Design Thinking in Business: LinkedIn Pulse

What is it?

A news-reader application that allows users to customize their news feeds.

Who created it?

Ankit Gupta and Akshay Kothari

When and Where did they create it?

At the D.school (the Hasso Plattner Institute of Design at Stanford University), in Launchpad, a class in which students sign a pledge agreeing to introduce a product or service in 10 weeks.

How did they come up with the idea?

By talking to people in at Palo Alto coffee shops to get a sense for what they might need. One common frustration people had was the constant fire hose of news they were getting from a wide variety of sources. So they decided they could make the most impact with Pulse, a news-reader application that allows users to customize their news feeds.

Solving Problems for Real World, Using Design | New York Times

A Notable Moment?

Being bought by LinkedIn for $90 million.

Lessons learned?

Ideas generate from speaking to stakeholders — not from just sitting in front of a computer.

Mr. Kothari also said his plans took a new path. Before he took his first D.school course in 2008, he said, he spent most of his spare time in front of a computer, brainstorming ideas for websites and mobile apps that never materialized. Design was always an afterthought.

Solving Problems for Real World, Using Design | New York Times

I know for a fact that this works. But management has to support this practice and not admonish employees for getting out there and speaking to stakeholders instead of sitting in front of their computer all day where the managers can keep an eye on them.

Different Shades of Success

Perform a search on “failure and creativity” and before you even finish typing you’ll see titles like:

  • Embracing Creative Failure | Forbes
  • The Rise: Creativity, the Gift of Failure, and the Search for Mastery | Amazon
  • For Leaders, Creativity and Failure Go Hand In Hand | Library Journal
  • The No. 1 Enemy of Creativity: Fear of Failure | HBR
  • Designers Must Learn to Embrace Failure | Time.com
  • Famous Failures | The Creativity Post

And the list goes on and on.

But really. Do we have to be so dramatic?

While there are times when you set out to do something and and it really doesn’t turn out right at all, are your only options success and failure?

Did Daft Punk think of themselves as failures during the 18 months or so that it took for them to record the final version of “Get Lucky?”

After listening to Daft Punk’s demo of what would become “Get Lucky”, Rodgers asked that all of the elements except the drum track be muted so that he could create a suitable guitar part; he recalled that he experimented until the duo were visibly pleased. Once he completed his contribution, Daft Punk re-recorded the bass part with Nathan East to fit Rodgers’ performance. Rodgers further elaborated that, “Everybody else wound up re-playing to me”. Mixer and engineer Mick Guzauski recalled that the rhythm guitar fit easily into the production: “I experimented with balancing and other positioning, and working other stuff around it. He didn’t have to be processed – Nile just sounded great the way he is.”

Get Lucky (Daft Punk Song) | Wikipedia

Did Steve Jobs feel as if he had failed when he

“hit the pause button” and went back to the drawing board because he felt it (the product) wasn’t perfect?

The Real Leadership Lessons of Steve Jobs | HBR OnPoint | Winter 2013

Jobs did it with the movie Toy Story, the iPhone and the iPad, for example.

Does Samsung view it as a failure when they release products to see what consumers like and then make changes based on the results?

“Nobody had any idea what the right screen size was, so Samsung made all of them and saw which one worked,” says Benedict Evans, a researcher at Enders Analysis.

Producing a range of similar devices in various sizes to see which sells best is one of those high-cost undertakings most companies shy away from. But Samsung’s ability to produce display, memory, processors, and other high-tech parts gives it a flexibility competitors can’t touch. “There was this orthodoxy 10 years ago that vertical integration was passé,” says Tero Kuittinen, an analyst at Alekstra, a mobile-phone consultancy. “Then it turned out that the only two companies that took it seriously [Samsung and Apple] took over the whole handset industry.”

Apple’s approach is fewer models, each of them exquisitely designed. Samsung’s is try everything, and fast. “When we released the Galaxy S III, our research showed that, for some people in some markets, the handset was too big,” says DJ Lee. “So we were able to create the same phone with a 4-inch screen, and we called it the Galaxy S III mini.”

How Samsung Became the World’s No. 1 Smartphone Maker | Bloomberg Businessweek

I think the answer is no. It’s just part of the process. The products that come up in between the beginning and the finial version might not get an A+ but they don’t necessarily get an F either.

