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Communication Nation

Updated: 2018-03-05T17:06:25.362-06:00


Government is a service


The purpose of government is to serve the people. Thomas Jefferson and Mao Zedong may not agree on much, but they do agree on this.


“The purpose of government is to enable the people of a nation to live in safety and happiness. Government exists for the interests of the governed, not for the governors.”
~ Thomas Jefferson

“We serve the people… If, in the interests of the people, we persist in doing what is right and correct what is wrong, our ranks will surely thrive.
~ Mao Zedong

Government is a service.

And we deserve better.

Read my full post Connecting government.

What is a connected company?


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Gamestorming for service design


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As part of the kickoff for the Global Service Jam, I was asked to offer some tips on how service designers could use gamestorming. So I put together a few thoughts in this short video.

The future is podular


One of the most difficult challenges companies face today is how to be more flexible and adaptive in a dynamic, volatile business environment. How do you build a company that can identify and capitalize on opportunities, navigate around risks and other challenges, and respond quickly to changes in the environment? How do you embed that kind of agility into the DNA of your company?

The answer is to distribute control in such a way that decisions can be made as quickly and as close to customers as possible. There is no way for people to respond and adapt quickly if they have to get permission before they can do anything.

If you want an adaptive company, you will need to unleash the creative forces in your organization, so people have the freedom to deliver value to customers and respond to their needs more dynamically. One way to do this is by enabling small, autonomous units that can act and react quickly and easily, without fear of disrupting other business activities – pods.

A pod is a small, autonomous unit that is enabled and empowered to deliver the things that customers value.

Read the rest of the post,The future is podular, on the Connected Company blog

The connected company


Many thanks to Thomas Vander Wal for the many conversations that inspired this post.The average life expectancy of a human being in the 21st century is about 67 years. Do you know what the average life expectancy for a company is?Surprisingly short, it turns out. In a recent talk, John Hagel pointed out that the average life expectancy of a company in the S&P 500 has dropped precipitously, from 75 years (in 1937) to 15 years in a more recent study. Why is the life expectancy of a company so low? And why is it dropping?I believe that many of these companies are collapsing under their own weight. As companies grow they invariably increase in complexity, and as things get more complex they become more difficult to control.The statistics back up this assumption. A recent analysis in the CYBAEA Journal looked at profit-per-employee at 475 of the S&P 500, and the results were astounding: As you triple the number of employees, their productivity drops by half (Chart here).This “3/2 law” of employee productivity, along with the death rate for large companies, is pretty scary stuff. Surely we can do better?I believe we can. The secret, I think, lies in understanding the nature of large, complex systems, and letting go of some of our traditional notions of how companies function.THE COMPANY AS A MACHINEHistorically, we have thought of companies as machines, and we have designed them like we design machines. A machine typically has the following characteristics:1. It’s designed to be controlled by a driver or operator.2. It needs to be maintained, and when it breaks down, you fix it.3. A machine pretty much works in the same way for the life of the machine. Eventually, things change, or the machine wears out, and you need to build or buy a new machine.A car is a perfect example of machine design. It’s controlled by a driver. Mechanics perform routine maintenance and fix it when it breaks down. Eventually the car wears out, or your needs change, so you sell the car and buy a new one.And we tend to design companies the way we design machines: We need the company to perform a certain function, so we design and build it to perform that function. Over time, things change. The company grows beyond a certain point. New systems are needed. Customers want different products and services, so we need to redesign and rebuild the machine, or buy a new one, to serve the new functions.This kind of rebuilding goes by many names, including re-organization, reengineering, right-sizing, flattening and so on. The problem with this kind of thinking is that the nature of a machine is to remain static, while the nature of a company is to grow. This conflict causes all kinds of problems because you have to redesign and rebuild the company while you also need to operate it – an idea dramatized in an EDS commercial from a few years ago: Building an airplane in flight.THE COMPANY AS AN ORGANISMIt’s time to think about what companies really are, and to design with that in mind. Companies are not so much machines as complex, dynamic, growing systems. As they get larger, acquiring smaller companies, entering into joint ventures and partnerships, and expanding overseas, they become “systems of systems” that rival nation-states in scale and reach.So what happens if we rethink the modern company, if we stop thinking of it as a machine and start thinking of it as a complex, growing system? What happens if we think of it less like a machine and more like an organism? Or even better, what if we compared the company with other large, complex human systems, like, for example, the city?Cities are large, complex, systems, but we don’t really try to control them. In Stephen B. Johnson's book Emergence: The Connected Lives of Ants, Brains, Cities, and Softwarehe quotes complexity pioneer John Holland:Cities have no central planning commissions that solve the problem of purchasing and distributing supplies… How do these cities avoid devas[...]

