In this episode of Hooray for Failure we explore the power of fear and how it drives our behavior away from failure with the delightful Ishita Gupta. Ishita is founder of Fear.less Magazine and Ishita Gupta Media. Fear.less has been called “Fast Company meets Oprah” by its 15,000+ readers, and is the leading digital magazine featuring best-known names in business on how to live without fear. Ishita worked with America’s #1 Marketer, Seth Godin to build her own business helping entrepreneurs thrive, build confidence and make more sales. We also share the story of Jia Jiang, who decided to find 100 ways to create moments of failure as a way of learning.
In this episode we explore failure as a learning laboratory. Renee Hopkins spends some time chatting with us about the failure of print journalism (and her super power for escaping it), the challenges of helping innovation thought leaders to innovate (and her work with Innochat), and the lack of room for failure in the “perfect enterprise”. We also have a great conversation about the semantic minefield that is innovation. And a snapshot of a spectacular failure on the part of the UN in Bangladesh in the 1950′s-60′s during which they went from failure to failure.
One of the skills that rose to the fore over the course of BIF-9 was the concept of problem-finding. In an age of relentless performance improvement and waster mitigation, solution creation has been the default position of most enterprises and their employee members. At BIF-9 we learned that solution creating is all well and good but if you are solving the wrong problem, or if you haven’t framed the problem appropriately, you will waste a whole lot of time, energy and resources—possibly evening compounding the very thing you were trying to improve.
I am not often moved when people share deeply personal experiences in public forums. When Whitney Johnson took the stage and revealed a deeply personal and tragic story from her life I had misgivings primarily driven from my own discomfort with bearing witness to her grief. The story she shared wove beautifully into her exploration of the notion of “showing up,” — being present and fully in the moment rather than paying casual attention to participation.
Do I dare disturb the universe? - T.S. Elliott
Johnson noted that you can not give up without dreaming but you cannot show up unless you dream. The key is that you have to show up to make the kind of difference that you want to make in the world. When we show up we open ourselves up to disappointment and failure. Being a victim is a pretty seductive plotline.
Dreaming is at the heart of disruption. In order to make the leap from one learning curve to the next you have to show up.
If showing up is the first step in appropriate problem-finding then moving from symptoms to root causes is the next. People mostly spend their lives managing the symptoms of problems but very rarely address the causes, said Roseanne Haggerty. While working with homeless youth in Times Square in New York City Haggerty discovered that without a home to go back to the issues of homeless could not be addressed by interim housing solutions. A permanent home solution was required.
To highlight the importance of the right question, Haggerty shared a powerful story of her own experience providing support to homeless people in Time Square. A woman on staff called from Bellevue Hospital, she said that a service-resistant person, Sarah, had informed her that Haggerty was her next of kin. When they finally connected in person, Haggerty asked why Sarah had been service-resistant, she found it was because the right questions had not been asked. “You didn’t ask me if I wanted a home,” stated Sarah.
This lead to the realization that we needed a solution that we hadn’t recognized before.
They created a new project using an ex-military intelligence officer who mapped the homeless in Times Square and through the application of data mapping and management they developed appropriate individualized solutions to the needs of the homeless. 100,000 Homes Campaign came out of this effort. This resulted in communities becoming energized by providing long term solutions based on the right processes, learning tools, and collaborations. From the housing efforts you can move towards long term systemic solutions that address the problem at heart.
Solutions can arise out of the most remarkable realizations.
A human rights lawyer who is the CEO of a luxury fashion brand, Paul van Zyl grew up in apartheid South Africa. His parents said they lived in an evil society and it was their moral obligation to change it. He became a lawyer to change a system that demanded to be changed. There were few business leaders who were admirable role models; lawyers offered a more viable role model alternative.
With partners, van Zyl created a luxury brand, Maiyet (after the Egyptian Goddess of Truth and Harmony) that is found on social justice and economic empowerment. At BIF-9 he shared a story about the Varanasi silk weavers in India, and noted that Varanasi is a seed bed of cross cultural and religious collaboration. The hand woven silk is some of the most beautiful in the world, and was in danger of being wiped out by low-cost Chinese manufacturers across the border. Maiyet seeks rare skills from unique and unexpected places in the world and have partnered with NEST to be able to bring products to market in a sustainable way. Working with David Adjaye to design and build a custom facility in Varanasi to ensure that this culture and these skills don’t die off.
