We’re excited to be conducting two visual thinking webinars in conjunction with our partners, Ripple Effect.
If you’re not familiar with the methods and outputs of visual thinking, or if you are and want to deepen your knowledge of how to use these methods to drive sustainable change processes in your organization, join these free webinars.
PLEASE NOTE: Due to capacity constraints, these sessions are only available for Asia Pacific-based individuals. These will be recorded and posted here on the xBlog, and other, future webcasts will be announced.
Introduction to Visual Thinking Part 1: A Powerful Method to Boost Business Results.
When: Tuesday, November 20, 2012 at 8-9pm EST/5–6pm PST
Register here: email@example.com
Visual thinking is a methodology that uses diagrams representing ideas, concepts, process flows and relationships to stimulate innovation, creativity and collaboration. In this webinar, we introduce a basic toolkit to help unlock creativity through visual thinking frameworks and tools. We’ll also share case studies of how we applied visual thinking to solve a broad range of business problems, including change management, customer service, product, and user experience design, for Fortune 1000 and smaller organizations.
Introduction to Visual Thinking Part 2: Using design thinking for driving change program results
When: Tuesday, December 4, 2012 at 8-9pm EST/5–6pm PST
Register here: firstname.lastname@example.org
This session will focus on sharing case study examples and using interactive visual thinking methods to respond to questions and clarify how visual thinking could be one of the most powerful strategies you introduce to your organization to drive change.
When: Wednesday, December 5, 2012 at 2-3pm EST / 11am-12pm PST
Is it time to take your organization’s learning program to the next level? Or maybe you’re developing a learning program for the first time. Join this webinar to learn about the key ideas to help you get started, and see real examples from organizations that got it right.
We will cover:
- Getting your organization on board with your learning program
- Designing curriculum that gives your audience what they really need, and
- Making learning engaging and accessible by choosing the right delivery format
In this webinar, hosted by Tony Yang, Director of Marketing at Knoodle, you’ll hear from Debbie Kurtz, a seasoned instructional designer and strategist at XPLANE, and learn how to avoid the areas where companies typically get tripped up, including several case study examinations.
About The Host
Tony is a marketing leader with experience in large tech companies (IBM, Microsoft, and Yahoo) as well as for nimble startups in the software-as-a-service (SaaS), cloud storage, and enterprise 2.0 space. His marketing expertise covers a broad range, including go-to-market and new product launch strategy, product marketing, lead generation, and social media. Tony holds an MBA from the University of Southern California, a Masters in Information Systems Management from Keller Graduate School of Management, and BA degrees in Economics and Chinese Studies from UC San Diego.
About The Speaker
Debbie has more than 10 years of experience developing sophisticated, enterprise-scale solutions that improve organizational effectiveness, maximize employee potential, and change behaviors. Her programs reach thousands of participants worldwide, and include self-paced, instructor-led, social, and blended learning solutions. As an organizational consultant, she is also expert in operational assessments, performance feedback survey design, and behavioral research and diagnosis. Clients include Amway, GE, HP, IHG, Intel, Microsoft, NBC, PETCO, and Sony.
Have you ever wondered why XPLANE’s official company color is yellow?
XPLANE’s corporate purpose has always been to help organizations create change, to find ways to make and accelerate enterprise-scale transitions. So when it came to picking a corporate color, yellow was the natural choice, since its the universal color of way-finding. Used on roads and traffic signs around the world, the color yellow helps alert people of upcoming changes and helps them understand how to navigate their way through those changes.
Now that we are once again an independently-owned and operated company, embracing our corporate color is more important than ever. To celebrate, we recently hosted a “paint it yellow” day to help all our employees reclaim their XPLANE roots and embrace the change we have gone through over the past year.
Employees brought various knick-knacks from home and everything was then spray painted yellow. These yellow trinkets are now scattered throughout the office as a daily reminder to everyone of XPLANE’s purpose and the differences we can each make for our client organizations.
XPLANE is proud to be headquartered in Portland, OR, a creative and artistic city that has deep roots in design and a unique approach to defining place, culture and attitude. In early October, we reintroduced our newly-independent company to the city’s vibrant community by participating in the annual Design Week Portland event. Design Week Portland celebrates design as Portland’s most promising cultural and economic resource. The event’s purpose is to explore process, craft, and practice across disciplines through Portland’s vibrant design programming.
XPLANE welcomed upwards of 50 people from across the country to an open house that allowed us to show off our new space and demonstrate some of the ways XPLANE is changing the world of design and communication. Visitors were invited to actively participate in several hands-on sample exercises we use every day to solve problems for our clients. These activities involved drawing, working with your hands and personal interaction with others.
