re-stoked: It is what it is... or is it? (1/16/14)

We work with a lot of companies who hire us for what we only half-jokingly refer to as 'corporate therapy'.  The initial request is strategy consulting or design research, but what happens as soon as the pixels are dry in contract.pdf is this - they start telling us about their feelings.

They feel many things. Frightened curiosity about the future. Worried about the economy, or their industry, or their jobs. They're bored of the way they do things and always have done them, but they also feel safer with the familiar than the novel. They're convinced that their boss will say no to ideas before they can even test them. They sense that the organizations they're part of may be stuck in practices and traditions that are no longer relevant. 

One of the things we so frequently discover over the course of many conversations and lots of investigating is that the teams we work with - designers, developers, marketers, product managers - is that they have taken something for granted. In each case, we discovered that while they believed that those things were either true or important, they'd never really checked, never looked it up, never investigated. (Which is where we came in.)

For example:

  • We worked with a television company that took for granted that on-air promos for their shows didn't work to drive viewership.  They'd never actually tested that to be sure - decades of on-air promos, they'd never experimented to see what effect it had.
  • We worked with another media company that took for granted both who their audience is, and how they would react to change.  They actually didn't even have a very good picture of who their audience is (much less how they'd feel about changing anything).
  • We worked with a spirits brand that took for granted that people were tired of their signature brand color. Turned out it was just the employees of the brand that were tired of it - their offices were painted that color, it was the first thing they saw each morning when they got off the lift.
  • We worked with a logistics company that took for granted that all small business owners want to be Mark Zuckerberg or Bill Gates. Turned out a lot of small business owners just want what VCs condescendingly call "lifestyle businesses".
  • We worked with a technology company that took for granted that their market had already crossed the chasm. Turned out their customers spent more time on their site trying to figure out what the product is and does, and how to use it, than they spent actually buying the product. Not what we'd call a 'mainstream' product.

There are so many things we, just as people, take for granted every day that we should be investigating. We should be asking ourselves, "wait, but why is that?" or "hang on, how do I know that for sure?" or "where did I get that idea in the first place?"

We all do this. One of the best things about having friends and therapists and consultants is that sometimes we need someone with a little distance from our everyday lived experiences to help us see what about those experiences are built on top of dodgy assumptions.

So we want to assign you two videos from the esteemed Vlog Brothers to watch. The first is called "Why is the Alphabet in Alphabetical Order? Eight Completely Arbitrary Things". The second (which was posted before the first one) is called "Racism in the United States: By the Numbers". 

The first one addresses this issue of context and distance. The second one points out how difficult it is to deal with something like racism from a statistical perspective, and how much you need to understand not just the data, but the experience of it, in order to start to shift your perspective, and to stop taking what you think the status quo is for granted.