You need to combine design with training and support and also access to markets, said van Zyl. Then you create real value:
- Value for artisans – they are paid what they are worth
- Value for brands – access to things of extraordinary and unique beauty
- Value for consumers – ownership of things that would otherwise be unavailable.
While Pauk van Zyl offered solutions for ensuring cultural longevity, Carmen Medina tackled the need to transform the culture of one of our own lasting artifacts, the corporation. Along with her partner in crime Lois Kelly, Medina presented the case for Rebels at Work, a movement dedicated to unlocking the potential of those who question the status quo inside the corporate sphere (also, see the way in which David Butler, at Coke, is sowing the seeds to capitalize on this concept.)
There is a worldwide conspiracy for the preservation of meritocracy. Not all are conspirators but many of us are unwitting co-conspirators.
Medina noted that most of the people talking at BIF are independent agents. They are usually trying to change systems from the outside. They are building alternative models and creating places for people to go. Those who are heretics at work need to learn to be uncomfortable so that they can do similar work insider their companies and organizations. The world needs rebels at work now more than ever, because we cannot tear down everything and replace it with something new. We don’t have that kind of time. We must change what we have and unlock the value already resident in our organizations.
As we shift the dialogue about our organizations and our roles in them, we can begin to reframe so many of the things that we take at face value. The challenges of managing our health and how we age were two additional areas that were presented for reframing.
The CEO of VisualMD, Alexander Tsiaris, showed us the power of visual information in changing the choices we make about managing our health. VisualMD is the NIH meets Pixar. It is a home for visualization artists, fine artists, researchers, high-level programmers all working in concert with a collection of huge amounts of data – they produce 150TB for every project they do. His company tells stories based on the data —it is story that gives the soul to the data.
The beauty of visualization is that it speaks to everyone.
Tsiaris believes we have to change the paradigm, using storytelling at the beginning of the spectrum to help people tell stories about what is going on inside their body. VisualMD created an ecosystem that helps people build a story about themselves which can be a part of an holistic educational system about personal health. If all your personal health records can be supplemented by a whole range of relevant sources and resources they can help you contextualize your health state.
Little stories from big data that explain little things going on inside your body so that you can understand the implications and be un-intimidated by the process.
As Tsiaris showed us the power of information in reframing how we see ourselves, Alan Webber, co-founder of FastCompany magazine and author, shared the value of reframing the public and private discourse we have about aging. The conversation is not about aging. It’s the wrong label. The categories are wrong for the way we live today. It’s about living and how we choose to live our lives. It applies not just only retirees, it is everyone no matter where they are in life’s journey.
This is not about career. It’s about making all the transitions over the course of a life and is explored in Webber’s book (co-authored with Richard J. Leider), Life Re-imagined. The conversation needs to be about how to cope with pain and possibility—answering the question, “What’s Next?”
To that end Webber offered “What’s Next” words to live by:
Everyone’s life is an experiment of one – no one can tell you how to do it.
No one should do it alone – everyone needs someone to help them with their experiment.
A good question beats a good answer. How are you seeking out the right questions so you can focus on the right problem? And who are you asking to help you on the way?
One of the true pleasures of BIF-9 was seeing the range of experimentation on display. Straight out of the gate we were dazzled by the wise beyond his years, Easton LaChapelle. This young man, with the earnestness of someone out to change the world took us through the development of his robotic prosthetic are and bio-feedback remote-manipulation glove (designed using an old Nintendo PowerGlove no less!). What was most remarkable about LaChapelle’s projects was how quickly he was iterating them, how much knowledge he had to acquire to make them work, and how much he is driving cost out of the equation.
This is someone for whom the pursuit of knowledge is not only valuable act in itself, this is the engine that fuels his ability to innovate.
LaChapelle’s most compelling tale arose out of a time when he was at a science fair and met a girl with a prosthetic whose single servo, single sensor, arm cost $80,000. He responded with a completely 3D printed prosthetic arm that can be produced in a week for $400, is approximately 10 lbs today (planned to be 4-5 lbs), and can be controlled using your brain. The resulting arm shook the hand of the President.
Also demonstrating the power of experimentation was the the delightful Ping Fu, CEO of Geomagic. She started Geomagic as a result of the work of Chuck Hull who created the world’s largest 3D printing company. Ping Fu is creating a platform for connecting the real world with the virtual world. She demonstrated her enthusiasm for pushing he envelop of 3D printing by dressing in fashion accessories produced by 3D printing, including rocking some fantastic and other-worldly hot pink platform shoes.