One example that was used was the Lo-Fi Social Network, in which visitors were asked to draw the answers to questions such as “what do you do?” and “what is something you really like?” on a large Post-it note. After placing their answers on the wall, visitors cut sections of string and used them to make connections to other guests who share common interests.
Many visitors, most of whom were visiting from outside of Portland and from as far as Minnesota and New York, expressed that they were at the event to visit XPLANE specifically, demonstrating the company’s wide reach within the design world. In addition to the various activities, visitors also had the opportunity to mingle with XPLANE designers while animations of XPLANE work ran on two screens in the background.
Design Week Portland is a great event for our community and we look forward to brainstorming new ways to participate next year. For more information on Portland Design Week, visit http://www.designweekportland.com/.
+ ‘Tis the gift to be simple, ’tis the gift to be free, ‘Tis the gift to come down where we ought to be, And when we find ourselves in the place just right, ‘Twill be in the valley of love and delight. When true simplicity is gain’d, To bow and to bend we shan’t be asham’d, To turn, turn will be our delight, Till by turning, turning we come ’round right.
+ “If I had to name my greatest strength, I guess it would be my humility. Greatest weakness, it’s possible that I’m a little too awesome.” -Obama
+ “These aren’t the droids you’re looking for.”
+ “Human decency is not derived from religion. It precedes it.” – Christopher Hitchens
+ “If we, citizens, do not support our artists, then we sacrifice our imagination on the altar of crude reality and we end up believing in nothing and having worthless dreams.” -Yann Martel
+ A camel is a horse designed by committee.
+ Alis volat propriis (She Flies With Her Own Wings) = Oregon state motto
+ Alles hat ein ende. Nur das wurst hat zwei. Everything has an end. Except for a sausage, which has two.
+ Artists Philosophy: Draw what you see but see more than is there. [paraphrased]
+ Be the change you want to see
+ Chase two rabbits and they both get away.
+ don’t mistake a clear view for a short distance
+ I’m big in Japan.
+ Live the life you’ve imagined.
+ Non scholae, sed vitae discimus = we don’t learn for school but for life
+ Seek first to understand, then to be understood.
+ I would like to be the air that inhabits you for a moment only I would like to be that unnoticed and that necessary. — M. Atwood
+ T.S. Eliot: “…and the end of all our exploring will be to arrive where we started and know the place for the first time”
+ To laugh often and much; to win the respect of intelligent people and the affection of children; to earn the appreciation of honest critics and endure the betrayal of false friends; to appreciate beauty, to find the best in others; to leave the world a bit better, whether by a healthy child, a garden patch, or a redeemed social condition; to know even one life has breathed easier because you lived. This is to have succeeded.
+ You fail at 100% of the things you don’t try.
At XPLANE, one of our most prized tools for enhancing communication effectiveness is information design. Information design is the practice of creating a visual language to express data in a graphic format (e.g. infographics) that makes the data easy for someone else to understand (think cave paintings, traffic signs, etc.).
One of the most famous examples is Charles Joseph Minard’s Napoleon’s March to Russia, a 1869 depiction of the state of Napoleon’s army as it retreats from Moscow. This brilliant, multi-dimensional infographic shows:
- the army’s direction in two colors
- the army’s location in latitude and longitude
- the size of the army over time
- the temperature over the course of the trip (and implied effect on Napoleon’s army)
- key dates
Another, more playful example is this profile of one of our consultants:
To learn how you can you get started creating infographics, skip to the bottom of this article where we share some tips and best practices.
Why Infographics Work so Well
There’s a reason why the expression “a picture tells a thousand words” rings true. Translating data using graphics tells a story about what the data means. For example, by showing the correlation of temperatures over the time of Napoleon’s retreat with the shrinking size of his army, Minard converted data into information. In this case, visual representation of the data amplified understanding.
Studies have also repeatedly shown that people understand information better when words and pictures are combined.
Source: Mayer, 2001, Multimedia principle: Adding pictures increased knowledge transfer by 89%
Of course, the business benefit is clear when understanding is accelerated. And many studies have shown how:
Source: 3M/Wharton School Study, 1981
How to Design Great Infographics
To help you get started with designing infographics, here are some tips to keep in mind:
- Determine the story you want to tell (e.g. what are the key points you want the audience to understand? why should they care?). This information will anchor how the data needs to be presented.
- List all the specific things you want your audience to understand. We find it helpful to list each goal on a sticky note, then group similar notes together to determine the major themes – a process we call affinity mapping.
