Saturday, November 17, 2007

Beating the Wal-Mart Effect

My wife and i spent a romantic Friday night watching The Corporation,

and Wal-Mart: The Hight Cost of Low Price,

and though we known it before, it became even more clear what the mission of is, and that is to do our part to prevent two things:
  1. The "Wal-Mart Effect" on small business (small businesses dying off as a result of large businesses moving into a community and exerting their pricing influence past where smaller businesses can compete), and
  2. Corporatization of America (consumers and employees becoming less aware and less involved in the organizations that shape our lives)
These two things have exerted a heavy influence on SMB's in America for quite a while, and many have gone out of business by trying to beat big businesses at their own game. It's our idea that the game needs to change altogether - especially where SMB's are concerned. Here is a little graphic of the two forces i seem to see exerting influence on the SMB today. On the right is the still-dominant paradigm for business. On the left is the new paradigm we're proposing:

BigTreeTop's contribution to the solution is by starting with small and mid-sized businesses and organizations, to provide a platform that will help them to more easily adopt co-creative practices with their employees, customers, and business partners, by involving them in some decision making, story-telling, community and partnership-building and creation of value itself. We are sure it will have at least the following two effects on small business in local economies:
  1. It will help to stave off the Wal-Mart effect on SMB's and their local economies by improving the advantages they already have over large businesses trying to exert their influence: real community, adaptability and customer loyalty beyond just product and service value
  2. It will provide consumers with increased ownership of the success of their local businesses and economy
..and we are reasonably sure that it will have the following two effects on the big businesses in the national economy:
  1. Large organizations will be forced to involve employees and customers in deeper co-creation as a source of real competitive advantage.
  2. Deeper co-creative involvement of customers and employees in large organizations will lessen their ability to take part in unsustainable business practices.
What we're proposing is a pretty radical new way of thinking about organizations and their boundaries which suggests that, with the right platform and process in place, an organization which blurs its boundaries and emphasizes the deep involvement of its community of employees, customers and business partners will be more successful than an organization which does not. We think that SMB's and smaller non-profits can benefit more naturally from co-creation, since it merely magnifies what they do already - which is to be a part of a real-live community of people who are concerned not only about the cost value of a business's products and services, but about the business itself, its people and its existence within a local and national economy.

Friday, November 16, 2007

Reifying HCI (Part 2) - Personal Connections

Personal connections are a key in any field - design, the academy, business. Everyone admits this publicly, but i've noticed a slight negative subtext in conversations where it became clear that folks still don't like the idea that "it's not what you know but who you know." This subtext betrays a feeling that, while folks know that personal connections are important, they still want to land the job or the deal or the publication completely on their own merit without having leveraged a connection to get it done.

This notion is complete hog-wash. The myth (except in a few edge cases) of the iconic, seminal designer or author is just that - a myth - that we hold dear because we want to think that we are important, special and unique. Except for a few edge cases, this is not the case. If i really were the iconic, seminal designer or author, i would have no need to feel negatively toward the notion of personal connections at all. In fact, those connections would be coming to me.

There is a rising need for personal connections, in my opinion, and it is due to 2 increasingly necessary things:

  1. Trust (Digitization makes it increasingly easy to fake resumes, plagiarize work and purchase degrees. Trust is at a premium)
  2. Character (Character is what ensures that a person will thrive in any environment - regardless of the changes around them - much more than will a skillset. See my previous post
about what VC's look for in a team)
The importance of these things - and the resulting importance of personal connections - occurred to me again yesterday as i sat in a meeting with the Managing Partner of a VC firm to discuss BigTreeTop. Her fund is in the Life Sciences, and therefore not a potential investor. She graciously offered, nonetheless, to take the time to give me her advice and perspective - which was the end result of a long line of personal connections that served, for her, as a guarantee of my reputation (whatever that is), and as a signification of my character. The string of connections goes back over 10 years, and includes former employers, family friends and colleagues. Without those connections, no amount of genius would have gotten me into her office, since her time is extremely valuable, and she wouldn't have known me from a hole in the wall.

For those of us in any profession (academic, business, interpretive dance), there are therefore a few imperatives that will serve to grow and keep connections that can later serve as a guarantee for those wondering if they should take the time to meet with us.

