“Argyle Executive Forum is bringing together senior digital & IT executives from a variety of industry verticals for our biannual CIO Chicago Forum. Throughout a full day of content and networking, we will focus on the most pressing issues facing IT executives with regards to leading the business through digital transformation, with an agenda geared specifically towards Chief Information officers, Chief Data Officers, Chief Digital Officers, as well as Data/ Analytics/MIS VPs, Directors, and Architects in a leading role.
It is worth noticing that this event featured partners who we work with such as HP Enterprise, Thought Leader Sponsor, and IBM, Breakout Session Sponsor.
That talks to the criticality of collaborative undertakings as Digital Transformation becomes a pressing objective across industries, academia, public service and government sectors.
What follows is my notes and personal insights. While all the sessions and discussions were quite relevant, I would like to highlight the opening keynote, which set the tone and narrative of the event.
James P. MacLennan, SVP & CIO at IDEX, discussed “The Five Components of a Great Digital Strategy,” which addressed the fact that “Design Thinking”, “Human Factors” and a collaborative culture involving interdisciplinary workstyles and “Great Teams” have become of the essence.
Moreover, he stated that “a Digital Business” will only succeed when it understands hot to connect with people.” The “human element” and, therefore, “people centered” strategies turn out to be critical success factors.
I would like to add that this entails engineering a continuum of (a) stakeholders, who are all human personas by definition, and to do so across (b) UX (user experience) and CX (customer experience) domains.
This job takes (c) a holistic understanding of customer facing (front end) and resource facing (back end) elements forming a coherent end-to-end system. Otherwise, operational fragmentation will take a toll and will deny the intended DX benefits.
James’ presentation displayed the convoluted UI (user interface) shown in this picture to illustrate the paradox of well intended yet counterproductive implementations that negate transformation initiatives.
Here is another valuable insight coming out of Argyle’s Executive Forum: information technologies (IT) and tech and processes for operations cannot longer be worlds apart, which demands superb cross-functional teamwork.
Cognitive overload, deficient information architecture, and poor usability translates into: human error, risk aversion, costly budget overruns, missing or deviating from goals, so on and so forth.
Any and all of these issues combined can be silently impacting quality or, simply, just lowering the bar for a business to get through noisy and cluttered operational environments. That is hardly the stuff that operational excellence calls for.
Obviously, in the context of CX, customer satisfaction becomes harder and harder to attain and, more specifically, to get that effectively done in a consistent fashion.
Predictability and consistency are key objectives for any Quality Management program. If that scenario alone wasn’t troublesome enough, Customer Delight (rather than just satisfying agreed upon requirements) is Design Thinking’s ultimate performance indicator, which commands a premium clearly beyond reach under those circumstances.
Quality management wise, “satisfaction” is the fulfilment of expected specifications while “delight” is about great pleasure, or great satisfaction if you will. “Satisfaction” can be rationalized and is the acceptance ticket to be in business. “Delight” accounts for human affects (emotions) and is a powerful source of differentiation. Those who think that’s just about splitting hairs should take a pause and think twice because DX is set to enable game changing experiences on all counts and fronts.
Thoughtout the forum and session after session, Jim’s “Design for Humans” principle gained more and more critical mass as presenters and panelists discussed the reasons why we should be mindful of the user journey and how to best improve all touch points along the way.
In one of the panel discussions this became even more evident when the question on aligning people, processes and technologies pointed to difficult prioritization exercises. Note that there was immediate consensus on the need for putting people first and humanizing technology and processes by applying Design Thinking, a human centered methodology that is corner stone to the job of creative technologists.
That means projects that are driven by clear missions and specific experiential outcomes and lifecycles (Goal Directed Design) rather than just an I/O approach. It also means rapid experience prototyping and A/B multivariate testing to explore possibilities since Design Thinking is a serial innovation engine.
Chicago’s NPR station aired a rerun of “The Power of Design” this past weekend. The discussion was centered on “How Can We Design For A Better Experience.”
By the way, TED’s acronym actually stands for the convergence of Technology, Entertainment and… Design.
Interview with Tony Fadell, one of the main designers of the iPod (Apple) and founder of Nest (Google).
“Design begins by also noticing all those little problems that many ignore (…) we we though our lives accepting these design flaws that actually don’t improve our lives.”
“Steve Jobs challenged us to see our products through the eyes of the customer, the new customer, the one that has fears and possible frustrations, and hopes and exhilaration that the new technology can work straight away for them. He called it “staying beginners” and wanted to make sure that we focused on those tiny little details to make things work faster and seamless for the new customers.”
“There is this positive emotional momentum that builds on itself at each step of the process (…) when you hit a brick wall you loose all the momentum (…) and though away an entire great experience.”
