Intro To Personal Anthropology

Intro To Personal Anthropology

I’d like to introduce you to a handy little technique I use called “noticing how I work, writing that down, and sharing it.” I think of it as a type of personal anthropology, with my work persona as the primary subject of study.

I highly recommend adopting this practice in your own work, for several reasons. First, I find it makes my work better, because I’m constantly collecting data about what’s actually working for me. I’m observing and documenting my own patterns, then experimenting with ways to improve them. Second, it makes me a better partner because it gives me a steady stream of ideas to contribute to the team. And I should also mention it’s kinda fun.

Let’s break it down into the three main steps.

Noticing is simultaneously easy and hard. It’s easy because you are always with yourself, always physically present at your own activities. There is no need to make special arrangements, manage conflicting schedules, or fear coming across like some creepy stalker (why is that guy following me?). It’s also hard because there are loads of distractions. You’re busy doing the thing, so remembering to make a note of how you do it requires deliberate intention and effort. Good news – you can do your noticing after the fact, remembering and reflecting instead of observing and recording in real-time. The question to ask yourself is basically “What did I do, and how’s that working out for me?”

It’s super tempting to skip this step, but please don’t. Putting words on paper (and I literally mean paper, please and thank you) helps us process and understand our experiences. This also records them for future evaluation, but even if you never re-read your old notebooks, the benefit of having written it in the first place is hard to overstate. Your first draft doesn’t have to be super detailed – in my case, I literally wrote the words “notice / write / share” in a notebook… then used that as the seed of this blog post. And remember, good writing is just bad writing that’s been rewritten, so give yourself permission to write a bad first draft (I LOVE bad first drafts). It is much easier to revise a bad first draft than to edit a blank sheet of paper. And if you honestly want to improve your writing, the best advice I can give is to read a lot.

Sharing your observations and practices may feel presumptuous, but it is actually a generous contribution to the community. Letting people in on your learning and passing along your reflections helps to build a culture of collaboration, trust, and learning. Don’t worry if your story feels obvious or basic, or like something everyone already knows. I find that adults need to be reminded more often than they need to be informed, and you may have a new take on an old idea. At the very least, by sharing your practices you’re making it easier for other people to do so as well.

(and not to get too meta about it, but did you notice this post is about noticing how I notice things…)


What Next?

What Next?

Tools like the Mission/Vision Canvas, the Problem Framing Canvas, and the Premortem tool all help teams develop a brief statement of some sort. It’s a pretty good feeling when the group comes up with a formulation or a phrase that they all agree on, and the statement itself can be a really helpful foundation and guide as the project or effort moves forward.

However, the work isn’t necessarily complete once the session ends and consensus has been reached. The group may have a pretty good version of a Vision Statement or a Problem Statement, but what they do next will determine how effective that statement is. I recommend a three-step process that looks something like this.

  1. Sleep on it. Set the statement aside and come back in a day or two with fresh eyes. You may discover it’s not as clear and clever as it seemed at the time. You may uncover a gap or a friction point, an opportunity to improve it… or you may confirm that it’s exactly what you hoped it would be.
  2. Socialize it. Share it with some colleagues who were not in the session and get their perspectives. Ask if it resonates with them – is it clear, accurate, actionable, etc? Testing it out and validating / refining the statement doesn’t have to take long or be super formal. In fact, it’s probably best if it’s quick and informal.
  3. Wordsmith it. Continue to play around with word choice and word order. Might the statement make more sense if you shuffled some parts around, swapped in a synonym, or made other changes? Sleeping on it and socializing it may unlock some new ideas you didn’t come up with in the original session.

As much as an ITK session aims to develop “clarity and consensus” on topics, keep in mind most of this work is actually iterative. We hardly ever follow the one-and-done path, and we like to remind people that there is a zero percent chance we got it one hundred percent correct on the first try. As a general rule, we get the most of out ITK sessions when we think about them as the beginning of a conversation rather than the end of one.

Why ITK Works For Me…And Hopefully For You

Why ITK Works For Me…And Hopefully For You

Today’s blog post is from Jeffrey Hammer, one of ITK’s new trainees

If you’ve seen the ITK tools, some of them may look familiar. Lotus Blossom? That’s brainstorming. Stormdraining? Organizing a brainstorm. Mission and Vision Canvas? Companies have been defining their vision and mission for years, with one of the earliest known mission statements going back to 1941 in the American Journal of Economics and Sociology. So why ITK?

