The Interaction Design Foundation is publishing Gamification At Work by Jankaki Kumar and Mario Herger for the public tomorrow. I just finished reading the book and taking notes thinking I might review it. However, rather than do a simple review of the book’s content, I decided to situate the major points from the book into a post on the general topic of gamification in the workplace.
I appreciate the opportunity to read the book’s early release and, if you haven’t yet seen it just click on the link to it above and you can access it as well. Hopefully you will also consider reading my own thoughts on how the points in the book fit into what is most aptly considered gameful design.
Gamification At Work is an interesting read for several reasons. Kumar and Herger not only cover the essential components of a well-thought approach to why playing games is not antithetical to getting work done. They add to that contribution by outlining a design strategy, which they refer to as Player Centered Design, and providing case-study insights from the SAP Community Network that add essential details to each part of their overall discussion.
The Altimeter Group’s report from earlier this year, The Evolution of Social Business: Six Stages of Social Business Transformation, offers the above graphic to exemplify the way social networking develops as the social activities of businesses mature. I tend to feel skeptical about many developmental models in social business simply because markets differ, sometimes in fundamental ways, and businesses organize accordingly. However, since a previous post here summarized the currently dominant Hub and Spoke approach as falling short as a way to organize collaboration in relation to customer experience, I feel elaborating on that point is in order.
Shared experience, not just shared information, is fundamental to the social networks underlying collaboration and innovation. Many, if not most, employees don’t only need to get to know one another through reputation systems, like who people tag as possessing expertise. As Thomas Vander Wal continues to point out, comfort with one another is needed to develop a shared experience that encourages the open sharing of information.
Collaboration means getting to know that other employees possess expertise on this or that topic, but also developing comfort with one another by sharing significant symbols relating to self, family, friends, and social activities, thereby understanding one another as people. Shared experience with co-workers and customers is a key factor in innovative business practices. It is especially important to multichannel collaboration.
Shared experience is so important because, as Karl Weick so deftly noted almost twenty years ago, it provides the basis for mutual understanding or, to put it bluntly, how we understand one another when we do things together. Nancy Dixon recently offered a concise summary of this point which I recommend reading.
Trust between collaborators is an important factor related to collaboration effectiveness. Spending time talking to and learning about the people you work with provides the mechanism for trust to flourish – if they are trustworthy – or diminish – if they are not worthy of your trust…It makes sense that when people experience the same thing together – creating shared history and shared memories – it binds the group together in a much deeper way than merely having the same information.
So, you might say, what does this have to do with organizational silos?
The best way to begin answering the question is to look at an interesting insight offered by Mark Fidelman and Dion Hinchliffe regarding the cross-currents enterprises face in attempts to use social software to increase collaboration. In Rethinking the Customer Journey in a Social World they noted:
…it’s the mindset of the social world, where everyone knows what everyone else is doing, and perhaps even thinking, that may very well be the hardest to adapt to and instill in our corporate culture. It’s a world where those who know how to tap into global knowledge flows in social networks on the “edge” of our businesses will succeed. Thus, we need a new vocabulary for understanding not only our businesses, but how it will deeply affect the entire experience of our customers, from beginning to end. This transformation of thinking and working is required in order to access the significant benefits of truly remaking how we engage with the market.
Their thinking seems torn between insight into where the changes for business are headed and what they think likely to happen in the short-term. Dion in particular recognizes the fact that social business requires organizational transformation when, for instance, he asserts, ” social business is first and foremost a transformation involving people and the organizations they work with.” Yet, if you consider where he thinks the in-roads for social software (including social media) are for business over the next year or so, the contrast in perspective is pretty distinct. Dion says in another post that it is in the vertical space of enterpriseswhere most of the innovation is set to occur for social software.
While general purpose social software platforms can certainly be used in all of these areas, high impact application of social media to the way we work often requires application-specific constraints on conversations and the resultant community activity(my emphasis). This means social customer care benefits from conversations organized around support, social supply chain focused on ERP transactions, and so on, along with software that supports these applied uses.
Key factors, such as the amount of cross-functional interactions and size of community teams [with external or internal focus — my point], are putting a resource strain on community managers, particularly in large organizations.
A key organizational point is worth making here because it relates directly to the burdens the hub-and-spoke model, whether cross-functional or dandelion, places on collaboration between employees, customers, partners, and other stakeholders. Indeed, the “Tip” offered by Jeremiah Owyang of Altimeter regarding the “dandelion” hub-and spoke model is telling. He noted that,
the lines connecting the multiple hubs may be severed. Tip: provide way for spokes to connect to each other, not just be funneled through a central group.
Just likesocial networks do not respect organizational boundaries, edge cases do not respect vertical (read, silo-oriented) organizational constraints on conversation. This is an important point when you consider that most of the time spent by employees involves dealing with edge cases, i.e. exceptions to core processes. I suggest that at least part of this outcome results from the fact that not enough employees in the enterprise develop shared experiences. If you agree with me, I guess we just need to think about how to make this happen. If not, then you probably need a bit more detail which, hopefully, you can spare the time for.
Podular Design — From Dave Gray’s Connected Company
In “Institutional Innovation and Podular Design“ I noted a number of insights from the Aspen Institute’s report, Institutional Innovation: Oxymoron or Imperative?, especially that “the most important innovation challenges are now in fact institutional in nature.” As an aside, let me just note that institutions typically change in dramatic ways only over long periods of time. Think of institutions such as religion, government, the economy, and then consider the various organizational forms in which these institutions took shape across cultures over time.
One insight I have not discussed in previous posts is relevant to understanding the changing way teams work together in organizations and, by implication, in a Connected Company — as outlined by Dave Gray. Richard Adler the Rapporteur for the Aspen sessions, noted that,
“New findings about the power of collective intelligence and about the most effective ways of organizing teams are providing practical insights about how to accelerate innovation.”
