Nov 26, 2013

Map and Territory

engineering enlightenment

 Figure 1: crop circles
Lean Startup, Agile Engineering, and Design Thinking are One.
These approaches, from the fields of Business, Engineering, and Design, seek to find optimal solutions through repeated cycles of hypothesis and experiment. They are all essentially the same thing, and that thing is the Hermeneutic Circle. Understand the Hermeneutic Circle and you will understand why Lean, Agile, and Design Thinking are a good idea.

The Hermeneutic Circle

Imagine yourself standing in an unfamiliar landscape, with a map in your hand. You look at the map to orient yourself in the territory, you look at the territory to orient the map. As you set off in a direction, you compare map to territory and territory to map as you proceed, orienting one to the other, to understand the reality of your situation. This back-and-forth movement between map and territory is a Hermeneutic Circle.

Figure 2: the map is usually a work in progress
 (Michael Landy: 24th Kaldor Public Art Project)
Now, imagine your map is a jigsaw puzzle. This is a better analogy to the hermeneutic circle as experienced in Business, Engineering, or Design. Usually, you can't see all the pieces, or know you have them all.

Hermeneutics is the formal study of how we make sense of reality. Hermeneutic Circle is the process of moving between abstract models and concrete evidence in order to grasp the real meaning of a situation.

The idea of a Hermeneutic Circle was proposed by the philosopher Spinoza in 1670 to describe how we come to understand religious texts: holy scripture is interpreted in the light of the lived world, which is then re-interpreted in the light of the scripture, which is then re-interpreted in the now enlightened view of the world ...and so on.
There is an analogy, Spinoza claims, between our understanding of nature and our understanding of the Scriptures. In both cases, our understanding of the parts hinges on our understanding of a larger whole, which, again, can only be understood on the basis of the parts. (Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy)
No map: aimless. No territory: pointless.
Maps are abstract, sacrificing detail to reveal relationships. Territory is concrete, it's where choices happen. Maps give us direction; Territory gives us traction. We follow maps; we respond to territory.

We make sense of the world by continually re-orienting the one to the other, in a Hermeneutic Circle. It doesn't matter whether you start with the Abstract or the Concrete -- the important thing is the iterative movement between them. Neither map nor territory make much sense without the other.

Figure 3: Hermeneutic Circle (adapted from Gadamer via Helme 2004
and  Gasson.)

Figure 3 shows the sense-making function of the Hermeneutic Circle. The map (theorising) phase of the cycle gives context and direction to the territory (practising) phase. Without a map, you're lost; without territory, you're pointless. Table 1 shows some examples.

Table 1: Concrete and Abstract Pairs
Belief Reason
Tactics Strategy
Objects Relationships
Reality Model
Doing Thinking
Real Ideal
Practical Theoretical
Instantiated Function Algorithm
Application API
Execution Vision

Software Spiral

In 1986, Barry Boehm published the first version of his influential paper: A spiral model of software development and enhancement, laying the foundation for Agile software development methods. The paper was a response to waterfall-style software engineering methodologies that assumed a sufficient understanding of requirements at the beginning of development. Boehm proposed a spiral-style model of software development (shown in Figure 4) that allowed for the reality that many critical requirements are only discovered during software development.
Figure 4: Boehm Spiral model of software development processes

The Boehm Spiral begins with maps, in the form of concepts and requirements, and moves to territory, in the form of prototypes. Experience with actual prototypes then feeds the iteration of planning. The cycle of planning and testing repeats until final release. This iterative movement between abstract plans and concrete implementations is a Hermeneutic Circle.

Agile Activity

Boehm's seminal paper was a precursor to Agile software development. The Agile manifesto of software development reads:
"We are uncovering better ways of developing software by doing it and helping others do it. Through this work we have come to value:

Individuals and interactions over processes and tools
Working software over comprehensive documentation
Customer collaboration over contract negotiation
Responding to change over following a plan

That is, while there is value in the items on the right, we value the items on the left more"
It's clear, if you put the Agile values in a table, that the Agile manifesto, like the Hermeneutic Circle, is about concrete and abstract perspectives.

