Tuesday, December 23, 2014

Design Thinking and Serendipity at BHive Workspaces

The word 'design' - it’s such a crowd puller. You attend a session titled 'design thinking' with the expectation of getting close to a breakthrough idea. Or simply for serendipity. And Mukesh Gupta didn’t disappoint, on both counts. And it turns out that I was not the only one who thought the session was really insightful. It's got a five star rating on the meetup.


The venue itself was a ‘beehive’, even at 7 in the evening. There was a lot of activity. BHive Workspaces is an incubator for entrepreneurs who need office space and everything else that comes with it (including coffee!), without actually having to make a capital investment. The idea of renting out cubicles/office space on a small scale isn’t new. But there is a certain excitement and energy about the place that you couldn't possibly miss. I came to know about the event when a friend shared information about the meetup on a social network.

A Plug 

Before the presentation started, there were a couple of 'part-time' entrepreneurs looking to test and solicit feedback for their app called ShareCard. The mobile app is designed to help you connect with people with similar interests during events/conferences. It’s got a simple interface and uses Linkedin credentials for authentication. What’s the idea behind the app? It’s to help you identify and connect with people without going through all that trial and error. And of course, for all those OCD folks out there, that’s that much less hand sanitizer to use in between! So the app uses bluetooth to connect to other folks who have also downloaded the app and are on the 'lookout' to connect.
Interesting stuff. Should be piloted in a larger event.

And finally - Design Thinking

Mukesh is Director - Customer Advocacy at SAP, and has conducted several workshops on design thinking (among other topics). I loved the way he answered questions - pretty convincingly and passionately. He came across as being very well read, and had the articulation necessary to be that really engaging story teller. He certainly makes the list of speakers I'd listen to even if I didn't know what they were going to talk about.
The session started with a round of introductions. Almost everyone attending seemed to have either been involved in a start-up or were seriously thinking about it. Or were somewhere in between. There was even one guy who was serving his notice period and another who had quit corporate life a couple of days back.

To help us understand the concept, he started with a problem. Bangalore’s problem -  garbage. He described the issue; there’s a pile of garbage outside his house and he asked the audience what to do. Some of the creative answers included taking pictures of offenders and posting large cut-outs to embarrass them! There was another one that introduced gamification into the equation. Make it a competition because sometimes the pain of loss is greater than the pleasure of gain! And then there was the idea of fighting the notion of garbage itself. Make people see the value of recycling, reusing and reducing. And that’s when Mukesh brought us back to the real problem. He asked us what we were trying to do. Everyone had jumped right into providing solutions even before first understanding the problem. It was like a smack on the back of the head!

So the first step to design thinking is not to solve but to understand the problem. You can understand it by at least two ways. Observation and interviews. He said we should ask questions like ' Why does it happen, how does it happen, when does it happen, who are the folks impacted by it… etc. to gather insight into the problem. Insight. An excellent definition for insight was when someone has an ‘ah ha’ moment when trying to understand the problem. So you watch the problem happening and you ask questions to everyone involved.

Point of View: The next stage is to identify a point of view. From whose perspective are you trying to solve the problem? This is a very important phase to the problem. Actually the most important. Your insights and solutions will vary significantly depending on whose POV you take. This was explained very beautifully with the garbage example. If you look at it from the house owners point of view (outside whose house the garbage is dumped), the problem is very different from the person who is dumping the garbage. Similarly, the government agency who not only has to pick it up, but also needs to dispose it off safely. So you are basically creating a persona. Yeah, familiar territory :). Like explained above, the needs of each persona are also different.
So in short, POV = insight + persona + need.

Ideation: Once a POV has been established, it’s time to ideate. How have others solved the same problem? How does industry handle it? We simply make a brain dump or use any of the brainstorming methods to list out whatever we can. Get a list of things you can do. Don’t categorize or rate any idea just yet. Use triggers to find different routes. Some people even use a dictionary to randomly choose a word and then by association, try and thrash out a few ideas. Once you have a bunch of ideas, toss a coin to select the best one. Kidding :) It's going to be a tough task. How do you make sure you are selecting a great idea and not just a good idea? How do you select a breakthrough idea as opposed to an interesting one? One way is to go against your intuition and select an idea that seems to be difficult. The idea you select also depends on the problem you are trying to solve. Don't select the first idea that you get. Mukesh drew a graph that plotted ideas against time. The graph showed how ideas started slowly, then peaked and then after a time, starts to drop as ideas start to dry up and then after a little struggle, starts to build momentum again. It's the ideas in the second peak that usually lead to breakthroughs. Usually. Sometimes it just takes an apple :)

When you design anything, you either design it for yourself or for a very particular set of people. As you start to broaden your criteria, you end up trying to please everyone, and that's not had very pleasant endings. So how do you ensure success? Mukesh talked about a thumb rule. Try to build a product that satisfies 5 percent of your early adopters.