In fact, the phenomena of transitory team membership is so pervasive that some people propose we analyze “teaming” rather than teams when talking about how groups organize for cross-functional purposes within, or between, companies. Consider, for example the way, Mark Mortensen summarizes this trend in team dynamics,
First, organizations increasingly require collaborations to be fluid in their organization and composition, able to adapt to the rapid changes of the external environment. Second, collaborations increasingly overlap with one another, sharing resources — including people — as those resources become more limited due to increased competition. Third, collaborations must increasingly take into consideration the different contexts within which collaborators are embedded, including locations, time zones, cultures, and languages, structures, or organizations.
The liminality of such transitory teams results from several institutional challenges including the high degree of misunderstandings that initially occur due to team members rarely having the time to translate the different ways of thinking that people bring from their professional specializations into a mutual understanding of their shared business purpose. Developing mutual understanding requires shared experiences, getting to know who you are collaborating with, not just what they do or their skills profile. In addition, conflicting functional priorities, and often a lack of clear accountability, make it difficult for such teams to remain focused on the business purpose of their collaboration.
Teams were not always organized this way. As Mortensen notes, teams in multi-divisional companies were, at one time, defined by bounded and stable team membership and common goals that interdependent work was required to meet. Cross-functional teams in such companies today are not typically defined by bounded and stable membership, and common goals are still too often related to divisional performance driven by scalable efficiency rather than a connection to the purpose of the business the team is serving.
Over the last 40 years, the emergence of new digital infrastructures and a global liberalization of economic policy have increased the pace of change exponentially. Many companies that were extremely successful in earlier times of relative stability are now finding that their relationship architectures are fundamentally misaligned with the needs of their business today. As the pace of change increases, many executives focus on product and service innovations to stay afloat. However, there is a deeper and more fundamental opportunity for institutional innovation—redefining the rationale for institutions and developing new relationship architectures within and across institutions to break existing performance trade-offs and expand the realm of what is possible.
Institutional innovation requires embracing a new rationale of “scalable learning” with the goal of creating smarter institutions that can thrive in a world of exponential change.
The challenge then remains how to enable organizations to adapt to their ecosystems by enhancing access to flows of knowledge that are likely to result in learning. Leinwand and Mainardi recently observed that permanent cross-functional teams tend to fare better than transitory teams in engaging organizational ecosystems. As they note:
We’ve recently seen a more robust cross-functional construct emerge, one with an overarching organizational structure, based on building and maintaining a distinctive capability. Members of these capabilities teams are assigned permanently to them, reporting there rather than through a functional hierarchy.
Permanent cross-functional teams provide an institutional basis for what Hagel and Brown refer to as edge businessesthat develop within large-scale enterprises, noting that such companies “should resist the temptation to confront the core, and instead focus on opportunities on the periphery or at the ‘edge’ of their businesses that can scale rapidly.” I suggest below that Dave Gray’s conception of podular organization affords an important insight regarding how the institutional innovation of edge case businesses can develop and organize. Read the rest of this entry »
People discussing the pace of change that organizations face in dealing with connected customers, globalization, competition, distributed workforces, innovation, etc. often assert that the world needs a paradigm shift to a new organizational form. I agree with the basic point. However, the way forward is seldom clear and simple when facing the need for dramatic changes in how we think about organizing what we know into practical changes to meet such fundamental challenges.
Just a side note here though. If you are not the sort of person who enjoys using historical insights to think about current challenges you probably don’t want to read the rest of this post.
Podular Design — From Dave Gray’s Connected Company
In Social is the plural of personal JP Rangaswami contends that institutional innovationis required to achieve the potential that social software offers organizations in general, and for-profit companies in particular. JP’s voice is one of several important contributions to current thinking about innovation. For another example consider the Aspen Institute’s Communications and Society Program. It produced a series of roundtables with the Deloitte Center for the Edge over the past few years. Until the 2011 session the focus was largely on talent development. However, in the most recent session, Institutional Innovation: Oxymoron or Imperative?, the focus was on institutional innovation. It is an interesting change in terminology largely because much of the attention in the learning and development world today is on talent management along with employee engagement as cutting edge concerns. However, as Richard Adler the Rapporteur for the Aspen sessions, explains,
If institutions developed in and optimized for the previous generation of infrastructure are no longer working, then where innovation is most urgently needed is not in product development but in the design of institutions themselves.
My point is that the most important innovation challenges are now in fact institutional in nature. Many companies employ senior executives and managers who use social networks in their personal lives but are either reluctant or stymied about how to integrate similar patterns of communication into their work. This point is reinforced by the recent finding of Stanford University and the Conference Board from a survey of 180 senior executives and corporate directors of North American public and private companies. The lead researcher concluded that, “We know that executives and board members are using social media. However, familiarity with social media is just not translating into systemic use at their companies.”
We continue to see organizational ambivalence over how social relationships contribute to business outcomes. For instance, a recent IBM study reported that only 22% of CIOs surveyed think managers are prepared to incorporate social media into their work. Managers generally fail to acknowledge that social networks contribute to business outcomes and that enabling human connections between stakeholders (employees, business partners, customers) adds value to the company when employees share a substantive understanding of the business purposes served by the enterprise’s organization. How to facilitate that substantive understanding is the biggest question facing anyone considering collaboration and innovation in today’s companies.
The point isn’t totally new, nor is it passe’. As many social software vendors acknowledge, it is important to integrate collaboration tools into the flow of work for them to succeed as useful tools. However, as a previous post noted, Social Software, Community, and Organization, that doesn’t mean the social communication afforded by particular tools is more effective if it supports only formal workplace, i.e. functional, goals. Social software must afford the capability for those using it to develop shared experiences of one another as people, not just corporate role players.
Courtesy of Wonderfully Complex’s photostream on flickr.
