Turbulating Design Thinking
In this episode, we talk to Dan Buchner Product Designer, Innovator, Creative Leader, and now innovator and designer of social ventures. Dan is a creative force and thought-leader in the world of product, service, and organizational design with a fantastic history of solving wicked problems.
Dan helps leaders and their teams innovate to advance their organizations and communities.
Leading for Innovation
Assisted senior leaders in creating cultures to support the development of innovative products and services to advance their organizations. This included work with senior teams and individual coaching to develop the leadership practices needed to enable innovation within their organizations.
Designing learning experiences
Designed and delivered transformative learning experiences for leaders who want to advance their leadership practices. These focused on personal development as well as learning creative approaches to addressing complex challenges.
Applying Design Thinking
Guided the implementation of design thinking methods within organizations and communities, resulting in new and successful approaches to complex challenges they faced. These included challenges such as citizen engagement within rural communities, economic development in developing countries, and citizen-focused government services.
Leading for businesses
Established and led design studios, marketing departments and innovation labs within large businesses and consulting firms. As a member of senior executive teams, I have co-lead businesses through difficult economic times and organizational change to achieve high levels of business performance and success. Co-founded and started up a successful manufacturing business.
New product development
Authored and implemented new product development processes within large organizations, resulting in significant revenue growth and elevated brand perceptions. This work included process design and leading organizational change.
Designed award-winning consumer products, resulting in profitable growth for manufacturing businesses. These groundbreaking products resulted in me receiving 25 patents and numerous design and innovator awards.
Turbulating Design Thinking
Rob Brodnick: Hi, I’m Rob Brodnick, your co host for the podcast. Are you wishing you could dream up the next big thing, or maybe you are being asked to, but aren’t sure where to start? This episode is for you.
Karyn Zuidinga: In this episode, we talked to Dan Buchner, product designer, innovator, creative leader, and now innovator and designer of social ventures.
Dan is a creative force and thought leader in the world of product and service design, organizational design, with an amazing history of solving wicked problems. Hi, I’m Karen Zadinga, and before we launch into it with Dan, I want to take a moment for a message from our sponsors.
Rob Brodnick: The Positive Turbulence Podcast is brought to you by AMI.
an innovation learning community that is celebrating 40 years of supporting innovation and creativity for organizations and individuals. Learn more at aminnovation. org. Also, we’d like to thank Mac Avenue Music Group as a contributing sponsor. To hear our theme song, Late Night Sunrise, and other great music, visit macavenue.
Dan Buchner: com.
Rob Brodnick: Dan, when we met, you were at Continuum. And I know you were there for a chunk of time and that sort of, uh, innovation consulting firm. And then you moved on to a couple of different things. I know you went from Boston to Chicago, spent some time with the Center for Creative Leadership, and moved into a couple of other roles.
Could you, like, fill in the blanks on a little bit of your story? What was before Continuum, and some of the ways that you got into the world of innovation?
Dan Buchner: Yeah. So I’ve had a very unconventional career path. I started my career as an industrial designer in Canada, working for small manufacturing firms here, designing physical products.
At one point, my buddy and I decided we were tired of working for other people. So we started our own manufacturing firm. It turned out to be quite successful. Immediately learned that even when you’re an entrepreneur and you actually work for other people, you know, the investors, the bankers, the vendors, the employees.
And I once said to my partner, you know, business would be so much fun if it just wasn’t, didn’t have people in it. From there, I ended up working for the Canadian division of a big American. Corporation doing new product development, which was Mullen, the faucet company. And as a result of the work that I did for them in Toronto, I got transferred down to the States and I got, I was asked by the CEO to help set up new product development, a design department, qualitative market research department, like build the capability, help build the capability to develop new products.
And I was with Mullen for quite a few years. And during that time I use consulting firms to help me. You know Do projects and figure out how to, how to make Mo on a leader in new product development. And one of the firms was design continuum. And at one point the founder of design continuum approached me and said, Hey, would you be interested in coming and joining the consulting company and heading up the product design department?
So I left Mo on and went to Boston and spent 11 years there. And the first few years I was in charge of the product, the product design group. So we had five studios and at one point I think I had 65. Industrial designers and five studios around the world. And we work for all the major international corporations, Sony, Samsung, BMW, Procter and Gamble, you know, you name it, Nestle, you name it, we work for them.
But during that time, clients started to ask us to teach them how to work the way that we worked. And so. They would hire us to come up with new product ideas and design and engineer. I mean, we would, and they’d be quite successful. And pretty soon the leaders of the organization started to say, Hey, my people need to know how to do this.
Right. Um, and because when you guys work the way you work, you know, you come up with great ideas and I make money. And plus you guys are real expensive. I don’t want to keep paying your fees. So not knowing how to help an organization. You know, learn ways of working. My solution was just hire us to do another project, send four of your people to our studio in Boston.
They can work on the project with us for nine months and they’ll see how we work. Right. But within a few months, I started to get cold calls from companies that we didn’t work with asking for the same thing. And I’m going, Oh my goodness, there’s a business opportunity here. I started up a practice area inside of Continuum called Organizational Innovation.
