On Gray’s The Connected Company

Dave Gray‘s The Connected Company (2012) is an easy read for anyone who wants to explore networked, social business models and work.

What I appreciated most was Gray’s ability to make important, complex, academic concepts like service-dominant logic, platforms, and networks accessible for a broad business audience. For anyone wrestling with the challenge of explaining to clients what it means to put service and social learning at the heart of a business venture or coaching others to design service-based business models, Grey offers valuable examples and explanations.

The Connected Company cites and interprets examples from many leading service-based enterprises like Nordstrom, Zappos, Amazon, and GE. It draws on popular business thinkers and concepts from the Harvard Business Review and leading design ideas like Stuart Brand’s theory of shearing layers.

The idea that seems to be sticking with me is the notion that connected companies finds ways to “absorb variety”, to enable customers, users and internal teams to pursue multiple aims, goals and intentions simultaneously. I am oversimplifying, and probably misrepresenting the idea, but designing to “absorb variety” and learn from variety is at the heart of the educational challenge that universities like the one I work at face and at the heart of what it means to learn, too (cf. Ference Marton).

Those of you who work on learning and development within organizations will enjoy Gray’s ideas on individual and organizational learning. There was plenty of resonance between Gray’s ideas and Wenger-Traynor et. al’s concept of navigating boundaries in a landscape of practice and addressing boundaries between a multiplicity of practice communities.

If you are looking for models of self-governing, user- and customer-centric business, then you will like Grey’s work.

On Learning in Landscapes of Practice

I just finished my first read through Etienne Wenger-Trayner, Mark Fenton-O’Creevy, Steven Hutchinson, Chris Kubiak, and Beverley Wenger-Trayner’s new edited collection, Learning in Landscapes of Practice: Boundaries, identities, and practice-based learning (2014).

I’ve long been a fan of Etienne Wenger-Trayner’s theoretical and anthropological work on learning. I owe my colleague Barbara Berry a debt of gratitude for telling me about this book and for pointing me to Wenger-Trayner’s recent lecture on the content of this book.

This book is essential reading for anyone who espouses “social learning” in the industry learning and development community. Unlike many current popular approaches, Wenger-Trayner et al. offer ideas that are practical and, at the same time, based thoughtful, seminal scholarship on learning.

Wenger-Trayner et al. offer those of us who work with organizations comprised of diverse groups a whole new vocabulary and approach for facilitating change and enabling people to work at, across, and through boundaries in the organizational and societal contexts.

Professional coaches will find value the ideas on identity in social landscape

People in the higher education sector should pay attention to this text because in several places it at addresses classic challenges that universities face like students’ transition into and through higher education, and, more importantly, the tricky relationship between academic learning and work. This book would be useful for student services specialists, academic developers,  and university administrators alike.

The chapters in this book on systems convening will interest experience designers and design researchers who practice strategic design or systems design with large groups  and use methods like design charettes or other community engagement approaches. I wonder whether the framework of ideas that Wenger-Trayner et al. present around identity, multimembership and boundaries might also extend current perspectives on product and service experience design by adding a sociocultural dimension to the list of factors to consider when designing an experience or interaction. Also the landscape framework may offer systems and service designers new ways of thinking about ecosystem mapping as considering multimembership and circulating regimes of competence might reveal new value flows and relationships.

On Experience Design: Concepts and Case Studies

In the wake of reading Thomas Wendt’s post-phenomenological exploration of experience design, I picked up Peter Benz’s edited collection Experience Design: Concepts and Case Studies.

The collection offers a wide-ranging set of essays, research articles, and case studies. What I enjoyed most about the collection was the range of contexts it explores: everyday micro-interactions with commonplace objects like a tea kettle (Grimaldi), urban public spaces (Rajendran, Walker and Parnell), eating situations (Sommer et al.), and festivals (Strandvad and Pederson). Most of the studies were short enough to be read in a brief sitting, so after the deep dives that Thomas Wendt and Andrew Hinton’s Understanding Context offered me, this collection offered a fast-paced, high-level survey.

