Last week, I watched The Power of Introverts, an excellent TED Talk by Susan Cain (she also has a book out on the same subject called Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking).
In her talk, which has been viewed almost two million times since it was posted last month, Susan makes a compelling case that the open, collaborative world we embrace today is not always set up to harness the best work from introverts.
As we’ve moved toward more open office plans, collaborative processes like design thinking, and into a digital world now dominated by the word “social,” Susan wonders who is looking out for the introverts? Should introverts feel guilty about wanting to do their thinking and working alone? And can introverts do great work in group settings?
I spent more than a decade working in the inherently collaborative world of open source software. I regularly lead brand positioning and strategy projects as open, collaborative, social exercises involving entire communities of people in the process. So Susan’s talk made me ask myself a tough question:
By emphasizing a collaborative, social process am I risking leaving introverts—and their best ideas—behind?
It’s no secret that I am a life-long introvert myself. I am much more comfortable writing or reading a blog post in my living room and discussing it via comments or Twitter than I am sitting and talking about it with someone over coffee or, worse, at a social gathering like a party or a conference.
So I get where Susan is coming from. Deeply.
In her TED Talk, she at one point pleads, “Stop the madness for constant group work.” When she said this, it hit me pretty hard. The first thing that came to my mind was the one gazillion design thinking ideation sessions I’ve either run or participated in over the last 7 or 8 years.
I’ve personally never had much trouble speaking up during ideation/brainstorming sessions. But I also suspect I am a relatively mild introvert compared to others I know. I started to wonder what the hard-core introverts were thinking during these sessions (and if you were one of them, feel free to tell me below in the comments).
Did they feel like they were being talked over by extroverts? Did they feel like they were out of their element, or needed more time to process their thoughts before blurting them out and having them recorded on the wall? Would they have preferred to contemplate on their own instead of thinking socially as part of a group?
Then another thought stuck me: I’ve met a lot of software engineers over the years, and while not all of them are introverts, many of them are. Frankly, I don’t think too many extreme extroverts could stand to sit in their office and stare at a computer screen all day. But for some introverted software developers, this is bliss.
Yet open source software is developed in a collaborative, social process… run in many cases by introverts.
Why does that work?
For me at least, the answer comes down to the difference between virtual and in-person collaboration. Open source software developers do much of their collaborating online. Often this is because they are geographically dispersed around the world. But I’ve also seen developers sitting two feet away from each other communicating via instant messages or email.
Online collaboration has two key advantages over in-person collaboration for introverts:
1) It allows them to avoid stressful in-person social interactions.
2) It allows them to take their time, contemplate, and think deeply before responding.
Over the past two years at New Kind, I’ve personally been doing less and less in-person design thinking ideation sessions, instead hosting more open, collaborative sessions online. Sometimes they are efforts like the hackathons I’ve run for the Management Innovation Exchange that involve hundreds of people collaborating from all around the world. Other times they are client projects where the collaborating happens via Basecamp or another online tool.
I’ve found I enjoy facilitating sessions online much more than in-person sessions, and I think it suits my personality better. Because the collaboration happens asynchronously, I can take my time crafting thoughtful responses and generating ideas. I can wait until I’m in the right frame of mind to participate, and most importantly, I can work with others, yet be alone at the same time.
I suspect some of these same advantages also translate to participants in online group sessions as well. And for this reason, perhaps many introverts are more comfortable in collaborative projects online than in person. Some of the best ideas I’ve seen emerge from online collaborative exercises come from people who usually remain completely silent in meetings.
In many cases, online collaborative projects provide the best of both worlds—you can collaborate and build off the ideas of others, but still take the time to process your thoughts before you add them (and as a special bonus, you don’t have the stress of in-person social interaction).
If you consider yourself an introvert, I’d love to hear about your experiences participating in collaborative projects online vs. in person. Do you agree with Susan Cain’s assessment that collaborative group projects are not designed to get the best out of introverts? Do you find yourself making better contributions and contributing more in online projects? Or are online collaborative groups just as bad for you as in-person sessions, and you’d rather just work completely on your own?
I’d love to hear what you think.
One of my business partners at New Kind, David Burney, is an exceptional facilitator of design thinking sessions. David introduced me to design thinking and the work of IDEO (where many of the concepts behind design thinking were developed and applied to the business world). David taught me everything I know about facilitating projects and sessions using a design thinking approach.
At the beginning of any design thinking project, David shares a set of rules that help get every participant on the same page. The rules apply to everyone (including executives) and help create an optimal environment for creativity. If you are planning to run a project using a design thinking approach, you might want to consider sharing these rules with your group before you get started. I’ve used this list many times, and I promise, it really helps keep things on track.
