Connecting the dots - my talk at Frontiers of Interaction 2012, Rome

I was honoured to be ask to speak at last week's Frontiers of Interaction conference in sunny Rome, Italy. A video will be available soon, but in the meantime, here are my slides with notes summarising my talk.

Connecting the dots - Frontiers of Interaction 2012

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johanna kollmann

As designers, developers, entrepreneurs, we have to find creative solutions, make decisions, see the bigger picture. I've been reflecting on my ability to connect the dots, to see connections that were not obvious, and how my skills and practice impact how I decide what to do next.

My current experience at

Sidekick Studios

inspired this talk. Sidekick do their own startups, and offer consulting services that embrace a design-led and startup-inspired approach. Leading one of the ventures allows me to combine the things I love and put them into practice: User Experience, Systems Thinking, Agile and Lean Startup.

During the last months working on League of Meals, we had our ups and downs, big learnings, and decision points. When do you persevere, when do you pivot? What impacts how I navigate uncertainty in a fast-paced enviroment with time and budget constraints? Reflecting on myself, and on our team's collaboration, I read up on cognitive psychology, abductive reasoning, and creativity. I found that three things impact how I decide what to do next.

1) Toolkit

How we approach a creative challenge, how we make sense of the world is influenced by the tools we pick up as part of our education and work, from others, from literature, from blog posts.

Tools like

affinity sorting or the

KJ technique

are about getting things held in your brain (like ideas, research data, etc) out on index cards quickly. Lay them out, see connections, create groups, label the groups, create hierarchies, prioritise. An approach that helps me to see through the data.

Experience mapping

and tools like a service blueprint have taught me the value of organising insights, features, etc. on a timeline. Understand and abstract human behaviour, think in scenarios, map out interactions.


rich picture

is a tool I picked up from systems thinking, specifically Peter Checkland. I'm explaining it a bit more in this talk. A rich picture invites you to map out all the actors and stakeholders in your system or business context: customers, colleagues, partners, organisations, databases, etc. By encouraging you to think about their roles, motivations and goals, it's a great tool for looking at a situation from a different perspective, a tool for empathy. How are all actors connected? Where are (potential) conflicts? What happens if you change the system eg by drawing a new connection? It got me thinking more about how things fit togehter, and how a context looks different for everybody within in.


business model canvas

by Alexander Osterwalder is valuable to me because it brings different perspectives - customer and business - together. It helps me to combine empathy for people with a better understanding of how a business delivers customer value.

Lean Startup and customer development

are grounded in learning. Build - get your idea out there quickly. Measure - expose it to customers, capture feedback. Learn - reflect on the information you have now, and decide what to do next. It has given me a framework, a more structure approach to capture what I know, what I assume, and what I need to know; then I decide which tool and approach are most suitable. Applying Lean Startup has also encouraged me to keep learning and pick up new tools and perspectives, eg. cohort analysis.

In his book, Scott Page

describes how our ability to apply different tools and perspectives to a situation is key for finding creative solutions. I find that the more perspectives I add to my toolkit, the better my problem-solvind skills get.

2) Collaborate

A 'Balanced Team' is diverse in background and skillset. Amongst them, members should know about user experience and design, product strategy, marketing, business, technology, and more. These different perspectives can enhance the quality of work. I've seen the magic happen when reviewing sketches with developers, when mapping out a customer journey with retail store employees, or when being asked the best questions from a business-savvy mentor.

This is diversity, but

Scott Page

also writes about a different one:

cognitive diversity

. I'm a kinetic, a tactile learner, and the tools I pick reflect that. Moving index cards around, putting brown paper on walls, going for 'walking meetings' instead of sitting down, doodling while I think. Collaborating with people that have different cognitive tools to you can be challenging, but so worthwhile. Are you a visual thinker or a word person? Are you comfortable jumping into making and doing, or do you need time to research and quietly get your thoughts in order first?

I feel we do not really consider our own and others' cognitive preferences and needs. Reflecting on myself and observing others has helped me understand where they are coming from, and I aim to be more open to perspectives I don't feel comfortable with.

Collaboration is hard, sharing a vision, a common goal helps us to harness our differences rather than resulting in creative conflict.

But why do we identify with a vision, share a goal, believe in a company?

3) Values

Values represent our guiding principles: our broadest motivations, influencing the attitudes we hold and how we act (

Common Cause Handbook, 2011


The Common Cause handbook groups values into intrinsic and extrinsic values. We all hold all of these values, we just weigh them differently. Values are contextual; our actions can be fairly divergent from our dominant values. I have personal value conflicts: I want to show less ego and value self-accptance, however I seek out peer approval. As a business, we have an intrinsically motivated mission, but framing what we do in order to attract clients or investors might require addressing external values.

At League of Meals, we took time to share reflections on our personal values, and how they impact both they Why and the How of what we're doing. Which helped us to align, and decide what to do next.

So, in a nutshell:

  • Enhance your toolkit and explore new perspectives.
  • Seek out people who approach things differently to you.
  • Reflect on what grounds you.

As always, I'd love to hear your thoughts and feedback.