These days it's increasingly difficult to innovate in a complex, interconnected world without getting a little help. In the past the brilliance of a single designer could deliver a masterpiece to a largely uninvolved audience who politely applauded as they emptied their wallets. In the age of crowdsourcing, energetic and specialized creators collaborate with an engaged an informed audience to evolve products, create services, and change society. This revolution of collaboration mirrors the rise of punk rock, slam dancing, and lo-fi. In this presentation, ten selected vignettes will illustrate how the "mosh pit code of conduct" can help you order the chaos and direct the energy of collaborative research and design.Attendees will learn:how context, anticipation, inclusion and principles help plan an engaging and productive collaborationhow awareness, respect, humility and irreverence guide effective collaboration how love and vision assign meaning to creativity
None of you is as smart as yourself plus another person.Their perspective, experience, creativity may not surpass your own, but it will always magnify it when you collaborate effectively.So stand up. Introduce yourself to the person nearest you or, if you already know that person, someone new.Now sit down next to your new friend. We’re gonna change the world.
CONTEXTToday I’m going to talk about effective design collaboration. But I’m not going to do it by talking about effective design collaboration. I’m going to do it by telling stories.It’s a technique I use all the time. I have a story for just about everything. Today there is a theme to the stories. The most collaborative place I know of. The mosh pit.
Some BACKGROUNDon this first story to get us going.May 1992…living in NY, between jobs, saw Fugazi weeks earllierShows were always $5, right budget
Has anyone ever been to a Fugazi show? Or any hardcore or punk show? Let’s get a shared understanding, a BASELINE for this story.It’s not just like turning up the record real loud. And it’s not usually theatrical, with lasers, and costumes and dancing.Half the show is onstage, and the other half is in the pit.It’s an unscripted form of elegant chaos.And a perfect metaphor for collaboration.
I’d been to hundreds of concerts, but never in another country.And I’d seen these very same bands just weeks earlier.But still I didn’t immediately feel COMFORTABLE in the venue…I knew what I was there for, but didn’t know what to expect of everyone else.The same is true in collaboration. Whether it’s a design studio where your participants all have unique but defined roles or a research study where they all have some common trait, they still don’t know how things are going to turn out.Until we are comfortable, some of our energy will be spent in trying to achieve COMFORT.
So, unlike the NY show, where I may very well have started the pit, in London I waited. And watched.And it wasn’t until the headliner came on that things started to look familiar. For whatever reason, I guess the Jesus Lizard just didn’t rate a mosh pit, and Shudder to Think hardly garnered any attention at all. In NY we were all thrashing about like lunatics while Leatherface was still playing…and they barely made it onto the poster!It wasn’t until Fugazi came on that I felt CONFIDENT enough to move from a position of observation to a position of participation. And then, once the pit started to brew, creation.A hand on my shoulder…I turned and saw that familiar upward nod. A crowd surfer looking for a boost. Happy to oblige. Within minutes, I was on top of the crowd myself. On top of the world.
It was a great show, loud and sweaty and memorable, but mostly for how different it was. It had been years since I’d spent so much time at a concert NOT moving.All because I didn’t have the capacity to understand or CONTROL my context.As a UX professional, context is your responsibility. It’s in your CONTROL, whether you’ve called the meeting, scheduled the session, or even if you’re just along for the ride on a typical rudderless ship.Create the context that will make contributors feel comfortable and confident. Give them the background they need to achieve a shared baseline of understanding.Enable them. Empower them.
INCLUSIONInclude them.I didn’t see the Clash at Bond’s in New York City. I was only 13, living in the ‘burbs, no money to speak of. My first and only Clash show came three years later, in a college gymnasium. I was still young enough that I had to get a ride there. It was the first concert I went to without an adult. It was the start of my career in the pit.
