Doctor's Note – Issue 1 – Changing Culture One Meeting at a Time

Doctor's Note – Issue 1

Welcome to Doctor's Note, an irregular newsletter containing a mix of longer form essays like this one and short musing on design, innovation, culture, technology and society.

A bit of background

I've blogged for quite some time, but Twitter started to kill that off. After all, why put the effort into writing something smart when you can just mindlessly point at something someone else wrote? Podcasting has also played a role, since it seems to be the new blogging. I've hosted a fair few on Fjord's Fika and been a frequent guest on the excellent This is HCD.

I have written an awful lot of e-mails though. Some of those e-mails were long responses to "Hey Andy, do you know anything about..." and earned me the nickname of The Professor in Australia. Kindly intended, I think.

Since I have only once been a guest professor, Notes from The Professor just seemed just too pompous. But I do have a PhD, so Doctor's Note seemed marginally less pompous and has a dad joke pun in there for good measure.

Consider this newsletter the response to you asking me about something via e-mail. Now I can inflict the answer on a bigger audience of at least eight people. Thanks for signing up for it and please let others know if you like it.

All meetings should be workshops or reviews

I hate most meetings. They are generally talkfests (I'm one of the guilty parties there) and rarely produce much actual value or even decisions. The worst outcomes are the agreement to meet again to discuss the topic. I dare not add up the hours of my life I have wasted in them.

Meetings about project ideas, particularly designing services and new ways of working, are terrible if they have no actual artefacts to discuss. Complex organisations, workflows and ecosystems are difficult to get out brains around. New ideas are platonic and utopian while they’re still in our heads. The daily business tools of documents on laptops hinder this and, worse, they often shape your cognition in negative ways sometimes leading to disastrous outcomes.

Ex-Apple engineer, Ken Kocienda, describes how they tackled this at Apple in his excellent book, Creative Selection:

“Every major feature on the iPhone started as a demo, and for a demo to be useful to us, it had to be concrete and specific. We needed concrete and specific demos to guide our work, since even an unsophisticated idea is hard to discuss constructively without an artifact to illustrate it.”

If teams are stuck, get them to make something.

Jon Kolko has a rule in teaching that it is “fundamental that they bring an artefact, not just an idea,” while Allan Chochinov has an even more draconian No Prototype, No Meeting rule. In fact, he is so committed to killing of pointless meetings and shifting towards “reviews” (for which you need an artefact to review) that he has configured his computer and phone’s auto-correct, “making it impossible for me to type the word ‘meeting.’ Now I never can, and I never do.”

Getting visual in meetings is the quickest way to convert them from a boring talkfest into a workshop. Try making a rule that every meeting is a workshop if you want to actually get things done.

If you’re interested in changing the dynamic of meetings, you might want to start with Kevin Hoffman’s book, Meeting Design.

We know our customers

“We know our users/customers"

— Keith Stoeckeler 🍔 (@keiths) October 30, 2018

This did the rounds of the Interwebs recently. It's the perfect illustration of why research into people’s behaviours in context is essential.

Fjord Trends 2019 – the making of...

In case you haven't had your media feeds flooded with it already, we launched Fjord's 2019 Trends last week. I would link to it anyway, but this year I was one of the core team synthesising and writing the trends, along with Mark Curtis, Martha Cotton and Lucia Ciranova, so I am especially proud. Here's a little taste of what goes into the sausage (that metaphor isn't that pleasant, right?).

The Trends are crowdsourced from across the 1,000 or so designers in 28 studios around the word, so there is a lot of data to go through and we have to try and filter out our own internal company biases. There are lot of things we want to be trends, but they're not really trending. I wrote a draft one about the Circular Economy a few years ago, for example, but this was not a trend in public discourse back then. The concerns about plastics really changed that this year and set change in motion.

What is especially tough is nailing the narrative amongst all the data and angles. As with the meetings point above, we had to get all the material on the wall to really start to understand the patterns and the texts themselves went through many, many iterations, often taking 180-degree turns before we decided on the right storyline. There were at least two trends that had last minute moments of insight that ended in "it's not this, but that!" re-writes. Synthetic Realities was especially difficult on that front – we had to look past all the fear it instills to really understand what it means. A rubbish interaction I had with Siri made it clear to me – when these things work, they're just magic digital stuff and we don't think of them as synthetic at all. Until they don't work.

My wife gifted me an all access membership to Masterclass and I'm especially grateful for Malcolm Gladwell's one. He describes how he prefers to tell people his ideas face-to-face rather than sending someone a draft for feedback. He can see whether they're bored or they say, "Malcolm, what the hell are you talking about?" or whether they lean in, fascinated. We did a lot of that in writing the Trends and they will end up taking on a life of their own once we and other people start presenting them.

There's an old saying in filmmaking that there is the film you write, the one you shoot, the one you edit and the one that the audience make their own. The Trends feel the same. I'm really looking forward to seeing which ones take off and whether our predictions are right on or right off.

​Actually, there's an awful lot that designers can learn from filmmaking, so that'll be the subject of a future Doctor's Note.

That's it for this issue. I'm still finding the write tone and length, so please give me feedback. Too long, not long enough, want more easily digestible links with pithy comments? Let me know your thoughts. And if you like it, send people to this link to sign up.

Hope you all have a great holiday season and see you in the New Year!