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    This is the personal blog of Simon Kendrick and covers my interests in media, technology and popular culture. All opinions expressed are my own and may not be representative of past or present employers
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Perspective bias and the anchoring effect

Anchoring is a cognitive trait that causes us to rely too heavily on certain pieces of information when making a decision, such as an up-until-then trusted brand name selling us a lemon.

Perspective bias is a form of subjectivity or self-selection where we are unable to divorce our own prejudices and experiences from a decision.

Both exist. Both are prevalent. And both cause problems.

When you are a researcher, you need to ensure all information is communicated clearly. This could be rewording technical jargon, removing colloquialisms or introducing cultural as well as literal translation for foreign language work. For instance, if you want to know about the video on demand market and the effects of Hulu among US residents then you shouldn’t use the phrase video on demand. That’s pay per view. Hulu is online video.

When you are a design engineer, you need to realise that someones opinion of your new product is going to be rooted in what they already know. While this new flat-screen TV may be twice the size of my old CRT, it takes a bit longer to start. This new laptop may have high-speed wi-fi and bluetooth, but the keys are a bit harder to type on. This car has great handling, but where is the cup holder?

When you are a metropolitan advertising buyer looking after a mass market brand, you need to consider that while you may hate that prime time “drama” on ITV1, it appears that 7m of your potential customers don’t.

When you are a social media expert/rockstar/heavyweight champion of the world (delete as appropriate), you may think that your actions cause ruptures into the fabric of society. But do they? Motrin don’t think so.

When you pontificate that a brand is dying, have you taken a health check out of your immediate eyeline?

Incidentally, I like that tech companies are based in a valley – it acts as a nice metaphor for the echo chamber and short-sightedness of so many of the “end is nigh” kool-aid drinkers that seem to have a voice disproportionately larger than the size of their other senses.

Anyway, I think that is enough snark for one post. The point I want to make is that we should do our best to identify a frame of reference – it could be a good thing in the case of designers trying to improve their product or a bad thing when a researcher is trying to design a survey for a country that they have never visited, but it should be sought.

Some in advertising may disagree as it promotes the rational over the emotional – it suggests we methodically compare products rather than be captured by a glass and a half full of joy. My subjective opinion is that emotional advertising works only when we are overfamiliar with a product. I know what a chocolate bar is, and I know what Dairy Milk tastes like and the ad does a good job at reminding me of these facts.

But when it is a new product, that emotion isn’t enough. The ad wouldn’t have had the same impact if it were advertising an everlasting gobstopper. I need to know the functional benefits – why should I change my behaviour? What do I get out of it? The reason is the key.

Of course, the best campaigns can combine both the functional and the emotional. “1,000 songs in your pocket” tells me why an iPod is an improvement on a walkman in a memorable soundbite.

To use an old cliche, we need to walk a mile in other people’s shoes. Look through someone else’s eyes. To take a recent example, a few of my colleagues recently held a session where they showed people who had never before used a computer how they worked. Can you conceive of that? I can’t. These people had never picked up a mouse. Seeing how they interacted with it, and how they overcame the initial trepidation to complete a few simple tasks would have been a fascinating reminder into how what we take for granted is completely alien to another group of people.

Ultimately, it is the little things that matter. Just because we think something is fine doesn’t make it fine. Second, third and fourth opinions should be canvassed. Different perspectives sought. New angles explored.

We shouldn’t be complacent.

sk

Image credit: http://www.flickr.com/photos/ranopamas/

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The Art of Innovation

To commemorate David Kelley (co-founder of IDEO) being awarded the Edison Achievement Award for his “pioneering contributions to the design of breakthrough products, services, and experiences for consumers, as well as his development of an innovative culture that has broad impact”, Fast Company have published a series of articles on the man and his company.

They are well worth reading, particularly the interview with him.

As the article states, IDEO aren’t designers but design thinkers. They use a tested and trusted methodology to redesign customer experience; not only in terms of the product but also in terms of the culture of the companies they work with. By transforming the business environment, the changes are made more sustainable in the long term. This is because the process never completes – there is always room for improvements and new prototypes.

Kelley says that “I can give our methodology away because I know we can come up with a better idea tomorrow.”

The Art of Innovation by Tom KelleyAnd indeed, it has been given away. His brother Tom Kelley published The Art of Innovation: Success through Innovation the IDEO way in 2002.

I’ve read it. And I would recommend that you do to. Below is an outline of the IDEO method, but to appreciate the nuance and to be truly inspired you really do need to read the book.

The core methodology has five steps.

Step 1: Understand the market, client, technology and perceived constraints

Ethnography is now a word overused and misused. But IDEO were pioneers of the anthropological approach and that it has now been so widely adopted speaks volumes. Of course, doing it properly is easier said than done.

Step 2: Observe real people in real-life situations to see what makes them tick

We are all now familiar with the problems of rationalised attitudes or behaviours. But again, IDEO recognised this before many. They believe observation gets to the root of the problem quicker. Small observations lead to small improvements, but over time these build into an impressive body of change. The key to observation is empathy – the observer must strive to infer the motivations and emotions of the participant.

