– What we think of… Last November, I travelled to India. I noticed differences in the culture… how different life was: the things, the flavors, the expectations…
What I mean by cultural environment is the expectations, attitudes and mythology embodied by the culture.
For a little more context, this is my world… the place where Creativity is supposed to happen.Conference room… cube…
I’m going to make the proposal that creativity is influenced by 3 main factors:Personal Character, Personality and Skills – Who you are.Physical Environment – Where you areCultural Environment -
So let’s say you have a team of people who, given the right cultural environment, could design really creative solutions.
And you place them into a physical environment that supports their creativity…
Then, I am proposing that an ideal cultural environment for designing creative solutions will be one that values and seeks out diverse perspectives, embraces iterative prototyping and experimentation, includes customers in all phases of the process, and embraces fun and play.
I’m going to talk today, quickly, about 5 corporate cultures that inhibit designing creative solutions.
The culture of approval comes about from two sources: childhood experience and business experience. Childhood is full of examples where the person higher in status (or age) has the right answers... parents, teachers, coaches... if you get approval from those sources, you are doing well. If you do not get their approval, you are "bad". The business experience comes from the war stories of those executives and managers that have had similar experiences, successes and failures in the past. Keeping in mind George Santayana's famous quote, "those who cannot remember the past are doomed to repeat it", we are persuaded to put undo importance on the approval of those who have recognized experience in the area. In both cases, it is wise to learn from those knowledgeable sources. However, just because these people are in positions higher up in an organization, does not mean that they have the right answers all of the time. Especially when it comes to changes in the way we do or think about things. For example, Ken Olsen, president and founder of Digital Equipment Corporation, was known to have said "There is no reason anyone would want a computer in their home." Leaders do not necessarily have better vision into the future, so a culture of approval can kill off really radical new ideas far too easily.
The problem with a culture of approval is that it doesn’t value diverse perspectives, and radical ideas can get killed off too easily. Leaders may be wrong…
The culture of planning comes about from lessons learned from NOT planning. Without plans, projects tend to flounder and get out of control. The output of projects without planning tends to be incomplete or bad. The problem comes about when teams are too focused on the plan, rather than the ultimate outcome. If you want to build an airplane, you will be able to do so if you follow the plan. But, if you want to build a new, effective means of flying... you may not build an airplane at all. It isn't that plans are bad at all... it's just that you need to be clear on what it is that you are aiming for. Most successful startups actually started building things other than what they became famous for... their plans changed when they realized opportunity elsewhere. For example, PayPal started off as a mobile encryption company... but turned to web payments when it was clear that they'd found a medium with much more traction than their original thought. Similarly, Flickr started off as a gaming company, but ended up with one of the best photo sharing sites around!
The culture of correct is one that comes from math. In math, there is a correct answer. Any other answer is wrong. Math is about the only area that is so absolute... but we grow up thinking that there are absolute answers elsewhere. Since there is only one right answer, you need not look for alternatives. In product design, however, it is not clear that there is, necessarily, a right answer. One approach may be better than another... but sometimes multiple approaches can solve the problem well. For example, both airplanes and helicopters fly. When it comes to inventing new things, looking for the one "right" answer can inhibit your exploration.
The problem with the culture of correct is that all efforts tend to stop when you’ve found something that works. By not continuing to explore the space, you don’t necessarily come up with innovations. For example, if you were trying to come up with a way to fly in a culture of correct, you might stop at the hot air balloon, and maybe never come to a plane, helicopter or rocket.
The culture of committee comes from a deep respect for the other employees, and the belief that everyone may have important contributions. The problem is that getting "buy in" from all of the relevant parties before actually trying stuff out can be a huge waste of time. It may become clear right away that something is or isn't a good approach once a team moves forward with testing out the idea. When committees are involved in design, all kinds of inconsistencies and feature creep can occur. Think about Congress... most laws that get passed these days have multiple layers of laws that don't actually have anything in common with the legislation that's being passed. Wikipedia states: "The defining characteristics of "design by committee" are needless complexity, internal inconsistency, logical flaws, banality, and the lack of a unifying vision." It is sad when a great idea is smothered in mediocre ones...
