2018 reflections

I’ve been sitting on the idea of this post for the whole of christmas, and not written any of it. So I just sat down and said, “write it in 30 mins”. Perfect being the enemy of good and all that. Anyway — here goes:

Ifthe past 10 years were about getting Service Design to the top table, now it’s about tackling the system conditions that undermine success when designing and building human-centred services. This is probably no news to some, but our small community of service designers are still pretty new on the transformation block, so are still learning why stuff doesn’t work.

Systems thinking is having a sort of Noel Edmunds year. Like Noel, systems thinking was big in the 80s, but also like Noel, it kind of disappeared up itself and so wandered off stage left into the wilderness. But of late it’s had a bit of a come back with appearances on I’m a Celebrity and topless over 60, “how does he do it” shots in the tabloids. This much I know to be true: our organisations are based on outdated operating systems for leadership and management: command and control, target driven, atomised and transactional work, denial of variety in demand. If you don’t know about this stuff you need to get into it. John Seddon’s book on the public sector was my gateway drug. There are others. By the way, a bi-product of understanding this will make you way more sympathetic to the leaders of the organisations we work in. My motto: 90% of what you think is the fault of an individual, is actually a fault of the system that the individual operates in. Though the always-good-value Tom Peters appears to disagree with me (or at best misunderstand me) — alas one of my Twitter low points of the year.

How many services are designed around the sub 5% of customers who defraud it? Benefit fraud is a good example. Estimates range that just 1–2% of benefit is defrauded, even though public perception is way higher. But a much largee proportion of benefit claimants will attest to being treated like they’re trying to make a fraudulent claim. Insurance is another case in point — I’ve done some research in this market this year and it’s astonishing how many people have a similar story to tell, of being treated like a criminal when making a claim. One sees this pattern everywhere. As an employee, the systems I have to use are designed with fraud and crime in mind. To access and claim my expenses is like breaking into Colditz. It wasn’t intentional, but every interface is inherently anti-loss in its design, rather than pro-gain. I and the 95% of employees like me have to suffer for the risk-aversion built into the system. This inherent design bias in many of our services is based on a deep assumption that people are not to be trusted, and the inadvertent result is dissatisfaction and cost for everyone. It also just kind of makes me sad.

I’d like to recommend everyone read or re-read something written by Vargo and Lusch, about service-dominant logic. We can do all the service design we want, but if we don’t fundamentally break from the product-dominant logic of the past 50 years of MBA training, we will fail.

I’ve stuck pretty close to my daily meditation pledge this year and hope to continue it into the next year. There’s another blog post in me about this, but for now here’s this reflection: the buddha was a systems thinker. The 4 Noble Truths and the Eightfold path are a way of grappling with the messed up / perfect system of reality we find ourselves in. So I present (with apologies to Vargo and Lusch) the 11 Noble Truths of Thinking in Services, as cribbed from Wikipedia.

The 11 Noble Truths of Thinking in Services

Inorder to design and build services for irrational, messy and unpredictable humans, one needs to accept and embrace ones own irrationality, messiness and unpredictability. I see a lot more focus on mental health in the workplace. I’ve shared about my own health problems before, most recently at a talk I and a colleague gave on meditation to the company. I heard from lots of people after the talk about their own struggles. We need to remember that we are the humans we are designing for and all of this emotional data is the fodder of our work. To that end (making sense of it all) I took a lot from some books this year: Why Buddhism is True helped me connect much of what makes sense from cognitive psychology with what makes sense from my meditation practice. I’ve shared before about my long-term pain issues — it’s a drag. I want to get Suzanne Sullivan and Paula Kamen around to mine for a long dinner to discuss their excellent books It’s all in your head and All in my head. And I have great admiration for Lauren Currie’s raw list. Honest writing about our bodies and minds is good for everyone.

Agile done properly is a very liberating way of working. Alas too often it’s not done properly. It’s just seen a formula for more work, compressed into a shorter amount of time. It’s up to us to prevent that happening.

Thanks to everyone I’ve worked with this year. It’s been a lot of fun and I’ve learnt a lot along the way.

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