Don’t Ask. Do.

Don’t Ask.  Do.

Every work environment has its own levels of complexity regarding decision-making.  People will always have a stake in how decisions are made and more importantly, how the outcomes of those decisions affect their interests.  So as you can imagine, thinking differently to promote change and progress may come in direct opposition to interests at hand.  But is this really so?  A good idea which ultimately directly moves your organization forward is just that- a good idea.

There is no better way to kill a good idea before it even begins to materialize than asking for permission to proceed.  Here’s why:

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Inspire, Diverge, Converge

I recently co-led a workshop for another design group within my company where we aimed to determine the best way to partner with and synergize our groups’ talents to expand a new service line. To kick things off, and before jumping into any workshop specifics, (9:00 am on a Monday morning), a leader of my group began with a couple videos.    The content, very much a future state but relative to the work we do, was exciting and inspiring - exactly what we needed at 9:00 am on a Monday morning.  Actually, wait…we should be inspired not just early on a Monday morning...we need to do this more.

As we came to the end of the video and jumped into our session, it was clear that everyone was energized and ready to learn and work towards a solution.  It was obvious that we all had at the top of our minds the possible.

I work in a design group and we design and build app prototypes aimed to excite and display the “possible.”  A part of our job is to do exactly what this 9 am video set out to do with the clients we work with.

But what is inspiration if it doesn’t lead to a tangible result?  How do we harness this creative momentum and create impact?

A formula I see as powerful in range of situations goes as such:  Inspire.  Think divergently. Converge.

Inspiration is simply showing what is possible while creating excitement in the process.  This excitement can be harvested into what is called “divergent thinking,” an exercise where a prompt is given and we generate many ideas from this starting point (Diverging from a source of information- you may be familiar with the antiquated term “brainstorm?”).  The next step is critical- we now we have a bunch of ideas but no application.  We should measure and assess these ideas for solutions against some criteria or standards.  This is the “convergent thinking” piece (As we measure each output of our divergent thinking, we converge on a single or narrowed down list of solutions that make sense given the problem's attributes.). 

It’s exciting and fun to inspire and speak to the possible, but without taking some next steps it’s really only just that, fun.  Actually wait; it’s more than that…It can be a serious problem for a project.  If we only inspire, we run the very serious risk of potentially misleading.  Clients get excited and may assume promises are being made. 

We want to excite, show the possible and then have a conversation as to what the most appropriate solution may be given the client’s needs and constraints.  Maybe we go for everything…but at what cost?  Maybe we prioritize some of this blue sky thinking which will have the most impact (a more realistic scenario).

If you read only this:  Harness the power of inspiration, but follow with some next steps and ensure that everyone is as excited with the outcome as they were when the conversations began.


“Managing Non-Co-located Teams in an Agile Framework” - Agile / Lean Practitioners Meetup: NYC, 01/28/14

“Managing Non-Co-located Teams in an Agile Framework” - Agile / Lean Practitioners Meetup: NYC, 01/28/14

Here are a few thoughts on last night’s NYC Agile / Lean Practitioners Meetup.  The topic was certainly relevant to some of the work I do and was helpful to re-iterate some best practices I need to employ and keep in mind for my project work.

I work with teams to build prototype applications (typically for iPad) aimed to inspire clients and showcase how we take industry/niche insights and apply those to a client need/problem by building a functional prototype.

In order to do this, we work to understand what the client problem is, identify what type of tool may work best (dashboard, calculator,  workflow, diagnostic…), rapidly iterate on a design and develop the application - All in the timespan of 1-4 weeks, depending on the level of  app robustness the client may require.  To accomplish all of this, our teams work in an agile environment.

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Design Thinking Workshop, brandh@ckers Meetup: June 3, 2013

Design Thinking Workshop, brandh@ckers Meetup: June 3, 2013

Last night, brandh@ckers put together a panel to discuss, albeit at a very high level, the design thinking methodology.  It’s a rich topic with a lot of opportunity to delve into its many aspects much further- I suggest a Meetup dedicated solely to the methodology (in NYC) – But definitely a good top level discussion.  The panel included representatives from the likes of Parsons and Stanford’s (where all of this came about).

