James Box publishing other people’s stuff as if it were his own. Ask me stuff.
Using our imagination is harder than we’ve been led to believe. The problem is not that it quickly “runs wild”, or that we have “too much imagination”. The problem is that our imagination is so crippled by the fear of making mistakes, it quickly runs after easy patterns, and jumps on stereotypes.
Watching Fouad teaches me how to move through public spaces. You never stop to let people through; you just adjust your pace and path to squeeze by as necessary. People in tight spaces will flow like a liquid, and it turns out that if everyone presses forward, the system works. The only way to screw up is by being unpredictable in your movements, or trying to apologize. People who need to get through more urgently will yell or honk as they’re coming up behind you.
I have spent the past 15 years, first as a management consultant and now as the dean of a business school, studying leaders with exemplary records. Over the past six years, I have interviewed more than 50 such leaders, some for as long as eight hours, and found that most of them share a somewhat unusual trait: They have the predisposition and the capacity to hold in their heads two opposing ideas at once. And then, without panicking or simply settling for one alternative or the other, they’re able to creatively resolve the tension between those two ideas by generating a new one that contains elements of the others but is superior to both. This process of consideration and synthesis can be termed integrative thinking.

Ebb and Flow

Innovation requires imagination.
Imagination requires space.
Space for ideas to emerge, to evolve.
To break apart, to recombine.
To decay, to endure.

There are no guarantees,
Innovation is rarely deductive.
Yet given the space for ebb and for flow,
Candidates will emerge.

The richer the dialogue,
The broader the perspective,
The stronger the candidates,
The greater the confidence of the team.

And so without this space, all we have is stasis.
We offer little more than we already know.
What are you doing to create and maintain that space?

How Medium Is Building a New Kind of Company with No Managers

I enjoyed Barry’s homage to Lean Startup in The Economist. Especially the juxtaposition of Kodak & Amazon. 


The odds are important:

“Winning organisations are continually experimenting, testing theories to learn what works and what does not. The reality is that fewer than one in ten of these new ideas or products will work, but the ones which do pass the litmus test could have a massive impact on the business’ future fortunes.”

And I know a few organisations who could learn from this too:

“Give your initiatives enough money to do something, but not enough to do nothing. Focus on frequent demonstrable value and validated learning before further investment.”

Banking != Banks

We’ve just finished an interesting piece of work with a bank. I never thought I’d hear myself saying that, but scratch beneath the surface and there’s a fair bit of ‘disruptive’ stuff happening. Most of it design–led. 

It’s hardy surprising. Banks used to represent the most trusted of all industries but through a combination of complacency and overt–greed, we’re now in a position where technology companies have replaced them

Most of the changes are happening at the edges, not from the banks themselves. Bank Simple (they’re not a ‘bank’) are the posterchild, but there are a bunch of others trying to ride the wave. And then there’s Square, whose most recent service is a great example of how to differentiate on experience.

This article from Jin Zwicky is worth a read if you’re interested in this stuff. The focus on simplicity is something most organisations can rally around and has shown demonstrable benefits:

"We saw double-digit increases in sales in investment and insurance products when we simplified the communications material. We saw 100% adoption rate in using the digital needs analysis tool in our top branches after we simplified the tool. We increased customers’ satisfaction in our account opening experience by simplifying the system. Finally, our simplified website was not only listed as The More Gorgeous and Simple Banking Website, but also we could save about 0.5 million dollars per year by reducing the number of pages in the website."

But, for me, the stuff that really resonates is the emphasis on cultural change.

“I came to believe that ‘simplicity’ is not just a project. It is not just a team of simplicity specialists. It is a capability that we have to cultivate! Furthermore, it is an organizational culture that we have to create in order to achieve simplicity.”

This is the real challenge for ‘institutions’. It’ll be interesting to see if any of the old-guard can grok this and start innovating at the rate of people like Square.

Design responses, not solutions

I’ve lost count how many times I’ve referenced these words from Colly

…find problems and design responses. Not answers, not solutions, just responses. There’s rarely a single right way, so just explore problems and see what happens.

Design is not a zero sum game.

In my experience thus far, there’s a direct opposite-correlation between Information and Intuition. That is, the more noise I get, the harder it is to hear my intuition. And the less noise I get, the easier it is to make a very clear decision.

This won’t fit into a tweet. And sorry, it’s about job titles so feel free to scoot off. 

A client recently asked me why I winced when describing myself as a ‘User Experience Designer’. Well, apart from the obvious embarrassment of it being a ridiculously pompous title, it has deeper ramifications when working with teams (almost always). It suggests user experience is the domain of an individual. It excludes – or worse still excuses – others from adopting this approach. But that doesn’t make sense. UX is a flavour not an ingredient. It doesn’t matter whether you’re a designer, developer or writer, we are all fundamentally invested in the user’s experience. 


I enjoyed episode 69 of 99% Invisible: The Brief and Tumultuous Life of the New UC Logo. It was fascinating for all the usual reasons that designers find  the religious debates around logo-reboots interesting. We sympathise with the poor misunderstood designer. We chuckle at the well meaning but ignorant opinion of the layman. Before finally returning – with a collective sigh – to where we were started. And with a shrug we accept this as the Designer’s Lot. In 25 minutes I think I passed through all five phases of the Kübler-Ross model. Sounds horrific but actually this was a great story, expertly told as always by Roman Mars and colleagues. 

For those that haven’t had the pleasure, the show recounts the story of the ‘failed’ redesign of the University of California identity. Or more specifically the logo. In fact, it was even more specific than that – it was the monogram itself that seemed to get peoples’ goat.

And therein lies the problem. As the Creative Director points out, a monogram in isolation means very little. The goal is symbolism but it has to earn its meaning – firstly as part of the visual system – and eventually as a totem, emblematic of the collective experience of that brand. 

Problem is, this one never had a chance. It was pushed out in the world, isolated from its system and – like a pack of wolves – the Status-Quo bias took hold. The monogram had earned its narrative, it was just the wrong one.