Day 4 – Creating My Future

I start the creating my future exercise today bound and determined that I can create a spiral of images.

I arrange and re-arrange the images until I am sure I have finally done it. I stand up with my iPhone 4s to take the quick photo.  As I look down at the collage, I just break up laughing. For all my work to break out of my habit, I have just shifted the angles to form a diamond. Too funny for words.

Back to re-arranging. While I had believed Christine’s research, I clearly didn’t realize how difficult it would be to break out of the prison of one’s visual patterns. If I can’t break out of what should be a simple design patterns, how many other deep seated patterns am I locked into that I can’t “see.”

I struggle beyond the allotted time to re-arrange the pictures. I finally am satisfied that today I got it.

Today’s story revolves around the rainbow in the center:

“The paintings are not clumped together in this one.  That took work.  And yet, I still can’t force myself as far as the ‘jumbled up’ example you sent.  Soooooo, what does it mean?

“At the center is the rainbow and the call to all the wonders of nature.  It is a reminder that all of science flows from nature and all of technology flows from science and all products flow from technology (and art – actually in Heidegger and Goethe, but lost in the industrial revolution – hmmmm). It is the starting point and it is the inspiration and it is the muse.  While there is no pot of gold, nature’s rainbow inspires, that is the pot of gold.  That inspiration flows through humans and back out to others to ‘throw their pot.’ The clay pot is envisioned first in mind and then flows through the hands.  It is the interaction between mind and hands, the craft of creation. While it is important to throw a single pot, it is but the beginning of creation and the start of the journey.

“Sometimes that journey is through the desert, and some times there are oases where we can celebrate the gains that we’ve made with the fine wine produced through many hands from the biodynamic fruit. The wine is used as toasting but pours back into the earth and is fossilized as a spiral of life, a reminder of the seasonality of life. As I finish up the circle of inspiration, I realize that the key is to have each talented member of the company perform many jobs to develop many talents so they can see the many points of life and light they bring to the endeavor.  Those many points of light leave rainbow traces, much like laser art, to illuminate a whole, which then emanate to others.

“As I stare at the images and reflect, from many different directions (Bootcamp TeamArt, VisualsSpeak, Heidegger, Betty Edwards, Dale Chihuly) I get the message loud and clear that the new company has to include as a core value (and maybe as a core product) art making or process art. The other reminder in these images is to resurrect the “biodynamics of information” work I did a couple of years ago.

“As I look at this collage with the rainbow at the center, I am reminded of the slide I use to introduce myself.  Rainbow photos are my favorite to capture with my DLSR camera off of my deck at the house and whenever I catch one on the ferry.  The print for building a rainbow was given to me by a colleague 30 years ago and framed hangs in my office.”


Christine, the computer, responds to the collage with another collage.


Here are the four days of images. What do you notice?

When you think about what you notice, do those things have anything to offer you about your question?

Reread your stories from each day. What are the themes that enter day after day?

Are there particular images that you have grown to really like? Any that have lessened in importance?

Make one more version tomorrow, without any effort to make it a particular way. Simply answer the question, starting with the image and then allowing words to emerge.

Best from your computer muse……


Getting a little pushy on this one, oh computer muse.  Moving from asking to telling.  I love it.  We’ll have to remember that when we give the VisualsSpeak chatterbot a little personality.


Moving from divergence to convergence – across the facilitation framework (another chart) :)


You didn’t show me that one.   Holding out are we?

Glad to see that we are travelling the same paths.  The divergence convergence divergence waves are what is always hardest for my students and entrepreneurs to get.


Here is part of the VisualsSpeak Facilitation Framework that deals with the divergence/convergence cycle:

SKIP: Onward and upward then to Day 5.

Posted in Content with Context, Human Centered Design, User Experience, Visual pattern Language, VisualsSpeak | 2 Comments

Day 3 – Creating My Future

There is a new energy brewing this morning. Sleep time recollections were powerful. Creating a company or creating a product is the conundrum. What should I be working on? Should I be changing the core question?

Trust the process, Skip. Bring out the images and let’s get to arranging them. I am going to try hard this morning to do something other than verticals and horizontals. This morning I select the nautilus shells for the center focus.

The story I tell is a combination of sleep time work and staring at the images.

“In the twilight of awakening this morning, I realized that the previous two days were working on the vision of a product.  When what I really should be working on is the vision of a company.  As I ‘awoke’ to those thoughts, I realized that I should be doing innovation at the company level not just at the product level. I shouldn’t be trying to form one single company and I don’t really want to form an incubator company but rather something that will encourage a thousand flowers to bloom.  The real work is not absorbing or co-opting VisualsSpeak or Lizi or the Design Way team or Shift Labs (all folks I am advising) but finding a way to obtain the resources to allow each to flourish AND to develop and nurture the talent that lies within each group.

“So working really hard to overcome my hard won visual design sense (hard won but still at the micro level), I fought the urge to use straight lines and came up with this morning’s collage (OK, a tiny baby step beyond the right angles). At the center is the importance of a natural spiraling structure – from the small seed crystal product and inspiration spirals out to customers and the customers customers a dynamic and natural chain of learning and results. Some of the efforts will be with the physical, interactive world symbolized by the clay pot (distributed manufacturing through 3D printing). The beauty of distributed manufacturing is that anyone can now start a company (fostered entrepreneuring) no matter where they are in the world, much like you need very little to ‘throw a pot.’ The fruits that turn into wine are a reminder that within each tasty, beautiful berry is the seed of another plant bearing fruit. The rhythms of life remind me that each startup needs to build in its own regenerative core as a key value – both to encourage entrepreneuring from within and provide a product which will be tasted by the millions.