So maybe instead of thinking in terms of Pass/Fail, we should think in terms of shades or levels of success, like most of your grades probably were in school — remember A+, A, A-, B+, B, B- and so on? For sure, if an “F” comes up, don’t give up, but maybe in addition to embracing failure, we should embrace the creative process.

Pilot Season — Is It Out of Sync With Viewer Habits?

One of the things that I notice a lot when talking to business people is businesses still trying to do things that worked over a decade ago, or even longer, and then lamenting that they aren’t getting the results they expected. Well duh. Times have changed.

So I think its great to see companies willing to make changes to get in sync with today’s reality. Earlier this year, Fox jumped into the ring by deciding not to participate in pilot season.

The announcement was a long time coming, and marks an attempt to align the way television is made with the way it is increasingly consumed.

Fox Ends Pilot Season. What took So Long? | Bloomberg Businessweek

Now it seems as if Fox came to this realization by seeing what was going on in the cable world. So its hard to say whether Fox is really in tune with its viewers or just following in the footsteps of the success of its non-network competitors.

As with everything else in TV these days, the change was driven in part by cable. Cable networks have for years been experimenting with shorter seasons—13 episodes of Breaking Bad instead of 22—or miniseries, and with launching shows in the spring or summer rather in the fall. And pay channels like HBO (TWX) didn’t have advertisers they had to invite to an annual conference, which gave them more flexibility in when they could do things.

Fox Ends Pilot Season. What took So Long? | Bloomberg Businessweek

And some believe that Fox will go back to pilots next season and admit that there are risks associated with the decision.

Reilly’s plan is not without risk, with at least one studio chief predicting he would return to pilots next year if some of his straight-to-series bets “blow up on him.” Another notes he’ll be less likely to take fare to Fox unless he is sure it’s a Fox-type show. Still others worry what this could mean for up-and-coming or even midlevel writer-producers, given that straight-to-series offers tend to favor more experienced developers a la Bruno Heller (Fox’s Gotham) and Hart Hanson (Backstrom). After all, Greenblatt acknowledges he wouldn’t have made a series gamble on The Blacklist, fall’s biggest new hit, because it came from an inexperienced writer in Jon Bokenkamp. Said Greenblatt, “It probably would never have seen the air had we not made a pilot.”

Kevin Reilly’s War on TV Pilot Season: Will Other Networks Follow Fox? (Analysis) | The Hollywood Reporter

Still, it’s refreshing to see Fox giving it a try. Nothing ventured, nothing gained.

The Value of Keeping it Simple

Everybody has probably heard of the KISS principle.

KISS is an acronym for the design principle “Keep it simple, Stupid!”. Other variations include “keep it short and simple” or “keep it simple and straightforward“. The KISS principle states that simplicity should be a key goal in design, and that unnecessary complexity should be avoided.

— KISS principle | http://www.princeton.edu

It’s a principle that Steve Jobs embraced:

Job’s Zenlike ability to focus was accompanied by the related instinct to simplify things by zeroing in on their essence and eliminating unnecessary components. “Simplicity is the ultimate sophistication,” declared Apple’s first marketing brochure.

— The Real Leadership Lesson of Steve Jobs | HBR OnPoint Winter 2013

But have you ever thought of how embracing simplicity in your life can increase your productivity, creativity, and even your health?

Well, I’ve been thinking about that a lot lately. Actually I’ve gone beyond thinking about it. I’ve been putting it into practice to see whether it really does make a difference.

What Really Got Me Started As Opposed to the Half Effort I Had Been Doing Before

Not, too long ago, I came across an article in Wired, Steve Job’s Doctor Wants to Teach You the Formula for Long Life.  Interested in learning what his recommendations were, I decided to read it and, while I’m not a doctor, I could see the benefit of many of his recommendations (based on the lives of people I know who are over 90 and still driving and working as volunteers).

One of the recommendations that I’ve really tried to put into practice is automating my life.  He says that your body loves predictability. You can keep your body balanced by doing thinks like getting up and going to bed at the same time every night, eating at the same time, taking medications at the same time, and exercising at the same time.

Doing things like not eating when your body expects food can increase the level of the stress hormone cortisol that makes your body hold on to fat. In the end, you end up gaining weight. Now not only is this bad for your body, but I know that for me, at least, it’s going to impact my mind because I’m going to be focusing on the fact that I’ve gained weight and I need to lose it. And I’m probably going to spend a lot more time exercising than I should be in an attempt to drop the pounds.