“There are to halves to design, just as there are two halves to your brain, the emotional part and the rational part. If you want people to truly adopt your product it has to have an emotional component, something that grabs you (…) that unlocks your curiosity, it also needs to rationally work (…) because people see value beyond the sexiness.”
Interview with Joe Gebbia, Airbnb cofounder.
“Any time that you see duct tape in the world, that’s a design opportunity (…) it’s an indicator that something is broken, that something did not perform the way it was design to and that there is an opportunity to improve it.”
“Design is the key to (Airbnb) success (…) and as a competitive advantage, design is thing that can separate you (…) the next thing that can differentiate you. All things being equal, two comparable products side by side with the same technical features and components… you will be crazy to choose the one that is harder to use.”
“Airbnb’s design decisions not only made the service easy to use but it helped millions of complete estrangers trust each other (…) and open their homes (…) design is more than the look and feel of something, it is the whole experience.”
Thanking Troy Henikoff for a recent1871 walk-thru, which I joined as part of an MIT delegation. We first met at Techstars Demo Day back in 2014. Three years have gone by since, Troy is now a Managing Director with Math Venture Partners, an early to growth-stage fund focusing on entrepreneurial undertakings featuring “an unfair advantage in acquiring and retaining customers to produce outsized returns.” Here is a sample of Math’s portfolio.
1871 is a digital startup incubator and is positioned as Chicago’s premier center for entrepreneurship in the tech sector. Techstars is a startup accelerator and, as pointed out above, Math Venture Partners is an investment firm.
Long story short, 1871 is first and foremost optimized as a community environment. The underlying supporting framework provides collaborative workspaces, training focusing on design, technology and business, which includes senior mentorship, incubators and accelerators. All of these opportunities are available following the under-one-roof collocation practice downtown Chicago.
“What is 1871? The story of the Great Chicago Fire of 1871 isn’t really about the fire. It’s about what happened next: A remarkable moment when the most brilliant engineers, architects and inventors came together to build a new city. Their innovations — born of passion and practical ingenuity — shaped not just Chicago, but the modern world. What started 140 years ago continues to this day. Come to a place where you can share ideas, make mistakes, work hard, build your business and, with a little luck, change the world.” – 1871
Matter is 1871’s neighbor and Chicago’s healthcare startup incubator. As shared in this Chicago Tribune’s article, Chicago has major hospitals, medical schools, pharmaceutical and device companies, a powerful healthcare hub which Matter seeks to galvanize by supporting entrepreneurial initiatives and innovative tech.
Chicago’s area is also home to leading institutions such as University of Chicago, Northwestern University, Loyola University Chicago, The Illinois Institute of Technology, and DePaul University just to name a few. So, academia and industry intersect to take advantage of talent and business opportunities.
My personal interest in environments such as 1871 has to do with a “give & take” experience. Born in Hispania and back in the distant Roman times, Seneca the Younger believed that we are learning even more when we share knowledge that we might already posses. Basically, he was talking about Human Factors and Information Interaction: a virtuous feedback loop kicks in when we strive to articulate thoughts and structure conceptual frameworks to better convey insights. That, in turn, springs new thoughts.
I pride myself about having developed a mix of creative and in-depth expertise on innovation practices thanks to a fortunate interdisciplinary career spanning 20+ years already. That personal belief is backed by specific achievements and, admittedly, some disappointments, both having delivered teachable moments worth reflecting upon.
So, in a “give and take” scenario, my “giving” has to do with sharing know-how and synthesizing relevant advice to entrepreneurs, which I have been able to provide by joining Dr. Moises Goldman’s 1871 mentoring sessions on several occasions.
Going back to Seneca the Younger’s thinking, in exchange for volunteering my time (and whichever insights I can provide) I always get to “take” away valuable experiences back home with me such as:
(1) a sense of great satisfaction and fulfillment that comes from helping others in a meaningful way,
(2) a contagious entrepreneurial spirit that one can instinctively embrace in discussions driven by passion and determination,
(3) their combined positive impact in my own work since they re-energize my thoughts and goals.
My grandma used to remind me about a Spanish saying that translates into “tell me who you walk with and I’ll tell you who you are,” which might equate to “birds of feather flock together” in English. In any case, and leveraging Human Factors again, social and professional networks can be graphically depicted by nodes (individuals) and links (relationships), which can carry information such as reputation and influence levels, as well as information dissemination paths. So, I’m glad to count those who I interact with at 1841 as part of my network and can only hope that this is a mutually beneficial relationship.
