This week’s 20 Questions is with Per Axbom… oddly enough from Sweden (Much like a certain Breki Tomasson). So Per is my second 20 Questions with someone from Sweden. That is surprising… I would not have guessed that I would find another Swede willing to answer my inane questions in so little time, but who doesn’t love Sweden?
I became aware of Per through his podcast, UX Podcast, that he hosts with James Royal-Lawson. It is a great podcast that covers many aspects of User Experience. Per and James will interview people within the UX community or chat about articles they have encountered concerning those different aspects of UXD. Since I am currently looking for a career jump into the UX field, this podcast is very germane to my professional endeavors.
I am incredibly interested in learning more about Per and sharing these 20 Questions with him. Now without further ado… onto the questions.
I started out my professional life as a cartographer, and one of the things I have always enjoyed is people’s personal geographic stories. For example, I was born outside of Oklahoma City, Oklahoma. The family moved to Montgomery, Alabama when I turned 3. A few years later we moved just to the northeast of Birmingham, Alabama where I lived until going off the college. I went to college 12 hours drive away from home at Kent State University in Northeast Ohio. There I met my wife and we settled in Columbus, Ohio smack dab in the center of Ohio. We have been in the Columbus area for the last 19 years. Question 1: What is your geographic story?
Ha, I wish I had a map to draw on right now. It’s true that I am from Sweden in the sense that I have Swedish parents and I live here now but my background is quite diverse. I was born in northern Liberia, in a town named Yekepa where the Liberian American-Swedish Mining Company (LAMCO) had operations. As a 5-year old we moved to Ludvika in Sweden and spent a couple of years there before moving to Riyadh, Saudi Arabia where I attended an American International school. After four years there it was back to Africa, living in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania attending grades 8-11 getting my GCSE at International School of Tanganyika. I have since lived in Sweden, completing the IB Programme at a boarding school north of Stockholm and then studying Communication Science at Jönköping University. I have moved numerous times throughout my life… my own calculations say I have moved 21 times in total, and most of that was before the age of 23. I’ve now lived a whopping 18 years in the same city, which is Solna in Stockholm county. I’m settled in here with my wife and two kids, who are all looking forward to a new, canine family member later this year.
We are in the process of acquiring two puppies ourselves. They have been born and will be a part of the family in early March.
That is one of the broadest geographic stories that I have had. I have seen that the people I have done this with who currently live in Europe have lived many places elsewhere. Most Americans have lived in America. Africa to Scandinavia to the Middle East to Africa and finally back to Sweden… That is quite a trip. Question 2: Are there aspects of you that reflect each of the different places you have lived? How have those varied cultures invested themselves in you?
That’s a really good question. I firmly believe that my background makes me better at my job. Having empathy and an understanding of different ways of looking at life is paramount to having an open mind, not jumping to conclusions, and being able to really listen to people’s stories in order to design products and services that assist rather than obstruct.
Working in many different teams I believe my experiences also allow me to mediate between different viewpoints and allow me to have the patience to always explain my thoughts and ideas from the beginning, never judging or looking down on anyone for not sharing the same knowledge or asking me to repeat myself. There are many benefits to knowing, and accepting, the people I work with as people first and professionals second.
On a more personal level my experience of these different cultures also guide me in more philosophical reflections on happiness and meaning. In many of the countries I have visited, at least nine in Africa alone and more than twenty worldwide, the tendency to greet people with a smile, singing in public, and high-spirited chatter on the bus is profoundly more abundant in financially inferior countries. The connectedness between people and the ability to let people close is much more prominent in environments where there is less to lose. More than anything, I see how much we can - and must - learn from these countries, when many in the west tend to proclaim how much we need to help and teach “them” to become like us. That can make me sad because that is far from what I would call integration.
I am also at point in life right now where I am discovering the healing powers of one-on-one talks, and moving into the coaching profession I’ve been blown away by how energized I can feel after engaging intensely with a person for ninety minutes. I now realize that this connectedness is exactly what many non-western cultures are trying to teach us.
Connectedness is something that the digital space says that it offers people, but the connectedness from online interactions is often a false one. I have met and befriended some great people on the internet, but that is sometimes a shallow imitation of face-to-face connections. We might need to chat more about this later but for now it is my prescribed third question.
