Friday, October 29, 2004

Is it true that "good management kills innovation"?

Yesterday, during one of a series of forums at PARC on invention and innovation, Paul Saffo, a forecaster and strategist at the Institute for the Future, spoke about the Silicon Valley and about why it has been and continues to be the center of so much technological innovation.

According to Paul, technological innovation is "extra-logical," and in the Silicon Valley, "advances from failure to failure, not from success to success." As such, according to Paul, "innovation gets killed by good management."

I discussed Paul's claim with a friend following the forum, and though we accepted Paul's claims as being valid in the context of the tech sector and what Silicon Valley has been and is still largely about, neither of us believe the statement that "good management kills innovation" is always true.

I had the privilege of interviewing Paul on stage with Jaron Lanier back in 1997. Paul is an amazing fellow and much brighter than I can ever hope to be. But I don't think that Paul himself even believes that statement is always true.

Whether or not it is true depends, my friend and I agreed, on what one considers good management to be. Perhaps what is often considered to be good management of engineers tends to kill their ability or attempts to innovate. But good management, in the context of fostering good "user experience" and "design," facilitates innovation -- my friend and I humbly believe ;-). And does so in the Silicon Valley.

Is the impressive innovation achieved over and over again by, for example, IDEO (see The Art of Innovation, by Tom Kelley with Jonathan Littman) a product of "bad" management? Or is it, instead, that the kind of management that fosters innovation is difficult to replicate within most companies, particularly in the tech sector?

During the opening plenary session of the first Designing for User Experiences conference, Bill Buxton pretty much agreed with Paul Saffo by arguing that after software companies develop their initial products, new, innovative products tend to come from those same companies only via acquisition rather than from internal development. And when they do emerge from internal development, "it is generally due to a skunkworks project, rather than something that is 'managed' and part of the organizational process." Bill also talked about how installing a good design process that is distinct from engineering can be upsetting to a company, even when the process results in a new product that proves to be successful in the marketplace.

Why is this true? Does it have to be true? Is it not possible for "good" management to foster innovation beyond initial offerings in more companies?

Monday, October 25, 2004

"Big Night"s

I spent several days in Sorrento Italy this past April, staying at a fabulous B&B that is also a cooking school (see Each evening's cooking lesson would begin at 4pm and end just prior to the evening meal which was served at 8. As you might have guessed, the cooking lesson involved preparation of the evening meal, and to varying degrees, students participated in that preparation. This was delightful, and Chef Biagio is a masterful cook, enabling preparation of amazing, multi-course meals every evening.

What made things even more delightful was the fact that we prepared these meals for, and ate these meals with, 20-30 people from multiple countries every evening. The dinners were long, with me always among the last to leave. And the conversations and connections made with the many guests were truly wonderful.

These great experiences made me determined to attempt to recreate them, albeit on a much smaller scale, in my home. And I've been delighted to have been able to do that with success -- involving guests in the preparation of the meal, dining for hours, and creating or strengthening multiple connections.

At one of these dinners, a plan was hatched to tackle the preparation of timpano, an amazing and complex Italian dish that plays a prominent role in the movie, "Big Night." And our version of "Big Night" was held this past weekend in the home of a friend.

The many ingredients of the timpano -- quail, pasta, meatballs, chicken livers and hearts, fresh peas, hard-boiled eggs, multiple varieties of wild mushrooms, buffalo mozzarella, ragu napoletano, and more -- were prepared by the 9 participants working in a coordinated and collaborative manner over several hours. Then came the climactic point at which the prepared ingredients were placed in layers within a pastry dough that lined, and later also covered, a gigantic bowl.

After cooking the timpano in the oven, the long feast ensued.

The timpano was magnificent.

One of the extra special moments of the evening was the toast just before the meal -- a toast "to collaboration."

How do you effectively help people achieve recommended organizational change?

Last week, Cooper published an article in its newsletter in which Kim Goodwin writes, "Building better, more innovative, and more profitable products requires organizational change on a deep and difficult level." These words are similar to the words of many others, including Mark Hurst who wrote, "Changing the organization is the most difficult and most important part of user experience work," in a June 2003 version of his newsletter, and Dennis Wixon who, in the July+August 2003 issue of interactions, made a similar point indirectly by criticizing the formal literature as "failing the practitioner" since it "treats usability studies as if they were experiments, when in reality they are more like organizational interventions."

Advice regarding how to achieve such change has come from many (see the lengthy list of references, old and recent, that I include with my "evolving commentary" on "Changing the Role 'User Experience' Plays in Your Business" --, but lots of people still struggle with this difficult task.

During my on-stage interview of Don Norman on October 12 (see my initial blog posting for my first blog words about this event), Don refered to a forum he ran for "user experience executives and those on the executive track" on, among other (related) things, "how to advance the cause of 'User Experience' throughout your organization." Quoting further from one of Don's announcements of this October 2003 forum:
"I have long been bothered by the lack of senior management from within the ranks of the user experience community. I believe that user experience-based design will make the greatest impact only when the executive ranks of corporations adopt UE design as part of their culture. This is only likely to happen when UE professionals become UE executives."
According to Don, few enrolled in this forum, it lost money, and he offers it no longer.

Also according to Don, few enroll in tutorials offered during the Nielsen Norman Group's User Experience tour that are intended for people with experience.

I recently started to offer a workshop focused on "The Critical Role of Collaboration in Enabling Your Business to Provide the Best 'User Experience'" and intended for a similar audience, though offered for delivery in-house.

But are workshops/forums/tutorials not the best way to reach and help the people who are in a better position to influence the organizations in which they work? If not, what is? The combination of everything else that is out there, including the many relevant publications I reference above, does not appear to be enough.


Monday, October 18, 2004

When and where will the next DUX conference be held?

I've been receiving an increasing amount of email asking when and where the next Designing for User Experiences (DUX) conference will be held.

I was a Program Chair for the very successful, first DUX conference, and I am a Conference Chair for the second. And DUX 2003 was held in early June. Plus, there is no information to be found about the second DUX conference on the web, except for an news item on the home page of the first conference which invites people to join us for DUX 2005.

So, it is not surprising that I've been receiving such email.

DUX 2003 was held in San Francisco, and interest was high in keeping the conference there, at least for the second edition. So, you can look for DUX 2005 to be held in San Francisco.

But we are presently targeting DUX 2005 for much later in the year than June.

As soon as the specific dates and venue have been nailed down, you will be able to learn about them here.

Sunday, October 17, 2004

In a business, which organization should own the user experience?

This past Tuesday evening, I interviewed Don Norman (author of the recently published, "Emotional Design: Why we love -- or hate -- everyday things") on stage as part of a special BayCHI/BayDUX event entitled, "User Experience: Why Do So Many Organizations Believe They Own It?" The focus of our conversation ranged from what "user experience" really means (Don coined the term years ago while a VP at Apple Computer), what he now thinks of that term and of how it is used these days, the range and role of professional societies which address some aspect of user experience, and how important it is for those professional societies to collaborate much more.

In answer to the question of, "In a business, which organization SHOULD own the user experience?," Don answered (in short), "All of them."

I've worked in companies where multiple organizations believed they alone largely owned or should own user experience. And changing that belief has been a challenge.

Last Tuesday evening, Don said that he still believes the assertion of the title of his first BayCHI presentation delivered to a crowd of 600 back in February of 1993: "Where HCI Design Fails: The Hard Problems are Social and Political, not Technical."

Getting multiple organizations in a business or in the world of professional societies to collaborate in such a way that they all share ownership of user experience in an effective manner is a difficult social and political challenge. But it has been and can be done. And it needs to be done much, much more.