We Rep [Ideas]

From Touch to Feel: Part 2

leave a comment »

Continuation of a past series I wrote for IC’s noodleplay some years back…

So what do we (and the brands we live by) gain by replacing our buttons with pixels and graphics? The answer is: possibilities.

Touch opens a wider variety of interface and application options not constrained by old degrees of interaction physicality. It has improved on the accessibility and experience of websites, video and gaming. It has created sentimental consumer demand for a new retro paradigm by transferring analogue artifacts (e.g. rotary phone interfaces, compasses) into the digital realm and it offers a relatively low cost and efficient way to try, fail .and improve upon even more new ideas.


What do we lose by replacing our buttons with pixels and graphics though?

For many of us, sensuality. Touch eliminates the familiar tactile feedback associated with the push, click, and resistance of a button. Like somatosensory wastelands, flat screen touch devices lack the stimulating vibro-electro-mechanical feedback of past interfaces. This has sparked criticism from both consumers and proponents of universal design principles. For fewer than most of us, but equally if not more important in considering the “unmet and unarticulated consumer needs” that many of us say should drive design thinking- touch threatens accessibility. Designers of touch have yet to seriously consider how, for example, a person with visual disabilities will interact with current and future products.

Steps towards feeling

Ongoing, innovative work is being done to re-capture, improve upon, and amplify the tactile and multi-sensorial qualities of future interfaces. Much of this work points to emerging transitions in the first wave of feel and feelback systems. For example, a recent project entitled “Dynamically Changeable Physical Buttons on a Visual Display,” conducted by Chris Harrison and Scott Hudson at Carnegie Mellon University exemplifies an incremental push towards more tactile forms of touch-based interaction. In a more radical fashion, “Airborne Ultrasound Tactile Display,” is a new holographic display system developed by researchers at the University of Tokyo that enables users to experience tactile feedback through focused ultrasound waves that produce vibrations felt on the skin. Other new interface and interaction modalities serve as starting points for further thought and discussion about the ongoing shift from touch to feel.


Haptic Technology has evolved way beyond the Rumble Pack video game controller and the iPhone’s turn to view or shake to shuffle interactions towards more sophisticated forms of input/output. Novint’s newly released Falcon gaming controller is an excellent example of a design evolution enabling entirely new gaming experiences. Phillips’ Forced Feedback Jacket and similar projects by the United States Department of Defense aim at increasing a grunt’s situational awareness and ability to feel their way around the battlefield.

Tele-presence and Tele-intimacy are pushing the boundaries in more personal and intimate ways. Consider tele-dildonics, Internet connected and mobile sex toys that enable direct feelback stimulation between partners. Alternatively, Mustugoto, a project developed at Distance Lab, uses computer vision and a projection system to “allow users to draw on each other’s bodies – enabling a different kind of synchronous communication that leverages the emotional quality of physical gesture.”


In the realm of Gestural Interface, Nokia has been exploring how pointing, waving and flipping a phone over to silence it can enhance mobile experiences. These natural gestures and spur-of-the-moment emotional responses to a disruptive in-coming call create the illusion that the device can see, sense and feel its user. Microsoft’s project Natal for Xbox 360 pushes this apparent feelback even further by mixing computer vision with an avatar (read: an intelligent agent) that can recognize a user’s facial features and, to some degree, displayed emotions to deliver a more ‘natural’ interaction and compelling experience.

Also known as brain machine interfaces (BMIs), Neural Interfaces employ non-invasive fMRI and EEG signal scanning techniques to enable mind-to-machine interaction. Applications include the control of robotic limbs, gaming, therapeutic exercises for treating ADHD, communication and art. One example comes from  NeuroSky which has developed a ‘mindset’ application where users visualize brainwaves as they listen to music – described on their company website as the ability to “translate feelings into actions.” Interaxon is another key player in this thought controlled computing game.


Bio-emotional Interfaces harness emotions, cognitive states and physiological states as input/output modalities. According to Philips, SKIN, one of their many inspirational design explorations, signifies a shift from ‘intelligent’ to ‘sensitive’ products and technologies by integrating new materials into the area of emotional sensing. Although we still haven’t experienced widespread intelligent products yet, the promise of sensitive ones is certainly alluring.

Affective Computing suggests markets emerging around new experiences with sensitive products and services based on the softer side of input – mood, feeling and emotion. MIT’s Affective Computing group is conducting a wide range of research and design that focuses on, among other things, the development of new affective sensing techniques, machine learning algorithms, technologies to help people become more aware of emotional states and communicating them, and the ethics of Affective Computing. Applications in this domain vary from serving people with Autism to gathering customer experience data to mobile health applications like outpatient monitoring.


Research being conducted on Artificial Intelligence and Assistants could well lead to the emergence of working relationships between people and their intelligent assistants, A.I. entities that understand and help us satisfy our needs. DARPA (Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency) funded projects like Pal (Personal Assistant that Learns) and SRI International’s CALO (Cognitive Assistant that Learns and Organizes) are pushing the boundaries of what these intelligent agents might do to help us maximize our individual and collective potential. Some applications include managing tasks, social networks and interactions as well as gathering, organizing and preparing information. Note: these are not the friendly paper clips or wizards we’ve grown accustomed to on Windows machines.

These are all steps towards the shift from touch to feel, a transition that might eventually combine potentials and characteristics to enable entirely new, sense-based forms of interaction, communication and exchange. This transition from disparate forms of single modality interaction towards multi-modal interaction will be slow, but when (and if) it occurs the illusion of predictive modeling and suggestion will be shattered by a new reality where our products, objects and devices will, over time and through new forms of usage intimacy, get to know us, feel us and learn how to better meet our needs.