And the aim was to help leaders of organizations make their organizations more innovative. Now, I didn’t know a lot about how to do that. So I started hanging out with OD, you know, OD people, culture, culture change people, um, and, and started to bring some of those kinds of practitioners into my consulting engagements.
With my clients. And it was at that point that I got, um, I got hooked up with the Center for Creative Leadership through a m i and Dave, Dave Altman asked me to, to if I would do a project for the Center for Creative Leadership. And so I started to get engaged with the Center of Creative Leadership. And at the same time I was struggling with some of my clients.
In this organizational innovation practice, because I could advise them how to hire creative people, how to set up a process, how to manage them, how to integrate them into their existing processes, those sorts of things. And even though the companies had budgets and commitments to do these things more in more innovative ways, if the leadership in the organization, and I mean leadership broadly, not just senior leadership, doesn’t get what it takes to have an innovative culture, isn’t going to happen.
And so I started to bring the, some people from the center for creative leadership into my consulting engagements. And I got really, really intrigued with the whole idea of helping leaders lead, you know, in new and different ways. That’s how I found my way into the leadership development space. And at one point left the consulting firm, went to work at the center for creative leadership as a director of innovation there.
Nominally to help CCL develop more innovative ways to do the things that they do. Yeah. Ultimately ended up doing a lot of client work for them. You know, business development, program design, and delivery. And then I got recruited to head up a leadership development institute, uh, in Banff, Alberta. That’s housed inside of a, uh, an arts…
Our organization called the VAMP Center, which is world renowned in the arts field as a place where mid career artists go to develop new work. And they have a small leadership institute there that does amazing work. And so I went there and headed that institute up for a while. And now I’m uh, I’m my own, my own independent contractor doing work, trying to make the world a little bit better, using positive turbulence and innovation processes to do that.
So that’s my, that’s my career arc. So
Karyn Zuidinga: that’s an interesting segue into positive turbulence. So what I’ve noticed is that a lot of people have different definitions of what, how they see positive turbulence. So Dan, could you give us like your quick and dirty take, what is positive turbulence
Dan Buchner: to you? Well, let me start by saying that, that almost all organizations in the world are set up to produce predictable and consistent results on a reliable basis.
They’re ecosystems to take out risk to ensure the delivery of high quality, you know, product services, however you want to think about it. Like, you know, we all, and it’s a good thing, right? It’s a really good thing because we all want pure drugs. We want airplanes that don’t fall out of the sky. We want, you know, we want code that isn’t buggy, you know, all those things, right?
So that’s a good thing. Organizations keep to do that. The danger though is that they end up becoming risk averse and numb to the outside world, to the forces in the outside world. And so positive turbulence for me is people and ways inside of organizations to ensure that they don’t become numb to the outside world and the forces that are out there.
And that they don’t become complacent in their efforts to… Produce consistent, reliable results and as Stan and others have outlined, there’s, you know, multiple ways that that that happens inside of organizations and how that can be done. So I guess. Positive turbulence for me is the efforts to keep organizations from becoming resistant to change and the forces that they have no control over.
Karyn Zuidinga: A question based on my own experience. So, when I had a larger consulting team, we were quite diligent about, we thought we were quite diligent about not becoming numb. As you call it to the outside world, we would do in depth post mortems on every project, uh, success or fail, you know, and the failures are always more interesting.
Yeah, but I think some of the things we were learning were the wrong things. Like, I think we were just entrenching patterns, right? And, and so to me, I wonder if you could just sort of talk about that entrenchment of patterns and how you’ve seen positive turbulence do both, right? Like we were pretty diligent about not, you know, thinking we were not becoming numb to the outside, yet we were doing the complete opposite, right?
So how does, how does positive turbulence help people not do
Dan Buchner: that? Yeah, so I think there’s a, I’ve witnessed this over sort of the advent of design thinking, for instance, right? So I’ve been a designer for 30 blah, blah, blah years, so I don’t even want to say. And of course, I’ve seen, seen the value of design increase dramatically in the business world over that period of time, and it was, it’s been very exciting.
But what I see now. Is the routinization of innovation, right? Everybody wants repeatable innovation, right? What they do is they take the methods and the processes that are used, you know, that result, that can result in novel, new, new ideas, products and services or approaches, right? And they try and make them routine.
And I think in the act of making the routine, right? They take the magic away. And so I’ll give you some examples of how. You know, I’ve tried to deal with that in organizations that I worked in and worked for as a consultant. And, um, the first one is, and it’s a very simple one, is when I was at Design Continuum in Boston, we charged every team to try one new thing on every project they worked on.
It could be a new way of relating to the client. It could be a new way of doing research. It could be a new way of testing ideas. It could be a new way of generating ideas. And they had to be transparent with the client. We’re going to try this. We’ve never tried it before. And it might work and it might not work.
And at the end of the project, they would have to report back to the entire organization about what they tried and whether it worked or didn’t work or how they might do it again, right. Or if they did it again, how they might do it differently. So it was our attempt to, to try and keep things from.
Getting routinized, you know, from like, Hey, we know how to do this. We’ve done this a hundred times before and it works. We’re just going to keep doing it. Right. Right. And then I think there’s roles that need to be played on teams that we don’t normally talk about. So if we’re talking about teams that are trying to come up with new and new things, right, new approaches, things that haven’t been done before, not teams that are just executing, you know, fixing a bug and, you know, just routine stuff that we know how to do often.
