Weekly Download 15.7

download-150965_640Here’s a recap of news and notes from around the Web that caught my attention over the past week or so.

Decisions vs. Choices: Is There a Distinction? Yes, and it is important. It helps us think about when we cut off alternatives (make a decision) vs. what are the choices we make. Are we clear so that important choices are made or considered before we make a decision? Seemingly, decisions are much easier once we have that clarity.

Read the letter Bill Gates sent to Microsoft employees for the company’s 40th anniversary. He takes a moment to reflect and celebrate, then sets the path for their future: “…what matters most now is what we do next.”

I’ve always been a fan of maps. For that matter, I appreciate just about any effective graphical display of information. Draftsman Henry Beck originally created the subway-style map in 1933 for the London Underground Tube. There is just one minor detail—it’s not really a map. Both Beck and the designer of the NYC subway version insisted that this style it be called a diagram (to represent the data, not be a geographical-based representation of all of the features). Semantics aside, 15 subway-style maps that explain everything but subways is intriguing and I think most of them work well.

If you are wondering how quickly disruptive business models can change things, read this. As of March 2015, Uber represents 47% of expensed rides processed by North America’s second largest expense reimbursement provider—up from 15% in March 2014.

Service Design Thinking

In a recent blog entry Life’s Too Short, I referenced the emerging field of service design that is focused on the creation of well-thought-out and thorough experiences.*

We see our customers as invited guests to a party, and we are the hosts. It’s our job every day to make every important aspect of the customer experience a little bit better. —Jeff Bezos, CEO, Amazon

There are myriad tools available for creating a desired user/consumer experience, including voice of the customer, process analysis and design, business process redesign/reengineering, business analysis, value stream mapping, agile design, user centered design, etc. Does service design differ in any significant way? If so, how?

This is Service Design Thinking: Basics, Tools, Cases is a good primer. The authors lay out five principles of service design thinking as their foundation:

  1. User Centered – services should be experienced through the eyes of the customer
  2. Co-creative – all stakeholders should be involved in the design process
  3. Sequencing – the service should be visualized as a sequence of interrelated actions
  4. Evidencing – intangible services should be visualized in terms of physical artifacts
  5. Holistic – the entire environment of service should be considered

This list is comprehensive and perhaps even a bit daunting. My initial impression is that it is a refinement, update, and combination of a number of tried-and-true tools or methods. A few key variations that distinguish service design from other approaches include:

  • Stronger user orientation generated by observing behavior and understanding context, not simply asking the customer what they want
  • More opportunity for flexibility and variations, rather that achieving perfection through absolute standardization
  • A focus on experience, rather than product. This may also be stated as value in use, not just an exchange of value (money for product).
  • Created together. Experiences are inherently both parties working together to create the outcome
  • Allows for experimentation, small scale production environments with soft launches and incremental deployments that include significant feedback to drive product evolution

Regardless of whether service design is truly different or just a new set of words to describe something we’ve always had, I found this book to be clear and concise. It is less theoretical and more practical in terms of basic concepts, approaches, and application. If service design emerges as the hot new thing, user/consumers will be the beneficiaries. Who cares what it’s called?

*Thanks to J Schwan for presenting this as one his three key ideas in his Fusion2015 presentation. See Service Design Slide.

Un-Unified Communication

My recent post demonstrated a difficult method to share notes. I want to contrast that experience with a very different one.

Several weeks ago, I connected with a regional sales leader for a national technology company that I’ve worked with. We spoke about how we are working differently and collaborating across companies in new and different ways. He was going to be attending an enterprise communications and collaboration conference the following week, and offered to share what he learned and subsequently get together to discuss.

To facilitate sharing, he launched a Cisco Spark collaboration room. My first reaction was a sarcastic groan, “Perfect, just what I need, another application.” But, in the spirit of embracing new approaches, I gave it a try.

Photo by Mark Baker

Photo by Mark Baker

Surprisingly, this proved to be an easy way to share content, links, and even coordinate our meeting over coffee. The reason why became clear when we spoke. While I, like many others, have always have a quest for “one”—one thing, one place, one neatly organized inbox or to-do list—I realized that the definition of “one” has shifted. Instead of using one application, the new standard is one mobile/tablet device filled with notifications. A speaker at the aforementioned conference labeled it “Un-Unified Communications.” Instead of one phone number, one voice mail system, and one email address, we now have multiple tools for communication and collaboration. Our inbox is a set of tiles with various notifications. Aha! This made total sense. While “fewer” may be easier to manage, the quest for “one” does not have to be the Holy Grail.

