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Imitating Art Imitating Life | Cypress Semiconductor

Imitating Art Imitating Life

What makes a strong impression? Tony Blair (former UK prime minister) reported in his recently published memoirs the details of a conversation with the Queen. Problem is, that particular conversation only occurred in the movie "The Queen" and was fabricated by the movie's screenwriter.

Just because a person hasn't personally experienced something doesn't mean it can't make a lasting impression. Brain neuroscientists tell us that experiences are especially memorable when several senses as well as emotions are involved. In the book "Brain Rules" (www.brainrules.net) John Medina describes an experiment where one set of students studied vocabulary the ordinary classroom way, while another studied while eating intensely aromatic popcorn. Later, when tested the students who both studied in the presence of popcorn and were tested in the presence of popcorn as a group performed the best.

So how do we apply this thinking to design and our projects? One way that comes to mind is to help the entire design group experience the trials, tribulations and celebrations of key parts of a project (which are usually suffered by individuals). For instance, if one team member experiences a particularly frustrating bug, especially one which is best prevented early in design or review, contrive a way for the group to experience this through a leading discussion/exercise re-constructing the circumstances around the bug and it's discovery (in some venues this might be called role-playing). How do you integrate more senses? How about fresh brewed coffee and cinnamon rolls in the room (or pizza and hoppy ale), but in order to get some the participant must achieve a learning milestone, ultimately finding the bug and solving it or suffering without the treats (but having to smell and salivate over them) until the end. Why pizza and coffee? What do we consume copious amounts of in the throes of a project death march?

Can we do this for every lesson? As they say in accounting, that depends. What increase in quality and decrease in resources is achieved in learning the lesson? The larger the magnitude of the benefit, the more time that should be invested in developing the learning and cementing it with all senses. How many times have you seen the same mistake made over and over, but the discovery and correction of it is separated so far from when it was made (or could have been first discovered) that the cause and effect relationship is lost on the learner.

If all this sounds like too much to take on, consider this possibly easier approach: when bugs or mistakes are found, rather than simply disposition them to the team and move on, spend a few minutes right then and there to ask the following questions: 1) how was the bug uncovered? 2) when could the bug have been uncovered earlier? 3) how can we prevent introducing the same bug next time or finding it earlier? Perhaps one more even more important question to ask: What if we shipped the product with this bug? 

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