Touch the Insight Part 2

The wait is over.

Here is the long promised conclusion to Touch the Insight. Recall, that that posting was about an attempt to use physical prototyping not to get to a solution but to better understand the complexities in a challenge.  And I happy to report that it was not a flop.  Turns out that prototyping insights is not that different than prototyping solutions.  The main difference is the mental acrobats the design team performs in order to craft prototypes that give the sense of the insight.  The best prototypes were the ones that used analogies. For example we compared one of our work process against traditional mopping (difficult) and the Swifter (mopping made easier).   This allow the participants to consider how might we make our difficult process more Swifter-like.

Most remarkable, was the rich and often heated conversations that the prototypes generated.  Both are important elements.  It is in the deep discussions that real meaning is discovered allowing the insights to move to the action level.  The participants who played with the prototypes (and together) were more connected more deeply.

Our Insight Prototypes are becoming a “Mars Rover” of sorts; they were designed for two 1-day immersions.  However by popular demand they are lasting far beyond that original intention by a magnitude of at least 2 and up to 10. And that brings us to the final learning on prototyping insight: build for durability.  It does not need to be indestructible, but should be usable for a period of time longer than you think.

So here the top learnings:

1)   Analogies are awesome for insight prototyping (see first paragraph)

2)   Flow is REAL important. Ensuring participants move through the insights at a thoughtful pace must be planned for

3)   Good insight will challenge convention.  And when experienced en mass, healthy confrontation can occur.  Be prepared for emotional exchanges, and be prepared to capture them.  We used large stickers that participants could write their thoughts and then stick to the exhibit.

4)   Build the prototypes to last longer than you think. (see last paragraph)

5)   Build the prototypes for easy setup and take down.  (this, we did not do)

Improvement or Innovation?

I’ve been on the road for several years now sharing my journey in the world of innovation and some of the lessons i’ve learned along the way. Specifically on the infrastructure an organization puts into place to allow for continuous innovation. I call this the Infrastructure of Design. This blog is not about that, rather it is about one small piece that has triggered many questions and responses. Its the definitions I use to distinguish innovation from improvement. These definitions emerged through years “at it” and the opportunity to play in both worlds, and not from literature. They are practical. So here goes:

You are in the world of improvement when you fundamentally believe that what you have works. Hey you can always make something better, right?

You are in the world of innovation when you fundamentally believe that what you have is broken. (or are stuck on a plateau of non-improvement).

You WANT most of your world to fall in the improvement side of the house. It would be chaotic and expensive if everything were fundamentally broken. In fact you’d probably be out of business. Not everything needs innovating. Some things just need a few tweaks and some focused effort to bring it to the next level. In fact the solution may already be out there. Improvement is cheaper and faster than innovation.

However, SOME things do need innovation. For that a more focused, deeper effort is needed. You may not even know what the real problem is, nor have a clear path to a solution. This is the lovely, inefficient world of innovation. Inefficient because innovation required us to slow down and explore many possible avenues. Inefficient because you WANT innovators to try many ideas and combination of ideas until that magic combo yields a big valuable solution.

There are many organizations that do not separate the two (god love’em) and many that do (god love’em too). There is no right answer as to whether they should be combined or separated. However I, personally, do see great value in separation. Separation allows improvement people to deepen their skills at making the system better, faster. They are the optimizers in our systems.  For the innovators, it allows a deepening of the innovator skill set to tackle the fewer, but more complex challenges. They are the inventors in our systems.

This is not a judgement of ease. Both improvement and innovation are hard work, and each has effective tools and approaches. However it does help to steer organizational challenges to a starting point, knowing full well that they just might end up in the other camp. A good rule of thumb, when in doubt try improvement first.

The Big Bold Future


Wow. The Autumn 2011 Innovation Learning Network InPerson Meeting was a chaotic magical dream state. I am not quite sure if I’ve woken back up. 150 innovators and leaders from around the country gathered to build the future of healthcare. The theme was complex yet simple: connected health. And it encompassed broad reaching policies and deep, yet to be developed technologies.

