Lessons From the Past: Family Drama

Improvisation, by its very nature, is fleeting. The high of a good show lasts until we step off the stage. And the low of a bad show washes off with a shower and night’s sleep. When we think of our professional selves we often carry wins, challenges, and lessons for much longer.

Yesterday, my calendar reminded me it was my “overall work anniversary” meaning I had my first day of work after completing my undergraduate studies, on July 21 many moons ago.

I had a moment of reflection on Twitter posing the following question:

What’s one piece of advice you wish graduating-you knew?

I offered “When you get that frustrating email, wait 20 minutes before responding”. Other responses included “Time block work“, “quit sooner”, “a glass of water every other beer”, and “you don’t need to know everything but be confident in what you do know”.

These are all really valuable pieces of advice. Especially @livlab‘s about drinking water. The one that stood out to me most though was by @accessamy

For reasons obvious by the nature of my posts here, this ties to the improviser’s mindset. A character in improv has motivations, drivers, wants and needs. I often talk about defining, and stating, your character’s emotions. I often equate this to product design in understanding your client’s motivations, your colleagues’ needs, and your users’ goals. But talking about it like this, in isolation, is a disservice to the products we design and the relationships we foster.

Nobody performs isolated from their personal lives. If I had a particularly hard or easy day, my improv characters are likely to share, and exaggerate, those emotions. And nobody comes to a meeting separate from their personal lives. Nobody engages with a product in a hermetically sealed chamber from society. We bring with us our frame of mind, our relationships, our perspective, the last thing we ate or did.

When someone encounters frustration at work, is it because the idea it poorly communicated or is there something from home/family life at play? Or maybe they dimply had a bad burrito at lunch. When a user presents difficulty with a tool is the product difficult to use or might they have just finished a 30-minute call with their Cable Provider and they’re frustrated? These aren’t excuses to validate poor usability or bad/harmful products. Instead, it is a lens to ask, evaluate, and question feedback through. A lens to build products around. How might we communicate, design, and support our colleagues, stakeholders, and users regardless of the baggage they bring to the situation? We want to honor that everyone comes from their own perspective. While we can’t design for every situation, we can design with an awareness of the various situations we bring to an experience.

What other advice did you wish you knew when you first entered the professional world? Comment below or respond to the original tweet.

Don’t forget, Collaborative Improv is available and you can get your own print/epub with just a few clicks!

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