I didn’t have much EXPERIENCE to go on, so when the concert was delayed for nearly an hour I just went along with it.The Joe Strummer cam out onstage. Just Joe. He told us that the band was refusing to go on unless the facility removed the first ten rows of seats so that people could dance up front.A cheer went up. Then he added that it was really our show, not his, so if we wanted the band to come out now they would. Otherwise they would hold out.Silence.I don’t think anyone had ever been asked that kind of a question before. Lack of EXPERIENCE was an advantage. We believed they could win the fight, and they did.Our EXPERIENCE may give us perspective, but it may also condition us to compromise.
Twenty minutes later the stage crew came out and started removing the seats. But there was still a cordon of security between our general admission area and the reserved seating area close to the stage.We had to get there, to be part of that scene, but had no idea how. There was no playbook, no EXPERTISE to bank on.We heard other people, experienced concert goers, making plans for bribes and frontal assaults. We didn’t know how to do any of that, so instead we went to the bathroom and hid until they started the first song. Sort of a stationary Trojan Horse ploy. They told us it would never work.EXPERTISE tells us what is impossible. And it’s wrong. A lot. We didn’t see a single one of those experienced concert goers up front, and we were there all night.
Mosh pits are all about energy, and how people respond to that energy is a defining axis of their CULTURE.On this night, it was the college students who wanted to create the energy by initiating the contact.Then there were the inexperienced fans, like us, who wanted to contribute to and sustain the energy.In the mash of bodies against and around the stage was a cornucopia of demographics…students, adults, tweed-jacketed professors…there to bask in the energy.And back behind the barrier were those who weren’t willing to do what was necessary to be a part of the energy.These were the castes in our mosh pit CULTURE.
Think about this the next time you brainstorm. Think about who you need to include, and who can stay behind the barrier. It has very little to do with seniority or other forms of political influence.Innovation requires, most of all, energy.And the next most important thing is VIEWPOINT. Creativity is the act of either applying your VIEWPOINT to a new situation or adapting your VIEWPOINT to meet new opportunities. In a group setting, diversity of VIEWPOINT adds to the opportunities for this creativity.Nothing has dimension until it is seen from multiple angles.ACTIVITY 1: So I want you to think about some problem that vexes you, whether it’s personal or professional. Think about who is affected by this problem, a single term that describes this group you want to save from certain doom. Write it down.
ANTICIPATIONAssembling a diverse culture of creativity, whether it’s a design studio or a Fishbone concert, brings both the opportunity and the responsibility to ANTICIPATE.And that’s a really important responsibility at a Fishbone concert, because those guys are crazy.This is a picture of singer Angelo Moore jumping out of the balcony into the crowd below, something he did at every show I ever went to. Except one.It was the spring of 1989, Spring Fling at Temple University in Philadelphia.
Putting on a concert requires a lot of PREPARATION. Especially an outdoor show on an urban campus in what is frankly not a great neighborhood.One definition of PREPARATION is having all the stuff you could possibly need, but that’s often either impractical or impossible. Because something always goes sideways…whether for good or bad…those who get the most out of a situation anticipate what could happen and PREPARE a plan on the fly.Sometimes, literally. I mentioned that there was one show where Angelo didn’t jump out of the balcony…because there was none. We were outside, under the blue sky and budding leaves of the trees.
So, when Angelo dove off the stage and the band started their customary chant of “take him to the back” it didn’t take a lot of IMAGINATION to see where this was going. To quote my favorite book of all time, “Go Dog Go”…to the tree, to the tree!After about the first 30 feet the crowd started to thin and, rather than being passed back, a smaller group of diehards essentially carried him back, back, back to the tree. And up he went. And what goes up…Soon we realized that while there had been enough manpower to carry the wiry saxophonist, it was going to take more to catch him as he leapt from the tree. Within moments, the back of the show had become as crowded as the front. By anticipating what might happen and preparing a plan on the fly, we collectively freed the IMAGINATION of the band to experiment with new ways of engaging the crowd.
