Sunday, May 18, 2014

Random thoughts on the future and implications on corporations and universities

I just got back from the Bay Area Maker Faire 2014.  Looking at all of the cool maker stuff, the upcoming technologies and the startups pitching their next generation 3D printing robot drones has got me thinking about the future.  I thought it would be good to put down some of my thoughts about the future while it's fresh on my mind.

As with all stories of the future, a moment to cast back on the past is in order.  In 1997, I was hired by a team at Lucent and Philips Consumer Communications to help research and design mobile phones.  In that year, I'd never actually spoken on a mobile phone, and I was awed at the technology.  That was 10 years before the introduction of the iPhone, and seventeen years before now.  Although it was clear that mobile technology was going to have an enormous impact on our everyday lives, I really had no idea:  Today, nearly every human adult has a mobile phone, and many of us in first-world countries have multiple devices that we navigate across fluidly throughout the day.  Given that incredible progress in that tiny part of my life, it is almost inconceivable for me to predict the future.  Yet here I go... (it's not like many people read this anyway) my predictions for the future:

  • Prediction 1: The distinction between work and home life will become completely perforated, or even irrelevant.  This seems excessively bold, but really it's a trend that's been increasing with technology that allows us to stay in communication and access pretty much any information anywhere, anytime. 
  • Because of this, I expect that corporations will be less defined and more directional.  Here's what I mean... you'll probably "join" a company for a time, and then work with them on a project to accomplish something with others.  The need for corporations to be clearer on direction and vision. They will, in turn, have less say in how you work and with which tools.  
  • Therefore, centralized IT teams will be relegated to "keeping the pipes flowing" and ensuring the "data is secure and accessible".  All attempts to impose internal tools or internal processes are likely to be circumvented by tools and processes that people learn and use outside of the constraints of "work". This has already begun, with tools such as Dropbox, Evernote and others, but will accelerate as tools become more sophisticated, integrated and accessible.
  • Prediction 2: A new style of apprenticeship will arise around entrepreneurship and core skills that may significantly distrupt the traditional systems of higher education that we have today.  For hundreds of years, the academic norm for institutions of higher education was Colleges and Universities, where the pursuit of academic truth was primary and much of undergraduate education was dedicated to the transfer of knowledge based on what was currently accepted as truth.   This system is highly optimized to prepare students at the undergrad and graduate levels for a career in academia.  It does not, however, prepare one for life outside of the academic environment.  Today, in the era of constant access to pretty much any information that has ever been known, the transfer of knowledge is not the critical thing for anyone who is not going to stay in academia.  Instead, the critical thing is to gain direct experiences that can provide transferable skills that are increasingly needed in today's world. 
  • Notice that we are already seeing signs of the cracks in the system:  high levels of under-employement paired with high student loans have led to some entrepreneurial students dropping out of college (or skipping it altogether) and going immediately into the workforce through startups and starting their own small businesses. Skill and Experience is what counts, so I anticipate the disruption of universities as the default educational path for a successful career. Instead, I expect a new style of institutional apprenticeship to arise. The proliferation of online and in-person classes centered around skill building will accelerate and eventually new institutions will arise that will focus on skills and experience, rather than knowledge and truth. 
Just my thoughts. I'm pretty much full of it, but I thought I would capture this now so I can look back at it in the future with amusement.


Friday, May 2, 2014

Innovation Networks in Action: The Case Study of Intuit's Innovation Catalysts

I recently published a case study on the Innovation Catalysts.  I was focusing on how creating a network for people to connect with upon completing innovation training can ensure the lasting impact of the training and ignite new opportunities to reinforce and expand upon those lessons.  Check it out and let me know what you think. 

Thursday, May 30, 2013

Lessons from Leading the Innovation Catalysts

I have a fantastic job that I love. I know that I'm lucky, but I also have aligned my work to my strengths and passions.

My current job is as the Leader of the Innovation Catalysts at Intuit.  I've been a part of the Innovation Catalyst program here from the very start, but have been leading the group for the past 15 months. There are currently 209 Innovation Catalysts, who each devote 10% of their time helping others to use Design for Delight (AKA Design Thinking) to innovate and get to better outcomes.  The impact of this group on our company has been enormous.  I'm not going to talk about that right now, though.

I'd like to share some other information that people seem to ask me about all the time as they consider creating their own Innovation Catalyst-type programs at their companies.

Identify what will work in your culture

You cannot just plug-and-play what we did here at Intuit.  Our Innovation Catalyst program works because our company values and cultural style is the way it is.  We have a deep passion for customers and doing the right thing for them.  We have a tradition of all employees encouraged to do "follow-me-homes" and also huge support for user research.  We have a culture that values the individual employees and the teams, with the belief that everyone can and should innovate.  This is an environment where the concept of "deep customer empathy" is familiar. Customer-Driven Innovation has been a core capability at the company since it's inception.  This is an environment where innovation is celebrated.    The Innovation Catalyst program is a grass-roots initiative with the full support of senior executives (Scott Cook, our company founder, has supported us from the very start).  We recognized that in this environment, we could leverage employees to ignite and facilitate other employees.  The idea of 10% time (unstructured time to work on whatever you are interested in) had just taken hold at the company, so we thought that if we also had 10% of some employee's time, we might be able to make an impact.

