Intuition and Decision-Making

Here are some good thoughts from a post from The 99 Percent, “Don’t Overthink It: 5 Tips for Daily Decision-Making.”  This point seems especially relevant for designers and problem solvers working in development and unfamiliar contexts.

3. The three kinds of intuition.

In the creative and business worlds, you hear a lot of talk about intuition, and “trusting your gut.” But what does that really mean? It’s less simple than you might think. Columbia Business School professor William Duggan believes that there are three different types of intuition:

“Ordinary intuition is just a feeling, a gut instinct. Expert intuition is snap judgments, when you instantly recognize something familiar, the way a tennis pro knows where the ball will go from the arc and speed of the opponent’s racket… The third kind, strategic intuition, is not a vague feeling, like ordinary intuition. Strategic intuition is a clear thought… That flash of insight you had last night might solve a problem that’s been on your mind for a month.

“Expert intuition is always fast, and it only works in familiar situations. Strategic intuition is always slow, and it works for new situations, which is when you need your best ideas.

“This difference is crucial, because expert intuition can be the enemy of strategic intuition. As you get better at your job, you recognize patterns that let you solve similar problems faster and faster. That’s expert intuition at work. In new situations your brain takes much longer to make enough new connections to find a good answer. A flash of insight happens in only a moment, but it may take weeks for that moment to come. You can’t rush it. But your expert intuition might see something familiar and make a snap judgment too soon. The discipline of strategic intuition requires you recognize when a situation is new and turn off your expert intuition. You must disconnect the old dots, to let new ones connect on their own.”

Takeaway: We should trust our expert intuition (based on experience) when making choices about familiar problems. But when we need a break-through solution, we shouldn’t be too quick to jump to conclusions.

View the other 4 tips on The 99 Percent >>

(Image credit: The 99 Percent)

Do Designers Actually Exploit the Poor While Trying to Do Good? Jan Chipchase Responds

by Shoham Arad
FastCo Design, January 4, 2012

Chipchase answers tough questions posed by critics–and tough questions he poses to himself.

Recently, at the PopTech Conference in Camden, Maine, Jan Chipchase, Frog‘s all-star field researcher, was giving a presentation on his travels in search of novel design solutions when a person in the audience lobbed a pointed question: “What is your motivation? Why do you do this?” When Chipchase began to respond, the audience member interrupted and asked again, “No, what is your motivation?” The follow-up hanging in the air was, “How do you sleep at night?”

As the back and forth continued, the hostility became more palpable. The audience grew quiet and unsettled. Were Chipchase and those doing similar work really helping those in developing countries by creating better products for them? What if, instead, they were simply scraping local communities for big ideas and then riding them to big profits?

Read the full article here on FastCo Design >>

Research vs. Journalism

In this thought-provoking presentation at TEDxBoulder, Leslie Dodson, a researcher and journalist discusses the shared traits and objectives of researchers and journalists and how they inherently clash, and she challenges us to be more discerning in how we represent other people in any field.

I really enjoyed her point about researchers and journalists and I hadn’t thought about that before.  They both seek out information in the form of data, observations, interviews, and photographic evidence.  And they both collect, compile and present that information.  Both seek to tell a story through collected data, but the journalist needs that information to be personal and to sate the appetites of readers and viewers consuming a story, sometimes as entertainment, sometimes as an appeal for support.  The researchers want anonymity, to remove the personal and keep it objective.  As a researcher and a journalist, Dodson must compartmentalize each and make sure she doesn’t corrupt the research while keeping the journalistic storytelling interesting.

As designers, we also have both tasks.  Research must be objective in order to inform us accurately, so that we can then work to create solutions that succeed.  But we also need to tell a compelling story in pitching our designs to clients, funders, and even back to the people and communities we researched.  There is a challenge in not over-simplifying or reducing people or whole populations to caricatures or cartoons and taking away their power by taking away their complexity.  We do have to generalize based on samples of populations and collections of personal stories, and in selling, creating characters is often a useful tool.  But we must remember to be careful riding that line, so that we continue to help the people and communities we serve, not undermine them by representing them in over-simplified ways.

In addition, Dodson points to the popularity of oversimplification in NGO communication materials, especially graphic representation, catchy names and slogans.  As iconic as the shape of the continent has become, it might even feel like just one country with one people and a few major issues we can tackle quite simply if we all just pitch in a few bucks.  But Africa is a continent with over 50 countries, over 2,000 languages, and a whole spectrum of issues, from disaster to prosperity.  Oversimplification is misleading, and may work against the needs of the people on that continent.

