The Journey to Yes!

I’m thrilled to announce that I’ll be presenting at this year’s

Our talk is entitled The Journey to Yes and was inspired by years of working with clients in all sectors and a variety of cultures, all facing challenges in trying to get buy-in, and by extension, influence great design.

We believe that empathy, patience, and communication are the key to getting stakeholder buy-in. Luckily, designers are already well equipped for this task! This talk will help designers sharpen their communication skills by providing 1) essential business frameworks from strategy leaders Stephen Covey and Charles Krone; and 2) conflict resolution and assertion techniques such as fogging, broken record, and negative assertion found in behavioral psychology.

Thank you to the organizers and sponsors of the Summit for this wonderful opportunity to share ideas that I believe will go a long way in helping IA’s move the conversation within the design process to that next level.

The Journey to Yes

View more presentations from Alla Zollers

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Next Steps In The Conversation

Four years ago, almost to the day, I started my own company on Information Architecture. In building my consultancy, I began to think about how to differentiate myself in the market and how to provide context about this new and emerging discipline to the business community. To this end, I leveraged the medium of podcasting.

After a few shows, I had shared: research on e-learning, cognition, and behavioral psychology; interviewed then IBM’s Mike Moran on SEO; and, had a discussion with Boston-based independent Information Architect, Bob Goodman. I had no way of knowing, at the time, that this medium would allow me the chance to learn from a variety of disciplines and cultures around the world.

For the past three years, I’ve produced podcasts for the peer-written web magazine Boxes and Arrows, focusing most of my efforts in recording and the subsequent publication of nearly every presenter at the IA Summit in Miami (2008), Memphis (2009), and Phoenix (2010).

This work lead to invitations from Adaptive Path to interview presenters at UX Week and MX (an invitation I had to decline this year due to other business obligations); and the IDEA conference in Chicago.

In November of 2009 the creator of Johnny Holland, Jeroen Van Geel asked me to start a podcast series called Radio Johnny. Since its launch I’ve lead several conversations and have had the great fortune to find others like Daniel Szuc, Elizabeth Thapliyal, and Clifton B lead discussions on a variety of topics.

In 2011, I’ll be integrating my blog and my company site announcing new partnerships; highlighting what has been an incredibly successful start to workshops I’m leading with Kristina Mausser on IA, UX, and Writing for the Web; amongst other changes and initiatives that I will share at a later date.

Because of these changes I will no longer be producing the i.a. podcast but will be taking some of the more popular shows I’ve produced and migrating those to Radio Johnny.

I will also not be producing talks from the IA Summit this year, as I have done for the past three years on Boxes and Arrows. The 50-60 shows from recording to publication take 3 months of my time (volunteered) which I simply don’t have in 2011. Instead I will be trying to organize several group conversations which I will produce on Radio Johnny.

I’ve made a commitment to the IA community, recently being elected a member of the Board of Directors for the Information Architecture Institute, to help strengthen their service offerings and forge stronger relationships with other communities like the Interaction Design Association.

I have been truly humbled by the compliments of the design communities and designers around the world for my efforts in this one medium and hope that we continue to share ideas and insights that focus on possibilities and solutions.

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Presenting Memorable Ideas

I hate Powerpoint. Why? Unless I attended the presentation there’s little value in the slides provided. Ironically, the talks that stand out the most for me are ones where I have no memory of the slides, but the amazing stories told during the presentation.

I can’t recall most lectures in University, though one in particular stands out. It was a course on Social Psychology and Sports. The theme of the class was to better understand group dynamics, and the impact of an individuals’ behavior when immersed in groups or even crowds.

When the professor attempted to share an experience with the class, he did so by example bringing in physical objects like gloves, pads, or other sporting equipment for student volunteers to don and in slow motion had them reenact the events from that day in sports history.

In a recent conversation with David Farkas he shared his belief that the design community needs to focus on become better at presenting. Yet with all of the data online about how to become a better presenter there’s little understanding of what motivates adults to learn.

There is a saying in India, “When a pickpocket meets a saint, all he sees are the pockets.” Our motives shape how we see the world; all attention is selective and what matters to us most is what we automatically scan for. Someone who is motivated to get results notices ways to do better, to be entrepreneurial, to innovate, or to find a competitive advantage.” Working with Emotional Intelligence. By Daniel Goleman
I began studying the work of adult learning theorist David A. Kolb back in 2001 in the creation of a Mcrosoft Certified Training program. He addresses four keys to engaging adults when delivering information / training effectively, including:

* Adults need to know “why?” they are learning something.
* Adults learn best when the topic is of immediate value.
* Adults approach to learning involves problem solving.
* Adults learn best through experiential learning.