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“Designing MVP Experiments” – Agile Experience Design Meetup @ Pivotal Labs NYC, 04/15/13

“Designing MVP Experiments” – Agile Experience Design Meetup @ Pivotal Labs NYC, 04/15/13

Right off the heels of the Lean Startup Machine NYC weekend, I participated in last night’s Agile Experience Design Meetup where the topic/workshop involved running through how to test an ACTAUL user problem through forming a super low functioning, but TESTABLE MVP.  LSM began its focus at point 0 in the process where we needed to validate who the customer is, if the customer actually has a problem and what the actual problem is.  Last night we came into it assuming that there is a user that does have a problem.  Unique to a lot of Meetups I’ve been to, we spent some time running through the high level process in workshop form to get us thinking along the build, measure, learn feedback loop.  Some of the thinking is counterintuitive to how people may want to think (jumping into solutions without thoroughly measuring and learning…) so the exercise was helpful.

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Lean Startup Machine NYC: Part 2 - My Experience

Day 1

Everyone met at the Alley NYCa coworking space in Times Square, Friday evening over pizza and conversation.  Soon after, people who brought product ideas had 50 seconds each to pitch to everyone in the room.  After the pitches, everyone had 3 votes and the top 10-15 ideas were chosen – people then formed teams.  I didn’t get an exact count, but I estimate that there were 12-14 teams in total.

I decided to join a team working on a product to create a program for 4th year undergrad students entering the professional workforce to join a recognized and visible industry rotational program.

Immediately we began to explore the idea by subjecting it to the Validation Board.  We first identified our customer hypothesis (4th year undergrads) and problem hypothesis (students are ill-prepared to find the right job fit).  We recorded our assumptions, chose which assumption we believed to be the riskiest and then our team agreed upon validation criteria for our assumption.  As it was late in the evening, we decided to save the in-person interviews for Saturday but sent out a survey, leveraging twitter (#college).

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Lean Startup Machine NYC: April 12 – 14, 2013

Lean Startup Machine NYC: April 12 – 14, 2013

Lean Startup Machine is a movement aimed to educate entrepreneurs and industry professionals alike on how to build products that people actually want.  Using Lean Startup methodology, LSM is a 3-day workshop where 50 people gather, pitch ideas for a product and teams form around those pitches.  At the end of the weekend, winning teams are chosen based on how well each team adhered to the process and how they were able to handle change throughout the journey.  Teams are not judged on how marketable or creative a product idea is.   Although many people who attend the workshop were entrepreneurs, I participated interested in the methodology and how it can be applied in enterprise situations.  Also, LSM is NOT a hackathon.  I was actually surprised to see that a majority of the participants were not developers but come from another discipline within tech or even different industries.

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Working with a Product Related Disagreement: The Product Group @ the Viacom Building, NYC 04/04/13

Last night I attended my first Product Group Meetup where people in the field of product development get together to discuss best practices and knowledge share.  The discussion is split into two parts: Part one focuses on a discussion topic and the second part of the evening is dedicated to a product showcase where a representative (usually a founder) talks about roadblocks, best practices and successes in creating the product.

The discussion last night focused on product related disagreements – What are common root causes and how do people manage disagreement?  Although billed under the “product” umbrella, many of the points discussed are applicable to most work situations, but let’s keep the focus on the product development process.

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Designed Collaboration

Designed Collaboration

One of the grievances I had with my last role (as a grants manager at a large Pharmaceutical company) was the physical space in which I worked.  We were lucky not to work in cubicles, but had our own offices each with their own door.  The hallway that I worked was comprised of a lengthy row of these closed off spaces where people tended to shut themselves in for most of the day…Sometimes I wouldn’t see my coworkers unless it was in a public space.  We mostly all worked on our own projects, and with teams literally in buildings across the street.  There are many things wrong with this scene but here I’d like to focus on collaboration and knowledge sharing.

