Charged is a delightful one-day conference sharing industry insights and perspectives in Sudbury, Ontario.
Hi, I’m Tom Creighton.
When Kyle asked me to speak at Charged I had just left a job, started my own business, and was expecting this year to go very differently on a lot of levels
And now that I’m standing up here, I’ve folded that business, started a new job, and done a lot of thinking about building products and how we do it
And so the thing I want to talk about today that I’ve been thinking about a lot lately
– is that there are a lot of people involved in making products…
… and it’s super easy to ignore the whole “life experience” aspect of those people.
It’s easy just to look at METRICS, and FUNCTIONALITY, and what makes a product work WELL…
versus what makes a product FEEL GOOD, what makes a product RESONATE.
And what makes it feel good for EVERYBODY involved in the chain of bringing a product to market
and specifically I think we do that by essentially creating more space FOR PEOPLE TO BE PEOPLE.
Creating products that think about the WHOLE PERSON, not just the surface level of them that downloads our app, that clicks the buttons – but:
Their whole self.
A great buzzword I’ve totally used in real life is “human-centered design”, but today, I want to talk about a slight attitude adjustment to that term –
So when I say “person” who am I actually talking about?
I think there are three distinct groups we can identify and try to address their specific – but OVERLAPPING – needs
Those groups are:
1. Customers – that’s the folks that are, hopefully, buying your product
2. Your team – that’s your peers, the people with whom you’re actually building the dang thing
3. And I think the often-overlooked but critically important person in this equation: YOU
And all of those groups have different but related motivations and things they care about
So how can we tap into and understand those needs?
What are the methodologies we might use to make each of those groups feel good USING the thing we’re making or being part of BUILDING the thing we’re making–
What do they CARE about?
I do want to say that I could probably talk all night about any of these groups but I wanted to touch on each because all of them are important
And also a lot of this comes from me reading on these subjects, being in the trenches of building product and trying to do better, and finally trying to do better for MYSELF
So this is my experience… there’s definitely NOT just one path to getting these things right but I do think there are commonalities we can use wherever we are in our career and in whatever we’re working on.
I think the other little bit of preamble I want to throw down is that a few years ago this might have been a very differently-focused talk –
“Design deserves a seat at the table”
“Design is how EVERYTHING works”
“Design will change the world”
Designers talked a big game about approaching every problem with user-centered, “design thinking” strategies that would solve all our problems.
That’s died down a bit and now we’re talking a lot about things like EMPATHY and MOMENTS OF DELIGHT
And those are both good things too, but uh … design hasn’t changed the world in particularly good ways lately
“Design thinking” is now a corporate buzzword and the interfaces we’ve built between humans and tech aren’t the cure-all we thought they could be
And my whole takeaway, and the takeaway of a huge amount of smart people who hopefully I’m doing a bit of a good job in communicating their ideas tonight – is that we’ve been focusing on the wrong things.
We’ve been saying “human-centered” design without making things truly HUMAN CENTERED, without thinking about what truly being HUMAN-CENTERED in practice would look like
The thing I’ve learned over my career is that we talk about building products, but “product” itself is a verb –
it’s something you DO, it never STOPS…
and we could all stand to try to make products more considerate of the whole human.
So let’s dive in.
So that first group – what do they care about?
As some of you might know, the job I left earlier this year was with a fintech startup in Toronto called Wealthsimple
How many of you have heard of it?
And so, having worked in fintech, I can tell you exactly what the customer does NOT care about: it’s whatever you’re building
The customer AGGRESSIVELY does not care about what you’re making –
– One of the things they care about very much is BUILDING TRUST.
They want to trust things that help them.
Everything we built had to step up that trust level.
I think Wealthsimple has done really well in the financial space because the big banks ASSUME they have your trust already, although most of the products they make tend to ERODE that trust
We never assumed that. We never said “Get an ETF” – because nobody knows what an ETF is and they don’t want to find out
We had to build that bridge first.
Design is in a really unique position most of the time because it typically dictates what a product *is* to a given person
Design – and this is true for lots of flavours of design – is sort of a shorthand for communicating what you can do, or what you SHOULD do, or what you’re ALLOWED to do
and building products is no different
If we look at a traditional bank homepage vs. Wealthsimple, the thing that’s being communicated is VERY DIFFERENT
Design always SERVES A PURPOSE.
