Blindingly Simple Mediation Technology

All of us who work on the ADR Notable mediation platform – from the software engineers to the marketing folks – have two key principles in mind at all times. If this mediation technology tool is truly going to help dispute resolution professionals, it must be (1) flexible and (2) blindingly simple. But what exactly does it mean to be “blindingly simple” in terms of how this dispute resolution technology platform was designed and built? Well, I asked founder Gary Doernhoefer that very question…


Tell me about ADR Notable’s mantra, “Blindingly Simple”

This is very important to us. We understand that people in our target market have been hesitant to adopt much technology for fear that it would take their attention away from the people around the table. We knew from the very beginning that the entire product — not just the note taking — had to be designed in a way we describe as blindingly simple. We have built a lot of flexibility into the product and listened carefully to how various mediators do things to give them an experience we hope matches the logical flow that they would be looking for. For example:

  • Whatever the next step of your process is when you are in a case using ADR Notable, it should be obvious where to find it and how to get there. If we haven’t done that — if you’re not finding features exactly where you’d expect them to be — then we haven’t done a good job.
  • We have organized the platform as a timeline, following the process by which a case would progress. We have tried to set up the navigation so that you move through the process in a very logical way. In fact, even our training materials in the Knowledge Base are organized into tasks a mediator would do before a case, during a session, and after a session.
  • Even the smallest details have been adjusted to be as “blindingly simple” as possible. For example, we moved the text box where a mediator enters her notes from the bottom of the screen to the top to minimize the “eyes-down” action. And you don’t have to type well or use entire words or complete sentences because it’s very easy to “fix up” what you need to in the term sheet. All that matters is that you understand that “nx wk” means “next week” to you.

I’ve heard you talk about the “moonshot syndrome.” What does that mean?

Well, we have become more sensitive to watching other startup companies and we think that many entrepreneurs fall prey to what’s called “the moonshot syndrome.” Many entrepreneurs do not want to build something that is really obvious and easy. They get more emotional, positive feedback from building something that is truly extraordinary and novel and very, very different from the way the world works today. But the problem with doing that is adoption. When you build something that is radically different, you’re only going to get the very most adventurous amongst your target audience to try it.

The strategy we’ve pursued is the reverse of that. We are trying to make this as easy to use and as familiar looking as we can. We will get people to adopt it because it’s a short step from what they’ve been doing to what the product does. And then we will add new features and more sophisticated technology gradually, over time, and bring users along. So, the blindingly simple theory will continue to exist for us, even as we add more functionality and more features that are a little bit more sophisticated.

 So, you want this technology to feel and function as close as possible to what mediators are used to now?

Exactly. One of the strategies we pursued is we have spent a lot of time looking at our market. And our market skews toward professionals in my own generation, the Baby Boomers, many of whom have had successful careers in law or in some other segment of industry like construction or finance. They use that base of knowledge, experience, and wisdom to help others resolve their disputes. But, as a whole, this group has not adopted technology at a rapid pace. So, we thought it was important to make the shift from a manual to a technology-based process as smooth and gentle as possible.

For example, we have used design elements that look like things they already know how to do or have done in a similar way before. Our goal is that if you can type an email, you can use our product. The visual interface is structured, particularly when you get to the note taking, in the same format that many mediators use to take notes on a legal pad. So, it’s just taking that paper note taking experience and putting it onto a computer. Then we can leverage the advantages the computer gives us, such as the ability to move, edit, and find notes, to work with proposals and counter offers, and to easily create an MoU. It’s a lot more effective and secure.

What was your inspiration for this?

 I had a routine doctor’s visit and was talking to my doctor — whom I’ve known for many years — about my product. And I was laughing, teasing the doctor that they are, in some ways, our worst enemies because they are suffering from this exact problem of being distracted by their terminals and tablets. And they are being criticized for it. I think justifiably that doctors now come into the examining room,  put their heads down, look at the computer screen, ask questions and type data without hardly looking at the patient anymore. They are not making eye contact. They are not examining whether you’re wincing in pain even while you’re talking to them. Their attention is completely drawn to the computer screen.

Eventually, she turned the screen around to let me see what she was entering. And I was appalled. Because unlike our system, she had blanks scattered all over the page that she had to fill in. So, she would have to grab her mouse, reposition the cursor, find and go into the appropriate text box, and then ask the question and type out the answer. And then reposition, grab her mouse again, and reposition the cursor into the next blank, which was on the other side of the page. The design was 180 degrees opposite of ADR Notable. We use really simple instructions on where to put things and how to code it into a form or a format so that you don’t have to sort through that in the middle of an interview with a patient, or, in our case, during the middle of a session in discussions with parties.   We can learn a lot from the medical system of how not to do it.

In conclusion, anyone can use this platform. That was, and always will be, the goal. It is simple and effective. Adopting new technology can be daunting, that is why we at ADR Notable have made it as easy as possible.

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