The Biggest Problem with Agile Design (and how to fix it)

The Director and the Jedi.pngPhoto by Daniel Benavides via Flickr CC

I recently had the chance to watch The Director and the Jedi, an extraordinary documentary about the making of Star Wars: The Last Jedi, and one thing was very clear from the film: Director Rian Johnson deserves a standing ovation.

While there might be some of you out there that feel like the film didn’t live up to the holy standards of The Empire Strikes Back (because it didn’t), it’s hard to argue that it wasn’t a successful movie. (It’s the 10th highest grossing film of all time for crying out loud.) So putting aside criticisms of the film itself, Rian Johnson deserves a round of applause because of the sheer amount of effort that is required to pull off a film like Star Wars.

How Successful Innovators Design for Confrontation

As designers, innovators, and entrepreneurs, our mission is always to make people’s lives easier. Every workflow we design is aimed at reducing the amount of cognitive load our users’ experience, and every product we create is pitched the same way – “Hey the way you’re currently doing things is painful; here’s an easier way!” So when Steve Selzer, a Designer Manager at Airbnb, gave a talk suggesting that ‘making things easier’ isn’t always a good idea, I did a double take.

What the Biggest Marketing Stunt of 2018 Means for the Future of Design

Poker Table At SXSW.png Me – living the dream – playing poker in the Westworld “Park” at SXSW

Despite the fact that I attended South by Southwest for the talks on design and innovation, and despite the fact that (most of) those talks were truly amazing, when I returned home, the thing that I couldn’t wait to share with everyone was actually an immersive marketing experience for the popular HBO show, Westworld. And yes, after telling some friends and family this story they all thought that the conference didn’t have anything to do my job and that it was just one crazy party; but after giving it some thought, this marketing stunt might just have the biggest impact on my role as a designer.

To be an Innovation Legend, do you have to be an A**hole?

Elon on Stage My View of Musk As the Crowd Goes Crazy at SXSW 2018

If you’ve ever been to the SXSW Conference, you know it’s full of many surprises. This year none was bigger than the announcement that Elon Musk would be speaking. As soon as the email went out, I knew I would wake up as early as I had to in order to get tickets to see him talk. It didn’t matter if it meant waiting in line for hours or that I would miss the Melinda Gates’s keynote (that was poorly scheduled right after his). And I wasn’t the only one that felt this way.

The Evolution of Elon Musk: The Good, The Bad, and the Ugly

Elon Musk2Photo by Web Summit via Flickr CC

As someone who considers themselves up-to-date with the latest news and trends on everything design and innovation, I was taken aback when I saw a Facebook post back in December. My friend was calling out Elon Musk for being a jerk (and no it wasn’t one of the those Facebook friends that rants about everything). He was referring to a Twitter battle between Musk and Jarrett Walker, a public transit policy consultant with a PhD in humanities.  

Their Twitter feud began because of Elon’s comments at an AI Conference. Musk had called out public transportation for being a “pain in the ass” and that you could end up sharing a ride with someone “who might be a serial killer.” This led to a series of tweets by Walker aimed at Musk, saying that Musk wanted to create a public transportation system designed for the protection of the elite. To which Musk simply responded, “You’re an idiot.”

Why Innovators Need to Become Chief Communication Officers (Part 2)

The innovation process requires a lot of communication. It begins by discussing the problem, then talking through potential solutions, followed by clearly articulating how to implement the selected solution, and finally it involves telling (and selling) the innovation’s story. These different stages of communication involve not just the core design team but also every department of the organization (oh yeah, and the people we’re designing for as well). Because of this, designers and innovators need to be elite communicators. We have to think of ourselves as the Chief Communication Officers (CCO) of our organizations.

Stop Staring at a Blank Canvas. Instead, Start Innovating like You’re SpaceX.

For most people, the beginning of a design problem is thrilling. It’s full of excitement and anticipation. You get to start with a completely blank canvas, imagining all of the wonderful things to come. The sky’s the limit. There’s just one problem — a world of infinite possibilities is actually pretty bad for creativity. We know, we know; this might sound like sacrilege to some of you. How can you possibly be creative if your wings are clipped? Shouldn’t we try to ‘think outside the box’, not shove ourselves into one? In short, the answer is no.

In my last article, I wrote about why ‘thinking outside the box’ is bad, because it implies you should forget about the constraints of your design problem. These boundaries shouldn’t be ignored; they should be embraced. They act as guardrails, preventing your designs from crashing and burning and instead keeping you on track throughout the creative process.

The best example of an innovative company embracing constraints is SpaceX. After looking over how they were able to do this, I realized that there are actually 3 superpowers that come with embracing constraints: 1) getting off to the races right away, 2) making better decisions, and 3) optimizing your time. If you’re interested in more information on these three superpowers, feel free to head back to my previous article. But if like me, you’re convinced that embracing constraints can help us be more innovative then you’re most likely asking yourself: how do I do that??

Why ‘Think Outside the Box’ Is Bad Advice

Raise your hand if you’ve ever been in a brainstorming meeting, and you’ve heard someone (usually the boss) say that everyone needs to ‘think outside the box!’ This advice is normally met with nods, yeses, and other signs of approval. And that’s because it seems to make so much sense. If you’re trying to come up with something truly innovative, then of course you shouldn’t be thinking about the problem the same way as everyone else. If you do, you’ll just end up with the same product or service as the competition. And no one wants to be a copycat when they’re trying to be innovative.

Recently this exact brainstorming scenario happened to me – even the part where I found myself nodding in approval. But the more I thought about it, the more confused I got. What exactly does this phrase ‘think outside the box’ mean? And is it actually good advice? In order to figure out this out, let’s first talk about what this phrase even means.

Think Outside the BoxPhoto by Bench Accounting via Unsplash

Q Theory: What Broadway Musicals Teach Us About Creative Collaboration

BroadwayPhoto by Denys Nevozhai via Unsplash

Anyone that’s been fortunate enough to see an authentic Broadway musical can tell you first hand how beautiful they are. It’s the reason why people post pictures of themselves on Instagram at the show, save the playbills afterward, and why, three years after it first debuted, Hamilton still continues to sell out shows minutes after going on sale. It’s truly a magical experience. These shows are somehow able to combine so many different creative components – acting, dancing, singing, music, lighting, costumes, set design, and playwriting – across a whole range of creative individuals into one cohesive story. This magical ability to combine all of these things led Brian Uzzi, professor of management and organizations at the Kellogg School of Management, to become obsessed over one question: what’s the makeup of the teams that produce the most successful Broadway shows?