On Cultivating Creativity and Divergent Thinking

”To think in a divergent mode requires more attention than thinking in the usual convergent style”, says the philosopher and psychologist Mihály Csíkszentmihályi.

I fully agree with this notion. In the book “Creativity: Flow and the Psychology of Discovery and Invention”, Csíkszentmihályi deals with various aspects of creativity. According to Csíkszentmihályi, creativity is often misunderstood, as it is a term being used for many other activities besides being inherently creative.

What is this human trait that we call creativity anyway – besides the individual’s ability to cultivate truly divergent means of thinking and to translate these into activities? And how to maintain a creative, divergent mindset – especially in the middle of the current Western culture of ours, largely building upon certain hegemonic and homogenous values of the agenda of capitalism and thus imposing upon us many written and unwritten laws, norms, regulations and rules?

According to Csíkszentmihályi, creative people are “able to integrate being open and receptive on the other hand, and focused and hard-driving on the other”. Both extrovert and introvert activities appeal to them.

An element of serendipitious discovery is always somewhat involved, it seems. “Creative people are constantly surprised”, Csíkszentmihályi says, and continues, “They don’t assume that they understand what is happening around them, and they don’t assume that anybody else does either. — It is commonplace for creative people to spot the shortcomings of accepted explanations before the rest of us do”, says Csíkszentmihályi. What makes us creative many times equals to just being non-conformist indeed.

Csíkszentmihályi also points out that creative people are typically not motivated by money or fame to but are driven by a feeling of responsibility for the common good.

There is another important social aspect to being creative.

If to think in a divergent way requires a certain personal mindset, communicating any creative divergent ideas to other people also requires attention.

What Csíkszentmihályi implies to here is that if your creative input in a certain domain fails to impress others with expertise on the same domain, it is hardly an innovation at all. To be “kind-of creative” in a certain domain is not enough – you must also be able to surprise others of the same domain and convince these people of the novelty, innovativeness and the implementation of your original idea.

According to Csíkszentmihályi, creativity involves expertise in a certain domain, acceptance of the field or individuals who act as gatekeepers to the domain, as well as the inherent personal effort and motivation.

As people that lead a life filled with creativity might know, this trait needs to be fuelled constantly – and to fuel it needs to fit in your daily routine. It requires motivation maintain this mindset in the middle of day-to-day repetitive activities that are also a fundamental part of everyday life in the Western society.

As I work in a somewhat creative field, I obviously need to be curios towards new things and trends also for professional reasons – but I attempt to organize my life around the principle of divergent activities just for the sake of fun and change as well.

I will share a few tips here of what works out for me as for cultivating creativity. This list is by no means complete and comprehensive! But I find sharing these tips might be helpful for some of you. Here’s what you should do:

 

  • Attempt to create a structure of un-structured time. Be it on my free weekends, or the regular day at the office, I attempt to organise my days so that I will have enough un-structured time on my calendar to do the activities that most appeal to me in life or to immerse in something challenging or new. This is the most important rule by far, and applying this rule to your life to at least some extent has immediate and significant effects on your creativity. In case you find this task of applying this to your own calendar an issue at first, I suggest giving serious thought to your life’s priorities.

 

  • Most creative individuals follow their own personal rhythm for sleeping, eating and working. Find out what personally works for you best.

 

  • Wear comfortable clothes. Yes, you got me right – your taste in clothing is not otherwise important. Make sure you wear what makes you comfortable.

 

  • Pay attention to your surroundings and where you spend most of your valuable time. Creating a harmonious, meaningful environment with a positive energy at home as well as at the office or at least about your own desk, certainly helps in cultivating your personal creativity and wellbeing.

 

  • Listen to the music that allows for you to concentrate on in-depth tasks and get to a flow state of mind. My personal favourite for this is electronic music.

 

  • In case you work in management, make a conscious effort to attempt to encourage creative and divergent thinking and activities in your organization and team and to apply these to any ongoing projects. Applying anthropocentric principles and co-design-methodologies might be of use.

 

  • Last – but not least – attempt to spend a part of your time each day with friends, a part of your day outside, preferably in nature, and at least a part of your day immersing in any offline activities.

 

Last week, I attended the Nordic Business Forum 2017 here in Helsinki with many impressive talks on the themes of responsibility, leadership and purpose.

What struck me most was the direct and honest anti-capitalism of Severn Cullis-Suzuki as well as hearing in more detail about Boyan Slat’s impressive plan to clear the world’s oceans of plastic waste. With all the repetitive talks included in the programme about the state of economy as well as climate change, as well as business superstars like Sir Richard Branson as well as motivational speakers such as Will Smith on stage, I feel like the event currently suffers of a lack of creativity, novelty and proper curation.

I would have liked to have spent much more time on networking on location and meeting old colleagues and friends besides listening to most of the talks in the event, as I feel this was of more value to me.

What most business events like this lack most is indeed a truly creative and generative atmosphere. I am looking more and more forward into attending SLUSH17 technology event this year in my hometown!

It might give you a certain advantage and an edge when it comes to business – but what is most important according to Csíkszentmihályi is that learning to be at least a little bit creative when it comes to everyday life will eventually change the way you experience life itself.

Applying some creativity to your everyday life is what – in essence – makes us live a happy and fulfilling life and gives us yet another reason to smile.