Table 2: Agile Values
Territory Map
Individuals and Interactions Processes and Tools
Working Software Comprehensive Documentation
Customer Collaboration Contract Negotiation
Responding to Change Following a Plan

Although Agile puts more value on concrete Territory, abstract Maps are still essential to the process. An Agile iteration (shown in Figure 5) moves between Map (Planning) to Territory (Implementation). The Agile process is an instance of the Hermeneutic Circle.

Figure 5: Agile Software Development Process

Six Sigma Cycles

Six Sigma quality assurance methodologies, along with Lean manufacturing are the fore-runners to Lean Startup approaches. Deming's Plan-Do-Check-Act cycle (shown in Figure 6) is central to Six Sigma.

The Plan-Do-Check-Act cycle is essentially a business-oriented application of the scientific method, which can be expressed as Hypothesis=> Experiment=> Analyse=> Revise. The last stage of the scientific method, Revise refers to updating the hypothesis, which kicks off another iteration of the process. The Plan-Do-Check-Act cycle, and the scientific method itself, move between abstract speculation (Map) and concrete verification (Territory). They are instances of the Hermeneutic Circle.

Figure 6: Six Sigma PDCA

Lean Loop

The Lean Startup provides a scientific approach to creating and managing startups and get a desired product to customers' hands faster. The Lean Startup method teaches you how to drive a startup - how to steer, when to turn, and when to persevere - and grow a business with maximum acceleration. It is a principled approach to new product development. (
Figure 7: Lean Startup Loop (Eric Ries)
Lean Startup Methodology (Figure 7) is an iterative movement between business hypotheses and market experiments. When evidence from customers does not fit the business model, the startup must pivot, i.e., redefine the model. This loop is another example of iterative movement between abstract and concrete. The Lean Startup loop is an instance of the Hermeneutic Circle.

Design Dialogue

Design Thinking refers to a protocol for discovering new solutions through wider and deeper exploration of problem spaces. Design Thinking approaches are: human-centered, experimental, prototype-centric, and iterative. (Fast Company.)

Figure 8 shows a model of a representative Design Thinking cycle. The movement between abstract definition and concrete prototype is a movement between map and territory. The Design Thinking protocol is a Hermeneutic Circle.

Figure 8 Design Thinking (adapted from Stanford D-School)

Donald Schön, author of The Reflective Practitioner, describes the activity of Design as a reflective conversation with materials, a concise phrase containing all the elements of a Hermeneutic Circle.

Infinite Loop

Figure 9: Yin and Yang
The mantra of Lean Startup Methodology is minimise total time through the loop. Best practice in Agile and Design Thinking is also speedy iterations. What if the movement from map to territory -- from abstract to concrete -- was compressed to the absolute minimum duration, so that Thinking and Doing took place simultaneously? We might call this version of the Hermeneutic Circle Mindful Practice or simply mindfulness. A recent issue of The Economist contained an article on how Silicon Valley tech giants (among others) are turning to mindfulness:
Google offers an internal course called “search inside yourself” that has proved so popular that the company has created entry-level versions such as “neural self-hacking” and “managing your energy”. The search giant has also built a labyrinth for walking meditation. EBay has meditation rooms equipped with pillows and flowers. Twitter and Facebook are doing all they can to stay ahead in the mindfulness race. Evan Williams, one of Twitter’s founders, has introduced regular meditation sessions in his new venture, the Obvious Corporation, a start-up incubator and investment vehicle. (The Mindfulness Business. The Economist Nov 16th 2013)
Mindfulness, according to Buddhist and Taoist traditions, is a path to enlightenment. By constant application of considered action and reflection, the practitioner herself is transformed. Whichever path you choose -- Engineering, Business, Design, or Holy Scripture -- keep your goal in mind, and your feet on the ground.

The next post discusses the different kinds of maps used by Engineering, Marketing, and Design.

