Our principal, Cameron Norman, recently joined Keita Demming for a Disruptive Conversation as part of his ongoing podcast series. Listen in and learn about how mindfulness, design, psychology, and paying attention to our change efforts can improve what we do and how effective we are with what we do.
As strange as this number is, nothing compares to the actual times we’re living in. Social complexity arising from human migration, transforming economies, technology, shifting social roles, climate change, and mass urbanization (to name a few contributors) means that we often find ourselves in places and times that feel strange. Strange-making is often considered to be one of the qualities of good design: it makes the familiar feel different by introducing new things — products, services, ideas — into our life.
For us, 2019 is going to be a very strange year for these reasons. We’ll be introducing a lot of new things that have been in the works for years. It’s time to — as Seth Godin implores any innovator, creator, or entrepreneur to do — ship.
We will be launching new products to help you understand, adapt, promote, and sustain positive change. There are going to be new ways to learn all about what change is and how to make it happen. We’ll also be providing new ways to get the support you need to do the work — to ship — your ideas and innovations (making change happen).
At Cense, change is what we’re all about. So as you change your calendar, your plans, even maybe make some new year’s resolutions, stay tuned and take us along with you.
Note: For anyone who’s looking to use the time that comes with the new year replacing the old, we’d like to recommend this simple, free downloadable booklet that is worth spending a couple hours with as you reflect on what you did last year and what you aspire to become this year. Thanks to the folk at Yearcompass.com for providing this resource. We hope it’s helpful to you.
Happy New Year and best wishes for a healthy, exciting, creative, and prosperous 2019 from us at Cense.
Innovators — those seeking to take an idea for a product, service, or policy and make it real — usually have a pretty clear sense of what they are trying to achieve with their innovation. This is the primary purpose and may reflect where the innovation achieves the greatest impact. But is this all it does? Could it be doing much more?
Evaluation can play a key role in revealing where an innovation achieves more than just its primary purpose and can serve as a means to uncover layers of impact that can demonstrate various returns on investment (ROI) and open up opportunities for further exploration and exploitation of resources.
Innovation typically involves considerable investment in time, energy, money, and attention and an evaluation can help showcase the return on investment in unexpected ways. Let’s consider something like an event — a learning conference — as an example to illustrate this layering of impact and how evaluation can aid in revealing these layers and supporting innovation.
Change or Impact for Whom?
A look across many conferences finds relatively consistent language in their purpose that includes mission phrases like:
to inspire…, to educate…., to connect…, to showcase…, etc..
Among the first roles an evaluation can play is articulating the theory of change explaining why something is intended to achieve an outcome. A look at the phrases above is likely to prompt questions in an evaluator
These are some of the questions that an evaluator might ask from these initial goals. For an evaluation of a learning event, this might translate into metrics like:
- Attendance including details on those in the audience (e.g., professional background, previous participation, basic demographics)
- Number of sessions taught and description of those sessions (content)
- Overall satisfaction with the conference (including session content, speakers, food and drink, format)
- Self-reported learning outcomes from
- Financial details: Profit, loss, and expenses; sponsorships
- Registration information (e.g., online vs. in-person, timing, categories, etc.)
This is a pretty standard set of metrics. We see similar evaluative outcomes across educational programming in different contexts. These might work well for simple purposes, but it only provides a small amount of what it could yield and for innovation, going beyond the usual is one way to separate a new idea from a successful one.
Looking Differently at Outcomes & Impact
An outcome looks different from where we sit in the system that surrounds an innovation. Consider the role of the design of physical space and how that influences outcomes and shifts our understanding of impact.
A common seating format at conferences is round tables in front of a stage (‘Rounds’). This is usually done where there are meals served and for that purpose, the format works well for everyone — except most of those in attendance and the keynote speakers. Rounds are ideal for serving people including the setting up and clearing of dishes. They are generally lousy for talking with people because, with the exception of speaking with one other person, an attendee must either turn their back on another person to speak to someone else or speak over or past someone.