She was not the only person to bring props. Dava Newman, Professor of Aeronautics, Astronautics and Engineering Systems at MIT, also brought props—spacesuits, but these were not your father’s spacesuits. As an engineering professor she studies motion on earth and in space. She brought three spacesuit versions to illustrate the evolution of extravehicular space wear and to discuss the experiments conducted to produce them. Building a suit that doesn’t require the astronaut to overcome the pressure of the suit is the chief concern now that environmental considerations are fully understood. Today she and her team are considering electro-spun designer materials. Spraying asymmetry into the functional membranes layer-by-layer gives them more of the multi-directional movement they are seeking
BIF-9 was not only about experimenting in physical space, it also revealed the opportunities for learning through experimentation between physical and mental spaces
Through the work of his performance art collective, Big Nazo, Erminio Pinque demonstrated the power of changing up reality. He presented mask work and street theatre and delved into the chaos that occurs on a controlled level through that ground-level interaction.
What I’m doing is absurd on a number of levels. There was no business plan. Instead I moved forward with intensity and love of transforming spaces and moments.
The delight in seeing the Big Nazo characters next to children become children was contagious in the room. Seeing the world differently in order to shift the context launched us into whole other directions.
Paul LeBlanc, the President of Southern New Hampshire University, shared his university’s major initiative—College for America that is disaggregating the tertiary education experience. By unbundling college education, College for America is making higher education accessible to a much broader range of student participants.
The USA is behind much of EU and Canada, as LeBlanc clearly identified. He also emphatically made the case that education remains the difference-maker for intergenerational mobility. LeBlanc shared the story of Zac Sherman working making Slim Jims on the midnight shift who earned his Associates Degree for $1250 in 100 days. An exceptional example certainly but one that illustrated the power of will when the economic imbalance is addressed.
Education and a degree changes the trajectory of people’s lives.
In order to recapture that mobility something needs to change: we need to be clear about what needs fixing; we need to consider the power of disaggregation; and, we need to be clearer about how technology can be deployed.
With his pop-up Jazz trio who had not played together before hitting the stage, Carl Störmer, shared the incredibly personal story of his wife’s stroke and the power of giving over to the inspiration of improvisation. He noted that small groups mean solos for everyone – moments to shine, take individual risks—the same can be said in organization life.
Here is a little of the improvised music that Carl shared (forgive the recording, it was captured on a whim and at a distance)
Create a network and share. Being personal without being private. They built a network of people who could provide just-in-time support. By sharing, people know when and how to help you give you the things you really need.
Control is for beginners – Carl Stormer’s wife
Let go of the notion of where we want to go. And be open to what is going on. True of jazz and true of life. Be open to the implicit and opening order of things.
Mary Flanagan added to the mix by exploring the role of games and game play in helping people understand their world and improve it. She is exploring how people might be moved to be come an effective force for change and presented a game she worked on engage people in considering vaccination—POX.
New technology is boundless but our greatest achievements lie not so much in our breakthroughs but in how these breakthroughs are used to better the world around us.
Her card game, Buffalo, was a fantastic low-tech demonstration of how a game might address stereotypes in sciences. It directly tackled, Social Identity Complexity. The purpose of the game was to open receptivity to learning about complex social identities. Flanagan believes we can change, even without the desire to want to change. This game helps people recognize their own prejudices based on availability bias. In recognizing that we can begin to change it.
The most surprising storyteller who revealed the power of experimentation as a learning opportunity was the Chief Marketing Officer of The Coca-Cola Company, David Butler. Butler showed how even the largest of enterprises can learn how to experiment and capitalize on their size as a platform for innovation.
Start-ups know how to start but not how to scale. Big companies know how to scale but not how to start.
Butler illustrated the differences between start-ups and larger enterprises…
Start-ups know how to start:
- Developing assets
- Rapid learning
Enterprises know how to scale:
- Leveraging assets
- Network effects
To demonstrate how serious Coke is about tackling the start-up mindset, Butler shared the wealth of experiments that they have launched or are about to:
Coke is the first non-tech company that has joined the Start-up Weekend events and sponsoring 10 Maker-focused weekends. They are sponsoring the first start-up weekend in Myanmar. They have created a co-working space inside Coke and are hosting a series of in house unconferences. On top of that they are hosting their first failure conference and first Hackathons inside Coke.