- Determine your audience (e.g. who are they, how they learn, emotional outcomes and perceptions you want the reader to have when they engage with your infographic, the medium through which they’ll engage your infographic, etc.)
- Sketch, sketch, sketch. Sometimes it helps to start with the broad schematic of your information framework. Other times, experimenting with the ways you can represent specific data points can help identify the possible ways to link multiple pieces of data together. In either case, one of the best ways to see the connections is to just start sketching.
- Step away for a few days. The more immersed you are in the design, the further away you can get from empathizing with how a new reader might perceive your infographic the first time they see it. Revisiting your work at least a few days afterwards can give you a better glimpse of how to polish your infographic.
- Be inspired. There are a lot of great examples of information design. Here’s one website that has compiled a variety of infographics for future inspiration: http://www.pinfographics.org/.
Q&A with Martin Sykes, Co-Author, Stories That Move Mountains: Storytelling and Visual Design for Persuasive Presentations
Martin Sykes, Microsoft Director of Enterprise Strategy & Architecture, introduces us to his CAST method for improving communications in his new book, Stories That Move Mountains: Storytelling and Visual Design for Persuasive Presentations.
What’s the chief problem you’re trying to solve?
Stories That Move Mountains is focused on one of the most common reasons for presentations in government and business, the need to gain commitment from people to make a decision, accept a proposal, or agree to a change. I know from many years of trying to influence people that when you want the audience to make a decision, or change their behavior, you have to work a lot harder than simply present the facts and figures.
Unfortunately a lot of people start by opening some presentation software and begin creating slides, putting in a lot of content that they believe is necessary, before even getting a basic structure outlined that addresses the key issues for the audience. I work with a lot of technical presenters, and the typical geek approach is to add in a lot of details, technical diagrams and features. People look at that and it scares them off or they just don’t understand it.
So, I started using techniques I’ve learned over the years to work out how to focus the message, then use a storytelling approach with data visualizations and layouts to deliver that story in a way that best influences the audience.
How does your CAST method work?
CAST refers to Content, Audience, Story and Tell, a four part approach. CAST is a holistic aggregation of communications disciplines and techniques assembled in an easy-to-follow approach. It’s not a silver bullet that can fix an ailing presentation, but a whole armory of techniques, carefully woven together into a process for people who are ready to go beyond the usual approach of presentation slides covered in bullet points to an approach that really delivers results.
The first part of CAST is about focusing the Content on just what the audience needs to understand: breaking content down into the why, what, how, and what if, then ensuring this all links together coherently. Don’t put any content into the story unless it’s tied directly to the outcome you want, and why the audience should care about it.
The second part is about how the different members of the Audience relate to each other, how they make decisions, and what decision- and learning styles might be most appropriate for communicating the message to them the right way.
The third part is where you start to create the Story, developing the right structure and characterization that you need to deliver the content. You need to link that story to a sense of urgency for the audience to understand why they should act on your message now. In this part we also look at how you plan to deliver the message. We found that many people assume they need to create a presentation, and then they plan to deliver it just once – but some people in your audience need to listen to the story multiple times or in different formats, so you need a plan to communicate effectively.
The last part we simply called Tell, this is where we use visual design techniques to help you create your content in the right format for the situation, which can include presentations, but also considers handouts, posters, or simply using a whiteboard.
Does someone need special design or research skills to successfully use the method in your book?
No. That’s one of the things we worked hard on while writing the book. From the first public showing of these ideas over seven years ago, to the writing of the book, the content has been refined, tested, and used to train hundreds of people in major organizations around the world, including many at Microsoft. Very few of these people had any design skills, or previous experience of storytelling.
Before we started writing we asked a lot of people why the existing books on storytelling and presentations did not give them what they needed. What we found was that even the best books focused on what to do, but gave little guidance on how to do it. The examples they used usually showed the end result, and not the work to get there. So we built our book around a number of worked examples that show how to use the techniques from start to finish.
What’s the most common mistake people make when trying to create a presentation?
Most business presentations have a very specific goal, with people you want to influence to make a decision. The key is to make sure you can relate to the key people who make the decisions. Far too many presenters communicate what they understand best, which is rarely what the audience needs to hear to make the decision you want them to make. The most important thing is to understand the audience and create a story that appeals to them and has a sense of urgency so they do something about it now.
What tips do you have for how to develop a sense of urgency from the presentation?
The book highlights the common types of sense of urgency that work. For example, there’s government regulation, which has a tangible effect on many businesses. You also have seasonality, where there’s a right time to push a decision for a particular market.
