Design Thinking CHAT

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Cultural Historical Activity Theory (CHAT) has its origins in Lev Vygotsky’s pioneering work in the 1920s. More recently, education scholars have used CHAT to study learning behavior through the creation of activity systems analysis. When we view sales and marketing or even Lean as a knowledge building exercise this thought process brings an alternative way for learning about human behavior. It is not an exercise for the light-hearted. However the Business901 podcast, CHAT in Activity Theory Thinking, with Dr. Lisa Yamagata-Lynch serves as an introduction. This is a transcription of the podcast.

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Design Thinking CHAT

  1. 1. Business901 Podcast TranscriptionImplementing Lean Marketing SystemsCHAT in Activity Theory ThinkingCopyright Business901Design Thinking CHATGuest was Lisa Yamagata-LynchSponsored byRelated Podcast:CHAT in Activity Theory Thinking
  2. 2. Business901 Podcast TranscriptionImplementing Lean Marketing SystemsCHAT in Activity Theory ThinkingCopyright Business901Dr. Yamagata-Lynch authored the book Activity Systems AnalysisMethods: Understanding Complex Learning Environments whereshe outlines Cultural Historical Activity Theory (CHAT). CHAT isone of several theoreticalframeworks that are popularamong educationalresearchers because itconceptualizes individuals andtheir environment as a holisticunit of analysis. Activitysystems analysis is one of thepopular methods among CHATresearchers for mappingcomplex human interactionsfrom qualitative data.What Dr. Lisa Yamagata-Lynch says about herself: I identifymyself as a Cultural Historical Activity Theorist (CHAT), and Ibelieve that knowledge is not an isolated set of rules accessedonly when necessary, but is a shared entity that is distributedamong individuals, context, activity, artifacts, and in theinteractions that take place among the above. I also believe thatindividuals belong in a community that enables them to share andnegotiate their knowledge with other members. For the lastseveral years I have focused my research in using activity theory,or more specifically activity systems analysis, for understandingthe complex nature of human interactions within a community.
  3. 3. Business901 Podcast TranscriptionImplementing Lean Marketing SystemsCHAT in Activity Theory ThinkingCopyright Business901Transcription of PodcastJoe: Welcome, everyone. This is Joe Dager, the host of theBusiness901 podcast. With me, today is Dr. LisaYamagata-Lynch. She is currently a professor andprogram coordinator at the University of Tennessee,with previous stops at the University of Utah andNorthern Illinois, a frequent speaker and author of thebook "Activity Systems Analysis Method". I would liketo welcome you, Dr. Yamagata-Lynch and can I justcall you "Lisa".Lisa: Thats fine.Joe: Can you tell me how you became interested in design?Lisa: I was interested in how people learn. Thats where Istarted. Then I wanted to understand what goes on inthe real world. Initially, I got interested in psychology,and thats where I started my bachelors degree,thinking about, okay, how are people cognitivelyprocessing information. Then I realized that it didn’tmake a connection to what was happening inclassrooms or in training situations. There were a lot ofthings that you could explain from the cognitiveperspective. Or, I guess its more in the framework ofpredicting. You could predict a lot, but it didnt alwaysexplain to me what was going on.Then from my perspective, in order to understand whatwas going on in the real world when people wereinteracting with each other or even interacting withartifacts or texts or their prior experiences, helpingthem think, it was more of a design-oriented activitythat they were taking initiative in it. They were doing
  4. 4. Business901 Podcast TranscriptionImplementing Lean Marketing SystemsCHAT in Activity Theory ThinkingCopyright Business901something with the environment and in order for me toexplain that design with something, I becameinterested in and I moved into a field called"instructional technology" where another word for it or,I guess another branch of it, is "instructional design".Thats how I became interested initially in designinginstruction. Now, I see design as something thatactually, everybody does and everybody doesntnecessarily give credit to doing or we dont even keeptraining people to continuing to design in theireveryday life.Joe: Your interest in design is based on understanding anddesigning an environment for yourself to understandbetter.Lisa: Yes, and then I think some people would have issuewith that understanding is a little too passive an issuein the sense that would be in the educational researchworld where Im at and that understandings notenough. But, for me, it seems like predicting howpeople might behave or think or do things at a latertime without understanding what theyre doing now, ittakes a lot of leap of faith to do that and I reallywanted to understand people before makingpredictions, and I dont think Ill ever be in the businessof making predictions myself.Joe: I think thats an interesting concept. So much of it isspending time downloading information from othersbefore we ever start our own actions. Thats whatyoure saying is kind of the essence of how you startand think about design.
