knowledge

On The Design of Everyday Things

I recently finished reading The Design of Everyday Things by Don Norman. As Tim Brown – CEO of IDEO best put it in talking about this book: “Part operating manual for designers and part manifesto on the power of designing for people. The Design of Everyday Things is even more relevant today than it was when first published.”

Below are key excerpts from the book that I found to be particularly insightful:

Two of the most important characteristics of good design are discoverability and understanding. Discoverability: Is it possible to even figure out what actions are possible and where and how to perform them? Understanding: What does it all mean? How is the product supposed to be used? What do all the different controls and settings mean?

Design is concerned with how things work, how they are controlled, and the nature of the interaction between people and technology. When done well, the results are brilliant, pleasurable products. When done badly, the products are unusable, leading to great frustration and irritation. Or they might be usable, but force us to behave the way the product wishes rather than as we wish.

My work with that committee :hanged my view of design. Today, I realize that design presents a fascinating interplay of technology and psychology that the designers must understand both.

Affordances are the possible interactions between people and the environment. Some affordances are perceivable, others are not. Perceived affordances often act as signifiers, but they can be ambiguous. Signifiers signal things, in particular what actions are possible and how they should be done. Signifiers must be perceivable, else they fail to function.

Emotion is highly underrated. In fact, the emotional system is a powerful information processing system that works in tandem with cognition. Cognition attempts to make sense of the world: emotion assigns value. It is the emotional system that determines whether a situation is safe or threatening, whether something that is happening is good or bad, desirable or not. Cognition provides understanding: emotion provides value judgments. A human without a working emotional system has difficulty making choices. A human without a cognitive system is dysfunctional.

Do not blame people when they fail to use your products properly. Take people’s difficulties as signifiers of where the product can be improved. Eliminate all error messages from electronic or computer systems. Instead, provide help and guidance. Make it possible to correct problems directly from help and guidance messages. Allow people to continue with their task: Don’t impede progress—help make it smooth and continuous. Never make people Start over. Assume that what people have done is partially correct, so if it is inappropriate, provide the guidance that allows them to correct the problem and be on their way. Think positively, for yourself and for the people you interact with.

In an earlier book, Things That Make Us Smart, I argued that it is this combination of technology and people that creates superpowerful beings. Technology does not make us smarter. People do not make technology smart. It is the combination of the two. the person plus the artifact, that is smart. Together, with our tools. we are a powerful combination. On the other hand, if we are suddenly without these external devices, then we don’t do very well. In many ways, we do become less smart.

Given the mismatch between human competencies and technological requirements, errors are inevitable. Therefore, the best designs take that fact as given and seek to minimize the opportunities for errors while also mitigating the consequences. Assume that every possible mishap will happen, so protect against them. Make actions reversible; make errors less costly. Here are key design principles: Put the knowledge required to operate the technology in the world. Don’t require that all the knowledge must be in the head. Allow for efficient operation when people have learned all the requirements. when they are experts who can perform without the knowledge in the world, but make it possible for non-experts to use the knowledge in the world. This will also help experts who need to perform a rare, infrequently performed operation or return to the technology after a prolonged absence. Use the power of natural and artificial constraints: physical, logical. semantic, and cultural. Exploit the power of forcing functions and natural mappings. Bridge the two gulfs, the Gulf of Execution and the Gulf of Evaluation. Make things visible, both for execution and evaluation. On the execution side, provide feedforward information: make the options readily available. On the evaluation side, provide feedback: make the results of each action apparent. Make it possible to determine the system’s status readily, easily, accurately, and in a form consistent with the person’s goals, plans, and expectations.

Designers often start by Questioning the problem given to them: they expand the scope of the problem, diverging to examine all the fundamental issues that underlie it. Then they converge upon a single problem statement. During the solution phase of their studies, they first expand the space of possible solutions, the divergence phase. Finally, they converge upon a proposed solution.

With massive change, a number of fundamental principles stay the same. Human beings have always been social beings. Social interaction and the ability to keep in touch with people across the world, across time, will stay with us. The design principles of this book will not change, for the principles of discoverability, of feedback, and of the power of affordances and signifiers, mapping, and conceptual models will always hold. Even fully autonomous, automatic machines will follow these principles for their interactions. Our technologies may change, but the fundamental principles of interaction are permanent.

A must read for anyone involved in designing products!

 

 

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On Now, Discover Your Strengths

I just finished reading the book Now, Discover Your Strengths by Marcus Buckingham and the late Donald O. Clifton, Ph.D.

The main premise of this book:

We wrote this book to start a revolution, the strengths revolution. At the heart of this revolution is a simple decree: The great organization must not only accommodate the fact that each employee is different, it must capitalize on these differences. It must watch for clues to each employee’s natural talents and then position and develops each employee so that his or her talents are transformed into bona fide strengths. By changing the way it selects, measures, develops, and channels the careers of its people, this revolutionary organization must build its entire enterprise around the strengths of each person. And as it does, this revolutionary organization will be positioned to dramatically outperform its peers…To break out of this weakness spiral and to launch the strengths revolution in your own organization, you must change your assumptions about people. Start with the right assumptions, and everything else that follows from them—how you select, measure, train, and develop your people—will be right. These are the two assumptions that guide the world’s best managers: 1. Each person’s talents are enduring and unique. 2. Each person’s greatest room for growth is in the areas of his or her greatest strength.