EXPERIMENTATIONmeans taking a leap into the unknown confident that something good will come of it.I don’t think he would have jumped if there hadn’t been a crowd below that looked like they knew what to expectTrust, born of anticipation, enables EXPERIMENTATION and frees the imagination. It’s not the “stuff” that matters, it’s the tools and the ability to use them in new ways.In design collaboration this means that you might create more stimuli than you need and script more activities than you'll use. These are the spare parts and raw materials you can combine on the fly into new exercises, discussions, and prototypes.
Of course, not all experiments succeed. This is a good thing…we often learn more from our misses than our hits. Part of this is having a means of EVALUATING the outcome of our experiments and the tools we used to create them.There are some standard metrics that we can apply in our collaborative efforts, but things like ROI, impressions, net promoter score only help us evaluate outcomes, not process. And they can be a little…soulless.A key part of EVALUATION is being able to tell the difference between experimentation that is liberating and damn foolishness.
PRINCIPLESOne of the most meaningful ways of evaluating a collaboration is based upon the shared values of the participants and the audience. These are derived from each person’s individual PRINCIPLES.Somewhere along the way a different set of principles foisted themselves on the punk community. Angst became aggression, speaking out became lashing out. I’ve seen it a lot, but it was most obvious at a Ramones concert in New York City when the opening act took the stage.
They were a hardcore band from Queens called Sick Of It All. Unlike a lot of bands, they had a very specific and clear political agenda. ACCOUNTABILITY.They were lobbying for tougher criminal penalties that would make those who committed crimes more ACCOUNTABLE.Ironically, they attracted a fan base that behaved quite the opposite way, punching, throwing elbows, just generally being a-holes.When people are not behaving in an ACCOUNTABLE way, nothing good will come of it. Get out. Don’t commit your energy to something negative.
In the mosh pit, there’s a code of conduct.My code of conduct in the pit was always about keeping people safe and creating a NURTURING environment for that collective energy.So it’s not surprising that to me, collaboration is all about NURTURING notions until they become ideas.
SHARING resources, even when it means risk, and SHARING your principles with others so they can align and create a constructive environment.If you have design principles, inculcate them; if not, establish them early and enforce them.
Combining these shared principles into an action plan creates a platform for SELF-DETERMINATION.A group can’t work together when there’s nothing holding it together.As your team learns and internalizes these shared principles, the transient environments of collaboration become and enduring culture.
AWARENESSWith your principles well-defined you now have your own set of rules. But it’s still important to understand how others are likely to behave. A good way to achieve this AWARENESS is to influence their behavior in affirmative, constructive ways.Otherwise, they might do something really regrettable.
We all strive for ENGAGEMENT. ENGAGEMENT is a powerful and sometimes dangerous thing. When a group becomes a mob, their collective momentum can be destructive.Or downright disgusting.
The Cows were opening for Tsunami, one of my favorite bands ever, at the Khyber Pass. After a song or two, they invited the crowd to bring back the lost art of “gobbing”.“Gobbing” has deep and proud roots in the punk scene. Though the origins are disputed, the act of an audience spitting on the band as a show of appreciation was very fashionable back in 1976.I wanted no part of it. Now, even the most ardent gobber has a range of no more than a few feet. So, knowing my punk history, I headed for the back and started the mosh pit there.Every ENVIRONMENT is a live ecosystem with capabilities and risks independent of the participants. Awareness helps you master the risks and exploit the advantages.
There are many lenses into people’s EMOTIONS. Understanding EMOTIONS helps to discover motivation, and that gives you the ability to predict or even influence their actions.That night at the Khyber, it wasn’t nihilism and self-loathing that propelled the gobs through the air, it was genuine excitement about the show.Develop your skills at reading EMOTIONS and you can redirect that excitement into a nice wholesome mosh. Spit-free.In a collaborative environment, this means understanding the narrative arc of innovation and keep the group on that path.
ACTIONS do indeed speak louder than words. This is why we observe what people do, rather than ask them to tell us.I’m sure that if we had surveyed this crowd as they entered, not a one would admit to a desire to spit on the band. But once the show started to engage the audience, activating their emotions, all that energy needed an outlet.