Question 3: Cake or pie? Which specific kind and why?
Off the bat I want to say pecan pie. I only have good memories of pecan pie. If it’s on the menu I get it. I’m also just crazy about nuts - it’s my preference over any other snack. The question itself though brings out mixed emotions in me. Since last summer I only eat vegetarian food and I’m striving towards going vegan. The main difference between those preferences of course is exactly this: cake and pie. Whilst vegetarians easily eat these desserts as a vegan you would have to double-check the ingredients. It’s that extra level of detail that makes it harder in social environments. You seem overly picky and it’s one of those moments when you find people judging or questioning you. Now though it makes me want to go and find a recipe for vegan pecan pie. That actually has a nice ring to it!
I have recently (within the last 2 years, so not exactly recently) had to become gluten free. That has seriously caused me to read ingredients and labels more rigorously and caused me to turn away perfectly good desserts. Honestly it has been a bit painful. That being said, the house I grew up in had two pecan trees in the back yard. One can tire of pecans. I can shell pecans like a boss though.
I like the philosophy behind the vegan diet, but find the clarion call of meat too strong to go far down that path.
Let's touch back to the idea of connectedness. Question 4: Do you think there is a vehicle that can help for more authentic connectedness in the digital space even in digital environments that are more transactional? For example, there is a point of sale interaction that can be made with a sales associate in a retail store that can be a genuine connection between the associate and the customer that is extremely difficult to replicate in the digital space. Is there a way to have more interpersonal interaction in digital transactions?
Wow, I’d love to have a pecan tree! I can really feel for your dilemma of going gluten-free, and can attest to an experience of people with allergies having a more open mindset towards dietary deviances.
It actually blows my mind that you would ask this question about a retail store as just the other day I was revisiting a blog post I wrote fifteen years ago (!) about customer interaction in a retail store and the importance of trying to replicate this online. I called the post “Talk to me, web site”. (http://axbom.com/talk-web-site/). In essence I was calling for websites to create better connections with their customers.
But if I wrote this blog post today, I would instead title it: “Listen to me, website.”
Let me tell you what I know today. The past three years I’ve been working on a national online platform for cognitive behavioral therapy, as well as other types of treatment and patient instruction. For people who hear about this the gut reaction is to question how a proper patient-doctor relationship can be formed when all communication is online, they have not met and there is also no video or voice calling involved.
To be honest I was hearing reports about the success of these online treatments but I was a also a bit skeptical about how much trust could be built up under these circumstances. My role in digital projects is to perform regular interviews with all stakeholders, and I’m of course especially interested in the patients’ experience. Note that I’m not a medical professional and hence I’m not evaluating the effectiveness of the treatment, but I am looking at how people are using the service and how they are feeling before, during and after what is typically a 10-week period.
It has not been uncommon for patients to offer information about how well they connected with their doctor - before I even request it - using phrases like “he/she really understands me” and “I could really feel how much he/she cared about me”.
My conclusion from all of this is that connectedness is not reliant on face-to-face meetings or hearing someone’s voice, although different people will of course feel more or less comfortable with technology, which in turn will impact its effectiveness. I believe even someone who has corresponded via postal mail with a penpal across the world can attest to this.
No, connectedness is reliant on two things: good listening skills and a non-judgmental mindset. If the person you are talking to – however you are talking – makes the effort to understand you as a unique individual and does not make you feel uncomfortable about who you are, chances are you are willing to interact more with that person.
So I would argue that your question actually has the wrong premise from the outset. A genuine connection between an associate and a customer is NOT difficult to replicate in the digital space. The question is how much time someone is willing to spend to make that connection. To actually listen.
Yesterday I contacted KLM on Twitter to book a vegan meal for my transatlantic flight to Michigan. First, they responded within 10 minutes. Second, they apologized for this option not being available when I booked online. Third, they offered information about how this worked, making it easier for me to understand the best way to do this in future bookings. Fourth, they fixed it immediately for me. Fifth, they offered to tend to any further dietary requirements of my travel companions.
So KLM was not pointing me towards some self-service URL, form or phone number. They listened, they fixed it, and they did not judge my inability to have done this some other way. They gave me the impression they wanted to listen more. Does this make me want to keep flying KLM? Hell yeah.
