As a kid, I used to be quite fascinated by matchboxes. From the uncertainty of being shouted at by some elder, to how many tries it took to light it. And the best, how long could you hold a lit match without burning your fingers.
Pic source: link
Back then, the SHIP matchbox was commonplace. Though I don’t remember them having the jokes at the back of each pack. This standard pack had 50 matchsticks in it. A common problem with any matchbox is running low on striking surface towards the end. It takes more attempts to successfully strike a match.
Then, HomeLites came out with a significantly bigger matchbox. These had 300 matchsticks in it. These seemed to have a bigger problem with the striking surface. Maybe it was the longer striking surface strips on each side that led one to make longer strikes. As a result, you’d have a lot of matches left, but striking a match would become increasingly difficult. You’d spot some unused section towards the edges and try striking it there.
Pic source: link
Anyway, recently I noticed a tiny design change with their matchboxes. And I think it might just solve the striking surface problem.
What they simply did, was replace the two long striking surfaces on either side of the matchbox, with a tiny dividing strip. So instead of two long striking strips, you now have a total of four smaller strips.
If you are overly disciplined, you might restrict yourself to one striking surface at a time. Then use the next one. The rest of us will randomly strike a match against any one of the four surfaces. Point being, with the shorter striking surface, we will unconsciously limit our strike action to that stretch. Am quite sure these new boxes won’t have that old problem.
Just an example of how a simple change to the matchbox design solves a problem that might have left many puzzled. A tiny break in the striking surface alters user behaviour in the right direction. And without necessitating any complex redesigning of the matchbox itself.
If you want to know more about exactly how matches work, read on…
[source of the excerpt below: link]:
The heads of safety matches are composed of a single part. They contain antimony trisulfide, potassium chlorate, sulfur, powdered glass, inert fillers, and animal glue. They may also include a water-soluble dye. Antimony trisulfide cannot be ignited by the heat of friction, even in the presence of an oxidizing agent like potassium chlorate, and it requires another source of ignition to start the combustion. That source of ignition comes from the striking surface, which is deposited on the side of the matchbox or on the back cover of the matchbook.
The striking surface contains red phosphorus, powdered glass, and an adhesive such as gum arabic or urea formaldehyde. When a safety match is rubbed against the striking surface, the friction generates enough heat to convert a trace of the red phosphorus into white phosphorus. This immediately reacts with the potassium chlorate in the match head to produce enough heat to ignite the antimony trisulfide and start the combustion.
Trigger Warning: This post contains thoughts on whether it is possible to identify people who might suddenly be at risk of self-harm or suicide. If this is not a topic of interest, or you are currently not in the frame of mind to read anything stressful, please close this tab.
Many of us experience helplessness when we hear of a suicide. Irrespective of if it was someone we knew, a celebrity, or a businessperson. Especially perhaps, if it was a student, a helpless farmer, or even an unknown name from some obscure corner of the country or the world. The feeling of helplessness still hits many of us.
Last week, there was a brief discussion on chat between some close friends and me. One friend was trying to find cues in old interviews of Sushant Singh Rajput. To see if there were tell-tale signs in them of any impending suicide intent. The authorities were right in saying one should not speculate based on almost no information. The helplessness, however, forces us to look for answers. To find an explanation that would turn helplessness into sadness or anger, or both. The mind prefers either to the state of not knowing coupled with helplessness.
It is also human tendency, to subconsciously look for early warning signs the person might have exhibited.
Maybe it is just our helpless attempt to undo the past.
A few things we need to remember. Firstly, depression is not the only cause of suicide. There are many other causes. They include psychosis and momentary lapses of reason (sometimes induced or aggravated by alcohol or drugs). As are helplessness in situations (a sudden financial loss, etc.), or a mistake. Native Japanese practiced Seppuku to preserve honour or as a form of self-punishment for serious offenses. Secondly, depression itself can have numerous underlying causes for it. And it is not easy for family, friends or outsiders to conclusively arrive at one or more causes for someone’s depression.
A lot of people suffer from a variety of concerns. From regrets about the past, social pressures, anxieties about the future, among many others.
