Everything we do is for people and by people.*
When I speak about improving things about your business, often people think I mean working on workplace mental health improvement. That is not what I mean. Yet it is an easy assumption to make because if you know just a bit about psychology, you may have in your mind 3 categories for psychologists: mental health workers, researchers, and HR-related. So you hear “business” and boop! it sounds like it fits the 3rd category.
In the end I would categorize them differently: practical, theoretical, and bridge builders, but I’ll get to it in the end. I’ll start by listing some examples about how you can improve the design when you understand how humans psychologically function.
Our attention is limited and so is our working memory. We are designed to process information simultaneously from multiple senses like sight, hearing, touch, and the position of your body parts relative to one another (it’s called proprioception). Therefore, designing cars with only visual dashboards (touch screens) one will fail to make selections like change the radio station or heating because you didn’t learn where a button is by orienting in space by touch, but by seeing and reading where the buttons were. When you need to use your vision on the road, the screen will be a killer. Here, old time tangible buttons with different shapes, sizes and feel in stable locations will help with that: the driver will no longer need to look away to change settings like heating or radio input.
When you’re designing your robot, you are trying to imitate life and a mind in its certain aspects. Misunderstanding how minds work and emerge is a sure thing to lead to failure. We even misunderstand sight. It is a prevalent misconception that we see things. In fact, what our eyes see are blobs of light in different colours, borders and corners between different blobs of light. We have learned to perceive things thanks to having other senses, largely touch related senses (like that proprioception) and a body that moves through physical space thanks to which we have learned to assess distance and size differences of objects. Through experience from multiple senses we have learned to identify objects and material properties from looking.
There’s another misconception that we orient in space based on a mental map. It is true that we construct mental maps, but the map alone is not enough to orient in the space. A blind person has probably better mental maps of their surrounding city or home than a person with sight, yet they still need to use senses to orientate in that space they know. Your mental map won’t include that bump on the road or that pothole, it won’t include that puddle that appeared from the rainfall just now nor the traffic you will see today. To orientate in that space, you will constantly and unknowingly assess the space around you based on the sensory information that your brain gets. And thanks to your senses you may succeed and not fall on the ice you didn’t see coming.
Discussing your product, method, course or strategy with a psychologist (from the bridge builder category) will a)give you better questions to test; b)help you improve on your design; c)understand your users; d)understand the problem.
In the point (d) understand the problem, sometimes the problem is a particular type of human. Like in cyber and fraud you need to understand how the criminal is thinking – and knowing how they think is vital in planning any action.
Here are the three categories I promised:**
The first one, practical, includes psychologists who apply things that have (at least somewhat) clearly outlined methodologies: for example clinical psychologists, counselors, organization psychologists.. This category would also include some researchers who follow a recipe to produce scientific articles in psychology, but which doesn’t add new knowledge in the field. Their activities are mainly characterized by what already exists that can be used.
Theoretical includes mostly researchers who think of what different aspects about psychology are made of, how are they related, under which premises, and how does it constitute the whole. And those who seek to refute theories with experiments and tests (and rarely questionnaires).
Bridge builders look at theory and translate it into practical solutions. It includes researchers who invent new tests to diagnose mental illnesses, brain damage, and creating interventions like therapies, learning methods, or neurorehabilitation, but it also includes consulting with the stuff I mentioned about cars and robots.
A list of things that can be improved by building a bridge between it and psychology include:
- Planning the development of AI
- Designing business strategy
- Defining problems
- Designing physical spaces
- Designing courses and syllabi
- Designing production lines
- Designing crisis management tools and training
- Designing travel, learning, legal, and customer experiences
- Helping with crime investigation and prevention
- Teaching people to think better
- Planning social campaigns
- Whatever else one can come up with.
Solving these sorts of interdisciplinary problems is what makes me tick. I hope I’ve inspired you just a bit to think about how my thinking and expertise could be of help for you.
*I can come up with a list of activities we do for example for animals or for other parts of the nature, but because humans value those things and relate to them in some ways, their results always have an effect on humans.
**I just came up with that so feel free to suggest better ways to do that categorization. And of course, people may be in all three categories at different points in their careers or tasks, this is not absolute.