Instead of New Year's Resolutions, Think Like A Designer And Write Your Manifesto

I have always found new year resolutions difficult (with the exception of Woody Guthrie's beautiful 1942 version). I prefer writing manifestos when it comes to the future.

I wrote about the Manifesto Exercise around this time last year. Denny Post, CEO of Red Robin, shared it on Facebook at the end of this year, recommending it to her friends as a different way of doing their new year resolutions. That inspired me to do mine, below, and update it with some new categories.

"Ayse Birsel authored this piece last year in INC - it's a practical, efficient and inclusive approach to setting yourself up for the New Year!" Denny Post

The Manifesto Exercise will help you think like a designer about your work for 2019.

I recommend that you do one alone and then do it again with your team. Remember you'll be thinking like a designer--with optimism, looking at the big picture, and with empathy for yourself (and each other, if you're doing it with your team).

Ground rules are the same as last year: Give yourself 25 minutes total. If you run out of time, take a short break before you complete it. Speed is part of the game in that it helps you go with your gut and leaves less room for unnecessary self-judgment. Remember to do it playfully, because when we're playful we're like kids, fearless and open to learning by doing.

Time: 25 minutes, sometime in early January 2019.



Map out your work life in 2018 across the following 6 categories (see my diagram and use it as a cheat-sheet). 

Note: This year I found it useful to make loose notes for my deconstruction, adding items as things popped into my head, before sitting down to do it all in one go.

1. Emotion: Start with how you feel in this moment. Then think back to how you felt in 2018 and how you want to feel in 2019. List your feelings as they come to mind in one column. 

Note: Emotions at work often run in opposite pairs--love/hate, success/failure, having a sense of purpose/feeling lost."  

2. Information: Think about what you know about your work going into 2019. This can be your salary, the size of your team, the number of projects you're working on. List tangible information or data in this column.

3. Constraints: What holds you back you back or limits you? Your own constraints, like procrastinating and leaving things to the last minute, and constraints that you cannot control, like budgets. 

4. Joy: What brings you joy at work? Thinking about what makes you happy will help you think about what matters to you at work and will help you to be more intentional about increasing your instances of joy.

Note: Last year Opportunity was #4. I intentionally moved it to #6, wanting you to circle through joy and gratitude (#5) first, to inspire your opportunities.

5. Gratitude: What were you grateful for in 2018? While joy is more personal, gratitude is often in relation to others. It's about getting the relation between ourselves and others right, one of the three foundations of happiness according to Jonathan Haidt, social psychologist and Professor of Ethical Leadership at New York University's Stern School of Business.

6. Opportunity: What are your opportunities as you start in 2019? These are things that align with your values, purpose and personal growth. They're positive, exciting, empowering.

Tip: Try turning your constraints into opportunities (for example, as one of our clients put it, many voices and opinions can be a constraint but it is also an opportunity.)

Note: Last year #5 was Out-of-the-box Opportunity (OOBO) for big dreams and leaps, "revolutions" versus "evolutions". This year they're inside the Opportunity column (See my OOBO in my diagram, daring me to think big.) 


Reflect on your deconstruction, above. Deconstruction helps you break a complex idea into its parts to make it more manageable. It visualizes your life at the cross-section of 2018 and 2019 so that you can decide what to keep, what to discard and what to change. 

Now do your own dot-voting, picking one thing that rises to the top in each column. Go with your gut. You can put a star next to it (I underlined mine in red.) These are your 6 key ingredients for 2019. 


Your Manifesto is your declaration for 2019 based on the top 6 ingredients you chose above. Write it by combining them together in a paragraph:

Your Manifesto = Emotion + Information + Constraint + Joy + Gratitude + Opportunity.

Once you have your manifesto, gather your team--this can be over breakfast or lunch--to do the exercise together and to share your manifestos. Based on each other's manifesto, talk about what you need help with, what you can do together, and who can be your mentors, mentees or an accountability partners to collaborate with to bring your vision to life in 2019.

We use this tool to shift with our clients' mindsets from problems to opportunities, from feeling stuck to action, with great success. The process is almost mathematical in its simple formula yet vision-creating in its results. It's a key component of Design Quotient (DQ), our practice to teach leaders how to think like a designer and imagine tomorrow based on what you know today.

Wishing you a happy and creative 2019.

This article first appeared on on January 3, 2018

How Thinking Like A Designer May Make You Happier In Life And At Work

As the year ends, I revisited Jonathan Haight's book, The Happiness Hypothesis, to remind me of the right conditions for happiness based on history and science.

Haight, social psychologist and Professor of Ethical Leadership at New York University's Stern School of Business, writes, "I don't believe there is an inspiring answer to the question, 'What is the purpose of life?' Yet by drawing on ancient wisdom and modern science, we can find compelling answers to the question of purpose within life.

The final version of the happiness hypothesis is that happiness comes from between. Happiness is not something that you can find, acquire, or achieve directly. You have to get the conditions right and then wait. Some of those conditions are within you, such as coherence among the parts and levels of your personality. Other conditions require relationships to things beyond you: Just as plants need sun, water, and good soil to thrive, people need love, work, and a connection to something larger. It is worth striving to get the right relationships between yourself and others, between yourself and your work, and between yourself and something larger than yourself. If you get these relationships right, a sense of purpose and meaning will emerge." 

Work can make you happy when you can get these relationships right:

1. Create the right relation between you and others.

The right relationship between yourself and others is about working with your friends, or becoming friends with the people you work with, having empathy for others--internally for your team and externally for your stakeholders, your customers and even your competitors; and valuing the trust that comes from empathy; and being part of a tribe of people who share a common goal.

2. Get the relationship between you and work right.

The right relationship between yourself and your work comes from having a beginner's mind; being curious like an octopus, learning like a sponge; gathering inspiration like a bee to navigate the ambiguity of ideation; the joy of solving problems and coming up with new ideas as you strive to do good and well.

3. Finally, align the relationship between yourself and something larger than yourself.

The right relationship between yourself and something larger than yourself is the deep sense of purpose that comes from being at the service of others, putting people at the center of your thinking and honoring them by making their life a little easier, better, safer and perhaps a little more joyful and even beautiful, and having the optimism that no matter how hard the problem you will eventually come up with a better solution.

Striving to get these three relationships right then has the potential to make you happy, perhaps not every day, but most days. My examples come from my own experience of thinking like a designer and its successful results. They're also reinforced by the example of some of my own heroes--Marshall Goldsmith, world's leading executive coach and bestselling author of What Got You Here Won't Get You There, Frances Hesselbein, CEO of the Frances Hesselbein Leadership Institute and former CEO of Girl Scouts, Alan Mulally, business executive and former CEO of the Ford Motor Company, Whitney Johnson, bestselling author of Build An A Team, Dr. Jim Kim, The President of the World Bank and Alex Osterwalder, author and creator of the Business Model Canvas.

To learn more about what makes people happy I recommend reading Haidt's book, cover to cover. Mine is dogeared.

This article first appeared on on December 21, 2018

eight reasons why business people and designers think differently

You know what they say about couples. Opposites attract. A similar dynamic exists between business leaders and designers. It's as if business people are from Mars; designers from Venus

Business people and designers are substantially different species. Which is what makes their partnership so valuable. Business leaders that collaborate with designers and businesses that incorporate design into their organization grow exponentially. 

"2015 results show that over the last 10 years design-led companies have maintained significant stock market advantage, outperforming the S&P by an extraordinary 211 percent," according to the Design Management Institute Design Value Index Study.

Opposites attract. So what makes us so different? I reached out to Alexander Osterwalder, creator of the bestseller, the Business Canvas Model, which has become an indispensable tool for mapping out business plans for entrepreneurs and innovative organizations. He is also the lead author of Business Canvas Generation, together with Yves Pigneur, professor of Management Information Systems at the University of Lausanne.

Osterwalder is a business person who is fluent in design, and I am a designer who is fluent in business strategy. I wanted to bring clarity to why we are so different and yet so complimentary. 

Here are eight reasons why business people and designers think substantially differently, according to Osterwalder:

  1. Business people manage and execute. Designers create and imagine.

  2. Business people are trained to find the right solutions. Designers are trained to create and imagine solutions that don't exist.

  3. Business people focus on what is. Designers on what can be.

  4. Business decisions emerge from a given knowledge set. Designer decisions emerge over time from what you learn as you explore and ideate multiple alternatives.

  5. Business is a culture of perfection. Design is a culture of rough prototypes, continuous iteration and throwing away what doesn't work.

  6. In business, you know therefore you are. In design, you imagine therefore you are.

  7. In business, solutions come from knowledge of what exists. In design, solutions come from the process of exploring new options.

  8. Business values efficiency. Design values ambiguity and divergent thinking.

Business thinking is especially skilled at "exploiting" what is. Design is highly skilled at "exploring" what can be. 

Osterwalder reminds us that 80 percent of all companies in the world are to disappear and that, where organizational structures are so broken, we need to fundamentally rethink them.

"Human cost of companies disappearing is so high, moral obligation is helping them stay alive, to help them live."

To help make organizations better, we need both Exploiters and Explorers. Or as I call them, Evolutionaries and Revolutionaries. Knowledge-based business thinking and imagination-based design thinking. It's the ying and yang of good business. 

Opposites attract and that is how successful partnerships are formed.

