Posts tagged “success”

Ideas so Bad, They’re Good

In Appsurd: In Silicon Valley, It’s Hard to Make a Joke, bad ideas become successes.

When Mr. Cornell crafted Jotly as a joke, he says, he tried well-known start-up tricks to make it convincing, like using the color blue and giving it a name ending in “ly.” Other important elements, he says, included assuming everybody wants to share everything they do with everyone, and having “no clear purpose.” He was surprised at the positive response to the idea. “One of our programmers said it would be fun to make, so we decided to crush it out,” he says.

While the creative (and other) excesses of Silicon Valley culture are wonderful media fodder, this article goes quite nicely with my recent Core77 piece The power of Bad Ideas. What we initially frame as bad can – especially as we understand more deeply the measures we should be using – emerge as good.

Breakfast of Champions

Last Friday we opened our doors to a few superheroic leaders from Silicon Valley firms for a morning discussion about championing user research within an organization (thus “Breakfast of Champions”). This event came hot on the heels of Steve’s recent webinar and provided a learning forum for us as consultants and for our guests, who shared insights and questions from the client perspective.

The discussion included trials and triumphs, questions about current challenges, and new frameworks to yield as tools for overcoming obstacles.  We were impressed with the humility and willingness to share evident in the discussion as research champions from diverse departments, companies, and industries swapped war stories and provided each other with encouragement and new ideas.

I captured some of the conversation on our whiteboard. On the left side are successes, questions and ponderings in the middle, and current challenges on the right. See a bigger image here.

We covered a lot of ground during two hours so the list below is not exhaustive, but it does start to hint at the themes that came up.

  • The importance of measuring, benchmarking, and storying research successes
  • The value of taking non-researchers (especially skeptics and critics) into the field
  • The challenge of confronting organizational paradigms and questioning sacred ‘truths’ when framing research questions
  • Success with embedding research in the design process as opposed to making it a distinct, standalone project
  • Overcoming obstacles of apathy with insights that are action-ready and and deliverables that are easy to share
  • Thinking strategically about the relationship between quant and qual, and considering how they feed each other
  • The value of research in corporate strategy and business solutions and the need to frame it as such
  • The changing role of the consultant and research provider
  • The importance of show and tell of research results to various groups, departments, etc.

This was our first time doing something like this and we’re looking forward to doing it again in the near future!

ChittahChattah Quickies

  • [from steve_portigal] A Quandary for Swatch – It’s Too Popular [NYTimes.com] – [They are also looking to stop being the parts supplier to all of their rivals] Swatch, the world’s largest watchmaker, is rushing to add factory capacity so that it can make enough watches to meet demand. It wants to add as many as 2,000 employees this year ­ about 1,500 of them at home in Switzerland. But it is struggling to find enough qualified people. “Managing our stock is at the moment not an issue for us because demand is so big that we unfortunately don’t even have the time to build up any stock”… Swatch’s production and hiring problems reflect the overall health of a sector that has rebounded from the world financial crisis. Demand for watches has soared in Asia ­ a region that accounted for more than half of Swiss watch exports last year ­ with makers of mechanical watches capturing an increasingly large slice of the market. Exports of mechanical timepieces rose 32 percent in unit terms last year, compared with an 18 percent increase for less expensive quartz watches.
  • [from steve_portigal] Remembering the XFL, a 1-and-done league in 2001 [SFGate] – [Lessons from a failed attempt to innovate against an established competitor] While some ideas (trash-talking announcers, no penalties for roughness) didn't work, McMahon was a visionary in how he let fans inside the game. Players and coaches were miked up during games, and cameras were allowed into the locker room and behind the scenes. The XFL used the Skycam, the camera held up by wires over the field, and the NFL adopted that almost immediately. McMahon also did away with extra-point kicks, fair catches and coin tosses. At the start of the game, a player from each team would line up at the 30-yard-line and race to the ball at the 50 and fight for it in a "scramble." However, a member of the Orlando Rage separated his shoulder in a scramble the first week…In the end the XFL was caught in the middle. The football product on the field wasn't good enough to lure NFL fans, and there wasn't enough of the "personality-driven stories or crazy characters" to attract wrestling fans.

ChittahChattah Quickies

  • [from steve_portigal] Does Language Influence Culture? [WSJ.com] – [Stanford psychology prof Lera Boroditsky examines how it does, and why it does] Just because people talk differently doesn't necessarily mean they think differently. In the past decade, cognitive scientists have begun to measure not just how people talk, but also how they think, asking whether our understanding of even such fundamental domains of experience as space, time and causality could be constructed by language…All this new research shows us that the languages we speak not only reflect or express our thoughts, but also shape the very thoughts we wish to express. The structures that exist in our languages profoundly shape how we construct reality, and help make us as smart and sophisticated as we are…As we uncover how languages and their speakers differ from one another, we discover that human natures too can differ dramatically, depending on the languages we speak. [Thanks @ebuie]
  • [from steve_portigal] Facebook Is to the Power Company as … [NYTimes.com] – [The gap between being a customer and being a happy customer. Will Facebook be like Microsoft in a few decades, *still* whining about not being beloved – let alone actively disliked?] It was a typically vexing week for Facebook. On the one hand, the social-networking service signed up its 500 millionth active user. On the other hand, it was found to be one of the least popular private-sector companies in the United States by the American Customer Satisfaction Index. Apparently, Americans were more satisfied filing their taxes online than they were posting updates on their Facebook page. It is a continuing contradiction: Facebook is widely criticized for shifting its terms of service and for disclosing private information — and yet millions of people start accounts each month.
  • [from steve_portigal] Digital Domain – Even With All Its Profits, Microsoft Has a Popularity Problem [NYTimes.com] – [We want your money and your love!] Microsoft’s enterprise software business alone is approaching the size of Oracle. But despite that astounding growth, Microsoft must accept that, fair or not, victories on the enterprise side draw about as much attention as being the No. 1 wholesale seller of plumbing supplies. Microsoft won’t receive the adoring attention that its chief rival draws with products like the iPad. In a conversation earlier this month, Mr. Shaw explained what prompted him to write his post. “I noticed some pretty critical conversations going on in the technosphere among the technorati,” he said. “There’s a gap between that conversation ­ ‘the company is not doing well, period’ ­ and what the company is actually doing.” In the blog, he writes, “With Windows 7, Office 2010, Bing, Xbox 360, Kinect, Windows Phone 7, in our cloud platform, and many other products, services and happy customers, 2010 is shaping up as a huge year for us.”