We talk about. Oh, we have to have a cross functional team. We got to have a marketing, we got to have engineering, we got to have somebody from finance, right? But yeah, so, so we need those kinds of perspectives, but we need also different kinds of different perspectives. So for instance, cognitive diversity.
So we need linear thinkers, divergent thinkers, in addition to marketers and engineers. We need, um, dreamers and doers. And I have three roles that I always like to put on To have people play when they’re on teams like this. And the first one is the loyal skeptic. The loyal skeptic is somebody who’s loyal to the intent of the project, but skeptical.
The person that asks. That difficult, embarrassing question that nobody’s really willing to ask, but needs to be asked, you know, the person who at the right point in time can ask the team, are we doing group think right now? Are we going down a path we’ve always gone before, but all in service. Right. All in service of the objective of the project.
So they’re not the loyal cynic, right? Or a disruptor. Right. Right. Yeah. But there’s somebody who has the best interests of the team at heart, but are given the role to challenge the team so that you don’t get into these patterns. The next one is the explorer. And this, the explorer’s role is to go out into the world and try and discover things.
That may not at first seem terribly relevant to the project, but could be, right? So that’s an attempt to bring in inputs. That normally wouldn’t be brought into the team and the work that they do. And then the third one, the third role is the wild card. And the wild card is somebody that you wouldn’t normally have on the team.
And I’ve seen teams bring in poets. Yeah. You know, into a, a, the, the, a product, the product development of a physical product, mass produced physical product, they bring a poet in. Because the poets see things in the world and can concretize conceptual stuff, right, into something that’s very tangible, accessible, and meaningful.
Right. And so I think there’s mechanisms like… Like that thinking about the structure of the team demanding that new things be done every time and not falling into traps and giving people specific roles that they can play to help help ensure that we’re not just doing the same thing over and over again, even though we know that that it might result in success.
Yeah, I love those
Rob Brodnick: roles. And, you know, we’ve, we’ve talked about the role of the Turbulator in other interviews in the podcast, and we use that phrase in different ways. But I think what you’ve done is you’ve actually shown the light on three different facets of the Turbulator, and they have different roles.
And so I really appreciate that, that breakdown that you provided.
Dan Buchner: That’s really good. You could think of all three of those roles as Turbulator roles. They are, yeah, they are different. At least at the team level. Yeah. I think there’s Turbulator roles at the organizational level, too.
Karyn Zuidinga: So, yeah, you’ve got these three roles, you’ve got this project, but you’ve also got a lot of people in a lot of places who are just like, okay, yeah, whatever, person asking the hard questions, or yeah, explore, fine, go explore, but I’m going to do my thing.
Mm hmm. Right. How do you particularly, you know, like in a consulting client relationship, just culturally, it can be hard to get the clients. On side to this consulting. Wow. We’re gonna all Turbulate vibe or sometimes , sometimes even inside the consulting relationship, you know, inside the design team, whether or not it’s an internal or external team, you don’t necessarily get everybody on board.
Dan Buchner: How do you pull those levers? Yeah. So as, so many things in life, the answer is, it depends, right? Yeah. Um, I think what you’re talking now about is the actual individuals. You know, that are on the team, whether it’s, uh, you know, a team working as a consulting team with a client or whether it’s an internal team, those are the issues that I, that I discovered that relate to leadership, right?
So just saying we need one person from engineering, we need one person from marketing, we need one person from finance is not sufficient. Right. It is actually who are the actual individuals and what are the what’s the interplay that’s going to happen between them Right, who are the ones that are most likely, you know, what group are the most likely to be successful?
Karyn Zuidinga: So it’s really, it’s really a lot of thinking ahead, right? And sort of like, okay, I like this person, you know, but how are they going to relate to this person and that person? And are we creating, you know, in those three turbulators that we want on the team, are they going to work in unison or are they going to.
Dan Buchner: Yeah. Are they going to work well together? And I don’t want to suggest for a minute that they have to, that they have to come to consensus. Right. And I’m like, I’m a, you need people that’ll push against each other. Right. Yeah. But you also need people who are willing to give opinions about ideas they have that aren’t in their domain that are in somebody else’s domain and people in that domain have to be willing to at least consider those ideas and not just dismiss them.
And I’ll give you a great example. I was Doing some consulting for the president of a division of a very large pharmaceutical company, Over the Counter Pharmaceuticals. And he’d been trying to set up an innovation lab and his vision of an innovation lab was a cool space that was visible, you know, in the, in the headquarters that was visible to everybody as they walked in every morning.
And then he would get his best people from various departments to sign up and go and work in the innovation lab for two years. And just explore, you know, explore things that, that, you know, really couldn’t be explored in the context of the regular organization. And he was having difficulty getting his get people to agree to go work in the innovation lab.
And he said to me, Dan, I can’t get my best people to go work in the innovation lab. And I said, well, it’s because of the way you define best. And he goes, what do you mean? I said, well, who are your best, you know, what happens to your best marketing people? Wow. They get promoted. They become projects, you know, they become product managers and then senior product managers and then marketing managers.
