All 2 entries tagged Harvard Business Review

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February 24, 2009

The Ikea effect – why we should build a flat–pack V[R]LE

For some time now my colleagues in the Warwick E-learning Advisor Team have been arguing that we should create some kind of 'templating' system within the web publishing component of our V[R]LE (Sitebuilder). Chris Coe has a great name for it: Elaborate (quick, file for a trademark).

The idea is that we could create templates based on generic and discipline specific learning designs. A template would embody the structure, functionality, and flow of the learning design in a set of pages and interactions. The template could then be copied and, following a set of instructions, filled-out with learning content. For example, there could be a template for a peer-review process. This could even be combined with a 'wizard' approach that builds the detail of the learning activity based upon answers provided by the learning designer (tutor) to a series of questions.

We justify this argument with these claims:

  1. Speed and efficiency;
  2. Promoting consistency and good practice;
  3. Developing a shared language for describing different learning designs;
  4. Giving a focus for evaluating different learning designs;
  5. Allowing us to tailor designs for departments and courses.

I've just discovered a further significant reason for working in this way, given in an article in the February 2009 edition of the Harvard Business Review:

The Ikea Effect: When Labor Leads to Love by Michael I. Norton of Duke University

...labor enhances affection for its results. When people construct products themselves, from bookshelves to Build-a-Bears, they come to overvalue their (often poorly made) creations.

The success of Ikea, they claim, is to some extent based upon the flat-pack principle - do much of the work for the customer, but allow them to feel as if they are still investing their labor (and hence their love) in the product. Perfect flat-pack makes people love you! And Ikea certainly do have some ingenious ways with flat-pack construction.

A templated learning-design is flat-pack.

Norton gives a warning: if the customer puts too much work into the construction, they may end up loving the product too much, thus making future change impossible.

The second rule of Ikea is to make the construction easy enough for the product to feel potentially disposable.

The same must be true of learning activities built from a template.

But what of customisation? We know that people love to customise. Indeed, Ikea offer that to some extent, but the customisation is never fundamental - it's simply a matter of combining products and adding ornaments (that's why they sell cheap bits and pieces from which they can't possibly profit).

So then, how to build a V[R]LE that is used and cherished by the masses: use the Ikea effect.

If you're involved in building learning content, or are interested in the construction of V[R]LEs, you are welcome to comment on this idea.

Update: I've just thought of another reason why templating is good. Here's the use case:

  1. Tutor A creates a useful template.
  2. Other tutors in their department see the pages created from the template, and want to do similarly.
  3. Each page is marked with "Created using the template TEMPLATE NAME, designed by PERSONS NAME .
  4. The tutors can then create their own pages using the template, and get advice Tutor A.

February 23, 2009

How to Pitch a Brilliant Idea by Kimberly D. Elsbach

Writing about web page

A summary of the first paper read and discussed by the Warwick University Harvard Business Review reading group.

The article is based upon a “lengthy study of the $50 billion U.S. film and television industry” by the author, a business in which “making a pitch” is a standard practice. It seems that “pitching” and “catching” are core business processes, occurring within structured and often repeated events. Meetings are often held in which a series of pitches are presented to a group of catchers with decisive power.

The members of the reading group identified similarities and differences when compared to the university environment. Opportunities to make a pitch to an audience with decisive power being almost completely missing. Whereas in the T.V. industry the 30 minute pitch is a standard practice, in the university we use written submissions that are shoe-horned into forms (or the occasional lucky “elevator pitch”). Visual presentations and demonstrations, which could be essential, are impossible. We agreed that the university could benefit from the adoption of “pitching” and “catching” – perhaps with training made available (talk to LDC).

Elsbach also investigated other industries, to see if the same processes and rules occur – including all kinds of business involving product design, marketing and venture capital. She concludes that the same principles apply.

The reading group agreed that making a pitch is an essential career skill. We noted that the Careers Centre recently ran a session for students called “Pitch Idol”. We agreed that similar sessions would be of use to many other students and staff.

We also noted that “pitching” and “catching” is an essential part of teaching practice.

Elsbach’s most important finding was that the tendency of “catchers” to be influenced by simple stereotypes results in many pitches for good ideas failing. The question: “why is U.S. T.V. so bad?” is answered with: because the pitching-catching process is failing. She found that “catchers” very quickly classify a “pitcher” into one of three types – and that “pitchers” commonly play into these types. The types are:

The Showrunner – a combination of charisma and wit with apparent technical mastery – highly skilled at drawing the catchers into an idea and manipulating them: “create a level playing field by engaging the catcher in a kind of knowledge duet”. Only 20% of successful pitchers were said to be showrunners.

The group agreed that ‘pitching opportunities’ at Warwick tend to be dominated by a small group of skilled showrunners, and that this could lead be a limit upon innovation and growth. It might also be the case that showrunners have become catchers, and as such jealously guard there control over the show. Do good showrunners make bad catchers?

The Artist – “He wore black leather pants and a town T-shirt, several earrings in each ear, and a tattoo on his slender arm. His hair was rumpled, his expression was brooding.” That’s an extreme characterisation. A hint of non-conformism can do the same trick: creativity is rare, and hence ideas coming from creatives can seem more valuable than they really are. 40% of successful pitches came from this type. One particularly valuable aspect of the ‘artist’ is their tendency to use whatever method is necessary to express their idea, regardless of rules – for example, organising a practical session to get everyone involved.

Lots of these at Warwick, but they struggle to get opportunities to express themselves. The CAPITAL centre are a notable exception.

The Neophyte – “…the opposite of showrunners. Instead of displaying their expertise, they plead ignorance.” – seeming to only have a casual interest in the pitched idea, they distance themselves and invite criticism. This is a risky strategy. The idea might get accepted. The criticism might be positive. Or more probably it will get completely trashed.

When dominant showrunners become catchers, do encourage only neophytes to pitch? How often are neophyte ideas later recycled by showrunners?

Elsbach’s paper gives two principal messages of advice:

To pitchers – watch out for the stereotypes, take the best from each of these approaches, build a reputation for great ideas and great results.

To catchers – watch out for your own tendency to stereotype, focus on the idea, help the pitcher to express their idea.

But we could also add to this a lesson for businesses:

If you want to be genuinely innovative and creative, and you want to keep agile and competing, set up an environment that supports effective pitching and catching.

The group concluded with some thoughts upon how we could use training and new technologies to help people to become better pitchers – for example, creating videos to use in their pitching.

If you've read the article, and have a useful comment, you are welcome to leave it below.

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