Is it better to use positive or negative spin to create the sense of urgency?
It depends on the situation, and how you’ll be able to influence the audience. You need to look at all parts of the message, and ask yourself, “what am I adding to the communication by putting this in here?” Many of the most effective stories are often the shortest, highly relevant, and very focused.
What results have people experienced using your CAST method?
I have a team in Europe that’s been using CAST for 6 months. The time it takes them to create their presentations has increased, but the time to get to a result is now considerably shorter because they have a clearer focus and sharper message. The result is a lot less wasted effort and less miscommunication. That’s been the biggest difference. I have another great example in the US where the person now has much greater confidence in their abilities and regularly turns away from presentation software to deliver great presentations with stories and a whiteboard. There’s nothing unplanned in these deliveries, but they are very engaging.
What’s the most important secret about how to create more impactful presentations that everyone should know?
The biggest secret in the presentation world is that there are no secret shortcuts for success. Many books have been sold on the myth that they contain the secret ingredient. In reality you have to think specifically about each audience, to refine the message to focus on their needs, and build a story that is uniquely compelling for them. There is no shortcut. Just a need to focus on the one story that can change their world.
Find out more about the book here Stories that Move Mountains: Storytelling and Visual Design for Persuasive Presentations and follow the authors on their blog or their facebook page
A key staple of a design process is the review meeting. This mechanism is most commonly used to not only present and gather feedback needed for the next iteration of the work, but also to ensure that that what’s being created tracks against project goals and incorporates stakeholder requirements.
Here are a few valuable tips we’ve learned from our hundreds of review meetings:
1) Set the Stage
A successful review begins prior to a physical meeting. It’s important the person leading the meeting knows the answers to two essential questions and communicates them ahead of time: 1)What is the purpose of the meeting and 2) Is there is anything participants need to bring or look at ahead of the formal review?
Next, determine the best way to gather feedback. Does it make sense to present all work first, or gather reactions throughout the presentation? New or more conceptual review material often requires a full walk-through. Material that has evolved or is familiar to participants can be sent to them at least an hour ahead of the meeting, allowing them to formulate initial feedback.
At the outset of the meeting, the leader should reiterate the purpose for the review, offer an example of the type of feedback that is being solicited, and let participants know when in the meeting it will be appropriate to chime in. Ask participants to eliminate distractions by holding the meeting in a quite space away from incoming phone calls or email. Disruptions can cause your meeting time to run over or appear disorganized.
2) Limit Participants to Core Stakeholders
First and foremost, make sure all key stakeholders can attend. Although it’s tempting to invite all those interested to the meeting, limit participants to those truly vested in the project’s success; this will mean your meeting is both productive, and conducted in a reasonable amount of time. We find that 3-5 stakeholders are ideal for a review meeting – feedback from additional influencers is encouraged but should be gathered outside of the formal review.
3) Updates the Work During the Review Session
When possible, making changes to the design immediately during the session helps the team ensure they are making the proper changes based on the feedback provided. It can also help clarify and confirm the specific changes desired.
4) Capture Live Notes
Capture notes lives on a whiteboard if all attendees are in the same room, or on a shared computer via web conferencing or a Google doc for remote participants. Capturing live notes helps participants to see and validate what is being heard, as well as resolves any feedback that is conflicting or unclear.
5) Offer Two Chances for Feedback
In many situations, it’s unlikely that all feedback is gathered and items resolved within the time constraints of an initial review meeting. If possible, sometimes it helps to have the reviewers give initial reactions to make sure the design is tracking to the goals of the project. Also, give reviewers a couple of days after that first meeting to go through the work internally, evaluate the details more closely, and consolidate all feedback before moving to the next phase.
6) Determine Clear Next Steps and To-Dos
Lastly, don’t forget to outline clear next steps and assign to-dos. No to-do is complete without the triad of an owner, specific task, and due date. Make a single participant accountable, even if they need assistance from others to accomplish their task. Assigning a specific due date to each to-do levels expectations for when the task will be accomplished, and also ensures your project moves forward in a timely manner.
What are your own tips for conducting a successful review meeting? Leave a comment and let us know!
XPLANE has long been a company committed to social good and establishing strong roots within the communities where we operate. As we re-emerge as an independent company, our commitment to dedicating time, resources and knowledge to programs and partnerships at local colleges, organizations and non-profits is stronger than ever.