This article first appeared on on December 13, 2018

Why And When To Call In a Designer For Help

This week's New Yorker magazine has The Back Page by Roz Chast and it's a cartoon called The Big Book of Parent-Child Fights. The Table of Contents has 12 entries starting with Food Arguments and ending with Miscellaneous Battles. It left me in stitches--I have two teens at home. It also made me love the way it takes a complex idea, the relation between parents and their children, and makes it super simple to understand.

The relation between organizations and design is just as complex. 

Most organizations and leaders don't know why they need designers. To put it into perspective, think about when you need a lawyer. Or when you need a plumber. Easy, right? The answer is not as easy or intuitive with design. 

If you know why you need design, you can double your growth. You can build trust with your customers. You can get better at navigating the world of uncertainty with agility. I call this having a high Design Quotient (DQ).

If you don't know when to call a designer, or how to have design embedded into your company culture, you fall behind. You follow versus lead, others eat you for lunch. 

With inspiration from Chast, here is The Big Book of When to Call a Designer. If you answer Yes (Y) to any of the points, it's time to talk to a designer.

1. You want to increase your revenues radically, and faster. Y/N

According to studies by Design Management Institute (DMI), IBM Global CEO Study 2017, and, more recently a study by Mc Kinsey that tracked 300 companies, organizations that are design-driven increase their revenues faster in the same period.

"Top-quartile MDI scorers increased their revenues and total returns to shareholders (TRS) substantially faster than their industry counterparts did over a five-year period--32 percentage points higher revenue growth and 56 percentage points higher TRS growth for the period as a whole." The Business Value of Design, Mc Kinsey

2. You need to lower your risks but want to increase your rate of innovation. Y/N

The design process inherently reduces risk--its multiple ideas, iteration, rapid prototyping, testing, and reiteration means you can fail fast and at a low cost until you have a winning idea.

"Prototype ideas from low fidelity to high fidelity with increasing evidence that your ideas are going to work." Alex Osterwalder, author, Business Model Canvas

3. You want to build your customers' trust and be close to them. Y/N

Organizations that use design tools regularly, such as co-creation and user-journey maps, develop empathy for their users. This leads to a better understanding of their needs, leading to better solutions, and eventually and most importantly, leading to trust. 

4. Your C-suite doesn't include a design function. Y/N

Most organizations do not have a design function in their C-suite. Yet design can bring user experience-centered, multi-functional vision building and decision making at the highest levels.  Having someone at the top who does this helps to embed it internally and creates long-term returns as noted in point #1.

5. Your organization is siloed, and it gets in the way of effective collaboration. Y/N

Design is collaborative. Designers are generalists. Often what they don't know, and want to learn, that makes them great at bringing cross-functional teams together. In fact, their superpower is synthesizing diverse knowledge and input into a coherent vision.

6. Your research generates insights that everyone has. Y/N

If you want innovation, you need innovative research tools. Designers constantly invent new qualitative and quantitative research tools--researching other industries, studying outliers, using AI and machine-learning to generate permutations--that bring new insights to old problems.

7. You listen to the customer's voice, but do not imagine the customer experience. Y/N

Channeling Henry Ford for a moment, the customer's voice gives you a faster horse. Customer experience, on the other hand, gives you a Model T. Design brings physical, digital, and service together to define experiences that improve our lives. 

8. You have dichotomies, but do not know how to resolve them. Y/N

"Less is more" is my favorite dichotomy. Good design at an affordable price is Target's. Simple and high performance is Apple's. Each is a strong design organization with an embedded design culture, and each creates long-term, high value through the resolution of dichotomies.

There's no one easy answer to when to call a designer; there are many good reasons. But can you afford not to? The answer to that is simple and best said by, Ralph Caplan, author, and National Design Mind Awardee:

"Thinking about design is hard, but not thinking about it can be disastrous."

This article first appeared on on December 8, 2018

Want to Learn Like a Designer? Check Out The 4 Simple Habits

A few weeks back I wrote about how leaders and teams that can think like designers are the foundation of agile, empathic, problem-solving cultures. These cultures are learning cultures and their ability to learn is interlinked with their ability to imagine and use their right brains.

In a world of VUCA (an acronym for volatility, uncertainty, complexity, and ambiguity), one area where thinking like a designer becomes a huge advantage is in your attitude towards knowledge, learning, and information.

Simply put, designers love knowledge. Not for its transactional power, or intellectual prowess, or even geekiness. Designers love learning because knowledge feeds your imagination. 

You imagine the future based on what you know today. Everything you learn becomes the building blocks for what you can imagine tomorrow. And for knowledge to be transformed into the stuff of imagination, you need a certain, design-ful attitude towards learning. 

I call this the "Animal Kingdom of Design Learning". Each is inspired by an animal to explain the four habits of learning like a designer.

1. See Like A Bird.

Have a problem to solve? Look at the big picture.

Try to see the whole, not just the parts. Change your viewing angle until you start to see new patterns. Notice the things at the periphery or around the edges. Look for and learn from outliers. Use the big picture to be inspired by the potential relations between things previously not connected. Use this distance also to create a healthy detachment from things you might care deeply about (like your own ideas, products and services) to think more objectively.

Inspiration: Watch Powers of Ten, Ray and Charles Eames' film, about the relative size of things in the universe, to understand how seeing the big picture literally changes what you see.

2. Pollinate like a bee.

See each challenge is an invitation to go out, get, and bring back inspiration. 

Complex problems are daunting. You tend to only see the burdens and feel crushed by the weight of it all. This is when you need to get out under that weight and look for parts of the solution in different places, like a bee collecting pollen by going from flower to flower. When you don't know what the solution is, you intuit it by collecting diverse information and feeding your unconscious with inspiration.

"Nothing is more to the point than a good digression." Ralph Caplan, author of By Design and recipient of the 2010 Design Mind Award by Cooper Hewitt Design Museum

Hint: Trust your instinct as your gather inspiration. When something you learn or discover excites you, trust that your unconscious is making connections even if your conscious doesn't know it yet. 

3. Extend your tentacles, like an octopus.

Curious Octopus. That is the twitter handle for Paola Antonelli, senior design curator for the Museum of Modern Arts (MoMA), who explains, "I'm like a curious octopus--I go in all directions."

In a world of VUCA, being an octopus is the perfect antidote. Be ambiguous and uncertain about what to learn. Go in all directions. Let your tentacles for information reach far and wide. Have your mind bend and form-shift with elasticity (one of Antonelli's most powerful design shows for MoMA was called Design and the Elastic Mind). 

Hidden advantage: The curious octopus touches many things. The more you touch the more you learn, for your immediate needs and for projects yet to come. The more you know, the more you can share too. 

4. Learn like a sponge.

Once I was called a sponge by one of our clients for my ability to suck up information and the name stuck. Being a sponge for information is a superpower. There is an urgency and speed to your rate of absorption that is important. You need to be efficient in how you absorb information. As well as how you ascertain what is useful, versus what is garbage to be filtered out. 

Hint: Empty out your mind every so often so that you can absorb again. How? Take a break. Go on vacation. Meditate.

Think differently about information, like a designer. Information is a novel way of connecting the dots, seeing unexpected patterns, finding inspiration in unexpected places. It is not learning for learning's sake but learning to fuel your imagination. 

This article first appeared on on November 29, 2018

How to Become Better Visual Thinkers

Business leaders, innovators, and entrepreneurs who are using visual tools are creating a differentiator that pays big dividends

Design-centric companies yield 21 percent higher returns than their competitors, according to the 2015 Design Value Index Study. Their not so secret arsenal? Design thinkers and design teams who are trained in visualization.

Another group, according to IBM Global CEO study 2017 are the Reinventors lead the pack in Digital Transformation. The visual tool that gives them their competitive edge? User journey maps (visual maps that outline a detailed user experience over time). 

Add to that the 150 thousand business people who use Business Model Canvas by Alex Osterwalder, Swiss business theorist and entrepreneur, every year. What differentiates them? Business Model Canvas, which Osterwalder calls the cartography of business, and its companion book, Value Proposition Design, both visual business tools.

Some of the most innovative leaders either think like designers or work very closely with them--Steve Jobs (Apple), Elon Musk (Tesla), Indra Nooyi (former Pepsi), Brian Chesky (AirBNB), Mary Barra (GM).

There are still many business leaders who are uncomfortable with visualization and they have a big problem--applying left brain tools to think with your right brain. 

Why? Think of it like this. As an innovator, you're in the business of right brain. But if you're not visualizing and only using text-centric tools, you're using your right brain with left brain tools. Have you ever traveled to Europe and plugged in your 120V hairdryer into a 220V outlet and fried it? That is what's happening here. 

The good news is visualization is a skill you can get better at with practice and visual business tools are accessible and easy to learn--ranging from journey maps, films, and animation, models and mock-ups, and afore-mentioned Business Canvas Model.

Here are why visualization tools can help you become a better business leader:

What you can visualize you can make happen.

Visualization is one of the key principles of Design Quotient (DQ), your ability to think like a designer, with agility and clarity, in the face of constant change and uncertainty. The power of visualization is that what you can see you can make happen. Visualization is the language of imagination and dreams. It helps you paint a picture of the future based on what you know today.

Once you understand that, you understand the power of visualizing ideas. You won't know if something works until you visualize it. Once you map, draw and model an idea for the future, you have something you can evaluate, share, get feedback on, improve or leave behind and start again. 