  • Be Genuinely Interested - Never, ever use people for their "connection value." The human brain can detect all but the most clever forms of sycophantry in an instant. Be genuinely interested in the people you meet. Find common ground and explore it - both as a connection opportunity and a chance to learn.
  • Keep Bridges - Never, ever burn a bridge from your end. When leaving an organization, don't leave them until you can leave on good terms. One of my former employers is now an investor in BigTreeTop, and another is funding work in the School of Informatics.
  • Connect with Fish of all Sizes - There is no such thing as "little fish who grow up to be big fish." People are connected along many different dimensions. I have seen many instances where the administrative assistant of a corporation is among the most influential in hiring decisions, by virtue of his or her direct, conversational access to the CEO.
  • Character is Key - With forward-thinking folks, character trumps skill every time. If your network knows that you have character (adaptability, integrity, etc), they will want to connect with you. If they aren't sure, they won't. Anyone can gain skills - and pretty quickly. Character is harder to come by - and therefore more imperative.

Tuesday, November 06, 2007

Erik Pukinskis, Skip the PhD

Erik, if you're out there reading this, drop the silly PhD dream and fulfill your destiny at MC Hammer's "Dance Jam"!

ReifiyingHCI (part 1) - Investment in Team

This series of posts will be a sort of ecclectic collection of thoughts and observations from my dual-life as an entrepreneur and academic. They will be posted in fairly random order, and in fairly random order of importance. Some of these observations and personal discoveries may be common knowledge to those of you reading this, but others may find them surprising. Here goes:

Having lived (on cans of tuna - no bread - for lunch) through the dot com crash of the early 2000's and watched first-hand the startup investment game, one of the things i always wondered about was how any investor - angel, venture, institutional - made such a large decision to invest millions of dollars in an unproven concept. There are of course a number of factors that go into the decision (investment horizons for their fund, the way a prospective investee fits into their existing portfolio of companies, acceptable rates of failure, etc), but perhaps the most interesting fact that i learned is that investment folks invest less in the concept than they do in the team that came up with it. In HCI/d education, we speak very little about the character, the personality and the charisma of the design team, but in fact the people with the most money to lose actually place the highest value on these things.

..and when considered for more than a second, this makes sense. Markets change. Economies change. Societies change. When an investor puts money into a venture, they are betting against a 3-5 year future which, in a society that is, according to Marshall McLuhan, moving at electric speed (very fast), is likely to be completely and unpredictably different in 3-5 years than it is today. Therefore the concept that an investor sees in front of them today is likely to be obsolete tomorrow. They expect this. Therefore the thing that is the most likely to provide a good return on their investment is the team that came up with the concept - and especially their energy, process and smarts to be able to keep coming up with more concepts to adapt to the rapidly changing environment.

In a fairly recent presentation, Idris Mootee, CEO of Idea Couture - a strategy/design firm, showed the following slide with the characteristics of highest importance to Angel and Venture Capital investors. From my talks so far with investors and entrepreneurs, it appears to be pretty accurate:

Some potential implications of this:
  • A hyper-efficient iterative design process that can communicate well to all stakeholders (including investors) is clearly more important the one or two good epiphanic designs.
  • Investors may want to understand your process. If they can see how you got to today, they can plot a trajectory to where you might be tomorrow, which is what they really care about.
  • Investors are more design-oriented than is obvious at first glance. They just speak a different language.
  • Trustworthiness is more important to investors than either sales potential or the entrepreneur's experience. People who don't have their ethical house in order probably will have a hard time surviving.
  • Choosing and managing a team is of primary importance when starting any organization

ReifiyingHCI (part 1)

The process of starting a business has been extremely intense and interesting. It has forced me to learn about design and the reification of design (a.k.a. business) by drinking from the firehose of practice as well as from the water fountain of books. I would highly recommend the process to anyone who wants to learn at a rapid rate. Over the next few months, i will be blogging more about the process of starting from an HCI/d perspective. I have been relatively quiet about our business until now because a) just about every spare moment is taken up with other academic and business activities, and b) i wanted to first, before writing, ensure that i had a good handle on what is smart - from an intellectual property perspective - to write about publicly (if i had my way, all IP would be out on the table for the world to kick around, but people better-versed than am i in the ways of current legal/business practice convinced me that this would have been a bad idea).

