Michael Pollan and John Mackey LIVE AND IN CONCERT

Tonight I saw Michael Pollan, the author of The Omnivore’s Dilemma, and his arch-nemesis John Mackey, CEO of Whole Foods, live on stage in Berkeley.

At some point, the webcast will be made available here.

Okay, so I’m overplaying the arch-nemesis bit, the series of open letters between Michael Pollan and John Mackey, begun by Mackey in response to The Omnivore’s Dilemma, suggested that all was not sympatico. (Michael Pollan’s first letter, and his second letter.)

Mackey’s Powerpoint

For the first 45 minutes of the event, Mackey gave a (remarkably poorly designed) Powerpoint presentation covering what he calls the 6 ages of food production. He focused on the last two — the Industrial Age (which we’re still in, but he hopes we’re getting out of) and the Ecological Age (which he sees Whole Foods as a leader in engaging).

Mackey also showed remarkably disturbing video of factory animal husbandry. While the conditions are clearly terrible for animals, my primary thought was, “What does this do to the psyches of the people who work with these animals?”

The Powerpoint was followed by a discussion between Pollan and Mackey on stage. Not surprisingly, the two by-and-large agree on everything.

Some interesting new developments at Whole Foods

Whole Foods has started a $30 million venture capital fund to support unique food artisans around the world.

Whole Foods will be collaborating with Transfair (the Fair Trade certifiers) to develop a “Whole Trade Guarantee,” so you can feel better about the sourcing of your food.

Some thoughts inspired by the discussion

Originally, the event was supposed to be in a 700 person auditorium, but it sold out in a matter of hours. So it moved to a 2,200 theater, and sold out in less than a week. Now, part of this is that we’re in Berkeley, which probably is the city that has been most serious about it’s food for the longest time. But there’s clearly something going on here.

Pollan and Mackey talked about a desire to bring complete transparency to the food your eating. Pollan alluded to what Denmark has done, where, with a second bar code on your food, you can call up highly specific information about where your food came from — specific feed lots, etc. (Pollan mentions this in this article.) All I could think about was food as spime, and the challenges information architects would have in making this immense about of information about what we eat, um, digestible (ha!) by consumers.

Handsome family

Stacy’s brother Mike, and his wife Lara visited us this past week. We had a great time with them, showing them all around the Bay Area (and them showing themselves the delights of Napa). We took this photo at the end of the week, and, well, I’m pleased with the picture.

Even more on No Job Titles

Quite a bit back, I wrote on the subject of “No Job Titles.” The subject has come up again within Adaptive Path, as Todd’s post shows. There’s also been discussion on internal mailing lists, which prompted me to write the following:

I hate job titles.

I wish we could no longer have them for two reasons:

1) People get their identities so wrapped up in their job titles. There’s a reason “creative director” is banned from Adaptive Path. As I wrote in that long interview/discussion with GK van Patter:

“The moment we attach our identity to a label (“designer,” “information architect,” “engineer,” “New Yorker,” “San Franciscan,” “Catholic,” “Jew”) we lose perspective.”

2) Job titles suggest to clients and other external people that we are like other companies.
Adaptive Path succeeds best when we act in ways that are *not* typical for a company, particularly a services firm. Job titles is Playing the Game, and it allows a client to assume we are like our “competitors” because we have titles like they do. If we go into a meeting with no titles, that will tell potential clients/partners that we are different from what they’re used to dealing with.

And that’s a good thing. If the client is ready for different, great, let’s bring it on. If the client is not ready for different, we probably don’t want to engage.

(I use “competitors” in quotes not to suggest no one can compete with us, but because we have such a hard time defining who our competitors are…)

Something else I thought about today, talking to various companies in Minneapolis, is that job titles are particularly useless in our knowledge and services economy. Things are so fluid, and all that such labels do is put people in a box that probably doesn’t suit them.

peterme’s 2007 US tour

In the next few months, I’m traveling all around North America:

Next week (Feb 19-23): Minneapolis, MN
March 9-13: Austin, TX (for South by Southwest)
March 22-26: Las Vegas (for the IA Summit)
April 12-14: Ottawa, Ontario, Canada (for CapCHI)
April 15-20: New York, NY (networking and Gel Conference)
May 17 (and probably time around it): Atlanta, GA (for Atlanta CHI)
August 14-17 (or so): Washington, D.C. (UX Week)

If you are in these places, and we should meet, email me (peterme AT peterme DOT com)!

Go See Children of Men

I finally got around to seeing Children of Men last night, and if you’ve been considering seeing it, are on the fence, I implore you to go and catch it in a theater before it disappears. It’s a good film, and a cinematographic treat. You will definitely lose something if you wait to see it on DVD.