In addition to existing partnerships with AIGA (to support social good broadly), and Creative Cares (matching non-profits with creative volunteers so that together they have a greater ability to tangibly change the world), we are excited to announce our most recent partnership with the Portland-based Pacific Northwest College of Art (PNCA). With more than a century of active experience, PNCA is one of America’s most innovative and fastest growing centers of arts education. Today, the college enrolls over 600 students in 15 undergraduate and graduate programs, and another 1,500 students annually through its continuing education programs.
In this partnership, we’ve been working with PCNA in four ways. The first involves Aric Wood, XPLANE CEO, serving as PCNA board member to support PNCA’s growth and leadership role in the development of art and design leaders in the Pacific Northwest. “XPLANE is extremely committed to fostering the creative community here in Portland,” said Wood. “We are always looking for new ways to get involved and make a positive difference and working with the talented, artistic students at PNCA made this partnership a perfect fit.”
Secondly is the research and design of a potential design incubator to drive the growth of creative entrepreneurship in the region. The initiative could connect PNCA, industry, and investors to turn innovative ideas into enterprises. Wood is working with a PNCA graduate student to benchmark comparable programs at Pratt, RISD, Eindhoven, and Harvard, and then prepare recommendations for a pilot that could succeed in the Pacific Northwest.
The third component of the partnership has been the development of the Masters of Fine Arts (MFA) in Collaborative Design program for the school to train design thinkers at a high level. In addition to consulting on the program’s curriculum, three XPLANE consultants are currently contributing to classes that foster creative practices and collaborative, experimental and interdisciplinary approaches to problem solving. The first class, Workshop and Brainstorming Facilitation, provides students with the tools to design, facilitate, synthesize and drive results from collaborative workshops. The second class, Capstone Research, provides students with best practices in conducting research as part of the iterative design process. The third class, Business Model Design for Creative Entrepreneurs, helps to evolve creative and design ideas to become enterprises. Each of these classes are taught onsite at XPLANE’s Portland headquarters.
The final component of the partnership is an internship program at XPLANE for undergraduates and graduates. The internship provides hands-on experience, enabling students to apply their education in actual business settings, while also augmenting and enhancing what they’ve learned.
XPLANE is committed to buillding a long-term relationship with PNCA to help foster creativity and innovation in the region, and support creative entrepreneurs in enriching both creative capacity and job growth in the region.
The Spatial Information Design Lab at Columbia University translates data into beautiful and compelling maps to communicate statistical information. See how they’ve used social media data, from sites such as FourSquare, to affect the design of future city services.
Our clients typically approach us to create a clear communication artifact or campaign to better explain their initiative, plan or product/service. But occasionally we uncover a “ready, fire, aim” problem in their effort to execute the project. During these times we apply what we like to call “The ABCs of effective execution –Alignment Before Communication.”
As is often the case in today’s accelerated, “execute or die” business mindset, we tend to push through to the execution phase, communication, without realizing everyone on the team (let alone the broader company or marketplace) isn’t on the same page as to what is happening, or most importantly, why?
A common example of this lack of alignment occurs when a client comes to us to clarify the value and benefit a customer receives during an engagement with them (what is typically referred to as “the customer journey”).
In attempting to clarify this value in a compelling way, we sometimes find the client team running into some fundamental misunderstandings amongst themselves. Sometimes the confusion is about what the true value is, as perceived by the customer. Or, we see the client back pedal to ask even more fundamental questions like, “Is the customer journey where we have the most issues, or the most to gain by improving?”
Without this alignment, teams or businesses increase the risk of slow adoption, misunderstanding and not achieving the desired results of the initiative or effort.
Through design thinking, co-creation and user-focused, visual approaches, teams are able to get “everyone on the same page.” And in using visual approaches this phrasing becomes literal, not simply figurative! The benefits of focusing on clear alignment at the outset include accelerated understanding of the strategy, improved decision-making and action, and increased probability of achieving the overall business objective.
So remember, don’t rush into the effort of execution (the making and doing part) before you’ve clearly achieved alignment with your team during the strategy (thinking and planning) phase of the work. Take measured time up front to ensure everyone on the team is on the same page and understands the objective and path to get to the goal, and all of your downstream communication and implementation efforts will be that much more successful.
Is it time to take your organization’s learning program to the next level? Or maybe you’re developing a learning program for the first time. Follow these tips and avoid the areas where companies typically get tripped up:
1. Start with business goals.
Launching new products and services…enhancing customer service…improving quality. Chances are your organization has similar strategic goals in place, and your learning program should support such initiatives. It may seem obvious, but start with a business plan:
- Make a list of the knowledge, skills, and behaviors you hope to instill in your learners.