And yeah. So your best marketing people are really good marketers and their goal, right. Is to get to the next level. And they’re not going to want to step aside for two years. Yeah, right. And work in a lab and allow their peers to progress without them. Right. So what you want to do is find the person in the marketing department, you know, that really, really, really bright creative Woman over there that everybody goes, wow, she’s, she’s amazing, but we kind of don’t know what to do with her.
You know, I don’t know exactly where she fits, right? Like you need to look for those kinds of people, right? And so I’m in the innovation lab, right? That in the innovation lab. Right. And I would, you know, I would say. We can have a long talk about the virtues and the downsides of innovation labs, but that’s the kind of Savvy, I think that leaders have to have if they want to make this kind of thing work They have to be able to pick the right people and I would say in most corporate organizations The kinds of people that can work effectively with each other on innovation challenges in a team context.
Probably only 10 percent of the population of any department, right? It’s not just anybody. And it may not be your best.
Karyn Zuidinga: Right, because how are you defining best?
Dan Buchner: How you define best. And of course, we talk a lot about that in Positive Turbulence too, right? The tendency of organizations to hire to a template and ends up with a homogeneous.
population of people in the culture.
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Rob Brodnick: Question for you, Dan.
As you were telling your story, about the places you’ve been and the things you’ve done, Two or three times where I think that you made a shift in perspective, one from being that of expert to being one of coach and teacher.
Dan Buchner: If that’s true, you know,
Rob Brodnick: I heard that. I’d like to hear you talk about that a little bit.
But what were some of the differences that came along with that as a creator, innovator and someone who is bringing turbulence to an organization when you had the realization you need to make that shift? And then. What were some of the implications for how you did what
Dan Buchner: you did? Well, it’s interesting because I don’t think it’s much different than designing products.
I think it’s just a different kind of design project. Interesting. Maybe I’ll answer your question a little bit of a roundabout way. When I was at design continuum, we were always looking for the best design talent we could find, you know, from anywhere in the world. So I did a lot of. Speaking and presentations and workshops and lectures and stuff at design schools at some of the top design schools in the world.
And after one talk, one of the students asked me like, what do you chalk your success up to Dan? And I both fell off the stool, right? Cause I never, I never thought of myself as successful. And I said, nobody’s ever asked me that question before. I never thought about it before. And I said, give me a minute.
And I thought about it, sat there and I thought about it for a couple of minutes and I said, you know what it is? It’s naivete and curiosity. That’s really driven me. So when I got to the point where I could design products and they were reasonably successful, I kind of knew what I was doing and I was working inside the big, a big corporate organization.
I started to wonder why really good designs rarely made it to market. You know, by the time the. You came up with the design and the design studio. And then I went through marketing and engineering and manufacturing quality control and blah, blah, blah. You know, I got out into the market. You look at it and go, that’s not what we designed.
And, and so I got fascinated with, well, how do you set up an organization? Like, how do you create the dynamics inside an organization? So really good ideas can.
And so I just got really curious about it and I was naive enough to believe that I could learn about it and maybe figure out some way to deal with it. Right. And to make some changes inside the organization. And so that kind of, Intense curiosity and naivete, some might call it overconfidence, or even arrogance to think that you can make it happen, right, has pretty much driven me throughout, throughout my career.
And, I’ve always been uncomfortable with the status quo. Drives me crazy. I’m a builder. Like, I like to build something new, and then once it’s built, to sit and run it. Like, you know, like build a new department and like, but run the department. Someone else could run that department and do it. Right. So, and so, you know, shifting from.
Pure product design to say organizational design. If you want was one thing, right? And then the next step from there was, well, how do you design the people? I guess it’s another way to think about it. You know, how do you think about the design of the people and the interactions between those people that happened with the organizations that will result in the kind of new and novel solutions that the world needs?
Right? So, it’s just, for me, it’s just been another design problem. Here’s a
Karyn Zuidinga: question related to that, that sort of that curiosity and that naivete, and thinking about being a coach and a teacher. Um, I see a lot, particularly a lot of younger designers in the market, but even people sort of mid level, uh, and not necessarily just designers, but even product managers and marketing folk, who are smart and They’ve, you know, done well in school and did all the right things, but they’re sort of going through with this idea that they have to keep being right.
They have to keep doing, doing things correctly, and, and I want to shake them sometimes and go, you know, hey, you need to, you need to get your hands dirty, you need to make some mistakes, you need to not be worried about whether or not this is, you know, the form of the thing is correct. You know, you really need to think about and solve the problem.
Solve function first, then find form, right? And that’s a design speak, but it applies to all kinds of things, right? How do you, when you’re talking to young people or maybe taking on that new designer, or you’re maybe working with a team and trying to get them to open up to positive turbulence, open up to innovation, one of the things you’ve got to break is that tendency to not want to do things wrong.
Dan Buchner: Yeah, how do you do that? Yeah, well, again, it depends, right? So there’s, well, there’s multiple aspects to this. So, first of all, I think a lot of it has to do with our education system, which is all about being right. Right. Yeah. And, and maybe not so much about learning and learning through experimentation. I see that a lot, you know, like, Oh, I have to, I have to get my, my bachelor’s and then I have to get my master’s and then I have to get a degree in, you know, then I have to get a job in the, in the, in the field that I got my degree in, which is not a bad, you know, it’s not a bad thing, right.