Plus, I’m just not going to feel good if my body is out of balance which in my case also means that mind isn’t going to function well. My awareness is going to suffer and so is my ability to focus.

What Has Kept Me Going

After reading the Wired article, I read the article, Extreme Productivity, in which Robert C. Prozen outlines his principles for getting things done. Principle 6 is, Keep Things Short and Simple.

On a daily basis, I try to keep the material aspects of life as simple as possible in order to maximize productivity. I get up every morning around 7:00 and have shaved, showered, and dressed by 7:15. Then I read two newspapers while having breakfast and leave home around 7:30. The night before, I set out what I’m going to wear. I have five winter outfits and five summer outfits. And I eat the same thing for breakfast every morning — a banana and a bowl of cereal. I’m very boring in the morning.

Extreme Productivity | Harvard Business Review OnPoint Winter 2013

Just think how much freer your mind will be to observe, be aware of what’s going on around you, and make connections when you don’t have to clutter it with “the material aspects of life.”

And all of this made me think of a really creative man I know who drives his family crazy because his schedule is so set. Like Prozen, he has a time for everything (probably a place to) and he doesn’t let anyone disrupt it.

I really think he’s on to something.

Want to increase your creativity, productivity, and improve your health at the same time? Then try keeping things simple. I have and I’ve noticed a difference for the better.

Climbing the Creative Ladder

Everyone is creative. The problem is that most people don’t give their creative spirit the credit it deserves. This could be because people equate creativity at the level of creative geniuses. However, according to James Kaufman, a psychology professor at the University of Connecticut, creativity is a development process that runs up and down a spectrum of four levels of creativity.

The Four-C Model of Creativity

The Four-C model of creativity has two interesting components. The first is that everyone is bound to find themselves at some point of the creative spectrum, proving that they are creative.

The model divides creative people into four categories:

  • Big Cs;
  • Pro Cs;
  • Little Cs; and
  • Mini Cs.

Most conceptions of creativity tend to take one of two approaches: Big-C and little-c. Big-C is creative genius. When you think of a classical composer, you probably think of Mozart, Beethoven, Chopin, or someone similar. They are all at the Big-C level. Little-c is everyday creativity. It is the creativity inherent in everyday life. It might be someone who writes music for fun. What Ron and I argue is that this basic distinction omits two key levels: mini-c is the creativity that happens in the learning process. It could be a child learning to write a song. Pro-c is expert-level creativity. It might be someone who’s composed music that is currently popular.

— What is Creativity? | James C. Kaufman, Ph.D

The second interesting point is the development process component. You can start at the level of a “Mini C” and eventually become a “Big C.”

The life of a creative writer, for example, might progress through these stages as follows: At a young age, Sally learns about writing poetry and tries many different forms. She writes a sonnet, a Haiku, and free verse. These poems may not be particularly good, but they are meaningful to her. This is mini c. As she advances, she gets better. Maybe she reads some poetry at a coffee house and gets some poems published in her college literary magazine. Other people see some value in her poetry. This is little-c (we sometimes call this “county fair creativity”). Sally keeps improving. She gets an MFA and teaches poetry at a liberal arts college. She regularly publishes her work in respected journals. This is Pro-c. If she is very talented and very lucky, Sally may eventually be considered a truly great poet. Even after she has died, her writing may be studied and enjoyed by generations to come. This is Big-C.

— What is Creativity? | James C. Kaufman, Ph.D

Creativity in the Workplace

This model is not only useful in showing people that they are creative, it also shows that creativity can take place at work, no matter what job you have. There is always something new to be discovered. Start learning and achieve satisfaction through the learning because it is new and useful to you at a personal level.

I always says that good business analysts, or anyone who solves problems or makes decisions are flexing their creative muscles in doing so. Realizing that creativity at this level is valuable goes a long way in keeping you motivated and, in turn, increasing your job performance.

Your Creative Development

So go ahead. Admit that you are creative and then look for ways to be creative every day. It can be as simple as making it a point of discovering something new every day and experiencing the satisfaction derived from that.

If your goal is to become a Pro C or a Big C, then take it one step at a time. There’s value in each type and level of creativity.