Epipremnum pinnatum (refused entry sticker on box). (c) Forest & Kim Starr. (CC BY 3.0)

Why the iPhone Design Wouldn’t Have Flown With Another Firm

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SmartPlanet’s Andrew Nusca interviewe MAYA Design’s chief, Mickey McManus. McManus had some interesting things to say about making things so easy that they were intuitive, so easy that the user becomes “smug”:

We have a graph we write out. On one end is the customer that apologizes or make excuses. At the other end of the spectrum is smug. We want users to be smug. We’ll paper prototype it, then we’ll Wizard of Oz prototype it. After a few iterations, they’re smug. “This is so obvious, I don’t need to say it out loud.” And we want that.

If you think about it, this is something that Hidden High Potentials (2HiPo’s)do regularly.

What’s even more interesting is his discussion of the Command & Control for the US Army:

The old system — a billion-dollar system — took a week or two to learn how to use. We started prototyping and took ideas from the lab and them and ran war games….

The new system takes less than one day to learn. There was a 400 percent increase in missions planned and decisions executed. There was a 300 percent increase in situational awareness.

It’s not just making things simple, according to McManus. It’s about leveraging the pattern recognition that (most) humans are good at. It seems simple but it’s not simplistic.

Illuminated incandescent replacement curly fluorescent light bulb

The effort to do this often requires a transdisciplinary thinking that many of us associate with Hidden High Potentials. I think that this type of work is something that you might be able to leverage, even in your existing fields.

Hidden High Potentials do transformative trans-disciplinary thinking all the time but that somehow results in them getting fired. Take project management as our example. A higher capability PM will prevent problems from occurring. Projects will come in on time, or under budget. This is usually seen as “you got an easy project”. The Heroes of the project management world are not those who head off problems before they happen, but people who overcome all the problems that they create.

You can’t make things look effortless in most jobs because the managers won’t see you as being effective. They don’t evaluate you on your numbers but on some bizarre sports metaphor. (Even in bloodsports people who make it look too effortless are considered problems: take, for example, the travails of Anderson Silva in the UFC.)

My thinking here is that most companies would not have wanted the iPhone design if you had given it to them. They’re not failing to copy the design because “they’re copying the surface, not the intent.” They know the intent because everyone in the industry talks about it: they just can’t understand it.

Here’s the conundrum for you hidden high potentials:

What you can bring to the table can transform things but they can’t understand it when you give it to them. You can transform everything from a product to an industry to society to our very underlying beliefs. People need that. But like the project manager who doesn’t have to fight fires, or Anderson Silva who doesn’t have to get hurt to beat his opponent, you are seen as someone who isn’t really working hard enough.

Results don’t matter; perception does.

The solution will be to come in after people have failed miserably. MAYA came in on the Command & Control effort after the initial system was already in place, one that cost a billion dollars and took four weeks to learn. They also concentrate on “real” results, such as the reduction of training effort to 1 day. They know how to get in front of certain forward thinking leaders who actually have to do things. (Note how their success came from a military leader during combat, not during peacetime.)

If you can follow these principles, you have a better chance of having what you have to offer being recognized for what it is: “game changing”, transformative.


Image Credit: Epipremnum pinnatum (refused entry sticker on box). © Forest Starr & Kim Starr. (CC BY 3.0)

Photograph of illuminated incandescent-replacement fluorescent bulb. Public domain image by Jdorwin from Wikimedia Commons.

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