Want to be more creative? Seek out collaborative encounters and complementary knowledge

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Note: This post marks my first effort to address creativity as a topic, which I have long been interested in. I can remember checking Flow  out of the library around the time it was originally published.  Never content to take an orthodox route, I’ve started by reading socio-cultural perspectives on creativity, which are very different than the typical, psychological premises. I am more interested in dynamic, emergent and depersonalized approaches to creativity, which makes it much more difficult to write about because creativity is an emergent feature of a context and system rather than an attribute or a capability that individuals possess. I will strive to express myself more clearly as work with this material. — David


When you are ready to experiment with being more creative at work, consider Reijo Meittinen’s model of creative collaborative agency, which looks at creativity as a socio-cultural phenomenon that emerges as individuals and organizations interact rather than as an attribute some people possess and others don’t. You can read more about Meittinen’s work in “Creative Encounters, Collaborative Agency, and the Extraodinary Act of Meeting a Need with an Object” (Meittinen, 2014).

Miettinen offers a rich conceptual framework  from creativity studies and the history of science and technology to explain how collaborative creative agency emerges. He bolsters his analysis with classic examples from the history of technology like the emergence of the steam engine in England, the development of transcontinental telephone, and  two in-depth case studies from the development of medical diagnostic tests..

Miettinen’s model of collaborative creative agency is based on three ideas:

  1. Pay attention to areas of your current activity that are dissatisfying and consider what underlying contradictions may be causing the dissatisfaction.
  2. Find potential partners with relevant knowledge and experience related  to the contradiction, explore your complementarity knowledge, resources and interests and discover shared motives.
  3. Launch a shared project, ideate solutions that addresses the contradiction together, work together to bring the product or service into being

 

Name what feels wrong in the current situation and face the“contradictions”

One of the hardest parts of change, at least in my experience,  is setting a direction. What I appreciate about Meittinen’s model  is his focus on contradictions in current activity.

Meittinen’s research is based in cultural historical activity theory (CHAT) and innovation studies so contradictions have a particular meanings. They:

  • “evolve historically, … become recognized and defined only gradually” (p.161) …
  • “a source of development” (p. 163)  …
  • “the driving force of development and learning in human activities” (p.163)….
  • “between use value and exchange value” (p.163) …
  • “contrasts between the means (instrumentalities) and the object of activity, constantly emerge” (p.163) …
  • “explain change” (p.163) …
  • “… compatible with breakdowns and disharmonies  of practices” (p.163) ….
  • “main source of technological change” (p.163)

Contradictions are dialectal, foundational, complex oppositions within practices. In one of the medical cases, for example, a diagnostic method was effective but required radioactive elements so the testing could only be performed in certified labs, and the process producd radioactive waste. Now that is what I call a contradiction. Look forthe reverse salient, “the weakest point in an expanding technological system” (p.163), and you will likely find the contradictions.

Unpacking and naming contradictions is challenging collaborative work, but is a key component of many design and change facilitation processes. For example, Kees Dorst’s frame innovation process include a step of naming and dealing with paradoxes within the current practice. Without unpacking the problem space and finding the internal contradictions, you risk engaging in superficial, rational technical problem solving.

Embrace “anticipatory directionality”

Meittinen offers Fogel’s concept of “anticipatory directionality” as a way to describe what it means to sense a possible direction to address fundamental contradictions in the present without being able to definitively describe it. Here are some of the ways that Meittinen explains anticipatory directionality, drawing on concepts from creativity and innovation studies:

  • “A gradual recognition of a contradiction cannot be analyzed as rational decision making. Rather, it is expressed as what has been called anticipatory directionality (Fogel, 1993) and precedes the full articulation of an object of activity.” (p.161) …
  • “A preliminary orientation looking for a solution” (p.162) …,
  • “a nonspecific dissatisfaction with and concern about what is happening and a preliminary orientation of where to look for solutions”( (p.167) …
  • “an extended “gestation period” during which the need for change is gradually recognized as the result of multiple coincidental events” (p.168) …
  • “a bridge between the deepening contraction and and the full articulation of a new object” (p.171-172).