If a company like Coke, founded in 1886, has developed this mindful approach to experimentation and learning, there is no excuse for any other large enterprise not to reinvent itself.
To start the day off I had a great conversation with seat mate and recovering journalist, Helen Walters from Doblin. We covered: Conferences. Curation. Presentation delivery bar being raised. And the Conference Industrial Complex. I love her manner of inquiry.
Saul Kaplan opened the day by reflecting on what the success of the BIF summit means. He noted, “People need to draw their own conclusions because the value is in what you learn as a participant.” Saul also reflected on the fact that innovators, even though they come with deep subject matter expertise, are in constant search for what they are missing. This mindset is something that informs how Roger Martin, Dean of the Rotman School of Business at the University of Toronto thinks about innovation and to whom Saul nodded.
Umair Haque, Director of the Havas Media Lab and author of The New Capitalist Manifesto: Building a Disruptively Better Business, lead the Day 2 presentations by delivering his session live from Pakistan. We talked yesterday about transforming education and healthcare. Haque is focused on transforming the mother of all systems, capitalism.
Haque opened with the fact that Pakistan has ground to a halt due to an outbreak of Denge Fever.
What the religious fundamentalists haven’t been able to achieve in two decades, the mosquitoes have accomplished in two months in Lahore. – Umair Haque
He stated that Pakistan is a functional economy against which he compared the aspirational economy of India. By way of framing his approach to capitalism, Haque quoted from Joseph Shcumpeter’s work, “Can Capitalism Survive?” Schumpeter’s assessment was that no, capitalism cannot survive because the range of needs of human beings is endless and that it will collapse under its own weight. Haque’s additional framing is to offer the concept of the opulent economy and its attendant ills: dumbification, inequity, social unrest, abject poverty. The quest for more, bigger, faster, cheaper, now is going to fade.
In the place of opulence, Haque offers up a model of capitalism based on fitter, smarter, tougher, closer, and wiser. The term he uses is eudaimonia which is founded in “human flourishing.” This transition will take years, if not a decade according to Haque. However the range of change required is transformational
The artist, screenwriter, and author behind “The Polar Express” and many other books, Chris Van Allsburg came to the stage next. He shared a story about Annie Edson Taylor, the first woman to go over Niagara Falls in a barrel. [It should be mentioned I have a relative who self-selected from the gene pull by swimming the river that feeds these Falls, Captain Webb who was a British dare devil.] Van Allsburg’s book is called, “Queen of the Falls”
In sharing his journey to creating this book, Van Allsburg talked about the narrative choices he made in conjunction with the illustrative choices, such as superimposing a building into the Falls to illustrate their size. He also discussed how he fleshed out her life’s story and how he captured her journey to the moment she decided to go over the Falls in a barrel. She had no experience in barrel-making or dare-devilry and yet, like most innovators, she had a persistent belief in her own vision and the will to drive it to successful completion.
This presentation offered a glimpse into both the subject of Van Allsburg’s heroine as well as the author artist’s role in capturing her journey in a meaningful and accessible manner. To see and hear how he pulled together the elements of his book into a cohesive whole was intriguing. It was a wonderful and revealing view of the care required to construct meaning.
Alexander Osterwalder was a pinch-hitter due to the schedule shift on Day 1 with Erin Mote being called away by Secretary of State, Hilary Clinton, to go to the West Bank. Alex is the lead author/editor of the book, “Business Model Generation” which was essentially co-created with a large number of practitioners.
This book arose from Alex’s doctoral thesis which contained the word ontology, which Alex noted is the word that enables you to earn a Ph.D! The first time the book was able to be held by Alex was actually at BIF5 two years ago. And with book in hand Alex found that he struggled to define himself when asked by people – author?, entrepreneur?, public speaker?, academic? None of which seemed to fit. Instead he says he is,
I’m somebody who likes to *break* the rules and make stuff.
Alex provided some statistics to create context for the environment into which his book might be delivered. 1,000,000 books published in English in a year. 11,000 of those are business books. Cumulatively there are 250,000 business books competing for shelf-space. Business books sell 250 copies on average. A highly challenging environment in which to launch a new book.
