UX Advantage: “Organizational Becoming” Made Practical
Marc Rettig - Creating a culture of design is a special case of “organizational becoming,” touching teams, processes, and the delicate and difficult areas of culture and identity. Few of us feel equipped for such work. But “social technologies” are appearing to help us manage cultural emergence. Weaving theories of change with the nitty-gritty of daily life, Marc uses stories from organizations large and small to describe the ways and wisdoms of becoming an organization that embraces design.
Marc Rettig: Thank you. I love being here. I love that
these conference exist. Thanks to the team for that. Just to get it out
of the way, this is the three hats that I wear these days, my
affiliations and my contact information. I'm really happy to talk with
you about any of these things, about the content of my talk. I promise
to try to be responsive if you send me email or reach out. We should
just get started.
I've written this talk in response to the questions of the conference, which are right there on the front of the website. What does it take to create a culture of design? How does putting user experience first changed the way organizations work? Those are great questions that I'm glad we're finally talking about them.
Really, this talk is me speaking to you from the bottom of a well, or the corner of a meadow or something. Unlike a lot of you, where your work is really fast phased, I stepped back for the summer, my colleague and I, to reconnect to the work that we really want to be doing, that we chose to. I'm in a reflective state, so that's where this is coming from.
I will have some specific stories, but lot of this is high-level view or high or deep-level view. So it's my job to put the ideas out there, and your job to see if they make sense and put them in conversation with what you're up to.
Let's start with a fable. This is the fable of the shoemaker and the strategist. In a village not far from here, there was a shoemaker. He was very good at his craft and he was very happy. In the evenings, he would stroll through the town, or maybe, people would come visit him in his shop. He would talk with everybody.
So he knew their habits and their shoes and their cycles and their rhythms. He knew their needs. He knew the dreams they had for their shoes. He would know, for example, that school was about to begin, and that the children would have outgrown their old shoes.
As fall came, he would start to work on heavy winter boots of many styles and sizes. In spring, he'd speak to the brides and grooms about their wedding shoes. In short, the shoemaker was part of village life and in tune with village life. He's in a kind of dance with village life, and so he made his living.
Now, the shop was owned by the strategist. Until recently, the strategist had been very happy to be in partnership with the shoemaker. He counted himself lucky. All he had to do was order supplies, keep accounts, see to it that the roof didn't leak and the bills were paid, and sometimes, yell at the apprentices.
He paid the shoemaker, kept a little for himself, so he made a living. But the strategist was having an idea. "The world is changing," he said. "A department store has opened, and they sell shoes much cheaper than we do. Their shoes are much the same and they are thinner leather. They refuse to fix the stitching when it flays. But still, we must learn from this. We must react."
So the strategist went to the shoemaker and told him his idea. "We'll hire more apprentices, we'll put them to work making more shoes, all the same. I'll order thinner leather, I'll order in bulk. And we'll sell our shoes in other villages too, our neighbors all around the region. So there'll be lower cost, more shoes and great profit. The department store has shown us the way."
The shoemaker was silent. At first, he was numb, then he was sad. Then he was angry. Would the strategist have him abandon the people of the village? And leave them to get on with the department store shoes that wear out so quickly?
The shoes would be cheaper, but they wouldn't last as long. So people would wind up spending more of their precious money on shoes. How could the strategist consider such a thing? So they shouted and argued and went to bed without resolving their difference. Continued the next day and through the week, alternating between loud, strong words and loud, strong silences and loud, strong glares over the top of their glasses.
We're going to leave them there, I'm sorry. We're going to leave them in the middle of the story, and we'll come back to the shoemaker and the strategist later to see what happened to them. It's just a fable, and I know it's stereotyping. But I'm trying to offer two stereotypes.
The shoemaker sees the world as a village, and sees himself as part of its living fabric. He operates by spending time with the people that he creates for. He knows their cycles and rhythms, he sees himself as part of a larger dance of life. He's doing his part to make it better, and receives a living and a lot of enjoyment in return.
But the strategist sees the world as a continuous interplay of players in a game or people in a battle. He sees himself as a lone actor who relies on good ideas and good plans to bring prosperity to himself and to those around him. It's not all about him, prosperity to himself and those around him. He seeks to control things to see that the ideas and plans are well executed.