Rounds show high positive impact — efficiency, ability to monitor, reduced errors — for the catering staff. This might be an important outcome for a conference, although probably not. Consider how this format might enhance or degrade the impact of things like the keynote address or the networking expectations of individuals in attendance.
Consider some other potential impacts:
- It gets people away from their families and friends (this could be positive or negative).
- It pulls them away from work (it gives them a break, provides an incentive, it adds to their workload, disrupts the teams they leave behind, or all or some of these).
- It provides supports conference centres and organizers.
- It creates connections between people like connecting with ‘old friends’ and colleagues; sustains a connection to a field of practice or discipline; re-affirms a mission; instills a sense of perspective at how much a field changes (or doesn’t) over time; instills a sense of alienation of a field or peers.
- It generates or maintains employment in a region
- It’s a tourism and prestige generator.
These are all possible outcomes and are a sample of what additional areas of impact that a learning event might influence. This is for illustrative purposes, but should still provide some ways to show how an innovation (service, product, or policy) might have additional outcomes and impacts that could emerge through an evaluation.
Expanding the Field of Vision
Consideration of these additional outcomes might reveal an opportunity and can more fully demonstrate the impact and potential ROI. Asking different questions can also help prioritize what kind of outcomes make the most sense to optimize the design of your innovation.
Conferences like the one pictured above have optimized for creative thinking within a traditional learning structure by including a poet who composed a unique work summarizing each talk, a (literal!) gallery walk showcasing a prominent local artist’s work (Lars Lerin), and hosting a series of interactive conversation sessions over coffee and snacks.
For Service Convention Sweden and others like
Evaluation is not just about the obvious outcomes when deployed in an innovation context. It can demonstrate not only whether an innovation is achieving the expected impact, but the reach of that impact outside of expectations.
And isn’t innovation all about exceeding expectations?
This is the latest in a series on Evaluation: The Innovator’s Secret Advantage. This series looks at how evaluation can be used to support
One of Evaluation’s greatest contributions to innovation is its ability to expand the vision of the innovator and attend to matters of perception. What we look at it is not always all we consciously see, nor is what we see the sum of all we perceive. Humans have many conscious and unconscious biases in what they perceive and how they interpret what they perceive. Evaluation can help add clarity to that perception and expand it.
Evaluation can help distinguish reality from illusion. In this latest in our series on Evaluation: The Innovator’s Secret Advantage we look at the secret of perception and how evaluation can help change what is seen (and reveal what is not) in the journey of innovation.
The image above is of a jail modeled on the Panopticon, an ancient architectural design to allow someone to see all that is going on at any one time. While its use within prisons is not one that’s particularly comforting or attractive, the model or concept of creating a design that enables a vantage point to see what is happening within an innovation context is a useful metaphor.
Evaluation can enable innovators to see what is happening from a single vantage point at considerable depth or, as we will discuss, provide an alternative means by seeing the phenomenon from multiple perspectives. Both of these have advantages for innovators looking to assess the performance of a product or service in areas of high complexity and uncertainty.
It is by reflecting on the vantage point (perspective) that we can determine whether what we are seeing is real or just an illusion and take the appropriate action based on that assessment.
Consider one of the most famous of these visual illusions: the Young Girl / Old Woman Illusion (below). The history of this illusion has been traced back to the late 19th century and has been replicated many times since then to be considered a staple of any introductory psychology text.
What’s interesting about this illusion is that you can’t hold both the image of the young girl and the old woman in your mind’s eye at the same time. You can only see one, not both even if you can switch back and forth. The same situation can occur within an innovation where it is difficult to see two ideas at the same time. By asking the right questions, an evaluation can help innovators to see what others see, what they default to, and whether or under what conditions do they see something different (e.g., seeing something as a product or a service).