- Then do a reality check—which are critical to your organization’s success? This will help you prioritize and decide how to focus your learning program.
- Develop a plan to measure the impact of your learning program against the strategic goals.
Don’t work in a vacuum! You’ll want to engage key stakeholders, gather input, and achieve alignment before you start developing your learning program.
As an example, I worked with a healthcare company to develop a leadership program for their managers. Leadership is an extensive topic, and we certainly couldn’t cover everything. The challenge was to focus on the elements of leadership that mattered most for the business. At the time, improving patient satisfaction was mission critical, so we designed a leadership program that would equip managers to drive success towards that goal.
2. Walk in the learners’ shoes.
A successful learning program is learner-centric, meaning it’s designed with empathy for the learner. Information is presented in a way that resonates with the audience and ensures they have a positive experience while developing valuable knowledge and skills.
How well do you REALLY know your audience? Before developing a learning program, spend time getting to know them as employees and as people. Understanding the whole person will help you design a more effective experience.
- What life experiences (education, work, cultural, family) do they bring to the table?
- What are their strengths? Weaknesses?
- What are their biggest challenges?
- What’s a “day in the life” like?
- What are their hopes, fears, dreams, and frustrations?
You’ll also want to plan for feedback to ensure the program you design and implement is meeting your audience’s needs. Getting their involvement dramatically improves buy-in success.
We recently partnered with a financial organization that was interested in helping college students improve their financial literacy, and thereby reducing the default rate on student loans. Based on our audience research, it was clear that presenting lessons on money management, credit and debt would fall on deaf ears. So instead we introduced those concepts within the context of experiences they were familiar with, like choosing a major, going out for the night, or planning a spring break trip.
3. Treat WHAT and HOW with equal importance.
Now you’re in a good position to start planning the learning objectives (WHAT will be learned) and the delivery format (HOW it will be learned).
Objectives state what learners should be able to do as a result of the learning experience (e.g. drive a forklift according to regulations). Learning objectives drive the content and activities in your learning program. They should be challenging and realistic and when achieved by the learner, result in achieving the broader business goals.
Does everyone need to learn the same thing? Probably not. Consider how your might tailor the program so people learn what’s relevant to them.
Then there’s delivery format. There are many options these days: e-learning, webinars, mobile learning, videos, games, social media, and workshops. Take into account these factors when choosing a format:
The complexity of learning required (e.g. is it basic skill acquisition or a complex behavior change?)
- The nature of the topic and learning objectives (e.g. mindset, behavior, skills)
- Learner preferences
- Work culture and environment
- Resources (time, money, people)
An energy company was revamping their business processes and systems, and asked for our guidance in educating employees on the new methodology. Through the discovery process we learned that there were multiple audiences, and their needs varied greatly. Some would need to know the “big picture” while others were more focused on particular aspects. Their work environments varied too, from offshore platforms to corporate boardrooms. Based on our findings, we designed a modular kit so the teachers could customize educational workshops and activities based on the audience’s work context and location.
What other tips would you add?
If you haven’t heard the good news already, please allow us to share! We’re excited to announce that XPLANE is once again an independently-operated company, re-establishing our US headquarters in the creative city of Portland, Oregon and European headquarters in equally creative Amsterdam, Netherlands.
XPLANE has worked with hundreds of Fortune 500 and smaller organizations for almost 20 years and this move allows us to serve our clients even better than before.
Aric Wood has reassumed his role as CEO; Parker Lee, former VP of sales and marketing, is now president; Rich Shawen, former CFO, and Dave King, former VP of client services, have both returned to their previous positions. Patrick Dodson and Drew Mattison lead the company’s business development team.
We are happy to be back and look forward to continued growth for years to come.
At XPLANE, we design experiences. To help us do that we use a number of iOS apps as digital capture and documenting tools in order to take advantage of instant sharing, collaboration and searchable content for archiving. Here are our impressions of a few that we’ve been working with.
Capturing and Presenting
Corkulous Pro ($1.99)
Love this application! This quirky and fun tool replicates a virtual cork board, complete with all the tools you’d use… tape, post-its, and flags with access to contacts, photos and other items. You can create and share a Corkulous file, or export a PDF version. Two reservations: importing a large number of photos does not scale, as the file size can grow to be very large. Also there is no way draw lines to link a number of ideas… if this, then that kind of thing.
Show Me (free)
Like tiny TED talks, Show Me is a tool that allows the users to record a talk, while drawing on the screen. Simple. The shows will be fairly primitive, but it is still a great way to share a quick idea (complete with notes) with colleagues. Think of it as a way to draw a quick post-it note and send it across country for a quick pitch.