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"Five Whys"


So, I’ve been working my way through Eric Ries’ The Lean Startup and as I read, I try to connect the concepts he mentions to work I’ve done in the past and the work I plan to do in the near future.  Eric mentions the “Five Whys”…a technique used to get to the root cause of a problem.  I had previously worked for Genentech, an amazingly innovative biotech company, where I was introduced to the concepts of Kaizen, lean manufacturing and Six Sigma – all tools used for process improvement.  I remember that the Five Whys technique, where you essentially identify a problem and ask “why” until you reach a root cause (often part of the RCA (Root Cause Analysis) methodology) is associated with these methods.

This is a fascinating (and simple on the surface) method to understand where problems originate.  To me, part of the beauty of this technique and other processes associated with design and general problem solving is that you can adapt them to your own life…I suspect that using the Five Whys method can help to come to an actual solution of an issue efficiently and rationally. 

We all need some rationale in our lives, right?

Shameless Self-Promotion: A Diverse Background Adds to a Team

Making a career change inherently means that my past professional background and experience in the pharmaceutical industry will differ from the backgrounds of most of the people working in design at say an agency or firm.  Maybe these people have formal degrees in the associated disciplines or the industry has in essence turned them into lifers by way of years of experience.  It’s easy to let this fact intimidate me as I continue my work, meet people and speak with prospective employers.  Sure, there will be some people who look at a background that seems radically different than theirs as a hindrance…but I actually look at it as an interesting strength. 

Imagine a team comprised of all amazingly bright people, but completely homogeneous when it comes to professional background and training.  A team such as this is perfectly great and will probably produce great results.  On the other hand, a team comprised of capable people with diverse backgrounds can not only produce great results but can also benefit from different perspectives, ideas and ways of thinking.  It has been proven and studied that innovation and new ideas form quicker in an environment where team members contribute in their own ways and can offer unique points of view.

I argue that my background and training will offer a fresh perspective.  Yes, there is a caveat to all of this -  A diverse background alone is not enough to make someone a great candidate and magically boost a team’s strength.  It is important that the prospective team member prove that he/she is able to transfer skills, have a solid understanding of the business, ability and healthy desire to learn as much as possible as quickly as possible.  They must also have a desire and passion for the work at hand.

I don’t look at my professional background as "different" in a negative connotation, it’s a unique strength and I am excited to add my perspective to a team and have the opportunity to learn as much as possible.

Finding Daily Inspiration

Let’s be honest, tackling a career change can be daunting and it’s easy to lose sight of why you are doing this at all.  I find it extremely important to spend some time each day reading regularly updated industry news and blogs that have industry tidbits, tips, company showcases and feature interesting and innovative products produced from the types of firms I want to work for.

Of everything I read in this specific area, my favorite place to cull inspiration and ideas is Fast Company (  These guys focus on everything from innovation to technology to productivity to business and entrepreneurship and more.  I find the reads to be succinct, informative and they get my day going.

I also like to read the blogs of companies that I admire.   A few of these are:




I will frequently post pieces of inspiration I come across that are specific to the knowledge areas I’m pursuing.  These posts will be specific or related to the design industry.

Acknowledge Reality

I mentioned the importance of thinking in ideal terms when putting together a picture of an ideal work situation.  In the beginning, it was important for me to be a bit of a dreamer because it kept me focused on what it is that makes me excited and driven and gave me a goal to strive for.  It was also vital in keeping me inspired and motivated to find an awesome job.

There also comes a time when it is important to inject a sense of reality into the equation. The reality factor is equally important because it helped me parse out values that I absolutely needed to fulfill and those that may not be as important.  This is life we’re talking about here: nothing is absolutely perfect.  Most importantly, thinking rationally and realistically helps me focus on HOW to get to where I want to be. 


Map and Match Values

After coming up with a good list of what is important to me, my core values, I wanted to dig deeper and match these values to disciplines and industries.  I thought about the essence of each value on my list and how each could translate to the professional world.  I made sure to keep these ideas fresh in my mind so that I could make connections as I attended events, met people and actively researched.

There are a number of ways to make connections between what is important to you and the type of work that will satisfy this...but my best advice to be CURIOUS.  Always keep your values in mind and explore.  There's no linear, prescribed method - It is you who will have an idea already what you will and will not do, can and cannot do.  Be persistent and explore.

