My name is Susan, and I am a baby.
During his Ferris Bueller days Matthew Broderick did a skit on Saturday Night Live in which he dressed as a baby. Other passengers on the New York subway mocked him. I remember John Belushi. “Look at the BAY-bee!” he said. Mr. Broderick’s baby answers, “Well, yes I am a baby…”
Mr. Broderick has since revisited the theme: here he is, avec diapers and bonnet, with the much-missed Phil Hartman as a Fairy. As in a Tooth Fairy-like fairy.
Actually, Saturday Night Live makes a point more about social perceptions and diversity which I leave aside because humor is best left unexplained.
Besides, I’m serious here. I don’t mean to say I am an infant. Sure, I’m intelligent like an infant, but I have years of experience racked up that supplement wisdom I was gifted with. I possess a certain kind of analytical ability and persuasiveness. Yeah, sure, I’m not rich. Shut up.
I did not come to the realization that I am a baby on my own. I did know that I have a tender heart that requires some protection and nourishment. It was, however, a perceptive man of my acquaintance, someone whose father was an obstetrician and came from a family of eight siblings who gave my traits a persona. At first I recoiled, as though I had been called a bad name.
He gently asked me, “What do babies do?”
“They laugh, they cry, they play and learn by wandering away and putting stuff in their mouths. Also - sleep a lot, wipe food all over themselves, delight in a rubber duckie, and roll around on their bottoms.”
I immediately understood.
I want to be clear that this doesn’t mean I think less of myself. I am not a victim to be pitied. I am not socially or personally inferior. I simply recognize a facet of myself which helps me understand certain behaviors and thoughts.
Like babies, I do gutsy, sometimes even ill-advised things, like heading out to open territory without telling someone where I’m going. I grieve mightily when disappointed especially with myself, am betrayed by those I thought I could trust, or suffer a wounding loss. I also feel the pain of those who are hurt. Buffering helps.
I enjoy experiencing other realities – my imagination and natural curiosity lead to plenty of wonder. I enjoy getting “lost” and returning to my reality having been away. I require stimulation. Cooped up motionless in a small, dark, silent office cube = a coffin.
So why announce this in public? Why not jot these thoughts in my Moleskin?
Here’s why. Again and again startups are advised to have someone on board who expands the group’s creative thinking; a non-engineer, a non-MBA. Startups are told to expect things to be messy (read: inefficient), to involve all ideas, to expect unexpected outcomes, to ask the right questions and investigate, and to roll with the reality checks, to pivot and refine accordingly and rapidly.
Startups need Babies. Frankly, all companies need Babies.
It’s a habit now – better to be patted down in public than to go through the TSA body scanner. They always ask if I want to go to a private place. No, I say – here’s fine. There is no humiliation. Besides, it would take even more time to move elsewhere. Maybe others think as they see me being patted down that I was pulled aside for special attention, the unlucky tenth person who must suffer this public scrutiny. Or that something about me triggered suspicion.
Here’s what the TSA website says about pulling people out of line for closer inspection:
"TSA's BDO-trained security officers (Behavior Detection Officers) are screening travelers for involuntary physical and physiological reactions that people exhibit in response to a fear of being discovered. TSA recognizes that an individual exhibiting some of these behaviors does not automatically mean a person has terrorist or criminal intent. BDOs do, however, help our security officers focus appropriate resources on determining if an individual presents a higher risk or if his/her behavior has a non-threatening origin. Individuals exhibiting specific observable behaviors may be referred for additional screening at the checkpoint to include a handwanding, limited pat down and physical inspection of one's carry-on baggage."
Whatever. I’ve never been that 10th person or pulled out for suspicious behavior. Because I’m not a terrorist. Since I know I’m above suspicion, there’s no shame in a public, physical inspection. What others think, fellow passengers or TSA officers male and female, is no nevermind. Finding anything on me in a physical inspection is no more likely than in a scanner, however more intensive a physical inspection may be perceived to be in this crazy world. So I ask the TSA to “focus appropriate resources” my direction because the scanners are, to me, more invasive and, well, a joke.
The last time I went through a scanner I had tucked my credit card in my back pocket that I had used to get my boarding pass. That spurred an inspection on the far side of the scanner. I showed the female officer the card; she took the opportunity to half-heartedly pat down my entire leg. A time before that I had put my mobile phone showing my boarding pass in the elastic pants waist (no belt to hassle with) so my hands would be free to deal with my carry-on stuff and shoes. Then I put the phone in a bin. The phone had emitted radiation on my body that showed in the scanner. I got handled. It’s going to happen anyway.
