It’s fun to play Watson when you’re with Sherlock Holmes


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I love reading a good mystery or watching one on the screen. I think most of us do. Ever notice that every iconic detective has a sidekick? Poirot and Captain Hastings; Inspector Morse and Sergeant Lewis; Lord Wimsey and his manservant Bunter; Campion and his manservant Lugg; and the most famous duo, Sherlock Holmes and his trusted friend Dr. John Watson. There are many more examples that both you and I could cite off the top of our heads, but this representative list will serve to make my point.

The creators of these brilliant detectives, all decided to include a faithful sidekick who though lacking in the abilities to solve the mystery on their own, they play an important part as a character with whom the reader of the mystery can relate to. Sidekicks ask the same questions that we would ask, make early assumptions based on the evidence at hand and provide the physical muscle to support their friend the sleuth when needed on occasion. But let’s acknowledge the fact that they never come up with the deeply insightful conclusions that the hero detective can. However, by their teaming with the detective, they get to share in their adventures and go places and see things that they simply would not be able to do on their own. And we readers and viewers of these stories find ourselves admiring the star detective, but it is the sidekick with whom we relate to as that few of us are professional detectives in real life. Sidekicks make these stories human and accessible to us all.

And it is this voyeuristic phenomenon that I see taking place in the digital world. None of us are Steve Jobs, but we sure do like to buy his devices. When we research and shop for products now, we put our trust in what’s being said by strangers over the social networks that are willing to share their experiences on how they reviewed their options, made drew their conclusions, made their decisions, and made purchases that changed their lives. Also hearing from them on how they were treated during the journey and follow up services and care deeply influences our decision making processes.

Social recommendation and confirmation influences our choice making across every plane of decision in our lives now; how we shop, how we eat, where we work, who we decide to spend our lives with, etc. Social networks are the element that makes a digital world usable to and real to us, a world filled with technology that is never completely comprehensible to the common man or woman. Social networks play the role of Watson for us, making the experience human in terms we are comfortable with so that we continue to desire to engage in a world of lightning fast change and continuously upgrading technology, dimensions of the equation that we can leave for Sherlock to sort out. A clever approach for product or service provider might be to take another page from the mystery writer. Wouldn’t it be interesting to design an experience using the same three elements that a detective uses to determine who committed the crime; motive, opportunity and means? What if we were to use these elements and story constructs to design experiences that allowed users to engage in and navigate successfully the complex mysteries of the technological jungles that are being created? Motive…restock your refrigerator with locally grow organic foods. Opportunity…your refrigerator automatically lets you know when supplies are running low, while at the same time keeps a database of viable local farms that have what you desire at the price your willing to pay. Means…you use your Smartphone to make a purchase and schedule home delivery.

One thing is certain: we will need to rely on both Watson and Sherlock even more as IOT quickly becomes the nerve center of our world. If we don’t have mechanisms to help us “keep it human,” we will be overwhelmed, which would result in the loss of knowing who is really driving the bus. And that would likely cascade into a deep mistrust of technology and associated economic and political backlashes. Perhaps this is why the world’s most famous computer is named Watson?

Corey Glickman
I am the global lead in Design & Innovation with Capgemini, a $14B solution integration consulting firm. I specialize in the formation of design and innovation programs, providing technology & business leadership experience as an expert in digital transformation, customer experience strategy, design, & the use of visualization. I have won 100's of awards, included being named one of the 100 most influential designers of the decade by AIGA. I currently blog weekly on how businesses are dealing with Digital Transformation, Design & IOT. I am a member of the HBR Advisory Council.


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