How will this shift change the way products are defined, shaped, and made? Will it make products or services easier, better, more enjoyable, more intuitive or more meaningful to use?

Stay Tuned for part 3…

Future Insights: What is & How To?

leave a comment »

A future insight can be derived from exploring and testing a well-informed hypothesis about the future. It presents a unique idea or perspective about the future that is intended to help the imagination travel ahead in time to occupy, question and test not-yet-existing contexts and conceptual spaces.

A future insight is not predictive, nor is it the ‘answer’ to how the future will unfold. Instead, by providing just enough evidence in its articulation and establishing just enough logic and reason for its composition and meaning to be understood and taken seriously, a future insight suggests what could be. In short, a future insight is part fiction that has been written upon observable facts.


In writing future insights, we presume that innovations or some significant changes will occur downstream. We account for and synthesize thoughts about what new relationships might take shape in the world, why those relationships take shape, and what their nature might be. We consider how existing behaviors might change and how entirely new behaviors, needs, desires or hopes might emerge or be shaped by the incremental or disruptive forms of change, progress that are – or might be – just around the temporal corner.

Future insights are different from regular insights in two ways. First, because they are about that which can be years out, a future insight is different from a regular insight in that it occupies a more hypothetical space and is rooted in latent, rather than manifest, potentials, capabilities, capacities, relationships or behaviors. And second, future insights require the conceptualization or construction of contexts that do not exist, whereas regular insights can be teased out and extracted from our past and present experiences. Where a customer insight might represent a system of values or unarticulated needs and expectations that emerge from an experience of past and present-day conditions and which can be observed, talked about and described, the uncovering of a future insight must establish a picture of future conditions, communicate the qualities and characteristics of those conditions, and then evoke and explore an experience within them in order to gain a better understanding of what might be. From this, we articulate the insight.

How do we do this? We begin by taking a methodical look at past and present capabilities, contexts and conditions for clues about what might come next. In doing so, we collect Signals and Drivers, inputs typically extracted from the social/cultural, technological, economic, ecological and political landscape.

To uncover future insights, we amplify and project these contemporary signals and drivers into the future and then explore and debate the possible nature and meaning of them and the relationships they might impact.

An excellent example of this process can be found in George Orwell’s celebrated dystopian fiction, 1984. In the book that most of us read in high school, Orwell presents many insights into the proliferation of electronic media, computation and surveillance technology as an appendage of the totalitarian state. A chilling example of how present day observations (circa post war Europe) can transform into future insights that, decades later, ring true, Orwell creatively amplified a number of existing signals and drivers to articulate a future context that we now recognize as being incredibly insightful.

Beyond paying closer attention to the writers of our time, how can we begin to form images of the future in order to uncover insights about it? Consider three ways.

First, monitoring Requests For Proposals, investments in R&D, patent filings and the introduction of new technologies provides a rich overview of what capabilities might be on the horizon. By questioning the qualities, characteristics, potential applications and strategic intents of these inputs – as well as their implications on existing systems, relationships and conditions – we can shape clearer pictures of what the future might look and feel like.

For example: If you were watching DARPA’s program investments in “Total Information Awareness” a decade ago you might not be too surprised by the recent emergence of biometric ID in vending machines, more natural and powerful speech-to-text technologies, remote sensors, “smart-grids” and increasingly sophisticated predictive analytics that mine the worlds open source information for patterns and cues to what might be coming next.

Second, spend more time questioning the potential impact of current events. The Global Financial Crisis, The Seventh Billion Person or What’s Going On In Egypt are all playing a role in shaping the lifestyles and behaviors of millions of people worldwide. In addition to acknowledging the significance of such events, studying the popular media and p2p expressions that surround them helps us learn about how the future might unfold by questioning how the goals and priorities of people effected by these events might be changing and how value is being redefined. From this, we begin to create more human centered pictures of the future that illustrate new behaviors and conditions for discussion, debate and review.

Third, “futuretyping”, or prototyping the future, is a critical step in building rich fictional worlds, images and artifacts that help test hypotheses about the future. By providing a story, artifact, model or map that illustrates relationships between things that might be brought into the future, possibilities are made more tangible and easier to consider. Here, future insights can come from how others explore, react and respond to what might be.

Organizations that draw on future insights do so for a variety of reasons. One is to help them establish strategic goals. In doing so, they are not afraid to test and challenge assumptions or raise big questions about how present day and short-term decisions and actions may or may not be the right ones. Another is to re-orient their strategic intent. Here, a future insight might identify long-term threats and opportunities that can only be approached on a strategic level such as the need to form new partnerships and alliances, the investment-in fundamental research, the development of new core technology platforms and the re-definition or re-evaluation of current business models and processes. Finally, future insights can form the foundation of great organizational stories. Often more exciting and even compelling than the traditional consumer insight, the future insight can be used to capture the attention and imaginations of stakeholders- and, in the process, help to establish a more compelling and cohesive vision for growth that empowers and motivates the organization.

So, if you’re sitting back consuming the latest syndicated Trendwatching and or market analyst report thinking you’ve got your future all figured out – think again. Trends are just one input – (measured + manifest behaviors) – meaningful future insights are more complex; their discovery and articulation requires drawing on, questioning-testing and synthesizing a lot more information.

