We say we value innovation and creativity…but do we?

It shouldn’t be a big surprise to anyone reading this that the uncertainty of something new and innovative creates a feeling of risk, and can discourage the pursuit of a creative option.

Some research from 2012 (The Bias Against Creativity: Why People Desire but Reject Creative Ideas) delves into that further.

“Prior research shows that uncertainty spurs the search for and generation of creative ideas, yet our findings reveal that uncertainty also makes us less able to recognize creativity, perhaps when we need it most.”

Via the New York Times,

“People actually have strong associations between the concept of creativity and other negative associations like vomit and poison,” said Jack Goncalo, a business professor at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. “Agony was another one.”

A new study shows how people unfavorably evaluate others who are described as being creative. It appears that even the mention of their creativity (as opposed to experiencing it directly) was sufficient to cause a negative assessment of the creative person.

Like many biases, being aware of their existence can be a first step to addressing them, but like many biases, their baked-in nature can make for a significant challenge to overcome.

Watch Steve on The Service Design Show

Thanks to Marc Fonteijn for having me back on The Service Design Show. The one-hour episode is embedded below and can also be found on YouTube.

User research - what to do when your company doesn't get it / Steve Portigal / Episode #127

Everything in service design starts with user research. But as you’ve probably experienced often it’s challenging to get the time and resources to do proper research.

And when research is already being done by an organisation it’s often not the type of research that we’d like to see.

It can be frustrating to see that user research isn’t making the difference you know it can.

So what does it take to push user research beyond it’s current limitations?

Author and industry icon, Steve Portigal has been thinking about this topic for some time now.

I invited Steve (back) on the Show to share his thinking and together explore what it takes to take user research to the next level.

And also ask the question: What is that next level in the first place?

Without proper user research you can’t do good service design. So it’s our job to make it more relevant and impactful.

This episode will show you how.

Listen to Steve on the Nodes of Design Podcast

Thanks to Ravi Tej for having me on the Nodes of Design podcast. The 35-minute episode is embedded below and can also be found on the podcast site.

In this episode, Steve shared wonderful insights on user interviews and why we do user interviews in design; we then discussed the framework of interviews using which we can gain great insights from users and few tips on actively listening and note-taking during interviews. In the latter part, Steve recommended five do’s and don’ts that designers/researchers must avoid while doing user interviews

Video of my Delta CX AMA

I recently did an Ask Me Anything session organized by Debbie Levitt of Delta CX. The video is now online.

23 Mar 2021: Office Hours/AMA, special guest Steve Portigal

We went for about 75 minutes and talked about learning to balance all different pressures when leading an interview, encouraging teams to support the need for research, helping teams to act on user research findings, and a lot more. Check it out!

What you asked/What they heard

In this video from 2016, basketball player Taurean Prince, in a post-game press conference, responds to a question about the team’s rebound performance with an explanation of how rebounds work.


I can’t tell from this clip if there’s an actual miscommunication or if Prince is being intentional, and for my purposes here, I don’t suppose it really matters.

It’s not uncommon to ask a question and get an answer to a different question, and while it can throw the conversation off, it can be a visceral reminder that we have different basic assumptions and that we need to work to overcome those, to bridge that gaps. Those miscommunications are awkward but they invite us to make the effort to realign.

The other day I met with a group over Zoom. As happens on video meetings, people adjust their video to communicate something about themselves, manage their privacy, etc. One person stood right in front of a heavily blurred background. Another was in front of a block of color with their company logo in the corner. Another person was clearly in a garage converted to a home office, and one person was in front of (what I assumed was) a painted scene, perhaps from some artwork. We each took turns introducing ourselves.

When we got to the person with the painted scene, I asked a followup question: “Can I ask about your background?”

They proceeded to describe a bit of their educational experience and how it led to the nickname that they go by nowadays.

My question should have been “Can I ask about your Zoom background?” but what they heard was “Can I ask about your personal background?” Given the nature of a video-platform-mediated conversation, I had forgotten that what they are showing of themselves doesn’t actually match how they see themselves (e.g, if they have turned off self-view, they aren’t even seeing that painted scene themselves).

I was mortified because the question they heard might have been too personal, perhaps asking them to explain or justify an unconventional nickname. I’m curious, of course, but I also have no right to start asking personal questions in the first few minutes of meeting someone! This is not how I want to start off our relationship!

I laughed in embarrassment, and tried to create a teaching moment, modeled by me and my own mistake, but even explaining that I asked the question poorly, the other person felt apologetic for misunderstanding me! Perhaps we established some rapport through this misunderstanding, if I’m idealistic I can imagine that we both worked together to find our shared space of understanding after this mistake (my mistake, for sure!).