Beyond Spark, there are many other providers in this category, including Slack, Asana, Verse (coming soon from IBM), Quip, and HipChat. You may have seen the HipChat commercials during the NCAA basketball tournament, starring boss Bill Lumbergh from the classic business comedy, Office Space. These ads are so humorous because, unfortunately, they reflect the daily reality in a lot of companies. My fervent goal, as I test and try new ways to work and collaborate, is to avoid becoming a Lumbergh.

I use my smartphone for…

Email Research Entertainment Payments
Calendar Shopping Music Identity
Texting Scanning Task list Scanning
Camera Weather Reminders Voice to text
Address book News Maps GPS
Internet Photos Voice mail Fitness tracking
Phone calls Filing cabinet Flashlight Video calling
Social networking Writing Alarm clock Games
Reading Bookmarking Travel management Blogging

That is more than what I do with a laptop computer. Less than eight years ago when the iPhone was launched, we thought it was a phone. Read this Asymco post about how this applies to the iWatch.

Life’s Too Short

Portland has awesome street art and signage that complement the city’s reputation of being quirky, diverse, and progressive. This billboard caught my attention.

2015-04-06 11.38.15-1

All photos by Mark Baker

The exploding world of mobile apps has set a new benchmark for how technology should work. In our daily lives, there is an app for every purpose: to check the weather, get sports scores, catch up on news, read a magazine, share updates with friends, book travel reservations, shop, or track workouts. One of my favorite examples is the Amazon mobile app with its ability to dynamically scan a product or barcode.

As apps have gotten increasingly easier to use and more refined, the same progression cannot be found in the traditional software that most businesses rely on. There is usually a distinct difference between applications written from the ground up after approximately 2008 and those written earlier. Earlier applications (think airline websites, like United) have lots of functionality on single screens, require training to use, and come from a “one size fits all” mindset. Even programs that have received a “face lift” can’t compare in terms of ease of use, personalization, and multi-functionality.

New approaches (Uber, an interface to a ride service, is a perfect example) are proliferating, but lots of traditional services can’t get from here to there. Unfortunately, I think we’re going to be stuck with the legacy of these systems for some time.

Life is too short to stick with outmoded technology when there is something new and better available. Consumers will continue to gravitate to the tools they find more accessible and efficient. In an upcoming post, I will address one of the fundamental toolsets that will help us get there: service design. This holistic approach focuses on the user experience when designing process, tools and service. Stay tuned.

Ossifying Ourselves with Diversity and Variety

Mark McDonald from Accenture used the phrase “ossifying ourselves with diversity and variety“ during his presentation at Fusion2015.

Ossifying: To become set in a rigidly conventional pattern.

I had one of these experiences at the conference. My colleagues Tom Lenz and Clare Jones joined me there. We all bring slightly different perspectives, so there is great shared learning when we can aggregate our thoughts and observations. At this conference, we decided to use OneNote in a shared OneDrive folder so we could each take notes and share them in real time.

office-419965_640Clare mostly typed on an iPad, as Tom did occasionally, too. I used a stylus to test the recently released ability to draw or write within OneNote. I also took pictures of key slides or the speaker with my phone or tablet and added them into the note. This often created a mess—different text boxes, overlapping type with handwriting, misaligned oversized photos, etc.

Mark McDonald is both a passionate speaker and he talks fast. Having difficulty keeping up, I decided to resort to handwritten notes, the old-fashioned way, with pen and paper. Then, I had to find a way to get these into our shared folder. Here is the process I developed:


This whole situation was far more complex than anyone had intended. Was our quest for real-time notes and the diversity and variety of methods necessary? No. Perhaps our desire to always use the latest technology has become too rigid of a pattern. Perhaps a simple approach (pen and paper note taking, with everything gathered and shared at the end of the conference) would have been satisfactory. We may have even distributed the notes on paper (gasp!).

In our efforts to leverage technology 24/7/365, we need to be careful what we wish for. The latest and greatest isn’t always the shortest or fastest distance between two points.

The Business Card Exchange

I was at a meeting last week in Chicago with other CIOs from the Midwest whom I had not previously met. Instinctively, we continued the time-honored tradition of exchanging business cards. In the era of LinkedIn, Bump, and a myriad of other technologies and methods to connect with others, it surprises me a little bit that this custom has not become extinct.

The Economist offers a reasonable explanation in Why the business card is thriving in the electronic age. The article notes, “The Chinese invented calling cards in the 15th century to give people notice that they intended to visit.” Since that time, there have been myriad iterations and purposes of cards—they may be quirky, clever, or even unique works of art. Personally, I’ve always found it helpful to have a card that is easy to write on.

After some thought, I realized that the card itself is really incidental to the value of the ritual: the introduction, handshake, discussion, and connection. A business card is a tangible souvenir of a physical interaction, a prized commodity in today’s increasingly impersonal, digital world.

Photo by Mark Baker

Photo by Mark Baker