Week 10, 2019 — Extending invitations

In the past few weeks Paris has had big grey skies with fleeting moments of clear blues and bright sunlight, while still remaining cold and rainy. It’s not spring yet, regardless of the increase in pollen that’s starting to make me sneeze.

Inviting people into conversations

A brighter beam of sunlight was an observation by my AQ colleague Sachiko about client onboarding, which led to clearer thinking about the essence of onboarding — it’s an invitation to join a journey — and how we might better design for it.

Why are we here? It’s a question that we keep coming back to in all kinds of contexts, and yet, manage not to answer in a clear-enough manner, even in specific ones like kicking off a project. But if we considered how each member needed to be invited into the conversation, perhaps momentum would become simpler to build.

That framing of invitation design came from a podcast episode on The Conversation Factory by my buddy Daniel Stillman. He’s pointed me to a few references that I’m looking forward to pursuing next week.

The Art of Gathering by Priya Parker

I kept seeing references to this book, and the impetus of ‘invitation design’ led me to start reading it. The author makes the point that we spend our lives gathering, which has given me food for thought whenever I’ve met someone in the past week. For lunches, meetings, drinks, with colleagues, friends, new acquaintances etc. The Art of Gathering by Priya Parker | PenguinRandomHouse.com: Books

"Hosts of all kinds, this is a must-read!" --Chris Anderson, owner and curator of TED A bold new approach to how we… www.penguinrandomhouse.com

Talking about the book with some friends has already been fun. It’s not a hard read; I think I’ll manage to finish in the next few days. And maybe test myself by hosting a dinner party :P

A puzzling amount of the book is dedicated to dinner parties… which I find mostly amusing but a bit painful as it triggers a reflection on my ‘report card’ as a host 👀

Retrospectives as a gathering

These ideas feed into shaping how I could articulate the design decisions and goals for my activities with Design Research Tokyo. I’m still working through it though, so I’ll document here a small experiment instead. We ran a retro for the last event, which I approached a little bit differently — or shall I say, more intentionally — as its host. I think it went well. Retros could use a shake-up now and then.

* Explicit opt-in: Bring up the idea of a retro before sending invites, get acknowledgement for all participants that it’s going to be a thing
* Set expectations: Share the ‘rules of the game’ as part of the calendar invite, signalling that we’re all expected to contribute towards a productive session
* Prime the conversation: Create a space for people to start their reflections before the meeting (a Mural canvas with a few questions, in this case) so that the conversation can shoots out of the gates in Minute 1 of the session
* Go around the table: Each person has a chance to be heard, at the same time, they are expected to add their voice to the conversation. I think this is especially important to protect for retros, where we tend to focus on issues and improvements.
* End the meeting on time: Good habits lead to healthy teams.
* Ask permission to assign follow-ups: I think it’s nice when weaved into the flow of conversation as ideas come up, as opposed to dry list at the end.
* Promptly react when follow-up actions are taken: Re-inforcing good habits lead to healthy teams 😺

Week 42, Year 2018 — The ‘Phone a Friend’ Option

Spurred by this informative article about different approaches to documenting your week — thank you Sam Villis! — I’ve decided to give it a go here on Medium. A week seems like a reasonable cadence to reflect and write about ideas, conversations and encounters of interest.

Weeknote styles

Alright yes, week 42 was three weeks ago… but it was a really good week so I’m unceremoniously batch-posting three weeknotes in a row to kick things off 😅

The ‘Phone a Friend’ option

I had two occasions to reach out to friends for professional advice. It’s not my natural instinct to pick up the phone like that, and I was amazed at the boost it brought 🚀 — from the timely and relevant information, of course, but also from the exchange of energy with people that I don’t get to spend enough time with.

  • Asked for a crash course in an unfamiliar domain to help sharpen my point of view for a client assignment. I had a few hypotheses but didn’t have the context to have confidence in them or the time to research a whole new field, so it was great to get a sense check from someone who plays at the top level of that domain.
  • Asked for advice on how to position myself in an unsettling dynamic with a new collaborator. Honestly, just asking for time from someone whose instincts I trust calmed me down. Our conversation started with my ‘problem’ and quickly expanded to future-forward topics.

Both calls were so easy to organize — I just had to ask — and because they were ‘business’ conversations, we hung up after 60 minutes. Why don’t I do this more often? And you, reader, are very welcome to ask for calls, too 👍

The sprawling global networks of Communities of Practice

It was a particularly social week thanks to increased activity with a couple of CoPs, some recent, some not.

  • A call with Emma Boulton about teaming up to conduct the next batch of analysis as part of ResearchOps community initiatives. Having conducted two studies on the operational mechanisms of increasing the impact of UX research, the community has already produced several useful models, made available in the Medium publication. There’s still a lot of interesting data left on the table that I’m excited to dig into. More on that soon!
  • Dinner with a few members from the OuiShare community, from a daisy chain of I-want-you-to-meet-someone’s. These opportunities are so much fun — very light on small talk, even though you’re sitting in a restaurant with strangers. But they’re not really strangers, are they?
  • Follow-up conversations with people I met in San Francisco last week at Google’s Design Sprint conference. The atmosphere of the event and the high concentration of like-minded practitioners gathered there made each in-person exchange a rich one, which translates into a lot of post-conference activity. There’s a lot to learn from in how these connections unfold.

Communicating design approaches

Debating how design consulting services could be better provided is an ongoing thing in my day to day, and it’s sure to be a frequent topic in future weeknotes. Here are two particularly meaty questions that I chewed on with colleagues this week:

  • How might we (as a design studio) give confidence to a client who’s not familiar with design processes? Is there a simulated way to familiarize them on the journey?
  • How might we assess the needs of a new client who frames their challenge through the lens of customer experience, so that we can quickly establish an approach? Are there safe ways to avoid the “wait, this isn’t a service design (or whichever ‘type’ of design) problem” realization a few weeks into the project?