Radio Johnny: Joe Sokohl talks about Leadership

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We proudly present to you: Radio Johnny, our two-weekly podcast about interaction design. In our very first show Jeff Parks talks with Joe Sokohl, IxDA Board Member and Principal of Regular Joe Consulting, about one of the most important topics in advancing any discipline, that of leadership.

Quotes

Leadership is the art of getting others to do that which is required, willingly.

People look at organizational titles, they look at organizational levels and organizational hierarchies and they assume that since they are a manager of people, they are a leader of people and it’s simply not true.

I met Charlie Floyd one summer day in ’84 shortly after I’d finished four years of active U.S. Army service and joined the Virginia Army National Guard. From the beginning, we connected. His larger-than-life leadership style inspired not only me but many of the Troop Command staff. I worked for him for 8 years, of which almost 2 years were full time. Every Friday Charlie would say to his staff as we left for the weekend, “Thanks for the work this week. Good job.” A small thing…but a large thing. A tragic accident took his life last year, shortly after he’d received a promotion to Colonel in the Virginia State Defense Force.

Summary

IxDA Board Member and Principal of Regular Joe Consulting, Joe Sokohl shares his insights with Jeff Parks about one of the most important topics in advancing any discipline, that of leadership.

Joe discusses the importance of differentiating between a “Manager” and “Leader” recalling past experiences in both the U.S. Military and Music Industry.

He also talks about the necessity as leader to not only provide clear direction for all projects but also to understand how each member of the team responds to specific leadership styles.

Show Notes

Joe shares his presentation from the 2009 IA Summit on Leadership.
And here’s the song ‘Tonight I’m Gonna Give the Drummer Some‘ Joe refers to.

Transcript

A special thanks to Jeff’s sister Suzanne Lowry for providing transcripts for Radio Johnny! More on the way soon…

Jeff Parks: We’re talking about what is I think a very important topic that we don’t discuss enough in user experience field and that is the issue of leadership and what it means. We were just talking about some other things before we started this show about how context is king, so important but maybe we could start out with how you’re defining leadership from your perspective Joe.

Joe Sokohl: Sure, and again thanks a lot for the chance to spend some time chatting about this with you. So I have a definition that I use .It is not original with me, it’s gone through many filters, but it seems to work, and that is “leadership is the art of inspiring others to do that of what is required willingly.” So to that extent to expand upon that, “leadership is the ability of one person to bring inspiration to other people so that those people do tasks they do whatever is required, whatever is interesting to them as well but to do it willingly” as to opposed to coercion or other things, and I think that succinctly is what I believe leadership is. Leadership very clearly to me is not management and I believe that there is a very strong differential between those two.

Jeff Parks: Absolutely, and I think, well at least I found that over the UX communities in the last 5 years or so. It’s a fairly young community so it’s growing,there is always going to be conflict and differentiating ideas and I think that makes it a great field to be a part of, whether you call yourself an interaction designer, user experience professional, information architect. I think at times we get a little too caught up in the definitions but I think it’s important to provide context too, just as you were describing, because a lot of people get wrapped up in their titles and they say “Well, I’m a project manager.” Well, that title just tells that your managing a project, so you’re ultimately managing the people within the project. Thought leadership, doesn’t necessarily equate to the capacity for the people to lead others, and I think that’s where we kinda get caught up and we give someone a title and we assume that they have that ability.

Joe Sokohl

: I agree, and one of the problems that I think we run into is that people look at organizational titles, and they look at organizational levels and hierarchies and because they assume that someone is a manager of people then they are a leader of people. This is simply not true. There’s many cases the person who inspires people to do stuff is not the person who has hiring and firing authorities, or who does not have fiduciary responsibilities over an organization, but they still inspire people to do stuff and that’s where I think the key differentiators is in that inspiration. Now, at the same time being realistic, virtually all our business settings whether one is an independent contractor, consultant or whether one is within an organization there are these different levels of advancements, shall we say. Whether it’s in the user experience world, development world, the auto mechanic world, the pharmaceutical world. The movement of moving from a single practitioner to being a manager usually is to be that thought leader and to be that actual leader, gonna use leader instead of thought leadership, tends to break down because what happens is that people are forcing situations that really have nothing to do with their jobs, their background and that sort of thing, because managing people is a different skill set all together. Managing resources and knowing when to apply certain resources, add people to projects, pull people off, doing what we call AOP “Annual Organizational Planning”

Jeff Parks: Wow, that sounds exciting! (laughing)

Joe Sokohl: Ya exactly! Well, there are things that have to be done! You know, how much are you going to spend next year and when are you going to spend that, how much revenue do you expect, all of those things. Somebody has to do that, it that has nothing to do with leadership, is my point.