I've talked with folks from very "Engineering-Centric" or "Technology-driven" companies who have wanted to do something like the Innovation Catalysts. I point out that our exact approach won't quite work.   To be successful, you will need to lean into your own culture.

Choosing who should be Innovation Catalysts

Once you've determined that Innovation Catalysts would be successful in your culture, you'll have to identify who should be the first Innovation Catalysts.  We've learned so much over time about who to choose... and not to.

One of our earliest ah-has was that the impactful Innovation Catalysts were not only design thinkers themselves, but they were design thinkers who were motivated to "give it away".  The Innovation Cataysts aren't the ones doing the innovation work itself, they are enabling and encouraging it.  They are not the "Rockstars", they are the "Roadies".  Find people who get energy from igniting others.

Another learning was that a lone Innovation Catalyst had no where near as much success in getting others to do as an Innovation Catalyst who was part of a local "posse", who could lean on one-another.  Train multiple people who work together, so they can get some successes together.

Finally, once people are exposed to design thinking, you'll have people who naturally share what they've learned with others.  Those are the people who have already shown the behavior that you want in Innovation Catalysts.  Those are the people who will continue doing it.  Look for people who apply what they've learned by sharing it with others.

Ongoing Support of Catalysts

  • After the initial training, how do you ensure catalysts are skilled and comfortable leading efforts? We like to pair them up with an experienced Innovation Catalyst who partners with them planning and pulling off their first sessions, and to be a mentor.  They can also lean into us. We’re of the opinion that the best way to learn is through experience, so we just encourage them to jump in and try.  They may NOT be the most skilled, it’s a trade-off. They become skilled over time.
  • What other skills beyond innovation design skills have you found you need to teach (i.e. influence, facilitation, project management)? Early on we discovered that we really needed to learn professional facilitation skills (you know, after having one-too-many teams with melt-downs that we weren’t prepared for).  So, we’ve brought in a world-class facilitator to teach facilitation.  That is our “level 2” training.  We offer it after Innovation Catalysts have at least 16 hours of facilitation experience as an Innovation Catalyst.  Basically, we find that it is way more impactful if you have personally experienced facilitation challenges and difficult teams/people.  We’re piloting a “level 3” training right now that includes influencing and agreements, along with advanced coaching training (over a 12 week period).
  • We also have a full-time “coordinator” (Jennifer) to help Innovation Catalysts and others to plan and pull-off sessions.  We found that some of the barriers people had early on were ridiculous – people couldn’t find conference rooms to work in, people didn’t have sticky notes, people didn’t know where to find customers to bring in, etc.  So, we hired Jennifer to make sure that none of those simple things got in the way.

 Reporting & Getting Organizational Buy-in

  • What are all the things you guys track?  Are there certain things that certain folks are particularly interested in? When we started, our key metric was time. How much time were catalysts helping others to do D4D? This has changed now to outcomes/impact.  We still do track the # of employees that Innovation Catalysts have helped use D4D, but the number is wildly inaccurate and we give that caveat.
  • What do you report back to directors and GMs of the catalysts? Currently? Nothing.  I do send a report each quarter to the managers of Innovation Catalysts. I also roll up to some key stories that get shared at our OPS reviews. 

  • What are the most important metrics for success for your leadership? We’ve been told by our most senior executives not to worry about tracking metrics, they know that it’s have a huge impact on our culture and the way we work.  That said, I track the overall impact (via stories and outcomes) and folks are always delighted to get the details.  For example, I was just pinged about a bullet point in an OPS review slide that mentioned that Innovation Catalysts had a $50M+ impact in the last 6 months.  They were wondering if that number was too high. I was able to say that the number was actually low, and pointed them to only 3 projects that combined added up to a $50M increase in revenues.  And, of course, I have about 30 of those types of stories from this year…  

My top 10 list of advice for starting out

1.     Start small and learn from it
2.     Make sure ICs have “posses” or clusters of ICs working in the same area so they can rely on one another (a single catalyst all alone will find it hard to be impactful)
3.     Set clear expectations and hold people to them
4.     Don’t expect too much, though. They have their day-jobs!
5.     Create a mechanism that allows them to lean on each other.
6.     Be pro-active on following up to find out the longer-term impact of activity
7.     Celebrate even the tiny successes
8.     Share their stories frequently
9.     Teach them that tools are just tools, and if they aren’t working in the moment they need to solve for the team, not the tool.
10. Go where you are loved. Build up your successes, don’t try to fight resistance up front.

Saturday, March 16, 2013

Beyond the PhD - advice for PhD students and grads who want to get into Industry

I recently spoke on a Panel at USC at their "Beyond the PhD" conference.  I was struck by how academia hasn't really changed much in it's preparation of PhDs for the outside of academia (clearly, of course, USC recognized this, thus put on the conference).