“The paintings (yes, I know they are all on one side again, maybe tomorrow I can do better) represent ‘it’s a journey, not a destination’ and there are many hands providing light both for the growing of products and for the growing of people.  We don’t know where the journey ends, but we know that there are multiple places to celebrate and to stop and share what we’ve learned. Sometimes we need to turn our world upside down and examine what is figure and what is ground, what is the source and what is the ‘sink’ (destination) of that which shines from each company each day. The ephemeral rainbow is a reminder to stop and SEE the beauty each day in what our talent produces, recognizing that there is no ephemeral pot of gold, but an even bigger gift – the multi-hued light that connects the rain (the down periods) with the light (the up periods).”

On a related note, I am preparing for and attending a “seminar” this evening with Gray Kochhar-Lindgren (one of the folks on the phone the other day) and several other UW Bothell humanities folks.  The seminar is about technopoeisis as described thusly:

 “To be clear, the ‘topic’ is rather broad; it’s really many topics. The term ‘technopoeisis’ does a little work to explain what we are focused on. By reading philosophers and cultural theorists, we want to understand the ways that technics (the material objects in our daily lives) and technique (the practice of using those material objects, individually and collectively) help produce (and are produced by) (poeisis – ‘bringing forth’) a particular moment of the social, political and/or cultural.”

Our first paper is one from Martin HeideggerThe Question Concerning Technology.” It is interesting that this paper shows up now which is about getting to the essence of technology while I am trying to get at the essence of VisualsSpeak and the essence of my new venture(s).


Christine as neutral observer computer that just notices and throws out possibilities that might help participant see differently

The paintings are clustered together, but so are the photographs. It’s a strong repeating pattern, so what could it mean? Is it reflecting something about the way you are thinking about the question?

All of the images touch the nautilus except the berries. What is different about that photo? Would the story shift if that photo moved in to touch the center image?


Thank you, oh neutral silicon/carbon observer, from the plateau of hills so far south of the gray cloudy Bainbridge.

So this is interesting.  You are commenting each time only on the images, and not on the content.  Why is that (process wise)?  Is this what you’ve always done which is to restrict yourself to the images (as story) rather than the story (interpretation) as story? Or something else completely?

Just asking because “Skip acting as computer” would be wanting to visualize the relationships in the text (and to the tagging of the images and image analytics of the images that are selected).

“Skip as human being and human doing” – I am into a couple of hours now of compiling notes triggered by the three days of images and the last several weeks of activities looking for my patterns of immersion versus stuckness of not moving into action.  Well, one form of powerful action was to commit to writing a blog entry each day for three months to develop at least some capability for writing (non-business writing – something I have aspired to do for 40 years).


Ok, so I’m cheating a bit because I know things about you……but I’m trying to stay more neutral than I would do in a live interaction.

I do primarily focus on the images when I facilitate mainly because it is my superpower. Most people don’t see the image patterns, and often they hold the deeper information. I would look at the verbal patterns later, when there is more information. The verbal patterns over a week are more significant than one day.

With you specifically, the last thing I want to do is engage you verbally because you already do that – its a core pattern. If you could think your way out of this with words you would have already done it. This isn’t a surface level stuck – it’s deep. So I’m looking at getting around what you usually do, and trying to get you to do something else. Some of what I am doing is tugging at the unconscious through the image patterns.

I could “tell” you things, but if you discover them, you will own them much more deeply.

What about doing an iPad painting everyday for three months? See what that sparks……

I do think we should also play with engaging with the verbal patterns and various combinations – testing to see what is most effective for which segment.

Make sense?


Yup.  Thanks.

I have on my list to do art everyday (a commitment to self I made a couple of months ago) but it is subservient to the do a blog post every day (which is getting harder to do as I break away from my home office each and every day).

I would love to do a painting a day, but I am just not able to get the hang of it enough to get started (even with the acrylic paints at the Bootcamp). I tried to get started by just trying to copy some of the iPad paintings you had done, copy in the loosest sense of the word, and I couldn’t come remotely close.

Sooooo, is there the proverbial hour long tutorial you can do to get me started, or point me to one of the 100s of iPad painting app tutorials?

I feel like I am missing something basic.

I also thought about doing a photograph a day as a way to bridge the gap.  I do enjoy photography and seem to be able to do pleasing pictures (of everything except people) on a regular basis.  But my friend Cash Elston points out that I need to move beyond just taking the picture to spending time “developing” the picture with my Lightroom app.  Yet another step I haven’t taken.

The other “art” I’ve been looking at is doing generative music creation on the iPad.  The wonderful professionals who developed KOAN many moons ago that Brian Eno used for much of his generative music have finally produced an iPad app Mixtikl.  I have started to play with it but haven’t gotten very far.

It is clear from the progress I feel I’ve made with the writing (several of my humanities professor colleagues are sharing how much they enjoy reading my blog which boggles my mind) that the key is to practice every day. With the painting I just can’t seem to get over the basics enough to keep going.

Thanks for the encouragement.


Consider the possibility that it is about the process not the product……

Try Omnisketch. Just look at it as a discovery process, what does each brush do?

