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Get Smarter Faster

What’s Your Problem?

Who

Jerry McLaughlin, 34, cofounder of User Interface Inc.

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What’s Your Problem?

“We’re a pioneer in a young industry — using the Web to turn raw customer information into real customer intelligence. And we won’t keep growing unless we keep learning. But our environment changes so fast that no one person, or even a small group of people, can arrive at compelling insights quickly. How do we tap the ‘group mind’ so that we learn what we need to and still have time for work?”

Tell Me about It

“You can’t learn unless you slow down and think. So many Silicon Valley companies expect their people to be going, going, going all the time. And most people out here enjoy that frenetic pace. That’s why it’s so critical to make group learning and group thinking fast-paced, fun — and voluntary. People think only when they want to think, when they volunteer their ideas. If we want people to think together, we have to make thinking seem exciting, important, and urgent.”

What’s Your Solution?

The MindMeld. “Anyone at the company can, at any time, call a MindMeld, which is a one- to two-hour brainstorming session about any topic relevant to our business. MindMelds enable people to pick a subject and run with it. The meetings are unstructured: Every idea gets thrown up on a board.

“Sometimes we use MindMelds to begin developing new services or to critique our existing ones. Sometimes we use them to think about major developments in business. Recently, we held a MindMeld to discuss the Microsoft antitrust case. We had a really stimulating debate. During another MindMeld, we tried to map out all of our clients’ technology on one diagram. Then we asked everyone a question: How does your client’s technology work with my client’s technology? That was a real challenge — and it got people thinking differently.”

Contact Jerry McLaughlin by email (jerry@userinterface.com.)

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