September 22nd, 2013
There is little doubt that creativity and innovation plays a big role in the US economy. Translating new ideas into better ways of working and market-busting products and services is a serious engine of value creation. Few debate that but many debate how well the US is doing with innovation. Some argue we have a creativity crisis while others argue we are on the cusp of an innovation-driven economic revolution.
A recent column by Geoff Colvin in Fortune Magazine, A Mighty Culture of Innovation Cannot Be Taken For Granted, offers some interesting insight into the debate. Quoting two global studies he notes that the US scores high in innovation and that countries that do better tend to be much smaller. The US is the best large and innovative economy by far. Mr. Colvin also suggest that the reason for that is culture.
That’s the good news. The bad news is that by some measures it looks like the US’s culture of innovation is eroding. For evidence he quotes the World Values Study that ranked the US 10th on placing importance on “thinking up new ideas and being creative”. More alarming is the finding that Torrance test scores have been declining since 1990. The Torrance test has been used to measure the level of creativity in US students for over 50 years.
For a counter point check out Fast Company’s 10th Annual Innovation by Design Issue. A major theme is how the US consumer is putting a premium on great experiences and products with high design content. Design thinking both reflects an innovation culture and transforms an innovation-driven economy.
Of special interest to readers of the Cognitive Design Blog is the section outlining where is designing going next. Margaret Rhodes points out:
“Thoughtful design doesn’t just enable our habits; it pushes us to improve behavior making us more economical, reflective and responsible”
Designs that offer us an opportunity to achieve lasting behavior change in areas such as health, ethics, personal savings and being green offer tremendous potential for creating social and economic value on a macro scale. Delivering such changes requires a deep understand of how human minds actually work and puts cognitive design at the center of the innovation economy.
So what is the state of creativity in the US? Is it on the decline or swelling to new levels?
September 18th, 2013
The Journal of Consumer Research is a excellent source of insights into how our minds work. Why and how people buy things is the most studied forms of psychology on the planet. Many of the insights go beyond the context of making a purchase and are therefore useful to cognitive designers working in all areas.
Take for example the recent article on how entering lotteries might undermine self-control:
“The author investigated why materialism leads to poor self-control and found that materialistic thoughts are specific and concrete, and that the more materialistic thoughts a consumer has, the more likely he or she is to demonstrate a lack of self-control. Prior research has shown that when people’s minds are occupied with concrete thoughts, they tend to seek immediate gratification.”
This has clear implications for cognitive designers working in behavior change. You can access the entire article HERE.
September 8th, 2013
Positive psychology seeks to understand and improve talent, happiness, thriving, adaptability, well-being and other means by which we flourish and succeed. It has been recognized as a formal branch of psychology for over 15 years. It provides a unique and practical window into “how our minds actual work” and is therefore a vital source of insights for cognitive designers.
But what has it taught us? While that question is far too broad to deal with in a single post, I did find an interesting article, Three Insights from the Frontiers of Positive Psychology, that offers an interesting perspective. Here is the bottom line:
1. Being mindful (fully in the present moment) is essential for happiness but thinking about the future, in a constructive and empowering way is essential for meaningfulness.
2. Regular detachment from work has greater restorative power than your typical vacation.
3. Physical design of our environment has a distinct and lasting impact on our mood and other mental states. Open, green well-kept spaces have a positive impact.
None of these insights is a surprise. Indeed some are a part of our folk psychology or wisdom. For example, insight two sounds a lot like “don’t bring your work home”. While this is true having a scientific understanding or explanation does have its advantages. Most notably it helps to rationally justify investments in certain types of interventions and will take some of the guess work out of our design efforts.
It falls to the cognitive designer to turn these insights into useful interventions, programs, products, services and daily habits that help us flourish.
September 4th, 2013
Venture Beat is offering an early look at Samsung’s SmartWatch. It has a camera, is focused on wellness/fitness, integrates with the phone/tablet and has internet access.
August 30th, 2013
In cognitive design we look for specific features and functions that reliably produce a given psychological impact or mental state. For example, the facial features of big round eyes, a prominent forehead and pudgy cheeks generates the psychological response that what we see is cute, adorable and even squeezable.
I have cataloged 310 such design patterns and the theories behind them. But I am always on the lookout for more. A new entry I am considering is based on the research, Rituals Enhance Consumption, recently reported in Psychological Science.
The researchers conducted four experiments that suggest adding rituals and delays to food consumption more deeply involves us in the experience of eating and has a significant impact on how much flavor and enjoyment we experience. And the rituals do not need to be complex. Here is what they used:
“Without unwrapping the chocolate bar, break it in half. Unwrap half of the bar and eat it. Then, unwrap the other half and eat it.”
Of course, the experimental situation is contrived and so applying this result requires establishing a personal ritual. Personal rituals have meaning and create a state of mindfulness and thus enhance the experience. But how do we break that down into the features and functions of a design pattern? Saying we need to ritualize is too vague.