Written by mlincez

February 25, 2013 at 7:51 pm

Snap Shot Ecologies: Machine Vision, Link Space, Ownership + Expression In The Internet of Things

leave a comment »

Google Glasses, Google Glasses, Google Glasses…

This is an oldie but goodie…

Several years ago while working at the Beal Institute for Strategic Creativity (a predecessor to the SLAB) at OCADU, I was able to spend a considerable amount of time investigating/exploring the meaning and future potential of the internet of things, a context we referred to as -> “Dataspace”. One of my responsibilities while at “the Beal” was to share my research findings-insights-ideas with the community at large in a manner that was both true to our mission of developing and teaching strategic creativity and foresight methodologies – while also maintaining a more personal/empathetic perspective and creative approach to my interpretation and delivery of the material.

To better understand and  make sense of emerging technological paradigms (like the IOT) I frequently used my own experiences as a graffiti artist operating within “urban-spaces” and the “built environment” as a critical “human-centered” lens to evaluate and propose the meaning of IOThings often in relation to how self-expression, personal, and collective empowerment and participation may unfold and/or evolve.

Question: What if the future geo-spatial “dataspace” aka the Internet of Things was owned by brand lords and occupied by tenants?

Exploration: The ongoing convergence of the “internet” with machine vision, geo-locative, biometric, and RF interrogation technologies is forming a significant opportunity space for innovation. New business models, products, services and applications will undoubtedly emerge from within this space- and influence everything from e-commerce and real estate, to branding and marketing; art, activism, pornography, education, and health care etc. This context will certainly provoke more questions and critical discussion about the value of location based  data, fair use, ownership, privacy, and access; while sparking another wave of creative output and design that explores the potential of this new technological capability.

What we might call the “Snap Shot Ecology” is a context where cameras (yours and mine) capture (in a snap shot) the TOTALITY OF DATA and/or linkable information present within their environment. That is, to use a “camera” or other interrogation device to select and record the information presented on, reflected by, and linked via the web to; people, places and things.

This happens in two ways 1) the tangible, meaning that software essentially interprets and extracts information from the visible/manifest shapes, contours, colors, content, behaviors and environmental conditions we can see with our own eyes (or lens). 2) On the other hand, the intangible is also captured, this includes the invisible wavelengths of data and information linked to- and embedded in- sensors, the geo-spatial environment and radio spectrum. Essentially any data contained in, on, or linked to; RFID tags, beacons, barcodes, and “thin air”- meaning data-info or content attached to a specific point or location in space and time. The intangible consists of the things we can’t necessarily see with the naked eye- but know might be floating around just beyond our natural inherent senses.

In case you don’t already know, machine vision (MV) is essentially the software-driven ability to sense, extract and analyze information contained within an image. MV systems are traditionally used in security, supply chain management and manufacturing applications to identify production units, monitor quality and process efficiency etc. Well beyond simple bar-code scanning, they typically seek out, recognize and extract shapes from images, compare them to a template in a database, and initiate a pre-determined follow up action i.e. signal an alert, make a request, present an option, flip a switch etc. You’ve probably already used this software, or have seen it online, or at the very least, in movies.

Mobile apps like Amazon’s SnapTell, Nokia’s Point & Find, Google Goggles, and World Lens are some popular MV examples. World Lens leverages optical character recognition  (OCR) to translate images of text from one language into another. In the future – There are strange languages and foreign contours everywhere -> imagine the shape NEC has recently introduced a phone that recognizes fruits (for example, melons) and tells you where they’ve come from. I love knowing where my melons come from…

On the Radio end of the spectrum–NEC has also developed networked security cameras that combine machine-vision, biometrics, and long range RFID interrogators. In case you are wondering, an interrogator sends a query out and receives an answer back, or else. Do not underestimate the value and importance of a good interrogator. These systems simultaneously capture and analyze images (pictures of people) and information obtained from RFID tags (embedded on the artifacts they carry like ID cards and clothing) that pass within their field of view and/or functional range. Networks of these cameras continuously scan for, identify, interrogate, track and assess; the presence, movement, “nature”, and activities of objects and individuals within space. Soon you will too.

Aside from providing new ways to augment, navigate, and interact with public/private spaces, MV and the presence of a snap-shot-ecology enabled by hundreds of millions of so called “smart-phones” – context aware, networked and other such devices suggests a redefinition of the meaning, value, and use of “real-estate.” Here, in the snap-shot-ecology, the value of occupying space, of attaching (or linking) yourself onto others, should be well understood albeit from a slightly different perspective. Linkable Space, as in the amount of data or information contained within or linked to a geo-location, a sensor, RFID chip,  “contour”, color, pattern, material or texture has great value. Those who own, and control access to these linkable spaces – on products, people, places, and things –will have the power of sale and the ability to define the rules and set the price for a new class of members, tenants, residents, hobos, squatters and loiterers to play by. In this scenario – Slum lords or “Brand Lords”– charge rent while not maintaining and/or updating their property i.e. product / packaging design and geo-locations.

The battle for access, ownership, expression and fair use of linkable spaces ensues.

Space invaders” –(not to be confused with that throwback Atari style street artist)- will refuse to sign up, subscribe, pay rent, or ask permission to post and share content within. A self styled space invader may choose to rewrite the content stored on the RF tags embedded in the things they own so that a snap shot of their Nike sweatshirt or Coach bag links the viewer/photographer to the content of their choosing and not the brand’s. Politically incorrect culture jamming and mass hacktivism re-emerges to usurp the power of location, context, and brand recognition. Where’s the app for that?