1. Avoid the devil’s advocate: The devil’s advocate is someone who (purposely or accidentally) shoots down the ideas of others without taking any personal responsibility for his actions. The devil’s advocate often begins his objection with the phrase “Let me be the devil’s advocate for a second…”. The devil’s advocate often intends to be helpful by pointing out flaws in an idea, but ultimately this focuses people’s attention on what won’t work rather than exploring unexpected ways that it might work.
2. Make agendas transparent: Every participant should make their personal agendas as clear as possible.
3. Leave titles at the door: No one person’s ideas are worth more than anyone else’s.
4. Generate as many ideas as possible: During ideation, you are not trying to generate the best ideas; you are trying to generate the most ideas.
5. Build on the ideas of others rather than judging them: If someone else has an idea you like, build on it. If you don’t like an idea, share another one rather than critiquing.
6. Stay on time: Don’t let your ideation session spiral out of control. Each ideation session should be timed and should have a clear ending point.
7. State the obvious: Sometimes things that can seem obvious reveal great insight from their simplicity.
8. Don’t sell or debate ideas: Selling and debating ideas takes time away from generating new ideas.
9. Stupid and wild ideas are good: Sometimes the craziest ideas lead to the best ideas.
10. DTA stands for death to acronyms: Avoid acronyms—they are exclusionary because people who don’t know what they stand for will quickly be lost. If you must use an acronym, write what it stands for somewhere everyone can see it. Keep a running list of all acronyms used during the project or session.
11. Always understand in which stage of the process you are: When you are ideating, you are not critiquing ideas. But when ideation is over and you begin the process of selecting the best ideas, you’ll need to discuss the merits of each idea in a more traditional, analytical way.
12. Play is good, have fun: The more fun you are having as a group, the more creative ideas you’ll generate.
If you’d like to learn more about design thinking and how you can use it in your projects, I recommend any of the following books.
From the amazing team at IDEO:
– The Art of Innovation by Tom Kelley
– Ten Faces of Innovation by Tom Kelley
– Change by Design: How Design Thinking Transforms Organizations and Inspires Innovation by Tim Brown
Other great books to consider:
– The Design of Business: Why Design Thinking is the Next Competitive Advantage by Roger Martin
– Design Thinking: Integrating Innovation, Customer Experience, and Brand Value by Thomas Lockwood
If so, you can find more tips about how to employ a collaborative approach to building brands in my book, The Ad-Free Brand (not an advertisement, mind you, just a friendly suggestion:).
As 2010 comes to a close, I thought I’d write my last post of the year about a project that has really moved and inspired me. The project is called Studio H, and is the brainchild of two brilliant designers, Emily Pilloton and Matthew Miller, who have found a new calling as teachers in one of the poorest, most rural counties in my home state of North Carolina.
Even though Bertie County, where the experiment is taking place, is less than 2 hours away from where I live, I first heard about this project earlier this year from a good friend who showed me the TED Talk Emily had given at TEDGlobal 2010 in July. Here is her talk:
It’s a wonderful story. Two successful designers leave their San Francisco home to move to the poorest county in North Carolina and design a program to help public school kids (over 95% of who qualify for reduced-rate or free lunches) get a shot at a better future.
What makes the story particularly compelling is the non-traditional learning approach, utilizing design thinking and some other tools that will be very familiar to those of us who do things the open source way.
Watch the TED talk first, which will likely bring anyone but Scrooge himself close to tears, but don’t stop there.
This project is not just a theory. Studio H is underway, with the students now well into their second fall project, designing some really amazing chicken coops (chickens are a big part of the Bertie County economy).
You can follow the students’ progress on the blog here.
The third and final project next spring will be to design and build a public farmers market in downtown Windsor, the county seat of Bertie County, population 2000.
If you like what you see so far, consider making a donation. After all, this could be what the future of education might look like.
I certainly hope so.
This post originally appeared on opensource.com.
This week, those smart folks over at IDEO launched a new project they are calling OpenIDEO. If you aren’t familiar with IDEO yet, you should be—they are the poster children for design thinking specifically and 21st century innovation more generally.
IDEO has been responsible for groundbreaking designs of everything from computer mice to toothbrushes to brand experiences, and it is the home of superstar thinkers like Tim Brown (author of the recent book called Change By Design) and Tom Kelley (author of The Art of Innovation and The Ten Faces of Innovation).
What is OpenIDEO? Here’s what the website says:
OpenIDEO is a place where people design better, together for social good. It’s an online platform for creative thinkers: the veteran designer and the new guy who just signed on, the critic and the MBA, the active participant and the curious lurker.
