Saturday, March 01, 2008

On Strategy: Faking It

Years ago, when I was working at a digital shop we had a client, a large financial services company we were doing a very big implementation project for. The budget and timeframes were unreasonable and unrealistic, so we did what people usually do in companies built on the "consultancy" model. We stayed late every night and had meeting after meeting to go over the project plan again and again and again to try and figure out how to do the do the impossible (as defined). One of the big issues was not having enough time to properly go through a design phase, do usability testing and then feed that back into another round of design.

Tired of going through this ridiculous process of beating our heads against a wall I proposed an idea: "Let's fake the entire usability process, the whole fucking thing, we'll get people to pretend they're participants, shoot video of the usability sessions and draft fake reports documenting results. We'll fake it, just like NASA did with the moon landings. It solves our timeframe issues and the surplus cash increases our margins."

The people on the team I shared this with were aghast (particularly the usability specialist.) I understand it wasn't necessarily the most ethical solution but the situation sucked and the team was becoming exhausted, defeated and adopting a very poor disposition (and we hadn't even started working on the project yet, we were still in the planning phase). Looking back I really wish I had pushed harder gotten the team to agree to "pull a moon landing".

In those days we didn't have a lot of success selling usability to clients, they didn't want to pay for it and they never could accept the impact it has on project duration. As a result, we didn't get to do it very often. Faking the process would have taught everyone on the team a lot about how usability is done. Creating any kind of "theater" forces you to ask yourself very basic questions about how things work. Creating a Hollywood set for instance is much more difficult that shooting in a real location. You have to think about and create all of those details that make something "real". I have no doubt we would have had great insights about and made improvements to the usability process had we done it.

Brian Eno on "the replica": Imagine seeing two identical Jackson Pollacks side-by-side...

Eno on "the replica", conspiracy and deception from TheShermanFoundation on Vimeo.

The biggest reason however, is that it would have reinstilled in the team a sense of possibility, a valuable and powerful sense of confidence that they can pull anything off. Something everyone could have used in that industry after the bomb dropped. There is ALWAYS a way, its not always pretty, or right, or fair but there is always a solution and maintaining that sense of empowered possibility is better than that poisonous, paralytic state of accepted defeat.

"When you're getting run out of town, make it look like a parade".

From The Sherman Foundation archives:

Maintaining a Sense of Uncertainty: Why I tell people that I don't believe that man has been to the moon.

Dangerous Ideas: Magic By Misdirection

When Harry Met Sally, the fake O

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I recently discovered the Orson Welles movie "F for FAKE", about hoaxes, including his own War of the Worlds broadcast. It's available on DVD.

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