Tuesday, 20 June 2017

Design Thinking - not the panacea for innovation?

'What should I title this post?' That is how I used to start writing blog posts. 
Of course if I were to apply design thinking to this problem, the question should be 'what would the reader want to do having read about this topic?' The title would be the last thing, not the first. Since completing a Stanford MOOC on Design Thinking, I've been impressed with the approach. The process is sometimes summarized as: define, research, ideate, prototype, choose, implement, and learn. 
If you are not familiar with Design Thinking, this description from Digital Tonto, will give you a good idea.

'What makes design thinking so effective is its relentless focus on the needs of the end user. Instead of starting with a set of features, it begins by asking what the final experience should be and then works to define a solution. Designers develop products through a series of prototypes and continuously improve and refine them through testing.
So, for example, instead of developing a mobile phone by asking, “what should the keypad look like? A design thinking engineer would start by asking “What does the user want to do with the phone?” In a similar way, a design thinker wouldn’t start designing a doctor’s office by asking where the waiting room should go, but by asking, “what is the purpose of the waiting room?”
As Apple has demonstrated, design thinking can be tremendously helpful when you’re working with mature technologies that are well understood. Unfortunately, they’re not much help when you’re venturing into the unknown to, say, find a new cure for cancer or develop a new approach to artificial intelligence, which may be why Apple has gotten bogged down lately'.

This extract is from Greg Satell's article 'Here's Why Your Innovation Strategy Will Fail'. 
Satell suggests, illustrated with case studies, that a wider variety of 'paths' to innovation are needed. However, many organisations have a single approach, perhaps vested in Research and Development. 
Unsurprisingly, Apple features strongly in the article. It's interesting to consider how Apple set out to disrupt existing technologies and service providers, before considering what product innovations might serve that purpose. As we all know, the iPod, iPhone and iPad resulted. Great examples of design thinking. The big question for Apple is that it's 10 years since their last truly groundbreaking product innovation. It's highly likely that their autonomous vehicle, by the time it's available, won't be the only player and they may already be playing catch-up.
This revealing article on The Verge uses the history of the iPhone development as a lesson in how this disruption was planned by Apple. What innovation path are they using to maintain their preeminence?

Post Script: Another path to innovation I was reminded of is Systems Thinking; an extension of Design Thinking that attempts to take account of the increasingly interconnected and complex world. See https://www.fastcodesign.com/90112320/design-thinking-needs-to-think-bigger

Source: Mapping Innovation by Greg Satchell

Thursday, 8 June 2017

Doing Conference Speaking Not Badly - David D'Souza

David D'Souza is without doubt, the most interesting, relaxed and compelling speaker I have heard.
I say heard rather than seen, as on both occasions, he has held the audience's attention for an hour without slides or notes. This is how he does it.

In typically modest style, David calls his post

'Doing Conference Speaking Not Badly'

Wednesday, 3 May 2017

Recess for workers?

My Knowledge and Innovation Network colleague Steve Dale recently highlighted an excellent article by Greg Satell entitled We need to educate kids for the future, not the past. Here's how...'

The importance of 'recess' (or break time) during the day is as important at work as at school. We are seeing the same erosion of time to socialise with work colleagues as teachers who have to cram timetables to 'get through' the curriculum (my daughter is a teacher). At work, this results in missing opportunities to co-develop ideas, widen personal networks and build relationships. The designers and architects of new-build offices do recognise the importance of social workspace, but this is often not reflected in our work-day calendar. I recall talking to a very senior individual at BP some years ago, who scheduled his entire Friday morning every week, just to informally go and talk to people. Unfortunately few of us can get our PA to ensure our diaries are kept clear like that.

When planning KIN events, especially our quarterly workshops, we carefully design-in the social aspects. The dinner the evening before (a bbq in the summer), an open bar, a fun activity designed to get people connected and an informal, relaxing environment. The significant break times scheduled during the day for networking are inviolate.

Greg's ideas for changing the school system make so much sense. I fear that, like the difficulty of clearing our work diaries to add a 'recess', the demands of educational testing and teaching to outmoded curricula, will meet much resistance.