To my colleagues at IU Informatics: If i've been a bit distracted in classes and meetings over the course of the past 6 months, i hope that you won't take it personally. The thousands of tasks around getting an idea like BigTreeTop off the ground are pretty good at pushing themselves consistently to the forefront of one's consciousness, especially when paired with simultaneous PhD work. This will probably continue for a while longer, but my hope is that, in time, the effort will produce a living, breathing organization that that we can all use as a test bed for HCI/d research, as well as an experiment the result of which we can analyze and from which we can all learn.

I hope that the upcoming series of musings is interesting information for those of you currently studying HCI/d, for those of you now practicing it, and for those of you who have an idea that you would like to some day make a reality in the form of a real live organization.

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

Identity as Advertising

This is also posted at (

Without getting into the deeper philosophical concept of identity as performance or sign, i find the recent news of MySpace founder Tom Andersen’s alleged age-shifting mildly amusing.

Tom Anderson, the co-founder of MySpace and the first friend to anyone who creates a MySpace profile, isn’t really 32 like it says on his MySpace profile. His Wikipedia entry, which says he was born in 1975, is also incorrect. How old is he really? We first heard 40. We dug a little online and came up with nothing. But then we got a senior person at MySpace to talk to us about it off record at the Web 2.0 Summit last week: this person confirmed that he’s really “36 or 37″ and that MySpace has been trying to keep this quiet for some time.
(Source: TechCrunch)

In considering identity, and its perhaps often fractured online nature, i had never given much thought to the idea that the identities of higher-profile folks would be knowingly and grossly manipulated as a branding move. As the first mega social networking success story, MySpace has been a lightning-rod in the past for the criticisms that people in social networks lie about their identity. It is usually treated as though dishonesty on MySpace is a violation of its intended use. The funny fact here is that every MySpace/user relationship begins at the outset with false identity when a 40-year old Tom Andersen, claiming to be 32, becomes everyone’s first friend, so perhaps it is the people who are truthful about their identity in MySpace who are transgressing its intended use.

Tuesday, September 04, 2007

Emerging Challenges for Brand

I just posted this in another location as part of a discussion on the major challenges today for "Business Strategy and Brand." I thought it might be interesting for folks here to read it as well:

One way that brand is changing (has changed already, i think) is that the relationship between brand and the transitive property is changing as a result of increased connectivity and the rise of popularity systems like Google's pagerank.

Okay, now that was quite a loaded sentence, but i think it's pretty straightforward once we get past the overblown vocabulary and into the practical concepts.

Before the social web came along and before traditional advertising started its freefall, the 'transitive property' was used by companies in the form of celebrity endorsements of brand, because hey, if Bill Cosby likes Jello and I like Bill Cosby, then surely i will like and buy Jello (this is the transitive property).

So formerly the relationship was:
[brand] to [endorser] to [consumer]

or more concretely:

[Jello] to [Bill Cosby and one or two friends] to [me]

Now, with the advent of the social web (now people can massively connect with each other) and the rise of the core idea of Google pagerank (something is good if lots of people like it, and those people are in turn liked by a lot of other people who are in turn liked by a lot of other people, etc..), the new relationship is:

[brand] to [hundreds of connected authorities on the brand] to [me]

or more concretely:

[Jello] to [the Jello customer community] to [me]

..So, i'm predicting that a major part of the new concept of brand is the community itself, which both explicitly (by promoting the brand through word of mouth) and implicitly (by acting as a sort of 'brand pagerank' that give the brand authority just by virtue of their involvement with it) constitute a major part of the brand.

So-called "marketers" in this new world will therefore need to be community builders - not by inclusion only, but also by empowerment. Customer involvement (a noble idea in its day) will have to evolve into customer empowerment, which will allow the community to do its work in building a large part of a trusted, vibrant brand.