It can make things feel like they aren’t for you, or that you SHOULD be managing your daily transactions
I’m not trying to pick on BMO here, but they’re a good example
All of this feels complicated and like there’s a lot to take in and that’s BECAUSE OF DESIGN
At Wealthsimple in particular and in my career more broadly, I try to be very conscious that design communicates a LOT
more than just the copy on the page
Wealthsimple tried to focus on design that WASN’T intimidating, that WASN’T condescending, that WASN’T throwing a ton of things at you
I think the big question they teach at design school – at least when I went
is “what problem is this trying to solve?”
But I think that’s the wrong question, or not a big enough question
We should ask “What problem is the person looking at this thing trying to solve, and what state are they in when they’re trying to solve it?”
You’ve probably heard of personas
If you’re involved in building products at all you’ve probably used personas
If you’re building products you’ve probably MADE personas
I understand why
Again, it’s SHORTHAND
Things like your financial life are unique to you and unique to your situation
but we want to serve EVERYBODY, so we play it a little bit safe
We remove emotion and emotive ability in the way we design the things that folks are doing in these sensitive moments
and something like dealing with investments IS a sensitive moment
I think the thinking is that we can’t impose a super strong point of view, because it might alienate some people
And I think this is how we get a BMO homepage vs. a Wealthsimple homepage.
The problem being that we’re not addressing a person’s entire … PERSON
It ignores the weird emotional connection we have with, you know, talking about money, thinking about money, trying to plan our future, worrying about this stuff
The design decision they’ve made may have been laudable in that they decided to make things neutral, and universal, and applicable to everybody
but this also means it can feel overwhelming, indifferent, not FOR ME
Especially with customers we need to think about what we’re putting out there for them
We should think about their information consumption exactly how we think about food consumption
Is this healthy for me to eat? Are there cheat days? Haha
Especially as things like microtargeting becomes more and more intelligent and/or scary –
– we need to think a LOT more about WHAT WE’RE COMMUNICATING.
We’re already in information overload territory and we need to help alleviate that by thinking about that whole person.
Nobody ever asks:
“How do we make food more sticky”
“How do we make food more viral”
but that’s exactly how we talk about the products we make.
And I think we need to get out in front of this much more than we are presently, by designing these new products and new technologies in a way that respects how our brains work –
– how we perceive these things we’re building and our interactions with them
Both in terms of our limitations – in terms of focus, cognitive load, and so on
and also our vulnerabilities
We want to ENHANCE why we respond positively or negatively to things, not use those levers to make us do things that aren’t beneficial to us
There’s no magical marketing formula to make people want things
but there are commonalities that speak to every one of us on a deep level
– and that’s because people are emotional, narrative-driven creatures
If we boil this down to the most basic level, people buy things to stop feeling bad or to start feeling good
They want to move closer to pleasure, or away from pain
These are EMOTIONAL buying decisions
But at the same time: people run on stories.
Narrative is how we organize and coordinate our disordered idea of what’s going on in our lives.
And I think “narrative” is trotted out as another design cliché, like “human-centered design”
– but a good story is a HOOK for your product, instead of somebody reading your site and going, “Okay, so what?”
Technology and big data and microtargeting offer us, as product makers, a TON of opportunity for very thoughtful marketing, but –
– it also makes it super easy to think in terms of demographics
34-year old male who lives in Sudbury and works in mining
Okay cool we can definitely target that GROUP but does that speak to anything ABOUT THE REAL PERSON? About what their life is about?
… not really.
So what does this look like in practice?
Well, a technique which I think works very well in fintech, where moving away from pain is sort of the whole jam – is to think about that whole person’s CONTEXT
How should customers feel when they’re using your product?
When are they using it?
How busy or frazzled or overloaded are they going to be when they’re using it? Or how chill are they going to be?
Will they be EXCITED to use the thing you made?
And we can approach that space by understanding it – by echoing their situation back to them
People want to know that they’re understood, that someone ELSE is having the same problem they’re having
Investment and saving for the future is overwhelming, there are a ton of choices.