Jeff Parks: Well you made a great point. You have sent me some wonderful discussion topics, thank you very much! You pointed out, leadership is about people, while management is about “stuff.” I think it’s a great point, because anyone can manage “stuff” right? You can manage and organize “stuff”, you can set deadlines for things. But truly successful projects are ones where people have the ability (correct me if I’m not inferring this correctly ) where the people have the ability to lead others, individuals or a couple individuals have you have a couple leadership roles, have the ability to lead others on the team to a successful end state. Anyone can get somebody to an end state, supposedly but you know, that capacity to lead people in a way where they feel what they are doing is of value, and what they are doing in the process is key, because as you pointed out before, your definition “Leadership” is the art to inspire others to do that which is required willingly! In other words, they want to, and if they feel what they are doing is of value and is valued in the process while they are working I think people would come in early and stay late and not worry about their time sheets and be genuinely interested in creating something great!

Joe Sokohl: The other key to that is, what I generally think is a differentiate between leadership and management is managers will says “You have to stay here and work late.” Leadership says to management “People aren’t staying late, you guys screwed up the project plan. They’re going home.” You know, they did what was required of them. I’m going to protect my people. That’s what a leader does, a leader as I said on my talk at the IA summit in Memphis this year when I did a thing on remote management and leadership. It was how you balance those things. One of the things I said, and I believe this is, a true leader who has responsibility over the welfare and the lives of other people acts as the umbrella, the filter to keep the shit rain off of people from coming from up above. Doesn’t mean that you’re a stumbling block that we can talk about some of those details too, but as a leader you have to practice courage. You have to know when to practice it but you have to be courageous. We use to say in the military, so a lot of this is built upon my experiences in the military and but also just studying history of many kinds, corporate history, military histories, political histories but the true leaders in the military, the ones who ate last,went to bed last, got up first, they were the ones who set the examples. They were the ones that looked out for the welfare of their people. Within the UX sphere that’s what we need. We need to have people who do that but by extension not just within an organization, so that’s one component. Then if we look at some of the organization that we have and we have the UPA, the IXDA the Usability Professionals Association, Interaction Design Association, Information Architecture institute, you know, on and on; there are many of them! How do we act as leaders within those groups?

Jeff Parks

: Absolutely, and I think that’s the key too, I think there is no questioning the value of these communities of practice. I really believe that, but I think that we’re almost at a point know where we need to almost redefine what the community of practice is about,with Twitter, Facebook, all these other apps online now. I don’t need a community practice to connect with another person, but even the context of leadership. I was on Twtitter today stirring the pot with some people around the difference between facilitation and mentoring and teaching and these kinds of things. We’re a big fish in a very tiny pond and there is no questioning the brilliance of the people that are in these organizations. It’s one thing to have a title, again, you can have the title but, we need to insure that the leaders of these organizations also take the reigns, or take the bull by the horns so to speak and make sure that the future of these disciplines is fostered and moving forward. As you were pointing out, your experiences in the US Army, you need to lead by example. Not just tell other people how to do it,but help guide them in their own ideas and so that they too can step up and when it’s time to pass the torch, they can take that on.

Joe Sokohl

: Yes, and I think that you were going to provide a link off of the web site to the poster that I did at the IA summit as well.(Jeff Parks: Absolutely!) on the principals of UX Leadership, exactly what we we’re talking about by setting the example and deciding being both technically and tactfully proficient in the design that you do. You have to not only understand the theory but you should also know when it’s time to jump in but also when you pull out. One of the other concepts is that, this has been a common thread in some of the conversations we’ve all been having is all around failure. A manager has to know when the organization can afford failure. A leader has to know when to allow their people to fail. There is a slight difference there. One of these is operational and business oriented. The other is about inspiration, it’s about learning and it’s about taking that courage to allow people to fail. That gets back to the issue of knowing when to involve yourself and also knowing when to pull yourself away from a design problem, a situation.

