Jill Lepore: What the Gospel of Innovation Gets Wrong

I’ve waxed poetic about my love affair with The New Yorker before, and this week’s issue is another one with several riveting long form pieces that I can’t wait to dig into. Jill Lepore offers a scathing critique of Clayton Christensen’s disruptive innovation theory. I have to confess that I haven’t actually read The Innovator’s Dilemma (which seems sacriligious given the nature of my work). I’m not sure if this article will encourage me to read the original text or not, but if is offering a lot of food for thought.

Jill Lepore: The Disruption Machine

@IAS14 (which is the 15th IA Summit)

I’m at the IA Summit, hard to believe it’s the fifteenth anniversary of this event (which means that I’ve been working in this field for, well, let’s just say that if my career was a kid it could be drafted but can’t yet drink). The summit is in San Diego, which is a great city in terms of tourism, but the location of the hotel (it’s a glorified airport hotel) means that cab ride into the city are running $15-20 a pop, which is a bummer.

Usually I have good success picking relevant talks to attend, but this year I had a lot of session envy, feeling like there was always a better talk happening next door. So I’ll start with the talks I missed but have been told I must get my hands on:

Key Take-Aways from the sessions I’ve attended

Keynote by Irene Au:

  • The feeling people are left with after interacting with you / at the end of the experience is more important than the outcome. Context–when people disagree with you make sure they are able to fully voice their concerns and feel heard. Allow them to feel ownership of your idea if that’s what it takes.
  • The world is ever changing. Find the courage to abandon practices that have worked for you in the past.
  • What you know matters less than how you do your work.
  • The body knows before the mind; respect feelings of jealousy–it’s a fast way to get in touch with your gut instincts.

Lessons from Leading UXers by Russ Unger

Create a Team Charter that states your team’s purpose

  • What do we do?
  • What are we good at?
  • What should we be known for?

Team Commitment:

  • How do we want to work together?
  • What are our expectations of each other?

Focus Areas:

  • What are the types of work we do?

Growth & Improvement

  • Where do we need to grow/improve–where do we need more experience?
  • What is the rationale for the need?
  • How will we know when we’ve achieved the goal?

Perception of the Team by Others

  • How do we want others to view our team?
  • How do we build this perception?
  • How do we know when we are there?

If you’re not enjoying something, it’s almost always because you’re doing it too fast.

Architecting a Sustainable Design Team by Tim Caynes

  • Flat org charts don’t work
  • Too tall/too much hierarchy doesn’t work
  • Best results come from only having 3 direct reports–enables mentoring
  • Roles:

-Design Director –> Sets Vision

-Principal Designer ->Sets Strategy

-Senior Designer–>Sets Direction

-Designer –> Execution

This would accommodate a UX organization of about 50 people and I can definitely imagine it working in an agency context. Less clear to me whether it would be as effective in a large corporate setting.

More tomorrow…

Weekly Roundup

I’m going to begin by saying that I continue to believe a subscription to the New Yorker is about the cheapest thing you can buy in terms of the ratio of what you get out of it vs. what you spend. Seriously. I feel so strongly about this that I almost want to personally offer a money back guarantee just to have the pleasure of introducing more people to the profound Goodness that is in this magazine. That way lies disaster given the vastness of the Internet and in these tough economic times, but the temptation is strong.

I’ve been reading it off an on since I was 16 (when I understood about 1/8 of what I read and mostly just appropriated Pauline Kael’s cinema insights) and “religiously” since I was 25-26 and I continue to be astonished by the quality (and quantity!) of the writing. Sure, there are some issues where I don’t find much that’s appealing–but then there are the issues where I pretty much have to read every. single. article. (I’m coming off of one of those issues right now, in case this love letter doesn’t make that clear.)

I can’t count the number of times I’ve read utterly fascinating stories about topics I have absolutely no interest in initially. The New Yorker was the original source of my discovering Atul Gawande (a personal hero) — whose ability to think critically about (and be critical of) his discipline in an almost magically inclusive way so that it never seems like he’s pointing fingers is a constant source of inspiration to me both personally and professionally.

And none of that even touches on the fiction! Oh, the fiction–a short story every. single. week. I don’t read all of them; I don’t finish all of them, some of them I hate–but now and then you get something utterly sublime (like this week’s The Emerald Light in the Air by Donald Antrim).

Really–go get a subscription because when the New Yorker is on form it’s like the best croissant you’ve ever eaten coupled with the best cup of coffee you’ve ever drunk while simultaneously getting your back scratched in that way that is so, so, gratifying that you almost can’t stand it but never want it to stop.

Believe it or not, there are even articles that are (in)directly relevant to UX that crop up from time to time, such as this week’s article on Netflix, “Outside the Box” by Ken Auletta. 

And here’s some other great stuff to read that isn’t from the New Yorker:

  • An interesting story about bad behavior in Silicon Valley, this time of the wage suppression variety. Wait, price fixing, isn’t that illegal?! Why yes, yes it is.
  • Dave Winer on the Tech Backlash he perceives to be happening now, with the really fabulous title: The Future Was More Exciting 
  • And Peterme weighs in with some thoughts on the intersection between IA and UX that are less about “defining the damn thing” and more about attempting to resurrect the profile of IA such that it can be understood as the Really Big Thing it is rather than the red headed stepchild that some of us fear it has become (or perhaps is as it ever was?). Per usual, Peter’s take is a little more bombastic/potentially divisive than I might frame things–but boy howdy, he sure is good at getting us juiced.