  5. 5. Business901 Podcast TranscriptionImplementing Lean Marketing SystemsCHAT in Activity Theory ThinkingCopyright Business901Lisa: Yes, another component that I became interested isthis, and I think itll come up later to, but thisframework called "cultural historical activity theory".Initially it wasnt necessarily like an obvious connectionto design, but now I see a big connection. So once Iremoved myself from the cognitive framework orpredicting how people would react to information, howthey would digest information in the most efficient andprobably what people believe to be a reliable way, Ithen so got into the business of trying to understandpeople, describe whats going on, and there wasnt agood framework to do that.I moved into cultural historical activity theory, which isone framework embracing that people live in anenvironment that you cant remove from, and they areconstantly molding, shaping the environment whilethey are being molded and shaped at the same timeand in order to engage in any type of activity, it couldbe learning. It could be anything while some peoplewould say every activity is a learning event for humanbeings. But to engage in an activity, people arebasically carving their own way and, to me, thatswhere the design is happening on a daily basis. Thereare purposeful design activities as well, but on a dailybasis we are designing our own environment, designingwho we are, understanding who we are, I guess,achieve goals that we are aiming to achieve in thatmoment in time.Joe: Well, when you use the cultural historical activitytheorist, you abbreviate that as a CHAT person.Lisa: Yes, well, it initially was a response from the Vygotsky,who was a Russian scholar in the 1920s. He was
  6. 6. Business901 Podcast TranscriptionImplementing Lean Marketing SystemsCHAT in Activity Theory ThinkingCopyright Business901responding to more of a behaviorist stimulus, aresponse association framework so that would be theopposite. I wouldnt say opposite makes senseVygotskys point was adding in because if you are abehaviorist, your belief is basically that we dont needto know anything other than how to associate stimulusand response.We do this, or we try to do it, in child-rearing, in dogtraining a lot where you give a lot of reward. I knowthat sometimes behaviorism has, or a lot of people willtalk about being full of punishment, but I think a lot ofit has to do with positive reinforcement, rewardingpeople for good behavior. Behavior managementsystems in schools are based on that. My children comehome, "Oh, I was on blue today the whole day." Itworks in certain situations, but it doesnt explaineverything.Joe: Well, at the present time, youre teaching a course indesign thinking and theory. Could you tell me justbriefly about that?Lisa: The course itself is very theoretical, and thats astruggle I have but theres a prerequisite course wherestudents do design instruction. In that moment, theyrenot even given much reason, but its something toengage in and our students at the doctoral programhere in Tennessee, we have a unique program where itdraws on educational foundations that includes socialjustice and cultural studies, educational psychology andinstructional technology.So first of all, a course like mine isnt something youllsee everywhere. We talk about design in the sense of
  7. 7. Business901 Podcast TranscriptionImplementing Lean Marketing SystemsCHAT in Activity Theory ThinkingCopyright Business901not just designing objects, physical objects like aphone, a hammer or it could anything, every day orhigh-tech object, but we also talk more about designingexperiences because our program is about designinglearning environments. From that framework and fromthe backgrounds that we draw from students to comein and other expertise and faculty in our program, wetalk about designers as people who bring voice to theiraudience.Weve looked at, and briefly, some of the IDEO projectsboth in the consumer goods sector, but they also havemore of a human activism sector, as well. So we lookedand compared and contrasted about what are the corevalues in what IDEO people call as design. Weve alsolooked into how design is completely removed fromeducation and even adult training, that usually thedichotomy is between the sciences and humanities, andwhile design is something or many authors believe itsa naturally occurring phenomena that we engage in, wedont necessarily have to be taught to design.Although, you could be taught certain designspecialties. We dont even talk about it in school, wedont even encourage it. Then it ties into more ofcreativity issues.So basically, were looking at, from many differentangles, many of my students who started the class,some of them are unhappy that it was a required classin the doctoral program but after two weeks or so, itwas interesting, so out of about the 10 students I have,about half of them came in saying, "Okay, Im adesigner. I know Im a designer." Then the other halfwere very ambivalent and all of the sudden, weekthree, they came to a realization that, "Wow. I am a