Many simply learn to live with it. Some becoming increasingly numb to life itself. Others probably do not, and toy with self-harm. Some effects could range from binge eating to excessive drinking or drug abuse. And some could manifest as suicidal tendencies. That said, this post is not about identifying or helping address those suffering from depression.
The objective here, something I’ve wondered about, is a possible way to spot someone who might be close to a breaking point in dealing with their personal battles or thoughts or life itself. To see if it there is a way to identify those who might be at risk of self-harm. And to provide an intervention if possible. So that a good life would not be lost because of an unrelenting ecosystem or one’s condition or difficulties in trying to cope with it.
While one can only hope that people suffering from depression are getting the professional support they need, in my limited knowledge, I’d categorize those at risk of self-harm into two categories:
(i) those who have such thoughts from time to time, walking a tightrope; and
(ii) those who may not have considered self-harm, but a sudden change in their ecosystem suddenly makes it an option they consider
My thoughts are around possibly addressing the second kind. If one knows someone who is going through a challenging phase, and one hears of a case of suicide or self harm from someone either known to those people, or hailing from the same or similar professional field or having some other factors in common, one must consider the possibility that these people might be at risk. You could either directly or indirectly reach out even if just to check. Ideally without directly broaching the topic.
There are a few reasons I believe news of self harm by someone sharing common ground could increase risk of self-harm in some people. Firstly, in case of the same or similar professions, many people could be going through similar challenges due to either an employer or a sector slowdown or some other impact. The hundreds of farmers that have sacrificed their lives is a grim example of this. An inefficient sector with limited government support, irrational weather, scavenging money lenders and middlemen, all constantly fuel the recipe for disaster.
Similarly, a student going through a rough phase might be holding on. But on hearing of other instances of students causing self-harm, a previous never considered option might suddenly sound like a respite. Secondly, a common thread connecting two strangers could also cause one to cause self-harm on hearing about the suicide of the other. There have been a number of suicides among common citizens upon hearing of the death (even of natural causes or illness) of their favourite politician or movie star. Here, the thread linking the two is the admiration for their revered minister or actor.
Consider this: Say you had to work on a task that required a good measure of focus and skill. Would you have a greater chance of succeeding if you had an audience cheering you on? Or if the same audience repeatedly cautioned you about the risks of failure?
I think I know your answer. Similarly, words and actions of people have subconscious effects on us. More so if we share some commonality with them. A hostile crowd in a foreign playground might not affect us half as much as a hostile crowd on our home ground.
So, what can we do to intervene? While not easy, one can sometimes spot people in one’s circles who are going through a challenging phase. Even if they don’t directly tell us. We could then try reach out to them or increase the support ecosystem for them. To try and lighten the burden or ease off the scales, which might be at dangerous levels. Or we could refer or bring to them the professional support needed.
Here’s an earlier post, Death and the Maiden, where I shared some variables that might compel someone to cause self-harm.
And here’s a very well thought out post you must check out. It’s by The Depression Project, about telling signs.
Thoughts and ideas welcome!
Jane Elliott: image
I recently saw this video of a ENGESA Mercedes truck. Something obviously very fascinating about it. So I thought I’d attempt to recreate it in some way, using Lego. This is a quick, crude first attempt. I clearly don’t have enough relevant pieces.
Below was an improved variant to the earlier one. The last model was built simply to see the beauty of the multi-axle movement. But the last version hadd traction/ground clearance issues, as the wheels would hit the undercarriage at certain tilts. So I went a step further and replicated the rear multi-axle on the front too. And, the cab roof sloped up (for better aerodynamics).
And, a final variant of my idea of an ENGESA Mercedes truck, before I was done with this concept. This one has a double swivel multi-axle and a horizontal swivel link after the cab, to allow it to turn better.
Own, manage or work at a company that is grappling with business challenges, or needs more innovation for growth? Get in touch! More here.
My 9 Step Version of the Design Thinking Process
This post about my 9-step version of the design thinking process has been long overdue. It is already explained in my book, ‘Design the Future’, but I also wanted to share it here for those interested.
The five-step Stanford design thinking process is arguably the most popular process out there. I have however, come across numerous different processes or versions. Ranging from the 15-step Darden process that I was taught, to oversimplifications and misleading three-step processes I have come across.