But it’s pretty linear and we need, we need those kinds of people, but we also need people that are, that are curious and in the broad way. Right? And willing to try some different things. I also think that people don’t like to try things until they believe they have the right answer. Mm hmm. And so getting, getting people over that hurdle, and one way to do that is to say, Listen.
We are going to close in on a solution. Eventually we will get there, but right now, what we’re going to do is we’re going to go explore and we’re going to open things up and you’re going to be very uncomfortable with that because your, your tendency is problem solvers is to solve, you know, get to the solution as quick as possible.
Um, but giving them some level of comfort that yes, we will close in on a solution, but right now is not the right time for us to do that. So please play along with us. You’re going to be uncomfortable, but like, like reassuring them that the value that they bring, which might be. Convergent, you know, problem solving is going to be used and valued at some point.
It’s just not at this point that we’re going to do it. So there’s like, wait for context setting, right? And in terms of a team, but is that also
Rob Brodnick: connected to the problem definition? And I’ve heard you talk about is the problem the right problem many, many times, but, you know, giving the right solution to the problem when you haven’t defined the problem correctly, makes it all wrong in a certain sense, right?
Dan Buchner: Yeah, my, my experience has been that 80 to 90 percent of the time the presenting problem is, is the right problem to solve. And I actually think that a lot of the success that we had at Continuum and the consulting firm was helping clients realize that. Give me a specific here. So they come in and say, here’s the specification for the product that I want you to design for me.
Here’s the specs designed to that. And we designed to that and it would get to the market and it would not result in the market success that everybody was hoping for. Right. So we actually started to wonder like, what are the assumptions this brief is based on? And when the client came to us and said, here’s the specs design, the product, we would say, great, give us a couple of weeks.
Not going to charge you for this. This was in the early days. I can charge for this. We’re going to go out and like, talk to some customers. We’re just going to explore the, and we’re going to see. You know, we didn’t say this explicitly to him, but basically we’re going to check the assumptions that are underlying this specification and guess what we found.
Right? There were some erroneous assumptions in there. And so how the problem is defined is critical because you can spend a lot of money developing something that’s based on a bunch of faulty assumptions. Yeah. And often, the way the problem is solved, because of the, maybe even unconscious biases of the people who define the problem for you to solve, embeds a solution in it.
Yeah. So, for instance, SMART goals. Which everybody uses and they’re a good thing to use in certain circumstances. But if we’re trying to do something really innovative, specifying the measures by which you’re going to determine success before you even understand what it is you’re making. Problem, yeah.
Leads you down a predetermined path. And I see this so much in, especially in the corporate world. I want you to do something highly innovative that nobody’s ever done before. I want you to create the iPhone of our industry for us. But by the way, before I give you the people and the resources to do that, I need to know the ROI.
Well, laugh if you want, but it happens. No, you’re totally right. Is this a product? Is it a service? Is it a service and a product? Is it, you know, a whole new category? Is it just an, is it just incremental improvement on something you already have? Like you want me, you want to come, you want to be Steve jobs and come up with the iPhone, but you want to know what the ROI is before we even start.
You know, and that’s the danger right in, in not exploring the problem space first before saying, this is what we’re going to go and try and do. As Karen and I were
Rob Brodnick: chatting before you joined us, Dan, I described that one of the things I really learned from you over the years was watching you describe some of the work that you’ve done.
Not spending too much time wrapped up in theory, but quickly seeking data to try to test and see is the reality we’re dealing with even, even reasonable or right or wrong. And I think it connects to what you just described about the problem statement. I wonder if you could tell our listeners maybe a story about one of the times that you’ve kind of gone through that process with either a product design or working with an organizational design with a client that might be a nice example.
Dan Buchner: So I think a great example of spending time understanding what the real problem to solve is, is the, we called it the Great Shower Project at Mullen. And the situation was that, uh, Mullen had been a private company, had been acquired by a public company, and had, had a, had a very, uh, strong, Growth goals set by the, by the, you know, the public owners holding company, um, to the point they wanted us to grow at three times the rate of the market, which is.
You know a pretty tall challenge to have and of course in the in the early years we Diversified the product line we expanded regionally We put all extent, you know line extensions in in place and we managed to come close to hitting those goals every year But eventually that got harder and harder to do and so the CEO says hey, we need to come up with some totally new Stuff right some really innovative products.
We just can’t take our existing product line and sort of move it into new areas We have to come up with something new and so we decide well, where are we gonna what are we gonna do? What are we gonna do about that? Where are we gonna look and all of us were traveling a lot Because we had, um, business around the world and plants around the world and things.
And so we were, you know, we’re all business travelers. And one day I said, you know, showers in hotels just suck. You know, and you go, you travel around, you stay in a hotel. And oh my God, it’s, they’re horrible. Like, why don’t we try and figure out what makes a great shower and then figure out some products so that…
That might deliver on a great shower. And we said, well, I wonder what a great shower experience is. Cause we know what a bad one feels like, but like what makes, what makes up a good one. You know, right at that point, our challenge was not design a new shower head. We didn’t say, we’re going to go design a new shower head.