Just to, like, put it in words instead of pictures, the shoemaker thrives on connection. He pays attention to the village and acts in direct concert with what he learns in a kind of dance. His customers are real people that he's actually met. The strategist thrives on control. He loves clever ideas, and he employs planning and execution in a kind of march, and his customers are fungible abstractions. Now, I don't think I succeeded. I tried to write these without judgment. These are...
Oh, yeah, clearly I did not succeed. I'm talking to a roomful of designers, too. These are both legitimate ways to participate in the world. Yeah, and it's all over the place. But let's leave the fable. We'll come back to the fable. But let's leave it for now.
We need some definitions. If we're talking about design culture, maybe we should know what we mean by design and know what we mean by culture. By the way, so I'm going to offer process definitions. I'm not trying to be definitive or all-encompassing. I want hard working definitions, definitions that we can actually use to guide our engagement with these things.
Let's start with design. Meet Hugh Dubberly. Hugh is a well-known fixture, consultant, educator, kind of an all around mover of things forward in the world of design, especially in interaction design, design education and strategic design.
He has made a number of very thoughtful and beautiful conceptual models which you can find on his site, his firm's site. He spends a lot of time digging into whatever it is he's paying attention to and then a lot of time working out, what are the essential components in relationships. Then he spends a lot of time iterating and making a presentation of it that helps us all understand.
A few years ago, Hugh noticed that a lot of people in a lot of different fields seemed to be doing some kind of iterative process. He dug into them and he made little working models of these things. For him, the design process is a special case of a much bigger idea, which he calls the creative process.
Here's Hugh's poster, it's a great big poster, you can download it for free. Somehow people get printed copies of this. But that's some pretty fine print. It's really great, it's really good reading. I recommend it. We assign it to students, we do exercises around it.
But I want to zoom in on his language for the three main loops, observe, reflect, make. Which you'll notice are themselves loops and which connect to their neighbors by even more loops. But I want to, if we're going after a working definition of design process, a process definition of design, as an example, expression of the creative process. Let's zoom in. We're going to read these together. You'll just have to follow the imaginary bouncing ball.
Observe. Observe through conversations with context and people. Observe with attention, acting with respect and mindfulness, contributing passion and energy. Observe with openness. Listening and learning from other people and other cultures. Observation begins as a conversation with others.
Isn't it interesting? Observe through conversations, I think, already we're in some profound territory. First you're on the outside looking in, slowly you immerse yourself. Then you can step back and reflect. Where are we? Who is here? What are they doing? What are we doing? What's important here? Why?
We're looking for a useful definition of design. Yeah? Here's someone who's thoroughly studied, he's actively practiced in industry for decades, he teaches at the grad level, so he influences the future of the practice. He's learned directly from past masters.
This isn't Hugh opining or preaching, this is Hugh documenting the foundations, he's passing on documentation to us. He's telling us that paying deep attention to the world and getting into real conversation with it with openness is one-third, it's the first third of the essence of design. As in, if you aren't doing this, it's hard to say you're doing design. Maybe you aren't doing it well.
We have a question in front of us at this conference. If this is part of design's essence, what needs to be true about an organizational culture in which good design can grow? What needs to be true about our cultures for them to embrace the observe aspect of design?
OK, so that's observe. Here's reflect. Having observed, reflect through conversations. Reflect through conversations with experience. Reflect through conversations with the past and with values, with the things you care about. Reflect through conversations with your experience with the past and with the things you care about. Reflect to understand what people want and how culture is evolving. Reflect, to integrate by seeing patterns, and by building consensus. Integrate, by building consensus.
Reflection begins as a conversation with one's self. It starts to close in. It considers experience and values. It frames a situation or selects a metaphor to explain it, which must then be shared with other people.
Now, we have a question again. Reflection is part of the essence of design. Reflection is essential to design. If this is part of design's essence, what needs to be true about our organizational culture in which a good design practice can grow? What needs to be true about our culture's for them to embrace the reflect part of design?
Make. Make, through conversations. Conversations can make up a lot. Make, through conversations with tools and materials. It's a generous definition of conversation. It's not two-people saying words at each other. It is bringing what I bring into an encounter with the other.