I think Wealthsimple’s been very successful because the product, the marketing, the whole company pays very close attention to those feelings
We KNOW it’s complicated
but hey: NOBODY has this figured out, it’s hard for EVERYBODY
that’s a message that resonates
That’s good emotional storytelling
How do we get there? How do we tease out those really interesting and noteworthy elements?
How do we make it shareable?
If I think about the kinds of things I typically share, say, on Twitter – it’s stuff I find interesting, not stuff that is clearly clickbait – most of the time, haha
I’ve been talking about the whole human, the whole personal context
but think about that for what you’re building, as well
To depart from fintech, I think Lululemon – or, like, any car company – is a great example of this
What are they selling? Is it the PRODUCT?
I mean – technically yes, but overall, no: they’re selling the narrative, they’re selling a larger vision of what the thing is ABOUT
People want to share and buy things that align with their experiences and personal narrative
Tesla is great at this – don’t tell me about horsepower or whatever
SHOW ME WHAT IT’S LIKE
What does it FEEL LIKE to drive a Tesla?
What does it FEEL LIKE to live the lifestyle shown in a Lululemon ad?
but I want to talk about some pitfalls quickly, too
I don’t want to get on board my own hype train
AM I actually solving real problems?
If we go back to our food analogy – just because something is pleasing to eat – or well-designed, as it were – doesn’t mean it’s healthy for the end user
It’s easy to say “a good experience is good” without diving any further –
We’re STILL RUNNING A BUSINESS. Are we solving human problems without solving business problems? Or vice versa?
Does anyone remember Rdio? Great experience, they definitely cared about music and understood why *I* cared about music, the things I wanted music to DO FOR ME, I loved using it and it made me happy
Did they succeed? Arguably: no.
Good UX can be good for the customer, or good for the business, or just good, but it doesn’t magically just happen that way.
… and it CAN’T be unless we think about what “good design” means and intend to include those things from the get-go.
What we optimize for — has real world consequences,
and design can only be as “person-centered” as the business model allows it to be.
I’ve been up here waxing poetic about including the whole person, thinking about THEM in the concrete, not the abstract
I wholly believe this and try to do my best to practice what I preach
But we’re in an interesting … or challenging place in, say, startups, and software products, where designing the product IS designing the business
Designers NEED to participate in defining the business model
the fundamental challenge of doing this – of actually implementing what I’ve been saying – is that it’s probably going to be more time-consuming and expensive to do the very least to consider people in your product, than really diving deep and being considerate
Approaches like LEAN or AGILE or thinking about the MVP are theoretically supposed to get us to a solution faster, but they can also be a smokescreen to rush forward with a less-thoughtful approach
– without thinking about the long-term implications, or the larger context of our customers
In digital products the experience IS the interface to the business, and as designers, it can only be as thoughtful as we make it
And we need to do better.
So that’s customers solved [slap hands]
the next group of folks involved in product that I very much want to talk about is THE TEAM
During most of my time at Wealthsimple I led the product design team
And I’m not sure if you’ve ever led a team uh, but it’s super super hard
Sorry to do two audience participation pieces in one talk, but how many of you have people that report to you?
IT’S HARD, RIGHT?
It’s a more difficult and serious job than just being a designer – haha, than “just” being a designer
So what does ‘considerate’ mean for them, your team?
How do we practice those insights – ACTUALLY be “PERSON centered” – inside our own organizations?
You probably recognize this guy
We have this narrative in tech, particularly I think, of the lone genius solving problems, or the snarky asshole driving creativity and innovation at a company
That’s a lie, it doesn’t work.
The work I did at Wealthsimple is not just MY WORK.
It’s built on the shoulders of the very talented folks who started before I did, who solved hard problems and made hard decisions before I ever got there.
It’s a synthesis of everything that was already there that I was able to grab onto and take advantage of
Designs somebody else had already built, or started – conventions that were already in place, research someone had already done, a brand I could latch onto instead of having to invent
Sure, I added my own stuff to the mix
And after I left, people picked up the pieces I left behind and made stuff out of it.
This talk itself is based on a lot of conversations with and research and writing from lots of other smart people who were thinking about this stuff before me.
What I’m trying to get at with this is that a team – your coworkers – are in a sense customers of the COMPANY as much as the actual end users are customers of the product – and they need to be considered just as keenly.
