How listening makes everything better — especially the things we build.

“Every long journey begins with the first step.”
Why go at it alone?


Your knee jerk reaction after having heard this quote was probably to put down some distraction, collect your tools, and go to your nearest corner to work, undisturbed, on your next great idea. Maybe wrestling with your thoughts would take an hour, a day, or even a week. You were devoted to the call to solve.

No matter how much you may fight it, the emotion to move forward with the next project, the idea you are looking to flesh out, or the newest online class you want to enroll in, will always lead you down the familiar path of cocooning yourself in a solitude of focus.

Too often does learning seem like a “me” thing, when in fact it should be regarded as more of a “we” thing. Sitting alone in a secluded space with your thoughts, simply, shuts you off from a treasure trove of opportunities that can bolster your growth and improve your ideas. This is particularly poignant when building solutions for other people. There is a certain humility that comes when learning with others. Learning is more about listening than it is about being right. Those who learn best are the ones who are not afraid to make mistakes and remain unsheltered from scrutiny. This gives them a greater ability to view solutions and opportunities more open-mindedly.

Where do I stand?

When we are staring down a challenge, the first question we ask ourselves is: “How do I solve this?” That somehow from our individual genius, the solution will come forth and we will be lauded with praise. Two minds are bette than one. Why not take advantage of a team effort? Don’t allow your ego to hinder your perspective on the greater context of a challenge. We live in a world surrounded by other people. Extend your ability to make meaningful change outside of yourself by leveraging your users as a means to further impact your work, organization, and peers.

Who are they?

Who are you talking to? What are you trying to get them to do? How can you effectively pay off on these efforts?

When you’re working on products that can impact the lives of other people, you can come up with great concepts, however, the winning solution usually are the ones that solve your users’ problems. You might have very little in common with your target demographic, leverage their knowledge and experiences and translate that into meaningful decisions, alongside your team. When you take the time to listen to your users, the insight you gain, helps you to give them a seat at the table of your institution. This is why understanding them is an important way to improve the products you build.

Be bold. Step out.

First, get out of your cubicle but more importantly, step outside of yourself. Be a little uncomfortable and put yourself out there. Realize you’re the channel between your user base and your organization. Embrace the old adage “The only dumb question is the question left unasked.” The process of creating delightful products are greatly improved when the conversation shifts from “me” to “we”. Conversation is richest when it involves you and the users of your product.

This process has helped me to grow into a better team member and encouraged me to make the step of getting content out there. I’m looking forward to sharing more and hearing from you.

Note: I made a few edits and changed software to things we build. As I feel this process of listening is impactful across industries.

— Rod
(@rodhmir, rodhmir.com)