At the object level – a consumer packaged goods company (Brand Lord) may choose to keep their unique brand color (i.e. Tide Yellow, Gain Green or UPS Brown) for themselves but rent out a portion of linkable space on the product’s contour, its unique texture, and or RFID tag to others so that when the UPS Truck or bottle of gain is captured in a picture the “tenants content” may present itself to the photographer. In theory, an infinite amount of tenants could occupy the same linkable product space but why not establish some artificial scarcity –encourage exclusivity and drive up “brand value”. In other words increase the price of being the only link available on the lot?

In addtion to shapes, colors and contours we will see this manifest through the more conscious design and applications of materials, textures and finishes – as we begin to see the emergence of smart phones and other web-enabled cameras capable of recognizing material properties and characteristics. Another scenario to illustrate this would go as follows: You point your camera down a crowded aisle (or street) full of similar products in search of a particular or preferred brand; your camera identifies and highlights that product and brand based on a unique “brand specific” material and texture. You ask is it real- or is it a fake? In the snap shot ecology your smart phone confirms its authenticity by focusing in on and capturing microscopic details invisible to the naked eye – and more difficult counterfeit or reproduce. You confirm its authenticity and decide to purchase. The converging sciences (nano-info-bio-cogno) continue to play an increasingly important role in product innovation and design.

One can imagine the information overload and the oversaturated nature of a snap-shot-ecology – presenting an always on two second full spectrum spectacle that is constantly popping up and changing in front of your lens. Search, navigation, and filtering tools from the web will undoubtedly evolve and apply, so too will the social bookmarking, networking and sharing behaviors that have more recently emerged online. Of course it will be your choice to tune in, play with, and/or opt out.

Note: The subject of this post was previously explored in “Le Confiture” a scenario presented at MIT’s Media In Transition 5 Conference 2007 ; parts of this larger scenario were expanded upon, remixed,  and published in the “Future” Issue of MISC Magazine

More on this topic later…



Written by mlincez

February 25, 2013 at 7:36 pm

Uncertainty Thoughts

leave a comment »


The University of Chicago economist Frank Knight, in Risk, Uncertainty, and Profit first established notable differences between risk and uncertainty, foremost – a formal separation of the terms, which prior had been analogous. Second, recognizing the characteristics that risk is measurable, and uncertainty is by its very nature is not. Uncertainty is inherently unpredictable and surprising. This work further represents a genesis of a spit in business intelligence practices, between the limits of measurement of risk, and the limits of the sensing, awareness and imagination in anticipation of what may be possible within the increasing complexity of the world. Moving forward there are no clear-shared division or defined limits of either.

In the book How to Measure Anything: Finding the Value of Intangibles in Business, Douglas Hubbard would again rejoin the terms – describing risk as a phase state of uncertainty, a singular negative class within a taxonomy of uncertainty, with many nuanced possibilities assigned with probability values. Knight further proposed in 1921 that ‘the “practicalism” of the times is a passing phase’. It was not. Probabilistic prediction or deterministic extrapolation still exists, however their limits, accuracy, reliability and completeness are widely questioned. Today we know – the map is not the territory. “I’m a model, you know what I mean?”

US Army War College credo, describes the qualities of our present context as being volatile, uncertain, complex and ambiguous (VUCA). One might suggest that this context has long existed and is more of a tradition rather than a trend. Meaning that volatility, uncertainty, complexity and ambiguity within our systems and our environments have always been the barrier forces that block our understanding the near or far future with any degree of certainty. VUCA time is – all the time.

There will always be information at work in the present beyond our perception. “Measured Uncertainty” does not exist; acting upon its measured results would be to act on incorrect or incomplete information with unknown severity. The general favor of numbers, and the preference – or fetish – for measurement and predictability can be harmful only when it becomes the sole informant of human pursuits. When does risk assessment and management, and its effects on decision making itself become a form of risk creation?

Everyday. Around every corner people will assess risk, participate and purchase in ways that you and even they do not anticipate.
Here we might insert a suggestion to carefully and cautiously “pay attention to what is important, not just what is quantifiable.” We must be cognizant of the core definitions, meanings and impacts of terms, tools and processes of near term success in order to defer their evolution into terminal dogmas and strategic rigidities within our organizations.

In order to further understand uncertainty – our lack of knowledge of obtainable or unobtainable facts – we can turn to our more imaginative and creative faculties to generate samples of possibility to complement traditional intelligence tools.
In the report Foresighting Around the World: A Review of Seven Best-In-Kind Programs created for the US dept of energy, researchers at the Battelle Seattle Research Center identify a key link between foresight and the management of uncertainty:

“the only way to deal with the uncertainty of the future is to create various possible scenarios. In this respect, foresighting is extremely useful.”

Today foresight commonly informs current strategy assessment and future strategy development. In recent years greater integration of foresight methodologies and strategic management of innovation suggests scenarios, the act of critical storytelling are a robust tools for enabling more explorative, deeper future oriented dialogue. What if the unlikely prove existing, or the impossible became likely and obvious? Organizational preparedness, the creation of strategic responses to possible scenarios that describe the unknown and uncertain is no longer a luxury.

Written by rthomas

August 12, 2012 at 3:54 pm

Liminal Minded: Insights and Sensemaking Research

leave a comment »

Online insights are as liquid as currency, their velocity of circulation – incredible. Insights are no plaything, forming and acting upon them effects industry structures at the core. Their mere utterance gels prior assumptions and triggers a succession of indirect and direct mimicry. Why? People are genuinely curious and suffer from time pressure to be accurate and objective. Which has resulted in an insights market and industry that rewards accuracy over ingenuity.

Insights by nature are descriptive and reflective – retrospective of lived experiences. Insights are the past. They have been separated from life. To exist as unpredictable patterns the may or may not fully characterize the “real world” or persist as perceived.