I am struck by the temporality of the concept, the incompleteness of perception of the present and future, the contingency of “multiple coincidental events”, and the intuitive, non-rational approach. This concept supports the entrepreneurship credo of “just start”, but Meittinen is careful to emphasize that collaborative, creative agency is rarely a short-term process. Most of the examples he discusses were years in the making. What I like about these ideas is that Meittinen goes beyond the generic advice of just starting  by sharing examples that emphasize the value of research, evidence, intuition and curiosity.

Pursue “creative encounters” with people and organizations who share your interests

Most people participate in professional groups and organizations that interest them, but Meittinen argues that collective creative learning emerges  from informal “creative encounters” between people and organizations who share relevant but complementary interests in a particular situation. For example, scientists interested in temperature-sensitive medical instrumentation met geoscientists with expertise in hotspring bacteria. Together,  they engaged in research and collaboration to create a new category of instrumentation. These encounters can be serendipitous and can take time.

Meittinen’s chapter offers a persuasive argument for exploring at the boundaries of your interests or in a slightly different context that what you normally would. As he says in the conclusion:

“In addition to traditional spaces such as conferences, professional meetings, associations, and trade fairs—new types of spaces, such as regional meetings, may foster encounters between heterogeneous agents, user-producer seminars, and living labs.”  (p.172)

In other words, hanging out within your network will not address a contradiction, you need to look for complementary knowledge in the logic sense – different but relevant.

Harness complementary knowledge and skills to create things that address the contradiction

Miettinen’s main point is that once collaborators identify a shared need, that need will drive shared action, and prompt them to work together on projects until they develop an object that successfully addressed the original contradiction. It is this shared action that defines learning.

Creativity beyond Psychology

Ultimately, psychological conceptions of creativity that privilege individual imagination and innovation obscure the possibility that individuals and organizations can cultivate creativity and innovation through interaction and collaboration. Through collaborative, motivated learning, coalitions or interested agents can create the conditions for positive change to emerge.

Just as Jay Hasbrouck has challenged researchers to convene stakeholders around research and innovation projects and Chris Le Dantec has proposed that designers must create publics around shared issues of concern, Meittinen shows that creativity is the outcome of social interactions and collaborations between individual and organizations.

Reference

Meittinen, R. (2013). Creative encounters, collaborative agency, and the extraordinary act of the meeting of a need and an object. In Learning and Collective Creativity: Activity-theoretical and sociocultural studies. Eds. Annalisa Sannino and Viv Ellis. Routledge: 158-176

 

 

On “Orchestrating Experiences” and Service Design Books

I am in the midst of reading and working with Chris Risdon and Patrick Quattlebaum’s Orchestrating Experiences: Collaborative Design for Complexity.

This is a book for practitioners who want to understand key service design approaches and methods in greater depth. It offers workshop templates and copious visual examples of artifacts from Risdon and Quattlebaum’s past projects.

What is lacking for me so far is any mention of design for services theory or evidence-based insights. Andrea Resmini and David Benyon are doing remarkable research on mapping and blending cross-channel ecosystems, and scholars like Christopher Le Dantec are writing remarkable critical books on designing services for local communities, but Orchestrating Experiences, like Service Design for Business, is weakened, at least from my perspective, by  the lack of engagement with insights from business and design academics and the overemphasis of an inside-out organizaitonal frame. My hopes are a bit higher for This is Service Design Doing because Marc Stickdorn and colleagues’ weighty tomb included a microscopic footnote to service-dominant logic within the first couple of pages of the book. But I will wait and see once I get to it.

Chapter 3  of  Orchestrating Experiences, “Exploring Ecosystems” is a highlight because Risdon and Quattlebaum offer valuable details that I don’t recall reading in previous books like Polaine, Reason, and Lovlie’s Service Design. Specifically, Risdon and Quattlebaum emphasize the value of defining the different types of relationships between actors, artifacts, places in an ecosystem. And they encourage readers to model the ecosystem from multiple vantage points.