 

Get “Creativity: Flow and the Psychology of Discovery and Invention”, 1997, by Mihály Csíkszentmihályi on Amazon: https://www.amazon.com/Creativity-Flow-Psychology-Discovery-Invention/dp/0062283251

The Value of Design Sprints Explained

Many companies are now becoming software driven and they need to deliver genuine value, build useable, intuitive and desirable interfaces so that people can operate them quickly and effectively with their mobile and other devices. This is harder than it seems and takes a great deal of time, skill and talent to achieve.

Design sprints bring people of various backgrounds together to collaboratively find solutions within a highly complex system of business, technical, and human context to ultimately result in products and services that people need and desire and are happy to make part of their lives.

How to succeed in delivering a design sprint and wherein lies the value of design sprints to begin with?

I recently had the chance to skim through a few excellent books on this topic. In “Sprint – How to Solve Big Problems and Test New Ideas in Just Five Days”, Jake Knapp, John Zeratsky and Braden Kowitz from Google Ventures explain and outline the Google 5-day Sprint method.

It all begins by setting the stage – outlining the big issue you wish to solve in a week, getting your sprint team together and scheduling a sprint room for the five days.

As for the sprint team or the group of people participating, no more than seven people, with the facilitator not included, is recommended for the sprint. Based on my own experience, this is the ideal group size.

Who then, is needed to participate in the sprint? Knapp and others recommend, that the group includes these people, in addition to the Facilitator:

  • Decision Maker – such as the CEO, Product Manager or Chief Design Officer
  • Finance Expert – such as the CFO, or a Business Development Manager
  • Marketing Expert – such as the CMO, or other qualified person in Marketing
  • Customer Expert – one who regularly meets or chats with customers
  • Technology Expert – such as the CTO or any other person with expertise on technology
  • Design Expert – such as the Design Strategist, the Designer or the Product Owner of the software

Sometimes, some of these roles can be combined. But Knapp and others emphasize, that a Facilitator must be the one that keeps things running, keeps track of time and tasks, and leads the sprint on. It makes sense to hire one or two professionals for this task. Also, some extra experts can be invited to participate and give their views and insights on the issue on the very first day.

It is highly recommended by Knapp and his colleagues that each day, 7 hours with a 1-hour lunch break is spent on the sprint. This will allow for 6 working hours for the group each day, divided between various scheduled tasks.

Knapp recommends starting the sprint each day no earlier than by 10 a.m., so that everyone is present having already checked their emails for the day, as well as being very persistent that no laptops, phones or tablets are allowed in the room. If anybody needs to take a call, they can take it outside the sprint room.

Sometimes, the group may have to reframe the original issue to be solved with human perspective and empathy. For the very first day of any sprint, Knapp and others suggest setting and agreeing to a long-term goal is needed. Challenge mapping is recommended, but picking a target for the sprint is equally important.

Before setting out to pick the target for the sprint, it is paramount to ask the group of people participating, where the company wishes to be in six months, a year, or even five years from now. Sometimes, there may be a long-term strategy involved, but it is recommended to allow for some time for discussion on this topic.

In “The Design Studio Method”, Brian Sullivan emphasizes that preparation largely determines success when it comes to sprints, and suggests scheduling a Problem-Definition Meeting, before the sprint. I find, based on my own experience in facilitation, that this method might work better besides or alternatively combined with the Google 5-day sprint.

Arranging a Problem-Definition Meeting before the design sprint incorporates several benefits:

  • Defining and outlining the original issue, problem or opportunity you wish to solve during the sprint, before the sprint team gets together for the first time
  • Understanding any prior existing requirements or commitments
  • Explaining the methodology of the sprint to the key stakeholders
  • Identifying any such pieces of information you may need to do some research on beforehand
  • Securing alignment between the key stakeholders of the company
  • Committing key people to participate in the sprint beforehand
  • Determining the schedule and scope of the sprint

Sullivan also lists the various advantages of a cross-functional team:

  • Diversity – With a variety of people from different departments, you will have unique perspectives based upon each person’s expertise.
  • Cohesion – Participants complete assignments together using their individual talents to further the bigger goals of the team.
  • Synergy – With a variety of perspectives, the interactions of the group should lead to a greater creativity, as people build upon the ideas of others.
  • Consensus – Your project will have a final plan for execution, or at least a product vision set in place.

The core mission of design is to seamlessly translate business efforts and technology into products and services that deliver human value. At the end of the day, products are simply tools and services that are part of a human ecosystem of tasks and much deeper — almost spiritual — human drivers. Products and services empower humans and enhance human abilities.

There still remain organizations that see design thinking as unnecessary rather than essential to driving organizational change and innovation. Without doing proper research on the customer’s lifestyles and needs and then generating and evaluating various design ideas in a group of people with diverse expertise, in design sprints, however, your product or service might fail in delivering value to the target customers.

This, to me, sums up the value of professionally prepared and facilitated design sprints.