I recently was brought in to help a team tasked to come up with a solution to a specific problem that accountants have. The team was large and had been finding it difficult to make progress. My help didn’t help a lot, but after that interaction, the team was downsized to 3 people, with the same goal. They came up with a new solution in weeks. This phenomena is not unheard of. Many of the most successful companies out there started off with 2 men in a garage.2-men in a garage…HPGoogleYouTubePayPalEtc.
The culture of "talk" is difficult to overcome. It comes about for many of the prior cultural reasons. Intuit is particularly fond of the PowerPoint Presentation method of pitching ideas. The problem is that telling is not as useful or accurate as showing. When people rely on making decisions from stated ideas, rather than on proof of concept or experiences, it makes it more likely that they will overlook or dismiss the absurd, unique, innovative approaches.
Think about the Nintendo Wii. It is a solution that you can talk about in a power-point deck: "Instead of focusing on the visual design, we'll focus on the interaction between the user and the machine." Or, you can show it: "try swinging the tennis racket!
One way I’ve had success in working with the culture of approval is to test out everyone’s ideas with customers (without the customer knowing which came from who). Then, the customers feedback makes the case for the best ideas and weeds out the poor ones.
We’ve learned that the way to deal with unexpected changes and insights in a planning culture is to build it into the plan itself.
I find that working in the culture of correct can be a great way to pull in hypotheses testing. So, if we think we have a solution that we think will work, we should always test it against an idea that should be wrong. And, then, test it against an idea that is crazy, and one that might work… and so on. Pretty soon, you can move from correct as a stopping point to correct as a starting point.
Break away and try things out then come back to the committee with persuasive stories to get everyone on board.
Stories… showing…prototype…have customers try it out! Let people see!
What can you do to make your culture a better place to design in?
Is your corporate culture keeping you from designing
Is your corporate culture keeping you from designing great solutions?<br />UPA 2010 27 May 2010<br />Wendy A. Castleman, Ph.D. Principal XD Research Scientist<br />
Culture of Approval<br />belief that the best answers are high-up in the organization<br />
There is no reason anyone would want a computer in their home. <br />– Ken Olsen (founder of Digital Equipment Corporation) <br />Culture of Approval:<br />Radical Ideas get killed off too easily.<br />Perspectives<br />Customer Input & Feedback<br />
Culture of Planning<br />belief that you can always be successful if you strictly adhere to plans<br />
We are a software company<br />Iterative Experiments<br />Culture of Planning:<br />Closed off to new ideas too soon.<br />
Culture of Correct<br />belief that there is only one answer<br />
Iterative Experiments<br />Culture of Correct:<br />Alternatives aren’t explored<br />
Culture of Committee<br />where everyone must be on-board for things to move forward<br />???<br />
A camel is a horse designed by a committee. <br />- Sir Alec Issigonis, Designer of the Mini<br />Culture of Committee:<br />Fosters needless complexity and delay<br />Perspectives<br />
Culture of Talk<br />where employees are encouraged to tell others what their ideas are and why they are good before experimenting<br />
No man is an island… - John Donne<br />Perspectives<br />Iterative Experiments<br />Approval<br /> Planning<br /> Correct<br /> Committee<br /> Talk<br /> <your culture><br />Customer Input & Feedback<br />This is fun!<br />
What can you do to make your culture a better place to design in?<br />
Activity: Making a plan<br />Identify 1 to 3 cultural barriers that you face<br />Fill out the 2 left columns of the page<br />Find a partner<br />Discuss each other’s cultural barriers and generate at least 2 ideas for how to counteract or overcome those barriers<br />Fill in the 2 right columns of the page<br />