Thanks to Ivan Chardin, Adler Jorge, Shaul LeviAna McGinleyPaul Neervoort, Carolien Postma and Sajid Saiyed for inspiring discussions and critical comments on earlier versions of this post (although they don't necessarily agree with all of this).

Agile Design, Lean Engineering, Startup Thinking, Lean Thinking, Startup Design, Lean Design, Startup Engineering, Design Engineering, Agile Thinking.

Please share this post. If you comment, I'll reply. Thanks for reading!

My other blog is full of personal rants.

Nov 19, 2013

35 Point Design for Engagement Checklist

Rules of Engagement

This is a list of 35 guidelines, listed in the order of the customer journey, from the Design for Customer Engagement series of posts. You might also like the related post on customer relationships.

terms of engagement

Right Now (read more)

  1. Optimize the entire customer experience for speed; not just the user interface, but everything from a first awareness of your proposition to fulfillment. (What is a proposition? See this post.)

Right Here (read more)

  1. Design for mobile first, but not mobile only.
  2. Make design elements large.
  3. Place important elements where people are already looking (e.g., top of page, top of lists).

Easy to Understand (read more)

  1. Solve a problem the user already knows they have.
  2. Focus every element of the design on making that single, clear proposition available.
  3. Achieve simplicity through minimalism. Take something out.

Easy To Relate To (read more)

  1. Use visual design and written copy to reflect an emotional state, aligning with that of your audience.

Easy to picture (read more)

  1. Show, don't tell, the value of your proposition.
  2. Use imagery and concrete descriptions in written copy.
  3. Frame your communication as a vivid story.

Accessible (read more)

  1. Design for the context in which your audience will experience your proposition, considering physical, cognitive, and any other limitations that might make your proposition less available to your audience (For example: time pressure, background noise, poor eyesight, low resolution screens…).
  2. Design for accessibility.

Reciprocation (read more)

  1. Give before asking anything from your audience (e.g. a free gift, information, or service).
  2. Personalize your gift or service for the recipient.

Consistency (read more)

  1. Ask your customer for a small, easily agreeable, action before a proceeding to a larger request.
  2. Encourage and facilitate your customer to express voluntary, active, and public commitment to your proposition (e.g., social endorsements, reviews, tweets).

Social Proof (read more)

  1. Give evidence that your proposition is popular.
  2. Show that your customer's peers trust the proposition.

Liking (read more)

  1. Connect your proposition to something or someone your customer already likes.
  2. Reflect characteristics of your customer, such as physical traits, gender, age, race, religion, nationality, interests, etc.

Authority (read more)

  1. Show the basis of your authority, including expertise and recognized accomplishments.
  2. Show stamps of approval or certifications from recognized impartial authorities.

Scarcity (read more)

  1. Frame your proposition to highlight what your audience stands to lose if they don't accept your offer.
  2. Emphasize the unique elements of your proposition. 
  3. Use limits on availability to create exclusivity, for example, stock or time limits, private access, distinctive styling, or new-to-market functionality.

Value Relevance (read more)

  1. Project a set of well-defined and differentiated values; imprecise or generic values serve no purpose.
  2. Don't be afraid of a polarizing proposition. Nobody values insipid.

Impression Relevance (read more)

  1. Highlight the power of your proposition to impress friends and frighten rivals.
  2. Use strong visual design to create and communicate status appeal.

Outcome Relevance (read more)

  1. Connect your proposition to your customer's goals.
  2. Focus every aspect of the design on the outcome rather than the designed product.

Intensity (read more)

  1. Create at least one intense moment of surprise, delight, intrigue or amusement for your user.
  2. Address your customer personally.
  3. Add performance metrics and displays to foster a sense of accountability.
Again, please check out the related post on Customer Relationships.

Please share this post. Please leave a comment, I'll reply. Thanks for reading!

If your interests extend to theory and philosophy, please check out my other blog.