Read more in an article “How Using Design Thinking Will Fix Design Thinking” by Bert Brautigam:

https://thenextweb.com/contributors/2017/04/27/design-thinking-will-fix-design-thinking/

Get “Sprint – How to Solve Big Problems and Test New Ideas in Just Five Days”, 2016, by Jake Knapp, John Zeratsky and Braden Kowitz”, or “The Design Studio Method”, 2016, by Brian Sullivan on Amazon:

https://www.amazon.com/Sprint-Solve-Problems-Test-Ideas/dp/1442397683

https://www.amazon.com/Design-Studio-Method-Creative-Sketching/dp/113802256X/

Contact Iiris via LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/in/iiriskonttinen/

Visit the Steps Helsinki website (only in Finnish): https://stepshelsinki.fi/

The Top Helsinki Nightlife Attractions for the Party-Going People

With the easy-going summer season now behind us, I decided to write a blog post on the nightlife of my hometown Helsinki. Many hip tourists from abroad visit our beautiful city annually, but not everyone finds the hidden gems of our party scene. It certainly takes some effort to get to know the place and to find your way around to the most established clubs. I like to listen to house and techno, so this post mostly deals with electronic music events and venues.

The photo above is a sneak-peek snapshot from the Ääniwalli. This place must be the best electronic music location in Helsinki for any house and techno lover. Perhaps it suffices to say that only this year, we have had acts such as Âme, DJ Tennis, Recondite, Rødhåd and Matthew Dear perform live at this venue.

Hosted by Lil’ Tony, the Ääniwalli has managed to maintain an aura of authenticity and peace-love-unity-respect -style in partying and atmosphere. A few other clubs I prefer are Siltanen, Kaiku and Kuudes Linja.

The current nightclubs in the center area of Helsinki are hardly worth a mention in this post.

One can hardly start discussing the electronic music scene in Helsinki without the Flow Festival in Suvilahti. I went this year just so I could see Aphex Twin, one of my all-time favourite acts perform live. The gig was an outstanding experience. Prior to the Flow Festival, I think we have only had Aphex Twin visit once.

This year, I was not as appalled as last year about the crowdedness and commercialism of the festival area. However, just to make it to a 1-hour gig of my favourite Warp artist plus to see Maceo Plex and a few other acts perform at the Resident Advisor stage on Friday night, I felt like the overall experience was overpriced.

As the Flow Festival is now the most popular of the hip festival events in Finland, many people seem to forget that we have other similar festivals as well!

And many of these are much more exquisite and comfortable to visit besides the acclaimed Flow Festival.

One of last year’s absolute highlights was the Visio Festival organized in the Teurastamo area of Helsinki.

The Visio Festival is a conceptual, vibrant club music festival focused on left-field top artists from Finland and other Nordic countries. Last year, we got to see Todd Terje with his band perform live along with many other excellent acts. With the Flow Festival being very mainstream and crowded these days, it is safe to say the Visio Festival event was the electronic music highlight of the whole season last summer.

This year, the Visio Festival organization was facing some severe financial challenges. The festival crew pulled the event through, nevertheless. I appreciate that they made it happen despite these obstacles!

The rumour has it that there will be more conceptual electronic music events organized by the Visio crew in the very near future, but it remains to be seen if there will be a festival event of this scale happening next summer. I feel very sorry for this loss, as it seems to me that we need still more events of this type here.

 

The NSU Summer Gathering Proceedings

So I am currently participating in the Nordic Summer University conference – organized this year in the astoundingly beautiful Saulkrasti, near Riga, in Latvia. The place is a tiny and peaceful coastal town with stunning views of the Baltic Sea. This year’s gathering has around 170 participants from various countries around Europe and elsewhere, with emphasis on the Nordic academia as usual.

Many students are joining in from the Baltic countries as well this year, with also a few from Russia.

The Nordic Summer University, or NSU for short, is a nomadic network for interdisciplinary research, operating in the Nordic and Baltic region.

The summer conferences have been organized ever since the 1950’s, and this organization is the oldest academic, independent co-operation body in the Nordic countries.

The summer conference kicked off already earlier this week. I arrived here yesterday myself after spending a few days by myself in Vilnius first, so I have not yet had the chance to hear more than just a few presentations at my study circle. I am very much looking forward to hearing many more excellent ones still during the following days.

I am taking part in the ongoing study circle “Appearances of the Political”, curated by Carsten Friberg and Raine Vasquez. This year, we are focusing in-depth on the theme of “Action and Activism”.

Here is how the theme was described by the organizers of the conference in the original CFP:

Since the 1960s the active forms of the political have been manifold, from marches, demonstrations interventions, and happenings, to more radical forms such as occupations – and even violent forms such as terrorism.

In recent years, we have witnessed a revitalisation of mass movements through use of internet and social media, including the creation of new movements like Occupy and Indignados, and new activities like the hacktivism of Anonymous. In relation to the environment, we find guerrilla gardening along with local protests against corporate use of natural resources, engaging people across traditional political groupings.

Many forms of activism also face political resistance defining – or redefining – the political space that is threatening democratic rights with agendas of terrorism, challenging or reshaping the space for political activism.

I have had an excellent time here! I think many people who have a vested interested in these topics would benefit from taking part in an NSU Session at some point of their academic careers. The NSU is a very special organization in the sense that it forms an independent, nomadic body of academics.

We need institutions like these now more than ever, as many Nordic and Baltic countries are facing substantial cuts in the budgets of the historically preceding, established academic organizations.

My own presentation will take place next Monday afternoon. The upcoming presentation is entitled “On Contemporary Infrastructure and Activism – Extrastatecraft and The Fate of Art in the Age of Terror”. Below is a link to the published presentation – just in case you are interested in reading it.

https://www.academia.edu/34071366/On_Contemporary_Infrastructure_and_Activism_Extrastatecraft_and_The_Fate_of_Art_in_the_Age_of_Terror

Find out more about the Nordic Summer University by visiting http://nordic.university/ and join in for the next upcoming session by ordering the newsletter!