Something tells me I am going to have to wait for Andrea Resmini and Luca Rosati to write a follow-up to their remarkable, rich and eclectic Pervasive Information Architecture or Lucy Kimbell and Daniela Sangiorgi to collaborate on a hybrid combining the theoretical robustness of Design for Services and Designing for Services with the practical brilliance of Kimbell’s Service Innovation Handbook to break the monotony of practical service design books.

A Belated Who’s Who of EPIC 2017 – Perspectives

In October, I had the pleasure of attending EPIC 2017 – Perspectives at HEC Montreal. I’ve been a member of EPIC for the last two years and am volunteering on their Learning Advisory. I wasn’t quite sure what to expect walking into a conference of anthropologists, but what I found was a stimulating intellectual and social gathering that ranged from the technical to the Anthropocene.

DANA SHERWOOD: A brilliant artist who is exploring the  the Anthropocene through creating confectionary for animal collaborators, who, in turn, are changing how she draws and paints. Field work + Studio work + Places + Inhabitants.

DAVID JOHNSON: One of the US’s leading historians of gay culture, Johnson argued persuasively that the consumer market for muscle magazines and book clubs targeted at gay men created the conditions for the Civil Rights movement to emerge in the late 1960s.

ETHNOGRAPHIC FILMMAKERS: Three films stood out: 1. Nicholas Agafonoff’s affecting portrait of a man recuperating from a stroke who refused to tap into his long-term disability benefits. Agafonoff made a passionate argument for ethnomethodology. 2. Bad Babysitters’ documentary about twenty-somethings and their mobile phones. 3. Yuebai Liu’s amazing documentary about Italian-Chinese men.

JONATHAN BEAN and HANNA LARSEN: My favourite paper of the conference was a marketing case study of Marcus Samuelson’s Red Rooster brand using remote user research technology and  principles of material engagement theory and brand gestalt to study how consumers, the chef and the restaurant enact meaning through objects.

SAM LADNER: I’ve followed Ladner’s work on Twitter for several years, and I credit Ladner and her book Practical Ethnography  for introducing me to the amazing community of applied research  anthropologists who participate in EPIC. Ladner’s workship was about design research, and she emphasized thehe foundations of applied research design: 1.  Thick Description, 2. Action Objects, 3. Precise Measures. Designers and researchers alike should adopt design management principles: Creativity,  Complexity, Compromise, Choice. Systematic reduction and systhesis of data.

EPIC 2018 will be in Honolulu, HI, and the theme this year is EVIDENCE. The conference sold out in under 24 hours, so I may have to settle for the live stream this year. I’m not surprised that the conference sold out. EPIC’s ecclectic, intellectual mix delights.

 

Adventures in Semiotics

As a literature graduate student in the late 1990s, I participated in a baffling seminar discussion on Lacanian semiotics. I didn’t get it, but an amazing tutorial video from EPIC 2016 prompted me to take another look at the power of visual and verbal cultural analysis.

In April and May, I participated in an online workshop on applied semiotics analysis organized by EPIC and led by Cato Hunt from Space Doctors.

During the workshop, we leaned basics tasks of semiotic analysis, including:

  • Exploring gaps between intended meaning and experienced meaning
  • Analyzing cultural assets to create codes
  • Analyzing tensions to create  semiotic squares
  • Using a residual-dominent-emergent framework to analyze codes
  • Field work to collect data to inform semiotic analysis

Culture Map of Mobile Learning

Since the workshop, I have been using what I learned to develop a semiotic map of residual, dominant, and emergent codes for mobile learning.

To develop this map, I conducted a visual analysis of many images on Google Images related to mobile learning. I used mobile learning and other  broad key terms like “augmented reality”  and “virtual reality” and “robots”. I explored a range of geographic markets as well. It was far from a scientific sample, but it was fun.

