Congratulations.

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You built a mobile app. If you think you're done and it's business as usual, you've got it all wrong.

Mobile isn't merely a new stage in the evolution of the web, it's not even merely a new context, it's the very early stages of an entirely new system. A system that has already started to shape our environment, affect the way we live, how we choose to connect with others, and how we're able to spend our time. A system that is also slowly unravelling our assumptions and causing us to question the very reason we build web sites, why people visit them, and where the true value of the web actually lies.” Stephanie Rieger, Reset the Web.

But is it? How many organizations are questioning their assumptions about not just the web or mobile, but about the potential of how this medium can change work, shopping, banking, travel, health, communities, government … the list goes on.

The challenge is that too much of the conversation around mobile and the possibilities of mobile is constrained by outdated mental models constructed from assumptions of an earlier age. Assumptions that hinder our ability to leverage the true potential of mobile as a medium. New mediums bring with them new messages, new narratives, new meanings.

If we continue to think of mobile as a device, an app, a channel or a touchpoint are we guilty of facilitating the death of narrative by putting story last? And would it matter?

I actually think narrative is in no danger of dying. In fact, I think we’re at the cusp of a resurgence of narrative. Instead, what’s in danger are those organizations who ignore or downplay narrative and continue to think of mobile too narrowly, congratulating themselves for having jumped on the mobile bandwagon by releasing an app.

The app doesn't matter. The design of the app doesn't matter. What matters is the design of the narrative space surrounding the app.

Story first.

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Image modified from Reset the Web

What happens when we forget that story comes first?

Best case, failed adoption. According to Paul Adams, Global Head of Brand Design at Facebook

Almost every app built for a brand on Facebook has practically no usage … heavy, ‘immersive’ experiences are not how people engage and interact with brands… heavyweight experiences will fail because they don’t map to real life.”

Worst case, a competitor or entrepreneur or an organization comfortable with continually disrupting itself. Someone willing to step back and question assumptions and experiment with possibilities. Someone like Paypal’s Managing Director Darrell MacMullin:

Mobile is much more than simply a new channel. Mobility is transformative. Mobility reshapes the enterprise. The digital revolution is creating a new experience revolution, transforming everyday moments forever. We’ve entered the era of the connected consumer. We have all these connected devices that are always on. And so it presents a whole bunch of threats, but also a whole bunch of opportunities for retailers to figure out how to interact with consumers, not as silo’d channels, but what is the entire commerce experience? What’s going to have the most important impact on experience and the consumer?”

The consumer. The experience. The story.

This is the path less traveled. One that requires us to change our thinking. But one with tremendous potential.

So how do we start understanding the true potential of mobile as a medium that is disrupting the way we work, live and play?

Start by Thinking Wrong

The most innovative designers consciously reject the standard option box and cultivate an appetite for thinking wrong.” ~ Marty Neumeier, The Designful Company

Most organizations are experts at problem solving. As a result, they fall back on problem solving when faced with a challenge. But problem solving is reactive. Problem solving reinforces the status quo because, as Peter Senge so eloquently phrases it, “we are downloading habitual ways of thinking.” We are staying safely inside the boxes we've built that allow us to remain within our comfort zone. Problem solving keeps us firmly the box of outdated mental models constructed from assumptions, best practices and existing processes.

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When faced with transformational mediums like mobile, we need to cast aside the problem solving box and start thinking wrong. We need to start design thinking.

And to do this, to get to the heart of the complexity of the VUCA environment we’re in, we need to spend more time thinking about the questions.

“Always the beautiful answer, who asks a more beautiful question.” ~ e.e. cummings

And we have to master the art of framing.

Master the Art of Framing

How many designers does it take to change a light bulb?

WHY a light bulb?

Great designers are notorious for questioning the problem and the assumptions that come with it. Rather than immediately diving into solutionizing, they step back to zoom in and out -- exploring the problem space and experimenting with different ways of seeing.

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Image source: Jess McMullin

Framing is ultimately about asking questions to uncover and test assumptions, digging into perceptions in search of discovering “what’s really going on here.”

This is hard because our training (and the way our brains are wired) lead us to seek solutions as quickly as possible. Questions, on the other hand, help us stay within the problem space (a place of uncertainty) longer than most of us are comfortable with. Questions help you move beyond business as usual.

So whenever faced with what is labeled a problem to solve (we need a mobile app) start by asking Why? What assumptions are we making here? What’s really going on? What are the bigger, smaller, different boxes to the situation?

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Watch out for Richard Branson

“I love tackling lazy industries.” ~ Richard Branson

Lazy industries fail to question the fundamental assumptions underlying their business model. Lazy industries treat mobile as nothing more than an additional channel to support rather than as a fundamentally new platform. Lazy industries treat digitization as an opportunity for a cost-cutting rather than as a catalyst for reinvention. Lazy industries put technology first rather than people and experience first. Lazy industries think in silos rather than systems.

The biggest obstacle you face in moving forward with mobility is the way you currently do things.

So think wrong. Ask powerful questions to disrupt assumptions. Master the art of framing.

And put story first.

Editor's Note: Read the follow up article with Five Practical Tools to Help You Think Wrong About Mobile