So it is basically an experiment in open innovation, a place where IDEO can be the catalyst of a conversation among really smart folks from different disciplines that might lead to solutions for big, complex social problems.
If you are a skeptic, you might immediately wonder what’s in it for IDEO. One person asked whether IDEO planned to make money with the “crowd’s” ideas, and Tim Brown answered like this:
[Read the rest of this post on opensource.com]
It might be a better world if we all worked in open, collaborative organizations where the best ideas win. But unfortunately, the reality is that bureaucracy still rules in all but the most progressive companies. We have a long way to go. The reality doesn’t always match the dream.
In the real world, we generate great ideas, propose elegant solutions, and then force them to run the bureaucratic gauntlet. “the best ideas win” becomes “the safest ideas win” (and then lose eventually) as they travel through the bureaucracy and its meetings.
These meetings are the favorite hiding place of two species of people I dread encountering. Learn to identify, manage, or avoid these bureaucrats, as they are the enemies of meritocracy.
The devil’s advocate was wonderfully defined by Tom Kelley in his book The Ten Faces of Innovation. Devil’s advocates make a habit of shooting down the ideas of others or offering critiques by starting with the phrase “Let me play devil’s advocate” (or something similar).
This phrase allows the bureaucrat to avoid taking personal accountability for the comments they are about to make. Because they are speaking for the devil rather than themselves, they can crush someone else’s idea without feeling guilty about it.
Professional Meeting Attendees
It is easy to spot the professional meeting attendee because they usually look or sound hurried and exhausted, complaining about how many meetings they have that day and how much they have to get done. Woe is them, for sure.
The reality is they often don’t actually do the hard work of creating and building, but instead sit in meetings all day long. They are happy to offer sage advice and wisdom, but usually avoid taking on work.
In small organizations and startups, the professional meeting attendee species is rare. But it breeds rapidly in large organizations where meetings are plentiful and there is always someone else to do the work.
So what should good open source-minded workers do to improve things when they can’t escape these meeting bureaucrats? A few tips from me:
[Read the rest of this post on opensource.com]
Earlier this week some colleagues and I attended a fantastic gathering of business and political leaders called the Emerging Issues Forum. The theme of the forum—interestingly enough for a bunch of business folks—was creativity, and speakers included some of my favorite thinkers/authors who analyze the future of business:
During their talks, I couldn’t help but notice all three touched on a similar thematic: the crucial role that inspiring creativity plays in driving innovation.
[Read the rest of this post over at opensource.com]
Today I spent a great day at the Emerging Issues Forum, where I’m proud to say my home state of North Carolina attracted some of the top business minds in the world (the Twitter stream is going crazy here). This morning featured two Dark Matter Matters all stars, Roger Martin and Tom Kelley (who I have written about previously here and here), but there was also an incredible lunch session where Charlie Rose interviewed husband and wife creative geniuses Nnenna Freelon (the 5-time Grammy nominated jazz vocalist) and Philip Freelon (architect extraordinaire), and plenty of other enlightening stuff.
The theme of the conference is Creativity, Inc., and from what I can tell from many of the attendee and host comments, the theme of this year’s event is very different than years past. But the undercurrent of many of the comments from this morning seemed to take a clear point of view on this theme.
My interpretation? For years the business world has been waging a war against creativity… and creativity is beginning to fight back.
It’s about damn time.
Roger Martin is one of the most eloquent speakers in the world on the need for change in business. Some key points from his talk today:
Martin talked about two types of industries– clustered industries (where much of the industry is in one part of the world, Silicon Valley for high tech being one good example) and distributed industries (where the industry is dispersed all over, hair salons and pizza places being two examples).
Martin’s research shows that clustered industries have a higher percentage of the creative class of workers. The average salary for a creative worker in a clustered industry? About $70,000 per year. But for a creative worker in a dispersed industry? Only about $56,500 a year. Pretty big difference.
So what does it mean? According to Martin, income disparities will continue to grow unless we can figure out what to do with routine jobs in dispersed industries.
He calls this one of the greatest policy challenges of the 21st century: How can we increase the percentage of creativity we use in all jobs? How can we make use of the whole human being in work environments?
I love this thought of us figuring out how to use the whole human being– how many jobs do we see that leave tons of creative potential on the table, at the expense of not only innovation, but also employee happiness? Too many, in my experience. And at all levels in business, from executive on down.
Top management experts are now acknowledging the importance of creating forums and contexts inside corporations that allow peer review, transparency, and powerful natural hierarchies to flourish. Here’s one great post by Gary Hamel from earlier this year that Iain Gray pointed out today. We’ve had an open forum exactly like this at Red Hat for a very long time. We call it memo-list.