There were three main things I walked away with that I felt like I needed to share.

  1. PhD students are scared.  They are in a highly competitive environment where the rules are clear: do research and publish. Finish your dissertation, do a post-doc or two, if you are very fortunate, you will get a tenure-track position somewhere.  As they look outside of academia, they don't understand the rules. They see a world of job listings that ask for years of experience at something they don't currently do.  They don't think they have relevant experience, so they don't apply.  They don't know where to look to find someone who would be interested in their knowledge.  The reality is, people in industry usually are not interested in your knowledge (although there are exceptions).  They would ideally like someone who has had the job experience that they are seeking, but that is so they will have the relevant SKILLS to do the job they are trying to fill.
  2. PhD students aren't conscious of what their marketable skills are. Let me illustrate:
    • Sure, you haven't been a Product Manager for 2 years, but you HAVE delivered a rather huge project (your dissertation) on-time, despite needing to juggle the demands of multiple stakeholders (your dissertation committee and advisor).  Didn't that take about 2 years?  
    • Sure, you haven't been a user experience researcher for 4 years, but as a psychology PhD (for instance),  you've been doing more years than that of research with humans. You know how to design a study, implement it and report on it.  You learn methods quickly and can conduct research to find out whatever it is that needs to be learned.  Haven't you been doing that for at least 4 years?  
    • Sure, you haven't been doing technical writing for 3 years, but you have been writing about technical matters for years, and you've also had to translate complex concepts into simple ones for undergrad classes you've been a TA for, right?  Haven't you been doing these things for 3 years?
    • Sure, you haven't been a Big Data Scientist... but haven't you been doing stats on large data sets for years?
  3. PhD students don't recognize the value of life outside of academia.  In academia, you kind of have to go wherever the jobs are, and make very little money until you achieve tenure.  Outside of academia, you can choose where you want to live (within reason), your starting salary will be more than you likely would have made for years in academia (so you can actually afford to live somewhere you want to) and it's relatively quick and easy to switch companies if your current position isn't quite working out.  It was clear from the entire panel of industry professionals, that location (e.g., living where a spouse needs to be for work) was the biggest lure for leaving academia.  However, the second biggest reason, and the one that seems more compelling --- outside of academia you have choice. You don't need to continue to put your life on hold until you nail that tenure-track job.  
All of this said, I love academia.  I always did.  I thought that is where I would stay, but my life has really bloomed since leaving it.  I have awesome and in-demand skills, I get to work with smart people on really challenging problems. I spend much of my time teaching and growing others.  I live in the Bay Area, where I am close to my family, experience wonderful weather year-round, can reach the mountains in 3 hours to ski, and have loads of cultural opportunities to take advantage of all the time.  

Sure, I don't get 3 months off in the summer. I'm still trying to negotiate that... Sure, I don't always get to work on exactly the areas that interest me most...but, I have to say:  I'm not scared, I am conscious of my marketable skills, and I definitely do recognize the value of life outside of academia.

UX Influence & Innovation

UX Influence & Innovation from Wendy Castleman

A talk I recently gave at the Walmart Global UX Summit on Gaining influence as User Experience Professionals within corporations by empowering others with your tools. 

Friday, April 27, 2012

Two talks I gave and haven't posted here...

These are two webinar format talks that I gave over the last 9 months that I neglected to post on my blog.  Actually, I've been neglecting the blog completely for a while.  Perhaps its time to revisit...

This was a deck that I created to go with a talk I gave to UPA about changing corporate cultures to be more innovative.
This was a deck I created to help me structure my small teleconference talk to the E3A association. (They are a group of small businesses that offer classes and coaching and team-building activities with horses to increase emotional intelligence).

Monday, June 27, 2011

Go through training to be your customer

We all know that when we aren't our customer, we make design choices that often don't really resonate with the customer.  This can be especially true if you are highly tech savvy and your customer is not.  In some cases, we are designing for audiences that are very discrete and specialized.  How do you design for them?  Well, of course, the standard observational methods and customer research applies.  But, here's a quirky way to get some empathy for your customer -- go through training to become them. 

This example is completely hypothetical, but go with me on it...

Let's say you were hired to design a web application for LVNs (Licensed Vocational Nurses - the ones who often provide bedside assistance in homecare and nursing homes and the like) to teach them standard care techniques and track what they've done with each of their patients for the day.  You've certainly got the opportunity to talk with LVNs, and maybe observe them in their natural habitat.  However, one option that you might not have thought of until now is to go through training to become an LVN.

The thing is, the people who best understand what it's like to be your target customer are your target customer. And, if you aren't them, you could put yourselves completely into their shoes by becoming them.  The interesting thing about doing the training that they've done is that it exposes you to their vocabulary, the things they've been told, and their expectations.  You'll be exposed to how they are treated, and how they see themselves with respect to related professionals.  It can help you really connect with what they think and how they feel.  And, as I've mentioned before, that is the key to understanding what motivates them.  When you have that, you have deep understanding and empathy and the solutions that you design for them are likely to really resonate.