Thinking Out Loud … On Design Thinking

Full disclosure – I’m writing again for class. And I’ve been agonizing for a while now, thinking that I’ve been being a slacker and not doing any “homework” for my independent study. Well, yesterday as I was reading a book that had been recommended during my summer class, I realized that it absolutely qualifies as independent study. And better than that, there are even concepts that I think I can use in the project that I’m planning to pursue as well as in my day-to-day work. So here goes nothing, thinking aloud about what I’ve been reading in Predictably Irrational, by Dan Ariely.

The big concept I was reading about yesterday had to do with how we as humans react to things that are free. Funny thing – my daughter and I were just talking about this the other day. She is smitten with free things – even things that she knows she’ll end up carrying home and throwing away. So I can honestly say I’ve frequently watched this behavior play out in my own household.

But how might I employ this knowledge in terms of driving engagement in an external community? Here is the part where I’m truly thinking out loud. One of the ways I imagine I’d want to use an external community is to gather feedback about product direction. Put these two things together, and I can see simply asking customers to participate in a survey. No gimmicks, just help give us a bunch of data that will help us in our design efforts. This leans on social norms, presenting a friendly request for assistance. Obviously there is the possibility that participation will help design a better product, but with no guarantees it is really good faith on the part of the participant.

Of course, you can only go to the well so many times and people get tired of helping out. So perhaps we could use the built-in community rules engine to periodically invite people who have participated in surveys to participate in a different way – offer them a free gift as a token of appreciation for their participation. The free gift could be some corporate merchandise (a backpack, or a laptop sleeve, for example).

How about the idea of asking a select set of customers to write blog posts on a product or industry topic, and everyone who submits their post by a specific date gets entered into a drawing for free admission to the company’s annual user conference? I think there you actually have a few things going on the customer side of it – the probability of gaining recognition as an expert by having your post published, along with the possibility of getting free admission to a premiere event.

The platform could also be used to market the conference, and offer up some select spots in one of the breakout sessions for customers who help moderate a specific topic area in the community for a given set of time.

I’m sure as I think more about this topic, I’ll come up with additional suggestions. And now I don’t need to feel guilty about reading this book and avoiding homework. Maybe I’m not as bad at independent study as I thought, I just need to take the time to reflect on what I’m learning and what the possible applications might be.

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Pondering the question of focus

I had a really interesting conversation today with an executive in the company we acquired last year. She was talking about how different their (old) corporate culture was, and how that has probably been the hardest part of the integration over the last year. One of the biggest differences she sees is that their culture has always been fully focused externally – working with and for their customers, usually to the exclusion of everything else. She and her colleagues hear us talk about customer focus and kind of giggle. In their eyes they don’t talk about it, they just live it.

inside outside

This discussion has been bumping around in my brain since then. I’ll acknowledge that my company does a fair bit of navel gazing, and sharing internally, and focusing on developing employees. So I’m struggling with… defending isn’t really the right word. I’m thinking about pros and cons of internal focus in an effort to help explain how having a balance of the two can in fact strengthen the moments of external focus. And what I’m writing is really me thinking out loud.

It seems to me that if you are constantly in external focus mode, you don’t have time to strategize. Without time to reflect, how do you learn? And if it is all about forging ahead, how do you spread knowledge to reduce the learning curve for those around you? Serendipitous events wouldn’t have the ability to become movements. Continuous improvement has no chance when there is no time to even glance inward. Personal growth is stunted by a lack of time and energy. And actually, looking at that shell image I inserted into this post make me think about analogies. How every person is then in their own little cell where the only window is looking outward. You can’t see what’s going on to either side of you. You are blinkered.

Obviously too much internal focus means you are spending too much time within your own four walls never looking out. While this allow things to stay neat and clean, and gives you plenty of time to spruce the place up, if you have no one to show it off to, there’s not much point. And in business, that would also mean that you’d eventually run out of customers because you’ve spent too much time talking about how to make them the focus on not enough time just doing it.

So how to explain to convince someone that taking time away from that external focus can make the time they spend externally more valuable? That internal focus can help renewing, refresh and refocus employees? That having that minute to breathe can spark the creativity needed to solve thorny problems?

I see a glimmer, and so maybe it just takes patience and some examples. A little evidence and some more time to quell the fear. And maybe, just maybe, this ties back to my earlier thoughts on trust.