Practicing What I Preach: Meet “Inpathy”

“There is scarcely any passion without struggle,” wrote Albert Camus, a quote I came across this morning during some personal reflecting and writing time. It resonated with me in light of the journey I’ve been on the last couple of months.

I’ve mentioned before that I relocated to Australia, and dove in with the enthusiasm I always feel for traveling. I kept my mind open to the fact that there would be a struggle around that change, but I didn’t give myself space or patience to fully embrace or accept what that might look like. This was especially important to realize today, as I also relocated to develop professionally, and currently I am in a second (naively unexpected) layer of struggle, to define myself in that capacity so I can follow my passion for shaping the UX of learning at and for work. Those words came when I needed them, and they struck a chord.

They struck a chord partly because, looking back on the last couple of months, I see that I have chosen struggle over stability or security, and those who have encouraged that have given me a gift which, to be transparent, I lost sight of temporarily. It’s also because as a result of losing sight, I allowed myself to be drowned by the struggle rather than surf it, and I have stopped practicing what I preach. (I tend to “preach” around struggle to companies who are looking for immediate returns on learning investment, saying that this is not something that changes overnight, but it is still very good to do, and here’s why, and so on. I too will not always see immediate returns on investment, but they are still Very Good Investments.)

Today I reconnect to practicing what I preach through writing about a tool I’m developing with someone else who is brave enough to struggle for his passion. I promised I would do something with his beautiful innovation, and it starts now.

The genesis story of “inpathy”

I have the privilege of teaching both in my own consulting practice and also as part of a Harvard course with three other instructors. One day I was frustrated about the irony in our conversation about student confusion, which sounded exactly like a conversation about user confusion in UX work — but it had a completely different tone and outcome. “They are not practicing what they preach! How do they not see this irony they’re creating?” I exclaimed to my co-innovator later on, exasperated. The conversation ended a bit later, and then I went back to some documents for business development I was writing.

Shortly after that, I saw him show up in one of the documents and begin writing about his reflection on that conversation: “In UX and HCD [human centered design] everyone extols the virtues of empathy (the capacity to understand or feel what another person is experiencing from within the other person’s frame of reference) however in YOUR SPECIFIC PRACTICE of professional learning/ teaching / education… it’s actually NOT so much about empathy. But rather, Inpathy!”

I stopped, and watched the words continue to appear: “Teachers / educators not only need to understand the learning of their students, but they need to understand themselves. Their own feelings, their biases, their teaching bad habits. And that’s where YOU come in. You teach Inpathy! …Introspection spliced with Empathy = Inpathy!”

I hadn’t done any of the writing just then, but I still sat back and let out one of those satisfied sighs when the words pour out just so, leaving me feeling excited about how they might move others.

Inpathy is introduced at Pivotal Labs, Sydney

I’ve also been learning more lately about how timing is everything, and it was fortuitous that this word was born right before I was due to teach a workshop I created for engineers, managers, and designers at Pivotal Labs in Sydney. The day of the workshop, while I had attendees working on some reflecting, I was synthesizing data we had created together to determine which teaching tools to draw out and explain further. “Inpathy” appeared in my mind and I realized — this was a teaching skill I had been using for a long time but hadn’t been able to articulate.

I wrote it on the board along with the other terms, and proceeded with the workshop. I watched the room as our discussion ensued, and the looks of recognition and inspiration as I talked about how to act on and practice this skill were energizing. The partner conversations shared back to the large group let me know that others felt energized as well. I will be checking in with this group in a week or so to see what they’ve been doing with this and the other skills we discussed.

Are you ready to see how inpathy can help you level up?

Pivotal Labs is just the beginning. This was a breathtakingly talented group of practitioners who are now about to level up in a way that will positively transform their client relationships. For my part, I’m incorporating inpathy into a broader skillset that I call “teaching as a professional competency,” because I believe every professional has need to call on the teaching skills lying unnamed and untapped inside them.

Maybe you are the sole researcher on a project and are responsible for delivering the results— and oh yeah, you have to translate them to actionable insights. Or perhaps you have a new hire and are trying to figure out the best way to onboard them — and they’re not responding well to your current efforts. It could be that you are trying to grow and retain a team in your business so you can sustain and scale your programs. Or it’s possible that you have your own workshops and presentations you deliver, which you rock out every time, but can’t quite explain what makes you effective and impactful.

This is all part of the UX of learning, which connects to the movement to find satisfaction at work. You’re already awesome; I’m here to help you articulate and communicate that in the most impactful, meaningful way to reach your goals.

Ready when you are.