Now, I wanna talk about the film, so I’ll put the rest of my thoughts after the jump…
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Jakob Jumps The Shark

Jakob Shark

In the distant past, I would laud Jakob when he was being pilloried by the masses. But then, Jakob’s brand of rhetoric moved away from reasoned discussion of design, and he started venturing into areas he has no expertise in, such as ROI. Scott Hirsch and I tore apart his pathetically flimsy “Usability ROI” report, as it had no grounding in anything resembling financial practice.

And then, more recently, I’ve objected to his essays where he makes specious claims seemingly for the sole purpose of puffing up his events, and his comments that suggest he hasn’t appreciated how the Web has evolved in the last 6 years.

But, wow, what a last straw is his latest essay, where he claims “In one example, a state agency could get an ROI of 22,000% by fixing a basic usability problem.” If he hadn’t jumped the shark before, he really has now. He backs this outrageous claim with a remarkably naive cost-benefit analysis, the kind of financial fiddling that no serious finance director within any organization would believe. (At Adaptive Path we actually conducted research with a range of organizations on how they do such math, and these kinds of multiplying-lots-of-little-numbers-to-make-a-big-number kind of math never holds water.)

I wouldn’t write about it except that I fear that Jakob is turning into a pernicious force when it comes to advancing the field of design, because his reach means tens of thousands of people are reading this unsubstantiated crap. Such outrageous claims truly feel like the wild flailings of increasing irrelevance.

8 years ago, the web had two usability prophets – Jakob and Jared. Had you asked me to place bets on which one was worthier to follow, I would have said Jakob (UIE’s “Web Site Usability” book pissed me off). But in the last 4 or 5 years, Jakob has receded to the point of almost total irrelevance, whereas Jared and his gang are pursuing important and interesting questions, and never making specious claims about what they’ve found. Ditch alertbox and subscribe to Brain Sparks.

Two things I’m thinking about

Adam recently wrote how “You can no longer safely assume that your product will stand alone”, and how it needs to recognize the ecosystem in which it is placed.

This accords with my “Stop Designing Products” presentation (which I’ve since updated and gave at UIE’s Web App Summit).

There are two ways that products can take advantage of systems. The more obvious way, which Kodak pioneered in the late 1800s, and which Apple has executed of late, is to control all aspects of the system, and parcel functionality where appropriate. In my talk, it looks like this:

Ipod System

Few of us have the ability to control a system in such a way. When Adam says that your product will not stand alone, he’s talking about the reality that so many things are going to be out of your control. Still, a systems view of the situation can help you develop a successful product. Take digital photo sharing. The success of Flickr is how it fits within an existing digital photo ecosystem, and adds value by helping coordinate these disparate elements of the ecosystem.

Flickr System

The challenge, which Adam’s comment suggests, is that product designers tend to focus on the stand alone. They tend to get so wrapped up in the Thing they are creating that they lose site of the environment in which it will be placed. For further reading, I suggest The Other Adam’s Why Designing Systems Is Difficult.

Now, why is this systems view important? Well, it ties into the other thing I’ve been thinking about, which is how we need to take an experiential perspective in our product development. If you want to deliver on an experience, as opposed to simply a set of features, it’s becoming clear you must take a systems view. When Eastman launched Kodak, he pledged, “You push the button, we do the rest.” When Apple launched iPod, it wanted to deliver the experience of ‘A thousand songs in your pocket.” Delivering on these promises requires going beyond any single component toward appreciating how an entire system can be orchestrated to deliver this experience.

Brandon’s post on Target’s ClearRX demonstrates this brilliantly. There as a desired experience (exemplified in the redesigned pill bottle), and that required a massive restructuring of systems in order to deliver it.

Anyway, these are among the things I’m thinking a lot about. I’d love any pointers for further reading on such topics.

I Observe Sausage Production

I don’t think I’ve mentioned it here, but last September, I became President at Adaptive Path. (Jesse is President, too. But we don’t call ourselves “co-Presidents.” It’s just that neither of us is *the* President. Anyway.)

I’ve had quite a few conversations about what it’s like to be President, how my responsibilities and activities have changed, thoughts and advice on management. All of which is a little strange, because I’m totally making it up as I go along — I’ve got some instincts as to what will work, and taking it from there.

The thing that I’ve said more than once to folks about being President is that in the role, I become intimately familiar with how the sausage gets made. A professional services firm is all about the people who work there, and so presidency is all about engaging with the people.

And when you’re engaging with people, no matter how great, respectful, and delightful those people are (and the people at Adaptive Path are all those things, and more), things get messy. You put any group of people together, and messiness emerges.

And dealing with that messiness is the most challenging aspect of the job. It can lead to feelings of defeat. I suspect a lot of people would buckle when faced with the perfectly normal messiness that is dealing with a team of people. The president’s job is to not get defeated by knowing how the sausage gets made, realizing that once you get through it, it’s going to taste great. Wait. Did I just compare Adaptive Path’s work to tasty sausage? Perhaps I should stop now. But you get the point.