Caring. It’s a thing humans seem to appreciate. The most common obstacle to caring is not a technology, it’s profit maximization. But in no way do I believe that caring is bad for profits.
That’s brilliant. I think the other piece that you are teasing around the edges in your examples above is that the online experience should not be rushed. I think too often customers, clients, users etc… are looking for the most expedient method to accomplish a task online. Expedience may be preferred when ordering pizza, but for other online transactions maybe a slower more conversational transaction may feel more genuine and authentic than some face-to-face interactions. Instead of trumpeting expedience and efficiency, some places should focus more on creating an online experience.
I belong to an artistic community online. Most of the people in that community I have never met in person. That being said, I would consider a handful of people from that community to be relatively close friends. Our friendship is due to open communication is a relatively non-judgmental space, but it is rooted in the fact that all of us love comic books and telling stories through sequential art. Question 5: do you have any niche online communities that you belong to? and what is the subject matter that brings that community together?
I think I’d enjoy that community. At one point in life I wanted to become the next Scott Adams. At the same time, communities are time-consuming and I find myself seeking comfort in ever-smaller groupings, actively enjoying people I know give me energy rather than steal it. I can really understand how commitment to a community, also ones online, makes you feel close to other people, especially within niche subjects. They are often arenas where you can be yourself and where you can use words and vocabulary that other people in your close environment perhaps don’t even understand.
Three years ago I started becoming involved in politics in my municipality. I live in a town of 50,000 people called Solna. It is surrounded geographically by Stockholm but still has its own city council. Long story short I was upset and wanted more insight into how the city is being run. Among other things I started an online group on Facebook which now has more than 1,000 members. In this forum anyone interested in local politics can participate and make their voice heard. The awesome part is that many of the active politicians on the council also hang out there, all seven different parties are represented. This creates an environment where anyone can start talking to local representatives in a heartbeat, but also in front of an interested audience. It’s a forum where there is a lot of emotion and commotion, as there usually is in politics, but three years in it is still very active and doing its job well. I believe it’s a unique composition of members, also aided by the reality of the town’s small population.
The interesting thing about this community is of course that people are not members because they believe the same things or strive towards a common goal. On the contrary, what brings the discussion forward are opposing views and the urge to find weaknesses in the other person’s logic and reasoning. It’s very much NOT a non-judgmental space. It’s all about judging and jumping to conclusions. Haha.
But I truly believe that this has created a more open environment between representatives of different parties as well, who air their views with each other a lot more than would otherwise be the case, and of course in front of a huge audience, which benefits everyone.
It’s not true of course though that forum members don’t have anything in common. The common trait is that of wanting change and development, and always better circumstances, even though there is disagreement on the best way to get there. So it’s also not entirely uncommon for people with opposing views to find agreement in issues here and there… small moments and glimpses of camaraderie that I believe would not be as common had there not be an online community for more chance encounters.
It’s a small pond in the larger workings of government, but it really does make me understand and appreciate ever more this quote by graphic novelist Marjane Satrapi:
If I have one message to give to the secular American people, it’s that the world is not divided into countries. The world is not divided between East and West. You are American, I am Iranian, we don’t know each other, but we talk together and we understand each other perfectly. The difference between you and your government is much bigger than the difference between you and me. And the difference between me and my government is much bigger than the difference between me and you. And our governments are very much the same...
I love that the an online political community exists where things have not devolved into a chaotic maelstrom of public name-calling and combative argument. Even in the comic book forum to which I belong can devolve into nastiness from time to time, and we mostly agree on things. I cannot imagine how your local governmental group functions overall without a large number of people either trolling the group or the discussions becoming pedantic hate fests.
Previously, you said that you were “actively enjoying people I know give me energy rather than steal it.” So if you take the definition of an introvert as someone who recharges and recenters themselves when they are alone and an extrovert as someone who gains energy by interacting with others, Question 6: would you consider yourself more of an introvert or an extrovert?
I am definitely towards the far end of the introvert scale. This can surprise people since I do talks, lead workshops, participate in panels, and am an active podcaster. But the key is actually how you phrased it, which I agree is one of the best ways to help people understand the core difference between intro- and extroversion: how you restore energy. Growing up I was very shy and struggling with a sense of belonging. Socializing was difficult for me as I felt so much was fake and I couldn’t understand the rules. I still wince when people start talking about the weather but I do understand how important that ritual can be in relating to others and creating an air of assurance. Being shy, though, was mostly a result of feeling different, awkward and unattractive.