He identified some of the challenges of business books which sounded like an offshoot of the Goldilocks tale: too heavy, too light, to wordy, to impractical. To break this paradigm Alex and the wider team looked at a very broad range of works for inspiration and sought to cerate a book that they would love to buy. The first step was to hire a designer and assemble a broader team to create and build the ecosystem around the development of the book. The end result is a highly visual book with white space and different ways of laying out the book to engage and attract to ensure the book had a high degree of utility.
The book became the co-created work of 470 people around the world. They also charged for participation and raised the price of the book time and time again from $24 to $81. The last chance payment was $250 in order to have your name in the book before publication. What was the reason for the attractiveness of the value proposition? Being first. Being a part of something bigger. An opportunity to learn from each other.
Instead of a marketing budget, the book project had a built in community of people who were proud advocates for the book in the marketplace. The backbone for bringing the book to light was the internet. There was a freemium offer of a third of the book. Then came the challenge of managing the logistics of dealing with shipping all over the way. The initial approach with a Dutch company was an abject failure and then they went back to Amazon for fulfillment. The initial success attracted a large publisher, Wiley.
The book is available around the world and it has been scheduled to be translated into 22 other languages. The ideas are available around the world and are tearing down the barriers to business everywhere.
This was a great example of building a community to launch a book to the heights of success.
The Co-Founder of Futurlogic, Jon Cropper next came up to talk about seduction a distillation of 15 years of his life into 15 minutes. And he survived being tortured by P-Diddy running his company for a year. He shared nine elements that drive seduction:
Self awareness – know yourself
Environmental – the conditions and context of performance
Design – aesthetics matter (the fusion of a simple exterior with a complex interior – “simplexity”)
Understanding – listening and compassion
Communication – the power of great storytelling
Trust – in others and delivering on your promise
Inspiration – create an educational, inspirational operating philosophy
Open – generosity feeds the soul
New – rejuvenation, repetition and constant renewal
Cropper offered a series of personal anecdotes and observations that revealed those things that resonate most deeply with him about the power of seduction within innovation.
Generosity and appreciation create the optimal output performance of your heart.
And we’re back from our first morning session and ready for our pre-lunch immersion. The first speaker up is Andy van Dam. He earned the second computer science degree in the world and is the Thomas J. Watson, Jr., University Professor of Technology and Education and Professor of Computer Science at Brown University. He is interested in exploring the intersection between art and computer science. His focus in this session was using the computer to access traditional artwork that would be otherwise inaccessible.
He examined the special problems of especially large artworks. With a graduate student driving he explored several large scale pieces of art including: a fresco of Egyptian art (an essential form of storytelling), the Bayeux Tapestry, and the Garibaldi Panorama (which was digitized by Brown University.) The scroll was the popular form of entertainment in its day. Measuring 4½ feet high and 273 feet long, the Garibaldi Panorama is one of the longest paintings in the world. The work depicts the life story of Italian patriot Giuseppe Garibaldi, who played a major role in the unification of Italy. The late Dr. James Walter Smith donated the relic to Brown in 2005.
In summer 2007, special funding enabled library staff and technicians from Boston Photo, a leading museum reprographics company, to fashion a makeshift photo studio in the central gallery of the Annmary Brown Memorial. They slowly and surely unrolled the panorama — six feet at a time — in order to take 91 digital photographs. The photographs will now be melded into a continuous image online. The genius of this digitization was the arrival of the Microsoft Surface operating system which had a deep zoom technology allowing an incredible level of accessibility and little instruction required to be able to view and explore the artwork.
There are two modes of access – the walk-up or the viewer mode. The walk-up mode provdes image-only view where the viewer mode introduces additional contextual information, including Ken Burns’-style image inclusion of external data and embedded video. The legibility of the artwork and the additional materials is supported by high definition capture. Additional Photoshop-like tools enable elemental image color manipulation.
The end goal is to create a platform that can be used by museums and galleries to quickly produce similar art work tours. The Tour Authoring Tool itself is like a basic asynchronous editing suite for video, which enables the addition of multiple digital assets. The tool itself is produced by the Brown Center for Digital Initiatives. They are working with the Forbidden City in Beijing on the Ching Ming Festival Scroll as well as other institutes around the world.
Display technology is going to be replaced by organic light-emitting diodes which means all surfaces around us will be interactive for display and immersion purposes. The only question is, “What won’t we be able to do?!”