He also suggested that brainstorming should be done while on one's feet if you want better ideas. It's got something to do with the fact that for creative solutions, most people look up/throw their head back to 'look' for inspiration. One tries to reach the creative part of the brain. You use a divergent method for creative solutions where you create many options and choose and expand in an iterative manner. However, when you are seated, you tend to put your head down. The 'head down' or convergent approach is also useful sometimes, where you are reaching out to the other side of the brain. Which approach you use really depends on the problem. We continued with the garbage problem and we took up the idea of making garbage valuable. The audience was then told to build the idea. Any idea that took the value proposition forward was accepted and those that didn't, were ignored.

Prototype: The science behind why a prototype brings an idea to life is what it does to the five senses. The moment someone can touch, see, hear your idea, you've already done most of the selling, without the need to say a lot. You've brought something to life. It's alive! Your prototype doesn't have to be anywhere near perfect. In fact, it shouldn't. The primary purpose of your prototype should be to solicit feedback. And this prototype-feedback iteration is done at least a couple of times, till you are confident to make a Beta launch.

Feedback: The most important aspect of seeking feedback is that you should never use the opportunity to defend your design. It's extremely difficult. The ShareCard folks were seeking feedback for their app and one could see the difficulty in keeping quiet and listening without saying anything in defense of their baby. Listen carefully to everything your user is saying. And also remember to listen/hear what they don't say about your product. What they don't say usually tells you more. Videotaping the feedback is highly recommended so that you can revisit it again to garner your 'insight'.

Avoid using questionnaires, especially those that narrow down observations to what you think their answers should be. Your survey essentially should have 3 parts. What they like, what they wish for and then Questions/Comments.

The most innovative solutions lay at the intersection of desirability (appeals to the emotions), Viability (can it be done) and Feasibility.
Design thinking is about using a mindset (that involves people) and a toolset (that involves the process discussed above) in a suitable environment.

When to use design thinking

  • Ambiguous situations
  • Issues where there are multiple possibilities
  • Complex problems

When not to use design thinking

  • When the objective is clear.
  • When you already know what needs to be done. You just do it.
  • When the solution is simple and your need is to use the most obvious fix


Another Formula

Your problem statement could use the following structure
How might we __(state issue)__ for __(whom/POV)__.

The Deck

He probably took lots of help from a creative 4 year old to get these slides together:)

And that garbage problem? Here's a spark that seems to be turning into wild fire.

Must read books:

  • Predictably Irrational by Dan Ariely
  • Thinking Fast and Slow by Daniel Kahneman
Mukesh has also published a book called Business Prophet. It's a poem that provides simple, practical advice about starting running and exiting businesses.

Did you know? 

Steve Jobs had a fear of buttons. And looking at all the smart phones around, I think it's something that is bloody contagious!

Friday, December 5, 2014

FIR - Innovation

Missing In Action!

Describe the missing person
  • Unmarried, undetermined gender, about as old as the human race, around 5 feet 5 inches, black hair, black eyes, shy, nods head to say yes AND no :) Responds to the name - Innovation.
Characteristics of Innovation
  • Usually is something that adds value
  • Could be something new
  • Might be an answer to a problem
  • Starts with an intent
  • Needs to be looked at with a birds eye view
  • Is about the 'why' not the 'what'
  • Is also about the 'why not'
  • Needs a suitable environment to thrive
  • Needs lots of love and involvement, usually moody
  • Innovation is all around us
  • Innovation is human nature

Why is Innovation Missing?
  • Lack of management support
  • Needs a strong foundation
  • Needs courage to speak up
  • Innovation has cultural overtures
  • Suffers from "what-do-others-think-about-my-idea-syndrome"
  • Being treated for Atychiphobia (Fear of Failure)
  • Recently diagnosed with "Happy-with-status-quo virus"

How do we find Innovation?
  • Encouraging the spark called courage
  • Remember that anyone can innovate
  • Innovation can be incremental or disruptive
  • Innovation needs persistence
  • Innovation needs to be proto typed
  • Needs a user base for the innovation
  • If you can help people find the answer to WIIFM, you are probably close to finding the missing person
  • Remember to seek and accept all the help available and take action!
  • Innovation starts with me/you
Last Seen: On Friday, 5th December, at 5 PM at Mugdha's discussion on Innovation at STC India 2014.

If you have any information about the whereabouts of innovation, tweet location to #STCIndia2014

And yes, there is a reward! ____________ sponsored from TIBCO ;)

Monday, December 1, 2014


Chiguru is Mahindra's way of bringing people who have two things in common; cars and kids! Chiguru means 'bud' in Kannada. But for the folks with a little more imagination, it could just be a play of words (chikka - meaning small) and guru. Mahindra & Mahindra conducted their second event in Bangalore for customer kids, on Saturday, 22nd November, 2013. This was an excellent platform for kids under 13 to display their talents, and get recognized. Sources said that almost 200 customers (who qualified) were invited from Bangalore. The event was to start at 3, but since customers came like they were bringing their cars for service, the event actually started well after 4! The location of the event was the Kamala Bai School, which is a surprising large campus tucked away just off Queen's Road. There were several new (unregistered) Mahindra cars in the grounds (including the all new Scorpio). Rumor has it that the property belongs to one of the M&M agencies in Bangalore.