The answer, by the way, is that what I assumed was “art” was an image from a video game. Of course video games can be art!

How Garfield Helped Me Make Peace With a Culture in Decline

I really enjoyed this thoughtful (and gentle) analysis (NYT, Archive.is) of Garfield, brands, culture, consistency, and nostalgia. Despite the proliferation of arch/snark Garfield remixes, the author considers them authentically.

Little did I know that iteration would become the dominant model of 21st-century entertainment: beloved intellectual property endlessly spun off, rebooted and crossed over; culture not as a series of works but as a constellation of reliable draws. It is true that I am getting older, but it is also true that culture can get worse: less surprising, more reliant on references and brands, familiar to the point of revulsion. I worry that I have witnessed these changes in my short lifetime, although I cannot really know. As a hedge against uncertainty, Garfield variants offer a course of conditioning.

Listen to Steve on the Enterprise Product Leadership Podcast



Thanks to Daniel Elizalde for having me on the Enterprise Product Leadership podcast to talk about user research, especially in enterprise and industrial organizations. The audio (51 min) is embedded above, and available on the episode page.

We discuss the complexities of doing user research in a B2B context, the challenges of getting access to users, the need to understand customers’ pain (as opposed to only focusing on usability), and how to influence your organization to conduct more research. Steve also shares his advice on how to build a practice that encourages ongoing user research.

Topics

  • Steve’s career background and the work he does today as an experienced user researcher
  • What a user researcher does and why it is important
  • Invaluable tips for user researchers
  • Why companies struggle to understand their customers’ challenges
  • How a company can become more user-centered
  • How to enable a culture that empowers everyone
  • Why you may want to bring on a user researcher or an external expert
  • The nuances of being a team player and contributing to the success of the company
  • How to challenge baseline assumptions to move forward and grow as a company
  • The differences between B2C and B2B user research
  • The challenges of user research (and how to overcome them)
  • Why user research is not only incredibly invaluable but needs to be figured out for your company
  • Why culture is critical to research
  • How to support leaders in helping transform the organization’s mindset into a customer-centric culture
  • Proactive vs. reactive research

Tips

  • Keep in mind user-research is a skill. You can read about it, take classes, listen to podcasts, but you also have to practice.
  • Practice can include: knowing when to do research, knowing what research to do, how to go about actually doing the research, learning how to leverage the research that you’ve done, and learning how to help others understand the research.
  • And be sure to give yourself the chance to get better. All of this takes time. Be compassionate and understand that research is not just binary; there are many, many facets of it.

Frederick Wiseman on observing natural behavior

This wonderful profile of documentary filmmaker Frederick Wiseman confirms my own experience with this frequently-asked-question about user research.

“There’s a whole issue as to whether the camera changes behavior — the pretentious way of talking about it is, ‘Does the Heisenberg principle apply to documentary filmmaking?’ — but in my experience, 99.9 percent of the people don’t act for the camera,” he said. “My explanation for that is most people aren’t good enough actors to become somebody else. Not everybody’s Meryl Streep. And when people are uncomfortable or putting it on, so to speak, you instantly know it.”

How William Gibson keeps an eye out for possible futures

From an interview with William Gibson last year for the Mother Jones podcast.

You’ve always had an uncanny ability to write about technology that doesn’t exist or certainly isn’t widely known, but that then comes to the fore. Do you study cutting edge research or are you just a time traveler come to warn us like Wilf [Netherton, a character in The Peripheral and Agency]?

No, I’m lazier than that. I just walk around. And when I’m my normal human self, and not actually sitting at a computer writing fiction, I walk around with sort of an eye peeled and looking for little bits of new stuff, or sometimes old stuff that we’ve sort of forgotten about, but that could, if it got into sufficient circulation, really change things. I see that as often how technological change happens. It’s never the stuff that the people who invent the technology or develop the technology think is going to happen. That’s never the stuff that causes the big change. It’s stuff that nobody anticipates.

Check out Steve on the Brave UX podcast

Brave UX: An interview with Steve Portigal


I enjoyed the chance to speak with Brendan Jarvis for his Brave UX podcast. The 67-minute episode is embedded above, and is on YouTube.

In this episode…

  • How Steve’s adapted his practice in recent years, as a result of industry changes
  • Why should researchers stop focusing on problems and start focusing on people?
  • What’s important for user researchers to remember about bias (their bias)?
  • How can researchers overcome resistance and level-up their impact?
  • And why does Steve have a museum of foreign groceries in his home?

Series

About Steve