Byron Reeves is a Professor at Stanford University; a Behavioral Scientist, Author, and proponent of Interactive Gaming & Virtual Worlds in the Workplace. He came to share his thoughts about gamification and the social implications of the impact of gaming in everyday life and social system change. Reeves is an expert on the psychological processing of media in the areas of attention, emotions, learning, and physiological responses, and has published over 100 scientific papers about media and psychology.
He noted that most people who study TV as academics profess a disdain for the medium. He, however, professed his love for it. (My wife, Jo, and Professor Reeves have this in common!) To illustrate the impact of captivation and engagement he shared a picture of himself in front of a TV and then showed the complete transformation of immersion via the game experience – in World of Warcraft. This captivation triggered the question about what else you could use this kind of captivation for?
In supporting his children at their swim meets he had a fortuitous encounter with J. Leighton Read. And Read asked, “Byron, what’s cool in your lab right now?” Which he did. He described the impact of captivation as represented by gaming. When Reeves asked Read the same question, Read described his exploration of the world of work and the chaos of not knowing how to measure what success looked like until the quarterly (or annual) review. Based on this conversation they decided to collaborate.
How might we wire-up the world of work so that it more closely represented a community-based, collaborative game environment with an epic narrative?
First they needed to address the stereotyping that pervades the conversation around games. The generation that is growing up in the world of games have integrated them into their lives. The addition of narratives and participation within the context of gaming and their integration with work have the potential to transform the business world.
The work that gaming prepares you for is complex. Learning through games, arbitrary information, becomes everyday food for thought and becomes a part of its own reward. Engagement at work is a huge issue and Reeves notes that people will make mistakes. But the amount of work in games is only going to increase. Cisco sales reps play a “Closer” game. IBM teams meeting as avatars on projects. The range of examples Reeves shared was incredibly broad and rich and all of them were supported by huge amounts of information technology.
Reeves noted the danger associated with this effort. The impact of over-engagement and OSHA implications as people develop repetitive strain injuries. Or tax laws given the location of work.
Reeves left us with the question, “What would it be like if work and play were a little more alike?”
Mari Kurashi is the co-founder and president of Global Giving which connects individual and institutional donors directly to social, economic development, and environmental projects around the world. Mari is doing work on the social entrepreneur front to bring problems into alignment with the available range of solutions.
The questions that Mari is asked are usually framed as “Did you know…?” And her response is that she didn’t have a clue that she would have this kind of impact on the world. To help us understand her journey she recounted her childhood and high school attendance in West Germany and a day trip to see the Berlin Wall. The biggest impact was the way in which the East Germans on the other side of the Wall didn’t turn to look at the people who were looking at them. She was intrigued by this and wanted to understand how a social system could create behavior that was so counter to biological drive.
She became focused on studying and learning about the Soviet Union (primarily to avoid becoming an “O.L.” and Office Lady in Japan as her visa was in doubt.) In the middle of her Ph.D. studies the Soviet Union began to fall apart and she was dismayed by the fact that political science couldn’t predict this outcome. She went to work at the World Bank (a job that she got “on a fluke”) without any idea what the institution did and what economic development entailed. She was one of three people out of one hundred who could actually speak Russian. She was in the right place at the right time.
Her passion for wanting to reverse the regime of communism in the Soviet Union was something that Mari was focused on but her time at the World Bank came to an end – in a last chance innovation program. They created a marketplace inside the World Bank in 2000 which essentially used elements of crowdsourcing. The success of this program was hampered by the inability of the World Bank to focus o this. In this realization Mari decided to leave the World Bank to pursue this concept for addressing global poverty.
The compelling thread that runs through Mari’s narrative is the notion of personal risk. Time and time again she made huge life shifts with little understanding of what she knew or didn’t know. And by approaching her life’s work with beginner’s mind (and what she sees as incredible luck) she made her way in the world.
Mari brought her presentation back to eudaimonia and the notion of how a virtuous, life well lived fits together. She said, you must decide and practice and choose how best to fit these virtues together. Eudaimonia is a deliberate practice for integration of new options that make sense to you over time.
A long-time BIF attendee and presenter Dennis Littky, Co-founder and Director of The Big Picture Company, began with the words, “Highschools suck.” Littky talked about how the current state of our schools and colleges impacts the least prepared the most. The poor, the disenfranchised, the economically disenfranchised suffer the most from education systems that are inflexible and immovable.
Dennis had one of the students who had participated in The Big Picture Company talked about her personal journey and the power of hands-on learning. She described her education journey interviewing people at BIF and her world travels too. A remarkable perspective on what education might become, if only we have the vision to realize that the tools we need are already at hand. Our minds must change to accommodate new ways of seeing and creating the world.