My favorite design saying, from designer and teacher Bruce Hannah, captures it with a wink--"Mock it up before you fock it up."

Images are easier to understand and remember. 

According to John Medina, developmental molecular biologist and best selling author of Brain Rules, your brain is better at recognizing and remembering visual input. This is called "Pictorial superiority effect." Ideas that are visualized are remembered 65 percent better than ideas presented orally which only have a recall rate of 10%. Text is less efficient than images because your brain decodes each letter into its own visual cue. As Medina says, "reading creates a bottleneck of comprehension." 

If you're innovating, you want people to remember your ideas over a long period of time, the time it takes to invest, develop and test your ideas. Now knowing the brain science behind memory, what do you think will help your ideas to be memorable? You got it. If you want your ideas to be remembered visualize them.

"If we don't make it visual and tangible it's difficult to understand each other and collaborate productively. Making it visual creates a shared language."--Alex Osterwalder

Visualize to make ideas memorable.

Visualize to reveal preconceptions

When we draw something from memory, we often draw our preconception of it. This can be revealing. According to a New York Times article, when researchers asked people to draw "an effective leader," both women and men drew a man. The drawings revealed unconscious assumptions. Similarly, when asked to draw a house, almost everyone draws the same drawing. We go with our stereotypes. It is important to capture these biases early in innovation work, to either use them intentionally or to break them.

"When we 'process information through the lens of stereotype' our interpretation may be 'consistent with stereotyped expectations rather than objective reality.'"--Nilanjana Dasgupta, professor of Psychological & Brain Sciences at University of Massachusetts at Amherst

Next time you want to reveal biases, draw.

Visualize in your own style

There's a myth about drawing. That you need talent for it. Let's put that to bed.

I start all my ideation sessions with a drawing exercise--I get people to draw each other in three minutes--and after working with thousands of people, I know you are all very capable of it. So before you tell yourself you cannot draw and therefore you cannot visualize, remember that we've learned to draw since were old enough to hold a crayon. And like riding a bicycle, it comes back.

We can all draw, just like we can all write. We all have different handwriting styles, from chicken scratch to calligraphy level, similarly, we all have different drawing styles. There are also different ways you can visualize an idea. Mapping is one. Photos are another. Films are a good tool too. Models and mock-ups are tools for visualization too--you can cut and paste some paper, bend some wire, tie two things with a string. Its there and easy to do, you just have to try it. 

Visualization is one of the key pillars of your Design Quotient, your ability to think like a designer in a world of complex and constant change. It's foundational to agile, empathic, problem-solving cultures.

This article first appeared on on November 21, 2018

Want to Think Like a Designer?

IQ is a number that depicts a person's intelligence, assessed through a series of tests.

EQ is the measure of your abilities in "such areas as self-awareness, empathy, and dealing sensitively with other people," according to Collins English Dictionary.

You need both IQ and EQ in today's organizations, but that still leaves an important ability out. What today's leaders and teams need for agile organizations is DQ--Design Quotient.

Design Quotient is your ability to think like a designer in a world of complex and constant change. Leaders and teams that can think like a designer are the foundation of agile, empathic, problem-solving cultures.

Last week, I asked you which of the four innovation personalities you were--Revolutionary, Evolutionary, Traditional, or Reactionary. A key differentiator between each one is your DQ.

Do you have DQ? Do you want to increase it? DQ is a skill and not a talent. It gets better with practice.

Here are 13 factors that contribute to your DQ you can practice in your organization.

1. Anyone can be a pessimist. Be an optimist instead. 

Thinking like a designer is about positivity. It is the difference between being weighed down by burdens versus lifted up by opportunities. Designers believe that no matter how hard the problem, we will come up with a better solution. This optimism is what propels us forward in the face of complex challenges and problems. Positivity is essential in the face of constant change, something today's organizations and leaders are facing.

Hidden benefit: being constructive.

2. Instead of a one-track mind, have an open mind. 

Thinking like a designer means asking "what if?" all the time. "What if" questions are a sign of being open to different ideas. Designers know from experience that often the best ideas come from the worst places--from failure and from mistakes. Be open to different, bad, and naive ideas as you innovate.

"You need to be naive enough to do things differently. No big publishing house would have allowed us to co-create a fully designed, four-color business book in landscape format--because it was contrary to the publishing industry logic. However, we thought of Business Model Generation as a product, not just a book--similar to Apple products." --Alex Osterwalder, Business Model Canvas

Hidden benefit: flexibility and agility.

3. Together, stronger.

It never ceases to amaze me that so many leaders and teams still choose to work in silos--often because of fear of the other, but also because of a false feeling of superiority. No one person is enough to tackle the wicked problems, sometimes also called "knotty problems," that leaders and organizations are facing. Neither is one specialty. Designers are generalists, learning on the job with each project. Not being a specialist teaches you to value collaborating with experts from different fields. Together, you're stronger. That's why you need to collaborate like a designer across silos and disciplines, and build on each other's ideas.

Hidden benefit: building ownership.

4. Be democratic, not autocratic. 

Over the years, design has become more democratic. One of the advantages of design thinking, using the design process as a strategic tool, is that it's inclusive. It puts challenges on the table and invites everyone to contribute. One of the biggest (but less talked about) benefits of this is how it builds collective trust and ownership; which underscores the importance of collaboration (see No. 3).

Hidden benefit: building trust.

5. To walk in my shoes, take your shoes off first. 

Empathy, the ability to understand other people by putting yourself in their shoes, is essential to the design practice. That's why designers shadow people, observe them, learn from them, and collaborate and co-design with them. This week, something I heard at a retreat by Coburn Ventures took my understanding to the next level--to walk in my shoes, take your shoes off first. Which elevates empathy one more notch and marries it with having an open mind (see No. 2).

Hidden benefit: connecting with your purpose.

6. See like a bird. 

In other words, see the big picture and think holistically about the problem and opportunity. To reconnect the dots in new ways, you need to look at the edges, have peripheral vision, and be inspired by the extremes. Designers often talk about outliers, the exceptions, and adjacencies. The ideas around the edges are invaluable to seeing things differently and creating new value.

Hidden benefit: seeing new patterns.

7. Pollinate like a bee. 

Muhammad Ali said, "Float like a butterfly, sting like a bee." For DQ, pollinate like a bee from flower to flower, picking bits of information that excite you. Inspiration is seeing parts of the solution in different places before you can even intuit a direction or a potential solution. Designers will tell you that when they're working on a project, everything is a potential inspiration--a film, a museum exhibit, a pop-culture video, an ad on a billboard. Edison might claim inspiration is only 1 percent of the work, but it is a huge 1 percent. It is your unconscious pointing you in the direction of your ideas. This is hands down my favorite DQ factor.

"Genius is 1 percent inspiration, 99 percent perspiration." --Thomas Edison

Hidden benefit: making something as sweet as honey.

8. Don't be afraid not to know. Have a beginner's mind.

Garry Ridge, CEO of WD-40 and one of the most beloved CEOs in the U.S., signs every email with "Ancora Imparo," which translates as, "I am still learning." What about you? Are you still learning? Curiosity is the backbone of DQ. It is having a beginner's mind to look at a situation with new eyes, ask the questions experts won't ask, explore, and acquire knowledge from a wide variety of places to break our preconceptions. 

Hidden benefit: continuous learning.

9. Design thinking is dead without design doing. 

If you're sitting in a corner, in front of your computer, and ruminating about the scale of the problems you're faced with, you're most likely not making progress. Stand up, close your computer, look for some people, and get some cheap materials, easels, and markers. Start doing. You find 50-70 percent more creative solutions when you are exploring using multi-sensorial elements (see the work of Richard Mayer). Designers sketch, write, model on the computer, make mock-ups and prototypes. It's multimodal, and you get your hands dirty. As Don Norman says, "What innovation needs is Design Doing." Start doing.

Hidden benefit: action trumps inaction.

10. Iterate, iterate, iterate. 

Business leaders tend to develop one perfect idea, invest highly in it, and then are surprised when it fails. A much better way is iterating and trying multiple ideas in phases. You can't go immediately from zero to 100. That's why the design process has built-in phases--often called out as immersion/research, ideation, concept, design, development, implementation. Early ideas are rough, and there is strength in numbers. As you iterate and learn with each phase, you fail often and fast, but you also move to the next level. 

Hidden benefit: managing complexity.

11. Are you having fun yet?

If you're thinking like a designer, your mood is playful. When we're playing, we're like kids; we're not afraid of making mistakes. Jocelyn Wyatt, CEO of, a nonprofit organization focused on impacting the lives of the poor, believes that when you're dealing with serious problems, some levity is required. Often, the best ideas come from the worst places, from our mistakes and failures. 

"We can be our best selves and we can unlock the best in the partners that we're working with, and in the communities where we're working, when we do bring that playfulness and joy, rather than bringing sadness." --Jocelyn Wyatt

Hidden benefit: greater employee engagement.

12. What you visualize you can make happen.

In design, what you visualize you can make happen. When you want people to come to your home, you draw them a map. When you want them to come to the future with you, you also need to draw them a road map. It doesn't matter how crude your drawing, as long as it is a roadmap of the future. You paint a picture of things to come. If a picture is worth a thousand words, an idea visualized may be worth millions.

Hidden benefit: "pictorial superiority effect," your brain's higher ability to recognize and remember visual input.