When any new employee comes into Red Hat, memo-list is one of the first great shocks to the system. Memo-list itself is not some technological marvel of a collaboration tool– it is just a simple, old skool mailing list where any Red Hat employee can post an email message that goes out to virtually every employee in the company. That’s 3000+ folks.
Memo-list has been a hot issue inside the walls of Red Hat since before I joined ten years ago. Folks tend to either love it or hate it.
Some people are shocked by the fact that any employee can publicly challenge a post by an executive or even the CEO in an email to memo-list (and they do). Some people are annoyed by the discussions that appear over and over, year after year. Some people view it as idle chitchat and a waste of time.
But some people view it as the backbone of the Red Hat culture. A place where the power of meritocracy is nurtured. Where the employees force transparency, openness, and accountability. Where peer review makes for better ideas (after all, given enough eyes, all bugs are shallow).
I love memo-list, warts and all (I think Gary Hamel would like it too). In my view, it is the single most important thing that differentiates the Red Hat culture from most other corporate cultures.
From the we’ll-all-be-working-for-him-someday files:
Former Red Hat intern and project manager Tim Hyer has been working on a new startup company named Rentcycle. Last night, Techcrunch picked up their story here. Tim worked for us here in the Brand Communications + Design group at Red Hat from 2005 to 2007 and then moved out to the west coast. He is the person most responsible for the hard work of making David Burney‘s design thinking vision come true at Red Hat.
Rentcycle a pretty neat idea– sign up rental businesses around the country, and then let people rent stuff from one website. See what is in stock at many stores at once, without having to run around a dusty warehouse looking in rusty bins full of candelabras and fine silverware.
Some other folks have tried similar things, but many have tried the Craigslist style approach of one consumer renting to another. Tim’s approach is more B2C (in non-marketing-speak, that means he wants to partner with businesses selling to regular folks), which should make it easier for him to achieve scale without as much pain. My view? Someone’s going to do this right, and knowing Tim, it’s a pretty good bet it will be him.
At Red Hat, we’ve been using the design thinking methodology as a catalyst for innovation since David Burney introduced us to the concept about five years ago. Here’s an interview with Burney from 2006 on the subject that appeared in Red Hat Magazine.
The design thinking conversation has been getting more and more mainstream, especially since BusinessWeek editor Bruce Nussbaum became one of it’s greatest advocates. Here’s a starting point for all of the BusinessWeek coverage of the past few years. So it comes as no surprise that the book publishing industry is now on the case, with three design thinking books coming out this fall.
The one I’m most looking forward to is Roger Martin’s The Design of Business: Why Design Thinking is the Next Competitive Advantage, to be published on November 9. Dark Matter Matters has discussed Roger Martin‘s work extensively here, here, and here, and I think he is one of the most relevant minds in business today. Can’t wait to see where he is taking this book, here’s what the preview copy says:
To innovate and win, companies need design thinking. This form of thinking is rooted in how knowledge advances from one stage to another-from mystery (something we can’t explain) to heuristic (a rule of thumb that guides us toward solution) to algorithm (a predictable formula for producing an answer) to code (when the formula becomes so predictable it can be fully automated). As knowledge advances across the stages, productivity grows and costs drop-creating massive value for companies.
Martin shows how leading companies such as Procter & Gamble, Cirque du Soleil, RIM, and others use design thinking to push knowledge through the stages in ways that produce breakthrough innovations and competitive advantage.
Tim Brown, CEO of IDEO (the company often credited with defining design thinking) also has a design thinking book coming out this fall. His book is entitled Change by Design: How Design Thinking Transforms Organizations and Inspires Innovation and is billed this way:
This is not a book by designers for designers; this is a blueprint for creative leaders seeking to infuse design thinking—an approach for creative problem solving—into all facets of their organizations, products, or services to discover new alternatives for business and society as a whole.
Tim Brown’s book comes out on September 29.
Finally, Thomas Lockwood, President of the Design Management Institute has a book called Design Thinking: Integrating Innovation, Customer Experience, and Brand Value coming out on November 10. It sounds like he is serving as an editor for a bunch of experts writing on the subject. From the preview copy:
Featuring 30 articles, written by industry experts, that show how to build a solid brand foundation, solve problems with simplified thinking, anticipate and capitalize on trends, figure out what consumers want before they do, and align mission, vision, and strategy with a corporate brand, this is a must-have reference for anyone wanting to increase their businesses productivity.
I’ll bring the reviews as soon as the books come out!