December 10th, 2013
In cognitive design we create artifacts that are optimized for how minds really work. There are five types of “minds” that are important in cognitive design.
- Individual (between the ears) including mental processes and structures in a given person’s brain.
- Extended (in the hand) including objects that we think, learn and create with. For example, an artist’s favorite paint brush or an architect’s model of a building.
- Group (among the heads) including any collection of individuals. For example, a partnership, product development team or therapy group.
- Machine (in a black box) including hardware and software that automates one or more mental processes or structures. For example, the buzzer on your clothes dryer or an expert system a car mechanics uses to diagnosis a problem.
- Emergent (beyond the heads) including a group and/or machine intelligence the delivers a new mental state or level of performance. For example, a prediction market that forecasts a presidential election or the success of a new product better than any individual.
A robust design seeks to distribute cognitive load across the five types of mind. In some applications we look to off-load the mental work that individuals have to shoulder on to groups or machines. In other cases we look to boost mental capacity by creating machine or extended minds that outperform individual or group minds in an important way.
For example, Wikistrat is an example of how to use an emergent mind effects to outperform a group of highly trained individuals. They are using gamification and crowdsourcing to produce high quality reports and forecasts on complex geopolitical and economic issues 5 times faster and for 1/3rd the price of traditional consultancies.
The architecture that creates the emergence is similar to massively multiplayer online games. Wikistrat assembles a group of analysts to develop scenarios for a client’s strategic challenge and then lets gamification kick in:
The chief analyst synthesizes the results and the client has access to all the intelligence via an interactive platform.
Definitely a new way to support the cognitive work needed to generate strategic insights into economic and geopolitical issues.
December 3rd, 2013
I get a good number of calls and emails from people wondering what cognitive design can do to help meet the challenge of improving engagement in high-quality science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) education. The concern is, at least in the US, that enrollment is down just when we need more STEM educated citizens to innovate and compete in the global economy.
Teaching is a hard cognitive design challenge, especially teaching STEM so I generally have a lot of advice to share. Indeed, I have been teaching a physics class to learn more first-hand and experiment with specific cognitive design ideas. One suggestion I often make is create/buy and give cool science toys.
Technical play, often early in life, appears to be a common theme among STEM professionals that are making notable contributions to our economic prosperity.
For a sample across age ranges check out – science is creative and good toys reflect that. The idea is simple. Play by adults or children reveals the magic and power of science and will inspire us to learn more.
Interested to hear from readers that have experience with science toys.
November 26th, 2013
It is now well known, and to some degree accepted, that specific types of cognitive biases can have a big impact on our decision making process. For example, the recency effect suggests that we give too much weight to the last paper we read or presentation we hear. Or the gambler’s fallacy that “someone must win” leads to all manner of distorted decisions and investments. There are literally hundreds of such biases that warp (from the perfectly rational) our decision-making processes on everything from buying a lottery ticket to deciding on a career.
An interesting HBR post on Managing Atmospherics in Decision Making, takes it one step further. The author, Rob Duboff, argues that our decision-making process is influenced by a host of external factors such as color, music, appeal to authority and priming that he calls atmospherics. To quote:
”It’s not just that decision-makers don’t refer to data in making choices – they don’t even necessarily decide based on “gut feel.” Decisions are being made because of external and seemingly extraneous factors that work on a wholly unconscious level, bypassing even the gut.”
This is important for cognitive designers because it shifts the focus of attention from “the gut” or the realm of cognitive biases to external factors.
November 11th, 2013
The Management Innovation Exchange (MIX) in cooperation with the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development (CIPD) recently conducted a hackathon involving some 1700 HR professionals and business leaders aimed at cracking the code on agility. They released a report that summarizes nearly a 150 ideas organized into 9 design principles ranging from experimentation and learning to purpose and meaning. Nearly all of the design principles involve individual or group cognition and should be of interest to readers of the cognitive design blog.
For example, one idea to is facilitate corporate earthquakes:
“The Corporate Earthquakes hack is all about crafting and anticipating an organization’s future by envisioning the unthinkable nightmares and dreams of tomorrow. This is done by designing and running corporate-wide hackathons focused on extreme, unusual, apocalyptic and why-not challenges and situations. The process is designed to be fun and inspire creativity, with possible corporate earthquakes including everything from likely industry shifts to unlikely events like mass alien abductions. “
November 4th, 2013
How we use our bodies impacts our thinking, learning, decision-making and other cognitive functions. The entire field of embodied cognition is devoted to understanding how body behaviors and mental performance interact. For example, literally “stepping back”, folding your arms or walking around have all been shown to improve problem solving outcomes.