I say this to stress that being shy, a trait I am mostly rid of today, has little to do with being an introvert - which is one of the more common misconceptions and one I myself believed for a long time. I am glad there has been so much written about introversion over the past years as it has helped me understand myself better. I still need a lot of downtime and recovery periods after meeting a lot of people. Or, let’s not call it recovery… call it digestion. I need to process and reflect. But again, being an introvert does not mean I can not enjoy parties or social events - I am probably just a bit more picky and less inclined to take the initiative - something I do consider a weakness in myself. I have noted that I can more easily pinpoint people who give me energy rather than drain it, and I’d much rather spend time with a handful of people discussing interesting topics for short periods of time on a regular basis, than attend larger gatherings and talk about the weather with strangers. Sometimes strangers are awesome though and I can wish I would more readily approach more of them.
It’s quite awe-inspiring actually. Imagine all these introverted geeks in the 80s in their rooms attached to their computers for hours on end. All of a sudden internet explodes and these geeks can start talking to each other like never before. Introverts can talk to other introverts without any pressure, and with complete understanding when you need your quiet time. What a liberating experience to understand there were so many others like you.
I’ve actually been, on multiple occasions, to a huge geek camp unconference on a remote island in Sweden where hundreds of social media practitioners live in tents for three days. It becomes like an otherworldly experience because you can walk around in a community where everybody just gets you, and you don’t have to make any excuses for participating on your own terms, moving back and forth between downtime and giving a 30 minute talk under an oak tree. I guess it’s like a micro-version of Burning Man.
So how do I find time to recharge when I have a family with two kids and a dog on the way? Well, I ride a motorcycle - one of the best parts being completely in my own world, with no distractions.
There needs to be a stronger cultural distinction between being out-going and being an extrovert and being shy and being an introvert. For example, my wife absolutely needs time to herself to recharge, but she is a very outgoing host and facilitator for strategic organizational change. She talks to people all day long, but has to recharge at night on her own. I also know some people who need to be in a group of people to feed off their group energy even when they are not directly interacting with anyone within that group.
I have heard with motorcycles, it is not a matter of “if” you will crash, but one of “when” you will crash. Question 7: When was the last time you had to dump your bike?
Haha, what an unexpected question. I think it is three years ago now that I stopped outside our local grocery store and stepped off to go inside. The bike came crashing down on its left side as I, startled, jumped to the side. I had forgotten to put the kickstand down so gravity just took over. Boy did I feel stupid… thankfully I had an engine guard on that bike so no real damages done. The challenge then of course is to get a 300kg bike back on its wheels again. After a couple of failed attempts a man who was walking by saw me struggle and stopped to help me.
I’ve never dumped the bike in traffic but I’m no stranger to crashing. I competed in motocross as a young teen in Saudi Arabia. There was almost a crash of some sort every race, especially in the sand pits. It helped me realize that if you make sure to have the right protection gear then your body can handle the beating.
In traffic I always assume I’m invisible to others. This means I have to take into consideration all traffic around me and be ready to react to sudden lane changes and turns. I actually like how this keeps my mind occupied. The most common cause of accidents by far is a car that makes a sudden left turn without indicator lights just as a motorcycle is overtaking the car. In these cases I actually do not blame the car failing to indicate. It’s my responsibility as a motorcyclist to understand that this can happen, always be prepared for the eventuality and plan around it.
This is always an issue with motorcycles and other traffic. The visual profile of a motorcycle is so small that it is difficult to pick up. Motorcycles are very quick and agile as well, so I think many drivers do not have a strong mental model as to where to accurately predict a bike’s path. I would imagine the best drivers for a motorcyclist to be around are other motorcyclists that just happen to be in cars that day. I would not know since, last summer, at the tender age of 41 I finally learned how to ride a bicycle.
Question 8: Is there anything that is typically learned as a child that you would like to learn as an adult?
I think that should be an attainable goal. You should go for it.
I know that you are transitioning your career a bit from being a UX practitioner to being more of a personal coach. Question 9: How is that transition going and what do you enjoy most about coaching?