13. People first, stupid.

If you think like a designer, you're signing up for thinking with "People First." You are at the service of people--your team, your department, your shareholders, your consumers. Make their life better, more joyful, easier. Measure how well you're putting people first. Acknowledge that this is different from being product-, tech-, and even profit-centric. It is life-centric.

"People first." --Alan Mulally, naming the first step of his process that saved Ford Motor Company from bankruptcy.

Hidden benefit: a deep sense of purpose.

Last week, I wrote, "knowing who you are and who you aspire to be on the innovation scale is half the battle. The other half is actually practicing it on a daily basis." These 13 principles are the other half. Get practicing. 

This article first appeared on on November 16, 2018

There Are 4 Innovation Personalities. What Is Your Current Personality?

Here is a personality test for leaders: those who create products, services, and businesses; those who manage teams big and small; and those who have to be agile thinkers to face complex challenges. Read through the four groups below--Revolutionary, Evolutionary, Traditional, and Reactionary--and see where you fit in as a leader. Then think about your team. And then your organization. Where do they fit? And how can you collectively achieve the change and innovation needed? 

I have a soft spot for Revolutionaries, because dedication to innovation is thrilling, and it makes you feel like you're living at the cutting edge and serving a bigger purpose. I have also learned how quickly scales can change, and top organizations and their leaders can get burned out and retreat to the safety of incremental change. Inversely, Evolutionaries can become Revolutionaries; and Naysayers can become the best advocates for disruption once they see the value of being a Revolutionary. 

Being in service of people, solving problems for others, making someone's life better, more joyful or easier--which is what innovation is about--is not a talent that only a few can attain. Neither is it a static skill that, once acquired, stays with you. It is an organic set of skills, tools, and processes you decide to acquire, practice and keep. In other words, it is inclusive and accessible, if you know where you are now and where you want to be in the future, which is where this quiz comes in handy. 

What is your current innovation personality? What personality do you aspire to be?


Different sources call you different things--A Reinventor, Disruptor, Provocateur, Innovator. You revolutionize the way something is done. You are a design thinker. In other words, you think like a designer. Positive, open-minded, and curious, you are energized by new ideas. You see change as an opportunity, not as a challenge. You use design tools and an iterative process to solve problems. Getting close to your customer is fundamental to your thinking. Only then can you make sure you ask the right questions. To that end, you use co-design with customers. Journey mapping helps you to uncover your hidden customer needs, and fast prototyping allows you to experiment with solutions. You are not afraid of constraints and know how to use them to your advantage.

"The Reinventors, making up 27 percent of the total, are the standouts. They report that they outperformed their peers in both revenue growth and profitability over the past three years, and led as well in innovation." IBM Global CEO study on Digital Reinvention

Synonyms: Reinventor, Disruptor, Provocateur, Innovator.


You are a change agent of the cautious kind. You are comfortable with incremental change. You might be a recovering Revolutionary who got hit by market forces and lost some of your courage and daring to be the first. Or you have the ambition to become a Revolutionary and are gathering experience. As David Peterson, director of leadership development and executive coaching at Google, would say, you need to sub-optimize and be less perfect to experiment more and adapt to constant change with more agility. You want to think like a designer, but you may not have the right tools and process. You need to get out of your comfort zone and get up close and intimate with your customers. Experimenting more, and more quickly, breaking internal silos to create cross-functional teams, and co-designing with your customers to include them in ideation will push you to the Revolutionary group.

According to Tomas Chamorro-Premuzic, a healthy dose of prudence is not bad for innovation. "Contrary to what many people think, successful innovators are more organized, cautious, and risk-averse than the general population."

Synonyms: Practitioner (coined by IBM). Pragmatic.


Your one dominant characteristic is that you feel like your solution is fine just the way it is. When asked if your users are happy, you will say "yes" but deep down you know you've grown further and further away from your customer. The good news is there are many ways to build empathy and get closer to them. Once you move away from a product-centric mindset to an experience-centered one, improving people's lives will give you the courage to develop your own unique vision. Your previous successes may hold you back, but what got you here is not helping you get there (if you haven't, read Marshall Goldsmith's best-selling book, What Got You Here, Won't Get You There). Having the vision, strategy, and tools to recognize and capture the right opportunities will move you to the Evolutionary group. 

Synonyms: Conventional. Aspirational (coined by IBM).


You resist change and have a strong tendency to block new ideas. It is the fear of unknown which makes it easier for you to come up with why something will not work. You are the skeptic. Yet you know that agility and experimentation are key to how organizations are evolving. You will become a great convert to thinking like a designer if you can see its value--making you more agile, customer-centered and comfortable with experimenting. 

"Saboteurs. The people and groups who can obstruct or derail the process of searching, evaluating, and purchasing a product or a service." Alex Osterwalder, Value Proposition Design

Synonyms: Blockers, Resistants, Naysayers, Saboteurs (coined by Alex Osterwalder). 

How did you do? Remember, knowing who you are and who you aspire to be on the innovation scale is half the battle. The other half is actually practicing it on a daily basis. 

This article first appeared on on November 9, 2018

The Most Creative Companies Run on Trust. Here's How You Can Build It Quickly

Trust is a key component for making lasting change. 

As crucial as trust is, building trust is hard.

In design, nothing happens without trust. Imagining the future is risky and involves multiple leaps of faith. The organization and the team need to trust you as the designer and you need to trust them. 

How do you create this mutual trust? In fact, you design it. Here are six simple ways you can design trust intentionally in your company.

"Everything is designed, and design is marketing. It shows that you care, it makes the people you seek to serve happier, and it's easier, too."--Seth Godin

1. Play together.

When you were a kid, you played with other children and through this built trust. It is actually not that different in adulthood. Playing together is key to building trust in one another. 

Play is the mood of design. Because when we're playing we're not afraid of making mistakes. We don't judge, we learn and experiment together. 

My favorite kind of design play is getting out of the office--just like kids who go out to play in the park are getting out of the safety of their home. One great way of doing that is site visits. They take you out of the safety of your office environment and create a mutual learning space for the whole team. Building a prototype together, watching documentaries together, or attending a conference as a team--all opportunities for learning as much as building trust through shared experiences.

Playing together, outside of your comfort zone, builds trust. 

2. Demo Your Ideas.

There's nothing like a demo to build trust. And the lack of, to fester destructive doubts. I learned this first hand when designing the Resolve Office System and an executive had doubts about whether this new system made up of poles (instead of the traditional panels) would look like a sea of trees. The team could've ignored the question. Instead, we built 120 stations out of PVC pipes and foamcore in a warehouse. Together we saw that the experience felt great in full scale and actually strengthened our conviction that we were on to something important.

The practice of fast prototyping is incredibly effective in building trust quickly and minimizing the build-up of a potentially destructive doubt. 

3. Do things in phases.

With trust, you don't go from 0 to 100. Trust builds overtime. 

Similarly, the design process is structured in phases so that trust is built as the process evolves and as the idea develops. As the team goes from research to ideation, from concept to design, from development to manufacturing, and finally from marketing to market launch, the confidence grows and strengthens. It is easy to fail early and restart the process without losing trust in each other. Inversely, you really need to trust each other by the time you're ready to launch a product, a service, or a company into the world. 

Match trust to a process that builds progressively.

4. Trust in failure.

Trust is built through success, but even faster through failure or adversity. This year a family crisis brought me closer to my uncle--I asked for his help and the way he was there for me changed our decades-old relationship for the better. Without the adversity of a crisis, we would not have known the friendship and trust we enjoy today.

When you or the team fails, or are faced with a challenge, how everyone responds to failure is a great litmus test for whether you can trust each other or not. WD-40 CEO, Garry Ridge, sees failure as an opportunity to learn. 

"Leadership is about learning and teaching," he explains. "Why waste getting old if you can't get wise? We have no mistakes here, we have learning moments." Garry Ridge

Failure can help to build deep, long-term, sometimes unexpected, trust.

5. Practice inclusion and empathy.

One of the ways companies build trust with their end users today is by co-designing with them. Co-design creates empathy, an understanding of the feelings of someone else. It also asks for input from users in solving problems, versus assuming how to solve it for them. Both of these contribute to a sense of trust, of being heard and not being taken for granted.

Even companies that co-design with their end users often forget to deploy these tools internally. Putting an organizational problem on the table to solve it together not only builds ownership. It also builds trust.

"Robust co-creation communities empower people so that trust flourishes. Intimacy leads to a better understanding of human motivations; a key goal of design thinking is to gain customer empathy. Moreover, trust between peers in the community is transferred to trust in the institution." Joerg Niessing and Robert Schwartz, IBM Global C-suite Study 2017

Co-creation builds trust by its very nature--being inclusive, practicing empathy and not making assumptions.

6. Break bread together.

Last but not least, trust builds over breaking bread together. Europeans do this well--they'll take you to dinner before they do anything and the conversation will be mostly about anything but work. Dinner is a relaxed affair that aims to find out what kind of a person you are outside of work. If we are going to work together, will we also enjoy each other as people? 

Breaking bread together builds trust and is an invitation to bring your whole self to work.

Hemingway said, "The best way to find out if you can trust somebody is to trust them." For times when that doesn't seem to be nearly enough, design trust intentionally.