And so I ask: How is a full body scan less of a personal space violation than a woman touching a woman?
I’m not so sensitive to close human interaction. Well, actually I am. I just think it is okay. Why is human touch so reviled in our culture that a full body scan – the in-effect nude photo produced by radiation, viewed by a stranger in a room somewhere - is preferable? How am I the perv for feeling it’s not so bad to be touched by another human being, especially in the often stressful transition from ordinary citizen to airline passenger? I know for a fact that they won’t find anything amiss. My stepping forward then is a statement of innocence. Yes, someone COULD have slipped a baggie of explosives in my underwear or in the soles of my shoes. But which eventuality is being tested here – my intentions or the range of possibilities? If it’s ‘range of possibilities’, if something was found I’d surely be treated as though it was my intention to be a carrier. So is the TSA looking for criminals or explosives? Yes – both. So we must all be suspected until we are not suspected. I’ve decided that if I will be suspected so profoundly simply because I wish to fly it will be on my terms, terms that feel more respectful.
Besides, I don’t mind causing the TSA to search for an available female officer to come over and run through the ritual. The TSA shouldn’t assume that everyone will be compliant with their scanners. From what I can tell the lines move at the same slow-hurried pace. Plus, having gotten the go-ahead I calmly and quietly get dressed again and gather my things with no rush. It’s a comparative luxury. In exchange, I had a short, personal interaction with a polite, sometimes slightly embarrassed (for me? for herself?), TSA woman.
Being searched dehumanizes us, and we feel that dehumanization each and every one of us, even if we push that feeling down to a subliminal level. Just being suspected of being unpatriotic every time we fly is surely having a detrimental effect on our collective psyche and does nothing for our trust in our government. Even when a physical search is done clumsily it is better than having a nude image made, inspected, and stored for all eternity in exchange for a few seconds of time.
Think of all the photos you have with people you don’t know in the background. Now imagine this - what if you could see all the photos others have taken that have you in the background. You when you’re not posing; just going about your life. What a story the collection would tell about your life. What are you wearing. Who are you with. What’s your common facial expression and posture. Do you remember when some of those photos must have been taken? It would be like seeing yourself in a documentary you're unaware of, literally through the lens of others.
One step further – to see photos of people you know well in the background of other people’s photos. You might learn things about them you couldn’t have imagined.
Maybe we’ll all get this chance to see ourselves au casual when online facial recognition is incorporated into search. Muy creepy but also enlightening.
As a student of human behavior it helps to be ultra-aware of oneself. So another idea occurred to me. In the user experience (UX) profession we have something called ‘personas’. These are characteristics and day-in-the-life stories that are rolled into an example person for the purposes of guiding product development and “user experiences”. These personas are given names, occupations, ages, education levels, experience and knowledge in certain areas, and specific behaviors and attitudes that have been observed in real life. In full disclosure, some have questioned the scientific validity of personas. Designers and others, though, consider them highly valuable even if they are flawed.
So imagine this – what if you could walk through a gallery of the personas that corporations think you fit into. For instance, due to recent disclosures I now know that Google thinks based on my search patterns that I am a 25-34 year old male. So in this gallery there would be a figure of this persona and a placard describing the persona’s traits. Google uses this persona to create products they think I would like. It’s actually not so important that these gallery personas accurately reflect who I am demographically – personas are about behaviors, interests, fears and desires. Again, how fascinating it would be to take in this collection of representations of who I am based on the trail of data I leave behind as I go about living my life.
What would I do with this information? Well, it would be like getting feedback, a way of capturing an unbiased data stream about myself. I might see disturbing things and hopeful things. Certainly here would be hints of how others might see me.
What if, in the future, corporations built androids with these persona traits and then observed them in daily life. That way, if the personas synch accurately to their human counterparts it would no longer be necessary to study actual humans for difficult or sensitive questions. So, say, these androids could be studied for research questions about sexuality or hygiene or mental health problems.
By now I’ve read the first chapter of Phil McKinney’s book “Beyond the Obvious: Killer Questions that Spark Game-Changing Innovation" online. I heard the podcast. There have been reviews. And now there’s been a Silicon Valley book tour interview at the Computer History Museum. This is his first book; Mr. McKinney’s thoughts after leaving HP.
The book is another essay pressing the message that to innovate businesses must dare to break out of their ruts. His prescription is to stop accepting common knowledge and preventing the boat from rocking. To allow the less conventional thinking its day in the sun.
So we’re hoping that the real news is in the execution. Riskiness is all well and good until rubber meets the road. Stakeholders, bonuses, and weekend homes are on the line.
