Wednesday, February 2, 2011


This blog is dormant. I still abide by the construct outlined here, but I'm taking a fresh look at this approach and exploring some other avenues.

One of these is avenues is called Breadcrumbs

Tuesday, October 7, 2008

Human Centered Design at Pixar

More inspiration from Pixar.

This comes to me through an excellent Groucho Reviews interview with Pixar's VP Creative, Andrew Stanton.

What really strikes me is Andrew and team are masters of "human centered design" yet they apply none of the usual methods suspects. Now I know Entertainment and Experience Design are diverse ventures, however they do typically share the practice of audience (user) testing. Pixar never does testing, instead they trust their gut.

Going with your gut sounds enviable, perhaps even easy, however what this means to Pixar is nothing short of hitting or raising their quality bar.

Pixar's principles encourage Creative people to earn permission to go with their gut. What this takes is vision, talent and commitment represented through a consistently excellent portfolio. Consistent is a key word here as it displays reliability which most clients and audiences demand and desire.

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Fostering Creativity at Pixar

HBR's current issue has a great article on fostering collective creativity by Pixar's Ed Catmull.

Two of Pixar's principles really jump out at me.

First they don't fall into the trap of seeking business results through predicable behaviour. Mr. Catmull discusses the need to constantly resist the temptation to follow formula. I'd say they have succeeded to date, as I have not seen Pixar make the same movie twice.

Second their communication protocol is wide open. They do not demand that communication follow reporting or accountability lines. This is very powerful as many top executives are "too busy" so they set inputs to reporting lines. (which I regard as tragic)

Pixar's Operating Principles:

1. Everyone must have the freedom to communicate with anyone.
2. It must be safe for everyone to offer ideas.
3. We must stay close to innovations happening in the academic community.

I really encourage you to buy a copy of the mag or you can acquire the article here: HBR

Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Natural Abrasion

A couple weeks ago I attended some Facilitation training here at Critical Mass. When asked at the outset what I hoped to get out of the sessions I replied; " to better manage the natural abrasion that occurs between "creatives" and "management". This response was humoursly received by all, but it didn't take long before it was regarded as our defacto theme for the training.

Now a couple of days ago the twittisphere provided me with a gem of a presentation by Roger Martin. This post is an encouragement to watch it. (linked below) This post is also my journal, as I just had to summarize the presentation for future reference.

By all accounts Mr. Martin acknowledges this abrasion, or in his terms, tension, and provides both business people and designers a framework and language for relating to each other. The basis of this framework is the notion that the business camp demands RELIABILITY, whereas the design camp demands VALIDITY.

Ok so a couple fast definitions.
Reliability - produces the same thing or result over and over again. Limiting the number of variables increases it.
The problem with reliability is it will never introduce something new.

Validity - production of an output that meets an objective.
Expanding the number of variables increases it.
The problem with validity is it can only be substantiated by future events.

Mr. Martin provides 5 perspectives and communication tips for both camps. As with the definitions above these are inversely associated.

Validity oriented people take note:
1. Take design unfriendliness as a design challenge
Embrace it, don't fight it, make it worth overcoming.
2. Empathize with design unfriendly elements
Walk the talk of empathetic approaches and apply them to your client, CEO, etc.
3. Speak the language of reliability
Sorry I cannot summarize all this - basically all the business terms that douse your spark.
(Insert reason for Fiscal pillar here)
Remember the language of validity is just as foreign.
4. Use analogies and stories
Unfortunately you cannot regress the past to show a future state, so you need to use something similar (analogy) instead.
Find a story about something that proved to be reliable.
This approach provides quasi past data, which your reliability minded audience could grasp.
5. Bite off as Little a piece as possible to generate proof.
Validity oriented people usually want to express the whole story, however this compounds the lack of reliability and can seriously backfire.
A "beta" approach or phased releases can be effective as they provide substantiation in short intervals.

Now the 5 inversely related tips:
These are for business minded people who understand the need to engage creative minded in order to innovate. Look these over it will help you with the prompt to empathize.

1. Take inattention to reliability as a management challenge
2. Empathize with reliability unfriendly elements
Respect the creative process, it is ok to know it is not 100% reliable.
3. Speak the language of validity
This can be hard as it generally requires enthusiasm for the unknown. “This will be great”. “This has never been done before”.
4. Share data and reasoning but not conclusions.
5. Bite off as Big a piece as possible to give innovation a chance.
Find ways to stretch investment tolerances. True strategy is not 100%

The whole idea here is to make these relationships more fun and rewarding. Embracing these ideas will bring the two sides together forming very healthy companies and organizations.

Mr. Martin poses the question; “what is the biggest Validity oriented business in the world?” He answers with Ideo, and estimates their annual earnings in the tens of millions.
Whether Ideo or Wingnut Films, the point is these are relatively small companies on the corporate stage. The really big businesses got huge by being primarily reliably oriented.
This explains the relentless supply of design unfriendliness.

Like I said this is a prompt to watch the video, hopefully this has peaked your interest.

BTW the facilitation training was very good and provided some excellent tools, such as Focused Conversation and Consensus Workshop, both of which I’ll improve with the insight provided here.

LMK what you think.

Link to source video: Roger Martin, Rotman School of Management

Wednesday, March 5, 2008

Technique revisited

More on a Technique for Getting Ideas

I’ve had some great feedback on the previous post (unfortunately they didn’t come through comments on this blog)

I recently revisited Paul Ardens amazing book “It’s Not How Good You Are It’s How Good You Want to Be.” and it turns out this is where I first learned of “Technique”.
Arden’s book is a must read for anyone driven by originality.
Here is a quote from Arden on Young’s book.
“It doesn’t give you ideas, but it helps you sort out what you want to say and helps you arrive at an original and relevant solution.”
My first encounter with this quote led me to search out the book and create the previous post. (Here I thought I needed to improve my habits when in fact it is my old school bookmarking that failed me.)

Here is a great post from Shawn at Anecdote summarizing Young’s 5 steps. Amazon has the book as well. I’ve ordered a copy as I’m curious to see the differences between it and the PDF linked to in the previous post.
For CM readers, I'll be adding this book and Arden's to our company library.

In my mind this is the essence of creative process. Would you agree?

Wednesday, January 16, 2008

A Technique for Getting Ideas

In my post Creativity or Ideas Have Two Forms, I ask; "How do you manufacture ideas and concepts?" Well I found someone who is bold enough to answer and share the principles of his creative process. I'll be damned if I can recall where I found, James Wood Young (need to improve my habits), so I'm forced to introduce him somewhat out of context.
Suffice it to say he is an 1940's era "Ad Man".

Young wrote a text titled: "A Technique for Getting Ideas" and I'm going to share it with you, but first some encouragement, questions and affirmations,

Young's text is quirky and it took me sometime to relate to his voice, but he does an excellent job of delivering his 5 steps in a fun and unknowingly historic manner. I strongly encourage you to digest the whole thing by following the principle of his first step, disciplined gathering of specific material.

Young describes an individual approach to ideation.
As you review his methods ask yourself, "can we apply these principles in team or group environment?" Future posts will explore this further.

Young's text is affirming for me in many ways as he stresses the need to see relationships, constantly fill your mind and "submit ideas to the criticism of the judicious".

You can find a PDF of A Techique for Getting Ideas here.