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February 2023 Menlo Bits


Joyful Article: An Unlikely Pair
Pairing is caring -- and the best way to get the job done

With Valentine's Day as a highlight of February, a lot of people have been talking about their pair partners in life this month. Here at Menlo, we talk about our work pair partners every day! Among other benefits, we believe that pairing helps us to better accomplish tasks, regardless of whether they're related to software development, user experience research, or writing important emails. Consequently, in honor of February we've decided to feature an odd animal pairing that's better together than apart.

Full disclosure: we hope you saw the photo above and aww'd at the cute baby water buffalo. But more than that, we hope you noticed that he's got a little friend riding around on his forehead. While water buffalo can be dangerous to creatures like humans, they struggle to deal with the little ticks and other parasites that love to latch on and cause harm. Meanwhile, oxpeckers love to eat bugs, but they can be difficult to find for obvious reasons. By hanging out together, our little water buffalo gets to be rid of its parasites and the oxpecker gets a near-constant supply of food without having to search for it. A win-win! As a bonus, oxpeckers will often sound the alarm to warn water buffalo of deadly predators in the area.

Just like these animals, we believe everyone has areas of strength they can lend to a pair partner to achieve a better solution than they could come up with on their own. If you're not convinced, run the experiment and give pairing a try on some of your tasks!
Read more about fun symbiotic animal pairs here!

Join Us for Our First Public In-Person Workshop in Our New Space!
High-Tech Anthropology®: Incorporating the Voice of  Your Customer into Product Design and Development

Join us March 21st-22nd for our first in-person public High-Tech Anthropology® Workshop since the pandemic. Menlo Bits subscribers get a 10% discount when signing up!
Check out the agenda or click here to learn more and register (discount code applied at checkout)!

Fail Faster, Rise Higher
Learning to extract data from failure is a key skill for improvement

Failure is often painful, but it can also be useful if you choose to see it as such: as Edison said while experimenting with ways to build the light bulb, "I have not failed. I’ve just found 10,000 ways that won’t work." In a feature by Hidden Brain, the author discusses why learning from failure can be so hard and how to treat it like information.

So, what's the secret sauce? According to this article, focusing on one element of a task at a time can help you figure out whether it's the thing that needs to be fixed. By essentially ensuring that you're only changing one variable at a time, it allows you to see the impact each variable -- and the changes you're making on it -- really has. For example, if you lose a soccer game you might theorize that your speed, dribbling, or goal-scoring technique are to blame. If you want to improve, working on one of those things at a time will help you better figure out what the biggest issue was. However, if you go in and change everything at once it's hard to tell the impact of extra training or improving your endurance on your game.

Failures are a part of life, and the Menlo team expects them to happen from time-to-time. However, we also do our best to diagnose why those failures happened, learn from them, and keep them from happening again in the future. By catching mistakes early, we're able to ensure failures are mistakes instead of patterns of behavior!
Read more about how to learn from failure by clicking here!

Keep the Momentum
Success begets success... if you really reflect on it

On the flip side of learning from failure, it's important to learn how to learn from success. To illustrate the point: Why didn't you drop out of college and start a company in your garage? I mean, it worked for Bill Gates, Larry Page, Steve Jobs, and a whole host of other successful entrepreneurs, right? While there's some truth in this, it fails to consider all of the entrepreneurs who did exactly the same thing but failed... people like Jobs might get a feature in Forbes, but unsuccessful entrepreneurs rarely do. Sorry to disappoint, but 94% of the US's most successful business people did graduate college -- even Page, by the way, though he did drop out of his PhD program.

When learning from success, it's important to reflect on the bigger picture and avoid logical traps like survivorship bias. For example, let's say you're in the military and after a victorious battle you map the bullet hole patterns on all your planes back at the base. You have a little extra armor, and you want to do an even better job at protecting your pilots in the future.  If the bullet hole patterns all look like the one in the above image, you may be inclined to say, "we should put extra armor along the wings". However, if you were to take a moment to stop and think, you'd realize that these are the bullet patterns on the planes that made it back. If you want to protect your pilots, you should put the extra armor where there are no holes.