One of the very best managers I’ve ever had had a deep, DEEP focus on having true empathy for where I was in my life –
– what was the pain *I* was trying to move away from, what was MY narrative?
My personal growth, the goals I had for myself, and so on
We started our 1:1s with, like “How are you feeling? What’s going on with YOU” instead of “How’s that project going?”
It’s super-easy to talk about the project
It’s super-easy to talk about the metrics
It’s super-easy to not make space for the whole person.
So how do we do that? I think there are two ways – considering the person AT work and the person AWAY from work.
One of the jobs of a product designer is to think about selling your thing to your customers
So for the person AT work: One way to think about your team is selling your company to … well, people who you want to work with
And one way to really dig down into that holistic approach is to realize that people have larger, more abstract needs than just getting paid, than just showing up at the office
… to be fair getting paid is a pretty good perk –
But what happens when we speak about what makes our workplaces HUMAN?
What’s the interesting narrative about YOUR TEAM?
Wealthsimple offered a bunch of benefits around financial wellness – they didn’t talk about your typical startup-bro stuff like pingpong tables and Beer Friday and instead talked about what happens when you’re NOT at work – SPECIFICALLY things that happen when you’re not at work
Things like RRSP matching and parental leave policies –
making space for the part of their employees that was thinking about being able to retire, thinking about the part of their employee that was a parent
I think it’s fair to say that most companies know it’s no longer “the done thing” to brag about their foozball table or the beer fridge
but what a company DOES say and DOES offer says a lot about how much they value the people that work there
It’s been my observation that a lot of companies don’t offer really comprehensive, say, parental leave policies until one of the founders is about become a parent and they suddenly realize … uh oh, there’s nothing about how to handle this
… But we’re growing up – a little bit – companies are getting smarter and baking these kinds of things into their values from day one
In my time as an employee I’ve seen lots of perks that AREN’T about playing Mario Kart AT THE OFFICE, they’re about the whole person
– offering financial assistance with housework, or guaranteed placements with daycare, or personal development budgets, or – I already mentioned RRSP matching
I mean I get it, not every company is large enough or even “old enough”, as it were, to offer all of these things – but I think we can start by being flexible, by removing pains that people are experiencing around the part of themselves that isn’t “the employee”.
I think the other consideration here is that it’s easy to not think about this.
it’s just you and your cofounder against the world and the org. chart is just a line and everybody knows everything about what’s going on and –
– all of a sudden you’re 50 people and you’ve got people asking about career progression and formal mentorship and how their performance is evaluated and – oh no
it’s hard – maybe impossible – to back into an inclusive, considerate culture,
we need to BUILD THAT STUFF FIRST
Like with customers, we need to build TRUST with employees – when they roll up asking for performance evaluations it’s not good if you’re like “Uh, yeah, we’ll definitely figure that out”
You need to be able to act on those requests, you need to fulfill the employee-employer relationship in the same way you would the customer-company relationship.
Building trust goes a LONG way with employees.
In my VERY early days as a designer I had an employer who demonstrated OVER AND OVER that they cared about how I was doing, not just a designer but as a person
And it was a pretty up-and-down business so sometimes they couldn’t pay on time
But they always did, eventually, pay, and I was willing to let them get away with it
and I mean looking back on it that’s a pretty jacked up story and what was I thinking
but TRUST GOES A LONG WAY. and you need to ESTABLISH IT EARLY.
ESPECIALLY in an early-stage company anybody who signs on is taking a gamble, and you need to fulfill their trust in you by reciprocating, big time.
So that’s on the level of “everybody in the company” – but I mentioned that I was a team lead
and in talking about TEAMS, specifically the group of folks that you work with directly, that you’re RESPONSIBLE FOR, I want to convince you that building your team is more important than building your product
You can build a great product with a great team
you can’t build a great product with a great team who are unhappy or nervous or unhealthy
If you ARE a manager, you should know where every person on your team wants to grow, what their LARGER goals are
– not even their goals in the current position, or their goals at the company you both work at, but their BIG goals, their LIFE goals
and you should collaborate with them on a plan to get there
When I became a lead I wanted to learn more about running a successful team and building empathy and building structures to help us all work together better –– and the thing with all of this stuff is that
YOU HAVE TO DO IT.
