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    Entries in design (42)


    The Progressive Service and re-imagining the organization

    There are lots of fantastic aspects of being a college student - the parties, the football games, the almost complete lack of real responsibility when compared to what often comes next - the corporate world, the 9-to-5 grind, and trying reasonably hard not to screw up, (after all, all that fun in college came with a price tag, probably in the form of tens of thousands of student loans to pay off).

    But besides all the obvious fun and cool elements of student life, there is at least one other - the chance to work on projects, develop ideas, and present provocative concepts all safe in the knowledge that these ideas will usually be evaluated mostly on their creativity and inspiration, and not out in the real world where at most organizations they are likely to be met with 'That's not how we do things here' or 'That will never work' or 'Who are you again?'

    And out in the real world massive, transformational organizational re-designs almost never actually happen (and work). There is so much legacy baggage, locked-in contracts and structures, and often a substantial level of resistance to change that the change that anyone tries to make to an entrenched institution is usually incremental and small in nature.  All change is hard. Big change is just about impossible to pull off.

    With all that in mind, I recommend taking a look at a student project that focuses on the kind of massive change that is normally only talked about in the detached, theoretical setting of academia. The below presentation is titled United States Postal Service Thesis, and was created by Tom Calabrese for a Masters program. The deck, which presents some ideas and kind of radical concepts for the US Postal Service of the future, is below, and I'll have a quick comment/challenge after the break.


    Did you click through the deck? What did you think?

    A couple of things stood out to me. One, that providing, for a price, the ability to refine and tailor your own mail delivery preferences is an idea worth pursuing. And two, the more radical idea about somehow connecting the Postal Service social graph to other, more higher value add services and products.

    But the real reason why I decided to post about this was not any of the specific proposals for the USPS, but rather as it was a great reminder that we almost never spend any time thinking about re-imagining our own organizations in a similar manner. Now certainly most of our organizations don't face the same number and type of daunting problems the USPS faces, but it's also certain that we underestimate the problems, (maybe ones that have not yet even manifested), that face our organizations.

    So the challenge is this - what if you could (or had to), completely re-imagine your workplace?

    What if you were to start from a blank sheet, or close to it, and start over?

    What would you keep? What would you let go? What are you doing simply because of inertia and tradition and internal resistance to change?

    What would the 'new' organization look like?

    Have a great week all!


    Off Topic: Infographics of the 1870s

    If you are a data/design/visualization mark like I am, then I apologize in advance for the half hour or so you are about to waste on the amazingly cool A Handsome Atlas site.

    The clever folks at Handsome Atlas have taken several old government and census documents from the late nineteenth-century, (primarily The Statistical Analysis of the United States, published from about 1870 - 1920), and breathed new life into them, by creating a user-friendly tool for viewing the old works close-up, and in high resolution.New York, 1870

    Don't really get why this is cool?

    Then spend a few minutes looking at this beautiful chart/infographic titled 'Gainful Occupations and also as Attending School' , a look at employment and education across the states taken from the 1870 census data, (a small snippet of this graphic appears on the right of this post).

    The Handsome Atlas site is full of amazingly interesting and detailed data tables, charts, graphics, and visual analyses of demographic, statistical, and economic data that was compiled in the census and published in The Statistical Analysis of the United States. With a big assist to the technology and presentation developed at Handsome Atlas, this data serves to remind us that the current fad and fascination with infographics and data visualization have their roots in the past.

    Infographics and other visualizations help us, mostly, to make more sense of the world - breathing life and creating dimension, contrast, comparison, and most importantly, interest in data sets. 

    We want to better understand the world around us certainly, and that longing and need for understanding is definitely not only a modern phenomenon.

    If you take a few minutes to play around on the Handsome Atlas site, please let me know what you think.

    Have a great weekend!


    Mapping the ideal candidate

    Don't worry - this isn't a political post...  

    Just a quick take for one for an Election Day, then we can get back to riling each other up on Facebook.

    I wanted to share this excellent mind map found on the Nordstrom Innovation Lab careers page.  Titled ''What We Want in a Teammate", the mind map is an interesting and novel way for an organization to attempt to communicate what they see are the important traits, characteristics, and behaviors in theor organization.

    Pretty cool, right?  And while I admit to not actually visiting the careers page of every organization in the world, I will state unequivocally that this is the first 'Candidate Profile Mind Map' I have ever seen.