Nov 12, 2013

The Limits of Decency

Ongoing Fulfillment

On the quest for your prince, you have to kiss a lot of frogs. It had been a many-frogged quest, but this one tasted royal. Ted had been dubious about getting involved with someone from Byelorussia; but step-by-step as he and Randi became involved he'd become convinced that the relationship was going to last. It wasn't a traditional arrangement but now Ted and Randi were making plans to formalize their commitment under the new state laws.
This is the sixth and last in a series of posts for product managers seeking relationships. They start here.

Business is about Relationships.

Relationships have changed since your dad made his bones. People are experimenting with new forms of relationship, including some involving multiple parties. Traditional long-term-committed relationships are giving way to newer, service-based arrangements, including pay-as-you-gofreemium, and subscription. Free markets fill every hole.

Traditionally, a substantial initial investment is required to formalize a relationship. The investment may take the form of a dowry, a wedding feast, a diamond, cash, or some other form. A service-based relationship typically requires less initial commitment; the relationship is structured to sustain itself transaction-by-transaction. On the whole, this is a healthier approach to relationships, but a purely transaction-based relationship risks becoming impersonal. The best providers add a level of personalization, which can be as simple as remembering your customer's name.

Formal contractual relationships, such as marriage, create lock-in – an assurance that your partner plans to stay around. This gives the level of confidence needed to invest further in a relationship. In modern relationships, a shared mortgage often serves this same purpose. Children can also create lock-in, but many consider such practice unethical.

Lock-in can be established by letting your partner leave their clothes at your apartment. Google also provides storage for its partner’s personal effects including email, photos, blog posts, etc. Google organizes and filters these stored belongings – the digital equivalent of doing their laundry and ironing. Countless mothers of university students will testify to the power of the laundry-based lock-in.

A further advantage of storing your partner's personal effects is they provide insight into your partners’ tastes. This gives you a chance to delight your partner with an unexpected scarf that goes well with their new jacket, or to recommend a shop that has exactly what they like based on their purchase history. This is the sort of experience your rivals with less intimate knowledge of your partner cannot hope to match.

Many service providers check their partners’ pockets to see where they've been, and where they might plan to go next. You may, for example, deduce from ticket stubs, business cards and other crumbs of evidence in your partners’ pockets, that your partner has been visiting jazz sites. You could offer to make a reservation at a nearby club.

In more progressive relationships, intimate knowledge of multiple partners may allow you to combine all your interests. For example, the owner of the nearby jazz club might want to buy you lunch for slipping his menu into your other partner's mail. Google, Apple, and Amazon are leaders in this multi-sided business model approach.

Checking pockets follows naturally from doing laundry, but many partners find checking pockets creepy. Healthy relationships require openness, so use discretion; but don’t cross the line between discretion and deceit. The best approach is to focus on providing benefit to your partner. The greater the benefit, the less your partner is likely to object.

progressive relationships

Traditionally, partners enter into a relationship taking responsibility for the financial maintenance of the relationship indefinitely, "for better or for worse". Newer, commitment-light forms of relationship come with new financial arrangements. The most common forms include freemiumpay-as-you-gosubscription, and multilateral, as well as hybrid models.

In a freemium-style relationship, the basic proposition is free, but extras cost. Examples include Pandora (pay for ad-free music service), Skype (pay for calls outside the network), and exotic dancers (pay for lap dances). The principle is the premium relationships subsidise the free.

Pay-as-you-go relationships require less commitment than traditional arrangements, but the cost per exchange is typically higher. Examples include iTunes, prepaid phone plans, and on-line dating site SWIRL. These relationships are attractive to partners for whom the advantage of low initial financial outlay outweighs the higher total expense over time.

In a subscription-based relationship, one partner agrees to be available for the gratification of the other in exchange for a guarantee of return. The arrangement is renewed periodically, and usually automatically. Examples include Spotify, subscription phone plans, and many famous mistresses. Subscription relationships provide some of the stability and convenience of traditional arrangements, only with less commitment.

