Fix the Pothole Before I Fall In

“I am not a visionary, I’m an engineer,” Torvalds says. “I’m perfectly happy with all the people who are walking around and just staring at the clouds… but I’m looking at the ground, and I want to fix the pothole that’s right in front of me before I fall in.”

Linus Torvalds via TED.

Change Your Angle

A cognitive empathy experiment: Do you see differently when you change your angle of view?

I heard a perfect example of this recently in the NPR “Hidden Brain” podcast. The episode’s guest speaker describes a medical organization where doctors and nurses wouldn’t notice details in hospital rooms to make patients more happy and comfortable — yet the hospital cleaning staff did notice.

Their special viewpoint? A different angle, looking at the ceiling to see what the patient sees when they lie down in the hospital bed. Is there dirt there, dust, or something else undesirable? What could they then do to make it look nice, safe, inviting?

Looking at what other people see helps to understand how they perceive the situation; how they view the world.

Listen to the episode: You 2.0: Dream Jobs.

Photo: Pexels.

(Listen) You 2.0, Hidden Brain on NPR

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Two weeks ago I mentioned the notion of think as a poet, work as a bookkeeper. Not surprisingly I heard an echo of this on a new summer series on the “Hidden Brain” NPR radio show. The first episode — You 2.0: The Value Of ‘Deep Work’ In An Age Of Distraction — features Deep Work author Cal Newton (I haven’t read his book yet, but my colleague Jeremey DuVall posted a detailed 5-star review).

In the show, Cal Newton brings up a quote by David Brooks:

Think like artists but work like accountants.

Echoes of E.O. Wilson? Yes, I’m going to assume Wilson said it first. Either way, it’s a brilliant way to frame the paradox of disciplined work to drive creativity and free thinking.

System shutdown complete.

Does IQ Measure Literacy?

In Paper Mark Kurlansky said something that surprised me: “IQ measures literacy, not intelligence.” (View more about this book on Goodreads; I also recommend Salt and Cod by the same author.)

Once I thought about this more, it rang true. If you can read well, you can typically test well, especially if the standardized test is geared toward that particular skill. In fact, it’s a strong bias toward literacy as intelligence, without regard for other types of learning and communication.

Sara Wachter-Bettcher mentions this same issue in her essential “Design for Real Life” talk about standardized testing bias in North America.

What that does is it assumes in their testing process that “a ‘good’ question is one that students who score well overall tend to answer correctly, and vice versa.”

So what that means is that if a student who scores well on the current SAT, in the current system with the current disparities, if they tend to do well on this other question, then it’s a good question, and if they don’t, then it’s bad.

What does this mean for text-only interfaces, or help documentation as paragraphs or blog posts? Something to keep in mind when creating products and software because often we required lots of reading to get the job done.

Photo from Pexels.

Think Like a Poet, Work Like a Bookkeeper

The most successful scientist thinks like a poet — wide-ranging, sometimes fantastical — and works like a bookkeeper.

Motivation from E.O. Wilson in The Meaning of Human Existence.

Could apply to any craft or vocation, don’t you think? The most successful scientist or artist, musician, programmer, designer, tech lead, writer, product owner, or …?

Photo from Pexels.

Abstract, High Resolution, Listen & Learn

Have you watched Abstract on Netflix yet? World-class designers share their life and work and philosophy, which I’ve found fascinating. A common thread in the episodes I’ve watched so far is that design doesn’t happen in a vacuum. In order to produce something useful and beautiful that people will love and buy, you have to engage with the world. It involves talking to people. Listening and verifying with your own eyes and ears.

Ralph Gilles — Head of Design at General Motors — says in Episode 5, “Go out and talk to people.” He gives the example of his Chrysler/Jeep design team engaging with millennials literally “in their living rooms.” Listening to their problems and trying to solve those problems, taking it all back to the car design lab. “How do you know what consumers want even before they know what they want?”

Tinker Hatfield — shoe Designer at Nike — says in Episode 2, “Get outside, engage with the world.” How a steady stream of fresh input leads to innovation and being outside, doing sports he loves, helps him staying connected to everything. Running a mile in their shoes, if you will. An example of the years of close back-and-forth work with Michael Jordan to perfect the Air Jordan basketball shoes.

I’m sensing a trend here: if I listen, I learn. When I approach my own software work, do I understand the needs of the person for whom I am designing and developing? If the answer is no, I need to step outside my office and talk to people using the software.

Another compelling series to hear from talented and innovative product designers is High Resolution, available on YouTube. In Episode 8, similar ideas emerge from Automattic’s own Head of Computational Design & Inclusion, John Maeda:

Don’t focus on kerfuffles within your org — keep your focus on the world. That’s where you are meant to be. No matter how great of the place you’re in.

… Creative people are diverse-oriented, and great remixers. — John Maeda

These thoughts remind me of the “jobs to be done” philosophy where success comes from understanding peoples’ circumstances. And not only accepting input when it fits a certain profile I already expect.

The key to successful innovation is identifying jobs that are poorly performed in customers’ lives and then designing products, experiences, and processes around those jobs. — via Harvard Business Review

Discovering what those jobs are requires engaging with your customers, in their lives, in their work. Now it’s time for me to get outta this chair.

Running to Stand Still

With Jeff Immelt out and John Flannery in as General Electric CEO, The Economist describes the company as having gone through a lot of important changes without achieving greater results. Shuffling. Reorganizing. Yet in the same place as before.

“GE has been running to stand still. …what it now needs is less re-engineering and more consistent execution.” — General Electric picks a new boss

This made me think. When I have the urge to shift things around: team, products, projects, office furniture, books on the bookshelf — I can ask myself, “Am I doing this just to stay busy? Look busy? Feel busy?”

Instead of movement for its own sake, I should find impact where I am today in my exact location. With this team, this project, this company — not something new. Work on meaningful results to help people by finishing what I’ve started.