Other illusions are more about perceptual shifts that, once made, are difficult or impossible to ‘unlearn’. These can be found in such things as the FedEx logo and its embedded arrow (check the link if you’ve never seen it). Another is the often common hidden ‘8’ within the 8 of diamonds in a deck of cards (see below).
Evaluation for innovation involves asking questions about a program, product, or service that includes taking a perceptual view of many different people and from different situations. It’s a systems-oriented perspective that considers what a particular phenomenon looks like from a particular point of view.
Seeing What’s Hidden in Plain Sight
Another famous psychological illusion is the one conceived of by Daniel Simons and his colleagues called The Monkey Business Illusion. This selective perception task is designed to show how your attention and focus can blind you to other things going on. The video below provides an updated version of the original video (available via the link above) to illustrate how we can miss things that are right in front of us based on what we attend to.
Innovators are often focused on the core aspects of their innovation: the product, the process, and the intended outcomes. This focus is often what sets successful innovators apart from others, yet it can also be a liability. An evaluator can help an innovator (an individual, a team, an entire organization) to see the full picture.
How? The means to do this is first achieved by asking evaluative questions that look at what is going on, what is new, and what meaning is derived from various activities.
Taking the Temperature (and Other Innovation Measures)
There is a useful, if not morbid, fable about the frog in the boiling pot. In that fable, the frog fails to notice that the temperature of the water continues to rise because the change is so gradual. The frog ends up boiling to death because of this inability to see that he is being boiled alive because the changes are so hard to detect. A good evaluation designed for innovation provides means to collect data akin to a thermostat calibrated to the particular conditions, situations, and product or service necessary.
This could include monitoring key inputs and outputs, tracking sales or engagements over time, or looking at resource levels like personnel and how they respond to change. The latter example is a good one, particularly with larger organizations where the duties assigned to a single person could be absorbed by others if that individual left the role. However, as time moves on and the extra work is normalized it is possible that the pattern is repeated over time where those who are left eventually shoulder such a burden that it makes the work impossible, but also the performance degrades.
These are the kinds of situations where collapse is likely. We’ve seen this with leadership when many people start leaving at the top or when those at the front face of an organize leave in large numbers. The cost in capital, focus, lived experience, and working knowledge can cripple an organization over the long haul. But like the frog in the pot, it might not be until just before the boil that it is noticed.
Evaluating for Illusion & Reality
Evaluation for innovation recognizes that the attention and focus of those leading the charge
In the next piece in this series, we’ll look at how evaluation can uncover layers of impact that go beyond seeing what is in front of us to looking far past it. If evaluation for innovation is something that you need help with, connect with us; we can help you see things differently.
Title image credit: Cameron Norman
In a world filled with increasing number of signals and lots of noise, it can be difficult to achieve focus and determine what to pay attention to. In this third piece in a series, Evaluation: The Innovator’s Secret Advantage, we look at one of the bedrocks of sustainable innovation that is the best representation of something shockingly simple, enormously powerful, but not easy: mindfulness.
Before embarking on an introduction to mindfulness for innovation, let’s dispel some myths about what it is not. It is not religious, spiritual, or some new-age trend, nor is it meditation. While it can and often is be affiliated with all those things, mindfulness is simply the practice of paying attention to what is around you and to yourself in the process. It is about conscious awareness of the present moment and non-judgemental attention toward the thoughts, feelings, experiences that arise from that experience.
An Exercise in Mindfulness
To many, the idea of mindfulness seems like an odd start to the conversation about innovation and evaluation, but the closer you look at what mindfulness is all about, the more it becomes clear how important it is to what innovators and evaluators both do.