Multilateral relationships are the most complex and interesting type of relationship. Examples include SoundCloud (users generate content, and some users pay for premium access to other users), Google Search (ads subsidise free users), and Big Sister Brothel) (customers use services for free, subsidised by paying internet-viewers). The dynamic of this type of relationship is like an ecosystem: one partner sustains another who sustains another in turn, in a symbiotic loop. A well-designed multilateral arrangement motivates all partners to contribute to its sustained success – and grows stronger as it scales up.

Apple-y ever after

The traditional, long-term, committed relationship is not dead. It's just harder. You may know someone in a successful marriage. Apple’s relationship with its customers is probably the best business example of a traditional arrangement. In return for a substantial up-front commitment, Apple will look after all your needs (within the limits of what Apple thinks is decent). Like happily married pipe-smoking patriarchs from a 1950’s TV sitcom, there's something smug and self-contented about Apple lovers. Or are they just hipsters?

homo malum
(latin: "apple man")
Ideally, all relationships will proceed to the state of ongoing fulfillment. Regardless of the type of arrangement you make with your partners, all relationships finally depend on the continuing ability to provide mutual gratification, which in practice is specific to each individual relationship and cannot be generalized. This is your business.


It's all about passion.

In this era of Big Data, Search Engine Optimization, and real-time targeting, business people can lose sight of the basic truths of commerce. My purpose in this series of posts has been to show how, at its core, business is about relationships, and marketing is the oldest profession.

These posts are an extended version of a presentation I made for Philips Design. Thanks to my ex-colleagues there, experts in bottom lines, digital penetration, and male grooming.

Sincere thanks to my friends who commented on the draft version: A'na, Charlotte, Frank, June.

Please share this post. If you comment, I'll reply. Thanks for reading!

If your interests extend to theory and philosophy, please check out my other blog.

Nov 5, 2013

Length Don't Matter


Marshall wouldn't have been surprised if a spark had jumped the air between them. This was the moment of truth. But they just sat there, on the sofa, chatting about her day teaching kindergarten class. Neither of them made a move. Then, to their mutual surprise, Lily reached back and turned off the light. After a moment's hesitation, Marshall leaned in …and head-butted Lily in the nose. When the light went on again, blood and clothes scattered the lounge room. Marshall dabbed Lily's face clean with a warm sponge, they put the pillows back on the sofa, and they were back where they started, ready to do it again.
This is the fifth in a series of posts for product managers seeking relationships. They start here.

Marketing is the business of passionate relationships

If all goes well, the moment will come when you are called to deliver on your promises –when you must perform. When that time comes, your goal should be to establish your performance indelibly in your partner's mind. Your performance must be memorable. Recent advances in science tell us how to do this.

Length doesn't matter. The duration of an experience makes very little difference to memory. Research into the phenomenon of duration neglect shows your partner's memory of the experience is determined by only two factors: i) the quality and intensity of the climax, and ii) the concluding moments.

play's the thing!
Whether it’s a 3-act theatre performance or unexpected intercourse with a colleague over the ice machine at a team-building event, the human brain assembles all experiences into stories. Experiences are most memorable when they are already structured as stories.

The timeless essence of memorable stories is visible in the narrative structure of Classical Drama. According to Aristotle, the function of Dramatic performance is catharsis, or release. In Classical narrative structure, the first part of the play builds to a release at the peak. The intensity of this climax can be enhanced by extending the fore-part of the play; but the duration of the foreplay is not important in itself, only the intensity of the climax.

The post-climactic phase of falling action, or resolution, tidies up any loose ends to provide a reassuring sense of closure. Modern dramatists prefer to keep the resolution phase as brief as possible, just long enough to put the tissues away. The emotional tone of this concluding phase will color the audience's future memory of the performance. This is why movies so often end with an up-beat song, and news articles with a pithy witticism.

Classical wisdom and modern science agree: the structure of your performance is critical. A strong climax and a reassuring resolution will leave your partners begging for an encore.

next post: the limits of decency

Thanks for reading! If you comment, I'll reply. Please share this post.

If your interests extend to theory and philosophy, please check out my other blog.