Step 3: Visualise new concepts and the customers that would use them

This is really the power of the brainstorm. Kelley believes brainstorming should be taken seriously, and that there are ways to make them work more effectively. He finds that sixty minutes is the optimum length but within this, there should be a sharp focus. Not all ideas need to be written down but those that are should be numbered, allowing people to build and jump upon them. Although brainstorms shouldn’t be taken too seriously, they should also not be too meritocratic or too hierarchical. Everyone has ideas worth espousing, whether they are an expert or the boss or not, but it doesn’t mean that the group should go around in circles getting the opinions of everyone.

Step 4: Evaluate and refine prototypes in a series of quick iterations

Kelley refers to prototyping as a state of mind. It doesn’t matter if you have failures – you fail often to success sooner and you can often fall forwards. However, there is a balance. Fresh approaches work and rule breakers can change processes, but there needs to be a careful evaluation. Going too far “out of the box” can be counter-productive.

Step 5: Implement the new concept for commercialisation

Concepts should tell stories and make a human connection. Working with verbs and not nouns helps this. Kelley advocates a T-shirt test to ensure that new experiences or designs aren’t complex or difficult – the concept should boil down to a slogan that will fit on a t-shirt. Interestingly, he says that the best designers focus on the parts that are used the most e.g. the Play button on a DVD remote control.

However, these five steps only work because of the way IDEO is structured. Within the company, they cherish two factors above all – people and space.

Kelley says that lone geniuses are myths; you need a good team, and a mixed team, to succeed. He finds that characters build companies – his typology of characters includes visionaries, troubleshooters, iconoclasts, pulse takers, craftsmen, technologists, entrepreneurs and cross-dressers. This team should be dedicated, time-pushed, non-hierarchical, respectful of diversity, open and empowered. The dynamics are vital – camaraderie should be established, achievement celebrated and, importantly, a company shouldn’t be afraid of spending money to build morale.

His seven tips for cross-pollination include:

  • Subscribe and surf as much as possible
  • Play film director
  • Hold an open house to spread best disciplines
  • Inspire advocates
  • Hire outsiders
  • Change hats
  • Cross-train

IDEO look to establish “neighbourhoods” to facilitate team dynamics, and this concept of community and space is integral to fostering innovation. He advocates a blend of openness and privacy, with people having complete autonomy to personalise their space. To quote Kelley, “space is often the least considered, most overlooked tool in innovation toolbox”.

Ultimately, practice makes perfect. But the top tips to take away include:

  • Watch customers and non-customers – especially enthusiasts
  • Play with physical workplace to send positive body language to employees and visitors
  • Think verbs not nouns in products and services to create wonderful experiences
  • Break rules and fail forward so that change is part of culture
  • Stay human and scale organisational element so room for teams to emerge and thrive
  • Build bridges – between departments, to customers and to future

A follow-up book, The Ten Faces of Innovation, has also been published (the website with an overview is here), but for an outlay of less than two pints of lager, I really do recommend reading this book.

sk

REM remind me that good presentation improves good content

Photo credit: http://www.flickr.com/photos/hidden_shine/

This time last year I had never been to a stadium. In the last two months I have been to three. Shea and Wembley for sport, and Twickenham for music.

Each experience has been very different. At Shea, I was the tourist absorbing myself into a strange, foreign game. At Wembley I was the grateful recipient of corporate hospitality. And at Twickenham I was finally seeing a band who I had been listening to for over 15 years.

Three very different days but with a common observation. Stadiums can put on a show. I was fortunate that all three events were of a high quality, but my enjoyment was amplified by the overall experience.

REM’s stage show was fantastic. I had an excellent view reasonably close to the stage. Yet I was continually drawn to the seven screens and the assortment of directorial flourishes (filter effects, quick cuts and so forth) executed in time with the songs. The concept was similar to that of the Radiohead shows at Victoria Park, but the level of accomplishment was on another plane.

Jim Stogdill had a similar experience with the Nine Inch Nails show.

This brought home to me that while content is key (and REM were on form), the way that content is presented can make or break. If the initial iterations of the iPod had featured the functions but not the form (I concede that these aren’t necessarily separable), would it have been as successful? Arguably not.

Moving from visual to verbal presentation, Albert Mehrabian posited that only 7% of someone’s attitude towards a speaker is derived from what they actually say. Non-verbal cues (tone of voice and face) account for the remaining 93%

Which of these look the most exciting?

Vista - The Wow Starts Now

Photo credit: http://www.flickr.com/photos/mathoov/

My point in this slightly rambling post is that presentation shouldn’t be overlooked. It is a crucial driver of success. People such as David Taylor rightly point out that presentation is nothing without a decent product underpinning it (I certainly wouldn’t be waxing lyrical about REM’s stage show if the musical performance was terrible). But good content can flounder unless it is delivered in a clear and compelling manner.

At the moment, I am creating a large presentation and this lesson is something I am trying to keep at the forefront of my mind. I wouldn’t even refer to myself as Larusso in relation to Garr Reynolds‘ Miyagi, but through his excellent website and liberal use of Flickr, Inmagine and the Stock Xchng, I believe I am getting somewhere.

sk

Winners of the 2008 Slideshare Presentation Contest

To combat the cynicism of my previous post on bad research, let me congratulate the authors of the three fantastic presentations below.

They show that irrespective of whether the message is serious or whimsical, it is possible to truly engage an audience via PowerPoint/Keynote through thoughtful and creative design.

For additional category winners and honourable mentions, go to the results page here.

sk