Peripheral capability – the way towards better product development?

Last summer I attended a class at Wharton Business School about Peripheral Vision – it was part of a Leadership Development Program arranged by LinKS here in Denmark.

The visit was great for several reasons, and one of the outcomes from my stay here was some great learning points about acting on the unexpected.

My teacher was Paul Shoemaker – GREAT authority in the field of strategic planning.

In my daily work I advice clients on how to cope with uncertainty, creating innovation cultures and helping them to understand how they can use multidisciplinary approaches towards better product- and business development.

Since my posting here at CPH127 back in the early 2006 I’ve been struggling with how I could link design thinking to the use of social software. In Connecta we are heavy users of Social Software as part of our problem solving process

But few months ago I got it – I think. Like the design-thinking ingredient I began to realize that social software provide several aspects which I believe is crucial for good development processes:

  • Multi disciplinary input
  • Open processes
  • Ability to prototype
  • Democratized dialogue 
  • Rapid development
  • Improved timing in product launch

And by seeing that I think I got the reason why start blogging here at CPH127 again :-)

If you know about Social Software, innovation and design-thinking which similarities do you see - if any?

Wicked problems: Beyond Innovation

“Don’t worry about other people stealing your ideas. If you’re ideas are any good, you’ll have to ram them down people’s throats.” -- Howard Aiken, IBM Engineer

This is my favorite quote at the moment, and it gets a smile from everyone. Why? Because we’ve all seen great ideas get squashed, misinterpreted beyond all recognition, or just plain lost in the bureaucratic cracks. The problem today is, there are lots of great ideas swimming around, the problem is spotting which ones are applicable to the business, and nurturing them past their seedling status to become concrete and actionable in a way that is broadly understood within the organization.

Innovation is currently the holy grail of many companies, but too often it is treated as an end rather than a means. Innovation is simply a tool, and as with any tool it can be used effectively and ineffectively, but simply having it doesn't give you a competitive advantage. For the most part, I would argue, any company worth their salt has dramtically improved their innovation capabilities in-house, or they can easily acquire innovation from outside firms. Procter & Gamble until recently was not considered a particularly innovative company, but they executed better than anyone. Now they are ramping up their internal innovation capabilities, which when combined with their proven execution abilities, is making for a very powerful one-two punch.

This has raised the competitive bar significantly, and means that companies must work harder to identify new growth opportunities that will get them ahead of the competition. Everyone has improved, and all the "obvious" stuff has been done. This is why innovation is valued so highly today, but by itself it is not enough.

I’ll make a perhaps provocative statement: Innovation is not the hard part anymore, and we are in fact in a state of innovation surplus. The challenge now is less coming up with innovations, but identifying which of the available innovations best support new business opportunities, and seeing how those opportunities support top level business goals.

A common problem is that top-level business goals are stated so broadly or vaguely that they are less than helpful when trying to identify the best opportunities and innovations to pursue from a suite of available options. How do you decide if, for example, the top-level goal of “Create Growth” is best satisfied with a new technology that improves product performance by 20% and will allow you to take market share from your current competitors; or instead should you innovate new products or variants that will allow you to tap into new markets (though require new sales channels and brand positioning)? More clarity is needed.

At the About, With & For conference last October I gave a talk on “wicked problems”, which I’ve been thinking about recently as I believe they are what stand between accurately connecting top-level business challenges with selections of innovations.

I first came across this phrase over ten years ago in an essay by Richard Buchanan called "Wicked Problems in Design Thinking" (it originally appeared in Design Issues and was subsequently included in the anthology The Idea of Design. I was immediately intrigued, but over time forgot about the concept. I was reminded of it again about a year ago and started pursing the concept more vigourously, and was struck by the fact that a) with few exceptions such as Dr. Jeff Conklin, almost no-one had done anything with the idea, and b) that it had tremendous relevance to the types of problems I see clients grappling with in my work at frog design.