We said, we’re going to go understand what makes a great shower. And if we can do that, then maybe we can come up with some new product ideas that might help create those kinds of experiences. And that’s what we did. And we did a whole range of, uh, different activities and research in order to try and figure out what makes a really great shower.
And so we, yes, we did the analysis of all the competitive products and we did high speed photography of the droplets coming out of, you know, all Teledyne shower heads and Kohler shower heads and Moen shower heads. And so we did all the product analysis stuff, but we also said, well, the shower experience is really water affecting the body.
In some way, and then there’s there’s some kind of physiological, mental, emotional reaction to that. And so we have to figure out what, how, how all that works. And so we, we worked with hydrotherapists. So these are people who use water. In different ways, pressures, temperatures, flows, right? To have therapeutic benefit to the body.
So we spent time with hydrotherapists to try and understand how body affects, water affects the body. We did a lot of studying around how the body senses pressure and temperature and the mechanosensors and thermosensors that are just below the surface of your skins, particularly concentrated on the upper part of your back.
Shoulders where your shoulder blade is. It’s not interesting. Where do we stand most of the time when we’re in the shower, right? So we did a lot of work to understand how the human body responds to different water effects If you will then we went and we just bought a whole bunch of like weird water stuff like stuff that they use to make fountains, you know in parks and agricultural sprinklers and just all kinds of things that Do something to water streams in different ways.
We built a little labs, went in there on our bathing suits and then just tried spraying these things all over us. Like just, you know, it was like, you know, it was more like, uh, uh, Edison’s approach, like we’ll just try anything and see if we can find something that, you know, and we also said, well, what we really need to understand what.
goes on during the shower experience itself, like in context, in people’s homes or in the, or in, you know, health, hotel rooms, hotel bathrooms. And so we decided that we needed to, we needed to videotape people taking showers. So we, um, we managed to find, it was like 12 people who are willing to let us put a videotape in their bathroom and in their shower and videotape them doing their morning routine and videotaping while they So they took their shower to see what actually, you know, what actually goes on.
How did you find those people? Well, how do you think you find people to do that? But what we did was we just didn’t tell anybody we did it without them.
We, we put an ad in the village voice. Yeah. And we offered 250 and we said, we want to put a video of the camera in your shower and shot and, you know, videotape you taking your shower. And we, we got probably 30 responses and the kinds of people who responded, and we only needed six or nine, something like we’re looking for.
And the kind of people who responded were healthcare workers. So these are nurses and people like that who work with people and bodies and body parts on there were dancers People who are up in front of people with their body not afraid, you know Like ballet dancers and you know performers and then they were nudists and nudists come in all different sizes professions ethnicities ages Yeah, yeah, so that’s how we found people and we learned all kinds of really interesting things because And in those, like in a shower experience, because it’s so highly experiential, people can’t really tell you what happens and why, can’t tell you what they do.
So, when we analyzed the videotapes, we noticed that for almost everybody, over 50 percent of the time they were in the shower, their eyes were closed. Yeah, nobody would be able to tell you that, but if I, now that I told you that next time you take a shower, yeah, yeah, right. And so what are the implications on the design of products that people are going to want to use and manipulate in the shower if your eyes are closed, right?
So anyways, you know, those are some of the ways that we, we eventually determined what made a great shower experience. And it, you know, there’s. There’s the conditions in the environment itself, the humidity and the temperature of the air that’s around you. And it’s also the characteristics of the water as it’s hitting your body.
Where it hits your body, and at what velocity, and what’s the thermal characteristics of it. And from that, we were able to say, wow, if we could create a showerhead that did this, we’d really have a success. And we did. We created the Mullen Revolution showerhead, which became the best selling showerhead at Target.
Wow. In the first three months of introduction. So, and a whole line of other products. That, uh, that, that address some of the other things we learned, you know, I was just going to say, did,
Rob Brodnick: did other things other than the shower head come out of it? And yeah, you know, one thing that, that makes ruins my shower experiences when the curtain wraps around me as I’m trying to do something.
So it’s not the shower head, but boy, can that
Dan Buchner: really ruin it quickly? Yeah. The environment that, you know, uh, engineering, the environment is really important. Yeah. And that’s why you see things like now, to your point, Robin, uh, host almost hotel. All hotel bathrooms, they have the curved shower curtain, right?
That keeps the shower curtain away from you when the shower, because then the water comes out of the shower head, it creates negative pressure in the air from the outside of the pushes the curtain into the shower stream, right? That and the little magnets are the savior. Yeah. There you go. Anyway, that’s way more than you need to know about showering.
Never wanted to just goes to show you the importance of really exploring the problem space before you launch off and try and create something.
Karyn Zuidinga: What I love about that story is that willingness to look at all like, okay, let’s get a bunch of things like farm equipment and sprinklers and, and other things that shoot water out and see what they do and see how they can really like, you know, putting your bathing suit on and, and there’s a, there’s a playfulness, there’s a curiosity, there’s an exploration to all of those activities, but they’re also
Dan Buchner: serious.