An early Skilful Minds post introduced The Great Innovation Debate, focusing on the distinctions between Tom Friedland’s conception that when it comes to innovation the world is flat, and the alternative point of view espoused by Richard Florida that the world is spiky. Meaning that the aggregation of creative people in cities, in proximity to one another, largely drives innovation and economic growth. As our previous post noted, John Hagel added an interesting vantage point on the debate by observing that, “Even though you can participate in innovation from more remote locations, if you want to develop your talent more rapidly than others, you are more likely to be able to do that in a major urban area.” In other words, the debate about innovation is largely a difference of viewpoints on the feasibility of effective collaboration across distributed people who work together to get jobs done. These collective efforts typically exist as cross-functional teams working with business partners, or customers.
The innovation debate was raised again recently when John Hagel and John Seely Brown added substantially to the questions behind it in a post titled, Friedmand vs. Florida and offered some key insights that coincide with key points from the McKinsey survey. The gist of Hagel and Brown’s position goes as follows:
It’s true that globalization has led to increased competition; however, there is also a significant opportunity for companies to access the talent gathering in different spike cities and then connect those people around the world using digital technology infrastructure so that they might leverage the skills of, and learn from, one another. Such a model does not develop overnight; to move from competitors to collaborators, participants must form long-term, trust-based relationships with one another. When these relationships develop, then firms can connect capabilities across spikes, and ultimately, pursue opportunities for innovation and capability building across spikes.
Consider the following observations from recent research on the importance of proximity in how team members relate to one another. A recent Forrestor report, Making Collaboration Work for the 21st Century’s Distributed Workforce (registration required) noted that most information workers (including Gen Yers) prefer email, telephone conversations, and face-to-face meetings. These preferences appear to result as much from limitations in the available collaboration tools as anything else. The Forrestor recommendations are three-fold:
create the sense of a “shared office” among distributed employees
use tools that follow distributed employees on the go
provide collaboration tools that make the work easier, i.e. are integrated into the work.
I’ll get back to the major challenge among the three outlined in the Forrestor report (creating the sense of a shared office) in a following post. First though it is important to note that the Forrestor report’s findings indicate fundamental differences between the opposing points of view in the debate over innovation by Friedland and Florida, especially as they relate to distributed employees(i.e. people who are not colocated). For example, a recent McKinsey Global Survey of 2,927 executives, Making Innovation Structures Work (registration required), offered two key insights dealing with innovation that merit attention in relation to the topic.
“Companies cannot rely on a single innovation function alone to create successful outcomes, it must be integrated with the entire organization.”
“The functions located near talent or target markets have more market success and meet objectives more effectively than others, though they are less likely than the functions at or near HQ to engage regularly with company leaders.”
The first conclusion relates to the McKinsey report’s overall insight that organizations are more likely to succeed with innovation efforts when those initiatives are integrated with corporate strategy as well as benefiting from the engagement and support of company leadership. It implicitly recognizes the ineffectivenessof organizing innovation efforts that occur incorporate silos, such as innovation centers or research & development labs.
On the other hand, the second conclusion recognizes the constraints faced in organizing innovation efforts among distributed employees. Creating a sense of a shared office, or workspace, is fundamental to efforts attempting to integrate innovation and corporate strategy, especially if the corporate strategy involves social business.
In my thinking, the key to Hagel and Brown’s point is that, as Gunter Sonnenfeld recently observed in a post called Relationship Economics, “relationships are the foundation of the social web, and the basis for the flat, seemingly infinite distribution plane that is the Internet.” Rather than focus on whether the world is flat or spiky, serious attention is better paid to how enterprises organize collaboration and what limitations placeand cultural context impose on that organizational effort to create innovation capabilities. How to organize distributed collaboration and manage the social interactions involved is the topic that requires discussion when these concerns are brought into focus.
One of my earlier posts discussed the learnability of a service as a key challenge for experience design. Today I ran across this early video from Don Norman on learnability and product design. I thought I would share it.
In Social Flow in Gameful Design I made the point that social flow contrasts to Csikszentmihalyi’s original concept of individual, or solitary flow, in which a person’s engagement in actions is optimal when they lose a sense of time and awareness of self in an intrisincally rewarding feeling of accomplishment. Social flow implies a qualitatively different order of the flow experience, a group-level experience. To that extent, gameful designs that take social flow into consideration incorporate a different set of design principles to those involved in what most people currently refer to as gamification.
In a similar vein, Simon Wiscombe recently observed , “Gamification is inherently flawed because it focuses on rewarding players for the end-state.” He adds that designs that gamify are best when they focus on the journey rather than the outcome, especially if the aim is to evoke the voluntary, ongoing engagement of participants. I emphasize the importance of voluntary experience because if you can’t quit playing when you want to the experience is not a gameful one. Recent social psychological research supports Simon’s point.
Walker recently offered a series of relevant social psychological studies on social flow:
Flow in a social context may be a qualitatively different phenomenon than flow experienced in isolation. Classic research in social psychology has amply demonstrated that people act, think, and feel qualitatively differently within a group than by themselves…Social contexts introduce additional variables that may inhibit, facilitate, or transform flow experiences. Social contexts can be enormously complex. They range from ‘mere presence’ situations where individuals perform in the midst of passive others…, to co-active situations where people perform side-by-side but do not interact, to highly interdependent interactive situations where people must cooperate and coordinate their performances within established groups…In highly interdependent situations, people may serve as agents of flow for each other. This form of social flow is mutual and reciprocal, a form that is likely to be qualitatively different than solitary flow (my emphasis). In mere presence and some co-active social situations, a form of solitary flow is probable because the unit of performance is the individual, however when the unit of performance is a group, especially a team that must do tasks requiring interdependence and cooperation, social flow should be more likely. Social flow should be easily seen in highly cohesive teams in which there is agreement on goals, procedures, roles, and patterns of interpersonal relations and the competency of team members is uniformly high… (see original text for references, my emphasis added).
The main thing to note from Walker’s research is that it confirms Csikszentmihalyi’s point (p. 158) that flow experiences occur most frequently in work settings, yet qualifies it by noting that “social flow is more joyful than solitary flow.” Moreover, interactive situations compared to co-active ones scored highest in social flow in Walker’s research.