"Wicked problems" was a term first coined by an urban planner named Horst Rittel in the 1970’s, when he recognized a new class of problems arising from extreme degrees of uncertainty, risk, and social complexity. He was dealing with issues such as crime, poverty, and racial segregation that were the outcomes of the planned housing projects of the 1950’s and 60’s. He recognized that not only was there no clear answer, there was not even a clear understanding of the problem they were trying to solve.

This is in contrast to the other types of problems we are more familiar with, which Nancy Roberts, an instructor at the Monterey Naval Post Graduate School, classifies as:

Simple problems: Both the problem and the solution are known. Example: You have a leak under your kitchen sink. It’s obvious what the problem is, and two plumbers will likely agree on what the solution is.

Complex problems: The problem is known but the solution is not. Example: You need to design a higher capacity disk drive. The problem is clear (though defining “higher capacity” needs to be agreed on), but understanding how to solve that problem is far from clear.

Wicked problems go beyond these in terms of difficulty, largely because they are inherently social in nature. Rittel identified several key aspects which, once listed, you will likely recognize as features of your toughest business decisions (this is not an exhaustive list, I'm paraphrasing a bit):

  1. There is no definitive statement of the problem; in fact, there is broad disagreement on what ‘the problem’ is
  2. Without a definitive statement of the problem, there can be no definitive solution and therefore no “stopping rule” signaling when an optimum solution has been reached. In actuality, there are competing solutions that activate a great deal of discord among stakeholders
  3. The only way to really understand the problem is by devising solutions and seeing how they further knowledge about the problem (thus reversing the normal flow of thinking: with wicked problems, a solution must come before the problem!)
  4. Solutions to wicked problems are not right or wrong, merely better, worse, good enough or not good enough. There is a high degree of subjectivity and each stakeholder brings their own perception to the table, causing discord.

Because they are so difficult to identify and define, wicked problems tend to go unaddressed, even if there is an underlying sense that something needs to be done (though about what exactly no-one can say).

So how do you deal with such intractable problems? In my AWF talk I followed the theme of the conference - work and play - by using sports analogies to identify a number of capabilities and states of mind that are valuable in addressing wicked problems. These are:

  • Having wide peripheral vision to spot opportunities and threats at the edges
    Using pattern experience to sense the shape of wicked problems before hard proof is available
  • Treat solutions as questions
  • Have a high panic threshold and don't be tempted to "tame" the problem prematurely
  • Treat wicked problems as a full contact sport - get the whole system in one room and hash it out, and stay close to your customers

My plan is to do follow-up posts on my own blog to explore each of these in more depth.

Push versus Pull – a transition is needed, not only in strategy but also in mindset.

Since the very beginning of CPH127 my main interest has been on the organizational side of what innovations is all about. And yes, the design discipline has a lot to offer in that respect.

I have – and a lot of the other pilots at CPH127 too – mentioned several different approaches toward how innovation can be approached.

Back in December I wrote about Open Sourced Leadership – in that post, among others, I described the “term” pull as a factor – as a mindset – for growth, innovation, value-creation, future business development.

Last weekend I read a very interesting piece “From Push to Pull – Emerging Models for Mobilizing Resources” and it stroke me that everything I meant back then is written down in that article. Not that my mind was all set, is all set, but it’s very good put and definitely a worth read.

John Hagel & John Seely Brown seems to have set the lens on a “new” model for mobilizing resources. Rather than “push”, the new approach focuses on “pull” – creating platforms that help people to mobilize appropriate resources when the need arise.

2 X John state further that pull models emerge as a response to growing uncertainty. Did anyone say complexity?

They also state that pull models treat people as networked creators, even when they are producers or customers purchasing goods and services. Did anyone say weblogs, social software or Web2.0?

Read the article – it’s a good one :-)

LIFT: Organisational design

Talk by Stefano mastrogiacomo this thursday afternoon in geneva...

