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zentheofPhoto Credit: j / f / photos via CompfightconsultingIA Summit April 5, 2013
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The Buddha tells us that life is suffering.
OUR Buddha the great Spool Buddha says something very similar about design.Design is difficult. It is painful. As designers, we often suffer towards a project goal
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The reason that design is painful is that we dont really know where were going, or how to get there. You might say that enlightenment lies beyond the dark and misty mountains.
Often, the clues were given are vague or devoid of meaning.And so we have devised methods to help us build the path to our destination. Thats why were @ the Summit - to learn new methods.BUT while those methods are vitally important, theyre not enough on their own. We also need to cultivate a number of personal skills & attitudes to make the methods work.
Because we work with teams - with people -We need to learn to build relationships, work w/others, & to stay humble & open to learningOur behaviour in the team has a big impact on the quality of work the team can produce.
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There are many places we can look for help with soft skills Business books / Psychology texts
I think its interesting to look at some of the worlds great wisdom traditions - theyve been focused on relationships & responsibility for centuries
In the Buddhist tradition there is a framework called the Noble Eightfold Path - it lays out the basic approach to living a Buddhist life
Life is suffering BUT suffering can be overcome IF you follow the Eightfold Path . I think the Path has some interesting parallels to the kinds of skills and attitudes we need to cultivate as designers.
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Right concentration is one pointedness of mind, or the ability to focus your mental power on one thing
=what gets builtConcentrationRightPhoto Credit: Free Wildebeest via Compfight
For us Right Concentration is what gets builtThis may seem blindingly obvious, but its very easy for us, as people who deal in creativity, imagination and ideas, to forget that its not the ideas that matter. What gets built is what matters. And what gets built is subject to all kinds of constraints budget, time, the skills of team members, whether or not stakeholders are willing to change. Ive certainly been part of projects where its felt like those things were stacked against me. And Ive wanted to retreat into the design and say this is whats right! and kind of disengage from the reality of what can actually be built. But the question we need to ask ourselves is do we want to be right in some grand, theoretical way, or do we want to influence something real? I think our goal needs to be to influence the real thing in whatever way we can. Make it better than it would be if you werent around. Because something will be built, with or without your input. You can stick to the ideal and have no impact, or you can focus on making a real difference. So Right Concentration reminds us our purpose; our ultimate goal.
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Right Livelihood deals with understanding the context of our work and the impact it has on the wider world.
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For us, its important to recognize that the context of our work is teams. The reason that our work is done in teams is that we need not only a variety of skills, but a variety of perspectives to do our work. Even if were dealing with only a moderate level of complexity, one person cant hold enough domain and technical knowledge in their head to do everything. Unfortunately, as people who try to push products or organizations toward better experiences, we sometimes see other team members more as roadblocks than as contributors to the process. This is a mistake we need to fight against. Remember we need all of these skills and perspectives. We need all of these people to work as a team. The reason Right Livelihood the fact that our work is done within the context of a team - is such a big deal for us to think about is that designers are uniquely situated to facilitate team collaboration because we own the only language that everyone on the team understands visuals. Sketches, wireframes, and prototypes are our stock and trade. And these are the great leveler. One of the issues Ive seen over the years is that certain people or groups can have more power and influence over a product than others not because theyve been given the responsibility but because theres an uneven understanding of whats going on.
Heres an example:I was recently working on a highly complex project for an application to be used by clerks in the courtroom. There were a team of developers, 3 business analysts, a project manager, a group of subject matter experts and me. The BAs, of course, produced copious amounts of user stories and other documentation that was to be reviewed and approved by the subject matter people. But you know what? Very quickly, the subject matter people didnt really understand what the documentation meant. Okay I can see that these 400 stories make sense, but I dont know how they come together. All the BAs and devs can say to that is approve the stories and trust us. Thats a serious power imbalance. The subject people are forced to approve what they dont understand and hope the developers will stitch it together in a meaningful way.But when I started showing visuals that accounted for all that text-based documentation, we had a language that everyone could speak. And soon, the subject people had an equal amount of power to influence design choices. So I think this frames our role on the team in a different way. Were not just a person feeding designs to the team. Were a kind of lens that helps focus the teams thinking.
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So our focus is the product and our context is a team. What do we need to do to work well within a team? Right Intention can guide us here. Right Intention is about having a spirit of compassion, generosity or good will.
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For me, that means always assuming that the people I deal with even the difficult ones have good intentions, and that its up to me to understand their point of view. Most people want to do good work. They want to contribute to good products. They may express themselves poorly; they may focus on some issues at the expense of others, but not because theyre trying to wreck things. Its very easy to start thinking that challenging people are intentionally standing in the way of progress or being destructive. Or maybe to label them as people who dont get it. Ever used that phrase? I have.But this is really dangerous because it means that weve stopped hearing them and that weve given ourselves a convenient way to ignore what they have to say. That means we cant learn from them; we cant help them to make meaningful contributions; and weve guaranteed tension within the team. Since weve already said that we need multiple skills and perspectives in order to be successful, you can see the problem here.If I assume that everyone has good intentions and has something to contribute based on their skills and experience, there is a chance that I can learn something valuable from them. If I assume that people dont get it, I have cut off that possibility.An example of this comes from the court project I mentioned. Early on there was a person who seemed a little skeptical of what we were doing. She had lots of opinions and design ideas, and she felt very free to critique our work. And she wasnt someone that was specifically assigned to the project, so it probably wouldnt have been too hard to label her poison and keep her out of things.But she also had a wealth of practical knowledge about how clerks did their jobs. In the end I decided to take the keep you enemies close approach and I asked for her to be part of the project. In the end she proved to be our biggest ally. She was smart and incisive. She offered great critique. The project would have been much worse off without her input. But it would have been very easy to push her away at the start.So take care that you dont label people in a way that causes you to stop earing them.
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So far weve talked about things that we need to keep in mind that are external to us: our focus on product, our context of teams and the reality of other people. Now we come to the really personal skills we need in order to do good work.The first is Right View. In Buddhism, Right View can be summed up as you are the owner of your actions. Buddhism recognizes that we live in a world with other beings, that how we behave towards them is important, and that we bear responsibility for our own actions and the effects they have.
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The same is true for us in our work. The way we behave within our teams has a big impact on the quality of the work that the team can produce.One reason thats important to remember that you are the owner of your own actions is that those are the only actions you can control. You can work on team dynamics, or ways of helping people to contribute better, but in the end you can only control what you do. Thats what you bear full responsibility for. So if there are tensio