To start I want to acknowledge that the term “gamification” is not the subject of this post even though it is the buzz term these days. So before going further let me explain why I think the term is misleading.
When used as a noun, gamification implies a standardized design process and I don’t think one exists for implementing game design that enables relationships in social business. I prefer to follow Jane McGonical’s use of the term gameful to reinforce the point that the spirit of games rather than the mechanics is most important in designing for what makes experience playful, especially in collaboration. I do use gamification in the context of other people’s discussions though. In additon, I use the verb gamify to imply an activity.
Don’t Gamify Wild Bill discussed the importance of designing for voluntary play in serious games. Playfulness is the baseline requirement for any game designed to provide useful indicators for gauging individual and organizational successes over time.
The qualifier over time is the key point to keep in mind. Specifically, those interested in gamifying employee engagement in social business, and who also aim to effectively use collaboration, must optimally design for emergence not just competition and cooperation as guiding principles.
To echo the position taken by many game designers on the subject of gamification, you can’t simply add game mechanics to employee participation in business processes and expect voluntary engagement by players over time.
There is a lot, actually a whole lot, of buzz over the past year about the gamification of business, specifically marketing, training, customer service. The discussion too often overlooks the simple point that it is the experience with it, the playfulness of it, that makes a game. Not the scoring system, or the rewards, or anything else can make up for a game that participants (customers or employees) don’t experience as play. I’m not saying that incorporating game mechanics into relationships cannot create a motivating dynamic, at least over the short run. It certainly can.
Jesse Schell offered the point earlier this year that a game is a problem solving situation people enter into because they want to. He went on to say that if you can make a task feel like a situation people enter into because they want to then you’ve made it a game. Additionally, in her presentation “We Don’t Need No Stinkin Badges” Jane McGonical observes that gameful experience requires that participants experience the spirit of gaming rather than simply the mechanics, in other words that the rewards of playing a game people want to continue playing are intrinsic rather than extrensic.
The point of this post is to note that gamifying business to engage customers is one thing. Customers can almost always walk away from a commercial relationship if they want to, except perhaps in dealings with health insurance companies and utilities. Gamifying business to motivate employees is entirely another type of design challenge.
Using gamification to elicit patterns of action that enable employees to work together, such as knowledge sharing, easily slips into involuntary play and reinforces the type of competition that currently sustains siloed organizations. I’ll add to this point in a subsequent post on gameful collaboration where I contend gamification in social business aiming to increase collaboration must design for emergence,not just competition and cooperation, as guiding design principles for play. However, for now, let me just flesh out the point about gamifying employee relationships with an example from the construction industry and personal experience.
At the end of February I co-presented at STLUX’11 with Dave Gray. Our presentation was called Exploring the Usefulness of Chartjunk. The collaboration behind the presentation started as an exchange between the two of us on Twitter regarding whether the whole concept of Chartjunk is a myth. Over a series of conversations about recent research on the relative importance of visual embellishment in how people remember and understand data, I suggested to Dave that we develop a presentation around the topic. Dave agreed and suggested that we also build the presentation in a manner that engaged the audience to share their thinking about the issues involved.
Dave and I designed the presentation as a simulated debate between the pre-eminent critic of Chartjunk (actually the design theorist who formulated the concept) Edward Tufte and Nigel Holmes, an illustrator and the former Graphics Director at Time Magazine. Homes is well known for his use of visual embellishment in designing graphics that tell stories about data relationships. We designed the presentation around four graphic displays, two by Tufte and two by Holmes. We discussed the graphics and then asked members of the audience to consider each graphic on four dimensions.
ease of understanding what it is about
ease of understanding the categories and values displayed
ease of seeing the basic trend
ease of determining whether it conveys a message
I designed a simple survey that allowed us to gather data on those four dimensions using an implicit five point scale, eliciting participation and dialogue with the audience at the same time. The graphic below provides a view of the survey’s instructions. The participants seemed overall to enjoy the approach and the evaluations confirmed the impression.
We drew the four dimensions from research done in 2010 by members of the Interaction Lab at the University of Saskatchewan. The Interaction Lab researchers designed an experimental study to test two basic questions: “first, whether visual embellishments do in fact cause comprehension problems; and second, whether the embellishments may provide additional information that is valuable for the reader.” I’m not going to detail the methodology used, however the researchers asked four questions to participants in the research as they reviewed graphics by Holmes with a great deal of visual embellishment or the same graphics after applying the data-ink ratio used by Tufte.
Q1–Subject: ‘What is the chart is about?‘ ‘Tell me about the basic subject of the chart.’
Q2–Values: ‘What are the displayed categories and values?‘ ‘Tell me how the chart is organized and any relevant values.’
Q3–Trend: ‘What is the basic trend of the graph?‘ ‘Tell me whether the chart shows any changes and describe these changes.’ (Note that this question was not relevant for pie charts.)
Q4–Value Message: ‘Is the author trying to communicate some message through the chart?‘ ‘Is the author trying to get across a specific point or is he or she merely presenting objective information?’
We reported on the major findings of the research team to the audience as follows:
There was no significant difference between plain and image charts for interactive interpretation accuracy (i.e., when the charts were visible).
There was also no significant difference in recall accuracy after a five-minute gap.
After a long-term gap (2-3 weeks), recall of both the chart topic and the details (categories and trend) was significantly better for Holmes charts.
Participants saw value messages in the Holmes charts significantly more often than in the plain charts.
Participants found the Holmes charts more attractive, most enjoyed them, and found that they were easiest and fastest to remember.
At the end of the presentation, after we covered the research study findings, we then asked the participants to list as many of the graphics from the four discussed earlier and to rate each along the four dimensions. As we broke up the session a few participants asked if we could share the findings from the participative survey.
I agreed to post the results and I am now getting around to it.