And so it is: Phil McKinney suggests we ask Killer Questions. Questions that require thought and maybe a little digging (Daniel Kahnemann’s System 2). Specifically, we should ask: Who, What, and How.
Who are the customers? No actually – who are they really? Two nominally legitimate methods are outlined. But first, an ad hoc data collection story.
As a VP at HP Mr. McKinney became a regular “visitor” at Best Buy, quizzing new laptop owners about why they didn’t buy an HP. Once he learned about a buying pattern from the Geek Squad that he forwarded immediately to HP. Of course, actual research may or may not validate the cause -> effect observation, but everybody likes a good story.
Let’s be clear. It’s an executive privilege to get away with guerilla research inside a retail store. A UX researcher for HP would get the bum’s rush. Wouldn’t it be great to compile these data; to collaborate with the UX team. Except that, bottom line, this kind of off-the-cuff research is unethical and certainly unscientific. People should be informed that they are participating in research. Allowing such research makes Best Buy complicit in the research. It also interferes in the shopper’s overall experience. And it’s not systematic. Upshot: executives get a jolt from directly influencing product development. Shows that they know their own shop. But let’s not pretend that this is more than anecdotal inquiry that is useful to executives.
So what is legitimate inquiry? Phil McKinney does reverse engineering. Look at how things are and try to figure out how they got that way. And then think of even more ways things could have gotten this way – go beyond the obvious.
I do reverse engineering, too. We all sometimes skim through the New Yorker Magazine just reading the cartoons. Sometimes they’re immediately funny because the point is obvious and not very profound. Most of them also make a deeper socio-cultural comment. So it’s fun to figure out the cartoonist's original observation and then trace how the cartoonist arrived at this visual and verbal expression.
What’s cool is that in scientific method this is called “generating hypotheses”. The next step in considering possibilities is seeing if anyone else has tackled the question and derived potential explanations. Eventually one whittles down the list of hypotheses, arriving at a handful of better-educated guesses.
But wait - we're not done. Before leaping to solutions, how about some real life observation and testing of variables?
So reverse engineering is one person “brainstorming”. The other method Mr. McKinney touts is for team reverse engineering, generating educated guesses and solutions in a compressed time period. The classic brainstorming session. Timing is a little rough on this one considering recent raps against brainstorming here and here.
The key, he says, is to rank the final results for better implementation. That’s an idea for handing off actionable possibilities for executives to get behind. Finally a team is being given latitude to exercise their expertise.
The What question is something related to the product or service. This might be where product development or marketing considerations may come into play.
The How question pertains to organizational execution.
I’m glad Phil McKinney makes these points to his peers - the executive echelon. A stronger correlation from these ideas to UX research would be useful to the rest of us.
I'm switching from a Motorola Android OS phone to the iPhone 4S. I'm not as thrilled at the prospect as it seems most people are. I'm jamming my plug straight into one of the gazillion sockets of the Borg. For now, though, as a therapeutic exercise, I shall document my experience as I get this thing up and running.
It arrived about 18 hours ago. I took it out of the box and decided to plug it in, amp up the battery. It sprang to life and started me through a set-up wizard. I didn't have time for that right then.
So now I slapped on the bumper protector that I got talked into by Verizon. Then I put on the cover shield that I was persuaded to also get. It strikes me that if this thing was so well designed it would come out of the box ready to take the abuse of everyday life and smell like a rose. After all, what's the point of advertising a glorious design if it requires care, feeding, and armor? Plus, there's all the additional expense, more materials to manufacture, more things for young Chinese people to carefully make and place into the packaging. It runs counter to simplicity and reducing waste of all kinds.
Next, the set-up process. Frankly, that was pretty slick. Two immediate texts from Verizon - I'm all set. Still don't want to be a fan, though. Coming up: a couple years of buying apps. Manufacture and ownership of an iPhone is expansive.
Frog Design posted a piece called Making Sense of Occupy, extolling the virtues of well-aimed photographs to avoid stereotypes and to tell a complete story.
I'd extend the observation about the value of photographs to include the value of primary recording of any kind, including audio. A first impression of something vs. what can be seen or heard in a later moment away from the event can be night and day.
Once when I interviewed a woman I thought to myself that she had nothing significant to say. Listening later to the recording, it was like a ghost in the room was saying stunning things - how could I have missed this on first hearing? Well, the act of seeking can be a distraction from taking it in.
Researchers and designers under great time pressures push for immediate discoveries from observations. All the more reason to "cover" an event. Yes, discover onsite. Focus on the hypotheses at hand and the unique behaviors being expressed. But also remember to pull back, allowing for the possibility of discovering points later. In the processing ("groking") is where many significant discoveries and new research questions pop up.