Waiting for the kids as they arrived, were artists who created caricatures, and drew tattoos and mehendi for those who could sit still! For those who couldn't (sit still), they tried their best :)

Joanne's reaction at her caricature - Does it even look like me??
The kids were welcomed at the entrance with chips packets and tetra pack juice. The organizers seemed to have left no stone unturned in their efforts to make this a memorable and enjoyable evening. The auditorium was of the right size. The sound system could make your heart beat to its rhythm. The stage was designed for a star performance and the professional lighting seemed to be every dancer's dream come true.
And the icing on the cake? Definitely the pretty judges :)

Since we were still waiting for the crowd to come in and form a quorum, (though 3 PM to 8 PM may be too large a window for some folks) the MC started the event with getting to know the participating kids. The first game was about doing exactly the opposite of what she said. So if she said sit, they had to remain standing and so on. Now you'd think that this was the perfect game to find out who's best at not listening. And you'd probably expect all kids to be really good at this. But as luck would have it, even that doesn't happen when you really want it to happen.

And the last lady standing for not following instructions.

Since the MC wasn't very successful in keeping a bunch of kids engaged, it was time for some magic. Literally. While some of the kids were awestruck at the mention of the word 'magic' there were other kids (and parents) who were trying (successfully!) to figure the secret behind each trick. With so many magic shows, it's difficult to keep kids of this generation occupied. Even then, these kids were buzzing around the magician like bees. He was actually finding it difficult to choose who would volunteer, while at the same time trying to hide all the secrets behind his tricks!

Soon it was time to register for the painting/drawing competition. Kids were given 30 minutes to get creative. All the kids were given a kit with crayons, paint and brushes. And did we have some artists. MF Hussain would have felt a little insecure at some of the 30-minute-creations.

And when the prizes were announced (later that evening), it was a 7 year old who walked away with the first prize. Not for the drawing, but more so probably for the message. It was a simple picture of three trees that were at some stage of being cut down. And one tree was on the ground, with just a stump still in the ground. The message said Save Trees - for a better future. Complete with correct spelling! And her dad gets to blog about it. Here :)

After the exhausting session of drawing and painting, it was time for a break. M&M had some yummy surprises in everyone's food packages. It had all the stuff that kids usually enjoy. From pastries, sandwiches, sweets, there was something in there for everyone.

After a quick snack, the kids were all waiting for their 3 minutes in the limelight. Of course some of them gouged on both the lime and the light. If it was MF Hussain who felt bad during the previous event, it was time for the Prabhu Devas and Michael Jackson to get embarrassed with the impressive performances by the kids. The kids really gave the judges a tough time making a decision. In this case, it was not one, but they had to make some 3 choices in each category. Not just the judges, but even the MC had a tough time keeping up with the kids. Some of them also managed to get the MC all tongue tied with their cheeky responses! Finally, when we were nearing closing time, the organizers had to ration time among the remaining participants. There were a few kids who didn't seem very pleased with the abrupt stoppage of their events. But that's what happens when someone doesn't take a hint!
And here is a clip of Joanne's song. You can really see why such events are a challenge. I'm surprised she continued singing after the first 'interruption'.

There was also a customer sharing experience that was squeezed in. Two customers shared their experiences with M&M. One of them has been driving Mahindra cars for over a decade. Both had only good things to say. Mr Bose, Mahindra's regional head for South India also shared a few words about encouraging children and creating opportunities. But everyone were still remembering the antics of his three year old (who was also participating). This kid had just caused a stir on the stage. He liked the wireless mike so much that he refused to give it back and the organizers were seen chasing him around to make sure they had the 'last word'. If anyone was feeling bored till then, this incident was what they needed for a good laugh.

M&M were generous with the prizes. Large trophies along with Rs. 3000 in gift coupons for first prize winners.

Mahindra did try and make a lot of kids happy by ensuring that there were as many winners as was possible. If they didn't win a prize, they had already won a great experience (not to mention the reliable cars) and a few awesome friends in the process!

All the winners with staff from M&M and their ASC (Authorized Service Centers)

I'd like to end with the often repeated, but seldom practiced rule. Wear your seat belts. If by some misfortune, you do get into a crash, all those airbags won't be able to protect you. Humpty dumpty would have had more hope.
Many people don't know that if seat belts are not worn, there is an interlock in the system that actually prevents the airbags from deploying. Because if they deployed, and you were not wearing seat-belts, the force of the airbags opening up in your face could kill you. If you weren't already dead for not wearing your seat-belt that is. Drive safe and remember -