Wednesday, September 13, 2017

Adopting Design Thinking in organizations, one step at a time

One question that I often get is, “How do we integrate Design Thinking in our existing processes?” Many organizations have well established processes like Agile, Six Sigma, Business Excellence framework etc. It is both impractical and unwise to establish design thinking as yet another parallel process. Instead, what works better is to take a step or two of design thinking and pilot it within the existing processes. Let’s look at a few options.

There are multiple ways to view DT. One view, as advocated by the Stanford D-school, looks at DT as an iterative process consisting of five steps: empathize, define, ideate, prototype and test. Let’s see what it might mean to adopt only one of the five steps in an organization at a time.

1.      Empathy: If you were to emphasize empathy in your existing processes, here are a few options.

·        Journey map: This is a tool where customer’s experience is mapped through various stages of the journey. For example, one journey map could be about “Employee’s day-1 experience”. This would map out experiences of various new joinees as to how their day-1 experience was through the stages of – arrival, induction session, lunch, afternoon, exit etc. This might lead to a challenge statement such as, “How do we get a new joinee an employee badge by the end of day-1?”

·        Humble inquiry: Popularize humble inquiry in meetings and discussions. This is a form of inquiry where one requests the other person to elaborate the point. E.g. Please tell me more or please give me an example. Contrast this with the prescriptive enquiry where one asks questions like, “But, why don’t you try like this…?” or “Boss, this kind of stuff will not work in our organization?”

·        Bright spots: We are easy in finding what’s going wrong – the dark spots. However, in any situation, there is something working right in some corner. These are the bright spots. For example, in every situation where an organization faces high attrition, there are some people who have stayed long within the same organization. So exit interviews would give some information about the dark spots, staying interviews would tell more about the bright spots. Researching about bright spots naturally evokes empathy because you are trying to understand why certain things are working well in that context.

2.      Define: You may choose to focus only on define step – which means you will try to establish more clarity on which are the challenges a team is focused on addressing at various levels in the organization. You could check following:

·        Quality of challenges:  Many times organizational challenges are framed in an abstract manner – “We want to become an innovative organization”. Or They are concrete but don’t have hooks for imagination – “We want to be no 1 in our market.” This is a concrete goal but doesn’t contain any direction for exploration. Alternately, we could ask, “How do we organize knowledge in our project so that it can create Quora like experience?”

·        Internal bright spot-based challenges: You could encourage framing of challenges which are based on internal bright spots. For example, you may pick an innovation from last year – say a chat-bot integration into a customer service platform (BotServ) – and ask “How do we develop more innovations like BotServ which can excite customers and leadership alike?”

3.      Ideation: In all likelihood, your organization may not be new to ideation. However, you may want to ask how you can have more ideation sessions with cross-functional teams. Or you may want to check if you can organize co-innovation workshops with customers where you generate ideas together.

4.      Prototyping: In case you would like to build a prototyping culture, here are a few options:

·        Story-boarding: This is one of the least expensive ways of getting people to bring ideas alive. You can encourage people to create before-and-after storyboards and paste them in the corridors / brainstorming rooms. This can invite comments and may inspire other ideas.

·        Wireframes:  In the world of software this typically means drawing screens – either for PC or for a mobile phone. In the world of physical objects, it means drawing a floorplan or making a 3-D model like how an architect does for a house etc.

·        Hackathons: Conduct a full-day or two-day event focused on building rapid prototypes for a given challenge.

5.      Test: In case you would like to emphasize getting ideas tested, here are a few options:

·        Test Fridays: Allocate an hour on one Friday every month in getting prototypes reviewed by senior leaders. 

·        Customer testing: Pass on prototypes with customer facing people – sales, product managers etc. and get feedback.

Someone may argue that emphasizing a step like ideation without empathy or experimentation may be missing the main point of design thinking. And, I feel any step is better than no step. Hope you get to try out something.

Saturday, September 9, 2017

Mindfulness on the go: mini-podcast #1 and #2

Thanks to the suggestion from my wife, Gauri, we decided to chat together on mindfulness and experiment with podcast. So far we have created two mini-podcasts – each roughly of 10 minutes duration. The process has been fun for us and that is encouraging. One of the aspects I am exploring is how we can learn mindfulness through metaphors from movies. So expect mini-podcasts in future where we take up a movie and see what kind of mindfulness tips it presents us. If you have any suggestions, please write a comment on this blog.