Or if you want something more real world painting like, try ArtRage.


It’s about allowing your intuitive and other parts of your brain to come forward and create a space for the insights to emerge.

It’s not about creating any kind of product. You can throw it away and still have the value.

Once again, Christine kindly reminds me that it is all about “process art.”

One more day.

Posted in Content with Context, Design, Human Centered Design, User Experience, Visual pattern Language, VisualsSpeak | 1 Comment

Day 2 – Creating My Future

I am eager to get up and work with the images once again. The core to the four day process is to use the same set of images but come up with a different arrangement for the collage and a different story.

Before starting I reflect for a few minutes on my core question “what is the future I want to create for myself for this new venture and product?”

Sitting at my desk, I lay out the eight images on my deskpad. I look for the image centerpiece that I’ll arrange things around today. I decide I want the many hands, many suns in the center.

The story I tell today is:

“At the center is the luminosity of many hands and many bodies working on the platform vision of the future. The challenge is to embody the beauty and dynamism of nature (nautilus shell) without it becoming fossilized.  Across the top, the challenge is to be able to grow with the power of augmented nature (man and nature cultivating fruit) with the designed earthen ware of the potter and the pot.  I want to create a system that is at once natural and a product of nature.  Both a vessel (the pot, the wine glasses) and the biodynamic product of nature’s fruit. Across the middle we have the inspiration that feeds me and the team that is grounded in the needs of the product’s users. While the path is winding it has some milestones and celebratory arches that signify significant progress which leads to celebration (top right). The pot of gold on the lower right fuels the rainbow that brings beauty out of the interaction and intersection of light and rain. Natural. Biodynamic. Grounded. Shaped.

“I am reminded of the story from The Grail:  A Year Ambling and Shambling through an Oregon Vineyard in pursuit of the best pinot noir wine in the Whole Wide World by Brian Doyle.

“Grapevines are amazing life forms when you think about it, they plunge their fingers a hundred feet down into the rocky soil, they can live for hundreds of years, they fend off all sorts of insect attacks, and they have been working with human beings for so long, thousands and thousands of years, that you wonder sometimes who cultivates who, you know what I mean?  Are people manipulating and taking advantage of grape vines, or are grape vines deftly using human beings to take over the world?

“If we build this tool right, we won’t know who tended who – the product development team or the content users and connection discoverers.

“Having another great day.”

I hit the “Send” button and off the electronic missive goes to that muse Christine. Back comes:

“Christine as computer again

“Interesting, yesterday you put all the paintings on the left and photographs on the right. Today all the paintings are across the middle horizontally and the photos above and below. Any significance to that?

“I also notice that only one of the nautilus shells is showing, just like yesterday.

“What might happen to the story if you tried really hard to assemble the images in a different pattern? Just for one day to see what emerged.”

We chat back and forth:

SKIP: Thank you Christine, oh wondrous computer (said in my best HAL 9000 voice). They were in a different pattern.  So clearly you mean something different by a different pattern.  Are you suggesting one of those patterns I can’t do – like a spiral? Also, now that I have worked with these images for a second day, I am feeling like there is something missing.  So can I dip back into the well of images or should I play out the string of four straight days.  I am inclined to do the latter.

CHRISTINE: Different – not required, just suggestion, for example:

CHRISTINE: You can do spirals, they will just look/feel strange to you. Sometimes that can be useful. Yes, try to stick with the program (you can add images later)

SKIP: But this is just so wrong.  ;)

Posted in Content with Context, Design, Human Centered Design, User Experience, Visual pattern Language, VisualsSpeak | 1 Comment

Day 1 – Creating My Future

As Alan Wood, David Socha, and I were sharing another wonderful breakfast at Sunflour Bakery and Cafe, continuing our discussion on how to improve higher learning in higher education, Alan shared his desire to have a tool like Devonthink to help him with his research. I shared an overview of what I’d done in the past with Attenex Patterns as a much better alternative and then shared what I had in mind for a new tool code named “content in context.” Alan immediately got in my face and said “You’ve got to build that.”

Well, thanks Alan, I’ve been wanting to build it for three years but I just can’t pull together the energy. We chatted about the amount of personal energy required to start a company, raise funding, build a product, and then sell the product (hopefully to millions). After having started so many companies, I can’t fool myself any more about how much energy it takes.

As luck would have it, I traveled to Portland,OR, the next day to meet with Christine Martell to work with her on updating a business plan for her company VisualsSpeak. In addition, we hoped to work on a high level design for the software system she would really like to have.

Christine Martell

As we finished up over a late lunch at an organic grocery store deli, Christine asked me what I was up to and what I wanted to do next. I should know better than to try and share what I want to do when I’d just had my world turned upside down by the depth of what Christine has researched and created with VisualsSpeak. I needed some sleep time to do the synthesis for how to integrate the vision I’d just glimpsed of what it would mean to combine the power of Christine’s visual thinking with my designs for “content with context.”

Yet, it was the right question to ask so I rambled for an hour sharing the different pieces I was immersed in and pulling together and the option space for ways to move forward. On my four hour drive back from Portland, OR, to Bainbridge Island, WA, I reflected on what the implications of Christine’s work were for my design. Then it hit me that the constant theme of the several meetings with Christine was that what VisualsSpeak is really good at is helping people get unstuck by changing their story.