I’ve already started experimenting with one of frameworks presented and extended in the book: Grimaldi’s adaptation of Desmet and Hekkert’s “Framework of Product Experience”, which proposes that experience can vary on four dimensions:

  • aesthetic experience
  • cognitive experience
  • emotional experience
  • narrative experience

I’m starting to experiment with using these dimensions as a point of departure in conversations about designing learning experiences.  The categories are intuitive, and, in retrospect, I realize that aesthetic experience includes interactions with objects, things and other material elements in the learning setting.

Rajendran et al.’s chapter on how people experience urban public settings prompted me to wonder about how learning might be orchestrated in new and novel ways in the very constrained setting of large, front-facing lecture halls. Might there be creative, inexpensive ways of creating spaces within the room? Many years ago, I interviewed SFU mathmatics education professor Peter Liljedahl and he shared an anecdote about how he uses construction tape to direct student flows. This chapter also probes why people value particular spaces.

The final chapter that has stuck with me is Tara Mullaney’s case study of her design education intervention to disrupt design students’ tendency to adopt a problem-solving mindset rather than to search for transformative solutions to existing experiences. Working in the context of transforming the interaction between a bank and it customers, Mullaney had student do a one day design sprint to externalize an initial complete design and then mid-project had the group collectively ideate alternative concepts to interweave a personal finance and banking concern.  I appreciated how this chapter questioned the dominant logic of observational and user research. It made me wonder how collective brainstorming across disciplinary and educational knowledge domains (e.g.workplace business practice + higher education) might produce learning experience designs that transform learning experiences.

There is a lot of rich material in this collection and I anticipate returning to the first section on phenomenology and other theoretical perspectives over time.

What are you reading on experience design and how has it shaped your practice?

Top 5 Books of the Year

I read voraciously.

I’ve collected the top five books that made the most impact on me professionally and personally in 2014 on a Pinterest Board.

Here they are in no particular order!

Follow David’s board 2014 Top 5 Books of the Year on Pinterest.

What book made the most impact on your professional work this year?

On Collective Genius

Collective Genius presents ethnographic studies of innovation in leading organizations including Pixar, Volkswagen, eBay, Google.

The range of case studies the book addresses is one of its main assets. Readers’ curious about how Pixar makes animated blockbusters or how Google handles its need for massive storage city will enjoy the deep and rich descriptions.

At the heart of the book is a  framework of principles that capture the interpersonal and organizational conditions that make innovation possible:

What I like most about the book is how it blends rich description from formal case studies, evidence and concepts from academic research, and practice principles and frameworks that managers and leaders can adapt and experiment with at work.

Service designers and design thinking consultants will find the frameworks in Collective Genius useful tools for taking stock of the organizational cultural practices. The principles might enable cross-functional innovation teams assess the conditions and readiness for innovation work. As you may have noticed, the ideas of creative abrasion, creative agility and creative resolution share some similarities to Roger Martin’s ideas on abductive reasoning in The Opposable Mind.

Leadership team coaches, particularly those interested in advancing models of co-creation of value with stakeholders will appreciate the discussion of principles and paradoxes that underlie high performance collaboration.

Learning and development professionals interested in social learning should pay attention to the case studies on Volkswagen and Pixar. The Volkwagen case addresses how to create community amongst siloed, fragmented units, and to instil collaboration towards a common purpose. The initial Pixar case, which opens the book, explores how Pixar enables exceptionally creative workers with diverse skill sets to work together a common shared purpose and to enact shared values. The book will challenge the learning and development community’s focus the psychology and behaviour of the individual work.

CX observations en route to Dallas

I’m attending the POD Network 2014 conference in Dallas this week.

All the service design and customer experience design exploration and reading  has sharpened my attention to detail  as I was on board two United flights.

Now I understand why Andy Polaine uses air travel as his go to example for service design workshops.

On check-in

I got stuck some weird Kafkaesque online check-in interface that required me to select a list of visa options, none of which applied to my situation. I gave up in frustration and checked in at the airport.

 At the airport

The attendants berated passengers for not using the self-serve kiosks to check-in and weigh their baggage. It took an hour and a half to self-check in, navigate the queue to the secondary check-in with the attendant, and navigate the border and immigration.