The foundational assumptions that this book, and strength-based management is based on:

These two assumptions are the foundation for everything they do with and for their people. These two assumptions explain why great managers are careful to look for talent in every role, why they focus people’s performances on outcomes rather than forcing them into a stylistic mold, why they disobey the Golden Rule and treat each employee differently, and why they spend the most time with their best people. In short, these two assumptions explain why the world’s best managers break all the rules of conventional management wisdom. Now, following the great managers’ lead, it is time to change the rules. These two revolutionary assumptions must serve as the central tenets for a new way of working. They are the tenets for a new organization, a stronger organization, an organization designed to reveal and stretch the strengths of each employee.

On Strengths:

For the sake of clarity let’s be more precise about what we mean by a “strength.” The definition of a strength that we will use throughout this book is quite specific: consistent near perfect performance in an activity. By this definition Pam’s accurate decision-making and ability to rally people around her organization’s common purpose are strengths. Sherie’s love of diagnosing and treating skin diseases is a strength. Paula’s ability to generate and then refine article ideas that fit her magazine’s identity is a strength.

On Skills:

Skills bring structure to experiential knowledge. What does this mean? It means that, whatever the activity, at some point a smart person will sit back and formalize all the accumulated knowledge into a sequence of steps that, if followed, will lead to performance—not necessarily great performance but acceptable performance nonetheless…The bottom fine on skills is this: A skill is designed to make the secrets of the best easily transferable. If you learn a skill, it will help you get a little better, but it will not cover for a lack of talent. Instead, as you build your strengths, skills will actually prove most valuable when they are combined with genuine talent.

On Talent:

What is talent? Talent is often described as “a special natural ability or aptitude,” but for the purposes of strength building we suggest a more precise and comprehensive definition, which is derived from our studies of great managers. Talent is any recurring pattern of thought, feeling, or behavior that can be productively applied. Thus, if you are instinctively inquisitive, this is a talent. If you are competitive, this is a talent. If you are charming, this is a talent. If you are persistent, this is a talent. If you are responsible, this is a talent. Any recurring pattern of thought, feeling, or behavior is a talent if this pattern can be productively applied…Spontaneous reactions, yearnings, rapid learning, and satisfactions will all help you detect the traces of your talents. As you rush through your busy life, try to step back, quiet the wind whipping past your ears, and listen for these clues. They will help you zero in on your talents.

To recap:

Talents are your naturally recurring patterns of thought, feeling, or behavior. Your various themes of talent are what the StrengthsFinder Profile actually measures. Knowledge consists of the facts and lessons learned. Skills are the steps of an activity.

On obstacles to building strengths:

 

However, despite the range, this general conclusion holds true: The majority of the world’s population doesn’t think that the secret to improvement lies in a deep understanding of their strengths. (Interestingly, in every culture the group least fixated on their weaknesses was the oldest group, those fifty-five years old and above. A little older, a little wiser, this group has probably acquired a measure of self-acceptance and realized the futility of trying to paper over the persistent cracks in their personality.)

On whether you can develop new themes if you don’t like the ones revealed?

You may not be able to rewire your brain, but by acquiring new knowledge and skills you can redirect your life. You can’t develop new themes, but you can develop new strengths.

On what to do about weaknesses?

To begin with, you need to know what a weakness is. Our definition of a weakness is anything that gets in the way of excellent performance. To some this may seem to be an obvious definition, but before skipping past it, bear in mind that it is not the definition of weakness that most of us would use. Most of us would probably side with Webster’s and the Oxford English Dictionary and define a weakness as “an area where we lack proficiency.” As you strive to build your life around your strengths, we advise you to steer clear of this definition for one very practical reason: Like all of us, you have countless areas where you lack proficiency, but most of them are simply not worth bothering about. Why? Because they don’t get in the way of excellent performance. They are irrelevant. They don’t need to be managed at all, just ignored…So once you know you have a genuine weakness on your hands, a deficiency that actually gets in the way of excellent performance, how can you best deal with it? The first thing you have to do is identify whether the weakness is a skills weakness, a knowledge weakness, or a talent weakness.

On whether the themes revealed will indicate whether you are in the right career?

Our research into human strengths does not support the extreme, and extremely misleading, assertion that “you can play any role you set your mind to,” but it does lead us to this truth: Whatever you set your mind to, you will he most successful when you craft your role to play to your signature talents most of the time. We hope that by highlighting your signature themes we can help you craft such a role.