The list of problems and challenges organizations and consultancies face in managing and applying insight continue to grow. This list is by no means definitive but intends to describe what we have been seeing around us lately.

Insight Speed & Complexity: Organizations believe they are working from a complex abundance of insights at an increasing rate, that they are diverse, independent and conflicting – and at times their insights are not insights at all. The pressure to categorize, prioritize (simplify) and validate dominates the conversation as opposed to getting at the heart of the matter. How does ‘what is going on’, effect what you desire to be?

The Same Insights: Organizations often work form the same cues, and the same insights from the same reports and the same consultancies. Consultancies facing time restraints carry over insights from project to project from client to client. This creates a self-reinforceing false reality and homogenous actionable intelligence at the organizational level, and a lameness that is visible form the shelf.

Inherited insights – Often projects, products and categories come equipped with bias toward the past and dominant insights that reinforce the known and safe. They are often separated from their original time, expired but treated anew.

Invisible Insights: In some cases insights are so proprietary they are guarded, unknown and un-presented to other departments in the organization and/or consultants – presumably to have them validated or confounded externally. The time taken to gather validation intelligence on existing insights may cost valuable time to act on them effectively.

Insight Translation and Application: Drawing value from out of scope, irrelevant or intangible ‘inactionable’ insights is to resource heavy – aka time to unravel and rethink old mental models. If they do not fit with the current mental model of the market or consumer, and they are cast aside.

Navigating Mis-information – Mistaking repetition and self-similarity as truth or validation. Aging Insights have resulted in a loss of their meaning – and relevancy over time.

Identification of Trusted Sources: Where insights come from is unpredictable. True insight expertise – the awareness, recognition and interpretation of phenomenon and what it means- in the organization may not reflect institutional roles and positions – how do we make sense of where trusted sources are located. This breeds staff hesitation (silence) and unhealthy internal competition as opposed to creative cooperation.

Insight Disbelief and Disregard: The insights and processes are becoming contradictory, trust and belief is bleeding out. The inaccuracy of the processes in the real world occupies our emotional intelligence when it should be ‘feeling opportunity’ – sensing valuable cues for action. Clients want insights to be singular in their validity but as a reflection of the real world, insights could and should complicate and contradict each other to accurately describe reality + texture

These problems are symptomatic of more than they solutions they seek. The imperative to describe and validate the past, present and future has engaged tension between hesitations and over eagerness about change, insecurity and confusion associated with ambiguity. These problems stem from an over objectification of “the insight” where we wish to be ‘accurate.’ Insights have become ‘processed’ from perspectives of existing evaluation techniques to control, predict and guide the outcomes of their application in order to ‘de-risk’. Overly fetishized instrumentation, metrics and measures have become the source of confidence in decision-making.

The same mental model forces insight selection, categorization and prioritization according to their propensity to maintain and stabilize existing structures. Decision-making driven by ‘untended’ routine, reason and rationality, can be costly, as the reasonable and rational mind too works from incomplete information. These inherited frameworks presuppose what worked before will work now, in addition to imposing fatal illusions of accuracy. A much different approach is required.

The problem may be in the process, but it isn’t the process, there is nothing wrong with desiring accuracy. Insight accuracy isn’t the objective, creating a workable level of certainty in order to shape environment is.

Sensemaking attempts to socially approach complexity and ambiguity through the continual act of cohering and shared view of the world to better reflect its changing structure, behavior and relationships. Much like insights, cues in sensemaking signify unthought-of rules-of-order. While reality is under construction – insight is the direct experience of which perceived rules of the past are stressing, or are under pressure and cue toward the yet-to-be.

Sense and Insight are at once lived and invented – Insights without context do not make sense, they suffer from loss of both inherit and intended meaning. Meaning, the greater the distance between the sensing of an insight, recognition of our aspirational position it can reinforce, and the capability required to quickly respond, the greater the distance is to embody, enact and reify that insight.

Zvi Lanir in Journal of Strategic studies states “Bold action is also adaptive because it shapes that which is emerging.”

Building off this statement Karl E. Weick in “Sensemaking in Organizations” continues:

Events are shaped toward those capabilities the bold actor already has. With this twist accuracy becomes reflexive. The actor who knows what he or she can do, and who shapes the environment so that it needs precisely those capabilities, comes close to perfect accuracy. People construct that which constructs them, except both constructions turn out to be one and the same thing. Although individuals may be blind to this dynamic, what they see as a result of its unfolding looks eminently sensible. Both the construction and the perception reflect the same assumptions about capability. Because accuracy is automatic, it drops out of consideration.

Here Weick highlights the importance of sensible action – and a simplicity that has been lost in the current mental model for ‘getting there’, perhaps the ‘scientification of insights’ – the cautious pursuit of descriptions – have offset our confidant ability to deliberately make conditions happen by enacting them. Here we may organize sensemaking of insights around the qualities and characteristics of our capabilities and the state of affairs we wish to inform– assuming we have that story and an idea of our role within.

To explain sensemaking as reflexive enactment Weick and others turn to the words of E.M Forester:

“How do I know what I think until I see what I say?”

This highly introspective statement captures the intimacy and interdependency between thought and action, concept and percept, identity and performance, and performance and feedback insofar as it related to making sense. It replaces prediction, paradox and paralysis with an imperative to first actualize through self-awareness gleaned from bold actions, and second through these actions amplify a new and coherent nature of things.
Weick continues to characterize good sensemaking sensibilities:

If accuracy is not necessary in sensemaking then what is necessary? The answer is something that preserves plausibility and coherence, something that is reasonable, something that embodies past experience and expectations, something that resonates with other people, something that can be constructed retrospectively but can also be used prospectively, something that captures both feeling and thought, something that allows for embellishment to fit current oddities, something that is fun to construct, what is necessary in sensemaking is a good story.