I'm offering something, and it's offering something. We're having an exchange. I would prefer dialogues to conversation maybe. Make, through conversations with tools and materials. Make, to search working quickly and iterating, taking advantage of accidents. Make, to envision, imagining the future and making it tangible, explaining what the future might mean. Making also begins as a conversation with one's self. As it continues, it increasingly involves others.
I'll say it again. If this is part of design's essence, what has to be true about our organizational cultures to be a culture in which good design can grow? What has to be true about our culture is to embrace the make aspect of design.
Here's the loop. If we are saying we would like to foster design culture, we're asking, what does it mean for these things to characterize our culture? Notice that every one of those definitions involved conversation. Design is conversational. Every step's conversational, involves some kind of collaboration and requires some kind of openness.
We have a start on our question, what does it take to create a culture design? It takes open attention, and it takes real conversation. We've watered down this conversational definition. It takes open dialogue. It requires open attention and dialogue with context, with people, with experience, with values, tools, and materials.
There's basically a whole design curriculum in this one slide. We could work students pretty hard from this one slide. I can still carry this phrase. This phrase just blows to my brains sometimes over coffee. Quality of attention determines the quality of result. Take a breath. That was design. Now, it's culture, because that was heavy.
It's kind of a layered definition, a working definition of culture. Here's form. All of us are organizations or ourselves produce some kind of result in the world. It might be digital. It might be an experience. It may be physical, but it's the result of our efforts. Where does that come from? It comes from somewhere. It comes from structure and process.
The way we organize and the way we work together, the way we work, the way we work together, the way we organize. All of that gets busy and out pops stuff. What we don't often talk about is, where does that come from? There's a conversation in the room. We say, "Hey, is this thing ready to ship?" People are like, "Yes, totally ready to ship."
I agree. It's ready to ship. Who are you? [laughs] What are you drawing from, when you agree together that it's ready to ship? When you say, "Is it design be at the sea level? Is that where its home within marketing or engineering?" It split up. It is distributed, and then you think about that. Then, you come to some agreement about your organization.
Who are you? What are you drawing from, when you make that agreement? It comes from somewhere. That's a place we don't talk about. It's a blind spot. That place is culture, the essential driving story, the myth of our existence. It's got part, the identity, who we believe we are, what we care about, how we relate to others.
Sometimes, it gives people trouble, so I gave an example. To take us on our suppliers, do we stand in power over our suppliers? Are we in partnership with our suppliers? Are we dependent on our suppliers? Are we bigger, or equal, or lesser than them? That's a cultural relationship question, an identity question. Explanations, how you believe the world works.
By the way, there can be some monsters in here. There can be things like, "I'm not good enough. We're not as good as they are." Just a crippling sense of isolation are not good enough. You can feel that way. "That guy is such a great leader. I will never be as good as that." Down in our identity layer, there are monsters as well, which is one reason people are afraid to look down there.
That is a useful listing of components of culture. Let's ask about the shoemaker. He may not be able to articulate this. [inaudible 00:16:54] we can? It's down in the place, where there are no words. It's just part of the shoemaker that A, "The world is a fabric of craft and care. My role is to cover, protect, and decorate the feet of the village.
When I'm in my place, the farmers can do their chores. The children can learn. The blacksmith can do his work." That's a confident worldview he's got. He sees himself as woven into a fabric. He wouldn't use those words, if you ask him about it.
The strategist. The world's made of exchanges of values. Some people produce much. Others produce little. I participate in a great eternal game of accumulation of wealth by being smart about how I play that game. Again, he may not say it that way. Maybe if he was drunk.
It's there. It's part of how he decides whether he is doing the right thing.
OK, having gathered some working definitions. We did a series of interviews early this summer, I guess, late spring, getting a picture of the efforts of managers in large tech companies who are trying to build UX capability. We had a peer, we had a kind of a, friends in Japan who were doing the same kind of thing.
It was like this benchmarking light, just kind of a glimpse into the world of trying to cultivate UX in these huge, bureaucratic, sometimes kind of a military engineering, historically engineering cultures. Yeah? Here's something I noticed that, we'd hear people say that they want a design culture, but what they really were working on was design capacity. I'm finding that a useful distinction.
Let's talk about that. Because I think than not, a similar difficulty might be in there. To have design capacity is to have the knowledge, the skills...This is an exhaustive list, you get what I mean, to have the knowledge, skills, tools, people, places, processes, structures. You want to be able to apply the design process in your part of the world, so you're building a practice.