About Analytics, Conversions and On-Site Surveys

Recently, I have given a lot of thought to conversions. A static website may attract a lot of traffic, but unless there is an initial CTA (otherwise known as “call-to-action”), that traffic may be of no use at all.

According to a recent study by Bain & Company, around 80% of companies say they are customer centric, yet only 8% of their customers seem to agree with this.

When it comes to online shopping, this gap is evident.

You already have my contact info, and you know exactly what I bought – why not use that information and ask me for my opinions on-site, as well as at least some feedback about the online store and my purchase experience, or at the very least the product you just sold me?

As we all know, around 90% of all online experiences begin with a search engine. Proper SEO and SEM are, naturally, of a very high importance when it comes to attempts to increase the conversion rate.

Also, to be more precise, conversions only take place when targeted traffic meets the relevant offer. It all starts with knowing who is your target audience – and with knowing what they need or want.

It is highly recommended to begin by asking the right questions.

  • Who are the target customers? And what is their ongoing life situation?
  • What do they want? And what is the biggest pain point related to that?
  • What are the exact needs of the customers that aren’t being met right now?

Surveys can be used to significantly increase conversions by directing visitors to the correct pages on site. It all starts simply by asking questions related to customers and their specific needs, or feedback on whatever is displayed on the current page being browsed.

Qualitative research can offer more insight than anything else for coming up with conversions. Whereas quantitative figures tell you “what, where” and “how much”, the qualitative information tells you “why”.

The primary goal of qualitative research on-site is to gather an in-depth understanding of a website user’s behaviour, and the main reasons for that behaviour.

It makes sense to first inquire the user’s intent – to dig into what exactly is the specific problem they were solving by visiting the site in question. Moving forward, the next relevant questions might be, for example, what mattered to them when choosing the product or service, what kind of comparisons did they do prior to purchase, or how many and which other sites they looked at, and so on. It might also make sense to ask about friction – fears, doubts and hesitations the users experienced before making the purchase.

Your basic Google Analytics tools help you in defining your questions and in placing the surveys on site.

With Google Analytics tools, it is easy to spot the exact:

  • Best performing content (Which pieces of content work best? Try and get a clear view on this one!)
  • Best converting keywords (Which keywords rank? Aim to rank better for these and similar words.)
  • Best converting landing pages (Where is the incoming traffic landing on – and does it convert?)
  • Best converting traffic sources (Where exactly is your traffic that converts visitors coming from?)

To best avoid bounce and churn rate increase, I suggest giving the conversion surveys as well as their placement on your site a lot of thought. Less is more.

Exit surveys, annoying pop-ups and prompts to subscribe to another newsletter are proliferate. With Google Analytics tools, you can easily target the relevant customers with your on-site surveys – it does not matter if they converted, or did not yet.

Extrastatecraft, the Game of Go and Digitalization as an Oxymoron

In “A Thousand Plateaus”, in a chapter entitled “Treatise on Nomadology: The War Machine”, Gilles Deleuze and Félix Guattari utilize the model of the game Go to illustrate the dispositions of the “war machine” – an array of conflict that is “exterior to the state”.

What might be the implications of this notion when it comes to the infrastructure of the internet?

Any infrastructure is a setting that controls our lives to a certain extent.

“Microwaves bounce between billions of cell phones. Computers synchronize. Shipping containers stack, lock, and calibrate the global transportation and production of goods. Credit cards, all sized 0,76 mm, slip through the slots in cash machines anywhere in the world. All of these ubiquitous and seemingly innocuous features of our world are evidence of global infrastructure. – In the retinal afterglow is a soupy matrix of details and repeatable formulas that generate most of the space in the world –“

So begins the dystopian story of the infrastructure of our time, “Extrastatecraft” by Keller Easterling. This epic book describes the prevailing conditions of the global digital and physical capitalist system.

In this book, Easterling sets out to analyze the current situation via the themes of “zone”, “disposition”, “broadband”, “stories”, and “quality”. The approach, case studies and perspective in this book are very leftist, but will carry relevance to anybody interested in these topics.

As reflected upon by Easterling, the sociologist and anthropologist Bruno Latour has written that networks and infrastructure are composed of both social and technological actors. Think about the most popular social networks. According to Easterling, they may be “conglomerates of many surprising sets of agencies”.

Whichever corporations control the algorithms of these conglomerates, however, have rapidly taken over the framework and infrastructure where we operate in our daily lives.

I would argue, in the spirit of Easterling, that the algorithm of Facebook, Instagram or Twitter, for instance, are very powerful ones, in as much as they control our current social lives and actions online.

As Easterling describes, for Deleuze and Guattari, “the war machine conquests operate in the “smooth” space of Go, instead of the “striated” space of chess.” The main distinction here is that whereas chess offers hierarchy, and each game piece operates via established hierarchical routines, Go only allows areas of black and white stones to move on a grid as each attempts to conquer ever-changing territories.

What are the implications of this notion for the 21st century and the digital industries?

Coming back to algorithms, and taking the algorithms of our most powerful social media tools as example, any attempt to run an agile and successful software company should be based on the game Go, rather than the game of chess.

My next question, then, is, how to make the algorithm appealing to masses, and  what might then be the driving values that eventually make successful companies with this operating system, as these must matter as well? Or do the values matter?