The role of visual thinking and communication in change management


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Dr. Martin Eppler of the University of St. Gallen interviews me about visual thinking and change.

Yes it's a bit more formal than I usually get, but I was in Switzerland and they like that kind of thing :)

This video is related to an interview I gave on change management for the management journal Organizations Entwicklung. You can read the article (and comment) in English here and in German here.

Leave a comment! I'd appreciate hearing your thoughts.

What is Gamestorming?


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For more Gamestorming goodness, check out the Gamestorming blog.

Information shadows and spimes


In his book Smart Things, Mike Kuniavsky talks about the information shadow as an essential element of a smart thing. The information shadow is the information that's associated with an object such as its name, number, position in space and time, and so on.

Metaphors also help people understand new services by linking the new to the familiar. For example, RFID was first introduced as the next generation of the bar code, even though the two technologies had little in common.

Information shadows allow designers to make objects simpler, to reduce the size of interfaces and reduce the display requirements of an object. An iPod shuffle, for example, can be tiny because the information display resides in iTunes, not on the device.

Science fiction author and futurist Bruce Sterling coined the term spime to describe an object that can be tracked through space and time throughout the lifetime of the object.

This is part of a project called Ubicomp Sketchbook that I initiated with user experience designer Peter Morville, author of Ambient Findability and Search Patterns, in order to explore and explain the ideas aand implications of ubiquitous computing, sometimes called the "internet of things." Check out the whole set.

Please share your thoughts!

The nib cursor


The nib cursor, originally uploaded by dgray_xplane.

I love my iPad, but the finger-only interface has been a continuing frustration for me. As an artist and designer, I want to do things that I can easily do with a pen and paper, like write, scribble and sketch. But these are not things we typically do with our fingers, any more than we eat soup or salad with our fingers.

Apple apologists will say that you can sketch and write with the iPad, and indeed we can. Yes, and indeed we can also eat salad or even soup without utensils if it's absolutely necessary. But that's not ideal, is it? Over the years we've developed tools, like forks, spoons, knives and yes, pens, that make life easier. We should expect no less from our interface designers.

This morning I participated in a stimulating discussion on twitter with user experience designers @docbaty, @daveixd, @mojoguzzi and @fred_beecher that left me thinking -- could we solve this problem without changing the hardware? And indeed I think we can.

The problem that a pen solves (beyond carrying ink around) is that it gives the user the ability to "see where they are going." Using your finger to draw on the iPad, or even one of the many styli that are available, has the tendency to hide the point of the virtual "pen," thus hiding the path.

Now imagine an interface that allows you to use the natural gesture you use to write with a pen or pencil, and gives you a point that you can see. Suddenly you can see where you are going and the primary problem is solved.

One of the things that occurred to me this morning -- which led to this insight -- was that when Apple first "virtualized" the keyboard by adding it to the software interface instead of the hardware, there was a lot of initial resistance. I was one of those resisters. I couldn't imagine using a phone without a physical keyboard. But over time, I learned to use the virtual keyboard and now I appreciate the additional flexibility that this interface gives me: to have more screen or less as the case demands.

Why not do the same with the stylus? A "virtualized pen" would answer most of my gripes and over time I would probably come to love it. I might even stop carrying a pen and paper around. And that would be an interface I could fall in love with.

Anatomy of a smart thing


In his book Smart Things, Mike Kuniavsky quotes a Scientific American article from 1991, where Xerox PARC's then CTO Mark Weiser laid out the vision for ubicomp:

"[Ubicomp is] the idea of integrating computers seamlessly into the world at large ... not simulating the world so much as enhancing the one that already exists ... [most of them] will be invisible in fact as well as in metaphor ... These machines and more will be connected in a ubiquitous network.