Paper (Free, but ‘tools’ cost $1.99)
Paper is perhaps the most paper-like of apps. It beautifully replicates the “Moleskine effect” – of having a notebook handy. It uses the common iOS gestures like pinch and swipe well to create a natural effect. Multiple notebooks can be built, with an endless number of pages for each. These can be shared and sent through the normal iOS channels. This is mostly useful for that valuable white-noise brain time, when doodling can create some real ideas worth sharing.
SketchBook Pro (Autodesk $1.99)
This is perhaps the opposite of Paper in terms of complexity. It is feature-rich, with good use of iOS gestures (multi-touch, pinch etc.). Storable palettes of tools and colors make for a simpler approach. For a more complex drawing with layers and photos, this one’s worth a try.
Mindomo (free) is one of the many mind-mapping tools out there. Functionally just ok – most of the default layouts end up imposing some kind of structure that you may want to override. Mindomo also makes it difficult to post photos, as they need to come from a URL. Overall, still needs work to better enable sharing and organizing.
In this situation, pen and paper still rule.
To help solve our client’s challenges, our team of consultants and designers use a variety of traditional and non-traditional tools. How do these compare with the tools you use? Please share. We’d love to hear.
Roel is a Senior Consultant at XPLANE with more than 15 years of experience in consulting, branding, and design. Click the image to expand his Xmap, an infographic view of his professional life.
See how a simple infographic played a pivotal role in changing peoples’ minds on slavery in the 18th- and 19th-century fight against slavery. The intelligent and visual way the cutaway chart of the 18th-century Brooks slave ship conveyed information made it an unusually resonant form of anti-slavery propaganda. As strategic information designers, we were inspired and appreciative of this piece of work.
By Traci Jones, Senior Project Manager at XPLANE.
The operational success of a business is ultimately about successfully executing projects, where a project is defined as having a starting point, a clear target outcome, and a series of activities to generate that outcome. When projects are completed on time, within budget and have successfully met expectations, it becomes second nature to simply continue with the status quo and quickly jump to the next project. It isn’t until a project fails that attention is turned to the question of what could have been done better/faster/smarter to avoid this outcome. In both cases having a retrospective after the project is completed is a great way to ensure that what worked continues, and what didn’t stops.
By implementing project retrospectives on a regular basis, you can expect these benefits:
- Employees shift to a continual-improvement state of mind, rather than accepting project successes or failure as one-time events.
- Teams become empowered to change what didn’t work well and encouraged to continue what did.
- Even as project teams shift, best practices are spread throughout the organization
- Individuals take ownership for process improvement because they are owners of the discussion.
- Project retrospectives deal with real situations, not theoretical ones, making it easier for teams to resonate with the process.
- The retrospective process spurs innovation since teams are tasked with figuring out how to reach a workable consensus for future projects.
- Retrospectives that encourage high participation cultivate trust and teamwork.
- Provides a forum to acknowledge individual contributions to success.
Here are 10 steps you can take today to begin institutionalizing success:
- Think of the project retrospective not as a final step of the project that just ended, but as a prelude to setting up the next project for success.
- Frame the project retrospective agenda as a set of open-ended questions to answer. To what extent did we achieve the targeted outcome? What worked well? What could be done differently next time? How did the planned/budgeted hours/fee align with reality?
- Encourage all participants to be honest in their evaluations.
- Designate someone to serve as the facilitator to keep the meeting moving along and ensure that opinions can be voiced in an open, non-judgmental and blame-free environment.
- Create a “parking lot” to acknowledge and address (after this meeting) tangential comments that are raised.
- Take copious notes to document the findings from the meeting, and archive in an easily accessible way.
- Timing is everything. Memory of project nuances fade quickly so scheduling your project retrospective as close to project end will maximize the chances of catching the little details.
- Share. Brilliant ideas often, but not always, spread organically throughout an organization. To speed the process, garner buy-in and adoption from others, and build institutional knowledge, here are a few things you can do: A) post learnings on the company’s intranet. B) start new project kick-off meetings reviewing recent lessons learned. C) ask for time on individual practice group’s agendas to share the learnings. D) write an article about it for your company’s internal newsletter or blog
- Solicit feedback beyond the retrospective team (Do they agree? Why or why not?).
- Celebrate wins based on the retrospectives to encourage this behavior.
Did these tips work for you? Why or why not? Post your comments below.
By Stephanie Gioia, Senior Consultant at XPLANE.