I used Pinterest to gather the images and Mural as a platform to group and cluster the images.

10 Mobile Learning Codes

  1. Learn Alone Together (Residual)
  2. Access the World From Anywhere (Residual)
  3. Gather Around a Screen (Residual)
  4. Augment how You Live (Dominant)
  5. Simulate a Situation (Dominant)
  6. Augment your Experience of Here (Dominant)
  7. Try Immersive Learning (Emergent)
  8. Wear Your Learning (Emergent)
  9. Integrate Learning into Yourself (Emergent)
  10. Interact with Robots (Emergent)

4 Mobile Learning Spaces

I created the culture map by iteratively positioning the codes on semiotic squares constructed using cultural tensions that emerged through exploring the visual data. These tensions included:

  • Familiar / Unfamiliar
  • Augment / Integrate
  • Create / Consume
  • Ready at Hand / Present to Hand
  • Private / Public

From playing with the coded and tensions, I developed the following four quadrants on my semiotic square:

  1. Become a Cyborg (Unfamiliar / Private)
  2. Engage with the Machines (Unfamiliar / Public)
  3. Use the Data (Familiar / Private)
  4. Mediate Together (Familiar /Public)

This thought experiment has been a fun way to apply my learning. Since doing the initial semiotic exploration, a couple of additional ideas occurred to me:

  1. Semiotics aimed at settings has great potential as a tool for analyzing learning settings. I am intrigued by Bonnie Shapiro’s work on analyzing sustainability in learning settings. Laura Oswald‘s case studies on analyzing retailscapes with semiotics points to the potential for using semiotics to analyze learning settings (e.g. programs and learning spaces) in comparison to competitive and aspirational programs.
  2. Where do emergent products like smart speakers, particularly niche products like the Amazon Echo Look, fit on within the frame of mobile learning. They are likely somewhere between dominant and emergent because they are still relatively unfamiliar and sit somewhere on the boundary between public or private?
  3. What might happen if I took an explicitly critical frame and asked how these products vary on their representation of domestication vs. liberation. Most images promise a dream of endless open knowledge, and most images represent scenes of social control (students being disciplined by lessons in formal learning settings or people being domesticated by new technological forms). I recognize my initial sample had scant examples of mobile learning in the context of non-formal learning settings beyond the cliched coffee shop or non-spaces of everyday life (e.g commuting).

Next Steps

The workshop has prompted me to start reading more in the domain of semiotic marketing analysis and qualitative marketing analysis. I have been diving into the work of Laura Oswald, The Handbook of Qualitative Marketing Research, and Tim Stock‘s culture mapping.

If you are interesting in applying semiotics to analyze a learning setting, I would love to hear from you.

An Everyone Culture: Becoming a Deliberately Developmental Organization

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3 Deliberately Developmental Organizations

Robert Kegan has always been one of my favourite authorities on adult learning and development. In Over our Heads was deeply inspiring when I was studying Higher Education at UBC. Kegan’s later collaborations with Lisa Lahey in How the Way We Talk Can Change the Way We Work and Immunity to Change influenced my early thinking on organizational development and change work.

Kegan and Lahey’s new work with several coauthors , An Everyone Culture: Becoming a Deliberately Developmental Organization, offers in depth cases studies of Next Jump, Decurion, and Bridgewater,  three organizations that incorporate professional development and learning as an essential part of their organizational culture and approach to business.

What I valued most about the book is the organizational model and metaphors that Kegan et al. use to explore the dimensions of development: edge, groove, and home. We individually and collectively have a professional edge that is always developing and changing, we get into the groove when we have individual and shared practices that sustain and support the advancement of our personal learning and shared organizational culture.

I am not as persuaded by Kegan et. al’s arguments about adult development and personal psychology as I once was. But I appreciated that the authors acknowledge the psychological bias that informs their work,  and they use an integral framework from Ken Wilber to explore the individual, social, psychological, organizational dynamics of culture and change at work. More compelling were the chapters on the  many distinct social practices that the three organizations enact to as they use a developmental approach to work and organizational change.

