Having ideas — and questions — is a responsibility

The NYT talks to IDEO’s CEO, fwded by my dad. My favorite quote:

I’ve gone to great lengths to try to encourage what I call an emergent culture at IDEO, where people understand that it’s essentially their responsibility to have good ideas. Not about the work they do every day — we all have to do that — but about new ideas for the company. What are we going to do next? What fields are we going to work in? What are our new big things?

… It’s very easy in business to get sucked into being reactive to the problems and questions that are right in front of you. And it doesn’t matter how creative you are as a leader, it doesn’t matter how good the answers you come up with. If you’re focusing on the wrong questions, you’re not really providing the leadership you should.

… There’s this idea that McKinsey first articulated many years ago of the T-shaped person, which is somebody who’s got some deep craft — a great writer or a great designer or a great architect, engineer or whatever they might be — and that’s the vertical stroke of their T. But then the horizontal is that they’ve got clear empathy and interest in engaging with other disciplines and doing other pieces of the process or playing other roles.

On the last quote, I’ve heard the T-shape before but love the use of empathy. If you don’t care how or why people work, you suffer.

Palm trees and photos from the Palo Alto trip

Stopping at Stanford on our way from the airport…
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I took up residency with Mary in the back bench of Laura’s van…
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I am a child when it comes to seeing license plates from other places…
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We all drew one-minute pictures of each other…
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There were clocks…
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And social-media cupcakes…
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And an ice cream truck…
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Then we went back to the airport.
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Other highlights: cheese and fruit on Virgin America, renewing my West Coast love of Pyramid Hefeweizen, a swiss-and-mushroom burger and chocolate chip shake (Eduardo’s excellent call) at The Creamery, much-needed pizza at a place I can’t recall, discovery of a book called The No Asshole Rule: Building a Civilized Workplace and Surviving One That Isn’t, KFOG’s Friday the 13th 10@10 (including Jeff Beck’s I Ain’t Superstitious and Harold Melvin and the Blue Notes’ Bad Luck), Jim’s best songs from bad bands, Mary’s Zuckerberg sighting, Tom’s zombie, Michael’s “She’s banging on the trunk and it’s a rental — I don’t know how to open the trunk!,” Reggie’s support of my futile texting, Laura’s “I’m guessing ‘hi’ is your normal speed,” the optimism of How Might We, discovery of the Coasting bike platform,  IDEO hotness, Brandon’s backing, yogurt line usability, stray dogs in the hotel lot, lots of work, and much more.

We welcome Friday night

cooper-bono-225That’s someone’s stuff they’re blowing up / We’re into growing up / Women of the future / Hold the big revelations

I got a submarine / You got gasoline / I don’t want to talk about wars between nations / Not right now

We welcome waking up Friday morning with a headache but in a great mood, racing through pages of edits on a doc that inspires you into a lunch that makes you happy for friends’ randomness, getting buy-in on code you didn’t used to know, turning up the music in post-week exhaustion, and reclaiming a photo from an IDEO session skit before it’s used against you.

(I was a bad Bono. Right after I was a soup kitchen volunteer with Plaxico Burress. And right before I was a phone operator at a Playboy Mansion telethon.)

1560 Wilson is apparently my Hotel California (but in a good way)

December 1998: A trip back to the Cheshire Cat, the bookstore where I worked in high school, results in freshman-year holiday hours, money for family presents and the name of a woman in Washingtonpost.com’s H.R. department. I soon write her my first real cover letter. “Dear Ms. Lauterbach: Online journalism. It is about the spreading of information. It is about style and form. It is about getting it done quickly — very quickly. But, most of all, it is about getting it done right. The Internet is obviously the latest, greatest trend in the world of journalism….”

The Medill placement staff rips this letter to shreds. God bless them.

The final cut avoids a two-word lede and any use of “latest, greatest.” Likely due to these changes, I get to intern at Post.com that summer. I head to 1560 Wilson daily for the next two summers, walk up that stupid hill over and over again, miss every staff meeting held in some random room, and get a couple free lunches next door at Cafe Asia.

