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Creating a culture of continuous learning
Creating a culture that supports personal development has always been important for our Design & Research studio. We love designing new products for Twitter’s customers, but learning new skills and overcoming challenges together is easily the most fulfilling part of our work.
Over the past few years, we’ve invested a lot of time and energy into developing programs to support and encourage growth for everyone on our team. Here are a few examples:
- Introduced a mentorship program that pairs people across our team so they can learn from the experience of others, and how to coach others
- Designed and developed many of Twitter’s internal tools for giving feedback
- Created courses for building prototyping skills
- Launched a leadership training program that’s available to everyone, regardless of whether they are seasoned managers or just getting started in their career
All of these helped us steadily improve the core skills that are important to our success. This year, we wanted to create a way to learn about topics beyond the core skills we’re normally focused on. To do that, we decided to create an internal speaker series, regularly bringing outside perspectives into our studio.
This takes work
Inviting one or two speakers to stop by your office can seem pretty straightforward and easy. You might start by asking people you know in the industry to visit — that’s exactly what we used to do! Occasionally in the past, we’ve had friends of our team stop by for a visit, sometimes for a presentation and, sometimes, just for a casual chat — visits from John Maeda, Jan Chipchase, Jessica Hische, Kat Holmes, Dann Petty, and Mills and the UsTwo Games crew. All of these visits were very loosely planned and infrequent. They were fun and sparked new ways to think about our work, but we didn’t have a strategy for what we hoped speakers would talk about or who we should invite to come visit us. We felt that we weren’t reaching outside of our immediate network. Getting people scheduled regularly was difficult, and it was hard to keep the momentum going.
Our 2018 goal was to have one speaker every month. Before inviting speakers, we wanted to have a clear sense of which topics to focus on, and we wanted that to come from our team. We worked with managers across the team to map out career and craft related topics that our team would benefit from, and ran surveys across our team to understand what kinds topics would be interesting and inspiring for them. After a few rounds of informal research, we saw a handful of themes emerge that our team wanted to learn more about:
Leadership and communication
- Management and leadership
- Effective communication with executives
- Customer journeys and telling stories
- Inspiring creative processes
- Animation and motion
With these themes in hand, we got to work on identifying people we felt could bring unique perspectives to these topics. We went back to our team to learn about people they admired, learned from, or had seen speaking about these topics on Twitter or at conferences. Our goal was to discover people that weren’t necessarily already well known or established in the local design and research community.
When we reached out to speakers, we told them about the themes we were focused on, and why we wanted to hear from them. Maria Guidice, former VP of Design at Autodesk, shared what she has learned as a manager, leader, and design executive during her incredible career in the valley. Steven Sinofsky shared different approaches to leading international product development while at Microsoft. Irene Au told us about how she and her team built the design organization at Google during a time when Google was known to be a difficult place for designers to work.
Sharing with the community
After the first few speakers visited us, we thought that these presentations and conversations might interest others, and may be even more valuable as an influence outside our team. So, shortly after starting our speaker program, we started to invite our colleagues in Product Management and Engineering to join, and then we opened the invitation to anyone at the company that was interested. On two occasions, speakers that we brought in were later invited back to give their talks to some of our partner teams. Our designers and researchers work hard everyday to promote a customer focus at Twitter, but sometimes it’s helpful for colleagues to hear an outside perspective, too.
After opening these up to all of Twitter, Inc., we decided to open them up to everyone on Twitter as well. For speakers that were interested, we gave them a way to share their presentations by live-streaming on Periscope from our @Design account. The response to the broadcasts has been really positive, and we’re looking at ways we can improve them. Because speakers’ schedules are sometimes difficult to accommodate, we don’t have a regularly recurring schedule for the talks. Another issue is that we don’t yet have an easy way for people watching the stream to participate with questions. We see so much interest in continuous learning in our industry, and as a company that has the ability to organize learning opportunities like these, we want to be able to share that with the broader design, research, and tech community. So, we’re still working on that.
What we’ve learned
We’re nine months into the year and have had some extraordinary people visit our studio to share their stories, work, and insights. We’ve met people with long and impressive careers, and speakers that are still establishing themselves. We’ve met people that are already well known in their industry, and some who lead a more private life. As we hoped, every speaker brings a unique perspective to the themes that we wanted to learn more about this year.
If you’re considering building a speaker series for your studio, here’s a handful of things we’ve learned so far:
- Many people in the design, research, tech, and creative communities are very generous and open with their time. When we started to reach out to people, we often weren’t sure if we would hear back. We usually did. We’re very lucky to work in an industry where people are eager to connect with others and share their work. Ask them!
- We realized that for many people, speaking is part of their work and they will want to be paid. We respect that, so we were always transparent up front that we did not have a budget for speaker fees.
- Design and research talks are interesting to more people than just designers and researchers! Invite your colleagues in engineering, data science, sales, marketing, product management, etc. — it’s a great way to share design and research across your company.
- The design, research, creative, and tech communities are big. There are many interesting voices that you can reach out to that are outside the standard conference speaker circuit.
- Themes are way to help bring focus when looking for speakers to invite, but don’t expect your speakers to stick to those themes tightly. They’re just a starting point.
- Scheduling is hard, and you should be prepared to be very responsive to the many back-and-forths it can take to settle on a time and date. Respect people’s time. It can also take a while to find a date that works for your guests, so be prepared for long lead times.
- Your team is busy. Even though we always hear really positive feedback when we host speakers, it can be a challenge getting people to take a break from their work. You’ll need to put a lot of time and effort in to marketing the talks internally. We remind people regularly leading up to the day of with team announcements, emails, Slack messages, calendar reminders, and posters (lots and lots of posters).
We’re working on our next series of speakers now, and thinking about how we can improve the program for the year ahead — let us know if you have suggestions. And, if you’ve organized a speaker series for your studio, we would love to hear what worked well for you. For those of you thinking about getting one started in your studio, let me know if you have any questions; you can find me on Twitter: @mkruz.