Digitalization is an oxymoron in the sense that it implies to a change, whereas now it seems that in our current economy it only adds a layer of infrastructure upon it.

I firmly believe now more than ever any aspiring startup entrepreneur must consider the social and global impact of their service and product, and play a game of Go.

Get “Extrastatecraft – the Power of Infrastructure Space”, 2014, by Keller Easterling on Amazon: https://www.amazon.com/Extrastatecraft-Power-Infrastructure-Keller-Easterling/dp/1784783641/

or

Get “A Thousand Plateaus: Capitalism and Schizophrenia”, 1987, by Gilles Deleuze and Félix Guattari:

https://www.amazon.com/Thousand-Plateaus-Capitalism-Schizophrenia/dp/0816614024/

Culture Still Eats Strategy for Breakfast?

Working time takes up a grand majority of our lives. The overall impact of working life conditions in the mental and physical well-being of employers is huge.

This weekend, I am attending a well-being hackathon event related to solving and reducing the negative impact of burnouts. The event is organized by the Finnish insurance company called Varma.

In philosophy, the term ‘well-being’ (and ‘welfare’, ‘utility’, etc.) refers, in a nutshell, to the manner of how an individual’s life manifests desires, objectives, and needs—among myriad more diverse variables—and how these affect the individual’s perspective.

Keeping up motivation for working and working life in general has sprouted numerous efforts at workplaces to improve upon the employer experience. Some workplaces offer free fruits, others set up a lounge with Fatboys for breaks. It is a common practice everywhere to host office parties, even working holidays.

I took part in an inspiring workshop last week that I feel deserves some attention in this blog while preparing for the hackathon. The workshop was organized by the fab Antti Harjuoja of a company called Milestone, devoted to improving upon the working life conditions via researching and recording the atmosphere at workplaces.

The groundbreaking notion in the tools developed by Milestone is that any improvements upon the customer experience are largely dependent upon the mindset of the employees involved in delivering the customer experience of a certain organization. The main methodology to solve commonplace issues and to make improvements in working life culture of Milestone here is to utilize a quantitative matrix that highlights with different color codes the several factors affecting the employer experience.

With the 5 people, most of the attendees being HR professionals, attending the workshop and discussion facilitated by Harjuoja the atmosphere was relaxed and easygoing with results that will hopefully be of assistance in developing these tools further.

Agile is a buzzword with a huge relevance in the evolution of organizational culture. “Agility is about flexibility and the ability of an organization to rapidly adapt and steer itself in a new direction. It’s about minimizing handovers and bureaucracy, and empowering people” says Bart Schlatmann, as quoted by Nordkapp’s Creative Director Sami Niemelä in a speech he recently delivered in New York.

I suggest you read the full paraphrase of “The New Invisibles” by Niemelä, I think this has very much to do with how the employees are being empowered and how design can have a positive impact in solving prevailing global challenges.

With trickle-down hierarchy, it is hard to make people realize their full potential as employees and the pace of change is slow. Waterfall hierarchies being still commonplace, I think we are in dire need practical tools to improve upon the employer’s attitudes and motivation towards their work, as well as the agility of organizations.

Design sprints can certainly be of assistance in this as well as solving many other problems. This weekend’s VarmaHack event will be a chance to see several practical digital solutions to these commonplace issues and burnout rehabilitation being prototyped by several teams. Excited to be attending the event and to see the outcomes.

This is the 50th blog post on this blog. I feel like I have reached a preliminary goal I set myself ex tempore around 1,5 years ago.

Read the paraphrase of the speech delivered at IxDA global conference 2017 New York by Nordkapp’s Creative Director Sami Niemelä: https://blog.nordkapp.fi/the-new-invisibles-a-look-into-the-changing-face-of-design-31531b7326d6

or

Get to know Milestone (site only in Finnish): https://milestone.fi

About Purchasing Artworks Online

One of my favourite hobbies is collecting prints. This hobby has so far revolved around the excellent online service of Saatchi Art, http://saatchiart.com. In case you are not familiar with this online gallery and art store, I suggest having a look!

I currently own four limited-edition prints of artists featured at Saatchi Art.

Having been employed by the Finnish National Gallery as a Digital Planner for 2,5 years until the end of last year, I got to see world-class exhibitions being prepared close by. The exhibitions of the Finnish National Gallery regularly feature contemporary artists such as Ernesto Neto and Mona Hatoum last year, not to mention big and lesser known names of modern art, such as Amedeo Modigliani or Alice Neel.

The Finnish National Gallery broke all-time visitor records in Finland last year! The number of visitors last year in its three museums, the Ateneum Art Museum, the Museum of Contemporary Art Kiasma, and the Sinebrychoff Art Museum, exceeded 700 000 people by far. In a small country inhabited by approximately 6 million people, that’s not too bad for a museum institution!

But let’s not forget, that Finland has a very lively and original, more marginal contemporary art scene.

A very cool online gallery, accessible for all, called Tabulaland, emerged in Helsinki a few years back. You can have a look at the featured artworks of this excellent gallery online at http://tabulaland.com.

This gallery, owned by Aiju Salminen, is smaller than Saatchi Art by far, and mostly features Finnish artists. Acquiring an original by such Finnish contemporary artists as Anssi Kasitonni is easy via Tabulaland! You can place an order through the online store, or alternatively, contact Aiju for assistance. Purchasing an original artwork from a remote country such as Finland has never been easier.

