Experience, Commodities, and the American Dream

The psychic center of American social life has shifted from buying things to feeling them.

I’m struck by the implicit force that the “Experience Economy” has on value. When the value we derive from a good or service is inherently tied to our experience of it, this shields our ability to objectively assess its full worth.

For example, the value we assign to social media is a function of how immersed we are with its content (the experience). We don’t consider the opportunity cost of our time and focus. But is the value of Facebook really equal to the number of hours spent engaging with it?


How Motown built their success on a culture of creativity and collaboration

I’d always thought that Motown’s success was a combination of its talented stars and fortunate timing, but I only recently learned that much of its success was due to a mastery of the power of the team–loosely coupled, highly aligned. Everyone at Motown was empowered with a singular goal that they all collected around: to create hit records.

And the mindset and methods responsible for Motown’s huge success in its heyday are just as relevant today.

These methods allowed Motown to build a powerful culture that turned an $800 investment in 1960 into $20 million annual revenue within six years and produced some of the biggest hits and superstars of the 20th century.

But teams that want to generate their own success don’t need a Diana Ross or Smokey Robinson to make it work. Motown capitalized on its vision by following a set of first principles that will sound quite familiar:

  • Iterate rapidly through divergence and convergence
  • Accept failure as a necessary step to learning
  • Critique artifacts, not people
  • Scale through strong, service-based leadership


Personal update

I really enjoyed reading this article in the New York Times on how frustrated employees can actually lead to your biggest breakthroughs in innovation. Personally, the best work I’ve produced in my career has been born out of a combination of professional frustration, immense commitment to my team and purpose, and someone giving me the space to explore.

When we’re dissatisfied, instead of fight or flight, sometimes we invent. Frustration is the feeling of being blocked from a goal. Although it sounds like a destructive emotion, it can actually be a source of creative fuel. When we’re frustrated, we reject the status quo, question the way things have always been done, and search for new and improved methods.

And related to this, a HBR article published this week, “Digital transformation is not about technology”, struck a chord. In fact, this is sort of the thesis of my last year of work. Successful digital transformation requires a balance between purpose and change management. The technology you adopt is just icing on the cake. (more…)

Inclusion, joy, and superpowers

Abstract mural with a rainbow of colors, with two concentric circles flipped 180 degrees, creating a sense of dissonance

There’s currently a video circulating of a man with cerebral palsy dead lifting 200 pounds, followed by a raw outburst of joyful celebration from his friends and supporters.

Lifting weights like that is an incredible feat for any human, but the moment is made more special by the fact that the man only weighs 99 pounds himself.

Since most of us don’t live with cerebral palsy, and many of us aren’t exposed to anyone who does, this video offers a rare moment to challenge our assumptions about the limitations of that condition and connect to the people who experience it.

As I spend more time focusing on inclusive design, I’ve become acutely tuned in to noticing the way we celebrate small acts of inclusion: The gym teacher pausing to redo the hair of the young student in his class, Susan Boyle sending shocks through the audience, the student athletes who help an injured peer to the finish line.

They create joy for the individual, and for those around them. Creating a more inclusive environment generates community, compassion, belonging. (more…)

Design and motherhood

When I was growing up, I didn’t dream about becoming a designer. I enjoyed creating, exploring, communicating, but I always figured I would settle on a more conventional career. To be honest, I don’t remember having a strong conviction to be a mother either. Yet here I am.

I became a mom around the time I started my first full-time, in-house position. We moved to California 6 months after I started, and a week later we learned we were expecting. You can imagine this threw a wrench in my plans.

I had anticipated spending my weekends exploring the coast, mountains, and forests of my new state, to balance the grind of the week that was already burning hot. Suddenly, I found myself swapping hikes for doctor’s appointments. Instead of grinding, I bargained with my boss to let me work from home a few days a week.

This was a hard time in my life. I felt tired, undervalued, and anxious about my visibility in the company. Oddly enough, though, the experience of becoming a mother made me a better designer.

I share this because I’ve seen others express concern that becoming a parent will negatively affect their career. Certainly, there are examples of toxic companies that only want to hire 20-somethings with no children or worldly commitments (though why anyone would fund leadership with such short-sighted expectations is beyond me). Parenthood teaches you ways of thinking about, reacting to, and experiencing life that you can never understand until you’re in it.


Some recent favorites

The woman who gave the macintosh a smile

Susan Kare, the woman behind the original Macintosh iconography, is being awarded the AIGA medal today for her contributions to design. With our endless set of advanced design tools that allow us to manipulate pixels on the screen as if they were real, fluid things, her work is both impressive and refreshing. Her icons, constrained to 32x32px grids, are timeless, and continue to communicate volumes despite their references to ever irrelevant technology (floppy discs?). The images of her sketchbooks offer constant inspiration. (more…)