Back in 2006 Hugh Macleod offered the following point on Gapingvoid: “If people like buying your product, it’s because its story helps fill in the narrative gaps in their own lives.” At the time I thought it conveyed nicely the point made by Gerald Zaltman in How Customers Think that “companies should define customer segments on the basis of similarities in their reasoning or thinking processes” (p. 152) rather than constructs related to demographics. Hugh’s point made a lot of sense when I first read it and the point continues to gain in significance for me.
Narrative gaps in our personal stories are resolved through other stories about our own experience, perhaps with a product or service, that help us make sense of the feelings evoked. Specifically, Hugh noted in a later post that people fill in narrative gaps with meanings they construct from their own stories. It is on this point that the concept of personas becomes relevant to narrative gaps and to a recent conception of how to use social media robots, especially DigiViduals™, in qualitative research. Moreover, in this respect I suggest that the challenges involved are analogous to key ones faced by industrial robotics.
We know that most learning in the workplace is informal. Most observers put it at around 80%. Recently, John Hagel and John Seeley Brown contended that “as much as two-thirds of headcount time in major enterprise functions like marketing, manufacturing and supply chain management is spent on exception handling.” Of course, that fact is a result of the successes of process automation over the past few decades. Yet, still, The Barely Repeatable Process (BRP) persists as an organizational challenge for business.
Earlier discussions here focused on the importance of exceptions, to business process and formal learning. I examined the implications of the Kirkpatrick Evaluation model to the use of social media in learning experience design, while addressing the challenges facing learning leaders. Leading the Business-Centered Learning Experience noted that evaluating formal learning is as much about organizational learning and change management as it is about individual learning, largely because much of the learning, and performance, that matters today occurs at the group level. Marc Rosenberg recently echoed the point in an article in Learning Solutions Magazine, The Special Sauce of Social Learning. Marc noted that social learning is largely a change management challenge for organizations.
The most basic point to remember is that exceptions to formal business processes require efforts to design a scalable learning architecture that supports content co-creation needed to adapt to emergent challenges and manage the flow of that adaptation through an enterprise’s ecosystem. Whether judging an adaptation successful requires it to result in new formal learning content, i.e. content co-creation, or a new business process, i.e. organizational innovation, or both, remains an open question.
When an exception happens, we have to step away from our PowerPoint, stop typing an email, or exit a meeting in order to take care of it. Routine work stops. And, our modern reliance on technology to find, aggregate, and alert us to these exceptions has made the task of managing them more burdensome than ever before. Systems that manage exceptions provide the enterprise with vast amounts of data points that have become overwhelming for employees to handle. The applications that we rely on for managing exceptions still rely on process owners to make decisions and respond to the issues. The result is a workforce that isn’t dealing with exceptions well at all. (my emphasis)
The importance of social networking to increasing the effective handling of exceptions is a major focus for those interested in social learning.
I’ve discussed ethnography, especially digital ethnography, several times here taking note that, whether we use ethnography in marketing or design research remains irrelevant to the methods employed. What matters is whether we develop the research questions around the assumption that sociocultural practices provide the data source for answers. Ethnographers research settings, situations, and actions, with the goal of discovering surprising relationships. The most surprising relationships though are often hiding in plain sight, right under our noses.
I was recently pointed to a video from a link in the Yahoo Group Anthrodesign. The video, by Amy Krouse Rosenthal, provides a unique example of insights about people we can glean from designing situations that transgress established sociocultural practices. I actually watched it three times, and not because Time listed it in the top five viral videos of the week…kind of like people (at least some people) did when the moonwalking bear video came out. Rather, my interest in it was how the mere observation of the actions taken by pedestrians leads us to experience surprise. More on this below. For now, let’s consider the video itself.
After sticking labels on 100 one dollar bills, with a unique message written on each, and clipping those dollar bills to individual leaves on a tree, Ben, Brian, and Amy video recorded how people respond to money hanging on a tree as they walk by it on a street. The narrator, Amy, indicates no crowds showed up to grab all the money they could get, though a few did take more than one dollar at a time. Most people who took money, a minority, pulled a couple of dollars, or one, and moved on.
(UPDATE: You will need to click on the Watch on YouTube link to see the video. Some proprietary thing I’m sure) 😉
Amy offers two lessons learned from the Money Tree:
That people routinely walk by a “tree filled with free money” without even noticing
That people can look at a tree filled with money and not even see it
The Money Tree offers an example of what social psychology, but especially ethnomethodology, refers to as a breaching experiment. Breaching experiments typically involve a researcher breaking a rule about everyday life and then analyzing other people’s response. The Money Tree exemplifies a situation designed to break a tacit understanding about money and sidewalks.
“Money doesn’t grow on trees”, is a phrase most people in Chicago (the location of the Money Tree) probably know. We don’t routinely see money hanging from a tree along a sidewalk. It is certainly more common, as the bicyclist’s experience in the video shows, to see money on a sidewalk. And, I’d wager, most of us just think someone lost it. In other words, merely by setting up the situation to violate the pedestrians’ tacit knowledge of what walking down a sidewalk entails, the videographers show us something about people.
At the same time that the video offers us a surprising experience, it sure would be interesting to know what people who failed to take money were thinking. Anyone else find this interesting?
From "A Journey Round My Skull's" photostream on Flickr
Digital ethnography is an increasingly feasible research technique as smartphones decrease in cost and more people carry them around. The photographic capability of smartphones is an important resource in making digital research ubiquitous, giving people the ability to capture images and record observations as they go about their everyday lives, and characterize those observations for ethnographers.
Of course, taking photographs and sharing them online as part of a diary or journal for ethnographic research predates smartphones. Smartphones simply increase the likelihood that an everyday experience is recorded as a representation of the moment in which it occurs. Nevertheless, the video recording capabilities of smartphones afford collaborators an opportunity for representing experience in a manner previously unavailable to ethnographic research.
I’ll discuss the range of implications for ethnography posed by the ubiquitous access to video recording capabilities by ordinary people in another post in the near future. For now, my discussion focuses on how to use video in ethnographic research to inform product/service design.