Reading about it doesn’t do ANYTHING. Believing in the principles you learned about doesn’t DO ANYTHING.
It takes planning and it takes CONSISTENT ACTION.
I’m still learning and I’m still working on these skills but I want to share some of what I’ve learned.
And I want to go pretty deep on one particular topic by talking about interesting project called “Project Aristotle” which was run by Google on their own employees
they conducted a TON of interviews with Google employees and set up a bunch of different kinds of metrics that they were tracking across hundreds of teams
And if you’re Google this is no problem because you have EIGHTY-FIVE THOUSAND employees, but I think the lessons are still super-valuable
The supposition was that if you throw together a bunch of super-smart people you’d get a good mix for a really high-performing team, a superpowered dream team
Turns out: NOPE
Who is ON THE TEAM matters far less than how the team members interact, how they structure their work and contributions
they discovered a bunch of key dynamics that set successful teams apart from other teams within Google
So don’t worry about taking notes, google “Project Aristotle” and you can find this out, but:
they found five key things:
1. Impact of work: do we fundamentally believe that the work we’re doing matters?
2. Meaning of work: are we working on something that’s important to us?
3. Structure and clarity: are the goals, roles, and plans for our team clear to everybody?
4. Dependability: can we count on our teammates to do their work?
and most interestingly for me:
5. Can we take risks on this team without feeling insecure or embarrassed?
and number 5 is so, SO huge
I think as … you know, PEOPLE, we’re reluctant to do things that could negatively influence how other people–
– ESPECIALLY our coworkers – perceive our competence, or how much we know, or if we care about what we’re doing
And I think for a lot of people in a lot of companies this kind of self-protection is extremely commonplace
But what Project Aristotle uncovered at Google, and what I’ve DEFINITELY seen within the companies I’ve been a part of, is that the SAFER team members feel with one another–
the more likely they are to partner up, and take on new roles, and collaboratively work on more diverse ideas with their teammates, and the LESS likely they are to leave the company in question
psychological safety was FAR AND AWAY the most important dynamic they found
I’ve definitely been in meetings or groups where I didn’t ask a question because I thought it would reveal me as the one idiot in the room who didn’t know what was going on, and that’s almost NEVER the case,
and a very healthy team is one where you have no trouble being the idiot 🙂
And this is something you can put into practice right away in your own behaviour
If you agree that a healthy and psychologically safe workplace is one where asking questions is totally normal and expected, if you want to foster that – and I sure hope you do
ESPECIALLY if you’re a lead, or a senior, ASK LOTS OF QUESTIONS
Even if you’re like 99% sure you know the answer to something, or can puzzle it out, ask it anyway
By asking questions yourself, you’re signalling to your team or coworkers that asking questions is the done thing
my point is that if everybody is super-comfortable about asking questions – or admitting mistakes, even – and knowing they won’t be ridiculed or judged – EVERYBODY benefits from that
Something I learned when my team was growing – which should have been obvious
is that new team members are really only going to act within the norms you’ve established
And it’s much more important to have built a PROCESS for doing things than just jumping right into building things
By definition, every new project your team works on will be something you’ve never worked on before
– but if you understand each other, if you’ve created the space to ask questions, if you’ve built that trust, everything follows from that
The thing about teams *is* that you learn AS A TEAM – everybody benefits from EVERYBODY’S learnings, to have a space where you feel comfortable maybe being the idiot.
I want to get back into the “whole person” aspect of working with a team, especially as a lead
If somebody hasn’t shared their work in a while, or hasn’t checked in new code, or any of the other things a tech worker might do – do you leave them alone, or do you ask about where they’re suffering
If somebody’s overly harsh in a standup or review or, say, pull request – do you follow up on that or let that behaviour slide?
Let me tell you – it’s way less stress – for ME – to just ignore these situations and hope they just sort of clear up
It’s tempting not to pry into somebody’s pain or privacy – maybe even due to a sort of empathy, like this is a personal thing for them
It’s uncomfortable to put yourself out there and be receptive to somebody else’s vulnerability and I DEFINITELY had some conversations with my reports that were things I did NOT want to deal with
And quick note – if you want to dive deeper into that – and you should – here’s a great book.