Littky shared a sobering statistic – every 12 seconds a child drops out of schools. In our time at BIF7 that was 9600 children. A criminal failure of the highest order.
Littky shared his work and his focus on fighting to transform the urban school experience as a way of combating this appalling drop-out rate. His work focuses on connecting with kids, finding out about the, finding their passions, and helping them design education experiences that meet their learning needs. Drop-outs lowered to single digits (from 46% in the Providence, RI school district0 and 100% of students who stayed went onto college. As a result the Gates Foundation sponsored a massive expansion of the program worldwide.
His recent focus was the drop-out rate at the college level. 89% of first generation college attendees drop out. His work is now focused on creating a college that uses the same model of community-based learning and engagement that has been deployed in the secondary schools program. The end result is that the first class of students is graduating this year.
Next up Littky is going to focus on adult education. What a dynamo he is.
He is looking for adult mentors; consider connecting with Dennis via Twitter if you think you have something to offer.
This ended my sojourn at BIF7.
The unspoken goal of innovation is to delight. In their delight, the user or recipient of the innovation validates the efforts made on their behalf to dispel their problem. For an innovator the joy comes from recognizing pain, suffering, heartache, or confusion and then conceiving of and designing something that takes that misery away.
If necessity is the mother of invention, then necessity can be one mean mommy, because innovation requires a challenge to address, and by its very nature, innovation has misery at its root.
To feel envy is human, to savor schadenfreude is devilish.
- Arthur Schopenhauer
Recently there was a slideshow post at the Huffington Post about the top consumer complaints to the FTC (the Federal Trade Commission, a United States regulatory body ). Over the course of 2010, the FTC received a total of 1,339,265 complaints filed. That’s a whole lot of unhappiness. When I first read this list, given my background in customer service and technical support environments, I was not surprised. It included such complaints as credit card charges, prizes, sweepstakes and lotteries, and identity theft (No. 1 by an 8 percent margin).
As I considered the list, I began to think of this as a great opportunity for innovation. Any one of these areas could be a huge goldmine for the willing innovator.
Something grim this ways comes
It is only through labor and painful effort, by grim energy and resolute courage, that we move on to better things.
- Theodore Roosevelt
What about the industries with the highest number of customer complaints? Well, let’s go to the data. At the top of the list are cellular telephone vendors, equipment manufacturers, and network providers. Given the ubiquity of these highly complex devices, seeing this industry at the top of the list is not surprising. What is more interesting is the fact that banks are near the top of this industry survey, too—ahead of collection agencies and used car dealers. The increasing complexity of available services for consumer banking combined with a less-than-transparent approach to fee implementation might make this an area ripe for transformation.
But the most compelling data from an innovation opportunity perspective is not which industries reside at the top of the list. The greatest opportunities lie in those industries with the widest margin between customer complaints and the percentage of complaints that are resolved. That is the place of greatest pain. That is also the place where there might be rich human experience that could feed innovative solutions.
The banks’ attempts to resolve the customer issues see them at the peak. By addressing 100 percent of the complaints within 30 days, they’re not leaving much room for customer attrition. While the cellular phone companies have the most complaints, they are also doing a fairly decent job of addressing customers’ needs in a timely fashion. It’s those companies who deliver large physical products (cars, used cars, furniture) who seem to be failing to resolve customer issues quickly enough. Based on my customer service experience, I see a significant opportunity in this space to convert customers through service and support innovation.
Make the pain go away. Make a customer for life.
What people need and what they want may be very different.
- Elbert Hubbard
Clayton Christensen described the inherent need behind any successful innovation was a particular “job-to-be-done” by a customer. Here is an article in MIT Sloan Management magazine that highlights the theory behind the approach. The job-to-be-done theory holds that products and services are most successful when they connect a circumstance with a job that customers need to get done. By identifying those jobs people really care about and developing products and services that make it easier to achieve these jobs, companies can identify new markets that they were previously unaware of or that could not be uncovered by traditional market segmentation. The key ”a-ha” is that jobs-to-be-done are actually an indicator of customer pain and frustration.
When you look at the number of complaints in the segments above, you can choose to see a whole world of hurt. An innovator will see something different: They choose to see a realm of possibility.
