Monday, April 23, 2012

Experiential Learning On The Job

This article hypothesizes that Google and Facebook employees are so cossetted that they don't actually experience many of the same mobile technology use cases that ordinary people do, and that is causing them to under-value the importance of mobile design. I don't know if it's true--and it would certainly be ironic in the case of Google, the purveyor of Android--but it stimulated an old thought.

In my early 20s, I read a business book (I think it was Tom Peters "In Pursuit of Excellence", but I can't be sure offhand) and one of the things I remember it talking about was the idea that executives shouldn't be insulated from the day-to-day challenges of their employees. The example I remember was that Disney required its executives to regularly take turns doing very, very mundane things, such as directing in the parking lot.

This has always stuck with me as a great idea. I worked for Otis Elevator the first 12 years of my career. The Otis HQ was in suburban CT. Most of the people who worked there were suburbanites. This matters, because elevators are not very important in suburbs. A suburb-dweller can literally go weeks without needing to take an elevator. So we had no feel for the usage, let alone "culture" of the product. It always seemed ridiculous to me.

Other examples:
  • Everyone in IT should regularly take turns using the product and working the Help Desk. I actually suggested this to a CIO once, and they brushed off the idea without even stopping to consider taking it seriously.
  • Forbid your insurance company (or any other service provider) from keeping VIP lists. Execs are throwing away a valuable window into quality of service when they allow themselves to experience the Potemkin Village version of the service.
This is all related to the "eating your own dogfood" concept, though not quite the same thing.

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