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.
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
There is not a bigger question for innovators — social, product, service, policy — than What are you hiring this [ ] to do for you?
Let’s break this down a little and then explain why we ask that at the beginning of any engagement and all throughout from the first meeting to the final run of the evaluation data. The question gets us to shape what and how we might design our innovation while the answer is about the ways we tell what kind of value it generates and the impact it produces.
What’s in a question?
The start of the question is about you, the aspiring innovator. This highlights the role of the creator and reminds us that we are generating this ‘thing’ by procurement, by design, or by simply encouraging something to be made. Without us (i.e., you), nothing changes.
The active use of hire is about the reality that we are paying for innovation through our time, our energy, our focus, our social (and often political) capital, and our money. All of these could be spent elsewhere. Design is an investment and it’s purposeful. Asking this big question gets us to pause and think deeply about what we’re putting into innovation and what we’re looking to get out of it.
The [ ] is the thing you’re hiring — the proposed service, experience, product, policy, or ecosystem — and is what you’re purposefully bringing about. This is your idea manifest into something real.
The last part is ‘to do for you‘ is active: it’s about ensuring that you’re clear about what purposes it serves. No matter how beneficial your planned innovation might be for others, you are ultimately asking it to serve a role, fill a need, for you. It is you that wants to solve a problem, build a market, or prevent something from happening, and this requires some clarity to innovate well.
What’s in an answer?
Innovation is not just creating things, it’s about evaluating the things we create. If our novel products, services, experiences, and policies don’t generate value for people, they aren’t really innovations. It’s just stuff.
An evaluation perspective on the question asked above might look at things like:
-The roles people played in the innovation process, including the skills they used, experiences they had, and the insights that they gained along the way. This learning is what feeds into our understanding of how an innovation develops along with the people and organization it is a part of. All of that is part of the innovation dividend or ROI.
-The resources used as part of the ‘hiring‘ process like money, time, human resources, and other capital; all can help look at the value of the initiative to see if the costs and benefits make sense.
-What ‘things’ are produced — the prototypes, their functioning, their benefits, and weakness — as well as provide a means to document the iterations, the steps taken, the new ‘offshoots’ that might emerge, and the resulting products, services, experiences, and policies.
-Lastly, the innovation needs to fulfill some requirements or expectations and evaluation looks at what it does in the world, for whom, under what conditions, and what other impacts might emerge unintentionally. This helps assess risks, benefits, and find new opportunities for further development and innovation.
Better questions, better answers
Innovation is what will drive much of the future value of your organization. It’s what allows you to build, grow, adapt, or sustain what you’re doing because even if you don’t feel a need to change, everything is changing around you and sometimes you need to change just to stay where you are.
By asking this one simple question you might find answers that will lead you to much better innovations to shape and create that future.
We help our clients ask this question. If you want our help, contact us and we’ll gladly help you ask better questions for better answers.
Follow us for a moment. We’re going to talk about design, innovation, evaluation, and how they all go together.
Design is really the discipline — the theory, science, and practice — of innovation. That means that if you are innovating, you’re designing. Innovating is about adding value through introducing something new to a situation — it might be entirely new, a twist on an existing idea, or an old idea placed in a new context. Innovation and design are about taking ideas and purposefully transforming things into making those ideas real in the form of services, products, or experiences.
Design and innovation are all about creating value.
Thus, understanding the value of design is partly about the understanding of valuation of innovation. At the root of evaluation is the concept of value. One of the most widely used definitions of evaluation (pdf) is that it is about merit, worth, and significance — with worth being a stand-in for value.
Value can only be understood by asking the right questions because it’s a relative question as many people will see the worth of something different from others.
One of the big questions professional designers wrestle with at the start of any engagement with a client is:
“What are you hiring [your product, service, or experience] to do?”
What evaluators ask is: “Did your [product, service, or experience (PSE)] do what you hired it to do?”
“To what extent did your PSE do what you hired it to do?”
“Did your PSE operate as it was expected to?”
“What else did your PSE do that was unexpected?”
“What lessons can we learn from your PSE development that can inform other initiatives and build your capacity for innovation as an organization?”
In short, evaluation is about asking:
“What value does your PSE provide and for whom and under what context?”
Value creation, redefined
Without asking the questions above how do we know value was created at all? Without evaluation, there is no means of being able to claim that value was generated with a PSE, whether expectations were met, and whether what was designed was implemented at all.
By asking the questions about value and how we know more about it, innovators are better positioned to design PSE’s that are value-generating for their users, customers, clients, and communities as well as their organizations, shareholders, funders, and leaders.
This redefinition of value as an active concept gives the opportunity to see what the return on investment — time, money, energy, commitment — can yield an organization in real-time. This means that value is fluid, dynamic and that can be generated on an ongoing basis. It’s not just what you report at the end of the fiscal year or project.
Imagine reporting real-time value at your next stakeholder, staff, or shareholder meeting? Imagine knowing what you’re creating now and having that focus your efforts on what you could create in the near and long-term future?
Evaluation is how you do it. It’s in the name itself.
If you’re looking to hire an evaluation to better your innovation capacity, contact us at Cense. That’s what we do.