Jeff Parks: I also think that a key component allowing people to fail in terms of leadership perspective is I think a leader is one that when things don’t work they are accountable to the process which they are leading and when things are successful, in my mind, and I think this may fall in line with what you experienced in the military, when things work they step back and put the spotlight on the people and the front lines who made it work. They’re not craving the spot light all the time. And they make sure that the people who did the front line work and really contributed to the success of the projects are the ones that are put forward. I’m not saying that doesn’t happen a lot but I think it needs to happen a lot more often than it does.

Joe Sokohl

: There was a thread going around that Jess McMullin and some others talking about “rock stars”, the idea of rock stars in UX and how most of them aren’t real rock stars; they’re Prima donna’s. You know, there’s different competencies. This is also something I know about because I use to be road manager in several different incarnations of my life. One of the things that I observed one of those people, is the times when a show went well, when everybody clicked was a time when there were no rock stars, even when there were rock stars out front who always got the chicks of course, this is the guitar player.

Jeff Parks

: (Laughing) Well, of course! Hey I’m a drummer!

Joe Sokohl

: Drummers never get any!! (laughing)

Jeff Parks

: I knew I should have stuck to keyboards or bass or something. (laughing)

Joe Sokohl

: Well if you look at the history of bands, that’s another thing that you could look at leaders and who stepped up and when you look at the successful ones, look at the unsuccessful ones. I think in a way un sung stories about leadership in music is looking at the band Rush, Canadian motor cycle connection with Neil Peart. Here’s a group of three guys who have been together, the same three guys this year 35 years! But if you look at the history of it, you look at how, in that organization they have actually shifted, who was the actual leader of different things and who inspired the others. So for example, when Neil Peart’s daughter died in the car wreck and then 10 months later his wife died of cancer, absolutely devastating! The rest of his band could have just said “well, you know, we’ll just get another drummer. See ya, don’t wanna be ya!” But at the same time, they had the courage to be able to stand up to some of their financial pressures, their business interest, to do the right thing by standing by our mate but also practicing that leadership because he can’t be in that role. At other times, Neil had been the real driving force behind this band, lyrically of course and from a business stand point. Meanwhile you look at a band like the Beetles, where everybody wanted to be the rock star, nobody wanted to collaborate but yet there was no clear leader to be able to inspire the others to get the album done, or to get the job done, and so they break up, and that’s where the differences. One of the problems that we’ve had in modern times, in the last 20 years, is the concept of Matrix organization and this concept of.. and I’ll say this, there is also certain organizations democracy doesn’t work. You got to have clear roles, and this “oh well, we sort of just get it done” works if everybody understands that and yet there is still room for clear for leadership.

Jeff Parks

: I completely agree with you! I think when the whole democracy thing doesn’t work, is when two things don’t occur: One, there is no clear end state to defined and two, there is no agreed upon process for how they are going to get to that end state. The rules aren’t clearly defined. If you understand your role and the context to the project and how your contributing to it, I think the democratic process can work great, but you also need to not only understand those things but you also have to look at the corporate culture. Is it going to accept that kind of approach and do you have a corporate culture that allows such creativity? I mean working in the Canadian government on a lot of projects, in many of the corporate cultures, that don’t exist because people are in such a hierarchy. Even from an interactive design perspective. You look at the offices of Google and Twitter and the whole thing screams creativity, it screams interaction and working together and collaborating and it’s about the ideas. You go into a government office and it looks like a rat maze. It’s just cubicles everywhere, it screams “go away.” So I think the corporate culture has a lot to do with that but even within that, tying it back to the leadership component. If you have a director in an organization or any bureaucratic organization that has the ability to say “Ok, lets not worry about the environment or anything else. Here’s the directions and here’s how we’re going to get there together.” I still think that’s possible to do the democratic thing as long as the leadership role is intact and people know where they’re going. A lot of the time, I just don’t think that people get what their suppose to be doing and so their fighting for a piece of the pie for the recognition, which never works.