Video of people using products or services is one of the most challenging data resources used in ethnographic research. Playing and replaying video segments for review is time-consuming and, depending on the number of people involved and the type of activity recorded, difficult to distil into agreed-upon insights.
I recently read several chapters from Sarah Pink’s Visual Interventions: Applied Visual Anthropology, thoroughly enjoying all of them. One chapter in particular though, Video Ethnography Under Industrial Constraints, by Werner Sperschneider, really caught my attention. Werner spells out a technique (the Video Card Game) for analyzing video in design research that I remembered reading about several years ago but, at the time, didn’t really give a lot of thought to.
The Video Card Game draws from the “Happy Families” childrens’ card game, a game in which players collect families of four cards as they ask one another in turn for cards of a particular archetype. The goal of “Happy Families” is to collect a family of four cards, forming a stack. Collecting the most stacks makes you the winner.
Werner provides an overview of how researchers in user-centered design at the Danish industrial manufacturer, Danfoss A/S, initially created the Video Card Game as a method for combining ethnographic and visual research methods using video. Design researchers, Margot Brereton, Jared Donovan, Stephen Viller, at the University of Queensland, as well as Jacob Buur and Astrid Soendergaard, of the University of Southern Denmark, and the University of Aarhus, respectively, also provide case studies of its use.
Family Resemblance and the Video Card Game
The Video Card Game’s design provides a collaborative space of interaction for researchers, designers, and design collaborators to co-create insights for product and service design, using video as a primary source of insight. The rendition of the game offered here refers to it as the Video Card Family Game for the explicit purpose of making it clear that Ludwig Wittgenstein’s concept of family resemblance is a key criteria in the gaming process for deciding to which themes a video card belongs. Using the concept of family resemblance to analyze video enables design researchers to organize, prune, and interpret actions taken in their research with collaborators in the field, providing actionable ideation outcomes.
When playing the Video Card Family Game the key is remembering that, even though the cards give the video a tangible mode of expression, the images remain on relatively small cards, whether on the surface of a table or attached to a poster on the wall. One can imagine an interactive wall display like Microsoft’s Surface that minimizes the legibility problem. Short of such a solution however it is important to keep in mind the spatial limitations imposed by rendering video representations of action onto tangible video cards arranged on tables or walls.
Keep reading if you are curious about how the Video Card Family Game is played in the context of video analysis for design research.
Over the past five years my thinking and work focus is on the strategic importance of dialogue between businesses and customers. The potential of social software, specifically social media and also Social CRM, to extend dialogic opportunities between the wants and needs of customers and the way companies meet those wants and needs with products and services intrigued me from the start. On several occasions I’ve discussed dialogue in relationship to organizational self-orientation, open innovation, brand strategy, and learning.
As I recently noted,
A dialogue strategy builds on the assumption that companies learn more from customers when customers learn from them, and doing so benefits both. I increasingly think it provides a basic framework to think about, and consider as part of your experience design strategy, when relating to customers. Thought leaders increasingly refer to the challenge as social business design.
The overall premise of this way of thinking rests on the idea that consumers and customers, as well as others with influence in a company’s ecosystem, are gaining increasing power to affect the meaning and value of brand offerings as well as the evaluation of operating assumptions. As a result, strategic efforts of organizational transformation are inevitable for most companies. Dave Evans puts it well,
Social CRM involves multiple elements, linked together, to provide an end-to-end understanding of how your brand, product, or service is received in the marketplace and how your internal processes produce and deliver experiences that drive this reception.
We’ve been talking to customers over the phone for how long? Exactly! So, what’s the difference? Sure, social platforms are more public. But, does the public nature of the channel automatically turn us into bumbling idiots that are going to trash our company’s brands in 140 characters?
Barry seems to make the point that you don’t need to know how much influence a customer exercises in your ecosystem to provide them with services. I certainly agree with him on that point, and I’ll offer a personal account about why later in this post. However, in my view, Barry draws the wrong conclusion from the point. He paraphrases a quote from Frank Eliason at a recent SOCAP conference when someone asked about influencers and influencer analysis. Frank, reportedly said, ” I’m in customer service. I don’t care how influential they are. I need to solve their problem. Do you ask who your customer knows before you answer their question on the phone?”
I suggest that the influence of the customer does matter for the business supported, but not necessarily for delivering customer service alone. Along the same lines, Paul Greenberg notes in his consideration of the concept of Social Relationship Management developed by Brian Solis,
Measuring the whispers gives you some idea of how influential someone can be or how fast a trend can grow or what kind of chatter is spreading about your company — good or bad — and who is spreading it….
…Optimally, using these measures will help you gain some insight into individual customers and their particular influence. If you then provide them with the personalized products, services, experiences and tools they need to sculpt their own relationship with you, because the customer is prone to trusting “someone like me”, it is entirely possible that they will think of your business as a “company like me.”
Influentials matter, especially if they are one of your customers, or even a brand advocate, since they can help you flip the marketing funnel through word of mouth. These opportunities do not reduce to the goals of Public Relations, or marketing, or sales, or operations, or any other specific functional area of a business. The interrelationships are too important for specific functional areas to adopt tailored solutions to their own processes and add the word Social as an adjective, as Mitch Lieberman’s comment on Barry’s post makes clear.
Any strategy needs to support cross-functional goals and objectives which, I think, makes it essential to create or take advantage of new dialogic opportunities, or existing ones, in the business ecosystem. Not doing so, or simply approaching Social CRM as a solution, threatens to fail in an analogous manner as CRM itself did, treating relationships as transactions. Perhaps a cautionary tale about CRM can convey the point. I offer the following anecdote of my own recent experience as a customer of a technology service provider’s CRM system. Note that my experience was a social one, even though the business, XO Communications, doesn’t seem to recognize that social channels exist, nor does it seem capable at managing communication across channels with customers.
