I’m only finished with chapter one, but I could’ve recommended this book just for the introduction. “Why Didn’t I Think of That: Think the Unthinkable and Achieve Creative Greatness” by Charles W. McCoy Jr. is one of those books that, even if it doesn’t do what it claims to do — i.e., get you thinking more perceptively and clearly — it will still intrigue you with the anecdotes of good and bad thinking in action.

I’m especially engaged by this book because of the professional challenges I’ve faced over the past year and will continue to face. In designing software, one is always trying to find the new and better way of doing the same old thing. But here are some of the special challenges of the product I help design:

  • First and foremost, the biggest challenge is that we’re version 2. Period. Everyone already thinks they know this product, and they didn’t like the old version. We know the old version didn’t work, and we know why. But we have a lot of ground to cover to prove ourselves to our users.
  • It’s an intranet, so everyone in the company (i.e., nearly 200,000 people) could potentially need to use this product every work day.
  • No one particularly wants to use this product.
  • It’s an intranet, so everyone wants it to be able to do everything and contain everything so they only have one place to go to find anything.
  • No one trusts this product enough to believe it might do anything useful or contain what they’re looking for.
  • It’s an intranet, so everyone already “knows” what this product should do and how it should do it.
  • It’s an intranet, so no one wants to spend any time learning how to use it.

And that’s just the beginning, without detail. I’m sure most projects have their challenges, and I’ve been on and have even managed a few very challenging projects myself. But this one requires such — oh I don’t know — multi-dimensional? thinking that it’s almost like a completely new and interesting challenge nearly every week.

Here’s an example. I’m the designer of the search feature. And I’ve spent the past fifteen months analyzing — nay, poring over — results from prior usability studies, focus groups, surveys, and so on, and conducting my own to understand the business requirements, user requirements, and functional requirements for our company’s intranet’s search feature. And truly, let me just add that I’ve enjoyed it immensely.

But there’s a central dilemma that I’ve come up with, and it’s no easier to deal with now than it was a year ago when I discovered it. Ready?

Everyone asks for Google.

It’s true. They all say, over and over, that what they want is a search engine that looks and acts like Google.

Here’s what they mean:

Make it simple, and show me the best results first.

OK, that sounds easy enough, in theory. We have a great search engine tool on the backend, so we can deliver great search results. As for the search interface, perhaps that’s more of a challenge. Why? Because everyone also thinks they need every search feature under the sun! Show similar items, search within results, save search, and on and on. And I want to give them all of that and more. But how to organize it in such a way that it doesn’t intimidate the novice web users and doesn’t clutter the screen of the users with 800 x 600 resolution?

Back to the book. What McCoy does well is break down several types of critical thinking into further categories: asking the right questions, focusing on the pertinent facts, etc, etc. And he presents them in such a way as to build on each one with another.

Anyone could benefit from lessons like these. I’m certainly gaining some useful tools for analyzing my work challenges.

Premature book recommendation

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