We sent the innovators on an innovation safari on Day 1 to fifteen extraordinary SFBay organizations. We exposed them to 10 super cool technologies and concepts in a progressive lunch (we paired finger foods with technology…and wow was that a cool way to learn!). And then we gave six hours to brainstorm and prototype healthcare in 2031.

From SmartBathrooms and SmartSupermarkets, to a Healthcare Political Party and friendly cloud computing the future were as brilliant as they were diverse. All gave us a glimpse of what we know is to come.

Now the hard work: dragging 2031 as fast as we can to the present. Our innovators will coalesce around the most promising ideas, the ones were passion is high and collaboration is needed….and do something about it. Stay Tuned!!

Finally a special thanks to my home Kaiser Permanente and to my dear friends the California Healthcare Foundation. We co-hosted and sponsored this event.

Touch the Insight Part 1

We’re trying something totally new (for us) and totally cool (to us). Rather than prototyping solutions (which is the norm), we are prototyping insights. Same pathway, very different outcome. Solution pathways are meant to solve the problem or create new business opportunities. Insight pathways are meant to assist an organization in deeply understanding the issues they face.

Insights are pieces of the design puzzle and come early in a project. They are what drive opportunity identification, ideation and “solution” prototyping. But what if the problem is so complex, so gnarly, so diffuse that even understanding the insights are challenging? Insight prototyping breaks down this complexity and allows the organization to play, ponder, and plunder the insight; stretching and twisting them into first self meaning, secondly group meaning, and finally  organizational meaning.  They are designed to foster deeper discussion and smarter action, and reduce simplistic reaction.

Now with all this praise for insight prototyping, we’re literally prototyping it. And so far so good.

So this blog is a tease.  You will have to come back for Part 2 to see if this technique is a flop, success, or something in between.  We debut our insight prototypes next week…..

Oh Behave!

No, this is a not about Austin Powers. This is about the tiny little things that cause us to move through our days seamlessly.  They are our little patterns and rituals that make our complex lives seem almost mindless.  Here is how I get to the gym each morning:   I wake up at 4:45am.  I brush my teeth.  I put my gym clothes on. I drink protein.  If I do these four “things”, it is almost assured that I will get to the gym and have a great workout.  Forget one, and chances are I won’t make it to the gum. For me the final commitment that I am really doing this is the chugging of my protein drink.  One time I forgot, and halfway to the gym I turned the car around and went home back to go back to sleep.  What a powerful little sequence!

These little “things” I do are behaviors, and I spent the last 48 hours studying them with Behavior Design guru, BJ Fogg. (If you don’t know who he is, you should. ).  In his behavior bootcamp he gave me and my team a new lexicon to more precisely define, analyze and design.  For several years we used product design methods to solve our complex challenges, and it was a bit like trying to throw a baseball with big fat mittens on. The past two years, we incorporated service design techniques, and that moved us from mittens to gloves. My guess is that adding behavior design will allow the gloves to come off, and we’ll be able to throw the damn baseball with speed and efficiency.

Please don’t mistake this posting as a complaint with methods.  We learned the right things at the right time. Each layering of method, prepared us for the next deeper level.  But how exciting when you feel the clicks and sparks of connection. More to come on our behavior design journey….


Dr. Evil: Are those sharks with laser beams attached to their heads?
Scott Evil: [nods]
Dr. Evil: Cool! You mean that I actually have frickin’ sharks with frickin’ laser beams attached to their frickin’ heads?


Networking. It’s a dirty, soulless word. Images of either stiff suits passing out business cards OR of data flowing across wires is conjured to the mind. Lets take the first image: the suits. Back in college I remember my university setting up networking events, and they were always the same; dressing up in a suit and tie and wandering around meeting people. It was a crap shoot. Rarely did any real connection ever get made. The second image is the data network: information flowing across circuits. This is closer to the purpose of networking so that data does flow, and freely.

As the founder of the Innovation Learning Network I was invited to give a tips and tricks of building a network last week to 150 of the nation’s top healthcare innovators at an event sponsored by the Federal Government. They were pretty shocked when I spent most of my time redefining the word. Really what networking means is building friendships. It means making real connections with real people by breaking bread, by asking about lives, talking about vacations and THEN exploring work. Dozens of the meeting attendees came up to say that they hadn’t thought of networking in that way. I blame MBA schools for this. They have stripped the humanity from a deeply human endeavor.