Findings in embodied cognition are especially relevant for designers because they tell you what people should do to produce specific mental states. So I am always on the look out for new scientific finding in embodied cognition. Take for example the recent work at the University of Cologne on hand washing.
Not only did they find that it tends to make you more optimistic after a failure, but they found that it leads to poorer performance in the same context.
This is a strange result as we normally associate optimism with higher levels of performance. Here is the explanation:
“… it can be concluded from the results that while physical cleansing after failure may eliminate negative feelings, it reduces the motivation to try harder in a new test situation to restore one’s own perception of competence. Hence, physical cleansing seems to result in being in a better position to deal with failure.”
Clearly more research is needed but it does bring to mind the old metaphor or saying: I am washing my hands of this situation.
October 28th, 2013
To make change stick you must over determine the outcome you want. That means applying many strategies and tools to the job rather than just one or a few. You need to find ways to tap intrinsic motivation, rewards, peer pressure and environmental factors if you want to change individual and group behaviors.
While this may seem like over kill to some, research supports the over determined approach to change. For example, a Sloan Management Review article, How To Have Influence, found organizations that used 4 or more strategies to drive a change where 10x more likely to achieve the outcomes they wanted. For a more general argument about the need to over determine your change effort check out Influencer: The New Science of Leading Change.
You see similar results in the personal behavior change space. For example, Baylor College of Medicine conducted a study that showed people that used more tools to lose weight achieved a greater loss. It was not a 10X effect but it was a 5X effect varying from 4 pounds for zero tools (self directed) to 20 pounds for those using three tools (weight watchers program, apps, etc.).
So the questions is not so much what are you going to do to make your change work – but what 4 or 5 things working together will make you change stick?
Source of Weight Loss Graph PR Newswire
October 21st, 2013
In cognitive design we focus on how to translate scientific insights into how minds work into new products, services, process improvements, better work environments and other innovations. One important insight with plenty of innovation potential is that our mental processes – thinking, learning, making decisions, self-control and the like, very much depend on how we use our bodies. That is, cognition is embodied. For example, we think better when we walk and gesture freely with our arms. So I am always on the lookout for new research into embodied cognition that could have practical implications.
For example, a recent study from Princeton University found that feeling weighed down by guilt is more than a metaphor:
“We found that recalling personal unethical acts led participants to report increased subjective body weight as compared to recalling ethical acts, unethical acts of others or no recall. We also found that this increased sense of weight was related to participants’ heightened feelings of guilt, and not other negative emotions, such as sadness or disgust.”
This finding may have practical consequences. For example, related research suggests you may be able to regulate moral behavior by simulating the experience of being weighted down. Imagine for a moment if wearing a heavy backpack would actually decrease the chance of cheating on an exam or lying.
Interested to hear from readers that have seen other recent results from embodied cognition that could be useful to designers.
Image Source: Richard Gunther on ChristArt.com
October 16th, 2013
Bullying is a big problem in the US. It happens in schools, at work, on the internet, at home and in the community. Studies indicated that approximately 30% of US students are bullies or victims.
As the focus of cognitive design is to address deeply felt but unmet psychological needs, bullying is definitely a relevant challenge. Not only to help victims cope and ultimately forgive but to help design interventions that have the best chance of preventing bullying in the first place.
October is National Bullying Prevention Month and to help celebrate it Routledge has publish some free articles into the nature of the problem that are full of insights for cognitive designers.
I hope readers of the Cognitive Design blog will take up the challenge.
October 7th, 2013
The training magazine network is hosting a provocative ideas webinar that I am giving on using micro-learning techniques to change behavior and improve performance. It will run for free on January 15 at 1 pm ET for an hour. Hope to see you there.
Micro-learning is the tiny bursts of learning we do every day to solve problems, make decisions and improve performance. All training involves a micro-learning phase if the goal is behavior change and ROI. Trainers tend not to emphasize this last mile of learning because it is too personalized, short lived and entangled in work. Learn how new technologies and methodologies are changing that.
Discover a new method for including micro-learning in training which breaks learning content into its smallest relevant chunks called knowledge cards. Successful examples and demonstrations in leadership, innovation, teamwork and emotional intelligence will be presented.
October 1st, 2013
“The entries came pouring in from every corner of the world—real-world case studies and bold hacks tackling the intersecting challenges of redistributing power and equipping and energizing people to lead even when they lack formal authority.”
Using Micro-Learning to Boost Influence Skills in Emergent Leaders