Joe Sokohl

: And I think that brings up another thing that we should also talk about is not only should we differentiate between that management role, and maybe that’s what we’re largely talking about in those organizations. There is a management component that may not be a leadership component, and for everybody to understand that. The other side of good leadership is good followership. It really has occurred to me that we really don’t talk about that, especially in the creative world. A concept of “because I did this work and I worked so hard. Therefore, it’s really good” or because ” I went to this conference therefore I’m the guru in the community.” And we have to be careful about that. I think the ability to inspire comes largely from the ability to understand your experiences. It doesn’t mean longevity and I mean can a young person fresh out of school, lead a team? Yes! Can a person whose had 25 years experience in a company not be a leader? and the answer is Yes! We use to have this saying that a person with 10 years experience or one year experience repeated 10 times. (laughing)

Jeff Parks

: (laughing) That’s excellent, I like that! I think that also brings up another thing to, the web is creating a situation where literally anyone can know about anything. I think another part of leadership is doing the work not only to know about but to put things into context that helps people to understand the meanings behind them and the value for them in certain areas. I think leaders also need to have to ability to step up with unbridled confidence and say “I don’t know” when they don’t know.

Joe Sokohl

: That’s a great point! We have this fear about “I don’t know something” right? And yet in leadership, in personal leadership as well as professional leadership is that ability to be open, be honest. Again that idea, and I hate to keep coming back to these principals but that idea of know yourself and seek self improvement. Know your capabilities, know your limitations and don’t wait for somebody else to pay for your books or pay for you to go to conferences or to tell you about calls for papers. Seek that out, find it out. I think that if you want to be a leader in this community you have got to be involved with Twitter, you have got to be involved with the different publications. Your skills may not be a writer, your communication skills may be more verbal, more interactive or maybe “animatory”, if you will. If you are a creator of animation, maybe you can animate those stories. You have to know what those things are and seek those things out.

Jeff Parks

: Yes, so is User Experience leadership different from other types of leadership, then? I mean, from what you’re inferring, I’m gonna go out on a limb and say “No” but maybe you have some different experiences. Do you think it is?

Joe Sokohl

: I don’t think so. I think that the details of the activities that you are involved in may change. I think the specific challenges may be different. If you are a leader who leads a group of information architects and you’re in an organization where there’s a research team that does primary and secondary research for example, that reports to the business side of the house. As a leader, you might have some of your staff complaining and whining about “we don’t get to do the primary user, what could we do about that? and that’s why we can’t do our work.” So as a leader, what are you going to do? You’re obviously going to try and solve that problem whether it’s a change in the business organization or whether it’s the ability for you to sit down with the person who’s managing the research side of the house to find a solution. The third one also is to tell your team “You know this is the way we are organizationally, now you just have to be able to work with what you’re given and come up with solutions and then help mentor the people who are reporting to you to help solve the problem and that’s back to the facilitation, by the way, you’re not teaching them how to do it, you’re facilitating them how to solve it for themselves. That’s what leaders do, but you could imagine the same solution in a veterinarian office. So when we’re working, there’s not a lot of difference in the stuff we do. In the sense that we’re working with pixels and generally we’re working with non plastic things. Auto motive designers, industrial designers are working with less digital and more plastic things, as far as the realization. It doesn’t really matter. It’s still about inspiring people. It’s about setting examples. You know there are these certain attributes about what you have to be. There are certain attributes about what you have to know and they’re are certain attributes that you have to do.

Jeff Parks

: Right! and that’s true in any organization and any context of leadership. It was interesting because I was on Twitter today and I was actually quoting someone from a while ago. I wrote a Microsoft Certified Training program for a small e-learning and publishing company when I was starting out 6-7 years ago and I found a great quote. I’ll have to reference it in the show notes (laughing) cause I don’t remember who it was, but I was tweeting someone I wrote. I said, “Soft skills aren’t soft, they are in fact one of the hardest things to teach and apply”, and it sort of reminded me as well. I did a show with Eric Reiss about leadership a while back with FatDUX in Denmark and he was defining a leader as someone you can trust to make a good decision on your behalf and I think that issue of trust is another thing. We know there are people we trust and there are people we just quit simply don’t. We just infer them as being leaders because again getting back to the title idea. I think that ‘s something that’s important for a leader to be able to do is to instill a sense of trust and you know no matter what I’ve got your back. And and I’m ultimately accountable for this and I’ll give you the support you need to move forward and if you have problems the door is always open. We’re doing this together so if we win, we win as a team and if we fail we fail as a team. I know that sort of sounds cheesy. Oh great ra ra, get out your palm palms and away you go! At the end of the day, you have to instill that for people. Like you said before, “Come in early, stay late, let them get excited about what their doing” and I think we need more of that. Especially in the UX field regardless of what you call yourself.

