I had a blast at the Serious Play conference put on by The Art Center College of Design last week. The theme: play is seriously creative and innovative if you take it seriously. Play is collaborative, iterative, experimental and generates new moves, new sounds, new music, new games. Play is natural to all primates and when you take play away, development is curbed in people—and monkeys. My takeaway: we should incorporate play, if not the principles of play, into our lives and our work to make us all more creative. Taking play seriously means taking design, design thinking and innovation seriously
Play is also culture-bound. It has rules, organization, expectations, history, leaders—everything. Which is why the talk given by Google’s director of user experience, Irene Au, was so interesting. She said that “Larry designed the first Google page” and a photo of it shows that it was pretty close to what it is today. In the early days, Google designed for itself. The idea was that the employees were the first adopters and the rests of the population would soon follow. It worked—until Google realized that much of its search was
happening outside the US. Today, 70% of Google traffic is outside the US and Google can't simply design from the inside out anymore. Google has to design from the outside in.
Google has to design for other cultures now. So it's hired an army of anthropologists to do field research in India and other countries to understand Google users. Irene points to the fact that you simply can't import Google Maps to India--because there are few street signs in Indian cities. Some other way of signaling direction has to be created.
Irene also said that it was hard to change Google's culture and turn it into an outside-in organization. Why? It is still an engineer culture that believes in traditional inside-out design. If you can't write code, you don't have credibility and the anthropologists didn't have credibility. "You have to convince the engineers to get anything done," she said. She used workshops, brainstorming sessions and cartooning--cartooning--to transmit the anthropologocial research to the engineers. With varying degrees of success, I expect.
Bottom line, Google learned that the US is no longer the center of the earth, that it needed to learn about cultures all over the world, and that it had to change its own internal culture and organization to do that.
Changing your organization and culture to engagee a multi-centered, multi-cultural world is the BIG MESSAGE. It is integral to what Fareed Zakaria is saying about US foreign policy in his book The Post-American World. GE, P&G and other corporations are moving fast to remake themselves. We all have to understand that WE ARE NO LONGER THE CENTER. We must network with the periphery. That means the old periphery of villages and towns and cities in Asia, Africa, Latin America, the Middle East--Mississippi. And it means the new periphery--the new communities being built every hour on the web by like-minded people creating their own cultures. Mommies with blond twins and green eyes. To engage them, to create with them, you must "get" them.
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