  8. 8. Business901 Podcast TranscriptionImplementing Lean Marketing SystemsCHAT in Activity Theory ThinkingCopyright Business901designer. I do design on a daily basis."It could be that they designed space at their ownhome, they design events in the classroom, and theydesign instructions. So were taking a broad view atwhat is design, what are the commonalities, whatvalues people, what are the core principles and whatresponsibilities we have as designers once weacknowledge that we are engaging in design.Joe: It sounds like a great course for a marketing guy andfor the user experience.Lisa: Yes, and then there are methods that we do look intofor how to engage in quick assessments of userexperiences. Its not necessarily targeted forbusinesses. One of my students was talking with abusiness professor. She found out that in the businessschool; they were trying to create a class thats verysimilar to this. Probably with much more of a businessfocus I would assume. We do see a lot of connection.One of the texts were using is more of an architecturetext but talking about design. Another book is a littlemore cognitive text, but it draws from a lot of differentareas.Joe: How does design differ for learning environmentsversus designing for space, lets say?Lisa: I think it first starts with because most of my studentsare designers of learning space, but they never sawthemselves as designers. Once you take the designerrole, you develop this new perspective on what areyour responsibilities as a designer. We talk a lot aboutconsequences of your design, whether you intended to
  9. 9. Business901 Podcast TranscriptionImplementing Lean Marketing SystemsCHAT in Activity Theory ThinkingCopyright Business901or not, when something you design, the user finds acompletely different use for it than you ever imaginedthen what your responsibilities there are.In many instructional design programs, we are taughtto analyze, design, develop, implement. Then, itsalmost like you wash your hands clean from what youdesign. You move on to the next thing, and you haveno involvement of the sustainability or what happens toyour product. If youre in a company and if youreworking in a global company, if a training modulesdeveloped at the headquarters, if you launch thatmodule into a completely different country, how wouldthat be customized, localized?Those are issues that many instructional designersdont deal with at all. So I think that it is widening thescope of where, its not necessarily about selling aproduct or marketing a product, but its widening thescope of what your responsibilities are as designers andhow you need to go about working with clients.Joe: You bring up something in your conversation there thatI find kind of humorous because when someone usessomething in the way it wasnt supposed to be used, Imean, from my engineering background, you say, well,youre not using it right. But from the designersstandpoint, its an opportunity, right?Lisa: Right and that is, again, where the CHAT framer comesin. In a way, what you intended for the right specs orright design for the item, at that point it doesntmatter. It becomes a tool thats inserted into yourclients space or your audience space. Then theaudience can do anything they want to with it. I mean,
  10. 10. Business901 Podcast TranscriptionImplementing Lean Marketing SystemsCHAT in Activity Theory ThinkingCopyright Business901there are hazardous information’s, like child car seats.You want to use it the way that it was intended toensure safety, but there are issues in that area.As a designer, you have to think about when they saythat, okay; it was a person, the users problem, theusers fault. When somethings designed so that somany users would install something incorrectly, thenyou have to think about whose responsibility is it?Where is the scope of, as a designer, how much do youneed to know about your client? How muchparticipation do you need from your audience? Thoseare issues that widen the scope of our role andresponsibilities and how to go about design.In my class, whats interesting is so many of themeither used to be or are classroom teachers. As agroup, were concluding that classroom teachers aredesigners. They ought to be designers of instructions,but that voice is being taken away. Lately there are somany prepared modules that their school districts justsay, "In order to meet standards, this is what you haveto do." I dont know. Its almost like weve talked abouthow their wings are being clipped. Theyre no longertreated as a designer, and they just have to follow ascript. That was something interesting for my studentsthemselves to realize.Joe: I think that context is carried over into business. Wereseeing where the customer facing type of service andsales and support, the customer is the disruptor in it,so they have to be able to have complete clarity onwhat theyre trying to accomplish behind them toenable them to design right there, very similar to howyoure going to be as a teacher.
