Monday, February 24, 2014

Meet Your Professional Mess-Tackler

Upon reading several Harvard Business Review articles about Design Thinking to fuel the relevance of a new and improved Marketing Survey, I came across an excerpt by Caroline O'Conner and Sarah Stein Greenberg of the Hasso Plattner Institute of Design.  The Hasso Plattner Institute of Design in Germany administers their campus in the United States as the Stanford University "", founded by David Kelley in 2004.

Caroline (a lecturer) and Sarah (managing director) had an excerpt called "Tackling the Mess, One Step at a Time" in the larger article by Tom Kelley and David Kelley, Reclaim Your Creative Confidence.  While I can relate to the five items in the list as valid ways of testing the user experience of your own organisation, I relate even more to the whole concept (often greater than the sum of its parts.)

Tackling the Mess, One Step at a Time

1. Lurk in online forums.

Listen in as potential customers share information, air grievances, and ask questions—it’s the virtual equivalent of hanging around a popular cafĂ©. You’re not looking for evaluations of features or cost; you’re searching for clues about their concerns and desires.

2. Pick up the phone and call your own company’s customer service line.

Walk through the experience as if you were a customer, noting how your problem is handled and how you’re feeling along the way.

3. Seek out an unexpected expert.

What does the receptionist in your building know about your firm’s customer experience? If you use a car service for work travel, what insights do the drivers have about your firm? If you’re in health care, talk to a medical assistant, not a doctor. If you make a physical product, ask a repair person to tell you about common failure areas.

4. Act like a spy.

Take a magazine and a pair of headphones to a store or an industry conference (or, if your customers are internal, a break room or lunch area). Pretend to read while you observe. Watch as if you were a kid, trying to understand what is going on. How are people interacting with your offering? What can you glean from their body language?

5. Casually interview a customer or potential customer.

After you’ve gotten more comfortable venturing out, try this: Write down a few open-ended questions about your product or service. Go to a place where your customers tend to gather, find someone you’d be comfortable approaching, and say you’d like to ask a few questions. If the person refuses? No problem, just try someone else. Eventually you’ll find someone who’s dying to talk to you. Press for more detail with every question. Even if you think you understand, ask “Why is that?” or “Can you tell me more about that?” Get people to dig into their own underlying assumptions.

Plainly stated, I am a Mess Tackler.  It is consistent with everything I have ever done in my life.  Referencing the previous post on this blog about being the Happy Wanderer and Happy Wandering Artist, I draw a linear path through what appears to others as wandering.  I am a Lineaist artist , and a Lineaist is a mess tackler, connecting the dots (mess) into an identifiable outline (tackled).

I laughed out loud when I whole-heartedly realised that every day of my life is a mess, and waking up in the morning and facing another day for me is mess-tackling.  I may not have the most predictable professional path or business model, but that is indicative of this valuable work I was born to do.

I take the uncertainty of my own path in life, redefining my entire identity at least once every two years, as a foundation for subject matter expertise when I help my clients navigate changes in their own lives and with their businesses, using the best practices available like my colleagues at HBR.

Whether it's something mundane like cleaning up my housemates' garage to make room for incoming shelves and a system of order or something born of my own dreams comes true like working for The Difference at PwC, guiding Qantas Pilots through their own uncertainty, I aim to mess-tackle.

Thank you Caroline and Sarah, Tom and David for your work in tackling the world's messes and making Design Thinking a more organised system of processes and results.  I walk the messy path with you of taking my B-School colleagues into our D-School world.