Understanding Critical to Being Understood

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When we look beyond our immediate colleagues and like-minded community members we are exposed to perspectives and ideas not available to us otherwise; and it’s then that we really start to innovate in our work.

Over the past couple of years I’ve had the honor of learning and sharing ideas with some of the most recognized names in the User Experience industry via podcasting.  These experiences have made me a better IA and allowed me to look at problems in design from perspectives I had never considered in the past.

At the first annual VizThink conference I had the pleasure of interviewing colleagues from Canada, the USA, and New Zealand about their experiences from the event.

UX designer from Bell Canada Daniel Rose provided a simple, yet powerful framework about how it’s really not possible to “think outside the box”, in the traditional sense.

The boundaries of the box are the collection of our knowledge and experience.  When we’re looking for creative breakthrough ideas…people tend to get with like minded people; small groups of people as well.  So they get in a room with five people who are just like them.  The collective box is the sum total of that knowledge and experience, which is ultimately quite small, because the knowledge is all the same.  The potential for breakthrough ideas is limited.

And yet, if we make the effort to look to others outside our disciplines, innovation can be limitless!

If you’re looking for ways to inspire teamwork, why not talk to the Chief of a local fire department?  When these brave men and women go to work, their ability to work together has a direct impact on not only members of their team but also the lives they are trying to save.

Perhaps you’re looking to understand how you can decompress and better manage stressful situations? Try connecting with the head nurse at a trauma ward in a hospital.  I used to work in the health care field and had the pleasure of working with some of the most remarkable men and women in the nursing profession. Every day they dealt with patients in pain, family grief, and I was constantly amazed at how grounded they remained in probably the most stressful environments I’ve ever worked in.

As Jesse James Garrett pointed out at this years’ IA Summit in Memphis, we’re only a ten year old profession so it stands to reason that there will be differing opinions about best approaches and ideas. After all, how many ten year old children have you met who have the capacity to communicate and resolve problems effectively? This is not meant to be an insult, rather a reality check. Whenever a new and emerging discipline takes shape there are always leaders, followers, and lurkers. The key to moving any discipline forward is the ability to first understand what may be very different perspectives on common issues.

The video below was a “one take” recording I created for friend and colleague Michael Carvin (@mcarvin) in Philadelphia. We were chatting on twitter about the need for all disciplines to be able to communicate more effectively and how/why most projects end up with different teams being forced to comprimise when launching new projects.

At your next meeting, seek first to understand then to be understood.  Move the conversation back to the best possible solution for those for whom you’re designing.

Seek First to Understand from Jeff Parks on Vimeo.

Jeff Parks

Jeff is the co-founder of DIGIA UX Inc. and actively collaborates with industry professionals from around the world through his involvement with Boxes and Arrows and Johnny Holland. Jeff is also leading workshops on Information Architecture and User Experience Design over at Follow the UX Leader, in addition to volunteering his time as a Mentor and Member of the Board of Directors for the Information Architecture Institute.

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