I apologize for the style but its hard to translate powerpoint presentations in text :-)

Designers follow certain principles when they create objects which is also true for interfaces. What about the organizations that we live in, what are the principles that we follow? Organizational design is looking at the structures of enterprises and how labour is divided. The discipline is very difficult because noone has seen an organization, it is an abstract notion. The only way to understand the relevance of your work is to look at the output. We are also dealing with people, who are unconnected,

Large organization's design today are a mixture of legacy, inappropriate elements to perform our work, establish relevant processes to perform work. The aim of this area is to look at the inappropriate and try to reduce it as much as possible and increase relevant design processes.

(A brief history is presented: eg:
in 1870 large enterprises began to take place with the industrial revolution.
planning grew out of Gantt charts created in 1917 to plan war production )

Now the model is that we are educated people , who are mobile and have a fast and efficient way of life.

The functional division of labour of the 1920's create a great many problems because we have to manage a great amount of complexity.

Apathy in organizations is a behaviors being adopted because they don't feel they can change the system, and might as well take advantage of it.

Business plan are used to get a budget and create job openings but are stored afterwards. So without context these mean nothing, structures should be created in context for people to understand what needs to be done. The process of co-creating together is more valuable than the result.

Because there are obscure structures where logic doesnt seem to apply there is a lot of depression that develops in employees of organisations.

What would be the shape of an organization so that they become a tool for the people we are.

1- You can't manage what you can't measure

2- you cant measure what you can't describe

3. For a and b to coordinate both must be mutually recognize and understand the problem.

The solution is to develop a semantic network of shared and private objectives that can be visible to all.


action+ description+result

The personal motivation is at the centre of it then test out if this can give effective and efficient processes and if these can produce satisfies clients.

The best organizational design is not a series of functional diagrams, but a co-creation process. Mutual understanding is the key. Go for consistent and integrated management by objectives.

The principle of co-creation

Mark just linked me to a great site about experience economy and design processes. It's a MUST resource for the many of us, really great and with some thoughtful links an resources too.

I just read an article there about experience economy and creating sense/meaning. It refers to the development of an innovation or an experience concept which involves a process of thinking, doing and reflecting. It states that both parties can certainly work together in this process, and they will book more success through their collaboration than either one could do individually.

Important in this regard are four building blocks that the article find in the work of Prahalad and Ramaswamy (2004). They speak of the DART principle:

1. Dialogue
Dialogue means interactivity, being engaged with each other and listening to eachother. Both parties (supplier and customer) intend to accomplish something. It also means that attention is given to the interests of both parties. This requires both a location in which the dialogue can take place and a number of rules with which both parties must comply in order to be able to hold a useful dialogue. The principle of ‘learning by sharing’ holds here: the company learns through the dialogue with the customer and vice versa.

2. Access
The traditional focus

for a company has been the transfer of ownership from the supplier to the customer. The supplier creates a valuable product and, by means of a transaction, the customer gets the product. The customer is increasingly interested in the experience of the product and not in owning it (see Rifkin’s The Age of Access (2000), Chapter One). Prahalad and Ramaswamy (2004) argue for separating having access to a product or service from owning it. You can achieve reach and access by making information available and by providing instruments that regulate the access to that information. At any given moment while the sailboat you ordered is being built, you can see how far along the builders are and even intervene if you would prefer to have things done differently (

Telebanking offers you a limited access to the bank – that is to say, to your own account. You could imagine that you can gain access to a certain lifestyle. You don’t want to drive just one car of a certain brand, but rather a number of cars, from the most expensive to an MPV that you could drive on rugged terrain.

Access means that being able to get information that is relevant to you, simply and easily. You could easily and readily consult a doctor online or by telephone, for example. This could have a preventative effect: you adapt your behaviour before you become ill or unhealthy.

In India, farmers can show the results of their harvest via web cams and the Internet. Based on the images they show, they can then obtain the proper pesticides and won’t simply have to experiment.

3. Risk assessment

Risk here means the risk that the consumer runs. We have become accustomed to marketing communication only presenting the advantages of products and services. It is not yet common that also the disadvantages are presented in all honesty. But that is something that belongs to the principle of co-creation. Risk assessment is an important theme in co-creation relationships.