Whether it’s training or giving presentations the core purpose is the same – to share ideas and experiences that will help others make wise choices in the future.

Yet how many presentations or training sessions have we all attended where the theoretical constructs fall short of helping us move our own thinking forward? As I’ve noted in the past, there’s a big difference between being a thought leader and having the capacity to lead other people to an agreed upon end state.

The same holds true when trying to facilitate understanding in others. It’s a different skill set. Having a wealth of knowledge in a specific area does not necessarily equate to an individuals’ capacity to facilitate understanding.

Keep your Powerpoint. Keep your mountain of statistics. Keep your theoretical constructs… but only if they address the key areas of how adults learn.

Your brand and name will only get you so far in any industry. Understand what is motivating others and then communicate your ideas to others’ passions…not your own.

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Morgan Kaufmann and Follow the UX Leader

In addition to my incredible learning experiences with Rosenfeld Media, I have been engaged with one of the world’s leading publishers in the Human-Computer Interaction space, Morgan Kaufmann.

I’m thrilled to announce that we will be putting the names of all participants registered for our Follow the UX Leader workshops into a draw to win one of two books, donated by Morgan Kaufmann.

In the Information Architecture training course, Stop Searching. Start Finding. two lucky winners will receive a copy of “Keeping Found Things Found” by William Jones.

Tools and technologies help so that we spend less time with burdensome and error prone actions of information management (such as filing). We then have more time to make creative, intelligent use of the information at hand in order to get things done.

The result for us as individuals is better use of our resources of time, money, energy and attention. The results for organizations are better employee productivity and better team work in the near term, and more knowledgeable employees in the long term.

This book provides a comprehensive overview of PIM, which refers to both the practice and the study of the activities people perform in order to acquire, organize, maintain, and retrieve information for everyday use.

In the Writing for the Web course, Creating Web Content that Clicks! we will be drawing for one of two copies of Ginny Redish’s book “Letting Go of the Words – Writing Web Content that Works”.

Listen to a discussion I lead with author Ginny Redish on her book from a previous i.a. podcast

On the web, whether on the job or at home, we usually want to grab information and use it quickly. We go to the web to get answers to questions or to complete tasks – to gather information, reading only what we need. We are all too busy to read much on the web.

This book helps you write successfully for web users. It offers strategy, process, and tactics for creating or revising content for the web. It helps you plan, organize, write, design, and test web content that will make web users come back again and again to your site.

And in our last workshop for October on User Experience, People before Pixels two students will walk away with a copy of “Designing with the End in Mind” authored by Jeff Johnson.

Early user interface (UI) practitioners were trained in cognitive psychology, from which UI design rules were based. But as the field evolves, designers enter the field from many disciplines. Practitioners today have enough experience in UI design that they have been exposed to design rules, but it is essential that they understand the psychology behind the rules in order to effectively apply them.

In Designing with the Mind in Mind, Jeff Johnson, author of the best selling GUI Bloopers, provides designers with just enough background in perceptual and cognitive psychology that UI design guidelines make intuitive sense rather than being just a list of rules to follow.

Many thanks to Morgan Kaufmann for their generosity and for continuing to educate all fields about the importance of designing for people – first and foremost!

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Imagination and Moving the Conversation Forward

The ability to look beyond one’s own experiences and to learn from others; to dream of possibilities rather than limitations is essential for success in today’s global market.

In a recent IBM study of more than 1 500 CEO’s from 60 countries in 33 industries world wide…

…chief executives believe that — more than rigor, management discipline, integrity or even vision — successfully navigating an increasing complex world will require creativity.

Last week I published a conversation with User Experience lead at Comcast Intearctive Media in Philadelphia, Debra Gelman. We discussed many of the essential elements to understand when designing for children.

This discussion reminded me of the time I spent working with 2-3 year olds in a pre-kindergarten class. The program was called “Open Sesame” and allowed for children who were identified with cognitive impairments / difficult behaviors, an opportunity to experience a typical classroom environment to better prepare them for entry into the public school system.

What always amazed me about working with children of this age was their remarkable capacity to simply give any situation a try! Problems were seen as opportunities, and there was nothing that they could not create within the vastness of their own imagination!

