Experience Paths

I had two conversations this week around the idea of comparing yourself to others.

This happens when you see someone that you consider to be similar to you in some way, most likely in age. You look at their accomplishments, then you look at your own accomplishments, then a wave of anguish washes over you.

How are we the same age, while they are more successful than me?

The reality is that the paths aren’t the same. You aren’t the same person. You haven’t made the same choices. It appears to be the same when looking through the dimension of age. But it’s hard to know what advantages or disadvantages both lives had to overcome to cross paths.

If you could magically arrive at the same success state as this other person, would you want to live their life? Would you want to make the same choices and sacrifices they made to have what they have now? Which of your experiences would you give up and trade to have it?

These types of comparisons are hard to avoid sometimes. They come up when someone’s success unexpectedly comes across your radar.

Is there any value to them? Only if helps you reconsider what is possible. If it inspires you to think differently about your future choices. If it inspires rather than instill dread and regret.

Three Weeks of Writing

Write every day

I spent three weeks trying to write every day. What did I learn?

  • Publishing through my own blog and URL took some initial set up, but it’s easy now to go from a draft to a published post in a few seconds.
  • Deciding what to write was challenging. There were a few days where my mind would be more alert toward noticing topics to write about.
  • Creating each post still feels like it takes longer than expected.
    • There’s the process of deciding what to write.
    • Writing it.
    • Editing before publishing.
  • I missed a few days of writing and publishing
    • It would happen if I decided to use my morning time to work on a project instead of using that time to write. I would make the assumption that I’d write and publish something in the evening. The takwaway here reminds me of willpower and discipline as a muscle. You have a certain amount of it each day, and as you flex it, it gets tired.
  • Sharing my writing on other outlets allowed people to find my writing. But only tweeting about my own content didn’t feel very conversational on Twitter.
  • Writing about projects gives each phase of the project a sense of completion. Similar to how I’m reflecting on this writing experiment and wrapping it up.
  • Scrolling through my writing, I saw a few buckets of interest. I was aware of my interest in education, workflows, design, and management. I was surprised to see a theme of community and culture building throughout several posts. That’s a topic I’d like to spend more time working and thinking about.

What’s next

There’s are a few things to try differently next time:

  • A different publishing cadence. Write every day toward a more substantial piece that is published once a week.
  • Make it easier to decide what to write.
  • Try different publication formats and outlets. e.g. Newsletters, other blogs.

What Allows Designers to be Productive?

At work today, the topic of productivity came up. What are the core practices that allow designers to be effective—user centered design.

Without access to users, our designs are guesswork. They become opinions of what we assume users will need and use. Without user research, the only way to receive feedback on our work is until we build and launch the software.

Our ability to identify, define, segment, engage, and understand our users is key. It helps the team to understand and visualize the problems we’re solving. It helps the team make evidence based decisions. It helps the team empathize and learn. We can focus on problems as much as solutions.

This is true for the core team and stakeholders. Interviewing users early saves the team time and effort from going down the wrong paths. It prevents us from over-committing to features and solutions.

It’s a reality check. A way to help us prioritize and manage scope.

A way to make sure that what we’re building is usable and will be adopted.

Across industries, the idea of testing your product happens through different lenses. The game industry has players play test; stand-up comedians try new material at smaller venues; restaurants have stalls at food festivals.

The way to understand our users and test our ideas is by putting something in front of them and seeing their reactions. Comedians don’t have audience members fill out a survey at the end of the show. They gauge reactions based on the laughter or silence of a joke.

As product designers, our tests happen in the form of interview and research sessions around behavior. We focus on what they currently do and can accompish with our solution, not just what they say. We’re doing this when we’re learning and exploring the user’s needs and domain, and when we’re evaluating potential solutions.

We interact with our users every week or every other week. If we go for too long without talking to users, the accrued risk is palapable on the team.

On Mentorships

A long time ago, I came across Ellen Chisa’s post on mentorship. The gist is that instead of focusing on finding mentors to show you the path, focus on what you are interested in learning, and see who can help you learn more about it.

Diana Kimball has also written about the dynamics of mentorships. They work when mentors and mentees are able to express their mutual vulnerability. She also talks about the unnaturalness that comes with defining a mentorship relationship before it exists.

So here are my takeaways on how I currently think about mentorships:

  1. Forget the idealized version of a life mentor that is your coach. No one person should have all that power over you. No one wants that responsibility.
  2. The range of questions and challenges you will face are better served by a set of individuals rather than one person. Build relationships where you can talk about the different challenges you will face.
  3. Experience and perspectives are relative. Mentors don’t need to reach a universal threshold of success to be mentors. As long as the person on the other side is providing a new perspective, that should be enough to help you unblock your immediate challenge.
  4. If experience is relative, this means that you have the potential to help someone else with less experience. To figure out how you can help others, look back to the work you’ve been doing in the past year. Think of the challenges or difficult decisions that you’ve come across. Whether you’ve solved them or not, sharing your thought process is enough of a starting point to offer support.

Internal and External Motivations

I want to think about information flow this morning and how it affects our motivations.

We have plenty of feeds that push information to us, but not enough sandboxes to reflect. Notifications, emails, social feeds are always producing, and they serve as variable rates of reward systems.

We also have a limited amount of time to consume this infinite amount of information, so how do we select what is interesting to us? We rely on publications and friendly recommendations to point them out to us.

The downside of relying on the push of our feeds for information is that it overemphasizes a variable rate of rewards. They represent external sources of motivation.

The information we find in our feeds have evolved to be engaging for the short term. They only have an awareness of immediate views and comments, but know nothing of longevity and impact.

Is there a way to identify the information that is meaningful to us? If we have the concept of nutritional value for food we consume, is there a similar sift for the media, entertainment, and information we consume?

Which sources of information make you feel better in the long term after you consume it? Which sources emphasize variable rate rewards the most? How do we carve out space for internal motivation when the world has a constant stream of information from everyone else?

The irony is that in the process of exploring and capturing my own thoughts, I’m also adding to the feeds and pool of information. Creating content in itself has a separate set of rewards.

What is a healthy ratio of push/pull of information? The difference between, I am interested in X, so I’ll seek it out, versus scrolling through feeds, coming across a rabbit hole, then following the trail for too long.