Risk assessment also has to do with the risks that the company runs. Lego encountered the following problem. Communities of Lego consumers developed specific software for the operating system of Mind Storm Robotics. As it turned out, their software was better than the one Lego itself had developed. So the key question was, who was ultimately responsible for that product that was developed? And what about the patent? This presents a complicated legal dilemma.

In the past, companies have profited from the disparity between what the company
knows and what the consumer knows. This disparity has been melting away in recent years like snow in summer. Socially responsible entrepreneurship, openness and transparency are requirements of modern business. There are even symbolic examples of this. Volkswagen built a transparent factory in Dresden, where its Phaeton is manufactured. So-called ‘genius bars’ have been built in the new Apple Stores: the technicians help you to solve your problems; the back office turns into the front office and you can actually see just how the workplace works.

These building blocks must be seen in combination with each other. Value
creation no longer takes place within the company: value is created in the individual.

Digital Ethnography finds new connections point’s

I’m a heavy Flickr user and have over a few iteration re-discovered the possibilities in sharing photos. It’s amazing how easy it is to use, connect and share networks of interest.

Since New Year I’ve been working on a major innovation project for one of the truly market leaders in the food ingredients industry. As part of the project I’m considering using Flickr as an Anthropological tool, but I’m nor aware of the constraints or great possibilities, but can see a huge potential in using it..

Do you have any experience in doing so? Wanna share? How should I design this? Is it valid?

By the way – I see that Cheskin claims they invented Digital ethnography as a methodology. Did they really?

The contextmapping process

Since I left my position at the Danish Design Centre I've been working with userdriven innovationprocesses at ReD Associates in Copenhagen.

As part of their process in using mapping latent user needs I’ve been studying several articles about context mapping as part of field research work.

I do of course know of the task, but I’m not an Anthropologist, neither have I studied ethnographic’s.

If you work with these processes please share what you do, how you do it.

During the weekend I’ve been reading several articles on the topic

, and as mentioned before F.Sleeswijk Visser et al. have done a really good job in explaining the different stages and phases.

I’ve done a drawing on how F.Sleeswijk sees the different phases where you can see the involvement from different stakeholders.


Does it cover what you experience in your daily work?


Contextmapping: experiences from practice

In recent years, various methods and techniques have emerged for mapping the contexts of people’s interaction with products. Designers and researchers use these techniques to gain deeper insight into the needs and dreams of prospective users of new products. As most of these techniques are still under development, there is a lack of practical knowledge about how such studies can be conducted.

Putting these techniques in practice relies on experienced researchers and a good deal
of common sense. Most publications tell you the why behind the generative techniques,
but rarely report practical knowledge about actually conducting studies. Froukje Sleesswijk Visser, Pieter Jan Stappers, Remko Van Lugt and Elizabeth B.-N Sanders has done a great article where they summarize the different theories, despite the few cases I think we could use all the insights possible.

Sanders has put it this way:

Past_present_future_1So, how do you work with the mapping of experiences? How do you work with gathering an description of latent needs?

Democratizing Innovation – what’s all about? Vol 2.0

Democratizing Innovation – what’s all about? Vol 2.0

Eric von Hippel has done a presentation on his book with some nice examples.

He proffes multiple examples where an ordinary user, frustrated or even desperate, solves a problem through innovation. His research found innovative users playing with all manner of product: mountain bikes, library IT systems, agricultural irrigation, and scientific instruments.

Please see the presentation here

Thanks to Business Innovation

Interested in Complexity – understanding chaos?

Understanding complexity, seeing patterns and knowing where you fit in – personal leadership - in the process, in the picture is what is needed when dealing with chaos – I think.

But do you understand complexity, do you know how to deal with chaos? And what about your personal leadership?

I just found a bibliography on complexity resources that I what to share with you.

The reason why I think complexity and personal leadership is important is of course because I think it matters in terms of your ability to innovate the right way.

What do you think?

About CPH127

CPH127 is a sense-making initiative. We aim to create a open dialogue around the profound understanding of the leadership, organization and strategy of creative business functions with the aim to create new value (for customers, employers and stakeholders.

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