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Everything is connected: an interview with Christof Zürn

May 17, 2022

Professionals working in the experience innovation field represent an array of skills and knowledge: Designers and managers, researchers and engineers, data-driven and creative folks, CX, UX, EX… the profession has many faces. We are thrilled to have a renowned CX expert share some of his background, knowledge, and a few insights into his work: please meet Christof Zürn!

Organizations must cultivate a fertile, collaborative work sphere to get people to work together effectively and deliver products and services that people need, want, buy, and use. You can find certain parallels by studying the ways musicians work together, handle leadership, and create something completely new and inspiring.
Christof Zürn

My job / my role / how I call myself

My name is Christof Zürn; I am the founder of musicthinking.com and I act as a Creative Companion (also the name of my consultancy) in Service Design, Branding and Organizational Change. I accompany individuals, teams and organizations to move from just iteration to viable innovation and eventually sustainable transformation. Depending on the client or challenge, I do this in talks, workshops, projects and interim assignments.

a profile image of Christof Zürn

My CX / service design background

I am an independent, hands-on practitioner with decades of experience and without formal service design thinking education (I sign the certificates :-)).

How I got into CX / service design

I started in ‘multimedia production’ for infotainment music CD-ROMs in the 1990s, learned HTML on the train while commuting, and worked later as a creative director in interactive agencies in the Netherlands (Clockwork, Studio Dumbar). As a freelancer, I worked in interim CX/UX assignments for the fashion industry, professional services industry and the judiciary.

I was Chief Design Officer at the Design Thinking Center in Amsterdam and have been a facilitator, trainer and coach at the Design Thinkers Academy for more than a decade.

Tools and methods I use

Working in different roles in diverse organizations, I realized that the most important thing is to connect everything you and others are doing - ideally in a common language that everyone can understand.

So, over the years, I developed my approach called Music Thinking. It combines co-creation, service design, branding and organizational change in order to help organizations understand that everything is connected.

Because of the analogy with music, I call tools instruments to stress that it is not about the individual tools but rather about how these instruments play together for the benefit of the audience. This also implies mastering an instrument.

So what does it mean, for example, to have personas in your organization? Suppose the communication department has developed (aspirational) personas. In that case, you should help them understand what (reality) personas based on research are and how this is different from a target group used in marketing. So it is not essential that you call it the same, but that everybody understands what it is and how you can use it to make better and quicker decisions for the benefit of your audience (partners, client, consumers).

The most common mistakes when working on CX / service design projects

As a service designer, you should be the ‘chief listener’. You not only have to understand your clients and consumers but also the organization. In other words, the product-service experience should be the same as the brand experience and the organizational experience. Everything adds up.

In that respect, it is most important to visualize the most critical assets and share them so that others understand what might be wrong. If you iterate often, you make it easier for everybody to understand what is going on.

So if you never update your personas, customer journeys or value networks with actual data, they become useless and risky to use.

My favorite project / a project that I really like to think back on

Every project is challenging and unique at the same time. The challenges are never where you expect them to be.

When working for the ministry of justice on a digitization project, we had to wait until a new law was passed in the parliament before proceeding  with the work. And that was only a part of the problem because the product owners were judges, masters in their profession, but inexperienced in terms of user experience. The challenge was to support the organization in learning that research.

Prototyping and testing do not slow things down but speed up the process.

When working for the fashion brand Vlisco, extensive research was done to understand the consumer (in Africa), and we visualized their needs and behaviors through effective personas so that the teams could make better and quicker decisions. Under the leadership of a visionary marketing manager, everybody learned to work flexibly, with agility, in a connected manner and based on facts. My role was to accompany the different teams to better work together and to keep the actual customer in the loop of the decision making process.

Learning resources, books, blogs, and podcasts that I recommend

If you want to improve empathy, read novels.

I am a fan of Neil Stephenson and William Gibson, who take you on a trip to the future through the medium of speculative fiction. I find myself learning a lot from this ‘what if’ approach.

When people ask me for service design thinking recommendations, I give them this list of five:

  • Change by Design, Tim Brown. This (somewhat dated) classic is a perfect read for a vacation and to get a feel for the mindset of Design Thinking.
  • This is Service Design Doing, Stickdorn, Hormess, Lawrence, Schneider. This is the best referenced book on the market with 96 co-authors, a community of experts and volunteers (disclaimer: I am one of them) who contributed case studies, expert comments and tips. Don’t forget the free online library of 54 method descriptions on the website.
  • Doughnut Economics: seven ways to think like a 21st-century economist, Kate Raworth. This is an important book translated into more than 20 languages. It is about the purpose of ‘staying in the doughnut’ – ensuring that no one falls short on life’s essentials while ensuring that collectively we do not overshoot our pressure on Earth’s life-supporting systems. This guarantees that we don’t just do a service for shareholders but also for all stakeholders impacted by our business, that is  people and the planet.
  • Tiny Habits, B J Fogg. This is a great how-to guide to starting behavior change and  getting things done in very tiny steps with mini recipes that everybody can use. Easy to combine with the themes mentioned above.
  • The Power of Music Thinking, Christof Zürn. I wrote that book to ensure that everything is connected and that everything can be connected without silos. If you are open to analogies with the extensive field of music, you can easily translate this to your own business or societal challenge. The book comes with downloadable templates and playlists to simultaneously inspire co-creation and thinking from different perspectives simultaneously.

How I think CX management / service design will develop in the future

I think that organizations will realize sooner or later that working in silos is too ineffective, risky and expensive, that service designers have to learn what branding and running an organization means, and 'the business' has to understand that we all have to be service designers no matter the position we have or take.

A glimpse into my work

Last but not least, here’s a glimpse into my Music Thinking work: this is how I visualized Beethoven’s 5th Symphony using a journey map (tool: Smaply).

Beethoven's 5th symphony on a journey map. Click to expand

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