In my interactions with managers, business leaders and even students, I found that while many were familiar with the Stanford or some other design thinking process, they did not quite understand it well enough. For instance, ‘empathy’ came across to them as something that is ‘just done’. Similar to how many people assume hearing is the same as listening. And seeing empathy as a step in the process gave many the impression that like a switch, it had to be turned on and then off, as one moved to the next step.
So, in an effort to simplify the design thinking process so more people may use it, I created my own version of the design thinking process based on my understanding of design thinking and experiences practicing it. I took the Stanford model, and hopefully improved it.
You need to remember that any design thinking process is a broad guideline. It is not like a military obstacle course that one must complete in a defined sequence. You might find yourself looping through a few steps multiple times. Or in some cases, depending on what the information or insight presents, you might find yourself back at the beginning; starting again with renewed understanding of the challenge.
Sherlock Holmes, in the series ‘Elementary,’ once tells Watson, “The danger with rule books, Watson, is that they offer the illusion that leading a moral life is a simple undertaking, that the world exists in black and white. Welcome to the grays.”
At least when it comes to areas such as creativity and drawing inspiration, remember there can never be stringent rules or guidelines.
My 9-step version of the design thinking process:
Of the nine steps in the process, the first three are more underlying criteria than steps. Criteria that are critical to improving the chances of success on a project. Those three criteria are Humility, Empathy, and Intention. While these might seem obvious to the point of sounding stupid, they are often the most ignored aspects to a design-led process. More on that as we understand each step better.
After that come the more common steps of most design thinking processes. They are: Define – Empathize with Intent – Redefine – Ideate – Prototype – Test
Let’s look at the nine steps more closely:
Humility – The quality of having a modest or low view of one’s importance. Its relevance springs from the simple signal versus noise perspective. Our objectives as design thinkers is to maximize our understanding of user experiences and needs. Of those we want to innovate for, or whose problems or challenges we want to solve. That is the signal that is of utmost importance to us for innovating for them. Our views, opinions, and biases are the noise.
The moment you can bring yourself down to the level of a beginner or a learner, you put yourself in the backseat, and that’s when the end user or final beneficiary of your innovation will come into the limelight of your focus. Remember to start with humility.
Empathy – The ability to understand and share the feelings of another. Putting yourself in a live user-setting and observing and/ or interacting with users to get a better sense of what a problem or future opportunity might mean to them, how they deal with it, and so on. In conjunction with humility, it offers a good environment to capture user information.
Unlike what some methods might state, empathy (and humility as well as the next step, intention) are not steps in themselves. They should not be traits that you turn on and off depending on which stage of the design thinking process you are. It is also why, along with the intent, I have placed them at the base of the six-step process, to signify how the three traits always need to be ‘ON.’
Without being in a constant state of empathy, no real innovation is possible. And that will be the difference between a real design thinker or team creating an exceptional change, and people simply practicing it as a flavour of the times.
Intention – An intention is the larger thought and nudge to action for a change, that brings you to employ the design thinking process. You might wonder what the difference is, between humility, empathy, and intent.
As a business leader, humility will always help you spot customer or employee or other stakeholder needs and concerns. Empathy will let you better understand those needs and concerns. To get to the root causes of it. You might still choose not to do anything about it, because you don’t have the intention to. Contrarily, if you have the intention, but lack humility and empathy, it would mean that your objective or goal is not the right one.
Equipped with humility and empathy, but in the absence of any intent, a business leader will always spot improvement areas in his or her business. All they need then is to choose their intention – i.e., determine the direction of their effort, and get working on it.
Define – Here, we put the problem statement or opportunity statement in words. It is a starting point of sorts, to the primary design thinking process. Before interacting with user groups, this is a step where we broadly express what we think the problem or opportunity area might be. It could be how a client has described a problem, or, if we are helping a friend or industry colleague, it could be their description of the issue.
One key thing to remember with defining a problem or opportunity is to make it sound positive, irrespective of how grave or pointless the situation might seem. A lot of companies are prone to defining/ framing what hurts first. Their definition ends up being a problem statement which sounds grim. The disadvantage of doing this is that when you invite people to think of ideas, even as part of a brainstorming exercise, a grim-sounding problem statement stifles the thinking, and will hugely limit the number and quality of views that you receive.