Complaints arise from an unmet need, which often may be simply resolved, except the customer doesn’t know how to access the solution. Sometimes those needs may be quite complex, revealing a gap in functionality or utility that should be closed. Regardless, each and every complaint represents a unique opportunity to fulfill a job-to-be-done. If these needs remain unfulfilled, not only is the innovation opportunity lost, but the unhappiness will extend to the vendor of the product or service as they lose a customer.
In this light an unfulfilled need is a contagion spreading from customer to customer, and from customer to vendor, the result being a flight to the next possible alternative.
WTF? vs. “Can you hear me now?”
Art is not only about angst.
- John Corigliano
Those enterprises that seek to exploit the deficiencies in their market segment often make significant strides against their competitors. Take Verizon Wireless. (Full disclosure: the parent company, Verizon, is a client.) One of the greatest complaints about mobile or cellular telephones is the poor service reception and the inability to hear calls. J.D. Power and Associates conducts a semiannual study measuring wireless call quality based on seven problem areas that impact overall carrier performance: dropped calls; static/interference; failed call connection on the first try; voice distortion; echoes; no immediate voicemail notification; and no immediate text message notification. Verizon Wireless saw that improvements in these seven areas would yield a significant return on investment, and so they began innovating to directly address these issues.
The result? Verizon Wireless began leading the way in call quality improvement, which gave rise to their decade-long advertising campaign with the enduring tag line, “Can you hear me now?” (The campaign was only retired in September 2010.) Perhaps a more compelling reason than age for the end of the campaign is that shifts in wireless phone usage, including smartphone and texting use, as well as an increase in the percentage of wireless calls being made and received inside buildings, has led to a halt in overall call quality improvement. This already has Verizon Wireless’s eye focused on a new complaint: the limitations of mobile bandwidth. Can you say, “Hello, 4G!”?
Whatever complaints your customers have, don’t disregard them. Take them for the gift they truly are. Because there’s opportunity in their misery, provided you choose to do something about it, and soon.
This post was originally featured here:
What are you doing to capture feedback on your innovations that have no tangible manifestation?
How do you determine the value and impact of those experiences that are designed (or not) for your customers when they purchase your services? How do you know that they have had an optimal experience? Satisfaction surveys only go so far. There are other ways to capture the level of service design and experience innovation success.
As far as I can see there is little inherent in the design process that protects design thinkers from these same failures if we choose to tackle abstract, intangible questions such as services, systems and networks. Instead we might imagine how to apply the same rigor and discipline to the design process that has emerged from hundreds of years of practice in the tangible world.
We might concentrate on how to make the process of the design of the intangible as transparent and open to observation as the design of the tangible. We might develop prototyping environments that allow us to learn through failure without catastrophic implications. We might accept that we need better mechanisms for criticism and feedback so that we begin to establish a body of knowledge about what works, and what does not, in the design of these things that don’t go ‘thud’ when we drop them.
- Tim Brown, CEO of IDEO (http://designthinking.ideo.com/)
In a post on a similar theme recently, Seth Godin extolled the virtues of having the designers of services “sign” their work. The rigor and discipline being applied to product development and its attendant innovation should be applied everywhere.
Too often, we blame bad service on the people who actually deliver the service. Sometimes (often) it’s not their fault. Sadly, the complaints rarely make it as far as the overpaid (or possibly overworked) executive who made the bad design decision in the first place. It’s the architecture of service that makes the phone ring and that makes customers leave.
A catchphrase employed by a client also comes to mind. He is fond of saying, “You touch it, you own it.” In that sense all innovation should be owned. In that light if the original need is not being appropriately addressed, or the problem being adequately resolved, the recipient of the service (or new business process, etc.) can go to the design source to provide feedback and insight into what was missed. The journey to a richly rewarding innovated experience is paved with the feedback of customers and users. Neglect them at your peril.
The keys to learning lessons from physical product design are to make the intangible concrete; designers and innovators should:
- Own the design. All designers must take responsibility for their work. The decisions made should be documented and reference-able, regardless of the point of origin. No hiding.
- Experience the design. All designers should experience their own design. They should prototype it, move through it and live with it. And they should be the first to experience it, “live.”
- Create a feedback loop in and around the design. Make it perpetual and make responses to that feedback a part of the ongoing evaluation process, too.
No innovator is omniscient. If experience design is not tied to results accountability for performance is an afterthought but less fleeting than the negativity associated with a bad experience.