Introduction by Gauri (0:00)
Vinay's background (0:35)
What is mindfulness? (3:55)

Introduction by Gauri (0:00)
What is "on the go"? (0:25)
If I practice mindfulness, will I become stress-free or peaceful? (3:30)
Is this connected with any God, religion or a guru? (7:00)
Why should we learn mindfulness? (9:07)

Five tips on mindfulness from “A beautiful mind” film

A beautiful mind” is a movie loosely based on the life of the Nobel Laureate John Nash. In an earlier article I have written about how it depicts the journey of a human mind through the three stages of creativity, madness and awakening. In this article, I would like to bring five tips on mindfulness that we can learn from this movie.

1.      You can’t reason your way out of suffering

Nash is arguing with his psychiatrist and asking, "Why can't I reason my out of this (schizophrenia)?" Psychiatrist is quick to point out the paradox, "Because your mind is where the problem is in the first place." Thought is distorting our perception. Hence, we can’t use thought as a tool to investigate the distortion. It is like dressing up the thief as a police in order to investigate the theft. Mindfulness suggests that we use attention or awareness as the tool to investigate what’s going on.

2.      You’ve got to keep feeding them for them to stay alive

Martin, Nash's friend, asks him if the hallucinations are gone. Nash says that they are not gone but he has stopped feeding them and as a result they have given up on him. Mindfulness is about watching how you are feeding your dreams and nightmares for them to stay alive. If the feeding stops, the dreams and nightmares lose their power.

3.      Being suspicious of your perception

Nash is approached by a person outside his class whom he has never met. Nash is suspicious of new people. So he double-checks with one of his students if she is able to see this new person as well. Only when she confirms does Nash proceed to have a chat with the visitor. Mindfulness involves being aware that the current perception may be a distortion of the reality especially in surprising situations. And it remains open for alternate views and opinions.

4.      Are you crazy? Yes, it’s possible!

Nash is sitting with a visitor, Thomas King, who has come to meet him on behalf of Nobel committee. Nash is being considered for the Nobel Prize and King is there to check if Nash is crazy. After all, the reputation of Nobel Prize is at stake. Nash says “It’s possible (that he is crazy.)” He further clarifies that he is still on medication for schizophrenia. Being mindful is about carrying a huge bias for “possible” as against “impossible”. Every belief or idea is tentative and open for validation even if the idea is “I am crazy.”

5.      Like the diet of the mind, choose not to indulge in certain appetite

Nash clarifies the situation to Thomas King. He still sees things that are not there but he chooses not to acknowledge them. Mindfulness is a process where one is alert and attentive all the time. This is similar to what Nash calls – a diet of the mind. If you are on a diet, you are alert all the time as to what you are eating. Similarly, here there is alertness to check if the thought or voice in the head is worth "indulging in". 

Friday, August 25, 2017

My 3 takeaways from the Krishnamurti Gathering in Murren, Switzerland

I got an opportunity to attend a week-long gathering of people interested in the teaching of Jiddu Krishnamurti last month. It was held in a picturesque little town of Murren located in Bernese Alps in Switzerland. My father, who has been a student of Krishnamurti’s teachings for a few decades, wished to attend this gathering and we went as a family – my parents, my wife and I. We attended the first week of the two week gathering. 

Like other Krishnamurti gatherings we saw videos of Krishnamurti’s talks, had panel discussions, small group dialogues and also had a space for people to share their personal experiences and insights. We also had guided hikes in the mountains. The gathering organizer, Gisele, a lovely lady, looked after each participant with great care. People came from a dozen countries mostly in Europe but also from the US and Australia. Many participants knew each other and had been part of this annual event earlier known as the Saanen Gathering since 70s and 80s.

A gathering like this creates a space for deep reflection and impacts each participant in a unique way. Here I am jotting down the three things I took away from this event.

1.      Role of silence in a dialogue: Our small group dialogues used to begin with moments of silence. The idea was that the dialogue remains anchored in silence. I knew this and yet there were moments when I was driven by the urge to speak. Our facilitator and other members were very helpful in pointing out to me and others that there is a need to slow down and let the dialogue flow through the silence. In fact, later I found it useful to imagine that each word was entering the pool of silence at the centre and new words were emerging from that pool. It was beautiful to experience it when that happened. Perhaps this is relevant to any conversation and I continue to experiment with this.