RESPECTAnd that outlet, in order to remain affirmative and constructive, needed to exhibit RESPECT. Observation and awareness are key pre-requisites to RESPECTbecause they give you the ability to overcome your own assumptions and prejudices.
Even at a Nirvana concert, there were people who did not want to get bumped into.While it’s easy to pass judgment on these clueless losers…it’s not productive.Believe it or not, if we learn to respect people’s BOUNDARIES we can create a better outcome for everybody.
By now you’ve mastered awareness. You understand how emotions can underlie motivation.Now factor in VALUES. These are the metrics, the KPIs of human behavior.If someone VALUES her safety, show her the mosh pit is safe.
Then let it be her IDEA to join in.IDEAS are the currency of collaboration. It’s great to have lots of IDEAS, but IDEAS only matter when there is an opportunity to express them
If we make every idea additive using constructs like brain-writing and “yes, and”, then we can create a wealth of intellect, expertise, history, and creativity.This wealth of ideas not only help us achieve GOALS, it also has the power to modify GOALS.At that Nirvana show, the security people started with the GOAL of stopping the mosh pit, which was contrary to the GOALS of the kids.By the end of the show, everyone’s GOALS were aligned.Every time you collaborate, think through these important steps. Create boundaries that respect the participants and help them to establish shared goals and nurture ideas into a realization of the goals that brought you together.ACTIVITY 2: Remember a few minutes ago I asked you to write down a description of some group whose problems you want to solve? Take a moment to write down what their goals are. Go wide in context. Once you think you’ve got it, share the description and goals with your neighbor. Let’s see what we learn from each other.
HUMILITYNot every mosh pit is so Utopian. Sometimes the goals of an individual violate the values, the boundaries…the heads of other participants.This happened to me at the Trocadero in Philadelphia, an epic week in which I saw the Rollins Band, L7, Orange 9mm, Caterpillar, Magnapop, and Helmet. It wasn’t this guy, but it was someone just like him who decided that he needed to earn the “backflip badge”. Except he wasn’t wearing sneakers. So when his foot hit the side of my head…OW.His acrobatic leap wasn’t about the band, or the music, it was about himself. A does ofHUMILITY would have served him well, and given me the benefit of depth perception for the rest of the night.
Sometimes an idea is not a good idea. It’s not relevant, it’s too far beyond the bounds of possibility, it’s risky beyond the reward.When this kind of idea gain MOMENTUM, or disturb the MOMENTUM o f a more constructive idea, it’s necessary to make an immediate correction.
There are lots of kinds of CORRECTION, and you have to judge what aligns with your principles and the collective will of the group.It might be a reminder about the “mosh pit code of conduct”.It might be a punch in the face.What eventually happens to backflip dude is that people stop catching him. The floor has a way of turning the momentum of a bad idea into a CORRECTION very quickly.In a design studio, though, it can be hard to wield the influence of the floor. So try aligning the powerful personalities with other people’s ideas. Respect and use their ability to activate.
There’s an inherent COLLECTIVISM to every group.It doesn’t require a massive effort to activate its power. Small cohorts and coalitions can work together to check or align even the most massive ego.
IRREVERENCEThere’s a more constructive outlet for collectivism than just exacting a little gravitational justice on backflip dude.I learned this thanks to these ladies…the Aquanettas.If they don’t look very punk, it’s because they’re not. They were one of many side-stage acts at the 1992 Lollapalooza concert, playing their charming, jangly, folksy indie rock amid the gothic ambience of the Jesus and Mary Chain, the gangsta rap of Ice Cube, and the roiling grunge of Pearl Jam.
So there they were, playing their sweet, heartfelt tunes to a handful of courteous but largely disinterested people when Pearl Jam finished and the masses began to descend upon their scene.Within seconds a fervent mosh pit evolved.“Please stop moshing to our songs!” they entreated with INDIGNATION. “It’s not that kind of music!”Was this the right response?