My last post dealt with transformations in the grocery shopper’s service journey in the United States since the late 19th century, after creation of the shopping bag. It noted that, before the shopping cart was introduced into grocery stores, the shopper’s journey started with paper grocery bags and noted the transformation required to get shoppers to use shopping carts.
In recent years, local and state governments, grocers and other retailers, as well as many shoppers increasingly understand the environmental impact of using so many disposable bags, whether paper or plastic. Not to mention the direct costs to the grocer in providing the disposable bags.
Paper bags cost four cents each on average and plastic bags one cent. The cost per year in the United States is over four billion dollars, leaving aside all the unintended harm to the environment. This post suggests that shoppers exhibit a purposive desire to use reusable shopping bags. When will the large grocery chains design the customer journey to reinforce the purposive desire of their shoppers? Customers expressing such a purposive desire need symbolic resources to aid them in remembering to take their reusable shopping bags,
and, finally, here
Let’s start off with an anecdote.
Schnucks is a grocery chain in the St. Louis area that I sometimes frequent. The particular store I shop in seems to stock the best Bibb lettuce in my area and that is the main reason I go there. Earlier this year, as I entered that store, I experienced the simplest solution you could imagine to a recurrent problem many retail shoppers face.
Someone in this store took the time to mount a reusable Schnucks bag onto a matte board and attach it to the Enter doorway. Even though I was almost in the store when I saw it, the mere sign with no call to action gave me the motivation to turn around and go to my car trunk to retrieve some reusable bags.
My household owns 15 – 20 reusable grocery bags from various retail chains in St. Louis, Schnucks and Dierbergs. I keep several of those reusable bags in the trunk of my car to use whenever I go shopping, especially for groceries. I’m sure many of you do the same with stores in your area. Needless to say though, I can’t count the times I’ve reached the checkout counter and realized that the answer to the “paper or plastic” question is, “Oh crap, I forgot to bring my bags in with me.”
For those of you who own reusable shopping bags I’d wager you know the experience. In fact, one of the reasons my household has so many of these reusable bags is that my wife often forgets also, but she is not reluctant to just buy another one or two bags instead of using paper or plastic. Don’t ask!
In addition to an inexplicable sense of inappropriateness, which my wife says she shares, in bringing a Dierbergs bag into Schnucks, and vice versa, or banish the thought, to bring a Schnucks or Dierbergs reusable bag into Whole Foods or Trader Joes, the main culprit for my failure to remember is usually just getting in a hurry.
Consider the following numbers:
40% of 1,000 people surveyed by Consumer Reports in the United States say they own reusable shopping bags and use them along with grocery supplied plastic and paper bags
17% of 104,830 people surveyed by MSNBC in the United States say they consistently use reusable shopping bags
Any way you look at the numbers, many more people own reusable bags than use them consistently. Someone at the Schnucks store who posted the sign is obviously listening to those customers who end up at the checkout and express dismay over forgetting their reusable bags. None of the other five or six Schnucks stores I occasionally shop have posted such signs. Schnucks lacks a strategic communications strategy for addressing the green customer need in question, i.e. the desire to remember reusable bags.
Schnucks isn’t alone. Dierbergs doesn’t provide signs to support reusable bag shopping at the start of the customer journey. Neither does Whole Foods or Trader Joes, at least in St. Louis. Nevertheless, the Schnucks store discussed in this post developed a workaround for the overall failure of the company to engage the shopping journey needs of its customers. It serves as a paradigmatic example of service design brought to the wayfinding challenges of grocery shoppers who are interested and motivated to minimize their environmental impact.
A customer that voluntarily expresses dismay over leaving their reusable shopping bags in their automobile trunk, or at home, is also revealing a desire, an emotional response to their own failure to remember a personal commitment to a larger purpose, i.e. they want to act in an environmentally responsible way. It is a purposive desire. I suggest that such purposive desires are relevant to service design and wayfinding, and the sections below outline how.
Grocery shopping is one of those chores that we all have to do from time to time. I’m introducing the topic of grocery shopping as a service journey not because the concept is new. In-store ethnographic studies, and shop-alongs, implicitly recognize the concept. Few people who analyze what grocers do, and how people who shop in their stores get the job of buying groceries done, would be surprised that it is a journey. And, of course, the journey starts in the shopper’s home, which Tesco’s Fresh and Easy discovered the hard way when they expanded from the United Kingdom to the United States. What I want to do here is provide a brief, high level history of the U.S. grocery shopper’s journey, and key transformations of that journey, to establish the context for my next post.
Other than time, money, and typically transportation, two pieces of technology are critical to the journey we take as we shop, especially for groceries. We must collect items around the store and move them to the checkout counter. Once our grocery items are checked out and we pay for them, we must move those groceries from the store to our source of transportation. For many of us that transportation consists of an automobile, or other vehicle; for others it may be public transport.
A partial solution to the challenge of collecting items around the store came with the invention of flat-bottomed paper bags by Margaret Knight in 1870. However, it really wasn’t until Walter H. Deubner, a grocery store owner in St. Paul, Minnesota, created a shopping bag in 1915 (a paper bag with a cord running through it for strength) that a workable solution to the challenge of collecting and moving items from shelves to the checkout counter came along. The Deubner Shopping Bag carried up to seventy pounds of groceries. In other words, at least initially, the grocery bag was supplied before customers began to shop.
The invention of the shopping cart by Sylvan Goldman in 1936 provided the basis for changing the shopping journey. Consider the problems he faced in persuading shoppers to change their shopping journey.
Goldman’s concept was simple: make shopping easier for the customer and they’ll visit the store more frequently, and buy more. Unfortunately, the customers didn’t want to use the carts. Young men thought they would appear weak; young women felt the carts were unfashionable; and older people didn’t want to appear helpless. So, Goldman hired models of all ages and both sexes to push the things around the store, pretending they were shopping. That, and an attractive store greeter encouraging use of the carts, did the trick.
Paid female model pushing shopping cart.
By 1940 shopping carts had found so firm a place in American life as to grace the cover of the Saturday Evening Post. Supermarkets were redesigned to accommodate them. Checkout counter design and the layout of aisles changed.