Moral: Don't rely on notes or your memory. Don't rely on your own socio-cultural categories or those of others. Get it on camera or on audio. Practice "covering" the parts and the contexts.
Recently I biked to the drug store about a mile from my place. This is where I get my pharmaceuticals and odd items between excursions to big box stores like Target. This day all I needed was to buy a roll of quarters. Do I have a bank account? Of course, but it’s a credit union HQ’d in another state with the only physical outlet I have access to being an ATM at a partner credit union. That partner credit union never has rolls of quarters at the teller. The pain point is that I need coins to do laundry and sometimes parking meters. I’m a quarter hog.
The sign over the photo development counter says, “Customer Service”, and so I ask to buy a roll of quarters. No deal. They don’t change money, I’m told. Although I’ve done it before at this very store. No matter. I bike back home, drive 3.7 miles to Whole Foods, and they sell me a roll of quarters. While I’m there I pick up $21.56 worth of other stuff. And I check in on foursquare.
Drug stores need to wake up if they’re going to compete against The Big Boxes. What they can and should offer is a community resource. Stop thinking of themselves as a white-tiled brick and mortar retail outlet and more a center of all things a community needs.
I know what they’re thinking. Before you know it they’ll have people out front asking for signatures on ballot initiatives and dogs on leashes waiting for their owners to reemerge. Traffic would be so bad.
To jack up the activity, I propose local drug stores think of themselves as the flex points in our new economy. Offer to be the essential location for the things that location needs. Attract return, incidental traffic. Stop being a cookie cutter store from 1978.
Here are some ideas to pump up. I'm talking to you CVS.
· Be the local plastic bag recycling location
· Host the Humane Society cat adoption program once a month
· Have those dog water bowls out front
· Put the convenience products in front, not the seasonal crap
· Make the rest of the store so inviting customers will want to explore
· It won’t kill you to sell me a damn roll of quarters
Some who comment on social media have postulated that the Young appreciate online social interaction more than the less-Young. ‘Ha’, they say. "We’re the young generation, and we’ve got something to say." - The Monkees circa 1970. The more experienced, they say, aren’t socially agile enough to grasp the satisfactions of the new concepts of social interaction.
This past week I commented on facebook about the decline of geo-located social interaction with the final closing of Borders Books. I was taken to task by an acquaintance I “met” on Consummating a few years ago. Bradley just turned 30 and lives in Eastern Tennessee. He countered that social networks have expanded his world. He attributed his enlightened stance to generational experience that, like blanket radiation, imbues the lot with an easy acceptance of the new paradigms of social media.
Here’s my thread-killing post in its entirety.
"Bradley values communities online for their social diversity and quantity - getting beyond the immediate geographical environs. I live in a place with plenty of social diversity, and I value bonding and social commitment. Case in point - when a person shatters their ankle into toothpicks, a social network isn't going to run errands for you or bring you a pot of chicken soup or hang out and play video games. In fact, the social network hasn't a clue that such acts are even needed. So values determine whether social institutions are benefitting each individual."
"It's not about generation. I interacted with hundreds of thousands in a three-state area as a top rock radio DJ in
Nashville by 1981 and yes, I did get to know a number of the listeners. I regularly used ATMs, computers, starting in 1979. I would have totally been on social media then if it had been available and I would have had much the same
relationship with my network as I did with my audience, just as I am on all kinds of social media now. All that said, I'm pleased that online communities are doing so much for so many. It’s just not the same as local in-person relationships."
I mention the years to make a certain point: Bradley was born in 1981.
Were I to comment further on the point, I’d add that there are plenty of 20-somethings who are not active on social
media. And guess what – they’re not speaking up about it on social media.
I’ll agree that people 39+ are generally less exposed to the grand technical evolutions of our era. Younger people tend to maintain that connection with age-peers after their school years until personal life changes the social dynamic. Complexity sets in. One tends to interact with a wider age contingent and maybe self-identity is more apparent in whether you own a dog and what kind of dog, whether you drink coffee and what kind, or other beverages, whether you hang with standard social institutions like religious or sports team-based. Later, work cohorts are not like school cohorts; though you may have closer interactions at work there’s something to be said for professional distance. Social isolation becomes a very real state of being. And thus the continuation of such gathering places as beer gardens in Germany.
And so, what roles will social networks fulfill as we age? Can a social network be as satisfying as repeated singular face2face interactions? It’s easy to adopt facile explanations for the effects of emerging technologies, like emphasizing apparent dicotomies. But really, online social networks have their own purposes and support the purposes of real-life social networks. The Eames' said "Eventually, everything connects."