2.      What is my primary responsibility? This question was discussed over two days in our small group dialogues. One the one hand, it was observed that the world is in a mess and I am deeply connected with the world. In fact, there is one famous Krishnamurti quote which says – You are the world. Then I must share the responsibility for the mess.  And hence, my primary responsibility is to bring order to this mess. On the other hand, it was observed that it is not easy perhaps impossible to genuinely help anyone because the thought process that leads to conflict – anger, worry, frustration, is almost mechanical and reactive. In all likelihood, I am contributing to the conflict by being reactive too. Hence, my primary responsibility is my inner silence, non-reactivity or non-resistance. Perhaps my inner silence is the best help I can offer to the world.

3.      Nature as a teacher: Murren offered breath-taking beauty in myriad forms. We could see the majesty of the snow peaked mountains like the Jungfrau, a roaring waterfall like the Trummelbach falls, gentle streams, peaceful cows, bright flowers all in the same day. It is as if the nature is teasing our judgmental mind and saying, “You like to judge every situation, judge this scene” and it is humbling. One particular scene was insightful. I was watching the snow patches on the mountain and after a while I suddenly saw that a small patch of snow was not snow after all. It was a stream and it got misperceived as snow. It was a beautiful metaphor for how thought constructs solid objects in place of flowing things. Perhaps the solidity of “Vinay” is similar and it is a stream of thoughts getting misperceived as a solid “I”. Who knows?

Overall, the gathering provided a wonderful opportunity for self-reflection and created new possibilities to experiment in the self-discovery journey. It was made joyous by the serene surroundings and the warmth of the people around us.

Wednesday, August 16, 2017

How is innovation related to mindfulness?

I work in two areas – innovation and mindfulness. I mention this while introducing myself. A natural question that I get after this is – are these two areas related? I see them as closely related. However, I could be biased. Hence, I thought of jotting my thoughts down and see if I get any inputs. This is an attempt in that direction.

Before exploring the relationship between innovation and mindfulness, it might be easier to see the relationship between innovation and mindlessness. Let’s take an extreme example – 9/11 attack masterminded by Osama Bin Laden’s organization. 9/11 attack has all the elements of a radical innovation – A novel idea creating a huge impact when executed. The impact was positive when seen from Laden’s organization. They were trying to make the world a better place – from their perspective. It so turned out – their perspective was quite contradictory to the perspective of many others. In fact, rest of the world labelled this act as mindless. Thus an innovation may be the result of mindless thinking and may result into mindless action – at least as seen from a section of society.  

Innovation is a creative response to the perceived challenge. And mindfulness is about perceptual clarity – seeing what is. If what you perceive is distorted or muddled up, no matter how hard you try, no matter how many geniuses you put together, the response will be muddled up. If you don’t have the ability to see if you are solving the right problem, then you may be hurting humanity even if you have the best of intentions.

Let’s take the case of Uber – a company that is known for its innovations and a company whose taxi service is running in 600+ cities across the world. I am a beneficiary of its service and perhaps you are too. Uber has had a rapid growth in a short span. However, things become murky when you ask the question – growth at what cost? It apparently fostered a culture where “back stabbing” of co-workers was encouraged and mistreatment of female employees was ignored. An investigation into sexual harassment issues led to the termination of 20 employees and eventually resulted in the resignation of the company CEO.

Uber is a case where the intent of treating all stakeholders fairly got into conflict with the intent of growing the business at a certain speed. And the intent to grow overpowered everything else. Perhaps Uber is not unique and that every organization that is chasing a quarter-on-quarter revenue-profit targets is undergoing similar pressure. To make sound decisions under such circumstances needs intense awareness of not only what is going on outside – in the meeting room, in the company, in the market but also inside one’s own mind – the anxiety of falling short of the growth target, the damage to self-image for not meeting the investor expectations etc. This awareness is mindfulness.

In short, innovation and mindfulness are connected deeply at the problem definition. Unless one is mindful of the distortions created by one’s own anxieties and aspirations one ends up solving the wrong problem. And nurturing a wrong problem is similar to nourishing a monster. You never know what shape it may take in future.