- Close your eyes (or lower your eyelids a little). [This reduces the amount of distraction from visual stimuli]
- Put your feet flat on the ground and keep your back straight [This also reduces the amount of ‘signal’ coming from the body by getting into a more optimal position for sitting]
- Breathe easy and relaxed and simply pay attention to what’s going on around you and what you are thinking. [Breathing easy avoids the issues created by holding one’s breath, creating a whole realm of problematic stimuli]
There are variants of this exercise that include focusing on the breath (which is a common technique for mindfulness-based stress reduction) and emphasis on quieting the mind, yet the outcomes are similar: an increased awareness of things that were — up until that moment — unaware and that is where mindfulness comes into evaluation.
Evaluation serves innovation best when it goes beyond the simple assessment of outputs, outcomes, and process document. Evaluation can be a mechanism for focusing attention on the work of innovation and its context. In the example above, the audience was asked: what did you notice? The answers ranged from hearing the HVAC system, noticing their breath, and realizing how much noise takes place during a talk.
In previous workshops, participants have reported bodily sensations (e.g., getting hungry), temperature changes, physical discomfort (e.g., back getting stiff from sitting), a wandering mind, and often forms of judgement about not ‘doing it well’ (for which there is no ‘well’, but rather ‘practice’). Just like
Linking Mindfulness to Evaluation
The idea of applying mindfulness to organizations is not new and has actually been well-researched. Introducing and practicing the concept of organizational mindfulness has been shown to be strongly correlated with what high reliability in organizations, meaning that they continually produce desirable results, consistently. Innovation is difficult to do and doing it repeatedly and consistently is even more so. What organizations that have fostered mindfulness in the way they work have done is create a mechanism for paying attention that is systematized and implemented consistently.
Mindfulness is not a one-off exercise for those who adopt it into their work, but closer to a way of being. What it does is provide the means for organizations to not only focus on what’s in front of
Mindfulness also cultivates curiosity. Curiosity is what draws an innovator and evaluator to consider what additional things might be happening (which we will explore later in this series) beyond just the intended outcomes. It is what leads us to innovation in the first place. By regularly creating space for mindful reflection into the innovation space, we nurture and cultivate curiosity.
Doing the Work
What does mindfulness practice look like for innovation? As mentioned earlier: we are dealing with something simple, not easy. A place to start is to follow some of these practices:
- Ask evaluative questions, which include one that focuses on paying attention. We’ve discussed three of the most useful questions for promoting evaluative thinking in a previous post.
- Create regular reflection space within the organization at each level (program, division, organization). This includes setting aside deliberate time regularly to reflect on what the data is telling you about what is happening, drawing on some of the questions above. This means instilling quiet, uninterrupted time for members of an organization to think and reflect. This involves unplugging from networks and thinking. It may involve tools (e.g., whiteboards, notebooks, cards) or movement (e.g., going for a walk or run), but it must be focused. Switching back and forth from email or other demands won’t work.
- Bring reflections together. Individual reflection is important as is the chance to discuss those insights or experiences with others. Socialize the process of reflection by establishing a sharing culture. This builds much on what Donald Schon proposed as part of his work on attractor mapping, by enabling innovators to determine where the action is in the face of not always knowing. This means attending to the system that an innovation is a part of.
- Reserve judgment and avoid labels. The rush to judge something is what kills curiosity and mindfulness. Ever notice that once something is labeled as ‘good’ or ‘bad’ we cease to ask the kind of questions of it that get deeper into its core? Mindfulness is about being open and then assessing utility.
- Use learning as an outcome. What mindfulness does is encourage identification and insight into patterns. What comes from that identification and discussion is learning and is a genuine and important outcome for innovators. Document what is seen, heard, discussed, and concluded.
The biggest barrier that we see in our work is time. It isn’t that this takes a long time, although it does require some investment of it, rather it is that organizations are reluctant to prioritize this work and make it a regular part of their practice. Doing it occasionally has some benefit, but making it part of the organizational culture is really what will transform everyday work into something that has potential beyond the original purpose.
By instituting mindfulness into the work of your organization, you are more likely to see the constellations and quiet of night and not just the blue sky of the daytime.