This article first appeared on on October 2, 2018

Check Out the 7 Must-Read Email Newsletters That Will Inspire You

I like learning about what my friends and collaborators read, what they listen to, where they get their news and what inspires them. Newsletters are now entering this conversation in full force.

A few weeks back, during an i-message exchange, a friend of mine told me his favorite Sunday read is Brain Pickings by Maria Popova. It is mine too, and he made me think that for some people Popova's newsletter has become a Sunday ritual, like the NYTimes Sunday edition and the crossword puzzle. In fact, newsletters are often the new source of news and inspiration, even though for some it is their pet peeve (another friend told me when asked, "I've canceled most of my newsletters as I find having a full mailbox overwhelming!").

I collected an eclectic list of newsletters to inspire you with, similar to those I have posted here in the past on favorite Instagram feeds and design websites:

1. Brain Pickings by Maria Popova

Brain Pickings is the newsletter of all newsletters. Popova calls it a "digest of the week's most interesting and inspiring articles across art, science, philosophy, creativity, children's books, and other strands of our search for truth, beauty, and meaning." Popova is one of the most brilliant critical thinkers of our time, and this is a journey into her mind that will leave you amazed and inspired by her vast knowledge and insights. 

2. Quartz Daily

Quartz Daily, the news aggregator that boasts 700,000 subscribers. Every morning you get 20 important, eclectic and informative news stories from around the world. Their picks feel right on the mark--I've come to count on them for finding the kinds of stories I would want to know a little more about. Quartz Obsession is their deep-dive into topics as diverse and varied as K-Pop, the bikini, and paper-clips. Their weekly Quartz Africa is a must for any entrepreneur, who like us, is interested in this emerging market.

3. Finimize 

Finimize is finance for everyone, including me. The goal here is to bring you world financial news in 3 minutes, no jargon. Finimize breaks it down for you with questions like, What's Going On Here?, What Does This Mean?, Why Should I Care?, and concludes with the bigger picture, so that you can understand what is going on in finance without being a financial whiz.

4. NYTimes Dealbook

An excellent companion to Finimize is the Dealbook, from the NYTimes financial columnist Andrew Ross Sorkin. This newsletter distills top business and financial events and tells you what is really going on behind the scenes, who the powerful players involved are and, as my partner, Bibi Seck would say, who benefits from the "crime." 

5. Alley Watch

If the west coast has its Silicon Valley, we in New York have our Silicon Alley. Alley Watch is the go-to newsletter for New York startups and entrepreneurs. Their readership is made up of venture capitalists, angel investors, entrepreneurs, accelerators, startup employees, thought leaders and tech enthusiasts. In a city where the Alley feels almost hidden, in comparison to the ever-present Valley, Alley Watch provides a visible, accessible,vibrant tech organization online. 

6. Seth's Blog 

Seth's Blog is my daily read. Seth Godin's tagline is "Blog on marketing, tribes and respect." and if you subscribe to his blog, you get to wake up every morning to Godin's unique thinking on a timely subject--can you work without a boss, is there such a thing as a born salesperson, what to do when you need to make a difficult decision.

"Seth Godin may be the ultimate entrepreneur for the Information Age. Instead of widgets or car parts, he specializes in ideas -- usually, but not always, his own." Mary Kuntz for Business Week 

6. Jocelyn Glei 

Glei was instrumental in building Adobe's 99U into a great resource for creatives and wrote one of the best books on how to manage email, Unsubscribe: How to Kill Email Anxiety, Avoid Distractions, and Get Real Work Done. For her namesake newsletter, Jocelyn Glei, she curates ideas on "how to find more creativity and meaning in your daily work." 

7. London Review of Books

One day I read "You are the Product", an article by John Lanchester about Facebook and discovered the London Review of Books newsletter

Once you subscribe, you get fun, cheeky, outrageous, informative and always impeccably written articles from the current collection or archives of the London Review of Books, written by and about fabulous writers.

I stopped at seven newsletters not to overwhelm you (or me), but there are many more where these come from. If you have a favorite, must-read newsletter, please add it to the comments. 

Thank you to my Birsel + Seck team, Seda Evis, Selin Sonmez and Meltem Parlak for their recommendations.

This article first appeared on on September 17, 2018

How To Boost Your Creativity With 23 Simple Exercises

The first article I ever wrote for was 32 Easy Exercises to Boost Your Creativity Every Day. My goal was to show that creativity is a skill, not a talent, and that we can all improve with regular exercise. 

The World Economic Forum defines creativity as "the ability to come up with unusual or clever ideas about a given topic or situation, or to develop creative ways to solve a problem," and lists it in its 2016 Future of Jobs study as the 3rd most important skill global companies are looking for in employees.

One of the ways to develop unusual ideas is to question our habits and things we take granted for.

Habits and shortcuts allow you to do things quickly and repeat the same things without much thought. Everything--from the way we make our bed to how we hold meetings to writing our emails--is codified, simplified and repeated to save time.

The tradeoff is that we get desensitized when we do things automatically. Unfortunately, this is the death of creativity. "All children are artists," Pablo Picasso said. "The problem is how to remain an artist once he grows up." To think differently, we need to do things differently. Even to sometimes do them intentionally wrong.

Here are 23 tricks to help you to do things a little different every day. Each exercise goes against an assumption, starting with the first one that challenges the idea that you need to look at your hand to draw.

  1. Draw someone or something, without looking at your hand. Hide your hand under a paper towel to not cheat. 

  2. Write with your non-dominant hand. If a rightie, write with your left hand and vice versa. 

  3. Write with both hands at the same time (architect Louis Kahn was amazing at this).

  4. Make a non-flower arrangement with vines, small branches from trees and wild weeds.

  5. Fill vases with water. Leave out the flowers.

  6. Take photos of shadows.

  7. Take photos of hands, feet, wrinkles--anything but the person.

  8. Write a short poem about a meeting you just had.

  9. Keep a journal that has no writing, only drawings, mind maps, photos. 

  10. Throw a costume meeting at work. 

  11. Instead of email, send a short film.

  12. Instead of making a copy of an image, trace it with tracing paper.

  13. When you get up, make your bed a different way. My favorite--pile all the pillows in one tall pile.

  14. Eat your dinner for breakfast. Have breakfast at dinner.

  15. Hold a meeting outside, standing up, sitting under a tree, and If adventurous, under the rain. 

  16. Take a different route to or from work. Use a different transportation mode. Get off one bus or subway stop too soon or too late.

  17. We tend to take the same routes but eat differently every day. Do the reverse for food and eat the same thing for lunch every day for a week. 

  18. Instead of scheduling a meeting via email, send everyone a paper invite. 

  19. Take words to one song and sing them to a different song.

  20. Listen to a podcast at 1.5 times the speed.

  21. Start a book midway. Open to a random page and start there. Then go back to the start. 

  22. Drink water from a soup bowl (French do this with cafe au lait). Soup in a water glass (I haven't seen this). 

  23. Try using no technology for an hour every week. Instead of emailing, walk over to someone's office. Instead of Instagram, leaf through coffee books. Instead of Netflix, stare out the window.

Once you get the hang of it, you will find yourself thinking about what else you can do differently; what other habits you can break and how you can think more creatively before making assumptions or going only with what you know by reflex.

Which is when you need to watch Stefan Sagmeister, a true master at not taking things for granted, ups the ante in his 99U talk.

This article first appeared on on August 28, 2018

What My Tennis Coach Taught Me About Business

I am a terrible tennis player, but I love my coach. I only see her over my summer vacation and this August I learned more from her than just tennis. I learned lessons in how to be a better leader and entrepreneur.

1. Like your clients.

Irem Hepkorucu, my tennis coach, genuinely makes me feel well liked. She will send short, thoughtful notes throughout the year, ping me as it gets closer to the summer and then she writes me a lovely thank you note after I go back to New York.

Work with people you like, or you can grow to like. Show them you care about having them as clients.

2. Provide good service.

In addition to her professional demeanor--she's always on time, court is always clean, she always looks crisp, even in sports cloths--Hepkorucu anticipates my needs. She'll give me a dry t-shirt, a ride home, a fresh bottle of water or even a snack, depending on the situation.

Anticipate what your clients need, even before they do and be ready to take good care of them. Without breaking a sweat.

3. Concentrate on the balls coming in.

Hepkorucu tells me, "Don't think about the balls you missed. Think instead about the ones coming in." To this day, there are failures and missed professional opportunities I rehash and remember. They're the "tennis balls" I missed. My tennis teacher made me realize if I worry about the past, I won't recognize what is possible in the future.

Remember there are plenty more opportunities coming at you, but you need to be in position, looking forward, not back, and ready to receive them.

4. Feel. Rest. Get ready.

In tennis, there are about 20 seconds between the balls. The way Hepkorucu explained it, you have 5 seconds to be sad or happy, 5 seconds to rest, and 10 seconds to get prepared for the next ball. And that is the key to winning--making time for your feelings, making time to rest, and then getting ready.

At work, find a rhythm between each day, each meeting, and each project. Then give yourself time to celebrate a win or mourn a failure, get some rest and then get ready to play the next round.

5. Use metaphors.

Metaphors help us understand things that are difficult or new to us. When Hepkorucu uses metaphors for various movements--curtsy, broom, and accordion--I learn and remember them quicker.

Find metaphors when you explain new ideas. They'll stick and be more easily understood.