“Inventing the Future with a focus on groundbreaking innovation, Nokia has been a catalyst for the world’s most powerful, game-changing technology shifts. We are committed to innovating for people and developing new technologies and solutions for the world we live in. With our Technology Vision 2020, we are helping operators deal with extreme traffic growth, simplify network operations and provide the ultimate personal gigabyte experience.” https://networks.nokia.com/innovation
Last month I joined the Chicago’s Science Fair as a judge in the Computer Science category. I am glad to share that received a plaque for my fifth year of service. Then, just a month later, I found myself on the other side of things as a contestant at Nokia’s Innovation Event in Espoo, Finland.
This year’s competition registered about 500 submissions worldwide. LeanOps qualified among the Top 3 Finalists in the Product & Solution Innovation Category. Ted East and I made the trip from Chicago to present on behalf of the team. We all were happy enough with LeanOps’ Finalist position. Moreover, any of the other finalist and shortlisted projects deserved being recipients of the first prize anyway. That speaks to Nokia’s renewed ingenuity and technical prowess.
But, those of us scheduled to be on stage could also feel the kind of mounting pressure that comes from making the most of this sort of high visibility opportunity. So, Ted and I spent a considerable amount of effort crafting and improving our delivery until the very last minute. We had the benefit of invaluable coaching and genuine advice while gearing up for this event. That should not be taken for granted and, therefore, we are humble and grateful for it. The fact is that Barry’s, Fabian’s, Kelvin’s, Corinna’s and Tuuli’s consideration and words of wisdom paid off. We came back home with the First Prize and our gratitude should be extended to everyone making this year’s event happen. My apologies for not having listed everyone’s names here.
Communicating science and technology is a challenge: any of us can risk alienating audiences willing to listen and individuals who would otherwise be excited about what our project entails. Information overload, convoluted jargon and failing to convey what the actual impact would be can jeopardize anyone’s good work due to lack of clarity. Moreover, it can compromise funding opportunities and drive collaboration and talented people away. So, it shouldn’t be hard to concur with Alan Alda, founder of the Center for Communicating Science at Stony Brook University, when he states that “science communication” is as important as science itself (watch min 01:20 onward):
On my own note’s cover page I always scribble a couple of Einstein’s quotes: “if you cannot explain it simply, you don’t understand it well enough” and “everything should be made as simple as possible, but not simpler.” The former reminds me about the negative effect of self-defeating complexity. The later cautions about the diminishing returns of over-simplification and nonsense. Audiences can spot either issue right away, which negatively impacts speakers’ credibility and reputation. Recovering from that bad impression becomes an uphill battle and, unfortunately, bridges can be also burned for no good reason.
Communicating science and technology works best when striking an equilibrium point with (a) a well structured flow populated with (b) meaningful and engaging information of interest that is (c) purposely abstracted at the right level for each audience. Admittedly, by being in Human Factors Engineering, I cannot help but thinking that Information and Cognition Theory principles which serve us well when addressing the design of UI, User Interfaces, also become of the essence in any activity where we happen to be the medium to disseminate concepts, achievements, possibilities, constrains and what’s needed to move forward with a given project.
There also is a need for working with visual communication that can effectively deliver far more information than what words alone would be able to. We created backdrops of infographic quality that helped set the stage at each step. Half way of the talk we played a short video clip that illustrated a key and differentiated project element.
Our discussion flow followed a basic creative brief breakdown, which covered: what, why, how, who and when and the Q&A section helped us provide the next level of detail. Long story short, relevant content of substance remains “conditio sine qua non” – which means distilling indispensable items down to need-to-know, anything you-cannot-do-without.
We also had an impactful demo station at the so-called bazaar area, which had been unveiled and praised by experts at Mobile World Congress 2017 back in March. Last but not least, full credit for this award goes to one of the best teams in our industry. These are craftpeople who put their diverse talent to work by solving new and hard problems and, most importantly, making stuff work in no time.
“The Contest is a four-stage competition designed to (1) encourage and inspire students to think about creating physical things, applications and applications that control physical things by encouraging them to seek to solve a real-world consumer and/or business need or problem that they have identified, (2) to demonstrate their creativity and inventiveness at solving this problem, (3) to provide an opportunity to earn a monetary prize and, for the noted limited time, free rent at a maker’s co-working space in recognition of their accomplishment.” – Illinois Institute of Technology, Jules F. Knapp Entrepreneurship Center’s Chicago Innovation Challenge.
I would first like to thank Donna Rockin, Executive Director at IIT’s Jules F. Knapp Entrepreneurship Center, for the opportunity to participate in this year’s Chicago Innovation Challenge as a judge in the Semi Finals.
