Adventures in Storymapping


Story mapping is a facilitated group activity that empowers teams to think empathically and uncover opportunities to create valued products or services. It is visual, it is active and it is meant to inform the development of a testable hypothesis that can further drive innovative ways of thinking and better solutions to opportunities that may have, at first, been hidden.

Originally developed by Jeff Patton for Agile software development I saw the possibility to apply the technique to brands – and startups. I try to plot a variant of a customer journey from awareness to advocacy as the spine of the story and have the session participants write stories – or tasks – that a person would need to complete in order to achieve a goal. A goal might be the purchase of an airline ticket or the social sharing of geolocated content via a mobile app.

I’ve done this for a number of clients over the course of my career. It is a very useful way to develop consensus amongst stakeholders and create a shared “understanding”, as Jeff Patton says, of tasks that a person might encounter along their path to completing a goal. More importantly however – it is a fantastic method to help facilitate creativity. Once tasks are identified solutions to those tasks become the jumping off points for ideation and creative problem solving. Acknowledging that everyone in the room wants to make a better product or service and identifying those opportunity points can be a very powerful force for building a better product or service and drive organizational creativity.

There are plenty of techniques to use to help facilitate and encourage participation. No single session that I’ve lead is exactly the same. Each is different and each is filled – large group or small – with individuals who may themselves, have different goals.  My objective as the facilitator is to see each in the group and draw them in to collaborate and solve what sometimes might be very complicated goals.

The most successful sessions have been those where, at the end of a productive day, I can step back and point out to the group larger themes that emerge that help simplify the prioritization of  tasks and help identify the solutions to those tasks that might be useful to develop as a prototype.

I Wore Glass

Google Glass

Last week I discovered that we had a pair at work so I went and tried them out today. It was my first time so lots of fumbling as usual first times go. But first impressions always count. And you know that feeling when you have too many electronic gadgets around the house that you don’t really use anymore? Well, that’s my first impression. Here are a few more;

  1. Build – for $1500 you’d expect a whole heck of a lot more. Lots of plastic and wire. They could have been better designed – less plastic – more titanium frame – more of a glasses feel perhaps. Nothing elegant or premium about them at all. Google needs help here. Though I am not sure that Warby Parker is the one to help them out. Warby Parker makes cheap eyeglasses. Glass doesn’t need cheap. They should call Jon Ive.
  2. Function – the only thing I could really do with any consistency was to take a picture. The two available gestures on the temple were awkward for me – tap (to activate Glass) and swipe forward or back on the touchpad. There is a third gesture, the head wakeup, but I didn’t try it as I have always had a hard time with the hair flip so I stuck with the stroke pad – it is more of a stroke pad than a touch pad. It was difficult for me to access Maps and it was very strange to have to tap or stroke the temple piece and speak out loud, “ok glass”, and then have this voice whisper into your right ear. Very weird. Very off putting.
  3. Display – seriously? I had to look up and to the right to make any sense of it and I can imagine what that experience would be like if I was walking or driving anything. It is nothing like the HUD experience I was expecting at all and a completely different experience than the screenshots you’ve seen on the web. I imagine that it could be very very distracting. But then the glasses weren’t adjusted to my face so maybe it was just me – but I doubt it.
  4. Camera – so I took a photo on a tap and immediately Glass had it up on the screen for me in preview mode. I’m not sure if you could turn off preview mode – but when it came up the resolution was very low, distractingly so, and the display naturally motivated me to look up and to the right. I also found myself looking for an uncluttered background onto which I could rest my focus and move my attention to the display. Imagine doing that in a car or on the street.
  5. Apps – well, beyond Maps and the Camera I couldn’t see or find anything worthwhile. I did see the new Evernote app for Glass but all that I saw useful in it was popping up a shopping list on Glass. There is a minimal amount of text that the display can accommodate and still be legible – think Twitter but up in the right corner of your eye. I suppose a shopping list from Evernote displayed in Glass might help – if I couldn’t remember the four things I had on it.
  6. Physical Experience – as to the experience of wearing Glass they were very very conspicuously perched on my face. It was hard to look or do anything with them without people staring at you as if some part of you had already started to assimilate to the borg. They are not for the socially awkward or even – for that matter – the socially well adjusted. When I turned to look at someone the response I got (albeit in an office full of the technologicially curious) was this desire to lean in and look close. I would turn to face someone and that someone would in turn lean in and check out Glass. Is that thing on? Can I try them? I can’t imagine what it would be to walk out on the street with them.
  7. User Experience – this is an interesting one. As a whole it needs improvement (well, duh). But the mental model that Glass represents as a relational device runs counter and quite opposite to the efforts of all of us out in the field who are designing experiences, applications and technologies that want to blend in with our daily lives (for a great discussion on this idea of “no interface” and an introduction to some of the technologies that epitomize this interaction watch Golden Krishna’s presentation – here – and a wonderful application of it here – helios bars)  I can’t imagine any field research that I have done in the past where I might have spoken to someone who might have described the solution to her unmet need as “a talking pair of glasses without lenses”. A mobile device is only as successful as it supports our efforts to be human and offers us the choice of connectedness to others and the vast web of knowledge the internets offer. While the UI of Glass supports this idea (whisper a command and I’ll get an answer projected somewhere near me) the physical expression and fabrication do not. The experience of wearing Glass is as if you took a hood ornament off an old Mercedes and stuck it on the end of your nose. Or worse, it is the technological equivalent of wearing a mink coat on a hot summer day – on your face.