The reason is you want to produce better results and service to your cultural story. Better things. Better forms. Let's put design in the organization structure and process layer. Let's put it in there, and we'll get better, shinier things, and people will like us more.
I'll also say, most often, even though they're trying to put design process into the layer there, they don't have as deep or hardworking a definition of design as the one we just discussed, never mind that that sits at the roots of design history [laughs] and the best practice for decades.
Some reason, design is making its way into industry with a case of anemia, but I'll stop whining. Whatever your definition, the point I want to make is putting design capacity in place is not the same as putting design culture in place.
This is a way to caricature that we're moving from not only have linear decision making, kind of a manufacturing model, to also have iterative refinement in our process toolkit. The same intention, the same values, the same understanding of the world, but a new way of operating layered on top of it.
I want to use this little diagram to talk about the consequences of that, the observe-reflect-make loop. This represents just one of those turns. You can put these end-to-end and off you go. This is the grand version. Of course, there's lots of little loops, or hopefully lots of little ones inside this. Let's just use this as a tool.
Here we go. Let's look at a picture of design capacity without design culture, design process installed on the old story. We send the researchers out. Why would we go out ourselves? It's ridiculous. Send the researchers out, and they bring us back a set of themes, and insights, and opportunities, because we have a process for that.
They saw orange. Orange stuff is coming into our company because of our process. Then comes the management meeting. What should we do? How do we make sense of this? That's when it encounters the culture. Orange came in the house. What do we do? Geez, orange. The thing is, we don't do orange. We do blue.
If you could take that, all that you learned about orange, and use it to make better blue, that would be great, and we have a process for that. We have a process for that. It's make part of design. The result is that people are frustrated.
If you are the person in charge of establishing design capacity and you're measured by things like ROI or the impact of, "We did design, and where's the return?" it's maddening. Maybe the world has a different thing, but the organization has been unchanged by the experience.
Design capacity without open dialogue with the organization's underlying cultural story, identity, values, relationships, and explanations will produce leaden results. Any stuck story is dangerous in this changing world, and any stuck repetitive cultural story...I know that I'm stereotyping here, and I know I'm preaching to the choir.
The story of more revenue is why we exist, or market share, or beat that competition. Those stories are too small and mean to serve as the soil of a thriving culture of design.
Even innovation, we make new stuff that's cool, and people really like it, and they buy a lot of it, even innovation, I would say, is too small and still a little mean to serve as the soil of a thriving culture of design. I say that why? Because they're closed stories. They're inward-turned stories. They're about you, so you repeat your own pattern.
The world will change, and you risk a crisis of irrelevance if you don't let it into your story, into your culture. Opening is such a big, important deal in the definition of design and in this example we just saw. I want to dive into it a little bit. Opening. I actually find these images really helpful. These are also things that are helpful reminders. We use them with students.
They may be abstract, that's pretty abstract, but it's fundamental. It comes from Otto Scharmer from MIT and something called the Presencing Institute. This eye is your center of attention, or your team's center of attention, or your organization's center of attention. It works at all scales.
The circle is a kind of screen or bubble. Some people, you can see it as a transparent bubble that holds all your judgments and beliefs, so when you look out at the world, what comes in is filtered by your beliefs. Only some things make it through. Other things don't. Famously, we dismiss data that disagrees with our assumptions.
Another way to see this, some people like this metaphor better, that it's a screen, and we project our beliefs, and stories, and explanations, and values on it. We walk around seeing the world overlaid with our projects. We're sort of seeing both at once.
This is the enemy of observation, judgment. That bubble is the enemy of open observation, the enemy of attention. How do you conquer that enemy? You conquer it by learning to move your center of attention. You move your center of attention so you peak out past your judgments and past your personal lenses.
Learn to see with innocence and wonder again. It's actually not that hard to learn. You can practice this. It's not that hard to learn. Probably some of you teach people this, too. Even teams in organizations can learn it, although the conversations get harder as the scale goes up.
There's an enemy to this step of wonder, of moving your center of attention, and that enemy is cynicism. Cynicism is a product of repeated disappointment. "We won't be able to do anything about this." "No one will believe me when I tell them this story." "We've tried to change that situation." "I see it, oh I see it, but why engage? I'm not persuasive enough. The bad things about the world will soon squash this beautiful scene I saw." [laughs]
The way to conquer cynicism is another move of your center of attention. Move your center of attention outside yourself. Now, you can see that it's not about you. You are one among many others.
