Dave Rael has been podcasting about software development since June 2015. In our chat, the key turning point was when he said, “algorithms are neutral.” I explained how they’re not, starting around eleven minutes in. Developer on Fire Podcast Episode 265 … just two transposed digits away from episode 256! (transcript coming soon) Read More

This webinar builds awareness of cognitive bias when it comes to being “data-driven,” and clarifies the differences between the problem space and the solution space. I introduce mental model diagrams, Read More

newsletter #27 | 08-Aug-2017

When I wrote my book Practical Empathy, I chose my vocabulary carefully. I was thinking of the many clients who got distracted by the words “feelings” and “emotion,” who got great laughs by turning a listening session into a Hollywood psychoanalysis session. “How does that make you feel?” (They were pretending to ask this of their customers, who were engineers trying to solve systems problems.) Read More

newsletter #26 | 18-Jul-2017

Ideas are sexy. You get attention and credit if you have good ideas; you and your organization gain success if your ideas really catch on. But there’s not a heck of a lot of focus on where great ideas come from. We just assume they will show up, leaping like a goddess from our foreheads. Consequently we focus all our resources and effort on perfecting these already-generated ideas. It’s time to mature your practice of creating ideas–the stuff that comes before an idea forms. Read More

newsletter #25  |  20-Jun-2017

Last week I apparently caused a short Denial of Service attack on my own website when I asked listeners at the Agile UX Virtual Conference to look at the problem/solution diagram on my website. Read More

The takeaway: Healthwise changed the vocabulary they use. The medical profession refrains from using the word “diet” because it is not medically advisable to restrict whole food groups or hop from plan to plan. But Healthwise finally sided with the humans who use that word all the time to refer to both a fad/fast thing and also their usual nutritional intake. Additionally Healthwise diversified the modules they created for three different audience types (thinking styles) trying to lose weight.

Healthwise is a nonprofit organization that licenses content to WebMD, as well as to health plans, care management organizations, and hospitals. Since the 1970’s Healthwise has followed a strong evidence-based method for writing and reviewing content. Around 2004, Healthwise began creating patient education and health behavior change solutions. To fully understand the process of how patients make health behavior changes, Healthwise formed a team that included people with a background in behavioral psychology as well as empathy research. I have mentored this team since the beginning. One of the team’s projects was about weight loss. The research they did showed them how different people trying to lose weight have completely different behaviors and emotions.The behaviors and emotions that fell into three general groups.

The Resigned – I feel stuck. I may as well accept the way things are, since I’ve tried everything and nothing has worked.

The Sidetracked – I have a lot going on. I don’t have a lot of control over my choices, especially when something (a stressful project, my mom in the hospital, etc.) gets in my way. 

The Inconsistent – I’ve tried a lot of diets, and sometimes I do really well for a while. But at some point I stop doing things right. I should get back to losing weight sometime soon.

The Healthwise content strategy team decided that to be effective, they needed to tailor content unique to each of the three groups. The unique content supports each behavioral group better than a generalized approach, even though the subject areas have some overlap (like exercise or food choices). These solutions were also founded on the principles of meeting people where they are, helping remove barriers, and encouraging relevant goals, rather than persuading people to change their habits with one set of prescriptive goals. The empathy research helped illuminate how a topic as straightforward as getting some exercise could be approached in three different ways that supported three specific types of people struggling with weight, rather than just covering the topic of exercise. As a result, there is a much stronger link between the person being supported and the material Healthwise created.

newsletter #24  |  16-May-2017

Building rapport with participants takes some skill and concentration. Here’s an explanation to help you become aware of what it takes.

First, the foundation: There are two types of empathy that I focus on in exploring the problem space. (Do you remember them? Quick mental quiz … take a second. Remember?) Read More

newsletter #23  |  18-Apr-2017

When I give workshops or short talks about researching the problem space, there are three things that audiences have a hard time wrapping their minds around. Each audience is different, and they all don’t react to the same concept. But here are the three concepts that consistently generate the most thinking and questions:

In problem-space research:

  1. No users
  2. No note taking
  3. Not a part of a product cycle

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newsletter #22  |  21-Mar-2017

Most organizations have several different products aimed at different market sectors. However each product or service is usually designed with one main user in mind. This product or service ends up only supporting a portion of the people it is aimed at. Read More

A book called Against Empathy came out in late 2016. Author Paul Bloom, a professor of psychology and cognitive science, has consequently gotten a lot of exposure for such an eye-catching title. I’ve found contradictions in what he says. (e.g. empathy means many things vs. empathy is feeling what the other person is feeling)  I got a chance to speak with Steve Paulson of Wisconsin Public Radio’s To the Best of Our Knowledge about using cognitive empathy in product design. Podcast: Does empathy have a design flaw? (21 minutes) Transcript below.

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