledge of mental illness around the world…we’ve been exporting our Western “symptom repertoire” as well. That is, we’ve been changing not only the treatments but also the expression of mental illness in other cultures. Indeed, a handful of mental-health disorders ­ depression, post-traumatic stress disorder and anorexia among them ­ now appear to be spreading across cultures with the speed of contagious diseases.
  • The Children of Cyberspace: Old Fogies by Their 20s [NYTimes.com] – They theorize that the ever-accelerating pace of technological change may be minting a series of mini-generation gaps, with each group of children uniquely influenced by the tech tools available in their formative stages of development.

    “People two, three or four years apart are having completely different experiences with technology,” said Lee Rainie, director of the Pew Research Center’s Internet and American Life Project. “College students scratch their heads at what their high school siblings are doing, and they scratch their heads at their younger siblings. It has sped up generational differences.”

    Those in the Net Generation spend two hours a day talking on the phone and still use e-mail frequently. The iGeneration spends considerably more time texting than talking on the phone, pays less attention to television and tends to communicate more over instant-messenger. The newest generations will expect an instant response from everyone they communicate with

ChittahChattah Quickies

  • Zach Gage’s Antagonistic Books – A set of two books and instructions for how to build them. ANTAGONISTIC BOOKS turns the emotions and actions surrounding the banning of books into physical objects that undermine the user.

    Danger reenacts what has historically been done to dangerous literature, self-immolating when opened.

    Curiosity represents the notion that many book-banners feel, that the true danger of literature is that once you've opened a book you have been forever changed and can never go back. Emulating this notion, Curiosity can never be closed. Once opened, it is locked in an open position forever.

    (via Waxy)

  • Netflix agrees to delay in renting out Warner movies [latimes.com] – "This deal uniquely works for Netflix because our subscribers are desensitized to street dates and more interested in being matched to the perfect movie," said Ted Sarandos, Netflix's chief content officer, who handles studio relationships. "Some subscribers will so passionately want to see it in the first 28 days they may go out and buy it, just as some people want to see 'Avatar' so badly they pay to watch it in 3-D." [Snort! Guffaw!]
  • Book Industry Study Group – BISG is the leading U.S. book trade association for supply chain standards, research, and best practices. For over 30 years, BISG has been working on behalf of its diverse membership of publishers, retailers, manufacturers, distributors, wholesalers, librarians and others involved in both print and digital publishing to create a more informed, empowered and efficient book industry supply chain for both physical and digital products.

    In seeking support from and representing every sector of the book industry, BISG affirms its belief in the interdependence of all industry segments. BISG understands that success in business is often easier to achieve through joint effort and that common problems are best solved together.

  • How to create new reading experiences profitably [booksahead.com] – Books have served well as containers for moving textual and visual information between places and across generations. [digita] books need to be conceived with an eye on the interactions that text/content will inspire. Those interactions happen between the author and work, the reader and the work, the author and reader, among readers and between the work and various services, none of which exist today in e-books, that connect works to one another and readers in the community of one book with those in other book-worlds….Publishing is only one of many industries battling the complex strategic challenge of just-in-time composition of information or products for delivery to an empowered individual customer. This isn’t to say that it is any harder, nor any easier, to be a publisher today compared to say, a consumer electronics manufacturer or auto maker, only that the discipline to recognize what creates wonderful engaging experience is growing more important by the day.
  • New York, 2009 [Flickr] – My photos from my recent trip to New York City. Art, street art, strange signs, people watching, and other observations. Check it out!

Encouraging Stick-with-it-ness

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

ChittahChattah Quickies

  • Don Norman on Ethnography and Innovation – Some great commentary on Norman's piece (discussed here as well) including the very exciting revelation that Edison did something very much like ethnography!
  • General Motors – The Lab – It’s a pilot program for GM, an interactive design research community in the making. Here you can get to know the designers, check out some of their projects, and help them get to know you. Like a consumer feedback event without the one-way glass.

    We work on ideas that will influence our future vehicles. We want to share our ideas, inventions and pre-production vehicle designs. We want to build the right cars and trucks for your future. We want your opinion.

  • Iceberg Digital Book Reader for the iPhone – Digital books as content, as hardware, as a platform, as an OS, as an app? Interesting to see a range of approaches appearing. Iceberg use the iTunes store to sell the books, which seems like a brilliant strategy, leveraging a storefront/distribution platform that already exists.
  • Steal These Books – From Wikipedia page about book theft, a set of articles that describe what books get stolen from bookstores (independent, chain, and campus) and libraries.
  • Archaeology’s Hoaxes, Fakes, and Strange Sites – A large set of links to articles about fake archeological-type stuff (discoveries, artifacts, and the like). How and why.

ChittahChattah Quickies

  • Pictorial Highlights of IDSA Project Infusion – Without really getting into the content at all, a visual review of the trip to Miami Beach.
  • Project 10 to the 100 – Google crowd-sourced 150,000 "ideas to change the world by helping as many people as possible." They've boiled then down to 16 'Big Ideas' and now are going to decide (they are taking votes but it doesn't seem that is the actual decision mechanism) which one to fund. But the process looks random, the results appear ill-defined, and the next steps are murky. I'm not harshing on Google here; this is the process we see in most engagements, moving from insights to opportunities to actual next steps. It's very challenging to do what. Google has done here and make this a public-facing activity, without the benefit of people sitting together in a room developing a shared understanding. We also don't have as much of a stake in what Google does as we would in our own business; we're the public, not members of the team.

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