August 25th, 2013
To empathize means we not only understand the thoughts and feelings of others but we actually have or share them. Achieving empathy is a source of inspiration for innovators and designers as it reveals unmet needs, especially psychological ones. Of course achieving empathy is not always possible but you should work hard to get as close as you can.
For example, a couple of years ago in my cognitive design course at Northwestern University, I had a student team working in the area of obesity. To gain empathy, one of the team members wore a backpack with 20 pounds of extra weight in it for a day. Wanting to go further, they wore padding to increase their body size and added elastic bands to decrease their mobility. And they did not stop there. It took quite some effort to assemble the materials and make the wearables to simulate the experience of being obese. They even consulted friends in the movie business. The result was a multi-day empathy exercise that was transformational.
I recently read of another example focused on innovating for the elderly (see image above). The Ageing Empathy Exercise, is one of 20 concepts in the evaluation stage of OpenIDEO’s design challenge, How might we all maintain well being and thrive as we age? In this empathy exercise they have you put cotton balls in your ears and noise and wear glasses with dirty lenses to dull you senses. You also wear latex gloves with rubber bands around your knuckles to impede your hand dexterity. Once suited up you try and perform simple everyday activities such as buttoning your shirt, getting coins out of your wallet or opening a pill bottle.
Give it a try.
How have you used designed empathy exercises and experiences as an innovation technique? What materials and procedures did you use? How far did you have to push it to generate usable insights?
August 18th, 2013
A 2-person firm Supertoy Robotics is looking for 30K pounds on Kickstarter to build the world’s first natural talking teddy bear. They already have a pledge of more than 58K pounds with four days to go. You can get more details on how it should work HERE.
The toy bear is supposed to go beyond Q&A and engage in continuous conversation, read stories and role play in a character. It even moves its mouth.
If the technology works and is affordable it will open up a wide range of interesting applications for cognitive designers and other innovators.
August 13th, 2013
The M-prize is a management innovation contest run on the MIX and sponsored by McKinsey & Co and the Harvard Business Review. It is actually a series of prizes aimed at reworking our management models and practices for the 21st century. I submitted some cognitive design work I did with knowledge cards for the leadership everywhere M-prize. It was picked as a finalist!
Here is the entry:
Using Micro-Learning to Boost Influence Skills in Emergent Leaders
Please take a moment and check it out.
Any likes, shares or comments it receives should help in the final leg of the competition which ends August 30th. You can like or share with a click but leaving a comment requires registering with the site.
Read about the other finalists on the Harvard Business Review site:
What does post-bureaucratic leadership look like?
Cognitive design has a big role to play in the management models for the 21st century. You can see aspects of it at work in many of the entries.
August 10th, 2013
Our brains are hardwired to process verbal messages in specific ways. Recent research, suggests that one of those ways has us believe a speaker more when we sense that they have the ability to act on the message they offer. This is one reason change agents insist that messages about big company transformations come from top leaders. Employees naturally believe top leaders are the only ones capable of producing such change.
It is important to note that this effect is nearly immediate and based in neurophysiology not psychological-level dynamics. You can count on it every time.
Having the power to act on what you say has an immediate and deep impact on how well you will persuade listeners, especially when you are telling them about something new.The implication is clear – taking the time to make listeners aware of your social status and potency to act as it relates to the matter at hand is essential for influence. Try this out the next time you are introducing someone to a group or using a story to illustrate a point.
August 7th, 2013
Every year organizations and individuals spend billions of dollars and countless hours to develop soft-skills. These include personal productivity and interpersonal skills such as communication, teamwork, creativity, assertiveness, influence, self control, time management and the ability to work well under pressure. Often developing soft-skills are part of a larger attempt to build even broader competencies in areas such as leadership, innovation, emotional intelligence or personal effectiveness.
Building soft-skills means reading how-to books, taking seminars, being coached and doing developmental exercises or projects. While such efforts can lead to increased motivation and conceptual knowledge they often fail to produce behavior change and improved business or personal outcomes. I have dramatized the situation for a hypothetical training class below.
While most participants in the training class will give high marks to the experience (happy! score on evaluations) and pass a quiz demonstrating conceptual knowledge, few will achieve lasting behavior change that translates into improved organizational or personal outcomes (e.g. increased sales or weight loss).
The question is what are the people at the lower right of this graph doing that others are not?
They are showing a positive deviance that we need to understand. They have mastered a technique or small set of vital behaviors for converting general advice and how-to knowledge that they glean from reading and training into new outcomes. If we can understand and replicate that we have an opportunity to dramatically improve the impact of our investment in soft-skills.
I have conduct several studies aimed at answering that question. The results are clear. People getting the most out of soft-skill development efforts are able to take the macro-scale concepts and techniques taught in books and seminars and break them down down into small short experiments they can try in a real setting on a regular or daily basis. In short, they are natural born micro-learners or they have coaches that are.
I am going to discuss these studies and how we can use the results to improve the impact of soft-skills development at the Online Learning Conference in Chicago that runs September 17-19 at the McCormick Place Lakeside Center. I will be doing three speed sharing best practice sessions on Thursday morning 8:15-9:00 am. You can access the supporting handout HERE.
Hope to see you there.