Last week I was declared underrated….again. I was declared underrated and I loved it….again. I’ve gone through my life considered underrated and I have always revelled in the designation. The reason I revel in it is because for whatever reason people don’t think I’m capable of doing what I am capable of and yet I still do it. This time, the title came from my friends I play floor hockey with. The title was given to me at our end-of-season awards ceremony. The awards are given out in good fun and my award was no different. But the it reminded me that I have always considered myself more capable than what people seem to think of me. It’s done me well so far.
A long, long time ago I walked on to the Purdue Track and Field Team. I am pretty confident that none of my teammates at the time thought that I was going to make the team. My underrated moment came at a time trial late in the fall not long before the winter indoor season began. The look on the faces of my teammates after that time trial is indelibly inked into the back of my brain. The underrated walk-on dude just beat out two or three full scholarship athletes to make the travelling team.
Between that moment twenty four-odd years ago and last week’s declaration of underratedness by my friends I’ve had many other moments of being considered underrated. I don’t know where it comes from. Part of me thinks I should explore that more. Maybe if I change my behavior in some manner I will stop being considered underrated and will begin being considered a leader. But I don’t believe in the idea that one can write their own story. I am pretty satisfied with seeing the look of surprise on people’s faces when I end up proving them wrong.
Now, let’s not ignore the fact that there have been plenty of moments along the way that have proven the doubters correct. I’ve had my share of screw-ups and let downs. When I look back at those moments, there are very few of them that I haven’t recovered from. I’ve corrected the problem or bounced back and learned from the screw up.
Which leaves me where I am now. As of last week, I am no longer a partner in a company I helped found. It was completely my choice. I made the decision because I started believing I was not capable of doing what I thought I was capable within the constraints of my current career path. I needed to regain that swagger I’ve always had that I believe, to the core, that I am capable of doing things I never imagined I was capable of – let alone surprising everyone else around me. The only way for me to do that again is to start taking risks. To put myself out there without a safety net and just run my ass onto the team just like I did twenty four years ago.
What I am doing with my new company (aptly named Hurdler Studios) is helping people get past the barriers that are preventing them from getting their new product idea to market. I feel that after twenty plus years of doing that with my own life, it is time to start realizing the value of what I’ve been doing and start helping others figure out how to surprise the world around them.
Design Thinking…..it is cropping up everywhere. I have accounting firms asking me about it. The Standford d.school and IDEO have harnessed the term into something of a cliche. I had an experience recently as to what it is that has always rubbed me the wrong way about the hubbub over Design Thinking. If you’re not familiar with Design Thinking, trust me when I say that there’s a hubbub. It is a topic that creates a division within design circles. What has always made me bristle about it is the fact that every time anyone uses the term, it is an advertisement for another design firm (IDEO). I know that IDEO doesn’t claim it to be only theirs to use. But they also don’t make any bones about the fact that the term/methodology started with them.
I’ve always been a believer in the basic thought process behind Design Thinking (DT). The fundamental premise behind DT is that the user is the focus of the design process not the technology. Human centric design is what designers have been circling around for a long time. The truly successful designers are the ones that have figured out how to find the clients that are ready to let go of the sales driven methodology of features and benefits which seems to drive very quickly to a focus on the product and/or technology. Addressing how the product is created based on asking what the users want from the product as opposed to basing the development on research that dives into how the device fits into a user’s life.
On the surface, the difference is quite subtle. You can, and many do, argue that there is no difference. Both are looking at the end user’s needs. Where the difference lies is that Design Thinking is based on observational research of how people interact with a product or service and use that research to inform how improvements can be made that, ideally, will surprise the user. This approach eschews the belief that it is the technology that creates the desired “surprise”. It is about the experience of the product and how it fits into a person’s life that brings meaning to the product. Not how many items it has on a features and benefits list or because it uses some “cool” technology.
What makes this methodology powerful is that it is now possible to design more than just a product. You can now design services and processes on top of the products that may fit within those services and process. As soon as you wrap your head around this subtle difference, you will start to see where the value lies in the having design on your side.
If you don’t believe design is an important part of your business, here’s exhibit 1 why you should be running for the Mayor of Wrongville for holding on to those beliefs. Design, no matter how you design it, is about the creation of a culture within your company. So many companies run around bragging about being engineering/tech/market(ing) driven and wonder why they either don’t succeed or why they reach critical mass very quickly. There was no other company that epitomized this engineering (or in their case data) driven thought process than Google.
Watch the video and hopefully you will see the power of design and, even more to the point, the power of storytelling that video can bring for you and your company.
I wish I was able to find my post from many years ago on what I call the Creator, Integrator, and Consumer theory. I’m not sure theory is the right word for it. But it is simply the observation I see that there are three links the product development chain. The majority of us are Integrators (but I’ll get in to that shortly). Some might argue that we’re all integrators. For this discussion, however, there is a distinct break between the groups as it helps to define what kind of company you are, and what kind of design process you should be using.
The creators are the Intels of the world. They’re creating a new chip to go into our next gizmo. The people or companies out there that are creating a technology that gets used over and over again in the same form are The Creators. They are creating small pieces of the puzzle, a new technology, that allow The Integrators to make something new and unique which will subsequently be bought/used by The Consumer.
As I said above, Integrators sums up most people in a design or engineering position. We aren’t spending our days creating a new technology, or material. We’re plucking pieces from the Creators and repackaging them in new and innovative ways. For example, Apple is integrating an LCD, a battery, connectors, buttons, processors, and other components into a smartphone. The same goes for HTC and Samsung and others in the industry.
This one is pretty straight forward. A consumer is the part of the food chain that buys what the Integrator is providing.
The delineation between these three likely doesn’t matter until you start talking about the processes of creation. I argue that Creators are doing Scientific Research & Development. Integrators believe they are doing research and development when in reality they SHOULD be doing User Research & Design. The former is using its research to find new ways to manipulate nature to create something new. The latter is taking insights from user behavior to inform the decision making process when choosing how to integrate parts into a new product.
It’s a subtle difference, but one that seems to get lost when a group starts looking at the development of a new process. There seems to be a general mistake of running to quantifiable research techniques, as opposed to more qualitative ethnographic research. Something that is of great interest to me these days.