The tough part is that we see examples where simplification helps donors feel like there is hope in a manageable situation succeed.  So the question remains for each designer to continue asking themselves through every stage of their work, whether applied to Africa, development around the world or to any community we’re trying to serve: “in this case, does simplification help or hurt the cause?”

Why Social Innovators Need Design Thinking

by Tim Brown
Stanford Social Innovation Review, Nov 15, 2011

Tim Brown – CEO and President of IDEO – talks about design thinking and its need and application for social innovation in this new article on the Stanford Social Innovation Review.  There’s a lot of good stuff, including many good, quick examples of success from the field.

Highlights include:

“…design is a process especially suited to divergent thinking—the exploration of new choices and alternative solutions”

“Design thinking is centered on innovating through the eyes of the end user and as such encourages in-the-field research that builds empathy for people, which results in deeper insights about their unmet needs. This focus helps avoid the common problem of enthusiastic “outsiders” promoting inappropriate solutions and ensures that solutions are rooted in the needs and desires of the community.”

And “How exactly do you go about it?”:

  1. Ask a good question
  2. Get close to the lives you are trying to serve
  3. Build to think and launch to learn (the importance of prototyping)
  4. See the entire business system as a design opportunity
  5. Teach a person to fish… (enable others to design and design-think)

Read the full article on SSIR >>


The Rugged Altruists

In a recent New York TImes article by David Brooks, “The Rugged Altruists“, he describes a few examples of aid workers abroad and the values they share—the willingness to go to new and unfamiliar places, to listen and to serve, and humility.

Many Americans go to the developing world to serve others. A smaller percentage actually end up being useful. Those that do have often climbed a moral ladder. They start out with certain virtues but then develop more tenacious ones.

The examples are inspiring as well as sobering.

Read the full article here >

Interestingly, his article relates to another one I read yesterday—Dan Pallotta’s new post on the Harvard Business Review, entitled “Sacrifice is Overrated“.  Pallotta is the author of Uncharitable, in which he argues that the non-profit industry is crippled by the rules that govern it, preventing organizations from doing the scale of good they could if they were as free as businesses to do so. I heard him speak earlier this year and am a big fan of his arguments.  I think they’re right on target in a reassessment of the “non-profit” sector which is eternally starving for support and hindered by law and public opinion from making the kinds of strides and impact that bring success and praise to businesses.

In this blog post, he talks—as he does in his book—about the dangers of a whole society believing that it is right for those who do good to sacrifice financially to do so.  Specifically, he reacts to a colleague’s enthusiastic embrace of Warren Buffet and others who have publicly embraced financial sacrifice for the greater good.  While he doesn’t take issue with their merits, he argues for the need for us as a society to give up our deeply entrenched and harmful views that mixing social impact and profit is immoral, and that financial sacrifice is the only meaningful sacrifice we recognize.

To deny the masses of suffering human beings the talents of people who could greatly help them — and to deny it because of a blanket opposition to paying valuable people the significant money they might be worth to do it — is to put our fantasies of the selfless society we wish we lived in ahead of the life and death situations of those who suffer. Do we really think it is of some comfort to the mother whose child just died of starvation to know that at least no one made much money in the failed effort to save her son?

Thomas Merton’s abbey at Gethsemane sells cheese, and in the 160 years since it was founded it has grown from 44 monks to precisely 65. We have an inadequate supply of saints. If it is saints that the suffering masses of the world have to wait on, we are sentencing them to death.

Read the full post >

In a third coincidence related to another piece of content in yesterday’s news-browsing, as I was looking back for the tweet that sent me to Brooks’ article yesterday, I came across a few negative reactions to the piece.  One of which came from Dayo Olopade, whom I had just seen in a CNN article and video, and which I was just about to post here.  Her tweet said this:

Olopade is a Nigerian-American journalist and author of forthcoming book The Bright Continent, about how “advanced economies can learn a thing or two from Africa’s innovative spirit.”  Her tweet speaks to the intense dynamics that exist in the field of development—those we all need to understand and work with so that we’re genuinely helping, bridging gaps, enabling people and serving the purpose, not just treating it superficially.

I can see how Olopade could be frustrated, and I don’t know about Brooks, but he may have only had time or access to talk with aid workers.  In any case, reading those two opposing views brings up a lesson we learn time and time again: there’s always another side.  As designers, development workers or in any other field, and whether or not we can satisfy it in the end, we’re better off considering that other side, listening to it and doing whatever we can to address it from the start.

