Week notes 10th June 2019

I thought I’d have a go at these as I enjoy the way a few other people do them. A collection of things I’ve found of interest this week.

  • A plumber told me off this week for not servicing our boiler. Like me, people are generally erratic at servicing products – mainly, I think, because we live in an era of throwaway products; we don’t service in anticipation of failure, and we barely repair in event of failure. Increasingly we just replace. In some fields regulation forces us to service products. Take the car MOT. The government obliges us to get our car MOT’s done annually. As a result MOT providers have organised their services well to deal with this obligated demand. So it’s very easy for me to get my car serviced. However, for some reason I don’t find it similarly easy to do the same with my plumbing. Instead it’s a chore. I think it’s partly because plumbers aren’t driven by any regulation to supply this service in the same way. In a way I wanted to ask him, “when was the last term you serviced your own service?” But obviously I would have just sounded priggish. However I feel this is going to change all too soon for all of us. The domestic home is one of the largest contributor of emissions in the UK, with our gas boilers at the heart of the problem. The regulator is coming for this problem, and the sooner we start to see it as a holistic system, through a service lens, the better.
  • We hosted an event as part of TechWeek on Friday. I presented a shortened version of this presentation. A member of the audience asked “what are the main blockers to delivering service design at scale in large organisations. For me it’s all boiling down to system conditions. Leaders at the top desperately want the change to a customer-centred org, and frontline staff want it. And everyone points to middle management as the common enemy – commanding / defending silo stacks like some desert chieftans. This shows a real lack of compassion for 150 years of management logic, based on creating highly verticalised, command-and-control organisations, that are target-driven, and organised around a factory logic that treats the customer as a commodity to be handled as efficiently as possible. You can’t switch that operating logic off over night. I have never met a manager who doesn’t want the vision of a customer-centred organsiation. They are all equally trapped in the system not of their own making. Our first step is to recognise the infinite monkey cage we’re in. The second is to collectively carve a key to get out. If you aren’t now knee-deep in applying systems theory in your design work, then that key cutting job will be very hard.
  • On that point, I highly recommend the recent Sam Harris Making Sense Podcast with Shane Parrish of Farnam Street blog. I’ve been a Farnam Street reader from the early days. Shane put me onto this amazing short book From Darwin to Munger, which connected my early, flickering fascinations with evolutionary psychology and coginitive bias (I have the PDF – contact me if you want a copy). Shane’s new book on mental models is coming out soon. I have it on order. This bullet point is part of the wider point I’m always making that “designers need to read more widely” because we too often start with too much of a blank canvas. Mental models and systems theory help create a map of the territory, within which the signal of the work can become much clearer. I also love Sam Harris, because as a practicing buddhist who doesn’t know many other buddhists, but who’s trying to practice whilst doing a very intense job in a very emergent domain, his blog is consistently A-MAY-ZING and grounding
  • Last Saturday I enjoyed participating in a Twitter debate whilst ferrying the kids hither and thither. One bit that really stuck with me was the point being made about the qualitative difference between ‘being of service’ and ‘providing a service’. I get this from a logical, classification point of view, but I don’t buy it from a delivery point of view, because people at the frontline won’t buy it. Individuals want to be of service, yet organisations need to provide a service. The delta is in the middle. We need to think and work harder to bring them together, as for too long our services have alienated / abstracted themselves from those people that want to serve: Health services / nurses, Care services / carers, Financial services / call centre agents. It’s a bit too much like victorian pinning butterflies in boxes.
  • Leads me on to book writing. I’m slowly slowly writing this book about the service instinct. There’s a page on it here. I’ve written the book treatment but felt I was procrastinating a bit with considerations around publishers and all that, so instead just dived in and started writing. Drop me a line if you want to chat about it. This week I’ve been focusing on Servant Leadership, which is a fascinating field of study, and also agile and collaboration as a form of ‘peer-to-peer service’. I’ve also had some very interesting conversations about the catholic church as a service, and no-one yet has swayed me from my belief that it totally is. One of the oldest, most succesful there is. With employees who fully go ‘into service’, to offer weekly ‘services’. Also hats off to the head of that service for getting behind Greta this week.
  • The last couple of weeks I’ve been watching one of our teams form up with a client team for a 12 week hypothesis-based, sprint service design engagement. This sort of co-located multidisciplinary project requires people to be very vulnerable in the way they work – it’s all about working in the open, expressing what you don’t know, and sharing ideas which might be wrong. Things that, since school, and all the way through work, you were encouraged to avoid. It always amazes me how quickly people go from nervous to ‘up for it’. Hearing someone on the client team say “I’m actually looking forward to coming to work tomorrow, and I can’t remember when I last said that” makes my day. It also helps that this is being led by a strong female team. In my experience, they have less of a problem with vulnerability compared to male led teams doing this work
  • I’ve taken on the Design Research Practice at EY Seren which is a pretty humbling thing. It contains a very talented bunch of people and I’m filling a talented man’s shoes. I’m excited by its potential and looking forward to the decisions ahead. Any talented researchers out there looking for a new challenge, please do get in touch
  • It’s arguable to say that service design grew out of the public sector. It’s nurtured so much of the talent over the years, funded a lot of the thinking and many of the projects. My first service design role, as Service Design Lead, was at businesslink.gov.uk back in around 2005. Even though the private sector is all over service design like a rash, I really cut my teeth up and down Whitehall. So seeing Futuregov become part of a bigger thing this week is a great testament to this origin story, and shows how far it’s all come. I have great admiration for Dom Campbell and his gang, because their work in services has such a profound impact on the daily lives of so many people. I wish them all the best
  • It’s not all work. Years and Years on the BBC is the most compelling thing I’ve watched in years. The near future has never looked so terrifying, rounded, threatening, loving, honest, warm, generous, alive and tragic. So much of design is about helping slow-to-change humans deal with a fast-to-change world. Russel T Davis is the soft-hearted uncle to Charlie Brooker’s gloomier, gaunt version. They both see the dystopian future ahead of us, but the bring us different narratives. As designers we also have choices.

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