November 2008: In a job directly traceable to a boss that first summer, I get to help facilitate online media innovation training at 1560 Wilson, while eating free lunch from Cafe Asia, in the room that hosted all the staff meetings, thanks to friends Laura and Michael who run a great show but make me walk up that stupid hill over and over again.

Sincerely, Coop Dot Com / Pretty Pink.

Slots, a man in Reno

It’s amazing how well the “Biggest Little City in the World” line fits. Met all kinds of cool people on this month’s work trip to Reno and nearly every one of them felt, expressed or participated in the title.

But how best to see? The always fantastic Megg took me on a drive around the city and outskirts, the farmland the city has pushed into and somewhat lost itself it in. Downtown is still there, left to figure itself out, but seems to be beginning to grapple. While the casinos have their deal, neighbors are reasserting themselves. If there are business improvement zones to come (versus traditional casino power or with them?), people seem to know the right directions.

Thumbs up especially to the points between points that satisfied the taste buds: J J’s Pie Co, the Little Waldorf Saloon, and the Imperial Bar and Lounge. For a city of neighborhoods guy in a driving town, I felt at home in all of them. Casino food didn’t look as satisfying. But between some minor El Dorado slots losses playing slots by WizardSlots and Circus Circus ticket collecting, a few other casino moments did.

Like … an Elvis coin-pusher smack in the middle of the Circus Circus kiddie section, completely unplayed by the children running around it. Our little group conferred on the point of the game — not even getting to the usual usability talk, or even how the machine was in poor form to back rival Vegas — and spent $1 total before moving on. Didn’t look good for EPE’s decision or all the coin-pushing games to come before and apparently fail in their storytelling, engagement and enjoyment.

Whack-a-Mole, a ball-shooting game and air hockey all got more love.

And I have to include the cost of booking casino lodging late, getting the standard room instead of the deluxe. The price was the view….

Would I go back? Totally. Might book early enough for the deluxe room.

At least they’re not playing games with candy

After I wrote here in March about studies playing disappointing economic games with chocolate, Amit wrote me to give more context. I promptly lost his e-mail in the mix. Recovering it recently, I found his comment in much need of posting. It aided my argument that not giving people all the chocolate or candy or ice cream they wanted was poor science.

those studies are done by marketing depts. can’t trust that. that’s why economists only studied actual purchasing behavior. (we call this revealed preference.)

The Wikipedia page for revealed preference has a nice explanation as well. If you, like Amit, enjoy economics or, like me, enjoy observation-based problem solving (more fun than it sounds), revealed preference is for you. Who cares what people say they do or say they are willing to do? The things people actually do are the things that matter.

Newsroom note I: We sure still struggle here. With process issues, we stick too close to the surface because we’re afraid going deeper will take too long. We end up making decisions that ignore the underlying issues and cost us more in the long run. With outside reaction issues, we tend to ignore the actual outside reactions, guessing instead because going outside, again, takes too long. We end up in the same place as we do internally and hurt the other half of our workings.

Newsroom note II: It was great to end up spending two days last month with people from IDEO. They’re innovation experts who don’t do focus groups. They find people deeply connecting to their area of research and do deep-dives into their lives. “Human factors,” they call it. Storytelling, brainstorming and prototyping cycle from there. From the beginning and end of the process, you keep your identity, integrity and ideas. Good for any industry, but great for competitive news and information. Backed up a bunch of things I’d tried before and gave a ton of ideas to move ahead.

Back to candy.

Amit also points me toward a Yale paper. The study isn’t about chocolate consumption, but it still involves giving chocolate away. It’s my kind of paper.

“We examine whether ambiguity aversion correlates with costume choice amongst children at Halloween,” the study’s cover notes. “We conducted an ambiguity aversion experiment with children on Halloween during trick-or-treating and correlated this with their choice of costumes. We find that children wearing the most commonly chosen costumes are more likely to avoid a gamble with ambiguous odds.”

Not only do the authors rag on their department head refusing them the use of his porch, but Amit highlights this line: “Fourth, while recent work (Todd and Wolpin (2002)) has narrowed a gap between structural economists and experimentalists, structural economist residents of the neighborhood were suspicious of the experimental activities on the porch and were more likely to persuade their children to avoid the home.”