(tipped to this article by @acumenfund)

Africa can teach the world to innovate, says author


Article Link:  “Africa can teach the world to innovate, says author”, August 2, 2011

CNN’s Robyn Curnow sat down with Dayo Olopade to talk about what global businesses can learn from African innovation.  Says Olopade, “There are ways of doing more with less that are very organic to the African ecosystem, and I think in general in the 21st century there’s a very important recognition that we need to all do more with less, and where better to look that the place that has been doing this for centuries?”

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Dayo Olopade is a Nigerian-American journalist and author of forthcoming book The Bright Continent, about how “advanced economies can learn a thing or two from Africa’s innovative spirit.”

Read the full article and selected transcription from the interview on >>

(tipped to this article by @tieskroezen)

Teaching Design in the Face of Disaster


Logo - Core77Article Link:  “Teaching Design in the Face of Disaster”

by Kara Pecknold
Core77, April 18, 2011

Teaching design to students in Karachi


“Tobias Ottahal and Hamza Vora, two graduates of Emily Carr University of Art + Design, went to Karachi to expand their horizons, put their degrees to the test and teach third year design students in the Visual Studies department at Karachi University about human-centered design. What they did not expect, however was that this opportunity would take place during the Pakistan floods of 2010.”

Tobias and Hamza then went on to teach design skills to local residents so that they could address the new problems they faced and make life in relief camps more bearable.

I’m reading a book right now by Victor Papanek called Design for the Real World: Human Ecology and Social Change.  Originally published in 1971 and updated in a new edition in 1984, its philosophy is timeless and many people call it a bible of modern design for social impact.

At the end of chapter 4, he lays out four ways that “working for the needs of under-developed and emergent countries” goes:

  1. Designers design for others from their offices in countries far away — results may be beneficial for a short time but have no real roots and positive effect disappears shortly
  2. Designers spends some time in the country, designing for the real needs of the people there – results are only slightly better, but lack enough time for meaningful engagement
  3. Designers move to the country and train local designers – Papanek’s assertion here is that effects are again slightly better, but that training designers according to one design ideology makes them dependent on that one design ideology
  4. In an ideal case, designers move to the country in order to train designers to train designers (not a typo, it’s a third link in the chain) – the purpose would be to seed local, authentic, home-grown design that is one more step removed from dependence on the designer and his or her ties, background or motivations

Interesting stuff.  As I’ve suspected and have begun to hear from more sources, the concept of designers coming to the rescue from far-off places can be a little naïve, but it all depends on the approach and how things are done.

It sounds like Tobias and Hamza are working on Papanek’s #3 and maybe toward #4, and that sounds like a good direction to be heading.  Design thinking, perspectives, tools and approaches can be powerful and valuable assets for any application.  I’m glad to hear they’re being passed on in a situation like this.

Read the full article on >>

Want To Sell Product? Sleep With Your Customers


logo - Fast CompanyArticle link: “Want To Sell Product? Sleep With Your Customers”

by Martin Lindstrom
Fast Company, June 8, 2011

Talking about corporate design & marketing through examples of coffee, tv remote controls and stain removers, but good, applicable lessons for any market.


“Here’s the truth: I have come to spend a large part of my time living in consumers’ homes. It began a few years ago when I was asked to the Philippines to help an ailing coffee brand. For years the major coffee manufacturer in the region had attempted to run an advertising campaign during the rainy season. It’s traditionally a time of celebration, and if a coffee brand could “own” this, it would be a license to print money. The coffee company had run an expensive television campaign featuring smiling people drinking the brew in the shelter of their homes while rain pitter-pattered down on the roof. To everyone’s surprise, it seemed the association with the rainy season was a major turn-off. Sales decreased, and in turn left everyone baffled. Just before the annual rains were due, I headed off to Manila to work out why.”


Design Lessons from the Consumer at the Bottom of the Pyramid


Logo - Harvard Business ReviewArticle link: “Design Lessons from the Consumer at the Bottom of the Pyramid”

by Deepa Prahalad
Harvard Business Review, May 17, 2011

Excellent, insightful article on BOP consumers—just because it’s a market with less disposable income doesn’t mean it’s not sophisticated.


“Ironically, the usability test in the BOP is often even higher precisely because the poor remained below the radar of multinational corporations for so long. BOP consumers are used to creating their own gadgets with what they have or with help from the community. That means that the poor are used to getting a highly personalized interface at an acceptable price point with very low training requirements. There is also help available locally and affordably when things break down.”