The next morning I called Christine and asked if there was a way we could simulate the software design we’d come up with. She suggested that we do the four day process with the Exploring New Options pack of images. I would do the work each day and send her my results and then she would simulate how the computer would give me feedback as both a test of our ideas, a deeper way for me to understand her process, and with any luck help me get unstuck.

The core of the process is to first formulate the question that is at the heart of what I am stuck in. Then, you spread out the images from the Exploring New Options pack, select the 5-7 images that speak to me in the context of my question, then arrange the images in a way that makes sense. After arranging the images, then tell a story that connects the images in the context of the core question.

Once I had the image collage and the story, the next step is to submit the two to Christine the human computation pattern recognizer. Christine the computer will then respond with the questions that emerge from the deep patterns represented both by the images chosen and their arrangement.

The core question I started with was “what is the future I want to create for myself for this new venture and product?”

With the question in mind I spread out the deck of images. Way too many of the images were speaking to me. I selected the following eight images:

As I stared at the images, I began to move them around. I then realized that I needed to select one of the images to be in the center.  I selected the potter with the clay pot. I then arranged the rest of the images to surround the potter.

The story I captured with the collage of images in the context of the question was:

“I am envisioning a new venture that requires many hands to create.  From the individual work of making the clay pot to the inspirational work of partners (left most picture) providing inspiration (double entendre) for me to create a legacy that is the result of a long and twisting path.  I want the thing that is made to be biodynamic in nature as a fine wine that is grown and results in the magic elixir.  I want the legacy to be as natural and organic as a nautilus shell (the first logo for the ALL-IN-1 product that I created back in 1981). I would like that legacy product to be as long lasting as a fossilized shell – still as beautiful today after thousands of years. The balance though is to achieve the wonderfully dynamic properties of a fine wine – a product that continues to live as it ages, yet with something firm enough (clay pot and nautilus shell) to be long lasting. The product of this work has to be capable of evolving through all of the partners (influencers, purchasers, suppliers, customers, customer’s customers) in the process. In other words, the product delivered has to be a process.”

As I sent this off to Christine, I laughed at my inability to arrange the images in a spiral or more randomly. My natural style is to have everything nicely vertically and horizontally arranged.

In our first meeting, Christine shared her matrix of the different patterns that people arrange the images (see matrix in the center above). She has noticed that each of us has a style and it is very difficult to get people to shift their arrangement to another style. The closest personality indicator that she correlates with this finding is the Hermann Brain Dominance Indicator.

Christine responding as the computer noticed the following things in the image:

“Does it mean anything to you that the images on the left side are all paintings and flowing, and the images on the right are photographs with circular patterns and a spiral off the side? This division is in the center of the image, which if often the most important.

“Is there anything more to say about the images that are tucked partially underneath at the top right and bottom left?”

I am fascinated by the lines/paths she draws through the images. My software design brain cuts in first and starts to think about how we would do the image recognition to follow the lines and shapes through a collection of images.  I feel some wavelet decomposition mathematics coming to bear.

Slowly I quiet the software brain down, and get back to the image questions. I am fascinated how “unconscious” I was at lining up the many different lines and circles. My biodynamic fine wine growing imagery is hitting me left and right as I think about the cycles of sunshine to plant to berries to containment vessels (clay pots) to sharing fine wine in celebration of the journey.

Right now these questions are too deep for me.  I’ll let sleep time deal with them.

Posted in Content with Context, Design, Human Centered Design, User Experience, Visual pattern Language, VisualsSpeak | 1 Comment

The Paradigm of Awesome and Silage

Michael Josefowicz (@toughLoveforx) had a great pointer to a series of videos on The Paradigm of AWESOME! from Trustus Pharmaceuticals. Cathy Davidson came across Michael as part of researching her book Now You See It.

Cathy described Michael in her book:

“I met him on the Internet. He called himself ToughLoveforX. He had a way with winning phrases. Soon, I was one of his followers.

“This story isn’t going where you think it is.

“ToughLoveforX is Michael Josefowicz, a retired printer who has an active life on Twitter. I began to follow him, which means, for those who don’t use Twitter, that I selected to receive Josefowicz’s tweets. They roll past me every time I check out my Twitter page, several times a day. Twitter is called an asymmetrical technology in that you can follow anyone you want and read what they tweet. You follow people because you are interested in what they have to say. Because he seemed always to be on top of the most exciting news and research on education, social media, publishing, civil society, the brain, and other areas that interest me, I began following ToughLoveforX—or TLX, as I now call him for short—and found that every other day or so, he would be sending out a link to something invaluable for my own thinking and research.

“I’m not the only one who thinks TLX has a bead on something worth seeing. He currently has 3,202 followers. That’s a pretty substantial audience, given that, of the 75 million people with accounts on Twitter at the end of 2009, only the top 1 percent had more than 500 followers. The average Twitter user has exactly 27 followers.14 TLX describes himself as: ‘Retired printer. Lots of time for blabla. If I can help fix high school. So much the better.’ That candid, offhanded, unpretentious style is why a lot of us follow him. Another reason is that, in addition to having so many followers, he himself is avid at following others, 3,410 of them to be exact. He has made himself one of the most informed people out there, anywhere, on all of the research in neuroscience and learning.”

Soon I was following Michael and what a torrent of insight I jumped into.  Thanks to Cathy and Michael, I realized what a terrific knowledge awareness tool Twitter is. Some days I dive into the business stuff, some days the university and learning stuff, and some days I grab the humor.  This morning I need a little humor.