These necessities by default surface the beliefs individuals have of themselves and their role in the organization, the organization and its role in the lives of people through self-fulfilling stories and organizational myths that become real.
This refocuses innovation and insight away from ‘careers’ toward their original purpose – genuine and sustained value creation and organizational ‘becoming.’ The difference is between being an insight and collecting them.

Organizing for Sensemaking Insights Research

Full Spectrum awareness: Sensemaking at first glance may not appear sensible (Wieck), however it may under the construct of rationale based on new knowledge. Open up to new explanations, theories and the ‘believable strange.’ Question hard held assumptions and why you disregard. Prepare teams for this challenge. It isn’t easy.

Making sense involves going beyond the directly observable the definition of Imagination is that which is ‘beyond the senses ‘– it is also a primary mechanism that allows people to make sense of the world. Updating mental models through deliberate and sensible imagination to at once understand and prescribe the new environment will prove a source of compelling storytelling and sustained differentiation.

Exercise your power of definition: The purpose of sense making is to make retrospective sense of situations, organizations and the material world it doesn’t tell you what to do next. Cultivate the courage to imagine, create define, and articulate your future.

Stories stimulate: As a mechanism that organizes the world and ones place in that world. Stories assemble seen and aspirational information in a reasonable way. Stories orient, align motivate people to curate and filter insights towards the actualization of the story.

Ambition alters belief: As opposed to the other way around. For Managers who are curious, passionate, and confidently occupy and author new spaces will tell you insight is not about accuracy and perfection. It is about courage and ability to understand the character of change and author visions to experience and enable first hand.

Capability translates Insights – Aligning insights to the affordances of your capabilities selects, amplifies and extends favorable emerging conditions that fit to you and your story. Action suppresses ambiguity and redirects the compositionality of meaning toward the actor.

Enacted insights should explain – Actions should contribute to reinforcing your story, shaping conditions through enacting insight. To produce the world is to tell a true story and subs anticipation and visioning with real organizational actualization.

Shorten the distances between the recognition of insight, the understanding of insights, their role in the trajectory of the organizational narrative and the action they inspire. Listen down. Listen up. Listen through and thoroughly.

Shift from failing to learning – Insights and environmental cues are experienced and felt. Insightfulness and Sensemaking are not discrete – they are both continual processes of learning and development. Even if sensemaking does not end in a clear decision-making it will undoubtedly end in an understanding of the kind of research that should take place.

Written by rthomas

February 27, 2012 at 5:00 pm

Posted in Uncategorized

Encountering Speculative Fiction

leave a comment »

I was given a book a while back and always assumed it to be a collection of science fiction shorts. Tesseracts 10. Intending on reading it, I put it in cue. Now, months later I realize it is a collection of ‘Speculative Fiction‘. According to the Speculative Literature Foundation:

“Speculative literature is a catch-all term meant to inclusively span the breadth of fantastic literature, encompassing literature ranging from hard science fiction to epic fantasy to ghost stories to horror to folk and fairy tales to slipstream to magical realism to modern myth-making — and more.”

And more? So we look on. Wikipedia runs a laundry list:

Speculative fiction is an umbrella term encompassing the more fantastical fiction genres, specifically science fiction, fantasy, horror, supernatural fiction, superhero fiction, utopian and dystopian fiction, apocalyptic and post-apocalyptic fiction, and alternate history in literature as well as related static, motion, and virtual arts.

I find these debates and dialogues interesting – where clashing definitions and logic work to negotiate the borders that classify and redefine ‘notions’ – in this case – within literature, namely fiction. The institutionalization of the speculative fiction further works to validate, legitimize and reinforce the ‘classification.’ A notable outcome of this formal ‘synthesis of speculative genres’ is in its ‘accumulation’ of – Time. While unifying the fantastic and the speculative, Speculative Fiction does not discriminate against – pasts, present/s or futures.

The special attention on: Hypothetical History, Ahistorical Storytelling , Historical Invention, Historical Fiction, Future History and as previously mentioned, Alternate History – suggests Speculative Fiction, might use its atemporality to separate itself from the more widely known science fiction – while retaining the descriptor: ‘a literature of ideas.’

I have been thinking a lot lately about the role of Intuition and Speculation in Foresight – the ‘informed’ speculation on topics, forces and dynamics at play. One definition of speculations is “To meditate on a subject; reflect.” other is “To engage in a course of reasoning often based on inconclusive evidence.” We are always working from a position of incomplete information. Confident speculation is a particularly important tool for anticipatory thought, when carefully paired with a controlled suspension of disbelief. I look forward to devouring this book.

Written by rthomas

July 15, 2011 at 3:47 pm

Posted in Uncategorized

Annotation Explorations Pt/1 Futures Theatre

leave a comment »

Indications: Curious Markings
Toronto streets are a harsh patchwork of gashes, smooth fields and forgotten incisions – scar tissue. Asphalt surfaces buttressed against cement and slab, hardened aggregate sheets, crumbled, cracked and corroding. As we build a world-class city our urban grammar has become open surgery. Cranes and caterpillars. Nip and tuck. This is our pervasive construction aesthetic.

Look down anywhere and you will encounter a curious language – Pre-op markings gesturing critical information. These marks aren’t meant for us, they are meant to be ignored, passed over. The haphazard nature of their application, and the water-soluble formula of the spray paint suggest they are purely utilitarian, disposable guidelines. Noise.