But kudos to Google for giving it a try. I’ll be watching the development of Glass to see if it represents, in the end, a true paradigm shift in social interaction where the reward of wearing a mink coat on your face in summer far outweighs the inconvenience. This is obviously a very early release and very much of a proof of concept – an expensive minimally viable product. For that I’d give Google a high five. Strategically Glass gives Google an edge and is a stake in the ground for wearables. And they do certainly set the bar for any answer from the other companies in the room, Apple, Samsung, Microsoft et al. Those guys are going to be seen as me-too if they release anything close to this.

There is no question that Glass has brought Google a mass of publicity. Which is pretty interesting as a marketing strategy. Spend tens of millions on a traditional advertising campaign or try to make something cool that would get you the same amount of eyeballs and elevate the brand – as an experience. Compare that marketing message to Coke or some of the other global brands that rule the top ten. Google delivered.

I’d say that Google is probably about two to three years away from launching them as a really usable device – something that won’t end up in the drawerful of forgotten electronics that we all seem to have nowadays. And I would guess that Google released them this early in the game because they can afford to – and they knew it would take that long for the device to become truly practical and socially acceptable.

What’s up with Google Search on Mobile?

Seen below Google has three different search experiences on my iPhone and I’m not sure which result to trust. I’m torn between choosing Thai Select, Aceluck, or Pongsri. I’m certainly not going to go to because that isn’t a restaurant and, knowing Google keywords, smacks of advertising. I think I’m going to go to Aceluck because I’m using Maps and I’d like to find one close to work. And it has a higher rating. Pongsri is just way too far away and those search results in Safari seem just plain wonky. Thai Select in Google is just too expensive and has a lower rating. So I think I’m going to stick with the results in Maps.

A colleague just noted that scale changes per app. Maps offers the most contextually relevant (“closest to me”) results while Google and Safari each take a consecutive step out.


Thomas Friedman’s article – NYTimes – Need a job? Invent it!

This is mandatory reading for us parents who are looking for ways to give our kids a leg up in this new (and future) economy of ours. I apologize for the long windedness of this post and warn that it will take you more than a few minutes to get through it all – but please try.

The title of Friedman’s article in the NYTimes this past weekend is a little deceptive (here’s a link to the original article – It should be – “Why (public) School Sucks for Kids and the Future of this Country”. He’s quoting from and discussing ideas from a recent book by Tony Wagner called “Creating Innovators: The Making of Young People Who Will Change the World”. Here’s some of the juicy bits from Friedman’s article;

1.  K-12 and college tracks are not consistently “adding the value and teaching the skills that matter most in the marketplace.”

2. Every middle-class job today is being pulled up, out or down faster than ever. That is, it either requires more skill or can be done by more people around the world or is being buried — made obsolete — faster than ever. Which is why the goal of education today, argues Wagner, should not be to make every child “college ready” but “innovation ready” — ready to add value to whatever they do.

3. “Today,” he said via e-mail, “because knowledge is available on every Internet-connected device, what you know matters far less than what you can do with what you know. The capacity to innovate — the ability to solve problems creatively or bring new possibilities to life — and skills like critical thinking, communication and collaboration are far more important than academic knowledge.

4. “Every young person will continue to need basic knowledge, of course,” he said. “But they will need skills and motivation even more. Of these three education goals, motivation is the most critical. Young people who are intrinsically motivated — curious, persistent, and willing to take risks — will learn new knowledge and skills continuously. They will be able to find new opportunities or create their own — a disposition that will be increasingly important as many traditional careers disappear.”