MEDCITY News wrote this about the Big Pharma Parody that “The Paradigm of Awesome” is a part of:

“My favorite video is the one describing “The Future of Pharma.” It shows new hire Mike talking with site manager Heidi, who is immersed in the corporate speak of Kaizen training and another corporate initiative called “5s.”

“In the exchange, Mike notes how at Trustus, science appears to have taken a backseat to corporate goals. “Don’t you do chemistry here?” he asks.

Heidi: Chemistry is the past, Mike. We are the future. Once you learn to be a team player, we will have a project assignment for you to sink your teeth into. But it won’t involve doing any chemistry. Once you join a project team, you’ll be assigned a specific portion of the chemistry. Mostly, your job will consist of selecting companies in China where that chemistry may be outsourced.

Mike: Ah, I see. So then we just come up with the ideas here. Is that it?

Heidi: Ah, no. We mostly get our ideas from other companies. Either by acquiring the companies or by licensing in their projects.

M: So then, what we do at our site is develop the projects. We take the raw laboratory processes and then develop them so they are suitable for manufacturing. Is that it?

H: That’s how it was in the past, Mike. Now, most of the development work is done at our corporate headquarters before the projects are transferred to our site.

M: So, the company gets projects from other companies. The projects are developed at our corporate headquarters and then transferred to us. And then we portion out the work to Chinese firms.

H: Check the big brain on Mike. Now you’re getting it.

For me, I loved Heidi’s comment in “Awesome” about silos and silage.  Sure enough there was an episode on “We Have Silage.”

A good friend and marketing colleague forwarded me another example of corporate silage from a sales executive at Cisco. You just can’t make this stuff up.

“Today is a historic day at Cisco! We are coming together as a Segment on a Global basis to share our theater and functional best practices in order to maximize revenue and optimize investments.

“Our overall segment is now the Small Business and the Mid Market. We have enjoyed great success throughout the world in each segment to date, and with the unification of our go-to-market segment, our growth will accelerate. In Mid Market and Small, rhythm is important in everything we do. Starting with this Day One Message, we will be driving consistent communication within our team, and externally to our Partners and Customers.

“Before we focus on the future, let’s reflect on our roots. First, I would like to recognize all of our theaters for the amazing journey over the past years in Commercial Mid Market. All of our theater leaders are to be commended for their leadership–you should all take great satisfaction in knowing you were a part of the Commercial success we will now unify around. Your commitment to innovation in each theater to grow Commercial has resulted in many pilots we can now build throughout the world jointly.

“Secondly, I would like to thank Andrew Sage and the entire Small Business team for a tremendous launch during FY09 and for the focus on execution and scaling during FY10. The entire Small Business team can take great pride in knowing that the innovative approach to the routes to market will now be scaled across both Small and Mid Market for the overall success of Cisco. Thank you all!

“Commercial is now a very exciting place to be within Cisco, and this is why:

1.     We are Investing in the Segment by Aligning to Five Go-to-Market Models

    1. Co-Led: Known as Select in the US, or Large Opportunity in EU, this go-to-market model will bring home our largest opportunities and drive architectures.
    2. Partner Led: Throughout the world, we will scale our Partner AM’s to success and growth for the Partners and Cisco.
    3. Virtual Small: The Small Business Team continues their journey and further develops the routes to market for growth acceleration.
    4. “Franchise Like”: We will pilot several flavors of these new models to gain great coverage throughout the world.
    5. New Consumption Models: We will develop Cloud and Xaas models with our SP brothers to scale all four of the Go-to Market Models.

2.     We are Investing in the Segment by Aligning to Five Supporting Functional Tracks

    1. Inside Sales is now aligned to the above Go-to Market Models for maximum return.
    2. Engineering and Architectures will be creating a scalable solution for technical salessupport throughout the world.
    3. Channels is aligning to create greater momentum in Commercially-focused Partner Programs – DAP, DAPc/s and Avant Garde.
    4. Marketing continues to be our best ally in terms of investing in Demand Generation in each theater.
    5. Collaborative Relationship Management, beginning with a deep understanding of our Partners and then our Customers.

3.     We are Aligning as an Innovation

“For many years, our theaters and functions were forced to innovate within theater budget limitations, which made scaling across theaters very difficult.  We are now sharing our innovations, and will be scaling our best pilots. The worldwide organization will facilitate the awareness and project management of key pilots.  Alignment is our next Innovation!

4.     Commercial Organizational Support

“The investments made in a worldwide organization to assist in alignment are only valuable if the new organization creates value for the theaters and the functions. Therefore, we are here to serve.

“Below is the single slide that will be our focus.  We have ownership of each go-to-market model and functional track, and we would like you to offer your perspective, so we can develop a dialog as we launch our efforts. (If you would like to share your thoughts, please visit the WWPO Partner Watch blog  and post your ideas in the comments.)

The Culture of Commercial

“I personally have great pride to be associated with this group. Our efforts will develop the Small and Mid Market into the ultimate growth engine within the company, and our Partner base.  We will behave differently in our new aligned world by driving success to, through and with our Partners.  Our new organization is responsible for SALES, but we are organized within the Worldwide Partner Organization to drive the needed investment and alignment for the Commercial Segment.  We will need to have great cross-functional support and rhythm to all we do. You will lead Cisco by living our company culture.