“Brainstorming” is a dirty word these days. It conjures up images of people shouting out ideas, getting hit by unreliable bolts of “a-ha” lightning, and touchy-feely groupthink. We know that the following original tenants of brainstorming, developed by Alex Osborn in the 1940s, were somewhat flawed.
Social scientists and researchers can point to concepts like free riding, groupthink, framing and anchoring as detrimental to the creative process. Susan Cain sums it up in her article Rise of the New Groupthink: “People in groups tend to sit back and let others do the work; they instinctively mimic others’ opinions and lose sight of their own; and, often succumb to peer pressure.” It’s true. But the great thing about all this research is it’s taught us how to do brainstorming right – how to design group interaction for maximum creativity and results.
When it comes to generating new ideas, here are six principles, supported by what we know from research.
1) Don’t let your firestarter be an anchor
Consider the difference between asking a group, “What should we buy for Greg’s birthday?” versus, “How might we make Greg’s birthday amazing?” We call these framing questions firestarters. How a firestarter is worded (“might” vs. “should”, open vs. limiting) makes a huge difference in how your participants view the challenge before them.
2) Individuals, first; groups, second
Never start a brainstorm by opening the floor to shout out ideas. As social creatures, participants have a cognitive bias to anchor their thoughts relative to the first idea they hear. Start by asking participants to take a few moments by themselves to generate as many ideas as they can.
3) Make prolific specific
When brainstorming individually, everyone slows down at a certain point – the real magic happens when participants search beyond the initial set of ideas and dig for more. When participants begin to slow down, ask them to count up their ideas, divide by two, and then stretch to come up with that many more.
4) Use proper post-up form
Our tried-and-true method for sharing the ideas participants have generated individually is called a post-up. Participants take turns sharing their ideas, each written on a separate post-it, card or piece of paper. Say each idea out loud before posting it on a wall, limiting commentary just to clarifying questions. All ideas must be posted – no weeding out!. As you post up, affinity map the ideas, placing them close to similar ones. Even if your idea is the same as someone else’s, post it up – it helps the group detect patterns and trends. You may hear things like “I took a different approach” or “this doesn’t really fit with anything up here, but…” This is a good sign! These are ideas that wouldn’t have been vocalized if you had started with group discussion.
5) Encourage perspective-taking
The tendency at this stage is for participants to become possessive of their ideas – they’re so excited about the brilliant things they came up with, they can’t help themselves! Head that off with an activity that requires them to build on the ideas of others. We like to ask participants to pick a favorite idea that wasn’t theirs and build three new ideas that relate to it. The result is magical; participants lose their ego about their own ideas and start to get excited about someone else’s.
6) Use structure to evaluate ideas
Brainstorming is not just about divergent and emergent idea generation. There are many methods for closing a brainstorm, from dot voting to an impact/effort matrix to the NUF Test (Gamestorming outlines these and other closing exercises). A structured activity reduces the influence of emotion and personal judgment, keeping participants focused on objective evaluation criteria rather than arguing.
By applying these six principles to brainstorming in your organization, you’ll find you avoid the groupthink, free-riding, and lack of critical thinking that can plague so many ideation efforts. Give it a try and let us know your results!
As you probably know, XPLANE is now Dachis Group. We are integrating everything as the year closes out — xBlog included.
On the heels of our post celebrating 4,383 days online (that’s 12 internet years!), I want to let everyone know that we’ll be importing key posts into Dachis Group’s Collaboratory blog, and we’ll continue publishing our thoughts and work on visual thinking there. In fact, my first post went up yesterday and other XPLANE alumnus have started blogging there as well.
We won’t be transferring all 8,333 xBlog posts. So many of them are outdated and linkrotted. But we will make sure key posts redirect to their new homes on the Collaboratory and all other posts don’t 404.
It has been a wonderful, amazing, enlightening ride here at xBlog, from hand-coding it starting in 1999, to embracing the first release of WordPress .7 in 2003, to today — a world where blogs are more than commonplace — they are ubiquitous. I don’t know that I could give a better rundown than I did for last year’s 11th anniversary, so if you want a trip down xBlog’s memory lane you can read it here.
Blogging has been core to me and XPLANE for a long time and we’re not going to stop. I truly hope XPLANE’s fans and xBlog’s readers will continue to follow our work as Dachis Group. We’ll still be doing that visual thinking thing, just as we have been for all these years, only now we’ll be bringing to it many more people and businesses.
So on behalf of xBlog… so long, and thanks for all the links.
See you at the Collaboratory.
November 19, 2011