What kind of music is right for moshing?This is where it’s important to understand the difference between conventions and boundaries.Allow INTERPRETATION to defy artificial constraints, the kind that don’t really add value.
When you create something, whether it’s a song or a prototype, it’s only yours until you share it with a group of people.Then it becomes theirs to use, modify, re-imagine. The product of your INSPIRATION becomes their INSPIRATION when they defy convention.
Unconventional methods to unlock unconventional ideas.And unconventional ideas are the seeds of INNOVATION.So now I’m going to ask you to do something audacious, irreverent, maybe even a little insane. Throw away the social and culture conventions that say you can’t do something crazy and propose a solution to that problem you identified earlier. The crazier the better. Modest Proposals, Soylent Green. Who’s got one to share?
CONTACTSo let’s talk for a minute about unconventional methods.On the surface. Slamming into another person seems to be a pretty strange way to enjoy music.But the thing that links together moshing with the lindy hop, square dancing, and the Viennese waltz is CONTACT.
It’s possible to hit without hurting. People do it all the time.It might be a congratulatory high-five, a “cheer up, buckaroo” chuck on the shoulder, or a “snap out of it” slap to the face.If you can understand the INTENT, contact can be very constructive.
In the mosh pit, it’s largely an expression of ENERGY. That ENERGY is often fueled by an unbridled love for the music.Or, in the case of my friend Royce’s wedding, love for happy couple.I’ll admit I didn’t go to that wedding with the expectation that there would be a mosh pit. And when my friend Patti put on the Bosstones and told me to “go start a mosh pit” I was…skeptical.But I loved the song, I loved the people, and I loved to mosh.
Within moments everyone was in the pit…cousins, parents, preppies, metalheads, everyone. It worked.Ideation is not passive. Movement forces participants in an ACTIVITY to take new perspectives, formulate alliances on the fly, and work to understand perspective before anything can be achieved.All the things we’ve talked about so far were present…respect, inclusion, irreverence…and by giving everyone an ACTIVITY to engage in, the event became even more fun, memorable, unique…and innovative.
In design collaboration, you can achieve the same innovation-friendly atmosphere.Script activities that are designed to activate different personalities, behaviors, perspectives creates many points of contact.Gamestorming is a great resource for this.It’s the difference between randomness and ENTROPY. Create a controlled chaos within the bounds of your shared understanding and mutual goals and amazing things will happen.
VISIONLooking back, I think the most memorable and innovative mosh-pit memoir was the time I saw Joykiller.It was an all-ages show and they were one of the opening acts, so the crowd was pretty sparse. It was hard to aggregate the energy.Then the singer had a VISION.
Someone had brought along a camera and was taking pictures during the set. At the end of the song, the band stopped and the singer invited the person with the camera to come forward.“Let’s get a picture of everybody, OK?” Within moments the whole audience was on the stage, arranged in neat rows like a 1st grade class picture.That simple TANGIBLE artifact had united the entire crowd.
And even though only one person ever saw that picture, it made the show MEMORABLE for everyone. We could all picture what it looked like.
And even though that never happened again, at least not at any show I went to, the concept was EXTENSIBLE. You could take anything, like a class picture, and combine it with anything else, like a mosh pit, and generate an amazing mash-up of goals, values, and experience.In many ways that idea inspired this talk, which is also a mash-up.
One which is driven byMEANING.Like the singer of Joykiller that night, I usually have no idea what is going to happen when I start a collaborative session.I know the general construct. I have my scripted activities, my code of conduct, and plenty of stimuli.But what I want more than anything is to be surprised in a positive and MEANINGFUL way.
What we’re doing is creating a network of connections, and networks have power when there is communication. These are the new tools that you’ll use to solve that problem you were thinking about. These are the ways you’ll include a diverse group, align their goals, activate their ideas.First…let’s get a picture of it. So I’m going to come down and listen to why you connected in the ways that you did.
And if you want to bump into each other a bit, go for it.