I believe in order to develop the creative capacity in our future leaders, as IBM has shown is a must, not a nice-to-have; in a world obsessed with controlling the conversation and owning ideas, we should be asking questions such as “how do we design for a loss of control?” Or as Futurist Richard Seymour states, quite succinctly…

Because you can do it, you do it. We’re now at a stage in the 21st century where we don’t need to talk about what we can do, we need to think about what we should do.

However, in order for the conversation to shift back to what we should be doing, as Mr. Seymour illustrates, we need to start being conscious of the need to reconcile rather than compromise.

We need to ensure we understand the differences between critiquing versus that of criticizing insights shared by team members; as was illustrated beautifully at a recent UPA Boston event by Alla Zollers (@azollers) and Adam Connor (@adamconnor).

We must become better at communicating both online and offline!

If we can find the patience and strength to reconcile differences in experiences; open up and share ideas through creative processes rather than adding to an already overwhelming set of rules that restrict the flow of creativity; I believe we can start more conversations by saying “What if…”

Imagine working in an environment where people worked and shared with such passion as this young drummer? Do you think there could be any limitation with respect to what we could create? What if…we gave that a try for a little while?

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Creating a Corporate Culture of Creativity

I’ve had many discussions about the concept of leadership over the past few years with colleagues around the world; many of whom come from a range of backgrounds, experiences, and cultures that value different ideas about what it means to be an effective leader.

Alla Zollers recommended that I read the book Linchpins, Seth Godin’s latest book, noting the central ideas shared by Mr. Godin were the cornerstone of many of the things I have been writing, interviewing, and debating about within the UX community for the past several years.

As Seth Godin notes:

Do you remember the old American Dream? It struck a chord with millions of people (in the United States and in the rest of the world, too.) Here’s how it goes: Keep your head down. Follow instructions. Show up on time. Work hard. Suck it up. …you will be rewarded.
As we’ve seen the dream is over. The new American Dream, though, the one that markets around the world are embracing as fast as they can, is this: Be remarkable. Be generous. Create art. Make judgment calls. Connect people and ideas…and we have no choice but to reward you.
In short, be indispensable!

I’d like to offer a framework comprised of five central ideas I have used in a leadership position in every environment I’ve worked in for over a decade; while drawing a direct correlation to the five points shared by Mr. Godin.

* Everyone experiences a sense of individuality and self expression (Connect people and ideas.) – Ensure all team members understand their role and how they are contributing value to each project. Creativity is not born from a Groupthink. Differing ideas and passionate debate amongst team members should be encouraged.

* There is a capacity to express compassion to develop close relationships (Be generous.) – We are social animals. We need one another and rely on the respect and encouragement from our peers to stay motivated, ensuring we feel like a valued member of the team. Encourage the team to lean on one another and offer support whenever possible.

* A way of reacting with spontaneity, integrity, and integration exists. (Make judgment calls.) – Imagine a workplace where people could act on inspiration with team members who respect differing ideas with the ultimate goal of integrating the best of the best into new product or service offerings?

Policy and procedure is fine for coding and documenting; even a necessity one could argue. But how many innovative products or designs can you point to that came from following the exact same process again and again?

* There is a drive towards self-expression and creative experiences (Create art.) – Though it has been written about many times, we tend to lose the artist in each of us as we grow into adults. Yet children have this creative capacity in spades! As Ken Robinson outlined in one of the most popular TED talks ever given:

I heard a great story recently of a little girl who was in a drawing lesson, she was six…the teacher said she hardly ever paid attention but in this drawing lesson she did. The teacher was facinated so she went over to her. The teacher said “What are you drawing?” The little girl said “I’m drawing a picture of God!” The teacher said, “But nobody knows what God looks like.” The little girl said, “They will in a minute!”
Dave Gray and Dan Roam have noted several times at conferences around the world that you don’t need to be an artist to draw, whether you can paint like Van Gogh or not.

* There is an ability to reason and exchange ideas with others (Be remarkable.) – This idea is remarkable as many corporate cultures make it incredibly difficult to reason and exchange ideas with others.

Are you in an open office environment or is it “closed off” by cubicles? Does sending an email equate to being accountable in clearly communicating ideas or next steps in a project? Is there a respect amongst all team members, regardless of title, for ideas generated when solving problems?