On the contrary, if you turn your problem statement into an opportunity statement, people ideating will be in a positive mindset, and be more attuned to think of creative ideas. Try to notice the difference of mindsets the following two statements evoke. Read them more than once if necessary:
A Problem Statement: “How can we drastically reduce our after-sales service related expenses?”
An Opportunity Statement: “How can we redefine our service arm to be more relevant to customer needs, while not proving expensive for us?”
As Abraham Maslow once said, “if all you have is a hammer, everything looks like a nail.” Defining a challenge too negatively and very precisely might give you solutions that just create more problems of their own.
Empathize with intent – This is the fun phase, where you spend time observing actual users in their natural surroundings. See how they consume a product or service. How they interact. And you must do this in the subtlest way possible, even when you are interviewing or interacting with them. Especially if the process is delicate or embarrassing for the end-user, or if the user is introverted or are in some way intimidated by you and your team’s presence.
One important thing to remember in this phase is to be subjective with the empathy, but objective with what they share with you. If you have a subjective mindset when trying to find learnings, you might tend to get lost in a problem. And depending on the type of assignment, it might leave you either in disbelief, or maybe even depressed or an emotional wreck, depending on the kind of problem you are working to solve, as users expose you to severe difficulties or bitter experiences.
Instead, empathize with users as they walk you through their journey, experiences, feelings, and thoughts. But look at it from behind a glass wall when taking notes or drawing inspiration or conclusions from it. That way, your focus is not diverted by problems but instead stays focused on noting down those problems and possible thoughts, reasons, etc., that might spring to mind. The focus will help you then work towards getting rid of the problem, as opposed to being overwhelmed by it.
Redefine – After gathering user insights, we revisit our original definition with what we have learned. After enough information has been collected in the earlier stage, the team debriefs. The information is shared amongst team members without contaminating it with their inferences. That way, each member gets a clear sense of how things presently are.
Often, when tasked with solving a problem for someone, even when we have little or no information to go with, we are eager to get started with identifying potential solutions right-away. You might have seen this tendency in yourself and others (I tend to, from time to time), where someone mentions a problem, and without stopping to understand more, you start rattling possible causes or solutions.
That happens when we go with our definition of someone else’s problem. Which is why, after an initial definition, once we get a better understanding of it from actual people facing the problem (in the ’empathize with intent’ stage), we redefine the challenge more accurately, based on what we have learnt.
Ideate – This is the stage where designers would take the information they have gathered and use it as inputs that they put through a choice of design thinking tools. Tools including the brainstorming or versions of it, to contra-logic, worst-idea, brain-writing, trigger questions, changing perspectives, etc., and then use anchors, forced combinations and connections to come up with numerous ideas. The more ideas, the better, and the crazier the ideas; even better!
Prototype – Prototyping an innovative solution is akin to shaping a solution using two pairs of hands – your design team’s, and your users’. In the previous stage, you would have identified some potential ideas and possible directions regarding a solution. This is where you need end users to help you figure out what works for them, and what does not.
The objective of this stage is to be able to move rapidly towards a final solution, with minimum investment (as far as possible) on experiments towards refining potential solutions. The moment each prototype becomes too expensive and complicated, there is a tendency to either convince yourself and your team that it is a great solution (because of the effort that went into it. It is a cognitive bias called the IKEA effect).
Another possibility is that if you encounter a roadblock at this stage, your team or the top management might get easily demotivated and consider it a colossal failure, solely because your team spent a fortune building a prototype that user groups did not like or approve of.
Instead, make the most basic and low-cost but effective prototypes possible. Use anything from sheets of paper for story-boarding, to card paper or cardboard, Styrofoam and other craft supplies to work toward a final solution. Your objective with each prototype, is to test no more than one factor or variable you need clarity on. Test too many criteria, and the learning becomes unclear.
At workshops I conduct, I sometimes take my old letterheads for participants to use for discussions, sketching, or to make things out of.