I would say that very nearly everybody I’ve ever met in this industry wants to look out for other people
we’re not just driven by self-interest, we tend to be empathetic by nature
but workplaces, if we’re not considerate, can put barriers in our path that make it hard, or impossible, to care properly for our teammates
and what should be open communication becomes judgements
as soon as there is a yardstick on what people SHOULD be doing instead of what they COULD do, or CAN do, our ability to be compassionate – the room we needed to care – is removed.
this is where CONSISTENT ACTION comes back into play
You’re never done.
“Product is a VERB” but on the inside of your business, too.
and Regardless of where we are in our career, another barrier we run into is asymmetrical relationships
I might be the team lead and people report to me, in turn I’m reporting up to somebody else
Even if we totally respect each other as equals in terms of our skillset or our ability to solve problems,
each of us is probably at a different stage of our PERSONAL evolution, and that means we may have different – and possibly inconsiderate – views on what our shoulds, coulds, cans look like.
I’ll say again: trying to be a very good leader is HARD. Here’s some stuff I learned by not doing a great job.
A technique we can use with our customers – echoing their feelings – is a super-valuable technique in terms of teams, as well
People working on a product want to know their pains are heard and addressed just as much as customers do
And the tough thing about this is that you might surface things about the people on your team that are uncomfortable
I mentioned Radical Candor and I mentioned chatting about things I didn’t want to deal with
But you have to make YOURSELF just as vulnerable and open as your team is being with you –insincerity won’t cut it here
It’s much better to acknowledge and reassure than to try to gloss over it,
otherwise you’re closing off that safety
You’re saying “It’s fine to ask questions about X, but not Y”
Acknowledgement is leading by doing.
Secondly – shut up.
As UXers we want to solution, we want to just dive into the quote-unquote fun part and start fixing the problem.
That doesn’t work so well with people – they might be sharing something very loaded for them even if it’s not even on your radar.
It’s difficult to withhold advice. Sometimes part of that psychological safety is being a sounding board.
Your teammate doesn’t want you to do ANYTHING – they just need to get something off their chest.
Focus on listening, not solving –
I’m not saying you shouldn’t try to solve the problem! But that may not be what’s needed – sometimes it’s just about venting.
Sometimes it’s like fog burning off – they already know what they need to do, and the space they needed was to share, to unload.
In that moment, interrupting to give advice is DISRUPTIVE. You’re trying to solve the EMPLOYEE problem instead of the WHOLE PERSON problem.
Trusting in the psychological safety is pretty relational – you could feel very open with some people at your company and not at all with others.
I’m personally not good at this.
I’ve had some leads who I chatted with like we had been friends for 20 years and some who, every check-in we had was very business-like
And say this only to reiterate that creating psychological safety ISN’T about TRUST
Just because I wasn’t able to totally open up to some folks doesn’t mean I didn’t trust them to do a good job
That extra leap is being VULNERABLE
I tried to do this VERY MUCH for my own team but wasn’t great about it myself, which I’ll talk about in a second
… I realize I’ve spent a good amount of time talking about this but if you have one takeaway from this talk, I hope it’s this – be vulnerable.
and finally on the topic of teams and the folks who are building the product, I want to back off from safety a little and address the other discoveries of project Aristotle, specifically around responsibility
I feel like I rediscover this at every job – like, it’s important to know who does what
Sounds simple, right?
I started a new job at an early-stage startup literally a month ago. We’re STILL navigating this space.
I don’t think I could clearly articulate what everybody on the team does, that is, what their expertise is.
Part of this is very much about being at an early-stage company, it’s inevitable that we’ll all be wearing different hats
… but I think we can take a more 10000 foot view here
Responsibilities in terms of my day-to-day WORK may shift as we experiment more and learn more about the space we’re in
But I have a VERY CLEAR understanding of what OUTCOMES I’m driving
And that helps me prioritize, helps me understand what the most valuable thing I could be doing is
I feel okay with that low-level ambiguity because I know what I own at a higher level, the expectations around what I should be working on,
what parts of the company’s success I own.
So to wrap this around to where we started with teams –
How did this company sell me on themselves?
What was the marketing they did that made me realize they were addressing me as a whole human and not just a designer?
GOOD QUESTION – let’s talk about it.
Let’s talk about … YOU.
