Delightful steps

At work I often wonder … if you’re in the business of making something utilitarian, can you really make things elegant, compelling, or delightful to enterprise users?  I called the hypothetical effort Project Delight.  Maybe I’ve overly naive and optimistic, but I think it’s possible.  And the next time someone doubts me, I’m going to show them this video:

In fact, I like this so much that I may show it at the beginning of every participatory design workshop!

My journey & yours

I started my PhD envisioning that I would teach at the college level, but in the intervening years I came to really enjoy my work in the software industry, as well as the quality of life that work afforded.  I was also comfortably settled in Philadelphia, and unwilling to move for my job at that point.  So when I finished my PhD in 2004 I was a little lost about what I wanted, what my priorities were, and what I should do next. Late in the year I was at a low point in my career.  I had a crummy performance review in which I was basically told that my management saw lots of potential but I seemed unable to make the changes that would be required for me to advance my career at the pace I desired.

During that time I was lucky enough to be introduced to a coach named Shirley who helped me gain clarity about what I wanted, which in turn helped me develop the focus and poise that I needed to move forward in my professional life.  Not only did her style suit me well, but she had coached anthropologists at PARC and had worked in the Operations arena herself.  I was very lucky to have made a connection with someone who was such a good fit for me.

I’ve spoken about the process many times and to many different people, so I thought it might be useful for others to document the exercises that I worked through during the course of my early work with Shirley.  I hope you will find them as beneficial as I did!  I believe that much of this approach is based on Ellis’ book Falling Awake, though I have not read it myself.  The major steps we worked through included Values & Purpose, Appreciations, and Goals.  I personally derived the most value from the Goals work, but I also know that the progression through all of these steps is what enabled me to benefit from that particular exercise.

Values & Purpose

Our values describe how we see ourselves, our deepest commitments, the ground from which our actions spring.  When we say that we want to be more loving, wise, or joyful, we are in a conversation about our values.  We can balance our wants in the domain of circumstances (what we have to have) with our wants in the domain of action (what we want to do) and the domain of values (who we want to be).  We are more than just human havings or human doings – we are human beings.  Values are our fundamental commitments, our highest principles, the things in life that we consider worthy for their own sake.  Investing time and energy to define your values and then align your actions with them is a pivotal step on your journey to clarity about your life and your future.

These exercises are not a time to consider specific, attainable goals (things to have or do), but rather a time to reflect on more fundamental choices about who you are and who you want to be.  Complete the following sentence with several answers:  I discovered that I am committed to being … which means … For example, I have discovered that I am committed to being detached, which means impartial, unbiased, satisfied, patient, without distress.

Having a succinct statement of your overall purpose in life can be a huge help in determining what you want.  Your purpose is an umbrella, something that’s big enough to include all that you want in life – everything that you want to have, do, and be.  An effective purpose statement tells you when goals or behaviors are off-track.  With your purpose firmly in mind, you can make moment-to-moment choices with clarity and integrity.

Complete either of the following sentences: I discovered that my purpose is to … or I intend to … Prompt yourself with questions like What am I striving for?  What is the aim or goal of my life?  What am I determined or resolved to achieve with my life?  Some examples of purpose statements include:

My purpose is to live, learn, love, and laugh.
My purpose is to be loved and be loving.
My purpose is to have a great time and laugh a lot.
I intend to seek to release suffering and serve others.
I intend to promote evolutionary change and be a catalyst for growth.

If you have no idea what to write, put something down as a starting point.  I really struggled with this exercise, so I focused on how I wanted to feel, and continued to refine the statement as I became more clear through the Goals exercise.  It may also help to write a purpose for the different aspects (e.g. work, family) of your life.


This one is super-simple, and perhaps the most important exercise that Shirley gave me.  The task is quite simple – write down three things that you appreciate, celebrate, or enjoyed that day.  And do it every day.  I have the tendency to see my glass as half-empty instead of half-full, and this exercise really helped me see the positive things in my life, however small.  Writing them down also helped me see a pattern in the things – the most simple things, really – that give me joy.


As Shirley and I were getting to know each other through these early exercises, she asked me to send her my thoughts regarding my personal life, my anthropology, and my professional life, including what I liked and didn’t like about where I was, and what I hoped for the future.  Over time, I took that early content and incorporated it into the exercises which helped me get clear about my Goals and how I hoped to accomplish them over time.