The challenge for me is that my brand is extremely tied to the world of UX and I am constantly receiving new work opportunities. I could probably just sit back and keep working with UX for many years to come. I personally want to evolve more though, which of course is why I attended a coaching programme to begin with. A driving force for me has always been helping people perform better. The glow in people’s eyes when they learn something new is like a drug for me. Coaching allows me to expand on that skill. As a consultant I can help people by doing work for them - or sharing knowledge, but as a coach I can also help people by advancing their growth as individuals and human beings.
What I really enjoy about coaching is making all these powerful and intimate connections with people I have never met before. I am amazed by how people open up when someone is sincerely listening to them and being present, and how the coaching process truly helps people overcome personal obstacles - large and small. A coaching session is often 90 minutes and one might think assume this would be exhausting but I am always energized by these encounters.
Already of course the coaching course has proven immensely valuable in my everyday work. For example, user interviews I perform now are of much higher quality than previously - I am able to go much further, dig deeper, into the real frustrations and problems people are experiencing. And that’s something I can admit to after having performed user interviews for almost 20 years prior with seemingly good results!
And most definitely everyday encounters in work meetings and with my family are positively affected by newly acquired skills as well.
What I feel I need to pursue now is finding the best possible overlap between UX and coaching, and repackage my offerings to something more unique. I know that people need and will benefit from what I am offering – communicating and helping people understand this is key to changing direction.
My first step, that I will hopefully start within a month, is offering 45-minute coaching walks at immensely discounted prices. These will be early morning walks or post-lunch strolls tackling a problem of the client’s choice. Showcasing this within current clients’ premises will bring new light to the value I bring and, I believe, in itself give birth to new project compositions. Just exploring new paths is exciting!
I love the excitement you have for making this jump. It is contagious. Like I stated earlier, I am currently looking for a User Experience/Content Strategy position, and it is not going as well as I hoped. It is difficult to make a career shift after spending many years working as a cartographer/geographic information systems specialist. Finding the correct employer who is willing to look at the transferable information synthesis skills is proving to be more difficult than expected. Maybe a chat with a coach would be helpful. I could use a few morning contemplative conversational walks. (EDITOR'S NOTE: I am now a UX practitioner for a large company and it is great)
Question 10: Fill in the blanks; I find that I am mostly ______. Others find that I am mostly ______. (Feel free to ask others for help with the second part)
I find that I am mostly privileged. Others find that I am mostly helpful and innovative.
I did what you proposed and asked on Twitter and Facebook for help in filling in the second blank. On Twitter I got zero responses in 12 hours. On Facebook there was a stream of comments. It sort of felt like I was asking people to compliment me - which made me feel awkward and self-conscious - but it certainly is an ego boost nevertheless. I boiled all these comments down to “helpful and innovative” as I felt most of them could fit in one of these themes.
There is a sub-reason for this exercise, and it completely has to do with an additional level of self-reflection. That being said, there is a bit of a divide between privileged and helpful and innovative.
Question 11: Why do you think that your perception of yourself has to do with privilege (which could be considered a bit critical while still being self-reflective) while others tend to drift towards the positive traits of helpful and innovative? Do you feel that you are harder on yourself than others?
Well, it’s hard to summarize a person in a word or two. I am confident that I do good, useful work and I have few doubts that I am creating valuable content and connections in my everyday doings. I know I am appreciated in many social contexts as well. Because of this I don’t believe I am being hard on myself. A year or two back I may have answered something along the lines of creative and curious. It has however become increasingly important for me to recognize why and how I have come this far, and for me it has everything to do with privilege; I have had access to computers since 1982, top-notch healthcare and an excellent education system. Being white and male hasn’t really stood in my way either. Understanding this helps me more often stay humble in the face of success. I get a lot of positive feedback and am extremely thankful for that, but I never want to start taking it for granted.
The interesting thing about privilege, is that it truly is transparent to the person who has it. I am a white male middle class middle-aged guy in the US, so for most of my life I was not really aware of the level of privilege I truly have. That being said my family is an interracial family and since I got married in 1997, I have become insanely more aware of just how privileged I truly am. I am actually impressed that your response was “privileged.” It is a very self-assessed view. I am constantly dealing with my own unique brand of imposter’s syndrome. I imagine after I get on top of my imposter’s issues, I will run up against my intrinsic feeling of privilege and my own overwrought sense of guilt due to that.