Joe Sokohl

: Exactly,in fact it’s important that you do these things for the right reasons, and the reasons generally are because it’s the right thing to do and as opposed to doing it just because you’ll look good and you’ll be the hero, you know? You’ll be the marter. It’s like “You guys go ahead and take off, that’s ok (laughing) I’ll still be here.” Or doing it so your bosses above, you think “what a great boy you are.” That’s ridiculous.

Jeff Parks

: In a show we did with Brad Nunnally, recently about the importance of failure, he mentioned several points. Two that I think we’ve touched on already but I think really needs to be emphasized. A leader needs to be good at assigning blame and highlighting the success of others. Now I talked about highlighting the success of others but a leader also needs to know how, from a soft skills perspective, to assign blame without making people feel like they were the main reason why something didn’t work and the world is coming to an end because they didn’t do that. A lot of people in leadership positions don’t really know how to do that. I don’t know if it’s a lack of tact, or a lack of understanding about how to approach that. From your experience do you have ideas on that?

Joe Sokohl

: Ya,I think that’s a good point. I think that in some cases, quite frankly it really comes down to their leader understanding their people. So that means that different people react in different ways. A manager lets say looking at a flow chart, ” Well if failure occurs, then send out this form letter or then berate the person”, that’s …you know (laughing) it’s the same solution all the time. Whereas a leader understands there is at least 4 different types of people as far as it comes to leadership and I won’t go through them, there are different schools of thought, but basically it’s some people react more authoritarian approach and some people react more to “hands off.” So it’s a great story that happened in the company about 20 years ago and it’s been used in business studies. As a manufacturing organization with the assembly line, things were not going well in general, in the economy. One of the managers got on the loud speaker and called, “Will the following people report to the office and the following times, Albertson 3:20, Bradford 3:25, Edwards 3:30, and on and on this list of names. So these people had know idea, they just trooped up to the office, and they were given their walking papers. So these guys are coming out of their office rolling these things around. They’re crying, distraught or just angered and bitter, and of course that just filters through the organization. The following week the management gets on the PA system and says “Will the following people report to the office.” Arnoldson 3:30, Braydison 4:00. Well,everyone that heard that were thinking, “Oh no not again!” but this time, they were calling people in to get awards.It’s about communication, it’s so key. It’s about understanding who you’re communicating to and the responsibility is on the leader to communicate to the people being led.

Jeff Parks

: Well, we’re seeing that in the US government from the outside perspective. It’s a free country in Canada too so I’m free to say that George Bush, thank god, you’re gone my friend and whether you respect Obama or not, in my mind, from an outside perspective Obama, I’m 36 years old and in my life when I saw or understood politics, Obama is the first representative as a leader that I have seen in my life time. Someone that steps up, does the right thing, steps out of the way, doesn’t continue to follow processes that doesn’t work. I’m not saying he’s right every single time and I’m not saying that he’s not going to make mistakes, but when he does, he seems to have that character to be able to say, “You know what? You’re right. It didn’t work and this is the path. At least he’s got a direction for the country. At least he acknowledges where you’re at, where the global community is at, and where he plans on taking the Americans as you are the power house that you are and the military power house that you are, how he’s going to help the world move to that next step. And it’s refreshing to see that kind of leadership, a government that is the leader of the free world.