It is only when everyone finds using anything lying around them as potential material for prototypes, is when prototyping will become far more prevalent. The same goes for ideating. If the materials you use are too fancy, you or your team might use it as an excuse to delay prototyping, or even ideating.
Which is also why, while a lot of design thinking workshops use post-its and put up pictures of it, few participants continue to use post-its to implement some of the tools they learnt. Because buying post-its is expensive and sometimes inconvenient. If you can’t make do with stuff already at your desk or around, the action gets delayed till you buy those supplies. Take this from someone who uses toothpaste or soap to write on the bathroom wall so that a potential idea does not disappear with the flowing water.
Test – Once you’ve completed the prototyping phase, you move on to testing. The significant difference between the two is that while prototyping was far greyer and also, the prototypes were far less expensive but required a slight stretch of the imagination by the user, the testing phase is that much more advanced, as it is that very close to the final product or service.
And unlike checking one feature at a time in the prototyping phase, here you are testing the product or service in its entirety, towards ironing out any features or poor service extensions that exist, by letting your users directly interact with the solution.
The first rule to keep in mind in the testing phase too is that your product or service is not final or finalized yet! There would still be some assumptions that your team would need to test. For instance, it is one thing to prototype with sketches or storyboards or even pretend mobile interfaces. Quite another to have end users interact with your store layout or theme park or mobile application.
Which is why we have the testing phase, where your team would help build almost-final solutions to test them in the hands of a closed group of stakeholders. It is great to have a select list of people who will evaluate your creation. That increases the focus and feedback capturing. And what you will be testing, are any assumptions that were earlier not tested, or that sprung up along the way with the increase in clarity.
It isn’t possible to overstate the amount of valuable, even critical insights that can be gained in the testing phase.
Testing is followed by eventually launching the product, service or change – once all assumptions and user hesitations have been factored in.
After you’ve gained more realistic insights from real users who interacted with your prototypes and brought you very close to a final solution that you by way of prototypes and then running exercises with them in the testing phase, you are finally onto an almost ready and well-refined answer.
Ideally, even after launch, the journey should be looked at like it is the making of a TV series. You’ve launched season 1 or 2, and it is doing well. But you need to check-in now and then as to how viewers are reacting and engaging with it. The bigger question in your mind always is, is there enough traction to demand a season 3, and if yes, would there be any significant changes needed (replacing actors, etc.) or is the show no longer relevant to its audiences. In which case, you then need to figure out what next. That way you are not going in blind with season 3, to later find out it lost its audience midway through the previous season itself.
One should remember that there is no perfect product, service, experience or solution to user needs or problems. And there are no runaway results promised by design thinking, the way some firms guarantee the ability to create viral videos. But yes, you always have a far greater chance of arriving at a product or service that people want or need by using design thinking, than by merely guessing or troubleshooting your way through.
What qualifies as true innovation?
The word ‘innovation’ does get passed around a lot nowadays. From large businesses to startups and perhaps even consultants like myself.
If you take a moment to think about it, innovation is not as commonplace as we might assume it is.
If you had an almost infinite budget, and you created a cutting-edge product, that is innovation, but probably not a great one, at least in my book, unless it is easily affordable by a good section of its total user base.
What does that mean?
In my book, I take a few examples. One of a hand-built, limited-edition supercar. Perhaps only a hundred, or even just 7-8 of them ever built. Each one will come with an astronomical figure on the price-tag. High input costs, the best of components and skilled manpower, and a high sale price.
That is not a great example of a true innovation, because only a few people would benefit from it, and it is easy to add technology with a huge budget.
Contrarily, what if a similar amount was invested on an early-warning system for storms or earthquakes that could benefit millions? Now that would be a true innovation!
Another example I mention in my book, is of the USD 120,000 Ottobock Genium X3 knee. It is a state-of-the-art prosthetic foot, also referred to as ‘the Maserati of microprocessor prosthetics.’ Again, at that price, only a few differently abled would be able to afford it to improve their lives.
Then there is the BMVSS fitted Jaipur prosthetic foot, that retails at USD 30-45. It has benefitted over 1.55 million people worldwide since the late 1960s when it was invented.