  • For starters, don’t get bogged down in the moment.  Forget where you are right now and think about life in the future – anything is possible!  Make a list (or index cards or post-its) of all that you want in your life, big and small.  Don’t stop until you have identified everything that would give you the life of your dreams.  I typed my list in an email and sent it to myself, adding things over a period of a couple of weeks.  By the time I was done, my list was over two pages single-spaced.
  • After creating that exhaustive list, try to group the list in a meaningful way.  I had started with personal, anthropology, professional based on my early conversations with Shirley, but it changed significantly when I realized that I wanted professional and anthropology to be one and the same.
  • The next step is to rate the importance of the items in each category – A for now, B for soon, C for someday, D for deferred, O for obligation (I only ranked A, B, and O items).
  • And then the real work begins.  Within a category of ranked items, get very specific.  Not about how but rather what it would look like, feel like … with whom, where, when, etc.  It is so important to be specific because it’s much easier to manifest that way.  Focus on your desires and be honest about what you really want.  You can’t get there if you can’t admit the desire to yourself first!
  • Finally, starting with the As in each category, write down all the different ways that you can get those things. Think about what you would need to change in your daily practices to get from where you are today to where you want to be.  Focus on a two-year horizon, and get very specific about how you can get towards those goals.

As I mentioned earlier in this post, I found this exercise to be the most beneficial for me.  I actually accomplished some items very very quickly – some of them even before I finished the list – because I was so clear about how I wanted to achieve those goals.  In the year following the completion of my dissertation and my first year of coaching, I conducted my first anthropologically-grounded research at SAP, and I was promoted to Director.  In other words, the coaching worked for me!

So that’s it!  It’s been a couple of years since I did these exercises the first time.  I went back and looked at those exercises recently and much of what I wrote down still holds true.  However, it’s clear that both the goals and the practices need to be adjusted to reflect the reality of my life today.  So the final step in the journey is a simple one … iterate!  And enjoy!

Jobs for social scientists

Here is an interesting news story that I picked up from a social networking listserv and cross-posted to anthrodesign:

In a recent report, “Social Science Meets Technology in Next-Generation Jobs,” Gartner Vice President Kathy Harris says that many social sciences roles will be needed to work with corporations in helping to better understand the Web behavior of customers, online communities, personal brands and the spectrum of social networking communication.

Harris discusses in some detail four areas of jobs needed in the near future. She says that most companies aren’t really geared toward taking advantage of the impact of online communities, and that it won’t be long before the numbers will be too large to ignore, regardless of the business you are in.

Putting Lean in context

[NOTE: This post was originally titled Deconstructing Lean. I renamed Putting Lean in context on 3/26/09, because the post got so long I never got around to the deconstruction of the Lean concepts. That’s coming in a future post, so stay tuned!  Natalie]

When I first conducted ethnographic research at SAP as part of my job, I was working in the U.S. Sales Operations.  That organization’s priority was to establish systems and services to drive sales productivity.  Simply measured, sales productivity is the amount of software license revenue per Account Executive (AE, or sales representative).  For new hires, time-to-revenue (that is, time to close the first software deal) is also a critical measure.  Because I had been working in Sales Operations since it’s inception, I understood these priorities well, and  I was able to position the value of the research in a way that would resonate with my management team.  That is, I was able to tell a compelling story about how understanding ‘a day in the life’ of an Account Executive would help the Operations management team become more informed about factors affecting sales productivity.  I also proposed to look at new hires versus experienced reps to show where new hires struggled with internal processes.

Similarly, as Lean Management has started to emerge at SAP, I’ve been able to show how my vision for User Experience is aligned with it.  On the off chance that there are a few social scientists reading my blog, I thought it would be important to make clear that I recognize Lean as an emergent management discourse.  What I hope to do in this post is deconstruct the first glimmerings of that discourse emerging at SAP.

Marx and Durkheim laid the theoretical foundation for early 20th century anthropology, though they looked at the increasing industrialization of society in very different ways.  At the most basic level, Marx believed that at the fundamental problem was an economic one, and having to do with class relations.  Marx and his contemporary Engels believed that increased stratification, unequal distribution of wealth, and the resulting unrest of society (which Durkheim called anomie), came about with the formation of state societies.  As the means of production became privately owned, those that controlled those means were distinguished from those that had to work as wage laborers to survive.  Those laborers were divorced from means of subsistence and forced to rely on cash to provide themselves and their families with what they needed to survive.  Engels believed that as capitalism progressed, these classes would become more polarized.  In contrast, Durkheim believed that the root of the problem was a cultural one, and that over time anomie would disappear.  He believed that primitive societies were at their root tied together by a collective conscience, linked by mechanical solidarity.  As society became increasingly stratified and individuals specialized, organic solidarity (an imposed organization and control by the state) would be required to keep people from deteriorating into a Hobbesian, individualistic attack on one another. Durhkeim also believed that increased specialization would ultimately force people to cooperate in order to get what they needed to survive.