6. Visualize.

My favorite, being a visual person, is when my coach reminds me to visualize. When playing, don't think of how to hit the ball but where you want the ball to land. Visualize the spot. That is how you get the ball to go where you want it to go.

To me, this is just like design. Whether you're designing your life, your work or your next product. You can make happen what you visualize. 

7. Fear your fear. 

This year I feared I was too out of shape, too busy, too old, too ---- (fill the blank) to play. I only played because I wanted to see my teacher and because once I made the first appointment, I couldn't back out. Five minutes into the first lesson, I felt like an idiot. I had almost let fear get in the way of a great experience.

Fear fear itself. Make the appointment, take the decision, write the email, announce the news, play the game. 

This article first appeared on on August 14, 2018

What Are The Lessons You Can Learn From the Future of Cake

Less is more.

In this case specifically, less sugar, more sweet.

The best news this week was that soon we will be able to indulge in sweets and feel less guilty. DouxMatok, a small Israeli startup based in Tel Aviv founded in 2014 by father and son duo Avraham and Eran Baniel, has invented a new way to use less sugar while keeping the taste the same.

It turns out that sugar is highly inefficient. Only 20% of it sticks to our sweet-taste buds with 80% disappearing into our digestive track. Baniels invented a way to add food-grade silica to sugar to act as the perfect vessel to carry more sugar to our taste buds directly. The result is sugar that is 40% more efficient than regular sugar. 

Imagine changing desert recipes that call for 1 cup of sugar to almost 1/2 a cup in a few years. A truly "sweet" example of less is more, a quote attributed to the architect Mies Van Der Rohe.

Here is what we can learn from Less Is More, a paradox that is at the heart of many powerful ideas and innovations that we're familiar with:

LESS IS MORE_51764.jpg

1. Have less of a good thing with more of the benefits. 

Doux Matox is a great example (which stands for double sugar--Doux means sweet in French; Matox, in Hebrew) of how to achieve having less of a good thing with as much if not more benefits. But so is Uniqlo feather coats and thermal underwear, which generate more heat in the winter but are thinner than other winter garments. As a result, you stay warm without looking like a snowman. 

Take a beloved, precious, luxurious but expensive or unhealthy ingredient and use less of it to more effect.

2. Create a small kit of parts with just as much richness.

How can you make a richer system with less parts? Imagine minimizing an office system from 300 pieces to 20 and still making almost an endless variety of different work settings. That is what I worked on with the Resolve System office furniture system for Herman Miller which as a result was 1/3 the weight of traditional office systems and those of its competitors. More recently, I worked on a similar problem with the Overlay Boundary System, helping to define space within the open office without cutting them off from others and the environment around them.

Reduce the parts to make a system richer.

3. Choose less stuff for more joy.

Marie Kondo asked us to dump our closets, bookcases, and pantry in the middle of the room and then hold each item in our hands and ask ourselves does it bring you joy? If it did you kept it. If it didn't, you lost it. Similarly but in a different vein, Graham Hill, founder of Treehugger became an ambassador for less space, less stuff so that we can be freer to have more joy. 

Does it bring you, or your user, joy? If not, drop it.

4. Create more clarity and focus by simplifying.

Boil the world's best search engine to one white page with a simple logo and one interactive field where you type in your search. That's Google. Few experiences exemplify the power of vastness meshed with simplicity.

Find simplicity in complexity.

5. Minimize breaks to strengthen the whole.

Space X engineers use friction stir welding to create large but light expanses of aluminum sheeting, something that wasn't  done before on a spaceship. Issey Miyake's Pleats Please clothing don't have seams--they're woven three-dimensionally and then heat cut. They're a feat of engineering and design, and a commercial success since the 1970's.

Every time there's a break, a seam, a connection, explore how you can delete it 

Next time you need inspiration to think differently, think less is more. 

This article first appeared on on August 7, 2018

How To Slow Down Time To Make Your Summer Vacation Feel Longer?

Last week I wrote about how to expand time by creating timeless experiences. This week I wanted to explore how time can be slowed down or sped up, or simply feel just right, intentionally. It turns out science can tell us a lot about our perception of time and why a year feels so long to an 8-year-old but flies by for a 48-year-old. 

Slow time with new experiences:

I am on holiday as I write this post and, based on science, if I use my holiday to have new experiences--go to a new place, stay in a new hotel, go hiking on a new trail, learn a new sport (kite surfing), meet new people, join a tour to see new sights, go to new restaurants--I will slow down time. 

This is called the "holiday paradox," dubbed as such by psychologist and BBC columnist Claudia Hammond. Our brains register more memories when we're experiencing new things, which in retrospect feels like it all happened over a longer period of time. This is why time seems to fly as we get older too.

If you're in the cruise ship business, like Royal Caribbean, you might want to mix-up and shuffle experiences, to expand the feeling of cruise goers' vacation time. 

Slow time by living dangerously.

David Eagleman who leads the Eagleman Lab says, "Time is this rubbery thing. It stretches out when you really turn your brain resources on, and when you say, 'Oh, I got this, everything is as expected,' it shrinks up." Eagleman who leads research on our perception of time, is interested in how a near death experience slows down time. Our amygdala, which registers emotion and memories in our brain, starts registering everything when we feel threatened.

In this context, people who choose to put their lives in danger to help others--police, firemen, the military--might experience time slowing down more often than everyone else. For others, this might explain the draw of extreme sports like kite-surfing, parachuting, free-style climbing. All your senses are alert, you're focused 100% and time stretches so that you feel like you've lived much more in the same amount of time. 

For companies that design extreme experiences, like roller-coaster rides, creating experiences that stretch time can lead to designing new gaming experiences that, make us aware of how our experience of time changes in these moments.

Experience the present by being in the flow.

Being a scaredy cat, I am not going to start kite surfing anytime soon, even on vacation. What I will do is find opportunities to get into the flow. 

The flow state, discovered by the psychologist Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, is being in the zone, when our skills and the challenge at hand match so well that we lose our sense of time. I find myself in a state of flow when I am sketching ideas, where the problem I am trying to solve is within my abilities and sketching helps me unearth my ideas. For others, flow might occur while playing an instrument, doing team sports, horse-back riding or solving a math problem. 

For organizations, creating flow by matching skills to challenges provides happier people at work, better use of resources and a better outcome. For more on this, Whitney Johnson's book, Build An A Team, is a great read on how to create the right "S Curve" between skills and challenges for members of your team.

Speed up time by creating routines:

There are times when you want to speed up time. For anything that involves waiting, like check-out or check-in lines, or chores like cleaning or tidying up, routines and habits come in handy. Since they're familiar experiences, our brain doesn't register them as new memories. Less new memories, shorter our perception of time. 

If routine speeds up time, it makes sense for companies like Amazon to design user experiences that quickly become routine, like Amazon's one-click buying option. In the analog world, Mari Kondo, author of the bestselling book, The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up, is wildly successful because she created simple routines for tidying up and speeding us up through an often difficult chore.

Thank you to our intern Meltem Parlak for inspiring me to think about the science of time. A great way for me to get into the flow on vacation!

This article first appeared on on July 31, 2018

How To Expand Time

Deadlines to meet. An endless stream of incoming emails that need to be answered. Meetings to go to. Planes to catch.

Does your life feel like its timed to the max, hour by hour? Do you set your alarm clock not only to wake up but to not forget the multiple meetings and phone calls you need to make throughout your day? Can you not afford to lose your sense of time in what you're doing. If this describes you, then I am just like you. 

In this world where everything seems to be timed, I am on the quest for timeless things that need no scheduling. Here is my starter list:

Connecting people. 

Increasing the likelihood of a great new friendship or an incredible collaboration is timeless. Connect people you know and increase the chances of great things happening. For an extraordinary example of two people connecting, read The Undoing Project, author Michael Lewis's book about Daniel Kahneman and Amos Tversky, Israeli psychologists who collectively invented the field of behavioral economics. 

Thanking your heroes.

Have you told someone you know, or you know of, how much they've influenced your life? A family member or a teacher who believed in you? A great boss? A friend who inspired you? Or someone you don't know but who has deeply inspired you--an entrepreneur, an author, an artist, a thought leader. They're the unsung heroes of our lives. Write them a thank you note--a timeless, lasting gesture. 

Teaching what you know.

A good friend of mine brought me flowers one day and then showed me a trick for how to arrange them in a vase. Now every time I arrange flowers I think of her. Teach what you know and you will touch someone, perhaps in ways you don't expect, and perhaps for life.

Offering help.

I learned this from an interview with Beth Comstock that I read years ago. The single most important question you can ask is, "how can I help you?" Years later Marshall Goldsmith taught me the same thing in his 100 Coaches program--how you can give help and receive help. Making opportunities to be supportive of others doesn't require an appointment or a deadline. You can just pick up the phone in the middle of the day to reach out to someone and the positive impact may be infinite.

Being in the flow.

When I sketch my ideas to solve challenging problems, I lose my sense of time. Ideas form and reveal themselves to me at the end of my pen. Time opens up and I am in the moment. This total immersion in an activity results in a total loss of time and space--what Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi identified as being in the flow. What are your means to be in the flow?

"The best moments in our lives are not the passive, receptive, relaxing times... The best moments usually occur if a person's body or mind is stretched to its limits in a voluntary effort to accomplish something difficult and worthwhile." Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi 

Experiencing beauty.