Your physical work environment; relying on technology to communicate effectively; and a general lack of respect for others’ experiences and insights are three of the greatest barriers to be able to reason and exchange ideas with others, in my experience.

Would you rather work for a company that insists on creating a corporate culture of control and limited creative thinking…

Keep your head down. Follow instructions. Show up on time. Work hard. Suck it up.
…or would you prefer to wake up every day driven to create, inspire, and lead by modeling the behavior of…

Be remarkable. Be generous. Create art. Make judgment calls. Connect people and ideas.
It’s your choice.

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Evolving the UX Conversation

I wanted to share a way of thinking about the User Experience discipline that I believe will help us evolve the conversation to that next level with businesses, including:

* Perpetually evaluating our understanding of the tools and processes that make up our respective (and very similar) industries. (UX, IA, IxD, HCI, etc.)
* Move the conversation away from the merits of a specific set of tools or processes
* Ask better questions of users and the answers we capture beyond the data points
* Come together and recognize, as Jesse James Garrett pointed out at last years’ IA Summit, that engagement is our collective objective or end state.

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Masters of Failure

Failure. It’s a word that conjures up negative imagery of times when we’ve let others down, when products or services didn’t work, when we were unable to get a conversation started or resolve conflict. And yet without experiencing failure there’s no opportunity to learn and make intelligent choices in the future.

This video is a great example of how even the most influential leaders in a number of industries continually failed; and were told they couldn’t succeed by peers and thought leaders at different stages of their own careers.

Yet they looked at such set backs as an opportunity; learning from past failures; and creating experiences in their respective industries that have influenced actors, artists, leaders, athletes, and musicians for decades!

In Malcolm Gladwell’s most recent publication “Outliers” he notes that in order to be considered a true expert in any arena individuals need an enormous amount of devoted study and practice:

The emerging picture from such studies is that ten thousand hours of practice is required to achieve the level of mastery associated with being a world-class expert – in anything…In study after study, of composers, basketball players, fiction writers, ice skaters, concert pianists, chess players, master criminals, and what have you this number comes up again and again. Of course that doesn’t address why some people get more out of their practice sessions than others do. But no one has yet found a case in which true world-class expertise was accomplised in less time. It seems that it takes the brain this long to assimilate all that it needs to know to achieve true mastery.

So why are we so quick to associate ourselves with the tag line of “expert” when so much of what we are creating has never been attempted – on the web or in the new ways we are connecting with people in every corner of the globe.

Our collective inability to communicate is probably the single greatest failure for which we all need to be accountable. We are all overwhelmed with information, priorities, deadlines, schedules to keep; it’s no wonder we’re failing more often at tasks that were once easily accomplished with little to no stress.

Claude Monet used the same painting of the Rouen Cathedral to study the effect light and shadow has on the representation of any object during different times of the day.

Monet would sketch relentlessly before creating the hard lines that allowed him to see the final image. (charcoal sketch of the face below left).

I’ve always had a passion for art; from my earliest days in high school and continuing that interest into university where I took almost all of my electives in art history, painting, and figure drawing. (example of one of my sketches).

Click on images to see greater detail…

I love using art as a metaphor because it allows me to show others how every pencil stroke leads to the final result. It wasn’t done in a few lines or a couple of attempts. It took months of studying, learning how to see each object with my minds’ eye, being able to dissociate preconceived ideas about how an object should be formed – whether it was a figure, building, flower, etc. into its actual state.

The world has changed. Even the most commonly understood terms such as ROI are being challenged in the Information Age. People are struggling to find value in their own careers as companies and governments around the world cling to business practices that no longer work.

Become the leader we all long for by stepping up and sharing experiences and times when we failed to accomplish our own goals!

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FatDUX Eric Reiss on Leadership

FatDUXOn today’s show I chat with Content Strategist and Partner at FatDUX in Copenhagen, Denmark Eric Reiss about leadership in the age of information.

Eric points out that leadership isn’t about creating a buzz it’s about creating results. In essence a leader is someone you can trust to make a good decision on your behalf.

Younger people can do the job in many cases but they lack the experience to help them avoid pitfalls common to anyone starting out. Our experience in life determines our perspective and that perspective in turn shapes our unique reality.

This is a fundamental reason why we have a difficult time communicating effectively; we value different ideas based on experiences that shape what is important to us as individuals versus that which can be left undiscovered.

