Start with Why- UX Edition

Los Angeles, California

When I was a kid, we would drive around the San Fernando Valley in Los Angeles, into Beverly Hills, and out as far as Malibu on jobs. My parents were self-employed and went on lots of calls to client homes and would run errands at locations from factories to offices across Los Angeles.

To keep busy before mobile phones and tablets, I would either read, or I would add mailbox numbers. I always sought to combine the numbers, adding, subtracting, dividing, multiplying. This is how I taught myself basic arithmetic. This was always an exercise in self-improvement for me.

The rewards for that slightly compulsive exercise were all internal. I’ve never admitted to anyone that I used to do this. Until today, all the benefits of that exercise were entirely private. I got better at math.

Stand-in for me as a kid counting bubbles

Somewhere along the way in life, through school and culture, we learn to receive external feedback. We eventually join a company where we are taught, mostly unintentionally to focus on external factors for measurements of success.

There are so many external factors for measuring oneself it’s hard to remember personal values. Annual reviews, managerial feedback, and lots of other systems focus on reinforcing this. All these numbers, mountains of data, profits, quarterly earnings, cost reductions, these are the instruments of self worth in much of corporate America.

“The pursuit, for those who lose sight of WHY they are running the race, is for the medal or to beat someone else.”
-Simon Sinek

Inspiration matters.

-Jiro Ono, Jiro Dreams of Sushi

I think of Jiro Ono, who is the most famous sushi chef in the world, and his passion for his craft. Jiro is a man driven by a singular motivation: To capture the best possible way to eat sushi and make this an enjoyable experience for his customers. From the way he selects fish, to the practices that make the rice, eggs and components of a meal perfect, Jiro knows WHY. He talks in why. Jiro’s WHY is called Shokunin it loosely translates into ‘craftsmanship’.

To maintain a culture of innovation requires the ability to create trust, build it, and maintain it over time, as well as a commitment to believing the same things about how the world should be. Jiro does this through apprentices, who share his vision, and a singular focus on the way of the craftsman.

Focusing on others can help you understand the context of the race you’re in, but it will never really give you the satisfaction you’re looking for. You’re in the race for you, your users and the ways that you might innovate on their behalf. Jiro looks to his customers and his own expertise to generate new innovations. He never concerns himself with other sushi chefs too much.The lesson there: Great creators focus on themselves and the work they do. To get ahead, they focus on their customers.

Thanks, MemeGenerator!

Sinek says it this way: “Leadership requires two things: a vision of the world that does not yet exist and the ability to communicate it.” What we believe about the world is how we will act in response to it. Sinek’s work has had a profound impact in the way I see the corporate role of UX. Here are a few things I’ve gleaned.

  • Start with Why- What you share with others about the work you do will shape the way you work. UX has a mission to wrap WHY around the customer, their life and their journey and bring that to the table. Have a personal mission as well as a professional one for your team.
  • Build Trust- You do not have to be everything to everyone, but you have to create an understanding. Sinek Writes, “Trust is maintained when values and beliefs are actively managed.” The best way to do this is to actively listen, and contribute to a culture of trust, honesty, and candor.
  • Cast a Vision- This is hardest to do well, since it requires active listening and the maturity to compromise-forward. As a younger designer, my tendency was to share a vision and get upset when others wouldn’t get on board with that vision. I have learned over the years that Vision is best when shared, collaborative and iterative.
Simon Sinek’s Golden Circle

“People don’t buy what you do, they buy why you do it,” says Sinek.

If you want to do great work, don’t make people look for where they fit in. Put out a WHY, where they’re already looking.