Roger Ebert, on Empathy

“We are who we are: where we are born, who we were born as, how we were raised. We’re kind of stuck inside that person, and the purpose of civilization and growth is to be able to reach out and empathize a little bit with other people. And for me, the movies are like a machine that generates empathy.”

From the introductory voiceover for “Life Itself”

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

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.

Don’t Kick the Habit, Transform it

Lately, I’ve been thinking a lot about how to create addictive experiences.

In July, I decided to buy a Fitbit to get a better read on how much I move around each day, and how many calories I’m burning during workouts and over the course of the day. I also tried wearing it to sleep for about a week.

What did I learn?
I don’t sleep much, but when I do, I sleep like a stone. My sleep cycle times were very consistent, re-starting around 1:45 AM and again around 3:45 AM. I found I was averaging about 5 1/2 hours a night, with 7 hours on a good day.

I was also getting specific feedback on how much I was (or wasn’t) moving around. I also learned that the ability to press a button to access steps and calories at any time was changing my behavior. It made me want to move around more, and see how the numbers changed. Within the first week, I realized I was hooked. It was amazingly gratifying to be able to measure progress on my fitness goals.

Around this time I stumbled on a thought-provoking book called “The Power of Habit” by Charles Duhigg, an investigative reporter for the New York Times.

Using a combination of storytelling and science, Duhigg does a wonderful job of explaining how habits are made and how we can change them. Using the existing trigger or cue, and the usual reward at the end, we can make the change to the behavior that happens in the middle. For a craving to develop, the behavior must become so ingrained that we start to anticipate the reward before doing the behavior. This creates a motivating force that drives the behavior.

Now, while working with clients to design the next software solution, game, service or product, I find myself thinking, what if the result of using this was so addictive, that people actually craved it? How does that translate to it’s design and context of use?

With all of the “big data” available these days, I’m looking forward to seeing the next wave of products and services that drive us to be healthier and more fulfilled in our daily lives.

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