The answer for me lay in two areas. First, the tools facilitate these common processes in a different way. I thought I was an experienced brainstorming facilitator, even integrating mind maps in my sessions as far back as 2000. Lotus Blossom upended that thinking and gave me an entirely different way to approach a brainstorming session. The design of the tool itself, combined with the facilitation guide, invigorates fresh thinking. Mission-Vision uses plain language questions and leads a team down a path that eventually culminates in a mission or vision statement without you even realizing it.

Second is the ITK philosophy. There is an energy and culture behind these tools that its creators have infused into their design and use. It’s a positive, experimental, nurturing culture that encourages the novel thinking needed for innovation. That philosophy radiates from the founders and ITK evangelists, and is infused not only in the tools themselves but also how they can be applied to maximum effectiveness. And they are fun! Every tool I have used with a team has been met with enthusiasm and satisfaction.

As newbie and (hopefully) soon to be minted ITK Certified, I continue to learn and grow with each new experience. If you can embrace the novel approach these tools offer to scoping, designing, understanding, generating, and evaluating problems and ideas, it will take you and your team’s thinking to a whole new level.

ITK’s Website Refresh!

ITK’s Website Refresh!

As you’ve probably noticed, the ITK website has a whole new look and layout! We’ve redesigned all the tools, added lots of new content and material, and even made it easier to filter through the tools to find just the one you need.

We hope this refresh makes the site easier to navigate and use. As with any design effort, it’s an iterative process so we’d love to hear your feedback and suggestions!

The ITK Tool Development Process

The ITK Tool Development Process

As MITRE’s Innovation Toolkit continues to evolve and mature, we’ve been reflecting on how we create new tools (and update existing tools). The short version is we do it iteratively. For the longer version… read on!

Most of the tools you see on our website are actually version 7 or version 15 or version 382. The point is pretty much all of them went through considerable modifications on their way to the version you see on the website.

Except maybe the Lotus Blossom. Pretty sure that one popped up fully formed, like Athena from the head of Zeus.

Aside from that single exception, all the other tools are the result of an ongoing series of prototypes and experiments. Sometimes we’ve even used one tool to develop another tool… then updated the first tool based on our experience developing the second one. It gets pretty meta around here sometimes. While that may sound a bit convoluted, we actually have a pretty straightforward way of describing the tool development process. It’s built around a theater / tv show metaphor, and it goes something like this:

An idea for a new tool starts in the Café, where one or two people begin sketching out a rough idea and produce an initial incomplete draft. Maybe they have a casual chat with someone at the next table over, or maybe they have their headphones on as they draw and sketch and write. In Broadway terms, this is where Lin-Manuel composes that first rap and starts laying out the overall structure of Hamilton.


Alexander Hamilton

Next, we move to the Writer’s Room. This is where a group gathers to co-create the tool and further develop it from the Café version. They play with phrases and formats, identify and address gaps in the tool. The idea is for the initial instigator to bring in some collaborators who help transform the incomplete idea into the first complete draft. In the world of musical theater, this might be where a lyricist brings in a composer (or vice versa), or a writer brings in a co-author.

Next is a special type of casual rehearsal called a Table Read, where we test a basic version of the tool with people who weren’t involved in creating it. The point here is to invite new perspectives & contributors. To use Hamilton terms again, this is where Leslie Odom Jr shows up and the writers get to see how the lines actually sound when the actor says them (and continue to rewrite the lines based on that observation & discussion).

Eventually we get to the Dress Rehearsal, where a complete version of the tool is used in a closed environment, to really put it through its paces… without an audience. Unlike the table read, in our dress rehearsal our focus goes beyond the tool itself and now includes facilitation techniques and logistics. In our theater metaphor, this is where the script is basically locked down and the director confirms the lighting, blocking, and choreography.

Then we come to Opening Night, the first time the tool is used with an external group, sponsor, etc. This is still an opportunity to test & evaluate & modify the tool, so we’re all watching and taking notes about changes to make in the next version.

The Full Run means the tool is field-tested, polished, and proven. We might make some small tweaks at this point, adjust the choreography slightly or make little tweaks to the dialogue, but by now the thing is pretty much solid & we can do 8 shows a week. As an added bonus, the understudies get opportunities step on stage… and the writer goes back to the café.

As you see, like a Broadway show, developing a new ITK tool is generally an iterative, collaborative process. One person can instigate and take a certain degree of ownership for a tool, one person can shepherd it through the whole process, pick co-authors and hold own auditions, etc. But nobody has to write / produce / sing / dance / etc in a one-person performance. There are plenty of people available to lend a hand and help transform the spark of an idea into a big hit…