“The Commercial Leaders will meet in mid-September to take our next steps on alignment and investment. You can expect to see the worldwide team organizational announcements in the coming weeks to serve your needs.  Please let us know your thoughts as we align around the world as One Commercial within One Cisco!

“Congratulations on FY10 and welcome to One Commercial in FY11.”

I will never be able to sit through another corporate speak presentation without thinking “here comes the silage.”

Posted in Humor, organizing, User Experience, Working in teams | Leave a comment

In Honor of the Recent 2012 CSCW in Seattle

The 2012 ACM Conference on Computer Supported Cooperative Work (CSCW) just concluded in Seattle. The conference draws a wide range of academic and industry luminaries. CSCW describes themselves as:

“CSCW is a premier venue for presenting research in the design and use of technologies that affect groups, organizations, and communities. CSCW encompasses both the technical and social challenges encountered when supporting collaboration. The development and application of new technologies continues to enable new ways of working together and coordinating activities. Although work is an area of focus, CSCW embraces research and technologies supporting a wide range of recreational and social activities using a diverse range of devices. The conference brings together top researchers and practitioners from academia and industry who are interested in both technical and social aspects of collaboration.”

Yochai Benkler from Harvard Law School presented a keynote on “The Penguin and the Leviathan – Towards Cooperative Human Systems Design.” After several days of slides like the following, I had to search for some humor:

In the category of you can’t make this stuff up, both Dilbert and Hugh MacLeod offered up their insights on CSCW a few days after the conference.  First from the Gaping Void website:

In addition to his cartoons, Hugh also adds a nice description of what he was thinking about with his art work:

“Oh, politics rears its ugly head again. What is is about large organizations that makes everything other than doing the work the focus of people’s lives? We all know that being liked, saying the right things, and making the right friends is essential to success in a big corporation. Isn’t that true about life too?

“I guess the work and the social aspects of getting the work done are equally important. Let’s face it, if you have the best  idea in the world, but are hated in your organization, you’ll never get it implemented, will you?

“Work, politics, lobbying… it’s all just part of life.”

Scott Adams was delightfully eloquent with his thoughts about corporate collaboration in the last week:

Thanks to the availability of wireless internet access, I can always rely on Dilbert and Hugh Macleod to provide perspective to get me through a conference.

Posted in Humor, Learning | Leave a comment

Advice to a Non-Technical CEO of a Software Startup

One of the challenges of an early stage software start-up is whether to have a non-technical CEO who has a good set of relationships with prospective customers, or to have a CEO who really understands the technology and the art of software development. Like all tough questions the answer is “it depends.” Mostly it depends on how management savvy the CEO is regardless of their professional experience.

The following advice was created for a non-technical CEO who had very little management or executive experience on how to manage software development.

At the heart of management of any software start-up and software development and customer development is a quote from the Quality Guru W. Edwards Deming:

Expect what you inspect

“You can expect what you inspect. Dr. Deming emphasized the importance of measuring and testing to predict typical results. If a phase consists of inputs + process + outputs, all three are inspected to some extent. Problems with inputs are a major source of trouble, but the process using those inputs can also have problems. By inspecting the inputs and the process more, the outputs can be better predicted, and inspected less. Rather than use mass inspection of every output product, the output can be statistically sampled in a cause-effect relationship through the process.”

When you are doing a software start-up, there are multiple parallel processes that are going on simultaneously which is why what is called the “Waterfall Development Process” can never work for a V1 product.  Here is a list of some of the challenges along with proposed solutions or interventions:

  • Unlike a physical object which has many physical constraints along with the constraints imposed by the science of physics, software has almost no constraints.  This aspect is one of the most wondrous aspects of software development and one of the most disastrous when trying to produce a product and meet deadlines.  There is always something else that you can add “easily” to the software and almost always a way for a software engineer to make the software better.
    • The successful executive must work tirelessly to impose appropriate constraints.  This is an art form in itself.
      • The kinds of constraints that can be imposed are:
        • Limit the amount of time to the next deliverable.
        • Limit the scope of what is to be built.
        • Limit the amount of resources applied to the development.
        • Focus on a single customer type for a single market in a single geography.
          • Focus on a single “bottleneck” or pain point (from Goldratt’s Theory of Constraints) that the customer currently has.
      • The best constraint I’ve found over the years is to limit the time by going to a daily demo.
        • That is, every day I want to see a 5-10 minute demonstration of the progress that was made the previous day.
        • In the process when I don’t see visible progress, I will at least get the reasons (generally in the form of excuses) as to why progress wasn’t made.  That is where I can help break through these roadblocks either by asking good follow up questions or by removing the roadblocks in some other way.
  • When you set out to build a V1 product, most of the time you are setting out to envision and design something that hasn’t been done before.  Bringing this new thing into being means every day is an exercise in learning the implications of what the design means.  It’s like peeling an onion.   You very quickly run into the four boxes of knowing:
    • What you know
    • What you don’t know
    • What you don’t know you don’t know
    • What you know that is wrong