Akron UX Meetup Calendar 2014

Somehow fall snowballed into the holiday season and it’s now the polar vortex season.  The Akron UX meetup is kicking into gear–we met at Panini’s on Kent on January 14 and discussed the idea of starting an informal book club. We’re currently running a survey to select our first book, which we will discuss in April.

Most of our meetings this year will move back and forth between two wonderful spaces in Akron and Kent. We’ll be at the OSC Tech Lab, a co-working space in Akron and IdeaBase (formerly The Tannery) in Kent.

Meetings are tentatively scheduled as follows:
  • Feb 11- Akron – Jonathan Morgan will speak on ubiquitous computing in retail environments. We’re getting a sneak peak at the talk he’ll be giving at World IA Day in Ann Arbor, MI on Feb 15!
  • Mar 11- Kent – Brian Buirge and Jason Bacher of GFDA fame will tell us about their cross-country adventure spreading the gospel of good design advice!
  • Apr 8 – Akron – Book club discussion & networking
  • May 13 – Kent
  • June 10 -Akron
  • July 8- Kent
  • Aug 12-Akron
  • Sept 9-Kent
  • Oct 14-Akron
  • Nov 11-Kent: we may reschedule this meeting to correspond with World Usability Day which is on Nov 13
  • Dec 9 -Akron: we will probably schedule this meeting at a local restaurant

It makes me want to weep!

This headline from the WSJ is utterly depressing:

Groups Leading Insurance Sign-Ups Haven’t Tested Program’s Web Tool

Even better is the sub-head:

Some Say They Expect Computer Glitches (ya think?!)

(see the story here)

On the plus side, this article at least acknowledges the importance of testing, which perhaps would not have even registered as worthy of an article a decade ago.

How reading an article on Bustle made me a bit bipolar

I started reading this New Yorker piece about Bryan Goldberg with mild interest–he’s the 30 year old multi-millionaire founder of The Bleacher Report, a sports site it probably isn’t surprising I’d had never heard of as the demographic is described as “overwhelmingly male.” His latest venture-funded “business” plan is to create a parallel media site intended to appeal to young women through a mix of celebrity news and fashion & make-up tips intermixed with hard news stories and career advice. He wants to have a site that will be as ubiquitously popular with women as ESPN is with men.

I don’t have much of an opinion about his plan; I’m not in the target demographic (though I’ve never been interested in fashion or makeup, I do possess an alarming amount of trivial knowledge about celebrities from the late 80’s and early 90’s–so it’s possible this kind of site would have had some appeal to me). Goldberg comes off as an ambitious young man with a lot of enthusiasm and the kind of confidence that seems unsurprising in someone who has achieved complete financial security at a time in life when most people are still paying off student loan debt.

His approach has been to hire young women who are interested in publishing, pay them meagerly (which turns out to be a lot more than they can earn working and interning at traditional publishers like Glamour and Vogue) and give them a lot of flexibility and autonomy, possibly allowing them to get experience that will be far more valuable than making copies and fetching coffee. I kind of like that part–it’s hard not to be supportive of people who are trying to find or create new models for work, which seems like something we desperately need as our 20th century models for almost everything seem to be failing us in so many ways.

And then I got to this quote from Brian Morrissey, the editor of Digiday, on how sites like the Bleacher Report are “gaming” the Internet ad system:

“A well-researched expose, such as the one Sports Illustrated recently ran about N.C.A.A. violations by the Oklahoma State football team, may take many months of work from a highly paid reporter and editor. But, in the end, Morrissey said, “it yields the same revenue as a ’25 Sexiest Female athletes who can Kick Your Ass’ post, which cost, like, two hundred dollars.”

And I completely deflated. This makes an effort like Bustle seem like just one more cynical and short-sighted way of ensuring that a small number of people get rich without creating real value while imperiling the fate of organizations who produce good content by ultimately making it impossible for them to be profitable. And at the end of the day, is this very different from Wall Street sharks who enriched themselves with Credit Default Swaps and other exotic financial instruments? (Well, one way that it’s different is that tax payers won’t be asked to pick up the pieces of failed publishing ventures, so I guess that’s something…)

I love the Internet. There are so many good things about it, but it also has a dark underbelly that I guess is unavoidable in any disruptive technology. In the end I want believe the Internet can make the world a better place–the success of initiatives like Kickstarter and sites like Stack Overflow (and maybe even wikileaks), suggest that is possible but at the end of the day stories like this one–as benign as something like Bustle is compared to truly evil things like child pornography and human trafficking as well as garden variety crime and fraud–make me feel like we might actually be on the road to a net negative.

 

Upcoming Events

  • Midwest UX is now accepting registrations. It looks like it’s shaping up to be a great event. There will be 3 keynote speakers: Christina Wodtke, Abby Covert & Karl Fast. Looking forward to this event in Grand Rapids!
  • The next Akron UX Meetup event will be on Weds, Sept 11 at the Tannery in downtown Kent. Paul Sherman will be giving a talk on “Building a UX-Focused Company Culture.” Check the meetup notice for more details.