Joe Sokohl

: I mean that one of the things that we talk about leadership is when you think about national leaders or people who are in a leadership position. As you said earlier, what is it that they do that helps mark his leaders vs not. A lot of time, it’s not the operational aspects, it’s not the “did you come up with a specific plan to lower the deficit to do things,” it’s about inspiring others. I had a really, well one of my best friends but really the greatest leader I ever knew, Major Charles Flyod who sadly passed away in a freak accident a couple years ago. He was my commander when I was working with the Army National Guard at Virginia while he was the “XO” or eXecutive Officer. Anyway, he use to say ” I don’t know what the logistics is, all I know is that I want some.” That’s the ability to say, you are competent in your discipline, do whatever it is that you do. So you could imagine, wouldn’t you like to work in an organization where you had a leader who said “I don’t know what little IA is. All I know is that I want some. I don’t know what “taxonomy” is and I don’t know what vocabularies are, but I know that they are important and I know you know what they are, so go do it and come back.” That inspiration, that kind of trust as Eric said, that kind of direction giving is what a good leader is. I think that in your example is a good comparison, whether Obama is effective, whether Obama is successful, remains to be seen. The point is he showed himself as a leader because of the sense of inspiration. Now, let’s also remember Ambrose Bierce, the American writer, the writer of the devil’s dictionary defined President as someone who knows that almost half the country hates him. So as Truman said, “If you want a friend in Washington, get a dog!”

Jeff Parks

:( laughing) I haven’t heard that one before, I like that!

Joe Sokohl

: Now, Truman his other favorite quotation of course is, “The buck stops here.” Not an excuse maker and leaders have to be people in respect to their sense of courage. You have to have the courage not to make excuses, not to say, “Well it wasn’t my fault.” or “It wasn’t my team’s fault” or whatever.You really have to say, “You want to talk about politics? It was my fault. My team reports to me. I’m responsible for them”. We use to say, and even in business you can delegate authority but you can’t delegate responsibility. So if you are a Director of user experience at a company but you also consider yourself a leader of that organization within your field, you have to be able to say to your manager of Information Architecture. “Sarah, you have the authority to make these decisions but ultimately as the Director, you are responsible. In other words, you may delegate that authority but you can’t delegate the responsibility. In my mind, if you fall into that thinking, I think you become a better leader. Now you can also take a managerial approach which is, Sarah who was the person who was assigned this and she’s the one who didn’t do it, so she’s the one that gets fired. Not a great place to be.

Jeff Parks

: Well, it’s a cop out, right?

Joe Sokohl

: It’s a cop out.

Jeff Parks

: We’ve all had young experiences when we’re young and we start out. We get scared and we try to sort of go “Well, you know I didn’t do it, so it’s my fault.” I mean we’ve all done that. But the thing that I’ve learned over the years is that when I’ve taken on leadership roles,it’s a whole lot easier to stand up and go, “My mistake, I made a mistake, this is the mistake I made, here’s what I’ve learned from it,let’s move forward.” Because it kills the argument, it kills the whole blame,blame,blame blame. It focuses the conversation back on the reconciling force where it’s not a way who started it and who’s trying to stop it. It’s more “ok, let’s keep focused and let’s keep in the direction that we are heading and not get caught up in all this other stuff. As you’re talking about the presidents, there’s a big difference between a leader and a professional politician, and I think too many times we put people in a presidential role. But the president is as much of a politician (correct me if I’m wrong.) as he is a leader and he has to balance both but ultimately he’s responsible (again, correct me if I’m wrong) for leading the country in specific directions so like the US and of course a neighboring country like Canada, Mexico and the world can benefit from that leadership.

Joe Sokohl

: Right, and it works in a political sense of government as well that a party chooses somebody as Prime Minister out of Parliament who are elected to that majority party. That persons responsibility is to choose the right people, so that’s a sense of leadership; that idea of assigning your staff wisely. Know their responsibility, know their capability and make sure that you don’t set them up for failure. How many times in situations have we been told to do stuff or given tasks and we knew that we didn’t have the skills to do it, we knew that we didn’t have the time, the ability to do it in that time frame, and we reassigned that for some managerial reason, and we failed. Well, that’s not a sense of learning through failure, other than learning “I don’t want to be with this company” (laughter) I think that if you contrast that with failure, in some sense, a dictator or an autocratic approach to government is very similar to autocratic approach to corporations to work. Some of the differences, if I’m in a leadership position and the company is trusting me to do that job, you know I do have that responsibility to that company. So there is a sense of “I’m telling you to do this, and you got to do this cause I said so.” If you were in that position of authority and you tell someone they have to do something then expect that followership idea. As followers, and unfortunately I’ve seen this in the UX quite frankly, is this idea of “I got a degree, there fore you can’t tell me anything!” It’s like “Ya, I can because I’m your boss.” I don’t want to call it “sucking it up” but there’s a certain amount of just doing your job. That’s one of the reasons why, I think it’s interesting a lot of the leaders in the user experience world now are really falling all over themselves to basically try to explain why everything you know is wrong. (laughing) Everything you are doing is wrong! How about we do the work? Let’s just do the work. I still have the belief that to a large extent, we don’t have the body of knowledge to know if the stuff we’re believing in, and really writing about what does work.