On the first flight

1. The cabin crew on my flight from Vancouver to Houston used the discourse of safety to discipline passengers as they went about they work. We were extolled multiple times to “watch your elbows, shoulders, legs….” The discourse of safety came up again when the crew had to stop its work mid-service because of turbulence. I’m all for being vigilant about the safety of passengers and crew, but when it shifts over to hyper vigilance it creates a bit of a weird dynamic. I wonder if there might be a more customer-centric way so the focus is on customers rather than on the implications of turbulence on the crew’s workflow.

2. A more serious CX moment was a behaviour some of the more experienced cabin crew on the flight exhibited. They made relentless requests to passengers to specify exactly how each person takes coffee an tea. The crew was trying to encourage people to volunteer the details without having to ask. One attendant even sarcastically praised a passenger for doing what she had asked. Obviously United doesn’t want to waste sugar packets, stir sticks and creamers. But maybe the staff shouldn’t grouse about asking people how they prefer their beverage.

3. Did I mention there was no in-flight entertainment. What happened to the movies, music and shows? I guess United assumes passangers bring their own devices.

On the second flight

3. The gate attendant let us board the flight before the security sweep of the plane had been completed. We all had to leave the plane and stand on the gangway for 5 minutes. She apologized for the mistake, but another passenger noted that the plane had been at the gate for 90 minutes before we attempted to board.

4. The weirdest moment of the day was when the male attendant on my short-haul flight into Dallas lip-synched the entire safety announcement, which happened to be narrated by a woman.

All in all, these flights featured more turbulence and worse customer service than I can remember. Clearly I don’t fly enough to recognize what is normal, but I think United has endless CX work to do.

In contrast, I drooled when I saw the Virgin America departure lounge at Love Field. They have mounted a cool collection of framed art on the wall and the place looks downright hip compared to the bargain basement blandness of the United spaces.

Getting to the hotel

If somewhat asked you the difference between a hotel shuttle and a ride share van what would you say? At Love Field, I learned these services stop in different locations and mean very different things.

I took a ride share van to my hotel. It was  a sorry example of disorganized service. There were three drivers with android tablets mulling about on the tarmac. My driver was clearly the most experienced and was trying to help his colleague know where to go. But they clearly didn’t have an automated system for grouping customers going in similar directions. We sat in the van for 10-15 minutes while they figured it out amongst themselves.

Seeing that helped me appreciate what Uber is trying to do for transportation services.

Ultimately our driver was polite, efficient, and I enjoyed seeing how tablets are being hacked by entrpreneurial transportation companies to manage point of sale, logistics and way finding on the dashboard.

It should be an interesting week in Dallas. I will keep my service design goggles on and perhaps compose a response to James Tyer’s post on applying the 70:20:10 framework to conferences. POD has a reputation for being extremely interactive, so it may offer a counterexample of how to do interactivity at conferences well.

Reforming government services and reforming university services

Gordon Ross and Jess McMullin shared some terrific links from the recent Code for America conference in San Francisco.

Tom Loosemore’s keynote on Government Digital Services in the UK was memorable for a couple of key points:
1. Transforming government service requires breaking down the caste system and silos between policy makers and front-line operators. To reform a service, all stakeholders must be at the planning and design table. Loosemore notes a key first step is for all stakeholders to attend to policy intent and for all to address user needs.

2. Loosemore talks a lot about GDS and Gov.uk as as a platform for service and the need for some parts of government to reshape themselves to cut across traditional organizational silos and boundaries between discrete castes amongst categories of government workers.

Loosemore’s talk about service transformation resonates for higher education because it challenges professional staff to consider how we might think about education as a horizontal service platform and how we might work towards integrating and reducing boundaries and hierarchies that lessen or weaken the value of the learning experience for students or scholarly experience for academics.

I am aware of at least three institutions that have already taken first steps towards using service design to ameliorate user experience in higher education: University of California Berkeley and University of Derby, and Queen’s University, Kingston. Faculty and staff at all three have started by addressing the experience for students interfacing with university systems. What I have yet to find is an example of higher education service design that integrates a focus on students experience and also addressin the complexity of university organizations and other user communities that comprise them.