I had the occasion to ask podcaster extraordinaire, Patrick Beja, 20 Questions not long ago. He asked a relatively simple question that had magnitudes of meaning behind it. So since then, I have been asking this question. Question 12: Are you happy?
It would be easy now to get into a long discussion about what happiness is… but yes, I am happy. I strongly believe that happiness is a human attribute that we all can choose to bring more of into our lives. It’s in our control. There are certainly factors that can assist happiness: such as purpose, flow and pleasure; you have to realize though that these bring out and enhance something that is already within us. At the same time you certainly should not be afraid to ask for assistance from others in uncovering your happiness if you are having trouble finding it.
Often in the western world we have extreme expectations of what happiness should be and look like, as if it’s about smiling or giggling constantly or always having a warm, fuzzy feeling inside. With that presumption I can understand why so many feel they are not happy.
This does not mean I don’t get angry or frustrated or disproportionately emotional. But I know that the only one who can take responsibility for those emotions is me. I choose how to react and respond in different situations, and when I take time to reflect I find myself wasting less energy, and returning to a balanced breathing faster.
In fact, taking the time to relax and reflect is one of the most important takeaways I have adopted from the many books I’ve read about curiosity, neuroscience, coaching, leadership and decision-making.
Sometimes I feel like I am wrong to say I am happy. So many people are distraught and upset about things they read in the news and bring this to heart in a way that makes them feel heavy with distress and they frown at other people who do not also share in this ongoing condemnation of misery reported on our news outlets.
Choosing happiness is not about being unsympathetic, it’s about choosing to be the best version of myself when it comes to being someone who can be of support, of use, to others. To quote Gandhi: “Be the change you want to see in the world.”
The best way of boosting happiness, in my experience, is by giving more of yourself to others. Happiness happens in connections between people and in accepting others as they are. I can sit now and smile in front of my computer and feel rather pleased, but I also know that if I had someone sitting opposite me, smiling with me, that feeling would intensify.
I believe this is a good time to repeat that which I mentioned in my response to question 2:
“In many of the countries I have visited, at least nine in Africa alone and more than twenty worldwide, the tendency to greet people with a smile, singing in public, and high-spirited chatter on the bus is profoundly more abundant in financially inferior countries. The connectedness between people and the ability to let people close is much more prominent in environments where there is less to lose.”
I also think that happiness is heavily influenced by choice. Many people do not realize just how much of their outlook on life is tempered by their actual outlook on life. It is interesting mainly because it is a bit of a chicken/egg issue. I, for one, am very happy that you are happy. These 20 Questions Tuesday interviews help me to take stock in my life and realize how good it is. So, I too am happy.
Now we are onto unlucky Question 13. So when I was a kid playing soccer, I had a specific sequence of actions to get dressed for a match. At the time I considered it unlucky to not get myself prepared in that sequence. I made a superstition out of when I should put on my shin guards. As I have matured, I realize now that I did not really believe in the superstitious “luck” but was using the prep time as a kind of ritual to get into the correct headspace for playing soccer. Question 13: do you have any superstitions or rituals?
I think I was more superstitious as a kid as well. At the same time there are certain things I know I still do, like knock on wood when I’m hoping for something bad not to happen. It’s just so extremely habitual that I do it without much thought. I have to say also that if I am walking down a street with the option of going under a ladder, or not, then I probably will not choose to go under the ladder. BUT If someone calls me out, calling me superstitious, I would go under the ladder and not really care much about it. I think the type of rituals that you describe can be helpful in the sense that they are meditative and help you get into focus for a game. The superstitious part, and the irrational behavior I am describing, are things that often limit behavior and bring fear. In that sense those rituals in themselves are what cause harm, which of course is rather ironic.
From a behavioral science perspective superstitions are really interesting. In essence they are the product of our human weakness of always trying to see patterns in everything and then choosing to only see the few phenomena that confirm our belief, blissfully ignoring the many instances when our beliefs are disproved.
I wish we didn’t have them but as long as our superstitions are alive and kicking we may as well try to understand this common human reasoning. One of my favorite superstition scientists is Richard Wiseman and I can truly recommend reading one of his many books on the subject: The Luck Factor.