  11. 11. Business901 Podcast TranscriptionImplementing Lean Marketing SystemsCHAT in Activity Theory ThinkingCopyright Business901Lisa: Well, yes, youre talking about customer service. Whenyou call somebody its clearly scripted. Whatsinteresting to me, we were talking about it last night inclass to is that when you look at a lot of the messagesthat are coming from businesses to higher education,the messages that are four-year colleges worth itemployers are not getting employees who think ontheir feet, who can design experiences, or I interpret itthat way. Theyre not creative. They cant problemsolve. They cant think on their feet. Which, to me, areall related to designing, more than anything.Joe: Weve talked about that. Weve seen it in complexenvironments where we have to be able to design onour feet and as I was alluding to as far as the customerfacing type of support and be able to react that way. Sofrom design, is that becoming a more traditional typeof instruction that we need to make part of college andhigh school levels?Lisa: I would think so. I mean, there are skills. First of all,you need to be able to analyze a situation, thensynthesize it and then make meaning from it. Even ifits meaning that just makes sense in that moment,you need to try out various solutions, youve got to beable to think by yourself or in groups or in collaborationwith your audience.I would really think so, and I think in a way, there wasa wave in the 90s of problem-based learning,especially in medical schools, and it was popular in myown instructional technology and instructional designarea to. Even in K-12 schools there were a lot ofmovement towards portfolio assessment, project-
  12. 12. Business901 Podcast TranscriptionImplementing Lean Marketing SystemsCHAT in Activity Theory ThinkingCopyright Business901based, but, once again, it got stripped away once allthe standards came in and the wave kind of changedthat theres a concept of, "We dont have time for that."Joe: Well, design seems to be a hot topic now.Lisa: Right now? Definitely.Joe: Is it just a nomenclature for the times? Is it somethingthat we need to grab and take hold of?Lisa: I do think that its something that needs to grab andtake hold of. I do also see, especially in just looking athow it just floats around everywhere lately. Again, inthe 90s there was a whole movement towards changeand especially in the business books texts, evenpopular press. There was a lot of talk about change, alot of talk about Quality Six Sigma, TQM. I think itsone of those right now. Its just one of those realpopular concepts, but I do firmly believe that theresmore to it and how to keep at it after this popularitygoes away, I think its a big question.Joe: Well, one of the things you talk about is complexenvironments. What constitutes a complexenvironment? Is there any definition to that?Lisa: Thats a good question. The whole idea of complexenvironment, that is more my personal reaction tomore of the whats believed to be scientific method. Inthat environment, so Im going to first talk about whatits not. So in a much more, whats believed to be atraditional scientific environment, especially in taking aquantitative analysis type of approach, you want tosimplify everything to the simplest form.
  13. 13. Business901 Podcast TranscriptionImplementing Lean Marketing SystemsCHAT in Activity Theory ThinkingCopyright Business901So when you come up with variables that you decide, "Icare about this particular student test score," lets saywere just going to say, "I just care about this studenttest score." Were not going to think about anythingelse, whether the student had breakfast before she orhe came to school, what kind of family structure, whatkind of tutoring opportunities this child has at home orthrough siblings or maybe even the parents’ hiretutors.You say, "Were just not going to think about all that.Were going to put everybody on an even keel and saywere just going to look at this particular variable.Were going to give them the exact same test andmake sure that they have all the same allotted times sothat its all unbiased, its fair and look at the results."To me, that raised a lot of question that, in reality,things are not that simple that you can put blinders andsay, "Thats all were going to look at." But like yousaid, reality is always complex. So to me, the complexlearning environments, another way of putting it is justlike whats happening in real life. Then one problemwith this approach is that no matter what we do whenwere talking about it, its going to be in simplifiedform.The particular approach I talk about in my book"Activity Systems Analysis", its an extension of amodel that Vygotsky came up with in the 1920s. That,on its own, while it tries to embrace the idea that a realworld situation is complex, its still a simplified versionso thats something I struggle with, that no matterwhat you do, as a qualitative researcher who embraced
