The Beauty of Story Telling

Sharing each other’s stories helps us understand our own.

Beige Be Gone – Designing for Stylish Silvers

In the 80s, not much thought was given to the outward appearance of PCs. Focus was on the inner workings – the design of the hard drive, chips, circuitry. In the Beige Age, computers came in a big putty-colored box, with little variation. OK, maybe black, but still.

Fast-forward to the 2010, where the average lifespan has increased to 78.7 years, 5 years longer than for children born in 1980 (CDC). As we age, our body parts begin to show signs of wear. New, assistive and even bionic products help us recapture, or even surpass our former capabilities.

Contrast this bionic future with a search on Pinterest for “products for seniors” and you’ll find mostly utilitarian gear and gadgets in cold stainless and boring beige. In the quest to solve a particular need, solutions are often situation-centered rather than human-centered.

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Why Are People Frightened of New Ideas?

“I can’t understand why people are frightened of new ideas. I’m frightened of the old ones.”

– John Cage, composer/writer/artist

Pause and Question Your Assumptions

“Begin challenging your assumptions. Your assumptions are the windows on the world. Scrub them off every once in awhile or the light won’t come in.”

-Alan Alda, actor

Figuring Out vs Finding Out

The path to customer delight is emergent.

When I work with Product Managers, I find that much time is spent figuring out what people want. We forget that Google AdWords, A/B testing and other methods make it much easier to launch and learn than to build out products or features that may or may not be important to customers. If your goal is to determine whether something is important to customers, define your success criteria, present the feature, and see if customers sign up. If you are comparing approaches, run parallel tests with a control group. Whatever the result, you’ll learn much faster using experimentation.

Two books worth checking out:
The Lean Start-up” by Eric Ries and “Little Bets” by Peter Sims

Stories That Transform

Someone recently asked me about my favorite TED talks of all time.

Here’s my short list, including one from The Moth:

Jill Bolte Taylor, “My Stroke of Insight
Her talk led me down the path of using story to guide strategy, and how to shift an audience from left-brain to right-brain attention.


Aimee Mullins. Let me say, I’m just such a fan of hers.
She shared a heartwarming story (segment 1) at The Moth that encourages us to question our own views of “appropriateness” and a reminder that whether we know it or not, our actions and words can have a huge impact on others. Her TED talk “My 12 pairs of legs” reminds us of the power of story to transform judgment into curiosity, and question our assumptions about beauty and power.

Finally, I occasionally share Alejandro Velez and Nikhil Arora’s “Back to the Roots” videos with students and clients. I think their story demonstrates how curiosity, agility and community can yield new products and business models. Watch this video first. Watch this video next.