Yes, it was. And of course, you know, we maybe have read the book Serious Play, but yeah, that’s what it was. The other thing I would say, it’s interesting you bring that up, Karen, is if you ask people what, if you, what would your ideal shower be? Say standing under a waterfall, like standing under a waterfall in Hawaii.
Yeah, you know, because they had this image of it, right? And so we went and stood under a waterfall. It’s terrible
You know, like it just knocks you over so so that you know the curiosity to challenge the convention Right or the or the commonly held belief About something. Yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah. Right. Is really important. Oh, of course. Standing under a waterfall is the, is the, you know, the best shower ever. Yeah. Have you ever tried it?
You know, so being willing to like to recognize. Strongly held belief and challenging it is yeah, a little bit of irreverence, uh, so to speak,
Karyn Zuidinga: love it. Hey, Dan, how often did that get you into trouble? Tell me more about the flip side of being that guy. That’s always
Dan Buchner: curious. Well, it definitely got me into trouble for sure.
What I realized as I, Hmm.
And so early in my career, challenging some of those assumptions, it seems such like, such an obvious thing to do. And if you didn’t agree with me trying to challenge that assumption, you were just stupid. You know? And then I realized, as my career, and, and that’s what I, that’s how I treated people, and quite frankly, I’m not proud of it.
And I got into trouble a lot for that. I remember actually one of my… One of my early managers told me, Dan, it wasn’t the horse you were riding. It was the way you were riding it. Okay. Yeah, that’s good. You know, it wasn’t that you’re, you know, you were doing the wrong thing. It was just how you were doing it.
That was the problem. Right. And so I had to, you know, I, I eventually got to the point, Oh, wait a second now, when somebody’s a resisting this, right, or somebody thinks that it’s a bad thing to do, they have reasons for that. Right. And I need to understand what those reasons are in order to approach them in a way that I’m likely to be more successful than confronting them.
Right. And so, yeah, for sure. But I also had this attitude and, and, and maybe this is arrogance again, I don’t know, but it was like, you know, if the company doesn’t like me doing this, then this is not the company for me. Yeah, if the company’s not well, if the company’s stated goal is to do things differently, but they won’t let you do things differently.
Then do you really want to be there, right? So there
Karyn Zuidinga: was a… It takes some courage, though.
Dan Buchner: There’s some courage
Karyn Zuidinga: around that, yeah. You know, to decide, okay, I’m gonna… These guys, they don’t, they don’t see me. They don’t, they don’t appreciate it. They, whatever. They see me as disruptor rather than, you know, curious or, or…
Or valuable again. I talked to a lot of designers and, you know, user experience people and product managers who who have the same sort of story, right? Like, Oh, and what I think happens a lot is that you get trapped in that thinking, right? And you get trapped in that. That way of seeing, well it’s them, the company is the problem, and not looking, well maybe there’s not a fit, you know, it’s not me, it’s not them, it’s just that we’re not working well together.
Back to that thing you were saying earlier about finding the right set of three. You know, maybe it’s the same thing. I don’t, you know,
Dan Buchner: yeah, I mean, I ran into that when we would hire young designers in, you know, right out of design school. And of course, in most design schools, not so much now, but certainly, you know, 10 or 15 years ago, you know, your worth was.
Based on your individual creativity and then all of a sudden they’d come into the design continuum and have to work on a team with engineers and researchers and everything and all of a sudden it’s not their creative genius that’s driving this, right? And they get really, really frustrated and they actually viewed the client as the enemy, right?
Of, of keeping them from exhibiting the, the greatest extent of creativity they possibly could. Yeah. And they would get frustrated. And so my counsel to them was. Yes, you can probably imagine a solution that’s far more creative than what the company is willing to pursue. But you have to start to understand that, you know, the constraints and all the trade offs and everything that that has to be made in that company.
And you need to be satisfied that whatever, whatever the output is. Is better than what it was, you know, what was there previously that you’ve left at a better place than you found it. It may not be a may not be to the ideal and rarely is rarely is. Yeah. And so you need to find some comfort that you were able to be able to move them closer to the ideal.
And if they have success with it, they’ll come back and they’ll trust you to help them move it a little further closer to the idea. Right. Yeah. So it’s a longer term view. Good advice,
Rob Brodnick: and I think it goes both ways. And a lot of my experience has been trying to get the, uh, the client to build enough trust to get me to do the crazy things.
And, you know, if you were to go back to your client and say, listen, we need to go to Hawaii, we’re going to stand under waterfalls, we’re going to get a bunch of nudists and dancers, and we’re going to
Dan Buchner: film them in showers. You know, to present. Those kind of possibilities and the extent of it.
Rob Brodnick: Yeah, just to do a new showerhead, that’s what it’s going to take.
So how do you, how do you coach the client sometimes to like, open up a little bit, trust you,
Dan Buchner: trust the process. What are some tips? Questions. It’s all about great questions. So when, and you know, this is something that I learned over the years in consulting was, people come in and say, here’s the presenting problem.
This is what I want you to work on. You know, I want a solution to this or, you know, I want you to design this. And you go, great, thank you very much. You know, let’s, let’s talk about this. And then you start to ask some really good questions, the kind of questions that stump them. Oh, oh, I don’t think we ever considered that.