Practical implications of strengths-based management:

Since each person’s talents are enduring, you should spend a great deal of time and money selecting people properly in the first place…Since each person’s talents are unique, you should focus performance by legislating outcomes rather than forcing each person into a stylistic mold…Since the greatest room for each person’s growth is in the areas of his greatest strength, you should focus your training time and money on educating him about his strengths and figuring out ways to build on these strengths rather than on remedially trying to plug his “skill gaps.”…Lastly, since the greatest room for each person’s growth lies in his areas of greatest strength, you should devise ways to help each person grow his career without necessarily promoting him up the corporate ladder and out of his areas of strength.

Managers will continue to play a key role in the development of employees within a strengths-based organization:

Needless to say the individual manager will always be a critical catalyst in transforming each employee’s talents into bona fide strengths; consequently, much of the responsibility will lie with the manager to develop each employee’s career.

A reminder on how to keep high potential employees engaged:

If you want to keep a talented employee, show him not just that you care about him, not just that you will help him grow, but, more important, that you know him, that in the truest sense of the word you recognize him (or, at the very least, that you are trying to). In today’s increasingly anonymous and transient working world, your organization’s inquisitiveness about the strengths of its employees will set your organization apart.

On a concluding note:

With the knowledge economy gathering pace, global competition increasing, new technologies quickly commoditized, and the workforce aging, the right employees are becoming more precious with each passing year. Those of us who lead great organizations must become more sophisticated and more efficient when it comes to capitalizing on our people. We must find the best fit possible of people’s strengths and the roles we are asking them to play at work. Only then will we be as strong as we should be. Only then will we win.

This book includes access for you to take the online StrengthsFinder assessment and discover your top five themes. The material in the book will help you further develop your talents and strengths as well as how to best enable others on your team based on their strengths.

A recommended read, development and engagement tool both from a personal and management perspective.

 

On The Knowing-Doing Gap

I recently finished reading the book The Knowing-Doing Gap – How Smart Companies Turn Knowledge into Action by Jeffrey Pfeffer and Robert I. Sutton.

The main premise of this book as the authors best summarize it is: “Why knowledge of what needs to be done frequently fails to result in action or behavior consistent with that knowledge. We came to call this the knowing-doing problem – the challenge of turning knowledge about how to enhance organizational performance into actions consistent with that knowledge. This book presents what we learned about the factors that contribute to the knowledge doing gap and why and how some organizations are more successful than others in implementing their knowledge.”

The book then analyzes the reasons and causes of this gap through numerous examples and presents eight main recommendations: “Eight Guidelines for Action: 1) Why before How: Philosophy Is Important 2) Knowing Comes from Doing and Teaching Others How. 3) Action Counts More Than Elegant Plans and Concepts. 4) There Is No Doing without Mistakes. What Is the Company’s Response? 5) Fear Fosters Knowing-Doing Gaps, So Drive Out Fear. 6) Beware of False Analogies: Fight the Competition, Not Each Other. 7) Measure What Matters and What Can Help Turn Knowledge into Action. 8) What Leaders Do, How They Spend Their Time and How They Allocate Resources, Matters.”

A very applicable, educational and action oriented book. One that echoes the fundamentals of execution and its importance as the ultimate benchmark of success. A must read in the area of management!

Below are key excerpts from the book:

1- “…although knowledge creation, benchmarking, and knowledge management may be important, transforming knowledge into organization action is at least as important to organizational success.”

2- “Attempting to copy just what is done – the explicit practices and policies – without holding the underlying philosophies at once a more difficult task and an approach that is less likely to be successful.”

3- “Talk is also valued because, as noted earlier, the quantity and “quality” of talk can be assessed immediately, but the quality of leadership or management capability, the ability to get things done, can be assessed only with  greater time lag.”

4- “It is possible, albeit difficult, to build strong cultures founded on principles and philosophy that can also innovate and change. But doing so requires much thought and attention. Otherwise, firms are readily trapped by their history, even if, or particularly if, that history has many positive elements in it, as Saturn’s does.”

5- “Conversely, fear is an enemy of the abilitiy to question the past or break free from precedent.”

6- “It is clear to us that merely knowing what measurement practices should be used does not, by itself, cause leaders to implement measures that produce intelligent, mindful, learning behavior rather than the reverse.”

7- “In each of the instances in which effective measurement practices were used, knowing what to do, why it needed to be done, and having the persistence and courage to do it helped leaders turn knowledge about how to enhance performance into organizational action.”

8- “As Dean Tjosvold, a researcher and writer on the subject of competition and cooperation, noted, “Competition stimulates, excites, and is useful in some circumstance, but those situations do not occur frequently in organizations, and the widespread use of competition cannot be justified.””

9- “Harlow Cohen, the president of a Cleveland, Ohio, consulting firm, has called this gap between knowing and doing the performance paradox: “Managers know what to do to improve performance, but actually ignore or act in contradiction to either their strongest instincts or to the data available to them.””

10- “Knowing about the knowing-doing gap is different from doing something about it. Understanding causes is helpful because such understanding can guide action. But by itself, this knowing is insufficient – action must occur.”

Regards,

Omar Halabieh

The Knowing-Doing Gap

The Knowing-Doing Gap