Tip for Job Seekers - Anticipate and Persist

I was talking with a friend earlier in the week about his job search, and it occurred to me that there are two incredibly helpful things that he could do to set himself apart from %90 of the other applicants. Hopefully these help you too. Both of these ideas make the most sense when viewed from the perspective of the hiring manager or the company. You'll see what i mean in a minute:

When seeking a job with a company, don't talk to them about ways that you can fit into their existing initiatives. Anticipate where the company is going and talk to them - even better: show them ways that you will be able to help them to get there. Key things to remember:
  • every healthy organization is trying to go somewhere better than where they are today
  • if the organization is not moving in a direction - or if your hiring manager isn't aware of that direction, you might want to think twice about working there
  • in healthy organizations, the most desirable and interesting hires are those who can help the organization to get to tomorrow's destination

If you are reasonably sure that you are well-suited for a position, don't immediately take "no" for an answer. Healthy organizations that are moving in new directions need people who won't take immediate "no"s for answers in their daily work. Your interactions with a hiring manager may be a great first chance to show this ability.

I'll end this post with a story that shows the power of using these two principles:

In 1997 i interviewed with Ron, a Senior Technical writer at Walt Disney Imagineering for a contract position as an Assistant Technical writer with the Show Ride Engineering group. After what i thought was a very positive interview, i was later informed by the contract agency that Ron had passed on hiring me, stating that he thought i was not the right guy for the job. My immediate (and not much thought-out reaction, i must confess) was to ask the contract agency representative to call Ron back and let him know that i was sure that i was the right guy for the job. After a short negotiation she did so grudgingly, and called back, surprised that Ron had scheduled a second interview with me the next day.

From the first interview, i remembered that Ron had mentioned a new push to put all of Imagineering's technical documentation in web format for wireless access by the engineers. Though the job description was for a pure technical writer, when i went back to meet with Ron the second time, i mentioned that i had an interest in the digitization effort, and reminded him of my previous experience that might be of use.

Ron hired me on the spot, i ended up working there for a full year, and Ron and I became friends. He even offered at the end of my contract to write up a letter of personal recommendation. Toward the end of my tenure there Ron told me that the fact that i had the gumption to (respectfully) disagree with his opinion showed drive, personal self-knowledge, and that i had the gumption necessary to stand up to the political pressures in Imagineering.

I would say that these traits are desirable to any organization, and your first meeting/negotiation is a great place to display them.

Saturday, September 01, 2007

Even if you Can Beat Facebook.. Maybe You Shouldn't

There's been a bit of a flap recently in Britain, where it is reported that %70 of employers are banning or restricting access to social networking sites like Facebook.

It strikes me as odd that this occurs simultaneous to the new big focus in business on finding new sources of innovation.

Call me naive, but i can't help but think that if these companies made work more stimulating by proving a way for their employees to innovate at work through (digitally augmented) social means, that Facebook would not be a problem anymore. Heck, they might even do it via a plugin.

Thursday, August 30, 2007

First Two BigTreeTop Idea Games Go Live!

The first game was launched by one of our original testers Goods for Cooks - a great Bloomington cooking goods store. The game, brainchild of Andrew, one of the owners, provides GFC's customers with a chance to help determine the next proprietary coffee blend that they will be offering in the store. If you're a customer of GFC and want to give them some ideas or just vote on the ones that other people have posted, head over to the game before September 7th.

Mother Bear's Pizza - a famous Bloomington Pizza Parlor - has recently joined the BigTreeTop Alpha testing program, and jumped right in today with both feet, launching a "Best NEW Pizza Idea" game to better understand what types of pizzas their customers might really love. The top vote-getter will receive a free pizza. If you fancy yourself an expert on pizza (what red-blooded american doesn't?), post your idea and vote on the ideas you like before September 13th!

Both of these efforts represent exciting, small first steps by these two businesses who a) think that their customers are smart and b) want to involve them more intimately in shaping their business.

The idea game is part of an overall new methodology we're working on for businesses called CLIC (Community, Listen, Implement, Communicate). Different from the more traditional methodology that i might call RIB (Research, Implement, Broadcast - which chunks together a lot of things like design, development, etc - but you get the point), it claims that customers and businesses (as well as their local economies, in the long run) both create value by co-creating the business itself. This can help to solve a few problems simultaneously:
  • Advertising is less about broadcasting to people who may not want to listen
  • Advertising is more about communicating to people who actually care about the business
  • Figuring out what customers want is much easier if one is talking to them regularly
As you might imagine, there is much more to the CLIC methodology, as well as some unadvertised potential outcomes of the Goods for Cooks and Mother Bear's idea games (you'll have to participate to find out), but i will end this post here, with a pretty illustration, because illustrations are cool.