5. “We teach and test things most students have no interest in and will never need, and facts that they can Google and will forget as soon as the test is over,” said Wagner. “Because of this, the longer kids are in school, the less motivated they become. Gallup’s recent survey showed student engagement going from 80 percent in fifth grade to 40 percent in high school. More than a century ago, we ‘reinvented’ the one-room schoolhouse and created factory schools for the industrial economy. Reimagining schools for the 21st-century must be our highest priority. We need to focus more on teaching the skill and will to learn and to make a difference and bring the three most powerful ingredients of intrinsic motivation into the classroom: play, passion and purpose.”

6. “Finland is one of the most innovative economies in the world,” he said, “and it is the only country where students leave high school ‘innovation-ready.’  They learn concepts and creativity more than facts, and have a choice of many electives — all with a shorter school day, little homework, and almost no testing. In the U.S., 500 K-12 schools affiliated with Hewlett Foundation’s Deeper Learning Initiative and a consortium of 100 school districts called EdLeader21 are developing new approaches to teaching 21st-century skills. There are also a growing number of ‘reinvented’ colleges like the Olin College of Engineering, the M.I.T. Media Lab and the ‘D-school’ at Stanford where students learn to innovate.”

You can also watch Tony Wagner explain more about his ideas during last year’s TEDexNYED here – – here are some of my notes from his presentation;

1. Knowledge today is a commodity – the world no longer cares whether or not you are smarter than a 5th grader or good at Trivial Pursuit (just Google that shit) – what the world cares about is not what you know, but what you can do with what you know.

2. Do you have the skill and do you have the will to use what you know?

3. Wagner’s seven core competencies are;

a. critical thinking (the ability to ask the right questions) and problem solving

b. collaboration across networks and leading by influence

c. agility and adaptability

d. initiative and entrepreneurialism

e. effective oral and written communication skills

f. accessing and analyzing information

g. curiosity and imagination

4. half of all recent college grads are either underemployed or unemployed, a third are living at home

5. In 2007 the savings rate was minus two percent for all americans – we created an economy based on people spending money they do not have to buy things they do not need threatening the planet in the process.

6. Tony Wagner interviewed successul twenty year olds – their parents and their teachers – and found that every teacher or mentor whom the twenty year old mentioned as an influence on their careers was an outlier in his or her school setting.

7. The culture of schooling is radically at odds with the culture of learning that produces innovators

a. culturally we celebrate and reward individual achievement – but innovation is a team sport

b. the world of innovation is inter-disciplinary – for the past 105 years we have been using “Carnegie Units” to designate areas of specialization (chemistry, math, english, history)  – innovation is inter-disciplinary

c. the culture of schooling today is all about risk aversion and penalizing failure – the student’s job is figuring out what the teacher(or the test) needs – the world of innovation is all about taking risks, failing and learning from them – at Owen College (which Tony Wagner claims is now the best college in the US)  “we don’t talk about failure anymore, we talk about iteration” – learn that you can recover from a mistake (and you don’t want to learn that at 35 because it hurts a lot more then)

d. the culture of learning in school is about passive consumption – we “sit and get ” all day long (perfect for making us into little consumers and factory workers and totally not appropriate for the world today

e. we are extrinsically motivated to perform well in school – money for good grades – the innovators that he interviewed are far more intrinsically motivated because they want to make a difference in the world – so how do parents encourage this? play to passion to purpose – parents and teachers alike encouraging more exploratory play, with fewer toys and less screen time, more time that was unstructured, parents and teachers who encouraged a passion

Kids who had developed a passion had morphed into adults who had a deeper sense of purpose – parents and teachers alike said, “give back, make a difference” – and all of them (the successful innovators) shared this value.

Here’s his website with a link to his book and more –

Pass it on!

Brand Flow – part one

Brand Flow is an illustration of brand engagement across various touchpoints. It helps to have a mental model that indicates movement through a brand – as a customer would normally experience it across time. The categories or platforms of engagement are discretionary and depend on business objectives. Brand Flow is an excellent tool to use during the audit phase of a brand as it can quickly clarify where brand engagement is broken. 

Topologies of Engagement

I’ve been developing several different mental models to help visualize a theory of brand that can be easily understood. In a Topology of Engagement the expanse of the customer experience is visualized. Via platforms that add value to the exchange the experience itself becomes non-linear. Most models like to portray this experience as a pathway – a customer journey. While this framework might suffice as a quick look at the importance of engagement it is inadequate at portraying the complexities of customer choice. Some customers may only choose to engage at one point. Others might choose to engage at many. When the platforms are viewed discretely and layered appropriately the topologies of engagement can be viewed for what they could become – engagement points that can create value at any single instance. This changes the emphasis from a linear path to a point of engagement – which is the way most customers experience a brand.