For example, what might be different if everyone at work were assigned to a job that would stretch them personally and professionally? What if organizations embrace personal social learning practices so people don’t have to hide their weaknesses, can address continuous constructive feedback from colleagues, and continuously challenge themselves with increasingly complex tasks? Next Jump, Bridgewater, and Decurion demonstrate that learning and development can be a key competitive advantage.

Organizational development consultants, coaches, and other people leading change processes in organizations will find Kegan et al. a useful summer read.

 

 

Designing for the Common Good

DCGDesigning for the Common Good is a must-read for anyone involved with innovation in the public sector or in public spaces. The book is a superbly designed, practical follow-up to Kees Dorst’s Frame Innovation.

The book is build around concise descriptions of projects  that the Designing Out Crime Research Centre at University Technology Sydney has undertaken over the last decade and brief reflections on design principles and practices that underlie the projects.

If Frame Innovation presents Dorst’s current thinking on public sector and public space design practice for an academic audience, Designing for the Common Good, which is co-written by Dorst and many professional and student collaborators, addresses for a much broader interdisciplinary audience of designers, practitioners, and change makers.

If This is Service Design Thinking is the book that launched the practical service design movement (as evidenced in a metanalysis as the most cited text at the ServDes conference , then I see Designing for the Common Good as a positive sign that  the field of design for service and social innovation is evolving.  It compliments Lucy Kimbell’s Service Innovation Handbook, which offers a bricolage of theory, methods and cases. It bests Ben Reason, Lavrans Løvlie and Melvin Brand Flu’s Service Design for Business because it does more than share abstract advice and approaches for business professionals with scant examples. Dorst and his co-writers foreground authentic, varied case studies and back them up with evidence-based reflections and methods. Like Kimbell, Dorst and his collaborators offer newcomers to design for public innovation rich, authentic cases and methods to consider, and unlike any design for the public good text I have read yet, Dorst et. al are able to address the interdisciplinary and transdisciplinary nature  of  public design projects whereas  most of the books on design for public project still are constrained by a narrow focus on corporate and business design.

What I appreciate most about the work this work is how it offer practical pragmatic design methods that are informed by solid and intentional design research while also being written to inform practitioners. The authenticity and richness of the cases, reflections and methods distinguish this book from those that are overly theoretical and academic (for example, Making Futures), narrowly focussed on business and management lens (e.g. Service Design for Business). It complements the emerging bodies of work that address design for public sector innovation (e.g Leading Public Service Innovation) and work on design for services at the local or regional level (e.g. Design for Services or Design, where Everybody Designs). An interesting question for the future might be how might frame innovation inform or complement transition design towards particular environmental or social futures?

What I find most compelling about Design for the Common Good is that the authors explicitly address the limitations of their approach and  call for the need to augment design with substantive organizational development. Successful projects are bounded by time, space and geography. What might work at Kings Cross in Sydney will likely not work on the Granville Entertainment strip in Vancouver. Having read Frame Innovation and Design for the Common Good, I am itching to design and facilitate a frame innovation project.

 

 

Designing with my iPhone

For fun, I am participating in Design1o1 Redux, a MOOC that introduces basics of contemporary design. I’ve never been that successful as a student in MOOCs before because of the implicit time commitment they demand and, to be blunt, the poor quality of instructional design.

What I like about Design 1o1 is that the MOOC is playful, creative, and almost entirely based on the open Internet and through social media, mostly on Instagram but also on Twitter.  One of the challenges we have in British Columbia is that the Freedom of Information and Privacy laws are particularly strict about sharing personal information across borders, so I it would be challenging for a BC university to pursue such an open approach without wrestling with informed consent and forms.

What I am learning in Design1o1 Redux so far is how to use my iPhone as an instrument for creative expression and design research. I can see how this will be useful not only as I continue to take countless pictures of Megan and Claire but also as I dive more deeply into design research. One of the assignments I had last week prompted me to start thinking how I might use my phone and a few APPS to document service walkthrough and user journeys easily.