Friday, July 27, 2007

Supper Solutions - Great Grad Student Deal

One of the Alpha Testers is Supper Solutions - a local "meal assembly kitchen." For those of you not familiar with the concept (i wasn't), I think it is a fantastic idea for grad students (among other people), so i decided to try out two of their meals for myself and write about it here.

One of the biggest benefits is cost. For about $3.40 per meal, folks can drop by their kitchen and self-prepare 12 good healthy meals in about 1.5 - 2 hours that they can then bring home and freeze until it's time to eat. Each meal serves 2-3 people, so that's 36 meal servings. They also have an option where they will pre-prepare the meals for you ahead of time for pickup. This would bring the price up to about $4.16 per meal. If there is sufficient interest, Kirsten, the owner is considering offering delivery drop-off at INFO or Eigenmann for folks who don't have transportation.

To try this out fully, Esther and i recently visited Supper Solutions and prepared 2 meals for ourselves. We decided to try the Mexican Calzones and the Spicy Patong Pork. (this month's menu is online here)

Once at the Supper Solutions kitchen, the entire process of making the 2 meals, putting them in bags and affixing cooking instruction labels took about 10 minutes. The meal preparation stations were spotless and extremely well-organized, so it was extremely easy to do - even for those of us who are culinarily disadvantaged. While at Supper Solutions, we ran into our next door neighbor and one of Esther's co-workers who both raved about Supper Solutions. One, a local advertising professional, was visiting for the 3rd time, while the other, a doctor, is a long-time customer.

Once home, we decided to first try the Mexican Calzones for dinner. The directions are included right on the packaging (see first photo to the right). We popped it on a pan and into the toaster oven for 20 minutes, and they came out perfectly good. They were quite large and filling. Each one was pretty much a complete meal.

Two evenings later, we made the Spicy Patong Pork. Again the instructions were on the bag, and it was quite easy to make. After about 10 minutes preparation (briefly sauteeing the pork, adding the sauce and microwaving the pre-cooked rice), we had a complete meal of pork and brown rice. It was very very good (see last photo to the right).

If you are a busy grad student, do yourself a favor and look into this. It's great food, very economical, healthy, and will help to keep food expenses predictable each month. Besides, by buying from Supper Solutions, you'll be supporting a small local business who, as an early and enthusiastic support of BigTreeTop, is serious about co-creating value with their customers, not just padding their bottom line :)

Full disclosure: As an Alpha Tester of, i have an emotional bias toward Supper Solutions, but not a financial one (they are not paying customers). Additionally, i should reveal that i am now chemically dependent on the Mexican Calzones, which are really good..

Here's their contact info:
Supper Solutions
2616 Walnut
Bloomington, IN 47401


In Walnut Station, Corner of S.Walnut and Country Club Road Next to Dominos Pizza

Wednesday, July 25, 2007

"Want" vs. "Should" Decisions - When People Choose the Broccoli over the Baby Ruth

This is a replica of another blog post at, which is more business-oriented, but i think the concept has rather large HCI/d implications, so i'm posting it here as well.

Most people, when making decisions, have to choose between "want" and "should" decisions. But what makes a person choose one over the other?

A recent Harvard Business School Article Understanding the 'Want' vs. 'Should' Decision (link to Harvard Business School's website) helps to answer this. Based on a number of studies of purchasing and voting behavior, as well as some older work in Construal Level Theory, explained nicely in the paper Temporal Construal (link to pdf paper by Trope and Liberman). The studies show that the further away the implementation of a decision is (future or past), the more people will favor a ‘should’ decision over a ‘want’ one.

As a simple example, if someone asks me to decide on and eat immediately either Broccoli or a Baby Ruth candy bar, i am more likely to choose the candy bar, since it's what i want right now. If, on the other hand, a person asks me to decide right now what i will eat at a later time (or if they ask me later what i should have eaten previously), i am more likely to choose the broccoli. What this suggests is that the further away from the present the consequences of my decision are, the more likely i am to choose what i should do.