ChittahChattah Quickies

ChittahChattah Quickies

  • Paul Graham on the "social norm" problem with the Segway – This is a point I made in my interactions column "Some Different Approaches To Making Stuff" – Kamen is the genius who got it wrong, because he focused only on technology and not on culture and behavior.

    "The Segway hasn't delivered on its initial promise, to put it mildly. There are several reasons why, but one is that people don't want to be seen riding them. Someone riding a Segway looks like a dork.

    My friend Trevor Blackwell built his own Segway, which we called the Segwell. He also built a one-wheeled version, the Eunicycle, which looks exactly like a regular unicycle till you realize the rider isn't pedaling. He has ridden them both to downtown Mountain View to get coffee. When he rides the Eunicycle, people smile at him. But when he rides the Segwell, they shout abuse from their cars: "Too lazy to walk, ya fuckin homo?"

    Why do Segways provoke this reaction? The reason you look like a dork riding a Segway is that you look smug. You don't seem to be working hard enough."

  • Like Nike+ for happiness, iPhone app is data collection for PhD thesis – "At repeated periods throughout the day you'll be pinged by your iPhone either by email or by SMS, and prompted to answer a short one-minute survey. This one asks how happy you are, what you're doing (yes, "making love" is an option, though hopefully it's an activity you'd prioritize over doing some science) whether you exercised recently, whether you're alone, who you're talking to and what you're thinking about." Essentially a "beeper study" but somehow a more viral story ("iPhone"!) than normal.
  • 'True Blood' Beverage – "Inspired by HBO's hugely successful vampire drama series, True Blood, Omni Consumer Products struck a deal with the network's licensing division to releasing 'Tru Blood' the actual beverage..a drinkable product inspired by a beverage meant to taste like blood so that fake vampires from a pay-cable TV show can survive without having to resort to feasting on humans."

I’m not saying the book was entirely my idea or anything…

This review of Malcolm Gladwell’s Outliers (an exploration of what causes people to be successful; get a taste from this recent New Yorker piece) reminded me of a long-ago correspondence I had with Mr. Gladwell.


Date: 6/16/01
From: Steve Portigal (steve.portigal@—–)
To: Malcolm Gladwell (malcolm@—-)

I just thought I’d get the “I’m a fan!” thing out of the way up front…

[rambling enthusiastic feedback, introduction, etc. snipped]


Date: 6/18/01
From: Malcolm Gladwell (malcolm@—-)
To: Steve Portigal (steve.portigal@—–)

hi there. thanks for the sweet email. i’m delighted you find my stories interesting. and i love the auto seat anectode (which i have already shared with my editor). your job sounds very cool. if you ever run across what seems to be a cool case study, do let me know. cheers, mtg


Date: 8/28/01
From: Steve Portigal (steve.portigal@—–)
To: Malcolm Gladwell (malcolm@—-)

I don’t know I’ve got a case study, but a couple of ideas that seem (to me) deserving of your insight.

Dynasties – how the hell in the US can the son of a president grow up to be president? And his brother is the governor of a state? I mean, there’s something very obvious about parents passing opportunities and values onto their children but is it more than that? What about the social structures we’ve erected that suggest that anyone can be anything they want? Is there something about biology here?

Prodigies – the sports issue of the New Yorker had a thing about Tiger Woods (this was months ago) that kind of had me scratching my head – by some random set of circumstances he picked up a club at a young age, and was good at it. His parents noticed this (another perhaps rare condition) and encouraged it (yet another one), and voila.

How many prodigies are there that never encounter a violin or whatever? Are they born, or made?


Date: 8/30/01
From: Malcolm Gladwell (malcolm@—-)
To: Steve Portigal (steve.portigal@—–)

hi there. thanks for the story ideas.

Why do people adapt to some new technologies and not to others?

Haven’t seen any posts about The Risk of Innovation: Will Anyone Embrace It? from the weekend NYT. Perhaps it’s because the thesis isn’t novel or well articulated? G. Pascal Zachary reminds us unnecessarily that some products are hard to use and that some products are released but fail miserably. He conflates technology and innovation, and ignores any notion of user experience or marketplace success from his implicit definition of innovation. And he reminds us that getting people to buy and use something new is the big question that all companies want an answer to.

These are good themes to be explored further. Zachary wasn’t given the time or the space to offer anything new on the topic, though, and I end up wondering just why the paper did this particular article anyway.

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