Whether it's a beautiful piece of music or art in a museum, a hike in the mountains or a perfect summer day, experiencing beauty doesn't have a time limit. Jonathan Haidt, the cognitive psychologist, talks about how awe-inspiring beauty helps connect us with something bigger than ourselves. Increasing your chances of experiencing beauty leads to timelessness. Recently I took to working at the Museum of Modern Art in the proximity of greatness and then walking through an exhibit, often picked at random, on my way out. For you this might be something completely different--just increase your chances of experiencing beauty and with it, timelessness.

What are your timeless moments in an ever more busy and timed-to-the-max world? Savor them when you can. 

This article first appeared on on July 21, 2018

Why Do Design Thinkers Need To Add 'Design Doing' To Their Toolkit

"To personalize an experience in the context of the moment--to understand what makes a customer human--Reinventors don't just plumb lots of data, though they do that well. They're design thinkers. They approach problems with a sense of empathy for their customers, which helps them explore and consider the right questions." IBM 2017 Global C-suite Study

The Reinventors, above, are CEOs who lead in innovation and outperform their peers in both revenue growth and profitability over the past 3 years by 27%. To understand how these Reinventors use design thinking, I reached out to Don Norman, the best selling author of the seminal book, Design of Everyday Things

Here are the basic building blocks of design that every CEO needs to know, drawn from Norman:

Design is a way of thinking.

Norman's 1st sentence was, "Design is a way of thinking." So many people still think that design is making pretty things when in fact you can design everything--from your life or any particular aspect of it to companies, governments, countries... 

"Here's the issue. Design Thinking is the rage. Executives love it. But how does it change things? Design Thinking is worthless on its own, what you need is "Design Doing" (developing, fast prototyping, demonstrating and testing the ideas generated by design thinking)."

According to Norman, business people don't understand what modern design is and see designers as an adjunct or a tool, not a driver or decision maker. "Modern design" in this context is design of human-centered experiences that uncover needs (often unsaid or unarticulated) and answer them in intuitive and delightful ways (think of Nike, Apple, Tesla products as successful examples of modern design).

The right thing to do is to have designers in the C-suite and at the table. Designers are taught to solve real issues, going in novel and unexplored directions that can help businesses create new and unique value.

Design needs to be taught by doing.

Design is about solving problems. Instead of lecturing, give your team an actual problem to solve. If successful, demonstrate to others to show what can be done. 

Innovation can help companies grow 10 times bigger or go bankrupt. And, yes, that is risky. Norman is keenly aware that companies need to survive and continuously make profit. His recommendation is to first start with a small project, demonstrate and learn what it takes for design to work, then you can move on to the bigger, riskier projects.

"CEO's want innovation but then they say, 'hold on, no one is doing that.' We need to educate CEO's about design."

Everyone needs to be in.

Design Driven Transformation requires buy in by everyone in the company. Everyone needs to be on board. You want entry level staff, managers, managers of managers, all the way up to the CEO in agreement.

Important point is tradition gets in the way of innovation.

Norman finds that it is easy for the CEO to say we need more innovation and for juniors to say they have great ideas. It is in the middle management that it gets stuck. The reward structure is not there. If you gamble and you fail you're dead. "It should be, you fail and we reward you", says Norman.

It needs to be transferable.

Have a repeatable process that can survive changes.

Design Driven Transformation takes a long time to build. Norman says the biggest danger is when people change--they move on, change roles, retire.

Important processes are the ones that survive these changes. Toyota's Just-In-Time, Manufacturing flow and methods of marketing are such processes. They're engrained. Design is not, not yet.

"Innovation needs to be thought of as a system and not as individual projects."

You need to develop methods for the average person, have it work for everyone, not just the 1%.

Couple Design Thinking with Design Doing to get to Design Driven Transformation--that's how real change will happen and value will be created. 

This article first appeared on on June 30, 2018

What Moments Can Make A Difference In Your Leadership Style

Does being a leader feel overwhelming to you at times? 

When you look at great leaders like Indra NooyiAlan MulallySheryl Sandberg, and Frances Hesselbein, it's easy to forget that leadership is something you get better at with practice. In the magnitude of their greatness, leadership can feel overwhelming, big, and often unattainable. 

At those moments, think about this simple but powerful trick from Laine Joelson Cohen, NA Director at Citi Leadership and an Executive Coach: use the small moments.Leadership is how we show up in the small, mundane moments.

Cohen's approach resonated with me. I am keen on breaking big, complex issues into small, manageable parts and then putting them back together in new, often unexpected ways. That is how I solve complex problems, simply using my DE:RE process (short for Deconstruction:Reconstruction). Cohen is doing something similar with leadership--deconstructing leadership into its smaller parts to make it manageable and then reconstructing them into a greater whole.

First, you have to take a moment to recognize what these small moments are. They are everyday conversations and interactions you have at work, and even at your home, that you might pass by if you're not paying attention. Pause and take a moment to recognize them. According to Cohen, how we show up in the small moments has a huge impact on our leadership and how we're perceived.

I asked Cohen to give me an example. She told me that recently she had her team run a meeting, but she came out of it feeling like they could've done better. In that small moment, her gut instinct was to tell them what they did wrong. Instead, she asked them to identify what went well and what they could've done better. Their answers covered all her points and more. She seized the moment to ask and listen, changing that small moment into a learning opportunity. Instead of criticism, she leads with positivity, empowering and motivating her team. 

Here are four small leadership moments, most everyone encounters at work (or at home):

1. Listen when someone comes to you for help.

Often we make the mistake of giving people suggestions when they ask for help (I do this all the time since as a designer my reflex is to solve problems). Cohen told me that the best way to help someone is to actually ask them what they think would be a good solution and then create a space in which they can try it out. This way they develop ownership of the solution, as they learn how to cease the moment and make a change.

2. Create a safe environment, when someone comes to you with a mistake.

Imagine someone comes to you and says, "Boss, I screwed up." What do you do? A. yell at them; B. jump in to take over; or C. help them work through it. Choose the latter says Cohen, and create an environment for growth and show them you trust them even when they make a mistake. This is especially important in innovation where failure is part and parcel of the exploration process and yet so many leaders have a hard time with this critical step.

3. In moments of conflict, take emotion out of feedback.

When there's conflict and you need to give feedback, give positive feedback instead of negative, and do it quickly. This kind of situation doesn't age well and gets bigger and bigger. Negative feedback is fraught with emotion--people get upset, they cry, or even scream. Cohen says, simplify the situation with SBI, Situation Behavior Impact, that executive coaches use. 

Let's say someone on your team came late to a meeting and interrupted the flow of an important keynote speaker. You're upset with them and think they were disrespectful. Instead of telling them they messed up, state the situation (you came late); the behavior (this interrupted the presentation); and the impact (it disrupted the flow, took the presenter off their game and it took us a while to get back into it). This takes the emotion--me and you--out of it, makes it more objective and gives the other person room to explain what happened. It's a skill, the more you do it, the more comfortable you get. 

4. And yet, recognize emotion when you see it.

When a colleague is upset you can avoid it or match it. Or you can recognize it, which is what is needed here. Something as simple as, "You seem upset, what's going on?" can open up a dialogue. You might find that the person is not upset but frustrated. This then gives you a chance to understand why they're frustrated and how you can be of support. Cohen says, this way, you've both identified that something is going on and created grounds for communication at that moment or later, if they prefer waiting. 

Cohen suggests that the small moments can also happen at home and that you can transfer these skills to your life. For example, when her younger daughter approached her about who she should vote for at a school election--her best friend or her older sister--Cohen kept her calm. She didn't say, "You should always vote for your sister, blood is thicker than water." She took a deep breath and said, "I can't make that decision for you. What would you hope your sister would do if she was in your situation?" The answer was, vote for my sister. Crisis averted, one more vote won, a small moment for learning and growth seized.

Small moments equal big gains in kindness, thoughtfulness and genuine leadership.

This article first appeared on on June 8, 2018

How to Design Highly Effective Products

If you're asking how to design a better chair, you're asking a product-focused question. If instead you ask, How can I help someone who is tired of standing up? you're asking a human-centered question.

Often, we find clients asking us product-focused questions. Design a better knife, car, bathroom, table, office system. Those are the wrong questions.

Better questions are those that are human-centered, that focus on the wants and needs of the person engaging with this product:

  • How can someone with arthritis peel potatoes without hurting? (Hint: Use the now iconic OXO Good Grips line of kitchen tools.)
  • How can a guest using a shared hotel bathroom with two doors makes sure both doors are locked? (Hint: Without locking the locks at all--read about it in Ralph Caplan's best-selling book By Design.)
  • How can a person concentrate on heads-down work in open offices? (Hint: We've been working on this last one for four years with Herman Miller: Stay tuned for the reveal in June).

Re-framing the question around the user, instead of the product, is a simple but effective tool for leaders who aim to do human-centered innovation to grow their business and improve the lives of their users.

Here are two examples to help you understand how to be human-centered and why it matters.

How can I get my teenage son to do laundry? 

This is a question a participant asked us during a co-design session for GE appliances. By putting the teenage son in the center, the question shifts from the appliance to the person and their experience.

When you ask a human-centered question, you open yourself to empathy. You can imagine the dynamic between the mother and the teenager around a household chore; the disinterest of the kid versus the mom's need to get her kid involved; and a woman wanting to raise a young man who knows to do his chores as part of everyday life in a family.