In the article, the authors state this this "should/want" factor is the reason that most grocery stores place their produce section directly at the front entrance, while the candy bars and trashy magazines appear at the cash registers - to ensure that when walking through the "should" section (healthy produce) shoppers are furthest from the point of consumption (which will probably happen at home, long after they leave the store), and simultaneously to ensure that when entering the "want" section (candy bars), shoppers are the closest to the point of consumption (which most likely will occur in the store or soon after leaving it).

This is an important consideration for HCI/d folks

1) If you are designing a "should" application (something that is more good for the user but less instantly-gratifying), or one that provides the user with "should" features, the further in advance a person makes the decision, the more likely they may be to choose your "should" service over a "want".

2) If you are providing a "want" service, you will need to ensure that your users make the decision as close as possible to the time of consumption - by offering quick setup of their account, express checkout, immediate delivery, etc.

3) It seems to me that offering both "wants" and "shoulds" as a complimentary mix might be a good idea for any design.

4) Since, according to the Trope/Liberman paper, Construal is also related not just to temporal distance, but also spatial, i wonder what this means for distributed communities (i.e., if i am chatting online with a person and can see that they are on the other side of the world, is my experience different than if i know that they are in the same town)

I'll be exploring this further, both in my academic research, and as part of, where we present our users simultaneous "want" and "should" options - that we may want to present differently to maximize their use.

Here is a quote from Trope and Liberman's paper:

"CLT (Construal Level Theory) suggests that temporal distance affects preferences and judgments by changing the way individuals mentally represent future events. The greater the temporal distance from future events, the more likely are the events to be represented in terms of a few abstract and core features (highlevel construals) rather than in terms of more concrete and superficial features (low-level construals). Therefore, temporal distance changes judgments and decisions because in the distant future, compared with the near future, judgments and decisions are more likely to reflect the evaluative and informational implications of high-level construals than those of low-level construals."

Tuesday, July 24, 2007

American Revolution Decided by Rock-Paper-Scissors

On July 4th my wife and I were watching a documentary on the American Revolution when i began to laugh out loud. Now there aren't many funny things about the revolution, but now there is one. It seems that the name of the French general who really turned the tide of the war was Comte de Rochambeau. Rochambeau is another name (Reaux, Sham, Beaux) for the game Rock Paper Scissors, which, for those of you who are uninitiated, is perhaps the most common way in America for settling simple disputes between two people.

I now have a permanent and vivid image in my mind of a flamboyant French general approaching the British lines, banging his right fist in his left open palm, deciding the fate of America.

Wednesday, July 18, 2007

New Blog for a While

For the next few months, i'll be blogging primarily through another blog at The content will orbit loosely around a few of my current areas of inquiry and endeavor:

1) How organizations (and even more specifically small businesses - since that is the current focus of can deeply involve the constituents of those organizations in substantive participation as a part of more sustainable strategic, operational and marketing practices.

2) The ways that computers can augment and/or enable these practices

3) The ways that consumers (for current lack of a better term) can contribute to local and national economic sustainability by deeper involvement in small businesses

4) How the academy and business can and need to form alliances that benefit the world

5) How strategy is sexy

Monday, May 21, 2007

Of Farmers and Environmentalists

Christopher Bunn, a friend of mine from former grad school days is continuing to fight a long battle in central coastal California for the autonomy of the local farmers there. His family owns a lettuce farm, and though i must confess i still am under-informed about the plight of farmers in environmentally-charged areas, it sounds like a pretty tough battle.

Christopher's written/recorded a slew of great protest and political songs about this and other topics. Whether or not you agree with his conclusions, the process is darn entertaining to listen to.

My favorites include

Bringing the Love Back

Thanks to David Armano at Logic+Emotion for catching this video that aptly personifies the problems consumers are having with traditional advertising. As many of you know, a new company i'm currently starting is all about using some deep-rooted organizational, marketing and HCI (and even a little bit of economic) theory to create real conversations and relationships between local businesses and their customers, so that they can finally stop treating their customers like numbers. Enjoy:

I'm very much looking forward to launching to helping bring the love back. Soon.

..And if all goes well, i'll likely be presenting our idea, the theory behind it, preliminary research results and lessons learned in a colloqium in the Fall.