This happens to be my eight engagement of this kind, having served twice as a judge at MIT Enterprise Forum and the Illinois Math & Science Academy’s Power Pitch, and five times at the Chicago Science Fair for Computer Science and Behavioral Science projects.
Competitions can be designed to deliver a systematic approach to producing high-potential innovations as pointed out by Wharton’s Christian Terwiesch and Karl T. Ulrich in their book on Innovation Tournaments.
I am fortunate to have experienced that outcome from three different perspectives as (a) an award winning contestant, (b) team coach and (c) in a judge capacity once again. My earliest involvement as a contestant started as an Industrial Design student competing at two EPSON’s research paper tournaments in Spain, and then General Electric Plastics’ product design competition and Honeywell’s Be Brilliant Scholar in Europe, which provided the scholarships funding my undergrad, post-grad and graduate degrees. Career wise, I am also proud of my three Bell Labs Entrepreneurial Boot Camps in the United States.
Innovation tournaments usually take several rounds of screening. The filtering process leverages check-lists structured under a well understood criteria. Some competitions are centered on identifying and developing talent, though most are looking for specific projects worthy of investment. The Chicago Innovation Challenge serves both objectives and leverages Startup Compete’s platform as an online process tool.
When judging, my most immediate task is identifying whether I am reviewing an invention or an innovation. Projects focusing on technical matters are typically discussing inventions. Those going further to address what it takes to put things in the hands of users, to seek to understand human factors and to look at what it takes to foster adoption become far more likely to qualify as innovations.
So, my probing questions are what is the project’s “signature experience;” why would that and any implied changes mean anything to stakeholders? moreover, what’s the expected impact for end users? and what specific paths lead to early adoption and customer engagements?
Beyond that point, I look for what’s clearly new and differentiated so that we can properly assess degrees of innovativeness and game changing capabilities ranging from incremental innovation to disruptive innovation. And while looking at the reasoning and working assumptions behind use and business cases is of the essence, it turns out that “human factors” such as individual talent, decision making style and the collective quality of the team are typically decisive when pondering success chances, which drives my rankings and prioritization.
I firmly believe that individuals should feel and be empowered to make a decisive difference, but it is teams, partners and collaborative workstyles what make things happen. So, it makes sense to ask if them all understand and agree on the project’s “soul.” Let me be precise, can the startup’s founders and any team members clearly articulate and passionately embrace the project’s essence and guiding spirit? Can they succinctly outline credible grounds to convincingly rally resources and make things happen… or are they just lost in space or drinking doomed Kool-Aid.
By the way, judges should understand that iterative advancements and even pivoting are common innovation management practices. Think Lean’s Kaizen, also known as Continuous Improvement . Therefore, providing balanced feedback on pros-and-cons matters most because going through several screening rounds means that most projects don’t obviously bubble up to the top, and yet, they should not be denied the kind of entrepreneurial spirit that doesn’t take a “no” or a “defeat” for an answer.
So, there is no room for putting down any project unless human rights and anyone’s quality of life were purposely compromised, e.g. don’t be evil. Regarding the winners, congratulations are in order, jointly with expectations on making the best use of any recognition, visibility and awards. No pressure there : )
”Ultimately, there’s only one way to learn to swim, you have to get wet. No amount of poolside calisthenics or video study can substitute for plunging in.” – Innovation Tournaments.
This year’s Chicago Innovation Challenge is my last activity as a Member of the Advisory Board at the Entrepreneurship Center, which I joined in 2014.
It’s been a pleasure to experience the dedication and commitment of everyone involved, and the positive and growing impact in our community.
I have also been lucky enough to be involved in IIT’s Real Time Communications Conference as a Chair of the Cloud Computing track in 2014 and 2015, which I have Professor Carol Davids of the School of Applied Technology and Conference Chair to thank for.
Last but not least, I need to express my gratitude to Dr. Moises Goldman, Serial Entrepreneur and Investor, and Nik Rokop, Coleman Foundation Clinical Associate Professor of Entrepreneurship at the Stuart School of Business.
Hope to cross paths with IIT’s community again I take this chance to convey my best.
I’m now gearing up for Informa’s Innovation Conference in New Orleans where I will be speaking on Thursday, November 15. See you there.
“Rapidly advancing technologies require humans to make critical decisions in increasingly dynamic and complex environment. Human factors studies human interaction with increasingly intelligent and automated engineering systems to address safe, efficient and cost-effective operations, maintenance and training” – Areas of Ingenuity – Human Systems Integration at NASA Ames Research Center.
“SVS works closely with scientists in the creation of visualizations, animations, and images in order to promote a greater understanding of Earth and Space Science research activities at NASA and within the academic research community” – Scientific Visualization Studio.