Tuesday, August 14, 2018

Revisiting an obsession checklist after a decade

By August 2008 (a decade ago), my independent consulting practice was less than two years old. And the economic downturn was in the air. Perhaps the worry related to questions like, “What would happen to my business? Will I have to shut the shop?” was visible on my face. It was pointed out by my wife and friends. This is when I reflected upon the signals that might indicate that my passion has turned into an obsession. Obsession and anxiety are two sides of the same coin. Hence, I thought of making a checklist that might help me observe my own anxiety. I wrote the article “Thin line between passion and obsession” (Aug 24, 2008) in which I published an obsession checklist. I thought a decade is a good time to revisit the checklist and look at its usefulness.

If I answer the checklist today, what do I see?

1.  Did I jog in the last week? (Yes, this morning)
2.  Did I go for a walk / watch movie / play / concert with my wife? (Yes, went for a walk with her last evening, watched a play – “Photograph 51” with her a couple of weeks ago)
3.  Did I listen to Hindustani classical music in the past 2 weeks? (Yes, listened to my flute teacher play raga Durga last Saturday after my class).
4.  Did I practice flute in the last 2 weeks? (Yes, today and went for a flute class last Saturday)
5.  Did I go cycling with my son in the last 2-3 weeks? (Yes, our son doesn’t live with us anymore. But I went cycling last week alone. We visited our son in Pune last week and went for a walk with him on lush green Panchwati hills).
6.  Did I get out of the city in the last 2-3 months? (Yes, returned from a visit to Mumbai-Pune a few days back and visited Coimbatore 2 weeks ago).
7. Did I read any fiction, especially a Marathi book in the past 2-3 months? (Yes, read the play Atmakatha (Autobiography) by Mahesh Elkunchwar a few days ago).

So, looks like I am doing ok as far as the checklist is concerned. Question is: is the checklist still relevant today?

To answer this question, let’s first ask, “What does this checklist represent?” If I understand correctly, this checklist represents little joys as I saw them a decade ago. It so happens that all these activities continue to give me joy even today. But the list of little joys has grown significantly in the last decade. What does it contain now?

Well, a number of small things seem to give joy – cutting vegetables, making tea, watering plants, making home compost, juggling, playing cricket in the corridor with a 5-year-old neighbor etc. But perhaps the most significant addition to the list is – doing nothing. I could be sitting in my house or in a bus or at an airport or in a reception area and just watching the movements – sounds, thoughts, people, breath etc. and just enjoy being there.

What about the original anxiety of not getting any customer and not making any money? Well, in the last twelve years, there were some years in which I made less money. And? Nothing happened. In fact, I don’t remember anything special of those years. I am sure, all the basic needs – food, shelter, clothing even travel weren’t affected. And that’s where the main point may be. That is, over the years, my needs have shrunk significantly. There is no goal to be achieved. Journey seems to be primary and destination secondary.

In short, the obsession checklist isn’t obsolete. However, there is no dearth of small joys every day.

Wednesday, August 1, 2018

Is “design thinking” old wine in a new bottle?

I co-facilitated a 2-day design thinking workshop at IIM Bangalore a week ago. One of the questions that came up from a participant during the session was – “Is design thinking old wine in new bottle?” My short answer is “May be”. This blog is an attempt to elaborate on the short answer.

To check whether design thinking is something that you already know, I suggest looking at three dimensions: empathy, experimentation and experience. Let’s look at them one by one.

Empathy: “We have been in services business for decades. Empathy is ingrained in us.” This was a remark from a senior manager at the opening module of a DT workshop in an IT services firm. Later when the participants went through an empathy exercise involving interviews with new joinees the team discovered that the new joinees had to submit their personal documents three times during the joining process. Moreover, during the induction program they would get a lecture on the core themes of the organization, one of which was ‘Connected world’. New joinees were smart enough to see the irony of the situation. The senior managers who were open enough realized that empathy wasn’t as ingrained in them as they thought earlier. Empathy is a dimension with endless depth. Cognitive illusions may be hindering seeing the others’ perspective. DT creates an opportunity to explore the empathy dimension more deeply than what one would have done so far.

Experimentation: Prototyping is an important element of DT. Many people are familiar with building prototypes or proof-of-concepts. However, when participants are asked build a working prototype in one day, they are typically lost. They are not sure how to identify a small part of the overall idea which they can build in a day. They are not used to thinking in terms of available resources at low-cost to validate assumptions. How do we design low-cost high-speed experiments? How to test some of the critical assumptions early? These are some of the questions DT nudges you to address. DT offers an opportunity to learn to pay attention to cost, speed and sequence while designing experiments. DT urges you to consider the possibility that your core assumptions could be incorrect. This requires a degree of openness which many participants aren’t familiar with.

Experience: This is a picture of a government school from the Udupi district in Karnataka. Principal of the school saved Rs. 3000 every month for a year to get the school painted like a train. This has resulted in attracting more students and ex-students to see the new look of the school. Principal’s efforts are certainly noteworthy. However, when I ask: What could be missing in this innovation? Not many participants are able to see that the outward appearance of a school may be a small part of the overall end-to-end schooling experience of a child. Unless the experience inside the classroom is changed, not much may have changed for students. What the principal did could be a good first step, however unless it is extended inside the classroom, its value may be limited. DT offers an opportunity to look at end-to-end experience of various stakeholders.

If you have explored these dimensions already, DT could very well be old wine in old bottle. However, after the design thinking workshop I facilitate, that is generally not the impression participants carry. Perhaps they discover that there may be one or more dimensions which they haven’t explored at a sufficient depth.

image source:
wine bottle: uidownload.com
school: thehindu.com