Today's design challenge, says Kuniavsky, is to create a practice of ubiquitous computing user experience design. Such a practice is by necessity cross-disciplinary, involving identity design (what makes the product or service memorable and unique), interface design (modes of functionality), industrial design (physicality), interaction design (how you can interact with it), information design (how it displays information), service design (how the service maintains consistency across many objects devices and experiences), and information architecture (organizing principles for the information).

That's a lot of D words! In other words it takes a team, and this will only increasingly be the case. The practice is changing quickly, and with the power to transform society comes great responsibility.

Check out the whole set on Flickr, and please share your thoughts in the comments section!



Metaphor, originally uploaded by dgray_xplane.

In his book Smart Things, Mike Kuniavsky suggests metaphor as a tool for thinking through ubicomp designs and interactions. By mapping one category onto another we can discover new insights -- among other things, it's a way to trick the mind into seeing old things in new ways.

Organizational metaphors (ways of organizing services) include the factory, the public utility, parallel universes and so on.

Metaphors also help people understand new services by linking the new to the familiar. For example, RFID was first introduced as the next generation of the bar code, even though the two technologies had little in common.

Kuniavsky suggests that when exploring a new concept via metaphor, it pays to explore the dark side as well as optimistic scenarios to get a more well-rounded picture of the future system. How might your design be thwarted? How might the system be hijacked or co-opted for other uses?

Please share your thoughts!

Ubicomp Sketchbook


Ubicomp Sketchbook, originally uploaded by dgray_xplane.

In a recent post titled Ubuquitous Service Design, Peter Morville raised some interesting questions about how we might design for a world where everything is, or potentially can be -- smart. A world where your refrigerator knows what you had for lunch and when the lettuce will be out of date. A world where your car gives you suggestions for getting better gas mileage or tells you a better way to get where you're going.

In a ubicomp (ubiquitous computing) world, what kinds of methods, and what kinds of tools, will designers use to think through a whole new set of design problems? The environment and the context of use become much more important. Devices and services become stakeholders in the process, communicating not only with users but with other products and processes over a complex and deeply intertwingled network.

How will this change our approaches to design and change? How will it change our lives, our cities, and our social relationships?

Peter and I are embarking on a new project we're calling Ubicomp Sketchbook to explore exactly these kinds of things. We hope you will enjoy the ride and also share your thoughts, sketches and ideas. We'll be using the hashtag #ubicompsketchbook for our explorations.

Nancy Duarte on her new book, Resonate


Nancy Duarte is the founder of Duarte Design, one of the world’s leading presentation design companies. She just published a new book on storytelling for presentations, called resonate: Present Visual Stories that Transform Audiences, which follows hot on the heels of her recent book slide:ology: The Art and Science of Creating Great Presentations, a critically-acclaimed book on presentation design. I recently had a chance to do a short interview with Nancy about her new book.Q: Your recent book on presentation design, Slide:ology, was a runaway hit. What made you decide to follow that up with a book about storytelling?A: When I wrote Slide:ology, I thought that the most pressing need in business communication was the visual display of information (slides). So I wrote Slide:ology which addresses that. Once I started to see the principles applied in organizations, the slides looked great but it was really the content that was a mess. Beautiful slides created to accompany disastrous content is like dressing up a pig. My new book Resonate deals with the pig. Slide:ology was easier for me to write. It was like capturing what my organization had done for 20 years. The material easily poured from my head. With Resonate, I needed to do more homework and research. Many books exist in business around story but not as applied to a presentation. So I studied literature, cinema and even rabbit-trailed around topics like psychology, philosophy and music. After many hours of study, a great book poured out—from my heart though, not my head.Q: There’s an image in the book that resonated with me. It depicts a sailboat tacking into the wind, an image that represents the presenter’s challenge to move their ideas against the prevailing status quo. What’s the story behind this image? Can you remember how you came up with the idea?A: It’s funny you’d ask that because I got emotionally attached to the concept myself. Presentations are persuasive which means you’re trying to move an audience from one place to the next. I wanted to find a metaphor that moves back-and-forth like the presentation form sparkline does yet propels forward. Sailing was the most obvious metaphor. When I first developed the presentation form I’d sketched the shape zig-zagged (and that’s where I came up with the idea) instead of pumpkin-toothed as it is today:I’d always envisioned the sparkline as moving back and forth as a zig zag but it was confusing so I changed the sparkline to pumpkin-tooth shaped, so the sailboat had to be used for a different metaphor. One of the guys on my content team tied in the concept of wind resistance as a parallel for audience resistance. Interestingly, when a sailboat is sailing against the wind, if the sails are set correctly to capture the wind resistance, a physics phenomenon happens and the boat can sail faster than the wind itself. That can happen with a presentation. Insert the ways your audience might resist and you’ll get them to adopt your side quicker.Q: You describe the book as, at least in part, a research project. What process did you follow when writing the book? How did it work for you? Would you do it the same way next time?A: My office was a mess while I worked on this book. I had books and printouts scattered all over the floor and every surface of my office. Plus I had hundreds of pages taped up on the walls. I was very mad-professor-like (see video below):Because the book covers fundamental literature principles, I felt like I needed to study many topics deeply to make sure it was accurate and to avoid it getting challenged by communication professionals who’ve studied speeches for years. So I wanted to dig very deep on each into the subject matter to make sure[...]