No sooner did I complete the DC talk, I found myself sitting on my United flight back to San Francisco reading the latest issue of Fast Company, and was floored by perhaps the most soulless new word: networthless: Any conversation you have at a conference that doesn’t involve networking, selling or closing. Do not make the mistake of making normal small talk. I love Fast Company and am a printed subscriber, and believe me that says a lot! But the word is an even baser variant of the word networking. Now it’s considered a waste of time talking to someone if they don’t increase your immediate value. How incredibly shortsighted!

We’re not robots who are data mining. We’re people who are multidimensional and deeply complex. Celebrate this, and you will find yourself at amazing dinners, tasting new wines, laughing about old exes, AND making a connection to get your latest idea launched. Life is sweet, and the most unexpected, serendipitous moments are the sweetest.

The Play Bow

The Man of Play: Barry Kudrowitz
I had the good fortune to see Barry Kudrowitz share his insights on how play can/should influence every step of the design process. And the myriad of games that just might stimulate different phases of your work from Pictionary & Apples to Apple to Legos and Taboo, each triggers different (and happy) insights. Perhaps my favorite moment was his explanation and demonstration of the Canine play-bow. The play-bow is the playful pose that dogs use to invite other dogs for a rough and tumble play fight. Ass in air, front paws jetted straight out…which of course resembles a bow. And then the dogs are at it! Rolling, romping and……learning. Learning what works and what doesn’t in the very important function of a fight. Seeing a grown man demonstrate this on stage if far more hilarious… both ways, whether man or dog its fun to watch, and you can really feel the “playfulness” barrel through.

And THIS has everything to do with how we design new stuff, try new stuff and make new stuff stick. Being playful invites people to make mistakes, to roll around and tumble with new ideas, and to figure out how to make this important stuff work in important moments. Being playful and messy has been my teams mantra these past several weeks as several hospitals kickoff implementing some of our newest innovations. It’s amazing how disarming/charming being playful can be, morphing the painful process of “implementing a new system” to “tumbling to the finish line”. Which would you rather do?

Asses up, paws out!

Playful and Messy

Christine Richter and Chris McCarthy being playful and messy. 😉
Christine Richter and I just finished presenting a very special WebEx on KP’s innovative nurse shift change called Nurse Knowledge Exchange Plus (NKEplus). The format of the WebEx was a new feature of the Innovation Learning Network to help diffuse innovation across systems. This blog post is not about that, but about one question that really caught my attention:

“what special skills does your group bring to implementation? Meaning what would we be missing if we tried to implement without you?”

The answer is “being playful and messy”. Too often when implementing new stuff, the “serious factor” rises exponentially. There is pervading sense that all must go right and tolerance for the imperfection plummets. And this is exactly what we combat when we implement new ideas. We try to help the end user and management take on a playful and messy attitude. Get them to smile, laugh and stumble….laugh again, and get it a little more right. Official permission for playfulness goes a long way: stress is reduced, and users become more perfect, faster.
So give it at try. You will be amazed at the serious results from being truly playful.

(and smile).

For those of you interested in implementing NKEplus you can signup and get more info here:

My Perfectly Ugly and Incomplete Ideas

At the Global Jam, a service design challenge this past weekend, the hosts warned the contestants “don’t marry your ideas”.

Good design generally means you’ve had some honest discussion; perhaps with an impartial critic who could care less about your feelings, but does care deeply about your design’s purpose. If you are cringing at the mere notion of “could care less about your feelings” than you already are falling into the “I married my design” trap.

I am guessing that the ability to give and receive a critique is plummeting over time with the acceleration of tools that make work seem polished and complete. You type your words, build your slides, try a few things….and next thing you know you’re the on the pulpit preaching the gospel. If this is you (and this most certainly is sometimes me), we must master the skills of detachment. And we must learn how to divorce our ideas as soon as possible… if not for better design, than at least for personal self worth. You are not your ideas…

Try chanting this before your next critique: “I am beautiful and complete, my ideas may not be.”

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