I will have more to say about my learning experience as time goes by. You can follow my progress on Instagram.

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What is your take on MOOCs? What have you learned by participating in them? How have you learned to persist?

Unraveling the threads of experience design

A kimchi refrigerator (Photo credit: cher https://flic.kr/p/7yh7dN)
A kimchi refrigerator (Photo credit: cher https://flic.kr/p/7yh7dN)

Have you ever considered how and why a kimchi refrigerator offers users more autonomy than conventional refrigerators might, what constitutes an ideal trip to and through an airport, or why a sophisticated golf simulator might offer a peak form of entertainment? Jin Woo Kim’s Design for Experience: Where technology meets design and strategy, which I discovered in Fjord’s slide deck on design trends for 2016, seeks to dymytisfy the thinking and requirements behind designing powerful product and service experiences.

Kim’s book is useful on multiple levels. I have been so immersed in the North American and European literature on design for service and experience design that it was refreshing to read a leading Korean HCI scholar on experience design. I appreciate how Kim integrated ideas from Confucius, John Dewey and Vitruvius  to underlie his exploration of experience design. Lucy Kimbell extolls Vitruvius in her handbook on service innovation, and Dewey is oft-cited in  Benz’s edited collection on Experience Design, but  I was delighted to read more about how Confucius’s ideas on harmony inform experience design.  I also enjoyed how Kim blends detailed technical explanations of design features with supporting narration of his experiences in Seoul, and detailed analyzed a range of Korean and Western products and services as UX examples.

At its core, the book presents a detailed framework of threads, levers, UX factors, and design features involved in designing product and service experiences. Kim breaks down meaningful, valuable and harmonious experience into three interrelated dimensions with associated key conceptual controls:

  • sensorial experience + sense of presence
  • judgemental experience + locus of causality
  • compositional experience + relational cohesiveness

Kim’s framework is similar to the product experience framework introduced by Desmet and Hekkert and adapted by Silvia Grimaldi, which I discussed in my review of Experience Design: Concepts and Case Studies. What distinguishes Kim’s monograph from either this previous work or a text like Pine and Gilmore’s The Experience Economy is Kim’s detailed analysis and explanation of underlying UX factors and design features. The detailed, careful analysis of case studies and exposition associated UX factors and design features will prove useful to design students and practitioners. If you haven’t thought what vividness or presence or autonomy and automation might mean in relation to an experience or if you having considered which type of information architecture is best suited to the product or service experience you hope to offer, this text explicates these ideas in detail and offers concrete useful examples from both products and services.

What I found most challenging about the book was its focus only on designing corporate or commercial products and services although the principles and concepts will be equally useful for those designing for social innovations or  community experiences. I was hoping that Kim might address to the scope of design challenges that Kees Dorst addresses in Frame Innovation (e.g. the experience in a Sydney entertainment district) or the contributors to Benz’s collection do (festivals, public spaces), but Kim situates his framework squarely in traditional commercial product and service design. Nor does Kim address aspects of power, social justice, or sustainability..

Kim ends Design for Experience with a process description to apply the three dimension framework to the example of designing a companion product or service. What surprised me most about this section of the book was that Kim also emphasizes the organizational requirements needed to offer a harmonious, successful project. What I most appreciated about Kim’s text was his case in favour of interdisciplinary design practices informed by research and theory from the humanities and social sciences. Kim advocates for partnership between industry and academia. He calls for not only social science informed design research but also careful analysis of humanities research on relevant concepts like play or companionship depending on the particular design challenge.

Design for Experience makes a valuable contribution to the experience design literature.  It offers a solid conceptual framework for user experience designers, information architects, and practitioners to work with as they collaborate.

 

Top 5 Books of 2015

As 2016 begins, here are my favourite books of last year.

       Follow David’s board 2015 Top Books of th Year on Pinterest.

Feel free to share any you think I should read.