Sneak peek at my upcoming workshop at UI15



Here's a sneak peek at my upcoming workshop "Visual Thinking for User Experience" which I'll be giving at UI15 (Boston, Nov. 8-10).

Description: New workshop on effectively communicating design ideas Wireframes don’t help us with the Why, only the What of our designs. Dave’s simple sketching techniques are powerful tools for communicating your design's rationale. You’ll learn solid strategies for visualizing your ideas, which will help you identify issues while creating great new experiences.

I hope you like it! If it sparks any thoughts please leave a comment.

How to draw a robot. Or, what I do when nobody is watching.



XPLANE joins Dachis Group


I have a big announcement to make today.Effective this morning, XPLANE is joining the Dachis Group, the world’s leading social business consultancy, as a wholly-owned subsidiary. I want to take a moment to share what this means for XPLANE and our customers, and why I am excited about it.Initially, the only change employees and customers will notice is the Dachis Group logo on our home page. XPLANE will continue to serve customers just as we have for the past 15 years. If you’re a customer, partner or employee, you probably won’t notice any differences at first. But joining the Dachis Group is a strategic move for our company and for our customers. Here’s why I am excited about it:First, Dachis Group is backed by Austin Ventures to the tune of $50 million. This gives us the financial ability to scale so we can serve a growing and global customer base. The combined Dachis Group now has over 100 employees, with offices in seven cities and five countries.Second, the Dachis Group is scooping up the best and brightest teams in social technology. Recent acquisitions include Hinchcliffe & Company, headed by Enterprise 2.0 guru Dion Hinchcliffe; Headshift, a social-business technology and strategy consultancy; and the 2.0 Adoption Council, a peer group of managers in large enterprises that are pioneering the adoption of Web 2.0 technologies and practices.Third, the Dachis vision for Social Business Design is a sound and compelling one. They understand that social business is a fundamental shift not only in technology but in society and the fundamental ways that we do our work. Their vision for business transformation involves all aspects of business, from employees to partners to customers, from organizational culture to business systems to technology.Fourth, CEO Jeff Dachis has a proven track record growing best-of breed internet consultancies. As co-founder of Razorfish, he grew that company into a global firm which successfully navigated the dot-bomb crisis and eventually its parent company sold to Microsoft for $6 billion. Now owned by Publicis, Razorfish is one of the world’s largest interactive agencies, with more than 2,000 employees and offices all over the world.As a part of the Dachis group, XPLANE will be better financed and more strategically positioned than we have been in the past, so we’ll be able to grow faster and serve our customers better.This move is also strategic for our offerings: As a visual thinking company, XPLANE has the ability to help our customers transform their businesses. Our customers will attest to that. Like any technology, visual thinking, and the clarity it provides, can accelerate growth and offer strategic advantage. But visual thinking, although powerful, is less imperative than social business.For the last 15 years, the biggest thing that businesses needed to figure out was how to transition onto the web and into an internet economy. This was a disruptive change, a huge shift. Many companies perished and many fortunes were made. The risks and rewards were, and will continue to be, great.In the next 15 years, the most significant change that business will undertake is the transition to social technologies. In ten years you’ll be a social business, or you’ll be out of business.Why do I say that? It's pretty simple. All you need to do is ask yourself one question: Is word-of-mouth important to your business success? If so, you need to begin the transformation to being a social business.There are a few things I can say confidently; things in business we can be certain about:Business success has always relied heavily on social networks and networking. Always has, always w[...]