As a result, shopping bags were relocated in the shopper’s journey, with the exception of small bags for produce and other perishables. The invention of plastic bags later on added another alternative for bagging, in the produce section as well as the checkout counter, and it was a cheaper direct cost than paper.
Today, the result of these basic technologies for supporting grocery shoppers makes the experience much easier, no doubt less stressful on the back and shoulders than carrying heavy bags around the store while shopping. My next post focuses on the current transformational challenge facing the grocery shopper’s service journey through the diffusion of reusable bags.
Marketing, especially social media marketing, and learning, including organizational learning, are both essential components of a dialogue strategy for customer experience design and management. A dialogue strategy builds on the assumption that companies learn more from customers when customers learn from them, and doing so benefits both. I increasingly think it provides a basic framework to think about, and consider as part of your experience design strategy, when relating to customers. Thought leaders increasingly refer to the challenge as social business design.
Given the maturity and diffusion of social media, a dialogue strategy provides a framework to discuss communication as an ecosystem, whether addressing collaboration, innovation, segmentation, sales, customer service, or brands. The key to the process is understandingcustomers, attractingthem, engagingthem with sales in mind, empowering them to solve your product and service problems, and learningfrom them to improve products and services, thereby strengthening your brand. It is not simply segmenting them, targeting them, driving them through interactions, and transacting with them through sales.
Over time, people buy things they need from you rather than someone else because they want what you offer, and because they feel an empathic connection, i.e. that you understand them. From my reading, Wim Rampen’s contention that we need to use segmentation the customer’s way gets to the heart of the point. The challenge of learning how to make an empathic connection increases to the extent that CRM (customer relationship management) aims to align customer engagement directly with business transactions.
Those looking for a direct, sustained connection between customer engagement and sales from Social CRM are expecting too much in my opinion. The key question is whether you know that Jane Smith who called for support tonight also chatted with one of your people earlier, or posted (or tweeted) something positive or negative about you on her blog, or posted something about your product/service to a how-to community forum. Knowing any of those things about Jane’s activities and experiences with your brand increases the potential for empathic connection between your people and Jane, meaning your understanding of what Jane needs from your products/services increases.
It would be nice if a monitoring platform could listen for you and, just automatically, determine how influential Jane Smith really is in the scheme of things. It might be nice to have a social media management system that just took care of everything, gauged the influence of anyone commenting about you online, ranked their value relative to your brand, and prioritized the level of response needed. However, in the near term, regardless of how much we want that panacea, your employees, or outsource partners, are going to need to engage with your customers as though their problems are your own.
Nestle’ can speak to that issue recently. It is important to note that the Nestle’ example is not the first time a company’s supply chain management, rather than a product or service per se, came under organized criticism. Nike and Shell, among others, found their own supply chain relationships under fire over the past decade. Indeed, Shell’s early experiment in 1998 with a blog called Tell Shell came under such negative commentary from the public that the company shut it down. Nike, on the other hand, engaged the debate and incorporated the criticisms into its business model, I’ll leave it to you to decide which brand strategy makes the most sense for customer relationships.
As I noted in a post on Peter Morville’s Findability several years ago,
“Interfaces are not what they used to be. The computer-human interface is both more and less than it was a few years ago. Interfaces are not only, or even primarily, a screen anymore. Yet, screens remain important to most design efforts, even though interfaces are increasingly part of the environment itself. As John Thackara and Malcolm McCullough both recently pointed out, entire cities are developing into user interfaces as ubiquitous computing environments expand.”
Caleb, over at MobileBehavior, recently observed that mobile phones do not yet provide users with a graphic language for touch interactions. Caleb’s post points to an early visualization of a standard graphic language offered by Timo Arnall of the Touch project, which researches near field communication. Caleb makes his point by talking about the confusion that consumers experience when faced with a visual tag (v-Tag), or 2D Barcode, and does so with the following Weather Channel forecast that offers viewers an opportunity to interact with a visual tag using their mobile phones (wait until about 45 seconds into the video). The forecast fails to indicate to viewers what the v-tag does.
The user experience team that developed the v-tag for that particular forecast must have assumed viewers would know it represented an invitation to interact. A search on the Weather Channel website fails to return any information on the use of v-tags in their media programming though.
In a previous discussion of Dan Saffer’s book, Designing Gestural Interfaces, I made a similar point about mundane gestural interfaces in public bathrooms, a setting with fairly established graphic language conventions. Yet, even such mundane gestural interfaces can pose difficulty for users. As I noted,
I remember the first time, a few years ago, when I tried to get water flowing through a faucet in a public restroom that used sensor detection. Initially, it was not obvious to me how the faucet worked, and I suspect others continue to experience the same problem based on the photo I took during a recent visit to a physician’s office.
Among other observations, it is important here to note that these examples provide clear instruction for why experience design encompasses user experience. Specifically, people only experience a user interaction if the interactive capability of an artifact is intelligible, if they recognize the artifact as an instance of that kind of thing, i.e. an invitation to interact with media or machinery. Who knows how many people noticed the Adidas logo embedded in a v-Tag on their running shorts, or shoes, and failed to see it as an invitation to a user experience?
People can’t use an interface if it is not recognizable as such or, as the Palcom team coined it, palpable to their use. Otherwise, the invitation to experience, what Dan Saffer calls the attraction affordance, fails. Consider the more telling example of the symbol at the top of this post. It represents an RFID signal environment for devices using the Near Field Communication (NFC) standard. Indeed, Timo Arnall and Jack Schulze’s recent work for the Touch project demonstrates the spatial qualities of an RFID device’s signal, the shape of its readable volume.
Dan Saffer, in Designing Gestural Interfaces, touches on the fact that we are currently missing common symbols for indicating when an interactive system “is present in a space when it would otherwise be invisible,” or when we just wouldn’t recognize it as such. Adam Greenfield’s Everyware made a similar point a half decade ago.