Contemporary art has a notorious reputation of being hard to “get”. I certainly do not get where the hard part is here, and I am not sure it matters if you “get” or miss the point in an artwork – if you enjoy viewing it, be the artwork placed in a gallery space or at home.

I wish more people would enrich their lives by visiting art exhibitions, as I certainly enjoy this hobby myself.

NB. The original copyrights of the artworks in the above post photo taken by me at the Helsinki Art Museum HAM belong to the Finnish artist Robert Lucander.

A Website Makeover Overnight and Other Recent Events

So the Steps Helsinki website finally got a complete makeover this weekend!

Feel free to check the new site out at http://stepshelsinki.fi.

I am fairly happy with the resulting look and feel, as well as with the new design-related photos and colors that I used in the design.

Migrating the site over to a WordPress Business Plan as well as a complete redesign of the site was in my interests since the very beginning of this year – but I have been putting this project off for some time now, since my weekends seem to fill up with social events.

Last night, I also took the time to revamp the rest of the contents of the site, and will also shortly start writing a blog about marketing and service design and related topics in Finnish to spice up the website.

So stay tuned for that, dear readers!

Steps Helsinki now has 80 followers over in Twitter, and nearly as many followers as that in Facebook and LinkedIn combined.

Joining Twitter, finally, has been fruitful and rewarding. I still need to speed up and to boost my sales, as the two deals I was aiming for to get started with fell through before the end of the year. I am very much looking forward to closing some deals soon.

My agency will be moving in next month with Pentagon Design Oy. This is great news, as their premises are located conveniently enough in the hip Suvilahti area of Helsinki, and only a 10-15 minute walk away from my place in Kallio.

And who knows, perhaps there will be some joint efforts design projects coming up too.

The “Upea Ura!” -festival event is coming up soon. I have been planning the event as for the theme of strategic and creative thinking together with Riikka Pellikka. Our invited keynote speaker in the event as for this theme will be Anne Stenros, the Chief Design Officer of the City of Helsinki. Also, Maija Tanninen-Mattila, the Director of the Helsinki Art Museum, and Piritta Kantojärvi, the CEO of Grape People, as well as Marianne Tenhula, a Service Designer currently working at the design agency Palmu, will be giving talks.

I will be facilitating a few practical exercises during the event. Looking forward to the festival!

In other news, it seems my studies at the University of Helsinki are currently at a complete standstill since last autumn. I did give a presentation on the issue of street art and the Berlin Wall last year in an international summer school conference of the Nordic Summer University (NSU), however, my beloved master’s thesis is a work very much in progress right now.

I will just have to see if this upcoming summer may offer me a chance to work on that.

I am mentoring a group of four students and my peers this semester. Most of them are currently looking for a job. It seems to me like my university background has always come second to my studies in the university of applied sciences when it comes to getting employed and my next career moves.

I hope, nevertheless, that I can inspire this group of students to get to know their strengths in the current job market and to find an intriguing position. I think university background gives a huge advantage for many vacancies.

Like many in the academia here, I am worried that we will shortly be facing tuition fees in universities and other arrangements that will greatly affect the equality of access to higher education.

I think it goes almost without saying that a university-level education certainly gives a substantially stronger background for getting employed in many fields besides studying in a polytechnic institute. The current budget cuts in the university world of Finland may come at a cost in the long run, because we do need workforce with higher education in Finland, to boost the economy and the startup-spirit.

On the Relevance of Lifestyles in Service Design

Customers and the end users of services are obviously the best people to evaluate their experiences. This is the reason why the design of any new, innovative product or service should always be based on in-depth research on their lives, aspirations, desires and needs. By this kind of material I do not mean only data and analytics, but also qualitative interviews, or other extensive research, on people’s daily lives and habits.

Most service design methods are firmly based on the initial research conducted.

Research on people’s preferences should always be based on several in-depth-interviews, or alternatively, extensive analytics, or other quantitative material on the potential customer’s lives and lifestyles.

In literature on sociology, marketing and consumption, discussions of customer experience are closely linked with the concept of lifestyle.

And correspondingly, questions concerning value construction, lifestyle and taste lay at the core of most service design research methods.

The sociologist Antoine Hennion has written about taste as “a reflexive activity”, and as “a collective technique”. Questions of taste define our choices to a certain extent, and should not be overlooked.

Hennion says that analyzing taste helps us to understand the various ways we make ourselves sensitized to objects, to ourselves, to situations and to moments – while simultaneously controlling how those feelings might be shared and discussed with others.

Hennion has also defined amateurs as connoisseurs who have “a spiritual enthusiasm” for the things they do. In my experience, this kind of enthusiasm for a certain lifestyle is shared amongst like-minded people.

It makes perfect sense to limit initial research objectives to certain customer segments, and choose the people interviewed and researched based on their overall lifestyle, interests and enthusiasm.

Individuals are, of course, essentially, very social creatures. They do not live in a void – nor are they steady members of certain consumer segments for the rest of their lives. Furthermore, we all live in a rapidly evolving world, with technology taking huge strides all the time.

The properties of a certain product or service re-evaluated and tweaked, after the initial iteration. Service design and qualitative research on lifestyles of consumers can be of assistance in this phase as well.

The lifecycle of any iteration of a digital product or service should also perhaps be considered limited.

The image below describes the situation from the viewpoint of a design team. This picture has been initially published in a book called “The Convivial Toolbox: Generative Research for the Front End of Design” (2013) by Elizabeth Sanders and Pieter Jan Stappers.