Monday, May 07, 2007

17 out of 20 (a.k.a. 'calling any psychologists)

Here's a very very interesting informal experiment in aptitude, concentration and execution.

For about 5 years now, i've been playing basketball at least once a week with other players. Often, though, when thinking through a particularly difficult business or academic problem, i can think best alone on a basketball court with just a ball, a basket, and my thoughts. I am quite sure that this is due to the slight distraction that it provides, clearing the way for new perspectives to emerge on the problem at hand - similar to the way that focusing on an ocean vista can help in thinking about a weightly personal decision.

Over the last 5 years, i've played a game with myself during these thinking sessions to see how many foul shots in a row i can shoot. Since i've played a lot of sports in my life, this is more a mental exercise than a physical one. This is to say that, for the sake of analyzing yesterday's results of this experiment, the physical part of it can be almost completely removed where foul shots are concerned. They are not physically difficult, but instead require mental attentiveness.

Here is the part which is extremely interesting:

Over the last 5 years, i can recount anecdotally that hitting 5 foul shots in a row has occurred probably in the neighborhood of %25 of the time. This is to say that 1/4 of the times that i've played this game with myself, i've been able to hit 5 out of 5. Probably another %10 of the time i've been able to hit 10 out of 10. About once a year, i'm able to hit 20 out of 20. These statistics are probably pretty consistent with anyone who did not play organized basketball (and therefore did not do freethrow drills every day at practice) - who would have a higher percentage than i do.

Yesterday, to increase the challenge, i took the first foul shot with my eyes closed, expecting decreased results. This is to say that i stood at the line, prepared for the shot looking at the hoop, closed my eyes and took the shot. I hit the first 3 in a row. Then the next 4 (7 in a row). Then the next 2 (9 in a row). Then i missed a shot (9 out of 10). Deciding that this was worth testing, i kept shooting. When all was said and done, i had hit 17 out of 20 of the shots, with my eyes closed - something i'd rarely been able to do in 5 years with my eyes open. Due to time constraints, i then left, baffled. This was one of the best shooting percentages in 5 years - with my eyes closed. Hitting one of these shots could have been a fluke. But it is difficult to think that hitting this many in a row is a chance event.

My observations of the event:

  • i found myself preparing more thoroughly for the shot because i knew i had to if i wanted to have a prayer of putting each one through the hoop
  • on the shots i missed, i could actually tell how the shot was going to miss (left, right, short), even before opening my eyes, by feeling how the ball left my hand, and visualizing its flight
  • i was forced to completely visualize the shot before taking it
  • shooting the ball felt completely different with my eyes closed

Other observations:

  • anecdotally, i remember playing some of my best volleyball games in college and while trying to make the AVP tour (Association of Volleyball Professionals) when sick or slightly injured

My preliminary hypotheses:

  • for a person who has done a task frequently over a long period of time (but who knows the task pretty well), shutting down their primary skill can force them to shift to a secondary - but perhaps more powerful skill in accomplishing a task - occasionally with better results. In this case i had to rely on visualization much more heavily than in the past. In the past, a sickness or slight injury forced me to rely more on knowledge than strength to try and win a game.
  • latent, underutilized skills can lie dormant and unused in people until radical change forces their use
  • people don't automatically use their best skill or set of skills when accomplishing a task

What do you all think? Assuming yesterday's events were not a fluke, what are some possible causes? What does it mean for us as HCI Designers, business people, teachers, etc. as we design tools and environments that should enable employees, students and users to achieve the highest results?

Should we intentionally shake up people's routines in order to test/develop other skills?

* Note: i will be trying the experiment again later this week and posting the results.

Tuesday, April 10, 2007

Innovation in Business

For those of you who are missing it, the business world is starting to embrace and even develop their own design stance, as a result of their awareness of the need to true innovation. One of the guys who has gotten lots of eyeballs of late is David Armano, a Creative VP at Digitas, who recently wrote an article for Business Week on "It's The Conversation Economy, Stupid."

I posted a similar concept back in November about the designer as novelist.

David and the whole creative business culture are pushing hard to understand design as it plays out in the business world, and are coming along nicely, i think, given the immense challenge of marrying our modernistic industrial revolution ethos with more post-modern societal tendencies. In my experience, this is an exciting, challenging space.