Image source:

Monday, June 26, 2017

Mobile app upgrade as a metaphor for the virus in the thought process

Every time I turn on WiFi on my mobile phone, some application begins to get upgraded automatically. It doesn’t even ask my permission. Can this phenomenon help us learn about the virus in our thought process? That is what we will explore in this article.

When we buy a new phone, it comes with some default applications. For example, for an Android phone, Google Maps, Gmail etc. come pre-installed on the phone. We also download new apps e.g. Uber cabs as we see that they could help us in our day-to-day life. These applications are constantly getting upgraded. Sometimes these upgrades are fixing some problems with the apps, sometimes new features get added, other times the app gets a better protection against virus attacks etc. In short, these upgrades are trying to make our phone future-proof. 

In general, these upgrades should be happening when the phone is idle i.e. it is not being used for a call or a message or reading a mail or watching a movie etc.  Our phone, even when it is not busy making or receiving a call, is involved in checking if somebody is trying to call us or send a message. It also has many other sensors such as temperature sensor, accelerometer for speed / direction sensor etc. It is also constantly checking date and time and triggering alarms at an appropriate moment if they have been set.  In short, phone is a sensitive device, constantly engaged in scanning the signals and meaningfully responding to them.

Now, imagine a situation where the app upgrades become all important. i.e. the phone goes into a mode where all it is doing primarily is app upgrades and nothing else. It considers upgrading itself to be more important than everything else – even making / receiving a call etc. Even when somebody tries to call us, the phone rejects the call because it is busy upgrading itself. It is like the phone has lost its primary function. Who would like such a phone?

Now, let’s compare this upgrade mechanism with our life. Our attention is required to do what we are doing in the present moment – say eating, walking, driving, listening etc. However, these activities have become so automatic that the thought feels that it can do some upgrades while these activities are happening. So it starts running “What if” scenarios – “What if I don’t reach the meeting on time?”, “What if I lose this job?”, “What if people discover that I am really not that smart?” etc. We feel that these ‘what if’ scenarios help us take some actions that will reduce the probability of failure. In short, the thought process helps us in making our life future-proof, similar to a mobile app upgrade.

Now, imagine the thought process goes berserk perhaps due to some virus on the ‘what if’ simulations and grabs all the attention all the time for the simulation. Almost no attention is left for the present moment activities. We are eating our lunch but the attention is in the “upgrade” scenarios. We are driving a car but thinking about the upcoming meeting. When we are in the meeting, the thought is simulating the next activity etc. Effectively, we are not giving any activity its due attention. The future-proofing is happening at the cost of the quality of attention in the present-moment. In an overdrive mode, the thought process is also affecting the sensitivity to signals sent from the body such as hunger, sleep etc. and from surrounding such as feelings of the family members, team members, how we are treating nature etc. It is as though we have become insensitive to the reality and begun to live in the thought created future-proofing simulation.

Now, you might ask. OK, this is life, what to do? The first step is to watch this process and see if the upgrade simulations are indeed serving a useful purpose or they have become repetitive, compulsive and wasteful. You have been thinking about selecting the best school for your daughter for the past one month. How long do you want to keep thinking? This awareness can be powerful. Alternately, you can step out of the simulation for a few moments and bring attention to the present moment activity –breathing, eating, sitting, walking etc. Try it out for yourself.

Friday, June 16, 2017

Photo gallery: "Mindfulness on the go" at Agastya International Foundation, Kuppam

I got an opportunity to facilitate the 2-day workshop "Mindfulness on the go" for folks from Agastya International Foundation at the scenic campus in Kuppam on June 8-9, 2017. Here are a few pictures from the workshop. We had four long silent sitting sessions (between 30 minutes to 1 hour duration). Unfortunately, we don't any photo from these silent sittings because everybody had kept their phones away. We also had a silent walk around the campus on the evening of day-1 led by Mr. Nitin Desai.

We used following movies to illustrate the concepts, tools, practice / investigation process:

Some of the questions that got raised and discussed during the workshop are:
  • Why do we need to meditate?
  • How to control thoughts?
  • Is meditation connected with any religion / sect?
  • What is the difference between meditation, concentration and silent sitting?
  • How to differentiate between useful and wasteful thoughts?
  • What is the relationship between meditation and god?
  • How is this connected with enlightenment?
  • Isn't fear necessary for achieving our goals?
Photo credit: Subbu Shastri, Gauri Dabholkar