Jeff Parks

: Well that’s what I love about the field though. I mean it’s so exciting to know that what I might propose one day in terms of ideas might get a huge following on Twitter in terms of responses and what not.Then two weeks later, I might be proven to be completely wrong and the idea is totally backwards, or they take the idea that I had, a conversation with someone else and they put it in a different context and then that inspires other ideas. So instead of clinging cold heartily to: I’m an interaction designer, and I’m in information architect and you know “to hell with you because I have the title.” It’s just not leading and especially in a new discipline, we’re always rediscovering. Not only other ideas, but other people and connecting with them on a global scale.The imaginary lines that we draw in the dirt called borders? I mean come on! They’re so obliterated now, they’re completely irrelevant. Tied into this idea of titles, there was this great FED X commercial(laughing) that I’ll put into the show notes if I can find it. This guy is sitting there and he’s like, “Oh, we need some help out in shipping” and he’s a young guy and he puts his suit on,sprays a little mouth wash and he goes in and says “Oh, we’ve got to ship all this stuff out today”. “Oh, you don’t understand. I’m in management, and he goes “no no no it’s simple.” She sits him down in front of the gooey application for FED X . He says, “No, you don’t understand I have an NBA” She says, “Oh, you have an NBA, I’ll have to show you how to do it then.” (laughing) Even University degrees,” I have a degree, therefore I know.” I mean I have 4 pieces of paper. I mean they don’t mean anything anymore.

Joe Sokohl

: I disagree, I’m sorry I disagree. I apologize if this is a bit political but I think one of the problems is that I’ve experienced, I’ve observed the US primarily it’s discourse had been this retreat from intelligence. The Pew charitable fund did a pew research project some years ago during the Bush administration and it was a study of what do people know that is true, that is factually true,based on where they get their information. And the thrust of it is that people who got their information primarily from talk radio, conservative news outlet Washington Times, Fox News. They were more confident that they were correct than the people who got their information from NPR, CNN, New York Times. Yet the people who got it from the conservative outlets were more often wrong but they believe more strongly that they were right and part of that was this idea of the utter rejection of intelligence and I’m bemused by that! So part of the thing that I would say is, “No, your 4 pieces of paper are significant and some of the stuff that shows though is not “do you know that particular arcane subject. It means you did at one point, how much that degrades over time, is a good question. The second thing shows the ability to stick with something and finish it, and that’s an important thing. That you have the ability to reason, to organize thoughts, to express those thoughts in a way that will pass a filter of judgment. Right?

Jeff Parks

: Right, and that’s a totally different perspective and argument.

Joe Sokohl

: So from that stand point and you know the noble savage concept that will just inherit knowledge. I’m not totally sure if I buy into that because I believe that what I do and know what I do is not only important but part of a profession, and that being a user experience designer, for a better of an over arching term. John, loved your article on Johnny Holland, John Kolko not withstanding.. But you know, if you are an interaction designer, you are an user experience designer. That’s how you subset. There I said it.! (laughing)

Jeff Parks

: (laughing) Well you’re on record now Joe. You’re going to catch hell but that’s ok (laughing)

Joe Sokohl

:Ya, that’s me! (laughing)

Jeff Parks

: That’s the other thing too, tying this whole thing back to leadership. I mean part of being a leader is to be able to step up and say “I was wrong” and you know what? There’s a different perspective I never thought of before and I don’t care about my title. There’s an opportunity to learn and I honestly have told people in the past we can know about anything. Ten year old’s can know as much as I did when I was twenty five, now, thanks to the web. It doesn’t mean that they know (like you were saying) how to apply that knowledge or through an experience. I even mentioned over the years in interviews, it’s like once you get the interview, they know that you’re qualified.What they really want to know is, “Do you have the capacity to fit in with the corporate culture. Just be yourself and if you don’t know an answer just like I was saying before, just say “I don’t know” and that in itself shows the ability to lead.