True innovation does not happen on huge budgets and unlimited manpower and resources. True innovation happens with constraints. Not just monetary constraints, but others too. But that is also when you sometimes get products or services that the world never forgets. Products or services that truly change lives
If you own, manage or work at a company, and are grappling with a complex challenge or are in need of innovation for growth, get in touch. More here.
One of the fundamental ingredients of an impactful innovation or successful design thinking exercise, is empathy. The ability to understand and share the feelings of another.
Often, in our enthusiasm to create something someone (a customer segment, employees, or even society), or to solve a problem for them, we tend to knowingly or unknowingly speed up the process. We skip the part of trying to understand the problem or the cause of it. Or the unexpressed need. We create, and we expect (or at least hope for) delight from those receiving our innovations or solutions.
This simple image I came across online gives great context to our urgency to solve problems or innovate. An infant is too young to realize or even see clearly, the flaw in this. If a simple flaw like this could be missed by most of us, what else might we be missing? How little effort are we taking to look at business innovation or problem-solving from the right ‘context’?
Small efforts in understanding customer needs, go a long way. Apart from feeling appreciated and important, customers help us get closer to innovative solutions they are willing to pay for. The least we can do is look at their needs and problems from their perspective.
If you run or manage a business, and innovation, strategy, problem-solving, customer experience or ideation are areas of interest, there are a few ways I can help. More about it here.
My book, ‘Design the Future’ is available as an Ebook on Amazon & Kobo, and as paperbacks across leading online bookstores including Amazon & Flipkart. Look forward to your review on Amazon once you’ve read it.
Gucci’s Packaging – Not so Gucci
I recently conducted an interactive session on Design Thinking at a leading investment bank. It might be easy to assume that applications of design thinking at an investment bank are limited. It is quite the opposite though. And the applicable scope of design thinking just seems to grow bigger with each passing day. The team was also kind enough to present me with a thoughtful gift at the end of the session. A Gucci tie.
Now, once you’re in the design thinking fold, you are always processing and assessing products and services. As you might have noticed, the tip of the tie is a little crumpled. If I was the manufacturer of ties that retailed at anything between $60-240 or more, I would have been concerned about the experience a customer goes through of opening the packaging and seeing the product as well.
The tie came in a tall box which was in a slightly taller paper bag, fastened with an embossed ribbon. When you hold the bag upright however, the tie drops inside thanks to that often-neglected phenomena called gravity. This causes creases at the tip of the tie. Now while many might tell you it is ok to iron a tie, it is not something I’d recommended you did often. And certainly not something you would want to do with a brand new tie.
While there might be several ways to package it in a way that leaves an impression with the customer, it isn’t something I’ll spend time thinking of right now. The easy way for Gucci to solve this problem, would be by merely placing a card paper insert which is fixed to the sides of the box. It would hold the tie in place at the top, like a clothes hanger. That way, the tip of the tie would never touch the bottom of the box when held upright.
Little things go a long way in improving how customers interact with your product. And how they remember it.
Need Ideas? Dress Down
Despite the Mumbai heat, I don’t miss an opportunity to wear a suit. Especially to a first-time work meeting with people. However, things are different if the agenda of a meeting is problem solving or ideating. Then, I not just prefer, but also strongly recommend a casual dress code.
Think about the times you get the best ideas. It could be about work, about hobbies, about fitness, recipes, or even new businesses. I bet if you were to look back on your life, two locations might be the luckiest places to have a light bulb moment.
Starting with the second first, those were probably when you were in bed, or in the shower (or even in the loo for that matter). In bed, good chances are you’re either dressed light, or half naked. Then there is the shower. Remember frantically looking around for someplace and means of writing your idea, because you’re sure you’d forget if you waited till you finished. Like the hundreds of ideas before. Seemingly priceless ones that unwittingly got swept with the flowing water.
So, next time you’re sitting to brainstorm some great ideas for your business or at work. No, don’t stroll in in the buff. But strongly consider dressing casually. You and your teammates would be more at ease. You’d be able to think of ideas that might have otherwise remained elusive. Especially because you were busy adjusting your trousers around the thighs, or feeling the choking feeling of the tie around your neck.
Is it why most innovative companies are never stuck up about things like dress code? Seems obviously so!
So remember. Need ideas? Dress down!