Loosemore’s call for design teams to turn to policy intent led me to the insight that higher education professionals and faculty can and should attend to the fundamental principles underlying the organization and institution they are working within. In my case, that means not only attending to the dark matter of SFU policy but also the well-articulated mission and values of The Beedie School of Business. If users spend the time at the outset of a project reconnecting with fundamental policy commitments and principles that might clarify the path and direction for a specific curriculum initiative.

Finally Loosemore’s talk incudes a memorable quotation about the value of starting with policy and working forward to address user needs:

“You would be surprised at the detritus of accreted nonsense that you can strip away.”

Innovators, read Michael Quinn Patton

At the urging of my friend and colleague Barb Berry, I recently read Michael Quinn Patton‘s book Developmental Evaluation.

It has been a long time since I have read a professional text with as engaging a style and tone.

What challenges me about Patton’s book is that it addresses evaluation work at a high level of sophistication. It assumes readers are capable evaluators and explores the practice of evaluation in a way that focuses on the why? rather than the how. True the book offers lists of possible evaluation frameworks and describes cases and examples of how complexity concepts may be applied by evaluators, their clients, and collaborators. But, even though I am a dabbler in the field of evaluation, I appreciated not being told what to do and rather being able to reason my way to what might work in a given situation.

The book has resonated as I have gone about my week observing an innovative program and offering just-in-time developmental feedback to the people involved. It has primed me to attend to the emergent, unanticipated outcomes and situations and the obstacles that they have created for people.

Patton’s book will resonate for anyone who is working to develop a social innovation. It persuades me that there is value for an insider/outsider evaluator on high stakes innovation programs. Patton’s book will appeal to innovators who are already inclined towards complexity, systems thinking, and other outside-in ecological ways of looking at growing a product, service or program. Cynefin practioners may appreciate Patton’s application of Snowden and Boone.

For pioneering service and strategy designers, developmental evaluation offers ways to evaluate the impact of service and strategy prototypes and innovations. If a future goal of service design agencies is to take service designs all the way to implementation and evaluation, developmental evaluation should feature on user research teams’ learning plan.

Lightening Talk topic at POD2014

The Professional and Organizational Development Network in Higher Education is holding its annual conference in Dallas, TX in early November, and POD recently announced they would be holding a couple of UnConference sessions.

I am toying with proposing a lightening talk and have to brainstorm a proposed title and one-sentence summary by next week.

Here a five titles I brainstormed yesterday. Would you vote for any of them? Why?

1. Service Design, Team Coaching, and Work-based Social Performance Support, or How might we disrupt the dominant logics of educational development?

2. Everything I learned about educational development, I learned from Australia, Hong Kong, and Sweden, Or, Why North American educational developers should attend to ideas from elsewhere.

3. Against educational development relativism, or Why teaching and learning centres should resist anything goes.

4. “It’s the relationships, stupid!”: Non-directive educational development

5. What’s your unit of analysis? Individuals, teams, units, institutions or systems

What do you think? Seen a great lightning talk in the past? Help me out and. Share a link to the talk or description in the comments.

Next step in my coaching training journey

As I’ve written before, I am pursuing an Associate Certified Coach (ACC) professional coaching credential from the International Coach Federation.

As part of my journey so far, I’ve completed 60 hours of coaching training with Essential Impact and I have been coaching some amazing, creative people in my spare time.

Thanks to my long commute, I’ve been devouring some tremendous books on leadership team coaching and coaching practice from the UK and Australia. I’m compiling highlights and will post soon. Watch my Pinterest board for highlights.

Here is what I know so far:
1. Coaching is one aspect of the service I offer clients in my day job. The area that I specialize in is leadership team coaching in educational and creative organizations.

2. Leadership team coaching complements the other two foci of my professional practice: service and learning design. I’ve come to recognize that many organizations not only need design service but also need to design learning and development interventions to implement new services.

Curious about coaching and my approach? Get in touch… david at davidrubeli.ca