  14. 14. Business901 Podcast TranscriptionImplementing Lean Marketing SystemsCHAT in Activity Theory ThinkingCopyright Business901the fact that the world is complex, you cant, as ahuman being, in the storytelling, in the reporting ofyour own work, there is no way to capture the entirecomplexity. So thats something that I struggle withmyself if that makes sense.Joe: It is difficult. In the Lean world, you think about thefive Whys, you find root cause, and that is very linearand step by step. On the other hand, Lean is aniterative process and tries to take the complex world ina learn by doing environment. You could take eitherside of lean and argue whether it can deal with acomplex environment or its just a quantitativeanalysis.Lisa: And taking a lean approach is a powerful, attractivething because it can seemingly explain a lot of things.At times, perhaps, you do need that kind ofexplanation, making it the end all and be all. I do worryabout that.Joe: I dont think it is. I think in Lean you look at things asnot having definitive answers. Theyre justcountermeasures because you know that they onlyexist solving the problem for a while.Lisa: And they acknowledge that there is still a chance oferror. There might be an underlying variable that itsjust not possible to see at this time that is affectingeverything that youre seeing, and that is something to,that somehow in this taking of lean understanding ofthe world seems to have made many units,organizations, groups of people unable to be flexibleabout, "Oh, its time to change our thinking on this."Its almost like its not a problem of taking a Lean
  15. 15. Business901 Podcast TranscriptionImplementing Lean Marketing SystemsCHAT in Activity Theory ThinkingCopyright Business901approach. Its using that information, how to adapt asthings change.Joe: I think thats very true. You have to realize that it is atemporary measure, that you are just improving theprocess as you see it today.Lisa: Right. I think when you look at designers, again, partof design thinking is that you are able to adapt realquickly and whether you take a lean approach orlooking at the world in a complex way that you are ableto move again on your feet and realize that when anexplanation you had before doesnt work, its not timeto fight for that explanation because youre trying tocreate an experience or a product that not only will sellbut is meeting the needs of your clients.Joe: How do you see design developing in the future? If youhad a crystal ball and five years from now when peopleare talking about design, do you see it differently thanhow it is perceived now?Lisa: I would hope that with the current trend and movementthat, design is looked at more of a common languageacross boundaries. I think part of the problem, and itssomething we discussed, design itself doesnt have acontent. I have the same experience in educationwhere technology itself doesnt have necessarily, or atleast no education, its looked at as technology doesnthave a content. Its a tool for delivering your contentmessage and something like that, typically, at least inan educational system, gets put on the wayside or putaside.I would hope that this trend would make it more
  16. 16. Business901 Podcast TranscriptionImplementing Lean Marketing SystemsCHAT in Activity Theory ThinkingCopyright Business901acceptable for design as a field to be on its own or seemore interdisciplinary collaborations and peoplerealizing themselves, like my students case thattheyre actually engaging in design form more oftenthan they give themselves credit for and once theyrealize that they are engaging in design, and they haveto be responsible designers.Joe: What does the future hold for you?Lisa: I dont know. Im thinking that through myself. Interms of my job, I have to engage in research.Eventually, I think I want to be involved in more of thedesign of the university programs, environments.Program coordination right now is exciting andinteresting to me. I need to look into moreopportunities within the organization for more designopportunities I could engage in.Joe: Whats the best way of, if anyone had some questionthat they could reach out and contact you?Lisa: E-mail would be the best way. Itslisayamagatalynch@gmail.com. My name is fairlyunique so if you Google "Lisa Yamagata-Lynch", Im theonly one that shows up. I have a website:www.lisayamagatalynch.net. Thatll be another easyway to track me down.Joe: Well, I would like to thank you very much for yourtime. I appreciate it. This podcast will be available inthe Business901 blog site and the Business901 iTunesstore.Lisa: Thank you so much.
  17. 17. Business901 Podcast TranscriptionImplementing Lean Marketing SystemsCHAT in Activity Theory ThinkingCopyright Business901About: Joe Dager is president of Business901, a firm specializingin bringing the continuous improvement process to the sales andmarketing arena. He takes his process thinking of over thirtyyears in marketing within a wide variety of industries and appliesit through Lean Marketing and Lean Service Design.Visit the Lean Marketing Lab: Being part of this community willallow you to interact with like-minded individuals andorganizations, purchase related tools, use some free ones andreceive feedback from your peers.Joseph T. DagerBusiness901Phone: 260-918-0438Skype: Biz901Fax: 260-818-2022Email: jtdager@business901.comWebsite: http://www.business901.comTwitter: @business901

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