Design Better Newsletter #3
Upcoming guests (Tycho and OK Go!), unspoken assumptions, Nobody and the Computer
It’s been a hot summer…have you found any creative ways to escape the heat? This past weekend, one of us (Eli) spent a few days camping with his family in Big Sur, where—despite the coastal fog—the inland temperatures made frequent dips in the river a welcome necessity.
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Damian Kulash and Tim Nordwind of OK Go, and Scott Hansen of Tycho
Speaking of hot stuff, we’ve got some more amazing guests lined up for our creative process series: Damian Kulash and Tim Nordwind of OK Go (check out their unbelievable zero-gravity music video), and Scott Hansen of Tycho. Are there any musical (or other creative) guests you’d like to see on the show? Drop us a note!
OK, on to the newsletter. This week we have:
A quote from our conversation with Georg Petschnigg, VP of Product Design at The New York Times
Narrative Therapy: A short excerpt from recent guest Donna Lichaw’s book, The Leader’s Journey
Nobody and the Computer: an inspiring use of Generative AI to create music
Unspoken Assumptions: more insights from executive and leadership coach Margaret Lee
Cool stuff to click on
The Interplay Between Design and Engineering
A quote from our interview with Georg Petcschnigg, VP of Product Design at The New York Times
That interplay between design and engineering is just so crucial because engineering ultimately opens up the possibilities. It's still, to this day, one of the most powerful unlocks any organization can have is [to] get the proverbial left and right brain working together. Teams become one in the work. And it's, and it's an incredible thing to see.
We recently interviewed Donna Lichaw, and wanted to share a short excerpt from her book, The Leader’s Journey, which details the way that stories go wrong and how they can affect our behavior in significant ways.
Illustration via The Leader’s Journey by Donna Lichaw
But stories are also a bug — a defect, a glitch. When they go wrong, they go terribly wrong. To see what to do about it, I want to introduce you to Oscar.
Oscar was once a patient working with psychologist, Stephen Madigan, a pioneer in the field of narrative therapy. When Oscar first met Madigan, he was isolated, depressed, and suicidal. The previous year, he had been hit by a truck while crossing the street and immediately fell into a coma. He awoke after three months and endured a long, arduous recovery. He survived, surprising everyone including his doctors.
But he was debilitated by severe anxiety and no longer wanted to live. At the time that Oscar sought treatment with Madigan, he believed that he was a “good for nothing,” a “useless human being.” While this story wasn’t true, Oscar believed it to be true. It was powerful enough to compel him to want to end his life.
Stories started to be used as a serious therapeutic tool many decades ago. Typically, when you go into a clinical setting with a problem, you are diagnosed by a professional and receive a prescription. You are depressed. Do this. You are ascribed a story and prescribed an ending. The results of a traditional, diagnostic approach are hit or miss, how- ever. After all, we humans don’t always love being told what to do.
Starting in the 1980s, narrative psychologists and therapists like Madigan started to have a different idea. What if you let people take ownership of their stories rather than have doctors ascribe and pre- scribe a story to them? Might they have enough agency that they could then author their own way forward? The answer that Madigan found with Oscar was yes.
When you restructure your narrative, you can change your behavior and change yourself.
Nobody and The Computer
We ran across this amazingly creative project from a young artist who is creating music and art with generative AI. These are as entertaining as they are educational.
Margaret Lee, former UX teams and programs leader at Google, brings us more insights from her current role as an executive and leadership coach.
People seek coaching for all types of goals and challenges. Despite different contexts and situations, many share a common pitfall: the tendency to operate under unspoken assumptions. We’re human, it happens. But making assumptions about others’ motives, opinions about us, what they know or don’t know, or why a decision went a certain way is rarely productive. When our gut is well-tuned, our assumptions might act like a guiding intuition. By the time an issue shows up in coaching though, we’re generally feeling stuck. So what can we do when our gut is out of tune?
First, step up on the balcony. Getting out of the thick of a situation affords us a broader view beyond the well trodden perimeter of day-to-day demands. Whatever context is challenging us is inevitably larger than our immediate reality. If we spend all our time on the ground, we risk not seeing the larger system that we are a part of (a system that is constantly in motion, making it even more critical that we stay attuned). By stepping up on the balcony on a regular basis, we can attain a more balanced perspective of the forces at play. We’re better able to connect the dots and gain insights for navigating the challenges we face.
Next, sort fact from fable. What are actual facts we can identify? Which of our assumptions are actually fables—stories we default to in reaction to a situation, but do little to move us forward? Distinguish between an assumption that shows up as a belief (“that person declined the meeting, they must not value me”) vs a hypothesis to test and validate (“that person likely needs more context from me before I request a meeting”). Once we sort fact from fable, we’re better situated to act and respond.
Finally, say it out loud. Our inner dialogue will take us only so far and frankly could use some objective company to make sense of a situation. Communication and transparency are essential to debunking unspoken assumptions, especially if they are being projected or perceived as facts. By being explicit about expectations and getting relevant information out in the open, we have a better chance of attaining coherency.
Next time frustration sets in, check for unspoken assumptions and leverage what’s within our control: the ability to assume a new view from the balcony, sort fact from fable, and communicate with intent to reach shared understanding.
Margaret Lee believes we all have the inner resources to develop towards our greatest potential. As an Executive and Leadership Coach with Design Dept, she brings a wealth of prior experience leading UX teams and programs at Google. Interested in learning more? Reach out at firstname.lastname@example.org.
April Luelling is on break for this issue of the newsletter, and we’ll have a hard time filling her shoes 👟but we did come across a few job opportunities of interest:
Here are a few helpful links for weekend reading:
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