The design philosophy of the AK-47


.flickr-photo { border: solid 1px #FFFFFF; }.flickr-yourcomment { }.flickr-frame { text-align: left; padding: 3px; }.flickr-caption { font-size: 0.8em; margin-top: 0px; } The design philosophy of the AK-47, originally uploaded by dgray_xplane.In a recent roundup of thoughts from the Interaction 10 conference, Jan-Cristoph Zoels wrote:"Unfortunately [Dave Gray] illustrated his engaging talk with a glorification of the AK47 as a ‘powerful tool of change’. His agnostic design philosophy hides an ethical ambivalence and repositions designers as hired hands of industry who do whatever is needed – even weapons of mass destruction. Can’t we find ethical examples which enable people, but don’t kill?"Jan missed the point of my AK-47 example. There's nothing agnostic about my design philosophy -- a philosophy I share with Mikhail Kalashnikov, the designer of the AK-47. The design philosophy is this:Don't design for a perfect world, because the world isn't perfect. Design simple things that are rugged, reliable, simple and easy to use; things that work even when conditions are chaotic; things that work even when they are mostly broken.The AK-47 is a successful weapon because it was designed to work when the world is falling apart around you. When an AK-47 is wet, when it is clogged with mud, sand or snow, it will still work, in conditions where many more precise and accurate weapons will fail.That's not an agnostic design philosophy, it's a philosophy that is deeply rooted in fundamentals. It's a philosophy that requires a designer to prize simplicity and exhibit strength of purpose; that emphasizes ease-of-use and reliability over feature-richness and perfection.Now, we can also argue about ethical ambivalence -- whether it's ethical to design a weapon. This is an age-old and probably unresolvable argument. The intent of my talk was to demonstrate the design philosophy in a memorable and dramatic way by telling the true story of one designer.Mikhail Kalashnikov designed the AK-47 because his homeland had been invaded by an enemy with superior weapons. He wasn't a "hired hand of an industry, doing whatever was needed." He was a tank mechanic who saw fellow soldiers and civilians gunned down and wanted to ensure that it would never happen again. If Kalashnikov had lived in the west he would be a rich man today (Yes, he’s still alive, about 90 years old). But he grew up in a communist state, so he’s now a national hero who lives on a government pension.Mikhail Kalashnikov is on record as saying that he would have preferred to have designed something more useful, for example, a lawn mower. But his country was invaded, he was severely wounded and in his hospital bed, his thoughts turned to weaponry. Can we really blame him? It's hard to see him as a profit-seeker or a "hired hand of industry."He designed a weapon with the intention of repelling invaders, and in fact the AK-47 has to be seen as one of the most successful weapons of all time in this regard. Since he designed it in 1947, Kalashnikov’s weapon has enabled other people to defend their homelands from invaders, even superpowers: It helped the Vietcong drive American troops out of Vietnam, and it helped the Mujahideen drive the Soviet Union out of Afghanistan.Are there other examples I could have used to make my point? I am sure there are. But as a person who has spoken at many conferences, and also as a person who has sat through many polite-but-boring talks, I choose to make my points as dramatically, engagingly and entertainingly as possible. As a history buff, the story of Mikhail Kalashnikov captivat[...]