    • The dynamics of the interaction of these four boxes are truly problematical:
      • As you learn more about what you are trying to do, you also expand exponentially that which you don’t know.
      • As the size of what you don’t know increases, so does the size of the box of what you don’t know you don’t know.
      • And as you keep learning more, you are also learning more things that are wrong.
    • This expansion of knowledge is what I call the diverging (DIVERGE) of the problem space.
    • So part of what you have to continually do because of the knowledge expansion (and thus scope expansion, not necessarily in terms of extra features or modules or lenses, but in terms of the amount of work and depth of a particular feature) is to CONVERGE and focus on what the customer (user, purchaser, influencer) really needs to solve their point of pain.  Which of course means that you need to be doing as much “customer development” work as software development (see “Agile is only half of what you need” for a very good discussion of this problem with pointers to several slide shows that are worth going through along with an article by Ash Maurya on “Customer Development“).
  • But wait there is more.  Along with trying to understand WHAT to build, you are putting a team together to build it.  The challenges of hiring the key players while figuring out their strengths and weaknesses, and figuring out who else to hire, and figuring out the new hire’s strengths and weaknesses are a never ending talent challenge.  Not only do these early hires have to figure out how to work with each other to produce something but they (and you) are key to establishing what kind of culture the company is going to have (and that needs to be intentionally developed as well).
    • The biggest challenges are:
      • Making sure that the appropriate people are constantly collaborating with each other
      • Making sure that decisions are arrived at in a fast yet appropriate manner (more on this to come)
      • Making sure that decisions wherever possible are based on EVIDENCE (that is why I really like the mission statement that BlinkUX came up with – Evidence Based Design) rather than on interminable discussions and arguing over people’s opinions rather than demonstrated customer needs.
        • The more that you can focus the team on grounding their decisions on what really matters to the customer the better and quicker you will get through the V1 phase.  This is why I am so committed to Human Centered Design.
          • For example, there is no way that the Attenex Patterns User Interface and functionality and 10X+ productivity would have resulted from a designer or an information architect or an engineer devising the interface and declaring it good.  It came through the user research, user observation, prototype development and user testing of hundreds of design iterations.  Ultimately before we committed to any change, the performance increase had to be validated in usage.  Which meant we had to be very clear about who our users were and be able to test the “design improvements” on a regular basis.
          • It was quite painful when some of our best inspirations and designs not only didn’t increase productivity but dramatically decreased productivity.  These setbacks were a constant reminder to go back to paying deep attention to our customers (users, purchasers, and influencers).
  • And more.  Customer Development – from the point of view of product development (not from the point of view of sales and marketing)
    • Finding the relevant customers for your chosen product domain and picking the right customers to listen to is another one of those start-up challenges.  It is particularly problematical because there are two competing priorities – get a sale (generate revenue as quickly as we can) and get a set of launch customers who have the problem that we are trying to solve for and will give us their most important asset – their time and attention.  It is very hard for a single person (CEO) to do both things at the same time.  The customer will always hear from your actions that one of the two goals is paramount (and for the CEO getting the sale is always paramount).
    • So for customer development you have to use resources that very clearly have an agenda of learning and helping and are just as clear that they don’t have an agenda of selling.  You have to separate out sales from customer development in the context of product development.  This is where companies like BlinkUX and IDEO come in because they are a neutral third party.  It is also where in house user researchers come in when you grow a little more as a company.  As much as I wanted to do both roles in the early days of Attenex, as long as I had the CEO title I was perceived as always being in a selling role.  It wasn’t till I switched roles to the CTO that I was really able to dig deeply into our customers’ needs by going in and observing companies like Pfizer, KPMG and FTI (when they were our biggest customer).

Yes, software start-ups are messy and many days it seems like you are taking two steps backward for every step forward.

My recommendation for dealing with the above in a way that keeps people out of opinion mode or whining mode or “it can’t be done because mode” is moving to a daily demo.  At a minimum, this lets you as the CEO always know where things are in a visceral way, not by trying to interpret status reports or email traffic.

Some attributes of the daily demo are:

    • Phase I:
      • The total time for the daily demo and the discussion shouldn’t exceed 15 minutes.
        • You want to have the meeting at a standard time every day (usually first thing in the morning).
        • At the size of an early stage start-up, I would try and involve everybody in the company in the demo.
          • This is also a good way to get everyone to work at the same time (but I never said that).
          • However, if people are working staggered schedules don’t try and wait until the latest person comes in.  Get the meeting going early in the day, first thing if possible.  Do not ever do the daily demo at the end of the day.
        • Rotate who gives the demo to show case somebody’s work and to give everyone a chance to demo the whole product (another byproduct of the development of your talent).  It also gets people more comfortable with public speaking.  Often I would have engineers that were working in one part of the product demonstrate some other part of the product so they were constantly seeing the whole product in use.  Clearly they had to have advance notice to do that until they realized that I expected each of them to be able to always demonstrate the whole product.
        • The emphasis is on ACTUALLY DEMOING something.
          • This is not a time for anyone to lecture.
          • It is show and tell with the emphasis being on showing.
        • Questions during the demo should be “questions for understanding”.  That is while the “show” is going on be asking those questions that come from not understanding what you are seeing.  But don’t let the answer go on forever.  If the explanation is not clear in a minute or so, make a note to come back to that in a longer meeting, but press on to the next thing so that the 15 minutes doesn’t bog down.
        • Don’t let the daily demo become a surrogate design meeting.  That’s a separate meeting.
      • After the show part, then ask follow on questions like:
        • What did you expect to show today?  Basically you are checking for progress against plan.
        • What were the reasons for the differences between plan and what got accomplished?
            • What things didn’t get done and why?
    • If there were extra things, what were they and how did they manage to get in?  You are looking for inadvertent scope creep.
      • As you start the daily demo, you want to get people into the habit of doing the above.
          • You should be positive at all times with liberal sprinkling of compliments for the cool stuff that appears.
          • This is not a meeting to place blame.  It is a meeting to celebrate the little accomplishments along the way.
          • This is your chance to observe how the development team is doing and how the software folks are relating to the product and marketing folks.  You want to observe any non-verbals like eye rolling or people not being able to look you in the eye and all those cues that lets you know that there is an elephant in the room somewhere.  These meetings are your early warning system.  However, these are not the meetings to do the problem solving in.  You want to problem solve in separate meetings.
        • If you get into a phase of the project where there doesn’t seem to be anything new to demo, don’t let the developers cancel the daily demo.  Continue to have the meetings and have them go through things you may not have fully understood in the past.  Pretty soon they will get the message that you are serious about seeing daily progress and you won’t take lame excuses.
        • Where possible you should hold to the daily demo even if  you are travelling or if someone is on vacation.  Make sure you have a license to Webex or a similar tool so that you can do remote demos.
      • Phase II:
        • Once people are in the habit of doing the daily software demo, then it is time to bring your marketing resources more to the fore by splitting the meeting into a daily demo of the software and a “daily demo” of the knowledge that is being gained about your customers.  This is where you move into evidence based design.
            • You want marketing to show a video or at the very least play audio tapes of some aspect of customers trying to do their job using your product.  This is where the user videos from a BlinkUX become so important.
            • You want to ground the development team in ACTUAL users, not made up personas or someone’s opinion.
            • This is not a place for the product marketing folks to pontificate or a place to get the developers to add a piece of functionality that a sales person thinks they need.  You want to focus on developing software that meets someone’s actual needs (evidence based design).
      • Phase III:
        • Once the group has gotten comfortable with showing the daily progress in the software development and the customer understanding, then it is time to move the daily demo into the final phase of sophistication – getting the development team to demo how they are doing automated testing and the many ways that they are trying to make the system fail proof.  Similarly, the software should be far enough along that you are able to do usability testing and so product marketing should now be adding in videos that show users trying to actually use the software and provide further evidence of what is required to build both a desirable and a usable product.

As with any software development effort, there are times when it becomes clear that you really need to understand something more deeply.  The thought tool that I’ve found most helpful grew out of Toyota, but I first came across it when studying W. Edwards Deming and the quality movement and six sigma.  Your role as CEO is to make sure that you are getting to the causes of any issues and not dealing with the symptoms. The Deming tool is the “Five Whys“:

“Systematically asking why an event occurs or a condition exists. The question ‘why?’ is applied to each response until the root cause of the event or condition is found. Sometimes the root cause is identified by the 2nd or 3rd “why.” In other situations it may take 6-7 ‘why’s’ to get to the root cause. Try to get to the 5th level without getting to an absurd level of detail.

“At the heart of this simple tool is the belief that real problem solving occurs when the cause, rather than the symptom, of the problem is addressed. This is often referred to as ‘drilling down’ to the heart of the problem. Dr. Kano refers to this ‘drilling down’ as ‘going an inch wide and a mile deep into a problem’ (real understanding leading to targeted solutions) rather than ‘going a mile wide and an inch deep into a problem’ (superficial understanding leading to shotgun solutions). At a more philosophical level, the 5 Why’s also demonstrate Dr. Deming’s principle that the real problem usually lies in the deeper system rather than in the performance of an individual who is working within that system.”

An example of the Five Whys:

Another thought tool that I find very helpful comes from Ed Lazowska, the Bill and Melinda Gates Professor of Computer Science at UW.  He found that if he tried to answer directly the question that a student or colleague asked him there was almost never a good result.  He realized that to provide a good answer he first had to ask “what is the misunderstanding that caused the question to be asked in the first place?”  Once he knew what the misunderstanding was he could provide an answer that led to understanding.

A wonderful book QBQ!  The Question Behind the Question: Practicing Personal Accountability at Work and In Life provides a comprehensive exploration of Ed’s insight.

The document on Decision Styles that is drawn from Bob Crosby’s Walking the Empowerment Tightrope: Balancing Management Authority & Employee Influence makes clear for those decisions which are important to be explicit about how the decision will be made and who will make it.  With most decisions it is clear.  But there are some decisions, like we are going to only focus on one persona or a single market or which concept search tool to use where it is important that as part of the evolving startup culture that you be explicit about how the decision will be made.  As a general rule you don’t want to have a culture where consensus is the primary decision tool.

For those decisions where you realize that you need to be explicit about the decision style, you should also start the formality of creating a decision record so that you can be working on continuous improvement of the quality of your decisions and which decision styles are working for your organization.  Russ Ackoff provides a quick and direct method for tracking decisions.

The article on Coaching for Performance provides some simple yet effective methods for working with your development talent. The article describes the Situational Leadership Model.

While this “advice” is a lot to absorb for the start-up CEO, by immersing the CEO in the ways to manage a software start-up there is a higher likelihood for success.

For a humorous look at the wonderful world of innovation and new ventures, checkout Fl!p and the gang at Fl!p Comics.

Posted in Ask and Tell, Attenex, Content with Context, Design, Human Centered Design, Learning, organizing, Russ Ackoff, Software Development, User Experience, Working in teams | 12 Comments