 

 

About Facilitating Competencies

Today, I took part in a workshop on facilitation organized by the Finnish Association of Facilitators (FAFA Ry) at the HUB13 Business Hub in Helsinki. I am a member of the association, as of last year, when I first met Piritta Kantojärvi, the CEO of Grape People and the author of several excellent books on facilitation.

FAFA Ry is the Finnish chapter of the International Association of Facilitators (IAF). The IAF is a worldwide professional body established to promote, support and advance the art and practice of professional facilitation through methods exchange, professional growth, practical research and collegial networking.

During the workshop, the participants collaboratively took on to examine the core competencies of a professional facilitator. I found the event a very interesting one in the sense that it gave me insight and information on the competencies of a certified professional facilitator.

I am also a member of the Finnish “Fasilitointi 2.0” network since last year, and have so far taken part in two meetings of that group. I have found these meetings give the participants a great deal of new ideas, information on useful methods, and boost the professional competencies of the participants.

The very first time I took part in a meeting of that group, the theme of our discussion was “How to deal with difficult people?”.

As even professional facilitators may sometimes encounter participants with negative attitudes in a workshop or other collaborative event, and it may also affect the outcomes of the event, I think sharing experiences and insight on difficult situations and how to solve these with other professionals is very important.

The outcome of our discussion of that theme seemed to revolve around creating “a safe space”.

To me, this simply translates to that the people participating in a collaborative event must be able to trust the facilitator. There are many external factors that might affect the situation, of course.

But basically, the facilitator must be able to create a relaxed creative atmosphere.

To me, this means being relaxed and confident yourself, first getting people to know each other via ice-breaking exercises, and only then establishing a clear context of the session, and evoking a sense of a shared mission in the group. I find that keeping up with the original plan for the session and schedules during the session is very important as well.

If some disruptive behavior or a conflict should arise, the facilitator must be able to face that issue with diplomacy, assume a neutral position, and gently lead the group on to create a collaborative resolution for the situation.

In brief, it makes sense to hire a professional facilitator for a collaborative event of any kind.

The core competencies of a certified professional facilitator are listed at the IAF website.

You can find the list behind this link: https://www.iaf-world.org/site/professional/core-competencies

The Emerging Trends and Seismic Shifts in CX, UX and UI Design

What are the major issues dominating the field of design right now? As the holiday season is now over, it is time to skim through the relevant details.

Let’s get started with a few statistics. By 2017, a whopping 89% of marketing people expect customer experience to be their primary differentiator at the global and local marketplace, says Gartner Group. Furthermore, 72% of businesses now say that improving the customer experience is their “top priority”, Forrester states.

This year makes for a highly interesting era as for the evolution digital and service design then.

In a recent article “Service Design Trends for 2017” John Knight describes the current “seismic shifts” in customer experience and user experience design right now.

The inevitable huge strides technology, internet of things and artificial intelligence are changing the landscape of digital services. “As smart machines start to replace human actors, UX will need to move from delivering simple usability to dealing with more complex domains that blend human and technological agency”, Knight states. Many others in the field of service design seem to agree.

While I do not consider this to be the main concern for many companies still during this year, in the very near future this shift will be one most designers and businesses will simply have to find a way to deal with in order to keep up with the others.

Knight views micro-interactions and micro-moments as another important trend for this year. “Beyond removing barriers to conversion, building value creation into all touchpoints and weaving it in as a design element. It will no longer suffice to make check-outs easy but instead UX will need to deliver sustainable engagement”, Knight says.

Accordingly, maintaining a sustainable and striking visual and contextual consistency over different devices and different mediums will be more important than ever before in service design. With more people spending more time on various devices, designers will need to maintain their attention and create engaging experiences. I think, like many others, that the use of video clips and fresh illustrations, and a bolder use of colour and typography, will be growing trends in UX next year.

Another emerging trend seems to be that UX design is a more widespread discipline than ever. “Just like the eponymous DJ, everyone is a UX designer nowadays”, Knight exclaims. I agree with Knight as for the fact that “has many repercussions for UX as a discipline, practice and job. In the longer term, everyone doing UX will require a tighter, more focused and stronger core discipline”.

In an article in Forbes magazine online, Shep Hyken says, almost as if stating the obvious, that this year customer service is getting better (even if it doesn’t look like it), value and experience created continue to trump price, and that personalization eventually creates a better customer experience. Coming back to Knight, he says that “this shift will require a much more agile approach to design where rather than single solutions there will be multiple segmented and highly tailored interaction patterns.”

When it comes to personalization, privacy, security and trust will be the next issues involved. As Knight states, “The robustness, clarity and visibility of organisations trustworthiness and security will become a primary part of the customer proposition”, and I firmly believe that statement is true.

Data supplied enables every customer experience to be personalized, starting with the browser cache and cookies and with our latest online orders lists. However, it seems a growing number of people are not that willing to share even this much information with the corporate world.

Engendering the feeling of trust in a product or service is now an important task for any good CX or UX designer.

I am currently working full-time for the small service design and marketing consulting agency Steps Helsinki since the beginning of this year. Exciting times!

As the discipline of service design remains largely unknown in many companies over in Finland, not including many big companies and startups of course, I will need to work hard to cut the first deals.