Values, motivation and business


I got these questions in an email interview by Garrick Gibson recently, and, since I get asked these things fairly often, I thought I would post my answers here.1) What do you value most about what you are doing in your profession? 2) Name 3 of the most important actions taken to start your business? 3) How much of your personal values played a role in starting and operating your business? How do these values show up in your business?Here are the answers I gave Garrick:Q: What do you value most about what you are doing in your profession? I love that I can walk into a chaotic situation and help people make sense of it so they can make better decisions. It makes me feel useful and appreciated when people recognize and reward that. Q: Name 3 of the most important actions taken to start your business? 1. When I quit smoking it made me realize that I could do anything when I set my mind to it, no matter how difficult it might seem. So, strange as it may sound, the first and most important step was quitting smoking -- it had nothing to do with business and everything to do with building my confidence. 2. Quitting my journalism job to take a much lower-paying job as a university professor. The importance of that step was that I was walking into a position with a definite end point. The position was a one-year contract, renewable up to a maximum of three years, so just as if I were an elected official, my job had a term limit. This set the clock ticking. It gave me a deadline, so to speak. 3. Expanding my world view. I felt strongly that to be successful in business I needed to understand all aspects, so I read voraciously about marketing, sales, strategy and finance. I also asked people who I deemed successful what drove their success. One of them once said to me "Nothing happens till somebody sells something." I took that to heart. An understanding of sales was key to the success of my business. Turns out the biggest secrets of successful selling are great listening skills and an ability to turn understanding and empathy into action and results. These are great skills for anybody to learn, no matter what they plan to do. Q: How much of your personal values plays a role in starting & operating of your business? Personal values are huge. I believe that better clarity and understanding, in the long run, is better for the world. I feel that at XPLANE we are doing something good. Q: How do these values show up in your business? I felt strongly enough about company values that I worked with the team to create a culture map which we use to remain focused on who we want to be. You can see the culture map here. We use this map as a compass to guide our actions and decisions. It turns out to be most useful with the more difficult decisions, not because it gives the answers but because it helps us ask the right questions.Thanks Garrick, for asking the thoughtful questions that generated this post. thanks to you, reader, for reading it. I'd be very interested to hear how you would answer these questions.Please leave a comment and answer Garrick's three questions, or just tell us about your values. How do they motivate you in your business endeavors?[...]

Excerpt, OSS SabotageManual


Thanks @bfchirpy for this little gem. How many of us have engaged in one or another of these activities over the years, without thinking of the long-term damage we were causing to the health of an organization we probably joined voluntarily?

Complicated vs. complex


When you make the complicated simple, you make it better. But when you make the complex simple, you make it wrong.

Empathy mapping


Empathy map, originally uploaded by dgray_xplane.

Just posted over on the Knowledge Games blog about Empathy mapping. Enjoy!

Mr. Fixit and the power of packaging


.flickr-photo { border: solid 1px #FFFFFF; }.flickr-yourcomment { }.flickr-frame { text-align: left; padding: 3px; }.flickr-caption { font-size: 0.8em; margin-top: 0px; } Mr. Fixit, originally uploaded by dgray_xplane. Reason is a dangerous, two-edged sword. It can be seen as Newtonian thinking in a quantum world; a cause-and-effect approach in a world that's more complex than that. In relation to that concept I'd like to make two points, one about humanity and the other about reason.First, humanity:The idea that we are somehow logical, rational or reasonable creatures is a broadly accepted one, yet under close examination it appears completely ridiculous. Yes we are capable of using reason as a tool, but more often than not we ignore what reason tells us and tend to favor other biases, especially cognitive biases. We forget that we are not designed for reason so much as propagation and survival. Take a look at classical game theory, which presupposes that people will act in their own rational self-interest. Turns out that predictions you make based on this assumption go radically wrong. We make decisions based on other factors such as fear, doubt, paranoia, desire, greed, even altruism. Any sales or marketing person can tell you as much from personal experience. The best products don't win: Coke failed the taste test and Microsoft isn't the best operating system. This is not a bad thing -- our non-rational decision-making processes tend to work very well and protect us from harm in a lot of cases. It's just that there are deep blind spots that may actually drive us to extinction, which I think is what concerns many of us.Now, reason:Reason is the best tool that we know of for overcoming our blind spots. I use the word tool for a reason here: A tool is something that's designed for a specific purpose and has certain ideas (about its use) built into it. A hammer sees everything as a nail, a saw wants to cut, etc. Reason, and the empirical method, can be seen as a set of tools based on a theory about the world: that everything is, or potentially can be, understood in rational terms. Yes, the current state of the tool is primitive when it comes to understanding complex relationships and ecosystems, but we are making progress. The quantum world, to make an example, was not discovered by mystics, it was discovered by physicists using empirical techniques. Complexity theory is making great strides toward understanding how nonlinear systems and complex interactions work. Brain science is advancing rapidly these days and helping us make similar strides toward understanding the fallibilities of our senses and cognitive functions. So let's not give up on reason.At the same time let's be sure to understand its limitations. Philosopher of Science Paul Feyerabend advocated a separation of science and state to parallel the separation of church and state. Science, he thought, has enough power, pride and hubris to rival any social structure, religion or philosophy that opposes it. I might not go so far but I do think we need to remember that reason and empiricism are tools, and like any tools, they have their limitations. Reason cannot tell the carpenter what to build or what not to build, or why. Science and technology may influence destiny but they cannot tell us who we are or where we need to go. They cannot shape a vision or offer moral guidance. Reason can't keep a family together or avoid conflict within a community.This gets to my main[...]