Here at Menlo, we like to hold retrospectives on key events and meetings to ensure we're taking the time to understand how things unfolded and what we want to do in order to improve. This helps us to understand all the conditions that went into how a favorable outcome was achieved, rather than make assumptions based on survivorship bias or other logical traps.

Find out more about survivorship bias in business here!


Reinventing Capitalism in the Digital Age

Author: Stephen Denning

Recommended by: Stephanie Nagy, Software Developer & High-Tech Anthropologist®

Stephen Denning’s new book, Reinventing Capitalism in the Digital Age, begins with a historic tour of capitalism over the past 250 years. Capitalism has cycled through times of incredible innovation followed by periods of regulation and stabilization. We are currently at one of the tipping points where regulation could influence the direction of capitalism. Since the 1980’s, the United States has been practicing shareholder capitalism which is focused on maximizing shareholder profits. The Business Roundtable recently reversed their recommendation to focus on shareholder value and is now encouraging businesses to focus on stakeholder value. Wharton School finance professor, Raghuram G. Rajan cautions that “if all stakeholders are essential, then none are.”

By trying to serve all stakeholders equally, businesses run the risk of losing clarity in their corporate purpose. Denning suggests that trends in software development are pointing the way to a new form of capitalism inspired by a focus on the customer. The four largest tech companies today have mission statements centered on their customers and this business model is paying off for them. Like Apple, Amazon, Google, and Microsoft, the majority of companies at the top of the tech industry have realized that serving their customers is not only ethical, but financially lucrative. Combining products that address customer needs with new areas such as green growth holds great promise for the remainder of the digital age.

The companies coming out on top today are using agile workflows and considering the needs of their customers. Denning says, “When firms embrace the new, more agile ways of creating value for customers, they can shift direction more nimbly, create great workplaces, get better talent and use it more effectively, win over customers more quickly, attract more finance, do their share in meeting social and environmental goals more readily, and generate more long-term shareholder value.” By paying attention to the “why”, the “how”, and the “what” of customer capitalism, businesses can serve their customers, communicate effectively within their organizations, and create products or experiences that generate long-term shareholder value.

Reinventing Capitalism in the Digital Age was densely packed with historical perspective and insight for the future. I took away hope from this book. Menlo Innovations has been producing value through an agile customer centric  process for over 20 years. We stand as proof that ethical businesses can succeed financially. Denning leaves us with the advice to “love your customer as yourself. This is not only ethical. It is also very effective. People do best when what they do is in the service of delighting others.” I look forward to the future of capitalism if we can begin to look beyond value only to shareholders and provide true value for our customers.

Get a copy for yourself here!

Project Hexagon
This month's experiment embodies our philosophy of "make mistakes faster"! Menlo's new office has fewer square feet and shorter ceilings than our old place. As a result, we've had to run some experiments revolving around noise. One of these involved putting some sound-absorbing hexagons on our walls.

When the hexagons arrived, it became apparent that the odd material they were made of would require a little research and experimentation to figure out how to best stick them to the walls. Ideally, we hoped the solution wouldn't be too abrasive on the walls, either. We settled on using carpet tape and seemed to find success in hanging a fun design on a wall -- hooray! However, the next morning tragedy struck when we came in to find tape still on the wall but hexagons all over the floor. Undeterred, we soon recreated the original pattern with 3M pads as the adhesive this time. Alas, the hexagons fell even faster than before, and the 3M pads were significantly harsher on the walls when removed.

At this point, it was pretty clear that smaller-scale experimentation would be a good idea. We theorized that if we could adhere paper to the hexagons that would stick better to something like the carpet tape to put them on the wall. Rubber cement failed entirely and, while it was moderately successful, super glue was annoying to use and not cost-effective. In the end, we discovered Mod Podge adhered paper to the backs of the hexagons well!

Fast forward, and we now have several sound-dampening hexagon murals up on the walls that are a mix of Mod Podge, paper, and carpet tape. Who would have thought?

Menlo Bits

The Menlo Bits is Menlo's monthly newsletter, filled with all the latest in science and technology trends as well as what's been happening at Menlo.