Joe Sokohl

: Right, “Experiencia doca” Experience is the best teacher, that goes back to I’m going to say Horace; at least first century AD or BCE for those people who…. I was about to say something that was horribly politically incorrect.

Jeff Parks

:( laughing) That’s okay.

Joe Sokohl

: It’s like this time right now. It’s Christmas. As an side my wife. In her company, they decided to call the tree in their lobby, a holiday tree, and I’m not one of these people that doesn’t believe there was a war on Christmas, that is insane. But I did say, “If you have a fir tree of some kind that has decorations on it and maybe lights, it’s a Christmas tree,I don’t care. It’s a Christmas tree!! If you want to have a holiday tree get a pear tree or a maple. Jeff(laughing) okay, that could be a holiday tree.You can’t have a fir tree and have a holiday tree.That shows a lack of courage in an organization that you know somebody didn’t say being a leader doesn’t mean sticking your thumb in people’s eyes, but it does mean standing up for what’s right. What’s right for your culture, what’s right for your people, and what’s right for your organization. When we say what’s right… and this is another thing, and maybe this is another podcast all together is about absolutes, right? But when we talk about leadership, we do talk about a sense of shared values, and that goes back to elements of trust, elements of respect, elements of courage, elements of honesty, all of those things are attributes of leaders; that true leaders have to have. So if you look historically at leadership, you’ll see those things. That’s where the experience comes in.I believe that time learning your craft is an important factor to being able to lead other people.

Jeff Parks

: I totally agree with you Joe, and at the end of the day that’s ultimately what it comes down to. A leader (in my mind anyway) is the ability for that person, that individual to take the time to understand what their team values,what their strengths and weakness are, allow them the opportunity to build on their weakness if they choose, and allow them to shine in areas that they’re really passionate about as we were saying before. And step away from the process as you were outlining, and step up and take responsibility. You know there is also a saying that’s passed around that I’ve heard over the past couple years too, especially in large organizations and larger bureaucratic Government agencies. It’s like well, “Everybody is ultimately responsible so therefore nobody is accountable.Where does the buck stop? Right? I think it’s getting to the point now, by the end of next year I was reading that the “Gen Y’s” are going to out number the baby boomers. You know 60% of the federal government in Canada in the next 5 years is retiring. There is no attrition planning taking place. There are massive gaps in major areas like in government and education, where we need to be filling those holes, not just for the sake of plugging those holes but making sure that we can look to people to lead these organizations and that they’re fostering the right kind of corporate culture and the capacity to bring people along. This very much includes the IAI, and the IXDA and what not. We have phenomenal capacity and unbelievable creativity and we’re not even tapping the surface of what’s out there with the respect to the new ideas and how were going to bring those people along. They’re doing a great job at moving that forward. I’m not saying they’re not, but we need to continue to stay focused on that. The Summit is going to happen at every year, the interaction design conference is going to happen every year without fail. There’s the opportunities to show how we can lead by making sure that those young people have the ability to step up and share their ideas and interact with the thought leaders that they greatly admire. When I started podcasting a few years ago, I was enamored by Boxes and Arrows and I never thought I would be on there doing anything, I honestly didn’t.Three years later, I am overwhelmed by the unbelievable opportunities that it has given me. I wake up every day thinking “who the hell am I but thank you so much”and all the people we’ve talked to and I know I’m babbling, but god we have so much potential and so many people that can lead. I’m really looking forward to the future.It’s going to be great.

Joe Sokohl

: I think it’s going to be great as well and that we all get to participate in that as well.

Jeff Parks

: And I hope that more and more people step up even if you aren’t published or if you haven’t been speaking at a conference. We definitely need to hear from you, and let’s not get so hyped up on the title so much as the experiences that you want to share with others so we can all take on a better leadership, a more effective leadership roll in the future.

Joe Sokohl

: I think you’re right!

Jeff Parks

: Joe, thank you so much for today on Radio Johnny. It’s been a real pleasure and something that we could talk about for well… we could talk about this for hours but something we should definitely be talking about more, so thank you again for joining me.

Joel Sokohl

: Thanks a lot Jeff.

Jeff Parks

: Cheers!

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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