Designing a narrative with index cards


.flickr-photo { border: solid 1px #FFFFFF; }.flickr-yourcomment { }.flickr-frame { text-align: left; padding: 3px; }.flickr-caption { font-size: 0.8em; margin-top: 0px; } Working on the workshop, originally uploaded by dgray_xplane. I recently got an email from a teacher who wanted to know how she could help her students develop better presentations. I've been meaning to write down my method for awhile now and rather than write one email I thought I'd put it into a blog post.When I develop presentations I like to use index cards to sort through ideas. Sometimes I use a bottom-up approach, sorting and sifting through myriad ideas until the best ones float to the top. Other times I use a top-down approach, starting with the audience and their interests, and building a structure underneath that. More often it’s a combination of the two approaches – I start top-down, with an audience and what I think will interest them. Then I start to develop ideas, but those ideas lead to other ideas and soon I have too many thoughts, after which I need to do some bottom-up sifting to let the best ideas emerge.The image above is the sorting exercise I went through to develop a workshop I gave in Toronto in 2006. The approach borrows heavily from the card sorting method used in software design.TOP-DOWN APPROACHThis is best when you know who you’re presenting to and what they want to know. If you don’t know where to start this is probably the best way to begin.1. Start by thinking about your target audience and what they are interested in. It helps to imagine a real person that you know that fits the profile.2. Now, brainstorm a list of questions that you think they might be likely to ask you about the topic in question. Write down one question per index card.3. Now, try to sort the questions into a sequence that makes sense. Probably this means the most basic questions (such as “What is it?”) at the beginning, and the more action-oriented questions (Such as “how can I apply it?”) toward the end. Now you can look at the questions and see if they form a meaningful sequence that, say, introduces a topic, develops it, and reaches a conclusion. At this point you should have a sequence of cards running from left to right.4. Now, under each question card, you can start to develop your “answer” cards – slides that will answer the question.BOTTOM-UP APPROACHThis is best when you have a lot of ideas to sort through but don’t know how to weave them together yet. If you know what you want to talk about you might want to start here.1. Write down as many ideas on a topic as you can – all the elements that might be useful as part of a presentation. Write down one thought or idea per index card. I often like to sketch on the card as well, thinking about how I might illustrate the concept.2. Sort the cards into piles that represent ideas that “feel like they belong together.”3. Name each pile and create a “title card” for each group. Each title card now represents a group of related ideas that might form a section of your presentation.4. Now, try to arrange the title cards into a meaningful sequence – put the cards into a row. This forms the basis of the narrative thread.5. Under each title card, you can now create a “column” of index cards with the ideas that form the main points for each section.6. Now, identify gaps in the story, eliminate redundancies and irrelevant information, and go from t[...]

Bitching about work means you like it the way it is


It sounds counterintuitive, but when you bitch about work you are only feeding the problems you talk about.

Bitching about work is like scratching an itch -- it may make you feel better in the short run, but in the long term you are only making it worse.

When you bitch about work you keep your issues and concerns in the dark, as far as your organization is concerned. You also feed negative feelings, divisiveness and cliquishness in your workplace, which makes the office unpleasant and generally brings everybody down.

By raising your issues appropriately, in a public forum, you bring them to light, which allows them to be discussed and addressed. Even if you don't agree with the outcome, at least you have been heard and your opinion is known.

There are two ways to solve a work situation you don't like: Change the situation or find another job. By bitching in private you're not doing anything to change the situation, and in addition you're making the workplace less fun for everybody.

By making your concerns public you have a chance to address them, and even if you don't get what you want, you can make the decision to live with it or move to another job.

The third alternative, staying in a job you hate, is like staying in an abusive relationship. It only reinforces negative behavior all around.

Your relationship with your co-workers is like any other social relationship. It's not likely to ever be perfect, but focusing on the positive will generate more positive feelings and results, while focusing on the negative will only make things worse.

So next time you have the urge to scratch that itch, don't tell yourself it's okay because you're "only venting." Ask yourself if it's worth the damage you'll cause.