A more commonly asked question would've been, "How can we design a washing machine for Millennials?" Note that having the product at the center of your question makes the product the star. The problem with that is that you can't empathize with the washing machine. And if you did, it would be misleading--designing a cool-looking handle, fashionable colors, a form that looks like a sneaker. It sounds absurd, but a lot of companies do it and add features to products that enhance products for product's sake, not for the user's sake.

Remember, make your user the star.

A simple exercise to get the product-focused questions out on the table, and out of your head.

Next time you or your team find yourselves asking a product-centric question, ask yourselves to solve it from the perspective of the product.

That is what I did with the Herman Miller team when we were designing the Resolve Office System, designed like a theater set for the performance of work, our first project together. I asked the team to switch places with me and answer the question they were asking me--"How can we create an office system that is technology-centered?"

It is a perfectly valid question. In fact, most companies ask us to answer questions like this. But it is not the right question. A tech-centered office system excludes people who have soft bodies, who hate having their backs exposed to passers-by, who love putting their kids' drawings on the walls, who bring in homemade sandwiches for lunch and stick them in their drawers.

It took me five minutes to make the point that the center of our system is the user. That lesson learned early on kept us on the right track for three years, all through the development of the product. The Resolve System honors the user and has resulted in a 50 percent increase in user performance in a case study done with British Airways.

Product-centered questions will not lead us to human-centered innovation. Re-frame the question around a soft-bodied person. You might change our lives.

This article first appeared on on June 2, 2018

In Which Industry Is the Diversity Thriving

Cooper Hewitt National Design Awards were just announced. The nation's highest honors, now in its 19th year, are often called the Oscars of design, where entries are nominated and juried by peers. 

As a former jury member I wondered the message this year's awards would collectively send. After all, it is a jury's unwritten rule to use the winning entries to articulate what constitutes our highest values around a topic at a given time. 

The National Design Awards' rigorous process of recognizing the best also takes the pulse on what matters in design in America today. 

Looking at the winners with that perspective two messages emerge:

1. Design is a "diverse field."

Traditionally male-dominated, design at the highest levels of excellence is multi-gender, multi-race and multi-culture. In this design is ahead of Hollywood, another bastion of creativity. The diversity of the awards sends an important and timely message to all designers: you too can be here, regardless of where you come from.

2. Design is a "healthy field".

These great people are doing good--ethical, progressive work that improves our lives, our cities, our perception of our world--while also doing well--succeeding commercially and making their clients succeed.

I first heard of the term, "healthy field," in Jonathan Haidt's book, The Happiness Hypothesis. Haidt explains that "when doing good (doing high-quality work that produces something of use to others) matches up with doing well (achieving wealth and professional advancement), a field is healthy." 

And this second message is very important to companies. Design at its best makes companies successful by making them do good and well. Design is a healthy field. Use it.

"All ten of this year's winners present a powerful design perspective and body of work that is at once inclusive and deeply personal, accompanied by great achievement, humanity and social impact." Caroline Baumann, director of Cooper Hewitt.

Here are the winners:

Gail Anderson, Lifetime Achievement. Anderson is designer, writer, and educator. Steven Heller, a Cooper Hewitt Design Mind, says, "a lifelong New Yorker, Anderson embodies three virtues: inspiring art director, inspired designer and inspirational teacher." You've been surrounded by her work--from Rolling Stone Magazine (where she was a Senior Art Director) to her posters for Broadway and off-Broadway plays to her books covers. 

Anne Whiston Spirn, Design Mind. Author of the seminal book, the Granite Garden. Spirn has dedicated herself to building sustainable relationships between the built and the natural environment. 

"Human survival depends upon adapting ourselves and our landscapes - cities, buildings, roadways, rivers, fields, forests - in new, life-sustaining ways, shaping places that are functional, sustainable, meaningful, and artful, places that help us feel and understand the relationship of the natural and the built." Anne Whiston Spirn, from her website for the Granite Garden

Design for America (DFA), Corporate & Institutional Achievement. DFA was founded by Liz Gerber and three of her students at Northwestern University to use design innovation for social good. Everything from how to reduce hospital inquired infections to campus waste, or create access to potable water. 

WEISS/MANFREDI, Architecture Design. Marion Weiss and Michael Manfredi, the co-founders of the firm see their work at the intersection of an existing site overlaid with a new project. They unearth what is possible (hidden potential, use, innovation) when the old and new come together. Seattle Art Museum: Olympic Sculpture Park is a living example of what they bring to built environments. 

Civilization, Communication Design. Civilization, tackles tough, often divisive social problems with humanity and grace. Its co-founded by Michael Ellsworth, Corey Gutch and Gabriel Stromberg. Their projects include #ShoutYourAbortion and Death Over Dinner, and Design Lecture Series, a destination for the Seattle design scene. 

"Design is a collective human act." Civilization

Christina Kim, Fashion Design. Kim who is known for her company Dosa is a designer, entrepreneur and social activist. She embodies the term "conscientious designer", designing beautiful, sustainable, ethical products in consideration with its impact in people's lives--people who make them as well as use them. 

"Similar to eating organic food, people need to know where goods come from and how they are made, this will help keep the artisan traditions alive.." Christina Kim, from her writings, Life of Jamdan

Neri Oxman, Interaction Design. Oxman is the founder and director the Mediated Matter research group at the MIT Media Lab. But you can think of her as Elon Musk of design (and that is a compliment to Musk). She brings together biology, material sciences, computational design, 3D printing and computational design, to everything from wearables, called Astrobiological Exploration, to architecture.

Oppenheim Architecture + Design, Interior Design. The firm, with work in 25 countries, defines its work as "designs with sensitivity toward man and nature - harmonizing with the surroundings of each context."

Mikyoung Kim Design, Landscape Architecture. Boston-based Mikyoung Kim and her team give soul and humanity to public spaces. Case in point is the ChonGae Canal Restoration, which unearthed the canal that runs through Seoul, transforming the city and breathing it life, not unlike what the High Line has done in New York City. 

Blu Dot, Product Design. Founded by Maurice Blanks and John Christakos, who started the company because they couldn't afford the designs they liked and what they could afford they didn't like. That became the raison d'etre for Bludot as a business--to make a stand for good design that is affordable.

This article first appeared on on May 16, 2018

What Habits Woman Need To Break To Become Better Leaders

"We have to confront ourselves. Do we like what we see in the mirror? And, according to our light, according to our understanding, according to our courage, we will have to say yea or nay--and rise!" -- Maya Angelou

Are you a perfectionist? Are you good at multitasking? Are you humble?

If you're a woman leader, these very qualities that make you good at what you do may be holding you back from being great. That was my wake-up call when I recently read How Women Rise.

Written by Sally Helgesen, an expert on women's leadership, and Marshall Goldsmith, bestselling author of What Got You Here Won't Get You ThereHow Women Rise explains 12 habits that hold women back. 

Most of these habits are behaviors that help women early in their careers but become roadblocks as they move up. Below are four of the habits that resonated with me the most. They're examples of strengths that become liabilities for women as they rise in corporations. 

Habit 1: Reluctance To Claim Your Achievements.

I got a taste of this a few years back when I was talking to Goldsmith, who asked me if I wanted my book, Design the Life You Love, to become a bestseller. Not wanting to look too ambitious, I mumbled something ambivalent. I will never forget what Goldsmith said: Why bother writing it if you don't want it to be a huge success and everyone to read it? 

Now reading How Women Rise, I realize I was exhibiting Habit 1. As Helgesen explains, I was ambivalent about the value of my own work and "if you don't value it, why should anyone else?" I have since learned my lesson and am a great promoter of my book, which is in its 3rd print.

Lesson: Take credit by believing in your work.

Habit 4: Building rather than leveraging relationships.

In Give and Take, one of my favorite books by psychologist and Wharton Professor Adam Grant, he explains how, "Givers are more likely to see interdependence as a source of strength, a way to harness the skills of multiple people for a greater good." 

Helgesen and Goldsmith advocate similarly for developing relationships of "mutual exchange of benefits." Women tend to worry about being self-serving or using others, but reframing business relationships as a mutual give and take is both freeing and constructive. In innovation, leveraging relationships among talented people is necessary to success. It is so in leadership as well.

Lesson: Leverage your relationships. Give and take with good people. 

Habit 7: Perfection Trap.

In design we talk about evolution or revolution. Evolution is perfecting what you have; revolution is discovering new territory. Helgesen explains that women are prone to fall into the perfection trap and that this approach is stressful and hyper detail oriented. You look for negatives rather than celebrating positives, and it sets you and your team up for disappointment.  I like the idea of easing up on being perfect to be more creative and visionary, and to explore new territory and test new ideas. 

Lesson: Rather than being perfect, be fearless. 

Habit 12: Letting Your Radar Distract You.

Women see the big picture, picking up cues from the environment like a radar, which is a strength. Men focus on a specific point in the knowledge environment, undistracted by what is not necessary. The sweet spot is to do both. Use your radar, your natural strength to think holistically, as you hone your laser focus, your acquired strength, as a leadership skill. 

Lesson: Use your natural radar and hone your focus. To get what matters done, you will need both.

Here is my visual map of all 12 habits and lessons learned. It's my daily reminder. If you'd like, print it as your cheat-sheet.


This article first appeared on on May 11, 2018