Sunday, 23 April 2017

The depreciating value of human knowledge

Automation is just one facet on the broader spectrum of AI and machine intelligence. Yes, it's going to affect us all (it already is with the increasing emergence of intelligent agents and bots), but I think there is a far deeper issue here that - at least for the majority of people who haven't become immersed in the "AI" meme - is going largely unnoticed. That is, the very nature of human knowledge and how we understand the world. Machines are now doing things that - quite simply - we don't understand, and probably never will. 

I think most of us are familiar with the DIKW model (over-simplification if ever there was), but if you ascribe to this relationship between data, information, knowledge and wisdom, I think the top layers - knowledge and wisdom - are getting compressed by our growing dependencies on the bottom two layers - data and information. What will the DIKW model look like in 20 years time? I'm thinking a barely perceptible "K" and "W" layers!

If you think this is a rather outrageous prediction, I recommend reading this article from David Weinberger, who looks at how machines are rapidly outstripping our puny human abilities to understand them. And it seems we're quite happy with this situation, since being fairly lazy by nature, we're more than happy to let them make complex decisions for us. We just need to feed them the data - and there's plenty of that about! 

This quote from the piece probably best sums it up:

"As long as our computer models instantiated our own ideas, we could preserve the illusion that the world works the way our knowledge —and our models — do. Once computers started to make their own models, and those models surpassed our mental capacity, we lost that comforting assumption. Our machines have made obvious our epistemological limitations, and by providing a corrective, have revealed a truth about the universe. 

The world didn’t happen to be designed, by God or by coincidence, to be knowable by human brains. The nature of the world is closer to the way our network of computers and sensors represent it than how the human mind perceives it. Now that machines are acting independently, we are losing the illusion that the world just happens to be simple enough for us wee creatures to comprehend

We thought knowledge was about finding the order hidden in the chaos. We thought it was about simplifying the world. It looks like we were wrong. Knowing the world may require giving up on understanding it."

Should we be worried? I think so - do you?
Steve Dale

Wednesday, 12 April 2017

Hail to the Chief - creating faux senior roles is no alternative to a grounded strategy

I've been advising a client that is devising a new knowledge strategy.

Here's a snippet of a recent phone conversation...

Client: 'We're thinking of appointing a Chief Knowledge Officer. We need to show that the strategy has some real clout behind it'.

Me: 'So will this Chief Knowledge Officer have a seat on the main board? If not, how many levels down will the role be positioned?' (The board has only 3 members, CEO, Finance/HR and Operations directors)

Client: 'No, it will be at senior manager level' (that's 3 levels down from the board)

Me: 'I think you should wait to see what the knowledge strategy requires, before creating roles. I'm going to send you an article from a recent Harvard Business Review. Let's have another conversation when you've read it'.

The HBR article I emailed was 'Please Don't Hire a Chief Artificial Intelligence Officer'
I asked my client to simply substitute 'KM' for 'AI' and 'Chief Knowledge Officer' for 'Chief AI Officer'.

Try this yourself with the following paragraph from the article and you'll see why...

'However, I also believe that the effective deployment of AI in the enterprise requires a focus on achieving business goals. Rushing towards an “AI strategy” and hiring someone with technical skills in AI to lead the charge might seem in tune with the current trends, but it ignores the reality that innovation initiatives only succeed when there is a solid understanding of actual business problems and goals. For AI to work in the enterprise, the goals of the enterprise must be the driving force.
This is not what you’ll get if you hire a Chief AI Officer. The very nature of the role aims at bringing the hammer of AI to the nails of whatever problems are lying around. This well-educated, well-paid, and highly motivated individual will comb your organization looking for places to apply AI technologies, effectively making the goal to use AI rather than to solve real problems'.
The problem with creating 'Chiefs' is that they imply clout, but often have none. Witness the number of Chief Knowledge Officer jobs that were created around the turn of the century and how many remain today. I can't think of one. 

Before any roles are created, it's essential that those with real clout understand how organizational learning or knowledge transfer can help them achieve their personal objectives and solve 'actual business problems'. Get that right and you're more than halfway to your strategy. Creating hollow roles are probably unnecessary nails.