Oh yeah, we should be thinking about those kinds of people and hadn’t thought about that. You know, like, and just put that, you just, you just get them to open up their minds a little bit by asking them really, really good questions. Yeah. And, you know, lots of times they, they would say, they would say one of two things.
One is, Oh man, we got to go back and think about this. We’ll be back to you. You know, we’ll come back to you because we obviously haven’t thought enough about this. You know, the problem’s not, we haven’t thought about the problem enough or man, we need to hire you guys to help us think this through because we’re probably going down the wrong path.
Yeah. For me, it is asking really good questions in a very respectful way. You’re not, you’re not trying to make them look stupid or anything. You’re just, you’re just, you’re just. Trying to get them to explore areas that they hadn’t considered.
Rob Brodnick: So comfortably taking them to their limits so that they can realize there’s something beyond them.
I mean, cause that’s a big part of innovation is having people recognize the boundaries and limits of their thinking and they’re doing, there’s something else out there and it can be a positive, good thing. It’s a, it’s a good space to go
Dan Buchner: in. Don’t be afraid. I agree. And I think the other thing is, you know, as innovators, we have to realize that.
Not every project or initiative is the opportunity to come up with a breakthrough. They’re rare, right? And, and there’s, and things that aren’t a breakthrough are still, can still be highly valuable to organizations. You know, I’ll give you a great example. And that was some work we did at CCL. And CCL is one of the, you know, consistently top five leadership development organizations in the world.
And they desired to, to help, uh, people at the bottom of the pyramid, in particular in rural India. And we didn’t have to create anything new. We had to take, we had to go on, go into the context, understand those people, understand what their issues are, and then take a simple tool that had been around for years, decades, right?
And figure out how to give people the skills and using that tool to empower them and do it for like 50 cents for half a day per person, like we didn’t come up with a whole new technology. We didn’t come up with any of that, right? Dan,
Rob Brodnick: it’s fascinating to have been a friend and colleague of yours and watched things change over time and the different inflections and changes in your career, but I’m really curious to hear about your trajectory.
I mean, where’s this all
Dan Buchner: going to go from here, Dan? But what I’ve come to realize over the years is that, you know, all these things we talk about positive turbulence, we talk about innovation, we talk about design thinking, and we usually talk about them in the context of some kind of organization, whether it’s a profit, a non profit, a government, educational institution, or whatever.
But, you know, where, where, where I’m headed in the work that I’m doing, increasingly doing, is around using these kinds of approaches on complex social issues. You know, things that have meaning, I guess, to have meaning, have meaning for me, have meaning for people, have meaning for society and not that helping a company be profitable or helping a nonprofit serve their clients better or their communities better is a bad thing, but because it’s not, they’re all, they’re all good things to do, but I’m, uh, increasingly fascinated on how These kinds of approaches can help bring together leaders who are all trying to deal with some aspect of a, of a complex social issue and help them get unstuck, you know, help them see that there’s another way to think about things, that there’s other things that they can try, that there’s other ways of being leaders.
That they can try to see if they can get, you know, better solutions and better results in dealing whatever the issue is they’re trying to deal with. In the last few years, I’ve worked on some really interesting projects, an economic development project down in El Salvador, funded by the U. S. government.
Using these kinds of techniques to see if we can help increase economic activity there. So that people don’t want to leave El Salvador. It’s a beautiful country, got all kinds of issues for sure, but increasing economic activity might help people stay there and make the country better. Also, uh, been involved in developing a fellows program in Alaska, bringing together up and coming leaders from all the stakeholders around salmon in Alaska.
So that includes fish and game, subsistence fishing, indigenous communities, mining, environmentalist groups, commercial fishing, bringing them together and, and having them learn how to have kinds of conversations that they don’t normally have, giving them tools so they can collaborate. together, giving them methods that they can explore the problem space and maybe see it in new ways that will allow new solutions to emerge.
Yeah. So I think there’s kind of a, there’s almost a higher calling for all of this that I think the world can benefit from. Wow.
Karyn Zuidinga: Thank you so much, Dan. I have thoroughly. Thoroughly enjoyed this conversation. The time passed like
Rob Brodnick: five seconds and it’s been almost, yeah, like
Karyn Zuidinga: then there’s Rob saying, Oh, we’re almost out of time.
What? Wait, what?
Dan Buchner: Thanks for having me. It’s been a pleasure. Yeah. Super cool. Yeah.
Karyn Zuidinga: Thank you to AMI who have nurtured us in developing this podcast is the source of so many of our guests. And of course the founder Stan Griskevich is also the author of the original book and dare I say the director of design of positive turbulence.
Rob Brodnick: AMI is a pioneering nonprofit organization comprised of committed individuals who foster and leverage creativity and innovation in organizations and society. AMI identifies leading edge innovation, shares experiences, sponsors research, and recognizes innovation and creative processes. Find out more at aminnovation.
org. And thank you to Mac Avenue Music Group, our contributing sponsor, for providing our podcast soundtrack, Late Night Sunrise.
Karyn Zuidinga: If you want to find out more about your hosts, Positive Turbulence, our guests, or check out our very cool and very diverse reading list, head over to PositiveTurbulence. com.
Until next time, keep the turbulence positive!