I am compiling films that demonstrate the process of invention or original thinking. Plenty of films show original thinking. Film is an art form, after all. No, I mean an 'aha' moment, or the very process of working out or arguing using original ideas.
I recognize that my examples here are European, historical and historical fiction, from the mid-1600s-early 1800s. I've considered more examples from all sorts of times and places, from Ferris Bueller to Being John Malkovich to Edward Scissorhands to The Adventures of Priscilla, Queen of the Desert. But I really want to stick to the real PROCESSES of invention and early forms of (in hindsight) successful intellectuall and philosophical evolutions. The quest continues.
In the film Restoration, Robert Downey Jr. plays a physician in 17th Century England. His talent is in embracing and propogating the Age of Enlightenment ideals of empirical evidence and an eschewing of superstition in favor of humanitarian approaches to medical and psychological healing, all without pedantry; indeed, with complete humility.
Innovation in Action:
1) At the beginning of the film he speaks of letting his medicines do their work, and we see a healing that occurs through negligence fueled with a sense that not over-treating might be best.
2) Watch for his speech in a scene toward the end of the second act. He speaks of his vision for allowing a natural healing of psychologically disturbed people, foretelling therapies that move away from what seem like cruelty today.
"I see...I see a time..."
Critic's Note: The book, BTW, is a better work. Being a Hollywood film, it seems that it was necessary to tack a more simplistic and less satisfying ending on the story. Worse, the film's key flaw is the miscasting of Meg Ryan and the script re-write that dumbs down the storyline to accomodate her usually winning style. Mr. Downey Jr. does an amazing job working with her, though; staying in character all the while. Otherwise, if you come to films for the visceral, this one is a feast visually and musically. Note: this film is newly available via streaming on Netflix.
Amadeus What hasn't yet been said about this iconic film that could be relevant? For present purposes I offer that this film shows an example of creative process. Like Robt. Downey Jr.'s physician in Restoration, Wolfgang is a cultural carrier of Age of Enlightenment freshness that moves away from antiquated social power structures and oppressive superstition and toward more humanistic philosophies.
Innovation in Action: Yes, he proposes operas that take place in a Turkish brothel and one based on a play that favors the people's perspective over the royal. Beyond being a proponent of the modern, I point out the scene where he sneaks away from his work on the odious Requiem to spend the night with his performer friends drinking and messing around with his tunes for The Magic Flute. This...this is the creative process. Today we might call this process rapid iterative testing combined with heuristic brainstorming.
I also appreciate the scene showing him writing at a billiard table, flicking a
cue ball around as he scribbles. This is not innovation at work per se, but it does show a mind in flow. Nice.
The Madness of King George takes place about the time of Amadeus. Based on a play that originated in London and starring most of the original cast, it tells the tale of how King George, the monarch during and after the period of American independence (and refers to that conflict), apparently lost his mind to the point where eventually his son became a prince regent.
Surely mental illness had been a known occurrance among nobility and royalty before this incidence considering the centuries of in-breeding. As usual the implications are dire. Here we see the treatments based on earlier notions of human biology that incorporate confusions about what things in the body are, and how they work individually and systemically.
Innovation in Action: In one scene a King's servant, carrying out a piss pot, notices that the urine is not yellow but blue. He is told forthrightly that observations are not scientific and that he should mind his own business. This blue urine observation is considered a key symptom of the genetic disorder it is now believed the King suffered.
Critic's Note: Tom Hanks got the Best Actor Oscar for Forrest Gump over Nigel Hawthorne's King George. The Brits were, and apparently remain, miffed. See the film and consider the injustice.
Master and Commander: The Far Side of the World takes place during the American War of Indepence in the book but later against Napoleon in the film (surely to make it easier for the American film audience to root for). In fact, when they refer to King and Country here, they're talking about George III and his Prince Regent.
Innovation in Action Aboard the warship HMS Surprise is a ship's surgeon who is a naturalist on the side. A science officer. Mr. Spock to Capt. Aubrey's Capt. Kirk. A French frigate is chased to the west side of South America, taking them to the Galapagos Islands, a career boon for the surgeon. When a student officer describes a survival method of an insect they expect to discover there, the Captain uses the same method to defeat the French ship. The innovation is in cross-disciplinary pollination - insect species strategy to war strategy.
On another note, I love this film for it's demonstration of effective business administration and productivity. It's amazing to consider now what our ancestors accomplished under rough conditions. We should respect human ingenuity, persistence and hard work instead of passing accomplishments off to ancient aliens and whatnot.
Experience researcher of built environments with an anthropology provenance. Copyright 2004-2017