Posts tagged “solutions”

ChittahChattah Quickies

  • [from steve_portigal] Steve Portigal on "Discovering and acting on new insights about how people innovate" [Lift11 Conference] – [Nicolas Nova interviews me in advance of my presentation at Lift11 in Geneva in February. Thrilled to be part of it!] Q: I am always fascinated by people's creativity and their tendency to find solutions for their own needs. Is this something you A: I think the phrase “their own needs” is a crucial part of your question. Often we are asked to study people where we’ve been given a basic hypothesis of what people’s problems are, or even what the solution is going to be. Often what we end bringing back is some perspective about where our client’s products and services fit – or don’t – into people’s lives. Our clients are trying to innovate in spaces where people aren’t paying much attention, and while that’s challenging, it does help focus the problem a great deal! I’m continually fascinated by two different archetypes with people’s own solutions: the first is a massive tolerance for a non-optimized situations..The second archetype is a massive investment for a customized solution.

User experience and Indian cowboys

A few weeks ago I was driving to work and heard a story on NPR about an initiative to use cowboys to clear out the stray yet sacred cattle that roam the streets and marketplaces of New Dehli.

I thought the story was fascinating and wanted to post something about it, but I wasn’t sure which program or even which of several local NPR stations I’d been listening to.

When I did a quick search for the story, I couldn’t find it anywhere. What I did find was one of the best user experiences I’ve had on the Web.

Having trouble finding something? NPR can help you find a story or music you heard on an NPR program.

This was the promise on NPR’s Search page, but all I knew was the general topic of the story I was interested in, and the approximate time and location where I was driving when I heard it. I wasn’t too hopeful, but I filled out the search form anyway.


Three days later, I received this email (excerpted slightly):

Dear Dan,

Thank you for contacting NPR.

The piece you are referring to was aired on the public radio program Marketplace. Although heard on public radio, Marketplace is neither produced nor distributed by NPR.

Here is the link to the story you have requested:

For contact information, or to learn general information about the program, please visit

Hats off to NPR for understanding that many of their customers need to engage in the kind of follow-up activity I was, and for creating a straightforward tool to help us get what we want from the experience.

It seems simple, but in so many cases, companies miss these opportunities completely, or offer solutions that don’t work so easily and elegantly.

Some cows I often pass on my way to work

As far as the Indian Cowboy story itself, I find the tradition-meets-attempt-at-purposeful-change aspect intriguing, as well as the way a whole business model has formed around these cows and the way they’re positioned in the culture.

They belong to thousands of unlicensed dairies around the city that make an estimated $120 million a year selling milk and yogurt. The owners of those dairies let the cattle forage for themselves, taking advantage of a Hindu custom of feeding cattle as a spiritual good deed.

It will be interesting to see how New Dehli’s attempts to alter this complex set of relationships plays out.

Listening vs. Hearing

In Fast Company’s Green Guru Gone Wrong there’s a sobering examination of sustainability architect William McDonough and the work that he’s doing. I am sure this type of investigation is highly contentious, especially when icons like McDonough are revealed to be less-than-perfect.

But it’s interesting to note that some the project failures are tied to a dramatic lack of understanding of the current behaviors and future needs of target customers.

Shannon May smelled the rot firsthand. An anthropology PhD student from UC Berkeley who lived in Huangbaiyu for nearly two years, May first met McDonough in 2005, the year the project broke ground. But within several months, it became apparent to May that everything from the village’s overall design to its construction was deeply flawed. The homes were suburban-tract style with garages, despite the fact that only four of the expected 1,400 villagers had cars. The backyards were too small for growing feed corn or raising animals, which the villagers needed to make their living. But most absurd to her eye was the plan to use agricultural waste to fuel the biogas plant to power the village: leftover corncobs and stalks were the winter food supply for the cashmere goats, the area’s leading source of cash. Using them meant the goats would starve.

“I started calling Bill and telling him these things, and he would be very responsive and concerned on the phone,” says May, the blonde seen standing behind McDonough in Friedman’s documentary. “What troubled me was that it was as if he knew nothing about the way these people lived. And he seemed concerned, but then nothing would happen after these phone calls.” May says McDonough visited the village only twice while she lived there “for one or two hours at a time, and only when there was a video camera following him.” The supposedly $3,500 homes were costing nearly $12,000 to build, more than 10 times the villagers’ median income. By 2006, only two families had moved in, and they did so because their previous homes had burned down. Even then, they had to use antiquated heating rigs because the renewable energy systems didn’t work.

And even more interesting is that the failure isn’t about a lack of information about these customers, it’s a failure of process to integrate that information into the project decisions.

iTunes helps me help myself

I had to email iTunes the other day about an issue with my account. I composed and sent my message using their web-based contact system, and a little message box popped up.

The message said that since there was a chance iTunes’ response to my inquiry might end up in my Spam box, a test message would be sent within 15 minutes. If I didn’t get the test message, I was given several steps to take, including adding the iTunes email address to my contacts so that the real message would get through.

I’ve never had a site pre-troubleshoot like this for me, and I thought it was a really elegant and collaborative way of making sure I got the communication I was asking for. Nice job on this one, Apple.

It’s interesting to see workaround strategies like this evolving when things like spam filters–conceived as solutions–become problems.


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