Especially as designers we think about empathy and moments of delight and being in the user’s context
and it’s easy to never apply that thinking to ourselves
What are the pleasures and pains that are meaningful to YOU
We touched on value to the business, and being open to being vulnerable
What about being valuable to and vulnerable with yourself
What is the narrative of YOU?
Especially in this industry I think we’re faced with the fact that our brains just basically haven’t kept pace with the changes in our environment
specially the ubiquity of technology –
I said earlier that people are emotional storytellers
… and technology is a 24/7 firehose of emotional stories
and a profound shift in the flow of information like what tech provides WILL INEVITABLY HAVE EFFECTS ON YOU
The way we interact with our environment
the way we interact with our jobs
the way we interact with each other
and the way we interact with OURSELVES
have all been radically transformed by technology
People are researching this – digging into how we’re affected by excessive information exposure and how it leads to, you know, FOMO, and stress, and anxiety, and depression.
And our constant engagement with technology interferes with factors that are pretty critical for maintaining psychological and physical health – moving, having exposure to nature, face-to-face contact, actually sleeping well
“I work in technology so I’m immune to technology” is a mental copout I’ve definitely used but … no.
And I’ve been up here for a pretty decent amount of time talking about engaging a person’s whole self…
but the dominant business culture is very much about rapid growth and massive scale
We award the fastest-growing companies, we get the most media coverage for hot IPOs, we’ve coined an industry term for companies “worth” more than ten billion dollars because THAT’S WHAT WE CARE ABOUT (DECACORN)
and it’s extremely easy to tie our personal self-worth into those things
all those things I tried to do very much for my team?
Be vulnerable, be open, acknowledge their needs as PEOPLE and not just employees?
Awesome, yeah – but you need to take care of yourself just as much – and probably much more – than you do for your team
Right off the top I mentioned I left a job earlier this year
And that’s because I was doing a VERY bad job of applying any of these lessons to myself
I loved the job, the team was great, the product was great!
… and I was not doing so great.
And you know when you’re doing a bad job of making space for the full human – that’s YOU –
when you’re tired all the time, and you don’t have energy for anything beyond dragging yourself to work, and when you see family members they’re like “My god, are you okay”
My advice: don’t do this
I optimized so much for that rapid growth and massive scale – in my own career, for instance
that I didn’t build the psychological safe space for myself, I never asked dumb-seeming questions TO MYSELF, like “Am I okay?”
All of my personal growth was focused on career.
We need to cultivate our sense of ENOUGH.
It’s FINE to build a business, or work for a business that’s enough to let you live your life. You don’t need to be the next decacorn.
It’s more than enough to celebrate your wins with friends and family instead of seeing them on Techcrunch.
We need to be able to grow in ways that are invisible to our jobs.
No team member has ever said this to me, nor have I said this to someone that I reported to, but –
maybe my growth plan this coming year involves taking more vacation, or more personal time, than I did last year
Maybe it looks like investing more into my professional development, except for something that has nothing to do with what I do at work
Maybe it’s shifting to a different role – even if it’s a step down – that aligns more closely with how I need to live as a whole person and not just an employee.
After burning out spectacularly earlier this year, I thought very deeply about what was important to me
If you asked me before, say, February, I would have said I only had three things that constituted my ambitions, the points around which I designed my career – those were:
I want to make enough to have a comfy life
I want to work with a team of smart folks who I’m excited to learn from
and I want to work on something that I think is meaningful and good
and now I’ve added a very significant fourth item
I NEED to work in a way that allows me to continue to function as a human being
Companies, teams, and working relationships are always going to have ups and downs
I think my key takeaway is figuring out what those things that matter most to you actually are.
A lot of the things we take for granted as part of “WORK” aren’t actually givens, aren’t actually needed to deliver that same sense of purpose
And a lot of the things we take for granted as part of being a person aren’t folded into the concept of being a worker.
For each of the groups of people I talked about – your customers, your team members, and yourself,
there is always room to evolve from human-centered design, as it’s used today, to PERSON-centered design
From the abstract persona to the REAL PERSON.
Customers = think about their context and their narrative, and how to address it holistically.
Your colleagues = think about their life beyond work, and be open to them sharing that life.
and Yourself = think about how you navigate both of those sides of yourself to keep yourself happy and keep yourself going.