New tools and things

Each week brings a whole host of new stuff that I can incorporate into my work. Hardly any of it comes from a formal learning environment like a course, or webinar, most of it comes from chatting with people who then say 'have you read this?', or 'you might be interested in this', or 'give this a go'. So my Amazon wish list (for books) gets longer each week, my toolbox of things to use on client assignments gets bigger, my list of movies (films) to watch grows, and the You Tube things people suggest make me realize if I did no work whatsoever and simply worked through what people suggested I still wouldn't be able to cope with the flood of new info. This week was no exception, so here's what I've added.

Problem seeking: an architectural programming primer, by William Pena with Steven Parshall and Kevin Kelly. Someone lent me the third edition (1987) but I see it is now in a fifth edition. I got this recommendation when I was sitting with a bunch of architects and asked why every meeting I went to with them they seized 23 x 14 cm cards with a grid on one side and plain on the other. They don't seem able to have a meeting without these cards. But I learned that they originate from a problem seeking methodology (outlined in the book). They are kind of a pre-post note method of putting ideas down and then being able to re-arrange them. I haven't started to use the cards yet as I'm still reading the 'how to', but maybe when and if I do I will be fully oriented to working with architects and designers. This is one I am now three-quarters of the way through and have ordered version 5 to have a copy myself

Private Empire: ExxonMobil and American Power, Steve Coll. This was recommended by a friend who is a social impact assessor and we were discussing the social and political impacts of organizations on people and the environment. It followed an exercise I'd participated in during the week on helping a non-profit think through how they would extend the scope and scale of a breast-milk bank they had started in Africa and the relationship they (don't) have with Nestle. This is on my Amazon wish list.

Brain Rules: 12 Principles for Surviving and Thriving at Work, Home, and School, John Medina. This was given to me by someone who I was talking with about neuro marketing and the way people think and learn. We'd been discussing organization development and the various ways people approach change and learning. He had learned a lot from the book and thought it was worth my reading. This is on my Amazon wish list.

Who Really Matters: The Core Group Theory of Power, Privilege, and Success , Art Kleiner. This came up when a group of us were talking about organizational network mapping and reflecting on the fact that an organization chart gives away very little if anything on the way work gets done in an organization. Standard organization design texts rarely tackle the tacit, unspoken, difficult to get at elements of an organization, focusing for the most parts on things that are explicit and relatively accessible in design terms. Yet it's the other stuff which makes or breaks the design. This is on my Amazon wish list.

Three very useful tool sets were handed to me during the week. The first is one that draws on behavioral economics. Brains, Behavior & Design Toolkit features five tools to help designers apply findings from the field of behavioral economics to their practice in order to provide a head start on framing research as well as developing new strategies for solving user problems. This tool kit includes:

  • Reference Cards: behavioral economics research findings organized and described
  • Concept Ecosystem Poster: the relationships between concepts
  • Irrational Situations Guides: when people act irrationally, what to look for and how to design for these situations
  • Strategy Cards: ways to design for the irrational mind
  • Loss/Gain Worksheet: understanding and designing for trade-offs

The loss/gain worksheets are particularly good fun focusing the mind on not only what's being lost in a change – which is the more usual tendency – but what is being gained in a change. Also great are the 'irrational situations guides'. Once I saw them I realized I could use them almost every waking hour – I'm sure mine isn't the only life that seems to lurch from one irrational situation to the next. However, it's the loss/gain worksheets I've printed off to use in a workshop next week.

The second is the Sustainable Facilities Tool – also available as an app. It's incredibly thorough in its treatment of sustainability providing guidance on building and workplace design to support sustainable practices and evaluate options for implementing them in the workplace. Search with the word 'people' on the site search bar and you get things ranging from flexibility, light, and asthma, to ergonomics.

This tool is being updated all the time and is well worth playing around with to see the wealth of data and useful tips that would add to any organization design work that is looking at the impact of space design on people's motivation and productivity. I have some information from here ready to share in the workshop I'm facilitating next week.

The third is the 3P lean tool which I hadn't seen in operation. There are a lot of books written about it but a handy one-pager that gives an overview is available here. Most of the writing about the tool relates to its use in a manufacturing situation but we were using it in a service delivery project. Being part of the lean suite of stuff you can do all kinds of certifications and development activity to become a master but I think (masters correct me if I'm wrong) that it is usable by an organization design/development person who grasps the basics of it. I'm holding it in reserve till I've talked with the expert and got more info.

Then there are the movies (films) people recommended during the week. This is a more eclectic collection that tended to crop up between the cracks of the earnest work discussions, but they all came up in the work context so must have some relevance (maybe?). So on my Netflix list I now have:

  • Showboat: I can't remember who gave this to me or why this appeared and the brief description of it "The daughter of a riverboat captain falls in love with a charming gambler, but their fairytale romance is threatened when his luck turns sour ". only served to perplex me further.
  • The Gravy Train Goes East: Which is about a "Newly-elected President of Slaka, romantic novelist Katya Pricip,who is determined to see her country in the EC, enjoying the fruits of the free market". I see the connection though with my work as I'm doing a small project with the EC.
  • Buckaroo: described as "Jerome, a troubled gang member, is sent to work on a farm. Within the journey, he discovers there is more to him, and realizes the direction he must point his life to." I do know who gave me this title but again don't remember why. But it's the same person who also recommended
  • Beginners: which is about "A young man [who] is rocked by two announcements from his elderly father: that he has terminal cancer, and that he has a young male lover". This may have a bearing as I have an elderly mother who has cancer [but not terminal] but as far as I am aware she does not have a young male lover – perhaps she wishes she does.

With all the above to do something with at some stage I was very relieved to get only two You Tube recommendations. The first – because I fly United Airlines a lot – is the United Airlines guitar song. It's only 4.5 minutes so I seized the moment and listened to it.

Then to combat my rampant optimism a colleague recommended that I listen to Alain de Botton talking about Pessimism. I listened and found it absolutely worth the 38 minutes. Having just finished reading Strength in What Remains by Tracy Kidder, about a Burundian who survived the genocide I think de Botton presents a great argument, even so I hope I remain a pragmatic optimist.