It seems to me that traditional marketing and graphic design is by far easier to sell here in Finland than service design, but I find these two must come second to well-designed digital services and streamlining the overall customer experience. To me, it all starts with an approach that involves multidisciplinary stakeholders from the start and takes them through the entire process of design.

Also, happy to tell you that the blog has had around 1,000 unique visitors last year, even though I have only managed to push around three posts per month online. A warm thank you to you all for reading.

I wish for an excellent new year for all!

 

 

 

Happy Independence Day 2017 Finland!

With the unique Slush 2016 tech event of last week now behind us here in Helsinki, Finland sets out to celebrate a hundred years of independence in 2017.

Independence day celebration being about history and looking back on our accomplishments, 100 is a very nice round figure for not only reflection on the past – but also to contemplate where we want to go next.

It goes without saying that there is a major cultural paradigm shift going on for our country, and as for the rest of the world, perhaps too. Over the next one hundred years, Finnish companies, like others, will have to make services and products that put the needs of the customers first, without compromises.

The global stage, especially the digital, is a very competitive one.

Finland has a long tradition of approaching product and service design from a technological standpoint. Perhaps this is a key element in what originally placed Nokia cellphones, as well as many other innovations, firmly on the global market. But equally importantly, we tend to base our design on the needs of our customers, as well as to approach industrial design and IT from a Nordic aesthetic standpoint.

Take the Iittala products, spatial design by Alvar Aalto, Visit Finland’s brand, and the Helsinki-Vantaa airport as prime examples.

For me, this year’s independence day celebration incorporates mixed emotions, as our current government seems to emphasize values that differ from many things that I most value in Finnish culture.

Finland is currently facing heavy cuts of budget on the overall education and cultural sector, and the startup spirit of the Slush event seems to have not hindered our decision makers from reducing the education budgets in Finland to the bare minimum.

However, without our education system and most Finns in the field of IT and design being professionals with a polytechnic institute or university level background, we would hardly be able to host such amazing events as Slush and we would certainly not have witnessed the success of Finnish design and technology globally.

Independence day celebration here in Finland also being largely about fighting the Russians during the Second World War it is a very curious fact that in the ongoing crisis in Middle-East – caused chiefly by the absurd and offensive politics of the United States – is a cause of little or no concern for many Finns – even so much so, that a small minority of us Finns would present racist attitudes towards refugees fleeing from war.

With that being said – I am very happy about being born a Finn and here, as there are still many heavy issues to tackle in many other places in the world.

Finnish women won the right to vote a hundred years ago, and Finland, in fact, was the very first country in Europe to grant women that right.

Equality between the sexes and equality among people from different backgrounds being a key element in how our parents built this country, I wish we as Finns could promote these kinds of values more, both in our own country as well as globally.

On the Complex Relationship between Meditation and Productivity

With the great Black Friday deals at Amazon and other bookstores around it is now time to order the most inspiring books on your bucket list by the holidays. I am very much looking forward to having the time to catch up on reading.

My most recent purchases for this upcoming holiday season include books on the several aspects of meditation, mindfulness and creativity.

With meditation and mindfulness having become popular and widely researched practices, there is an abundance of great literature as well as excellent, in-depth online content available on these topics. Reflecting on the main purpose behind meditation and mindfulness practice, however, should perhaps be highlighted more in these sources – and reflected on in-depth by anyone who has an interest in these topics.

Charlie Amberlan, the founder of @dailyzen Twitter account, has written a great article on this issue called “The Real Benefit of Meditation”.

Amberlan describes the relationship between meditation and late capitalism as follows: “At some point during the strange confluence of “self-improvement” ideas of the 20th and 21st centuries, Zen became tied in with the cult of productivity. Meditation is often sold as a cure to the modern worker’s ailments— lack of focus, lack of creativity, lack of organization.” Much of this is obvious by the related literature and online content.

The clarity and calmness that one achieves during meditation has many benefits, of course, like Amberlan also states in his article. But what is meditation, then, in its essence, besides experiencing the crystal clear state of mind ultimately achieved by the means of it?

In Amberlan’s view we are in danger of bypassing the original purpose of meditation. “Meditation is an easy sell to companies and workers because it makes you a better person”, Amberlan states, and continues: “But it improves you through detaching you from desires, attachments, and the need to improve.” It is exactly the detachment of these structures of our minds that makes us transcend our prior capabilities. In Amberlan’s words: “In detaching from notions of superiority, you become superior.”

The bottom line is that “basic professional or creative benefits are merely surface-level symptoms of the deeper changes that occur in the mind of the person who meditates every day”, says Amberlan.

Accordingly, Amberlan encourages to “stop practicing spirituality as a way towards productivity or as a means to an end”. Amberlan continues: “The whole point is that it is a means to itself. In doing it for its own sake, you learn to live for its own sake.”

The surface-level secondary goals seem to dominate the thoughts of many of those practitioners who are above all focused on improving their performance at work via the means of meditation or mindfulness.

I firmly believe that ultimately the goal and purpose of meditation and mindfulness practice should be to eventually transcend these more mundane goals. And I believe, like Amberlan, that achieving a superiorly clear and calm state of mind means that the practitioner is focused on applying spirituality in most, if not every aspect of their lives.

Read the full article by Charlie Amberlan, “The Real Benefit of Meditation”:

https://medium.com/@dailyzen/the-real-benefit-of-meditation-dfa983c2e557

or

Read and join in to follow Daily Zen on Twitter: https://twitter.com/dailyzen