One of my favourite talks of SXSW this year was ‘Rebuilding LEGO’ by Prof. David Robertson of The Wharton School, Pennsylvania where he teaches innovation and product development. The talk was a cautionary tale of how dangerous innovation can be if it isn’t managed.
In May of this year, AtulGawande delivered the commencement address at Harvard Medical School. Dr. Gawande is a Rhodes Scholar, a surgeon, a New Yorker staff writer and an associate professor at both the Harvard School of Public Health and Harvard Medical School. He's also on Twitter: @Atul_Gawande.
Dr. Gawande's commencement address, published in The New Yorker under the title Cowboys and Pit Crews, is about change. I read it Monday night and have been thinking about it ever since. One question in particular keeps running 'round my head:
We humans are doing an amazing job of changing our world… but how are we doing at adapting to the changes we create?
Tough one to answer given there is never going to be one right answer to this question (how boring would it be if there was?) but I replied:
Working with potential users introduces an element of chaos into the creative process. By bringing in this foreign element you set the scene for serendipitous discovery.
Lately this has been bothering me. Very few people seem to see customer development as an approach which can fuel creativity and good thinking. In fact, worryingly, some even view it as a replacement for these vital elements in the product development process.
I have a hypothesis that people who do this are focused on solutions not problems.
Following on from Justin’s post last week on the empty hamburger dilemma, I’ve been doing some research into what tools and resources are out there on customer development, and who’s using them.
Unsurprisingly, it’s the usual suspects who have been putting this methodology into practice: start ups and the people advising them. As Justin pointed out, it doesn’t look like this approach has been adopted by agency land yet, primarily because their source of dollar is the client not the customer, which tends to derail their priorities.
But how can we take some of the lessons that have been learned and implemented by the start up community and apply them to the agency worldview? Here’s a few thoughts pulled together from what other people are already doing.
(or How I Learned to Stop Worrying & Love the Obvious)
(also know as ‘The empty hamburger dilemma’)
Most new products and services fail. This is a depressing reality to swallow, however I am amazed by how few people ask why this happens. Or worse still all the people who have an in-built assumption and acceptance that most new things should fail. This shouldn’t be the case.
Here is a sad graph showing total product failures.
Foursquare is huge, check-ins are big, but I wouldn’t play that game or use that service. Whilst the idea is sound and people will still use the service, I find the concept of what the network looks like to FourSquare so much more interesting. When I check-in on Foursquare, what does that look like? And how does the map of London, for example, change during the day as people check in and drop offline.
Given that a lot of people are not going to use Foursquare because each contact with the network compromises their privacy and reveals more and more information about them, I think there’s a hard limit to how successful the idea can be. However, the opposite of foursquare, focussing on the shape of the network rather than the individuals connecting to it, removes that limit. Each time I check in, rather than just appending my +1 to a long list of identical entries, I disrupt the fabric of the network and make it better. I think a lot about the way “massively multiplayer” games are anything but, and flatter to deceive on the promise of joining a virtual, alternate world. Flipping the idea of Foursquare and looking at the network as a constantly evolving organism has a lot of potential for fun, games and stories, and that’s what I’m thinking about right now.
Papa Sangre, being a “video game with no video” is just the kind of obtuse idea that I like. Furthermore, it appears to be closing in on a public release, and having read a short preview of the game, I’m excited to see that there are ideas under the skin. Real ideas, too. Something that might make you wonder about more than just the social or playful dynamics. Ideas that are worth thinking about.
The games industry is incredible self-referential, to the point of obsessive cloning and stagnation, so it’s refreshing to see a game with a new approach, not just from the point of view of innovative games, but also in terms of immersive experiences. Listen to, if you will, the video below:
I’m probably not the best company nowadays to non-Foursquare users, because checking in has become almost an obsession. When I’m too immersed in the events or conversation of an evening to check in, I mentally kick myself when I realise the fact later at home. I like that I’m still discovering new things about the service on a regular basis. Of course, it isn’t perfect – there continue to be a few bugs with the service which frustrate me no end when I encounter them, but in general the boys at Foursquare seem to have a good thing going. At 1.3 million users, Foursquare is almost 7 times as popular as the next most popular location-based service, Gowalla, despite the latter winning in the Mobile category at SXSWi 2010. (The latest edition of Wired UK has a nice article about the founders and evolution of both).
Wired have an interesting post about researchers in South Korea experimenting with semiconducting ink that would allow manufacturers to replace bar codes in supermarkets withRFID signals. As the article points out though, it’s a proof-of-concept but the technology hastonnes of benefits, not only for consumers but for shipping and logistics.