I think some superstitions started out safety related. That not going under ladders is pure safety related. It is an interesting turn when something switches from being a ritual that shifts something internally into a superstition that tries to effect something externally.
Question 14: Do you have any mottos, credos, personal philosophies, or mantras that you try and adhere to in your day to day life?
Well, I guess being kind, patient, humble and understanding are something of a philosophy for me. Thinking about it I realized that for my company I also put together a manifesto with principles and guidelines I strive to abide by. Things like not criticizing, sharing and being human are all concepts I bring into my personal life as well.
Doing some research around the notion of compassion the other day I’ve come across the Buddhist teaching of Metta. For me this really appeals to me as it helps me articulate one of the reasons I am striving towards a diet free from animal products.
Empathy has always been important to me. I have always noticed my own capacity of feeling empathy - actually triggering emotions of others within myself. I am certain it has been key for my career in UX. Metta takes this one step further and encourages an attitude of friendliness towards all sentient beings.
As with most things in my life I realize I am always re-evaluating and reconsidering my reasoning. I really don’t want to accept anything as constant. On the topic of philosophies I am certainly now curious to learn more about Metta.
I am unfamiliar with Metta and will need to investigate that philosophy more. When I was younger and was without the kids, I ascribed to a rather acerbic philosophy of “funny over nice” because everything could be made funny. It turns out kids are not very facile with facetiousness and sarcasm. I needed to re-evaluate that pretty significantly. I have also tried to take into account my Mother-in-Law’s philosophy of “Don’t let the fuckers get you down.” Since I have recently switched jobs I am living in “it is hard to change because change is hard” and “fake it til you make it.”
Since you are both a personal coach and a UX practitioner, and since I recently started my new career within the UXD umbrella, Question 15: Is there one bit of advice you would impart on anyone just stepping foot into the UX field?
Take time to listen. Take time to learn how to listen. Be present in the moment when listening. Don’t be afraid of silence when you are talking to users and stakeholders. Silence means a person is thinking – you don’t want to interrupt that. Listen with your whole body - your body language and your eyes will show how much you in fact are listening. Verify your understanding by rephrasing. Never judge, with your eyes, your body or your words. Make questions open-ended as often as possible, not closed. When you show that kind of dedication to listening to someone two important things happen:
One, you build trust. The person will appreciate your listening skills to the extent that they will be prepared to offer information they may not otherwise feel comfortable giving you.
Two, you will hear things that you wouldn’t normally hear. Words that are repeated, slight vibrations or intonations that give clues about how a person really feels, giving you understanding that lets you pursue more paths of inquiry.
Your goal should never be to verify something you already believe to be true, it should always be to find out what you do not already know. Really, you should try to disprove what you already think.
Without a doubt, listening is one of the most rewarding skills I have practiced. Solutions become so much more clear when you receive the kind of insight that only true listening can give you.
Well… that response was worth the price of admission on its own. I think listening is an amazingly underdeveloped skill in many people. It is not something that is taught in school, it is not something that parents necessarily instill in their children. Listening is something that all relationships require. Honestly, listening is the biggest reason that my relationship with my wife is as good as it is. Thanks for that.
We are starting to round out of the 20 Questions, so, Question 16: is there a questions you were expecting me to ask you that I did not?
Hmmm, not really. I didn’t really know what to expect, which means I did not build up much of an expectation. Some questions have surprised me, as I’ve mentioned, and I have really enjoyed that. Perhaps I may have expected more of a distinct focus around UX but that sort of vanished with your first few questions. Then I was looking forward to them, and the idea of searching for relevant answers within myself. With the developments and choices that have taken place in my life over the past year I actually think your timing with these questions has been spot on. Answering them has been therapeutic for me. So thank you for that.
Okay then… surprise me.
I am really happy that you have enjoyed this process, and it really is the best compliment to hear that this little blog has been even remotely therapeutic.. I love it. So, let’s round these out.
I am currently reading “Storytelling for User Experience” by Whitney Quesenbery for work reasons and “Star Wars: Aftermath” by Chuck Wendig for non-work reasons. Question 17: What books are you currently reading?
Ah, fantastic. A question I can’t go crazy with… haha.
I’m reading “Steal the Show” by Michael Port. The subtitle is “How to guarantee a standing ovation for all the performances in your life”. I’m always looking for advice on doing better stage performances at events, something I really enjoy but can always improve on.