    The Nordstrom Innovation Lab describes itself as "a lean startup operating inside of Nordstrom" and as a place where "We move through ideas quickly, using whichever technologies make sense. Our process incorporates methodologies and practices from Design Thinking, Lean Startup, agile, and lean thinking."

    I don't know much else about the Innovation Lab, including if indeed they are very innovative at all, but I do think it is a smart idea for an older organization in a seemingly un-sexy industry, (retailing), to try and position themselves on their careers site as a place not at all like most potential candidates would expect.

    What do you think - is creating a Mind Map of the ideal candidate a good idea?

    Could you create one for your organization if you tried?

    Note: This Lifehacker piece from a couple of years back has links to several free Mind Mapping tools in case you are interested in playing around with these ideas.


    Comic Sans and Getting the Details Right

    At a prior job I worked with a colleague that had changed her default email message font to Comic Sans. 

    The first time I received a message from her, and drank in all the Comic Sans goodness, I thought it must have been some kind of a joke, or a mistake, or a little bit of fun, as I am 99% sure the contents of the message were along the lines of 'Welcome to the group, I am looking forward to working with you.'Not the same, is it?

    But as time passed and the ensuing communications I received from this colleague became much more traditional, mundane, and efficient, the Comic Sans persisted. Eventually, I could not take it anymore, and in the nicest way I knew how, (which was probably not very nice, I admit), I gave her some unsolicited advice, to drop the Comic Sans from her outgoing message template, as it was pretty hard to take anything she wrote very seriously when presented in the puerile font of a 3rd grader.

    I probably didn't use the word 'puerile' in my note. Well maybe I did.

    I can't remember exactly how she took my advice, other than her obvious failure to take heed of it - until I left that position, she never dropped the Sans from her routine.

    So this is clearly a blatant example - no one in business I have ever encountered before or since wrote emails in Comic Sans. But when I think about this former colleague, it is truly the only thing about her I remember.  She may have been very smart, capable, an industrious team member - maybe not.

    But I would not be able to separate the work, the quality, and her ability from the baffling way she chose to present much of that work, and her failure to grasp how she was coming across to her audiences.

    What's the point of this story, (aside from the fact that I found this really cool post on the favbulous blog that renders a bunch of famous corporate logos in Comic Sans and wanted to write about it).

    I guess that in communication everything, every last detail matters. And while you can't use that as an excuse to refine, review, and over think things endlessly, it also means that you have to nail the basic, essential bits or you and your message will never be heard.

    Seemingly small things, like the choice of a font, often have much larger and more significant implications than we think. And I guess if it doesn't 'feel' right, then it probably isn't.

    Happy Wednesday all - I am off to HR Tech Europe in a couple of hours, if you are in Amsterdam this week, please make sure to say hello!


    Off Topic: The acceptance of perfect things

    Simple question for a Friday - can something, (or someone, or some abstraction like a process or project), be perfect?

    I'm not thinking necessarily about some universal or arbitrary definition of perfection, but more situational and personal. Can something be perfect for you?

    Take a look at this piece from Gizmodo - 'This Bowl Will Always Be Exactly the Size You Need it to Be', about a novel kind of bowl called the Stretchy Bowl, (image below) designed to be flexible and adaptable to the level and number of items placed in the bowl.

    From the Gizmodo piece

    The Stretchy Bowl is the easy-to-store fruit basin that never wants to disappoint. Composed of a white metal base (which requires minimal assembly) and a matching metal hoop wrapped in a layer of breathable, elastic fabric, this bowl is always the right size to accomodate your haul of produce.

    As you add more fruit to stretchy fabric disk, the bowl deepens. 

    That's pretty cool, right? A bowl that's not just flexible and adaptable, but always exactly the size you need to be.

    Seems kind of impossible though, I mean, always exactly the right size?

    Could the bowl hold ten oranges, twenty, two hundred? And still be exactly the size you need?

    Of course the commenters on the Gizmodo piece are doing the usual - taking apart the idea as not really as described and advertised, bringing up the standard arguments about mass, size, and the pesky laws of physics that make the Stretchy Bowl not really always exactly the size you need it to be.

    And while that is the expected and rational reaction - no container can physically be that adaptable, it also kind of disappointing.

    Why can't most of us accept that the bowl could be always the right size?

    Why do we have to find the flaw, the failing, the imperfection that makes the claims null and void?

    Why can't we (usually) accept that there might be perfect things?


    Have a Great Weekend!