Utility Location is a formal process to isolate and label underground public utility mains to deter or guide excavations. They temporarily reveal ‘undercover infrastructures,’ – The Guts – breathing habitable conditions into the built environment. The perpetual state of construction grants the ‘locates’ permanent residency.

Locators, as they are called, are required to provide sufficient information to anyone undertaking a ground disturbance to allow the ground disturber to complete his or her work safely and in compliance with the governing regulations. ‘Identify and Mark’ is an evolving practice of telling visual cautionary tales.

‘Indication’ through the language of engineerial annotation, whether spray-paint, stakes or [ ________ ] goes beyond utility location and is often used to map near future plans directly atop the physical environment. Simple analogue augments where plans are imposed on a 1:1 scale, staking out dimensions and relationships to carefully weave new builds into the civic network of forms and amenities.

Locators play the role of interface between Past, Current & Future states of the city.
Markings are suggestive of both the archive and the plan, an interstitial state between diagram and building. Color-Coding is the common language understood as a shared system to decipher between utilities. Blue lines: Hydro. Yellow: Gas. Red: Electric and so on. There are deviations. Weird colors to indicate bespoke utilities or – facilities – as they are sometimes called, typically there is a continuity that you can observe throughout the widespread repetition of this ‘civic pattern.’

Intervention: Speculative Street Fiction
Why is this important? Markings are a common condition that inform, and become, the ‘nature’ of our city. These marks may indirectly serve as cover, visual noise to shield the ‘intervener’ who wishes to use this language, its semantics and its rituals of application as a forum to ‘edit’ the city.

Situating of Ideas within design and engineering worlds often occurs once designs are complete, in the installation process. Seldom are plans ‘wild,’ in a raw form outside of a wiki, pilot or town hall. Today, participatory design and crowdsourcing are common terms, and exhibit many manifestations in facilitating change in community oriented programs. It is often used in cases of strategic visioning and comprehensive planning where public consultation is required to gauge approval and cultural fit. There are patterns in these processes we consider relevant: First is the creation of means to organize and freely communicate to discuss issues. In addition, the general access to platforms and enabling tools for personal or group ‘authorship.’ Second is the value that emerges though discussion, the discovery of desire paths, early warning signs and motivational structures of people.

There are defining characteristics from illicit vending, street performance, infiltration and graffiti that might inspire and inform the public negotiation of public spaces. How might the qualities of the ‘unofficial,’ ‘unsanctioned’ even speculative practices interface with the sketch-like engineering qualities that are exhibited in utility location markings? Encouraging – Disposability. The Gesture. Non-chalante proposals of the unbuilt environment.

Architects are known to stake out a plan, and walk through enacting the program with the client. Appealing to the imagination by showcasing triggers to scales, positions and perspectives. How might we extend the utility language to include new types of markings to form spatial critique and creation? Ideally moving toward a practice of sketching fictional settings.

Improvisation: Futures Theatre
Jane Jacobs framed sidewalks as the information architecture of the city. Their scale affords intimate vantages, speeds and durations within cultural textures. There is an opportunity to consider the street as ‘Whenware’ to pre-enact situations in order to enter and access mechanics of experience and tool with the possibilities. We suggest Pre-enactments as a performative tool to move quickly through – many versions of exploratory scenarios or ‘plays’ to momentarily occupy a myriad of alternative futures.

Like a scene taken from Dogville, engineerial diagrams place you in the story, spatial triggers to imagine within. Settings, props – people, places and things assemble an actor network – from which we will draw upon to sketch fictional public systems. Developing a language at the intersection of utility location markings, architectural plans and interaction modeling. It is on these ‘stages’ where we hope to casually perform, debate and discuss versions of plausible and/or odd near future sequences, scenes and situations. Authoring the future is a social activity, made vivid by the informed perspectives and imaginations that share in actively conjuring how the future might ‘play out.‘

‘Suggestive marking as intervention’ within the lanscape of inherited infrastructures suggests a shift in power. How might the street become a stage for a new mixture of sketch annotation and diagrammatic storytelling as ways of situating, visualizing and occupying ‘possible places?’ It is not intended to create interference patterns to distort and confuse, but to create ‘Inscriptions of civic value,’ intended to make people think differently about public expressions in relation to infrastructures we inherit as opposed to the infrastructures we should inherit. We intend to create curious breaks in the overall local rhythm – temporary autonomous zones’- to impose public attractors to Open Urbanism, Situated Foresight, Civic Gaming, that is, the city would be non-destructively mutable and dialogical rather than a ‘background.’

Written by rthomas

July 14, 2011 at 6:26 am

Enchanted Objects + Non Invasive Diagnostics Pt1

leave a comment »

Caress Non-Invasive Diagnostic Orb

Non-invasive self-diagnostic technologies are on the rise and represent a significant opportunity to positively impact the experience of managing chronic diseases like diabetes, encouraging greater adherence to diagnostics/treatment regimes; while also enabling a greater levels of education, awareness, and accessibility to people seeking to engage in more informed, healthier, hands-on preventative lifestyles.

A couple years ago a small team of friends including Andrew Lockhart, Kengwei Lu, Richard Thomas and myself decided to explore and submit a self-diagnostic concept to the annual Diabetes Mine Design Competition that incorporated non-invasive electromagnetic technology capable of measuring blood glucose levels. We were very excited to propose an idea (described below) that focused on improving, externalizing, and socializing the diagnostic process by making it more friendly, open, accessible and acceptable.