As both anthropology and management studies are social sciences, the theory underlying both often has common elements.  In my dissertation I traced these early theoretical trends into contemporary management literature:

There are two social science paradigms that inform our analysis of organizational change.  One is rooted in a socio-psychological understanding that can be traced from Durkheim through the Human Relations school of thought and into the Total Quality Management (TQM) practices of the 1980s. The other is rooted primarily in rational, economic understanding, traceable from Marx through scientific management and into the Business Process Re-engineering (BPR) practices of the 1990s.

Barley and Kunda (1992) have argued that the dominance of these paradigms has alternated consistently from one to the other, and that the transition is triggered by the advent of new productive technologies and related changes in the economy.  While it is beyond the scope of this research to assess the validity of these claims, it is nonetheless apparent that in the past twenty or so years, these paradigms have become increasingly interwoven, in the search for a higher order of corporate predictability and employee control.  Proponents of the latest management fads have sought to distinguish one fad from the other, but the reality is that formalized accounting practices, computing technologies, and management consultant methodologies like TQM and BPR share the common objectives of streamlining work to increase productivity and reduce costs.  (Hanson 2004, p.204)

If you’ve been reading this blog, you may know that SAP is a software company which helps to automate all aspects of a company’s business operations.  SAP was founded by five German businessmen who left IBM in the 1970s.  While IBM was still deeply focused on hardware, SAP’s founders believed that the packaged software business was a new growth area for the industry.  Members of that startup team wrote the first SAP module – Financials – and they were quickly on their way, later developing applications for everything from Manufacturing to Supply Chain Management, and later to the softer side of corporations, including Human Resources.  While SAP was the first, it’s not surprising that competitors eventually followed, and the software came to be known in the industry as Enterprise Resource Planning, or ERP.   ERP is deeply rooted in rationalist thinking.  Not unlike the spirit that drove Taylor and Ford, ERP software seeks to standardize and automate work tasks to find efficiencies and reduce costs.  This has been a ripe area for study by social scientists, who have shown over and over again that work practice is much more complex than what can be accounted for in a system.

Nonetheless, what’s critical for this post is that I work at the company that started this industry.  It is therefore not at all surprising that the engineering, it-can-be-automated, technology-can-do-that mentality pervades life at SAP, especially as it regards our own internal operations.

My dissertation research focused on the emergence of market discourse at SAP, and specifically looked at how internal corporate practices have evolved to increase employee focus on both SAP customers and the market.  Since Oracle’s acquisition of JD Edwards and PeopleSoft several years ago, there has been increased comparison between and scrutiny of revenues and profitability margins of SAP, Oracle, and Microsoft.  SAP continues to become more sophisticated in how it responds (both externally and internally) to the market, and one of the means for doing this has been the growth of Operations as a new form of expertise inside of SAP.  In the past few years, I’ve moved from Sales Operations to Business Operations, where the priorities are broader than sales enablement.  Business Operations still focuses on both top line (sales enablement), but it also focuses heavily on the bottom line through finding or creating operational efficiencies.

In the past few months, the executive team has been more and more communicative not just about license revenue and profits, but also about operating margin.  We’ve learned about or current margin, that of Business Objects (SAP’s most recent acquisition), and we know both Oracle’s and Microsoft’s margins and how we compare.  Combined with the global economic situation today and SAP’s growing focus on talent management these statements form a backdrop for the introduction of Lean Management at SAP.

A deeply rational, engineering culture is at the heart of ERP solutions and of SAP, but Lean also has many of the elements that SAP very much wants to see as part of the corporate culture in the future – for example a focus on employee empowerment and innovation at all levels of the company.  SAP has a unique set of challenges, not only being in a services industry, but also in software, where the introduction of Lean has never really been attempted.  A truly lean enterprise (like Porsche and Toyota, for example) don’t let people go – any efficiencies derived from innovations are reinvested.  While the recent planned layoffs don’t have to do with efficiencies uncovered through Lean Management, SAP does not necessarily espouse the philosophy of re-investing all the savings that are realized, either, so it remains to be seen whether we can truly embrace this new way of thinking and working to help SAP continue to mature and evolve as a corporation.


I took a Myers-Briggs test when I was at Antioch for my Masters’ degree, and I tested as an INFJ.  But I just ran the text of my blog through Typealyzer and the result was INTJ.  Here is the short version:


I guess that makes sense based on the tone and content of most of my blog posts.  If you want to take the test and read the categories yourself, here.