A good friend of mine so happens to be leading a tech startup and invited myself and a group of friends down to the technology portion of SXSW to help promote his business.  Not only did I want to go to help him out and the event would be a ton of fun, I saw the connection that there was a great opportunity to network and learn about an industry which at the time was new to me.  Creativity, innovation, design and technology are some key words on my list of values and all of these things are synonymous with the mission of SXSW.

Going into that experience, I didn't know what to expect.  I’m happy to say that I left the festival having made progress in discovering an area to explore - I met some exciting people who worked for a digital agency and were nice enough to fill me in on their world.  I left SXWS having discovered an area of interest and I was pumped to dive in and learn more.

Identifying Your Core Values

It was easy for me to say that it was time to make a change.  Sometimes the easiest and most obvious way to make a decision to move on to something new is when there is a persistent and chronic pain point.  I knew what I didn’t like about my work situation.  Being unhappy is unpleasant and that made it clear to me that I needed to make a change.  I have a great professional record and the easy route to take would have been to immediately begin looking for similar jobs within my industry.  Finding another job for the sake of finding another job would not have taken much time, effort or creativity.  Most importantly, following this path wouldn’t have addressed the core issues central to my problem.Read More

Connecting the Dots: Treating Career Transformation as a Professional Project – Take Time to Plan

I am at a point in my life where I am able to act on my curiosity and I am fortunate enough to be able to fully dedicate my days working towards my goal.  I want to be certain that I make the right decisions and I’m ensuring that I am as thorough as possible.  I’m all in and I am taking this time very seriously. 

One common theme you will see throughout this blog is the idea of making connections.  Maybe more now than ever, I’ve noticed the importance and benefits of connecting ideas, thoughts and principles between seemingly disparate disciplines or knowledge areas.  Viewing this time from a high level, it seems logical and natural for me to treat my work as I would conduct a project in the professional world. 

I understand that a project has little to no chance of succeeding if it is not properly planned.  Thoroughly planning a project will dramatically increase the odds that it will produce great results.  A common question my friends have asked me in conversation has been: “Have you started applying for jobs yet?” and my answer has steadfastly been “No.”  I am dedicating as much time (within reason) to ensure that I have organized and constructed a plan that I can feel confident acting on. 

The first steps in my planning were to formulate a thought process.  I had to do some classic soul searching.

My Story, In Brief (How Did I Get Here?)

I suppose there could be a number of reasons someone may want to make a career change.  Maybe you want to make more money?  Maybe you decide to move and realize that your industry or line of work isn’t possible in the new location…I’m sure the list could go on.  I decided to make a change for reasons that are intangible…Simply put: I want to enjoy what I do.  For me, this comes down to combining two things:  I want to explore my interests and I want to utilize my strengths.

I graduated college with a B.S. in Plant Biology (yes, plants as in botany plants).  At the time, I enjoyed my choice of study.  After graduation, I immediately landed a job at a leading biotech company that took me from Athens, Georgia to San Francisco.  I enjoyed the work that I did, but the social aspect of my life was not what I wanted it to be.  I wasn’t happy.  I determined that it was far more important for me to have a fulfilling personal life than completely trade that off for a job.  I left my job in California and moved to New York where I was certain I would be socially fulfilled.  Having good friends in New York and having visited many times before, I was certain that this was the city for me.  New York City is a special place – If you want to make it happen, you can get to where you want to be if you work at it.  New York rewards curiosity. 

I landed several jobs in New York, ultimately spending a few years at a major pharmaceutical company.  I was (and am) very content socially but I was very unhappy with my job.  It turned out that as a stroke of good fortune, said company decided to perform a serious of major layoffs and as fortune would have it, I was “impacted.”  Now I have a new job:  Transforming my career.

With all of this being said, I don’t regret my studies and degree - I’m actually proud of them.  As time went on, I just realized that I needed to explore other avenues.  My past experience has set me up nicely to get to where I want to be professionally and to be successful where I land.