Caress Non-Invasive Diagnostic Orb

Often upon diagnosis of diabetes, people will retreat and internalize their experience. The nature of current glucose meter technology can exacerbate this issue by forcing people to navigate this new landscape by themselves, which in addition to increasing feelings of isolation, can put a strain on relationships with concerned family and loved ones.

Caress is an “enchanted object“, a diagnostic platform that combines physical hardware with web and mobile services to provide people living with (and without) diabetes a simple set of tools and services to monitor and track their blood sugar levels while providing the opportunity to socialize their experience and educate others. By utilizing existing non invasive electromagnetic technology developed at Baylor University and/or a number of other research centers, users will be able to accurately measure their glucose levels simply by touching or caressing the device, transitioning the blood glucose readings from a painful and awkward, private experience to one that is more natural, compelling and habit forming.

Caress Non-Invasive Diagnostic Platform

For tracking purposes Caress also employs hand vein scanning technology to identify and differentiate between users in order to allow friends, coworkers and family members to participate in the experience and see their blood glucose levels, promoting better understanding and removing some of the isolation that many people living with diabetes feel. Hand vein scanning was decided upon over fingerprint and other forms of biometrics as it is more accurate and is a more intuitive form of interaction when considering the intended form and function of the platform.

Caress - personal diagnostic and management platform web mock


Each Caress device will be networked with existing bluetooth, cellular and/or WIFI capabilities, allowing readings to be transmitted to the web services component of the platform through home or office computers or mobile devices. Users will be able to access their personal metrics around blood sugar levels etc through their computers or mobile devices, with the opportunity to receive mobile alerts when it is time to take a reading. Over time, the aggregated data will help users and their health care providers understand patterns of behavior and identify the optimal approaches to managing their health.

The Caress Non-Invasive Diagnostic Platform will evolve over two primary phases:
Phase I
As the electromagnetic technology is fairly nascent, Phase One will focus on creating modern sculptural devices (sample shown above) that can be placed in high traffic areas (i.e. within the home or office environment). Interior displays beneath the touch surface of the device will provide the user with their current blood glucose levels as well as relevant trend data. When the device is inactive, the display will show color coded “ambient” information representing various glucose levels and dynamic abstract visualizations of the most recent trend data to encourage and reinforce positive behaviors while attracting visual interest to initiate engagement and the socialization process.

Caress Non-Invasive Diagnostic Smart Phone "Skin"

Phase II
As economies of scale are achieved with manufacturing, integration of electro-magnetic diagnostic capabilities into the skins of mobile devices through a flat radial design will allow for a seamless experience as the skins (pictured above) will be able to capture a reading each time the device is used, transmitting readings directly to the mobile device and by extension, the online analytics experience. Unique ring tones can also be setup to remind the user when a reading is required. Mobile device Internet capabilities will allow data to be transmitted to and from the central web servers to either the mobile browser or native application. Integration with other mobile data services can seamlessly provide value add information such as where the nearest grocery or convenience store is or specific recommendation on actions to take to balance sugar levels.

Immortal Industries

with one comment

Last year, a Tiger Woods Nike commercials drew significant attention to the ethics, morality, and creepiness surrounding the use of his late father’s voice, and the authenticity of Tiger’s introspective and apologetic performance.  Gossip aside- the “re-incarnation” and “re-performance” of Tiger’s dad signals yet again the slow emergence of what we may call the “immortal industries”. This new market/context is defined by the capture, preservation, extension, transmediation, re-interpretation, re-performance and ultimate re-experience of personas past. Eventually, despite your best efforts – you will be automated.

An earlier and perhaps more compelling example of this can be seen here in the late Glen Gould‘s “reperformance” enabled by Zenph Studios and a very well tuned Yamaha self playing piano. Family, friends and contemporaries commented that the experience was so real that it was like his ghost was in the room. This is innovation. Read the original NY Times article by Edward Rothstein here – a video by Michael Lawrence on Zenph Studios and the Bach Project is posted below.

As time passes the ability to record, recover, remix and re-insert individuals back into real-time-play with greater and greater fidelity proposes fascinating choices and opportunities across all contexts and categories. We have always been aware of our temporary physical presence and mortality-  as such we’ve commissioned and created self-preserving – self-perpetuating artifacts and monuments to our existence from small simple personal objects like jewelry, drawing and paintings, to imposing stone pyramids -now remixed commercials and self-playing AI enabled pianos. What’s next? Technology is most definitely enabling for increasingly higher resolution versions of ourselves to post-exist.

This immortal future is not about the “singularity” and overpriced vitamin regimes- although it does touch on humanity+ and transhumanism. What is certain is that it will continue to be profound and reside in the purely magical and possibly technology/drug enhanced illusionary experience of someone else – possibly even a past or future version of ourselves. Who will enable this? What organizations are poised to emerge as the dominant players within this space?

With the increasing popularity of “lifelogging” and the vast amounts of “open source info”, recorded behaviors, opinions, likes, comments and other social media that are being captured and stored online- it’s only a matter of time before you will be pieced back together by a well meaning distant relative, security firm or defense contractor, inept high school kid with a history project to complete, a bad DJ, an ad agency, or some common version of ancestry.com. How does this make you feel?

Until now, the problems, opportunities and existential dilemmas associated with this personification have been limited to the consideration of the powerful, famous, and wealthy few- with the less fortunate having to accept more humble forms of memory, self-preservation and extension. As this space evolves will the rights to your common and relatively unknown persona may be sold/retained/acquired by a much lesser version of the Richman agency and licensed out to third parties for entertainment… the good, bad and ugly.

More to come…

Written by mlincez

April 19, 2011 at 2:47 am