Eric discusses the work of Eli Whitney and the way in which he changed how we work during the Industrial revolution through the development of interchangeable parts. This in turn lead to the creation of products that forever changed the workplace from one of artisan to that of an employee in a factory.

In turn this lead to the advent of the corporate culture and to this day businesses discuss how to best motivate employees. We still talk about the “carrot” and “stick”. Prior to the industrial revolution there was just the “stick”. You had to do what you were told. Then with the creation of factories and different managerial styles, the “carrot” or rewards to motivate people came into play.

Eric argues that there needs to be a third element to the “carrot” and the “stick” – not quite sure what that might be but we need to start debating and thinking more about that element.

“If I haven’t experienced it, it can’t be true.” A mantra that many have, and yet holding fast to such a thought process prevents us from gaining new experiences and by extension improve our capacity to lead others.

The video below was a framework I shared with good friend and colleague in Philadelphia Michael Carvin @mcarvin about how to move the conversation away from the usual debates that force projects to compromise and lead your team back to a focus on those for whom you are designing.

Seek First to Understand from Jeff Parks on Vimeo.

User Experience has much more to do than the web! “Back in the day” Eric was the Assistant Director of plays at the Royal Theater. In one particular play the scene took place in Italy in an authentic old world Italian kitchen; yet no one could get into the scene, it just wasn’t working. Eric suggested they fry up some onion and garlic stimulating the olfactory senses of what it would smell like in a real Italian kitchen allowing both the actors, and during the live performance the audience, to feel as if they were literally in the old country. (Plus snack sales went through the roof!)

I suggest that the IAI and IxDA board members should find ways to interact with their members through video and engage with their members in a more human way.

Eric is helping to build EuroIA 2009 this year being held in Copenhagen Denmark at the Scandic Hotel. Speakers are flying in from 14 different countries; an event that is shaping up to be an incredible opportunity to learn from those both within and outside the Information Architecture discipline.

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Jamaica – A Model for the Global Community

Remarkable! If I were to sum up my experience in Jamaica to-date, remarkable would be the closest word to describe this incredible community. Simplicity of lifestyle; passion in the ideas shared and debated; and above all else a genuine respect for others make this country a model for the rest of the global community.

Zed Jamaica has brought myself and business partner from Digital Word, Kristina Mausser, down to present to local businesses on IA/UX, writing for the web, and social media. Having the pleasure of visiting with many in this beautiful community in my short visit thus far, I’m very excited about sharing experiences with local businesses…for reasons that have nothing to do with monetary gain.

There is a genuine desire to learn in this culture. Unlike many in North America who believe their title, position, or authoring of a book somehow implies that their knowledge is superior to others; ego is not a factor here. The ability to look at problems from different perspectives, to try new experiences, to learn from past mistakes, all are foundational elements for growth in any corporation, culture, or community; something Jamaicans have in spades!

I’ve had the pleasure of seeing both “old” and “new” Kingston. Jamaicans are both proud of their past and at the same time acknowledge a troubled history without reliving it. (Much in the same way Canadians honor our Veterans on Remembrance Day, “Lest We Forget”).

A beautiful and sobering example of this can be seen in “old” Kingston with this memorial to children killed during past violence in the city. When the water flows, it falls through the eyes of the child symbolic of the sorrow the community feels for the loss of their children.

Unfortunately this is the image that many in the world have of this country and nothing could be further from the truth. Yes there is violence in their inner cities but no more so than what one would see on CNN about such crimes in the United States or Canada. To focus on such issues misses an amazing opportunity to witness the strengths of the people in this kind and compassionate community; something we as North Americans don’t value enough.

Imagine a call center at AT&T or Rogers who had people with this character and genuine desire to help other people when they call in about a problem. Try and fathom a corporate culture in your own work where leaders passionately and respectfully debated ideas to ensure the very best products and services for their customers. This is the opportunity that exists in this beautiful country and one that I’m truly honoured to have the opportunity to experience.

In short, family and community matter most. I’ve seen this first-hand while spending time with Zed Jamaica’s Managing Director, Carlton Grant, seen below with his seven month old son, Jason. With a work ethic second to none, Carlton’s passion for his work never comes before the needs of his family. Character and class are the two words that come to mind in my short time speaking with and sharing ideas with this gentleman.

Thank you to Zed Jamaica and I look forward to the workshops and future opportunities to share ideas and experiences in a reciprocal way with all Jamaicans!

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