I also recently finished “10% Happier” by Dan Harris - I really enjoyed that one. And next in my reading list is “F*ck feelings” by Michael Bennett, MD and Sarah Bennett.
Ooh, that one by Michael and Sarah Bennett sounds fun.
Well, it is time to turn the tables. Question 18: What question or questions would you like to ask me?
Well, I’m kind of blown away by your effort, and obvious interest in human state of mind, in doing all these interviews. Seeing as you are transitioning more distinctly into UX, although I’m sure UX has been a part of you all along, let me ask you this:
Doing these interviews, what is the experience you are looking to create? Also, how have you grown since you started this? What has surprised you?
18A: What experience am I looking to create?
I am looking to create a level of intimate conversation with someone that I find interesting. Sometimes the person is someone I know from my life, sometimes it is someone I simply find interesting on the internet, and sometimes it is a celebrity that I try not to fanboy about. It is a bit of a way to trick some people into being friends with me. The trick has worked occasionally. I am friends with about a handful of the people that I did not know beforehand solely due to the 20 Questions back and forth.
18B: How have I grown since I started this?
Interesting question. I have tried to slow down my reactions and been more intentional in serious conversations. The ability to ask someone a questions and read/re-read their answer before coming in with a follow up question has made me slow down during serious conversations so I can attempt to create a genuine interaction.
18C: What has surprised you?
I have been floored by how giving people are with their time and energy. These 20 Questions are no slight endeavor.
So, here we are at the penultimate question. Question 19: What are you taking from these 20 Questions that you did not bring in with you?
I am now much more aware of the journey I have made over the past year or so and how the different aspects of my life contribute to helping me feel confident and assured that I am on a path I am quite happy to be on. Articulating my thoughts has really really helped me understand myself better, which is a really awesome experience. I’ve always felt writing can be healing, but these questions have also helped strengthen the insight that being open to new experiences and new people (and feeding their curiosity about you) reflects back on yourself and gives you immense value in return.
And cartwheels. I really have to start practicing cartwheels.
I am sure you will be doing cartwheels in no time.
I have to say that this 20 Questions has been amazing. You are wonderfully insightful and I feel better having known you in the small way that I know you now. You are an absolute delight.
Last question. Question 20: What’s next? Be as concrete or vague, as short or long term, and/or as philosophical or grounded as you want.
I’ll keep moving forward and I’ll keep to my habit of allowing myself to slow down, think, and make sure I’m on a path that is aligned with my values and goals. This slowing down I believe will actually help me move faster. Let me explain.
Since I believe in the power of coaching I’ve also hired my own coach who challenges me and helps me build habits to focus on tasks that I want to do more of. One of my goals this year for example has been to write a book about UX. I’ve set clear writing goals for the coming months, especially for the autumn, and I’ve sometimes been in doubt and felt a bit overwhelmed by this task. Then, in just one recent session with my coach I realized I have already written, on my blog, enough material for two books on specific subjects.
So, after first feeling overwhelmed by writing just one book, as it turns out I’m releasing two books and writing a third within the year! These first two, smaller books will play a great role in promoting the third one.
Important to realize here is that my coach does not know me, this was our third session together and he had no idea about stuff I’d written before. This was him guiding me in my thoughts and asking powerful questions that challenged me and helped me come to important insights about myself, my accomplishments and long-term goals. But also cheering me on and making me feel valued and seen.
In some sense I think this will also be a life mission for me: to help others realize that for real change to happen you do not tell people what to do, you do not command, point or push. You ask powerful questions. And you celebrate with people when they make progress.
Thank you Scott, your questions have been truly great.
I really enjoyed the heck out of this. You have made me think through some things that I had not thought about very much.
I am working a jobby job with joblike stuff
I have a crapton of things that need to be done before 9 AM tomorrow
So much to do, so little time
(I am actively hoping the second project closes shop… it could)
Everyone should hope that the project slinks away in shame at its terribleness
Putting lipstick on a pig doesn’t make it not a pig
Only a slightly more attractive pig
Some people find pigs sexay
Those people are weird
I am not one to judge
Wait a second, I am one to judge
And that is weird
And just wrong
Read Per’s Medium posts as well
Have a great week everyone