I get a choice right now. I can see myself as a speaker who's standing in front of an audience saying some stuff, or I can see myself as one of this here we are together, a bunch of people who actually care deeply about what they're doing, and they're trying to advance it, and they get stuff done, and they feel strongly, and they have big ideas. What an amazing thing to be a part of!
It happens to be my turn in the conversation. It's a different view. It's a way to move your center of attention. It's an example, moving my attention outside myself to see that I'm part of something. Very powerful. However, there's an enemy to that, fear. It's the enemy of letting go, of letting go of the idea that it's about me, that it depends on me, that my view is the one that is the right view.
It's fearsome, because we attach our identity to that. "I get paid for my judgment. What are you talking about? Our team is expected to use its powers to accomplish things. If we let go, if I let go, who will we be? Who will I be if I let go?" The way to conquer this enemy is one more move of your center of attention. Recognize that the bubble's a bubble, and see that others have them, and see that they are a construct, that they can dissolve.
You shift from seeing yourselves as being responsible for getting it done to seeing yourselves as a collection of possibilities that are invited to participate in a still-larger story. It's not just us here. Why this conference this year and not three years ago? There is something happening in the world, yeah? This conversation wouldn't have happened in this way.
You wouldn't have all been here. You wouldn't have gotten permission to come. There's something going on, a gathering of possibilities, that we're a part of. Our job is to participate openly and wholeheartedly. That's the work, participate, get in the conversation. The conversation is the work.
There is some steps of opening, some degrees of opening that I find useful. This last thing, you can feel it in the room sometimes. Boy, a lot of times it doesn't happen. [laughs] Let's look at a picture of design capacity in an open culture. We send the researchers out, and in comes the orange. It encounters the culture, the identity, and the values, the relationships, the explanations, the dominant story.
People go, "Well, orange you say? Orange. Orange, but we do blue. It's orange, but we do blue. Let's work with that. Who does a blue company need to become in order to thrive in a world that has orange in it? Who do we need to become to participate with the orange? Let's explore the possibilities. We have a process for that."
Different. The result is that people are fulfilled. The outcome can be true, has a chance to be true to both the organization and the world, and both the world and the organization are changed by the process. That's the difference with opening.
Here's a way to tell whether design is getting into your culture. After every project, something about the organizational conversation has changed. There's a metric. You figure out how to measure it. I don't know. [laughs]
Here's a story. We got a call, this is three or four years ago, from a company that makes lots of stuff for people in their houses. We had worked with them before. We'd done field research. They said, "Hey, our quality function is a little leaky. Some stuff is getting through that kind of sucks.
Could you, because you're research people, come train? We've set aside four days, four and a half days, four full days, to train the people that make up our quality function so they can learn more from when they go out into home visits, they're already doing home visits, and better communicate what they learn."
Then, eventually in the call, "There may be some conflict. We just want to let you know." It was nice to have that warning. The first morning, we learned to move our attention outside our bubble. We learned to see without judgment, and we invited people to leave their jobs behind, leave them in the office. Then, we went into homes.
By the way, I should say who was there. Quality managers, pretty senior design people, usability people different than design people, engineers, field sales support, and eventually an executive or two, so pretty mixed. It's a cross-section. One of our rules of thumb is convene diversity and power the best you can. Convene diversity and power. These have a good mix of that.
They visited customers in their homes. Everybody visited at least two homes, and watch people use the stuff. That was the first day. Then the next day, we made them watch all the videos. They watched videos, and they captured notes on Stickies. It used a lot of Stickies. Think about what's happening.
Here, people who have been blaming each other for the leaks and the quality process. They're from different home cultures, engineers, design, and quality, and so on. Different languages. Instead of facing each other, they've all turned together to face customers, paying real attention. Then the next day, being forced to pay even [laughs] more attention.
Then, they did clustering. How do we make sense? Let's find themes. In groups, they clustered, and then they gave these great presentations. There was a side effect to this. It was not that it hit the culture and challenged the story. It was that, them paying that kind of attention brought them together in a way that...
I realized, I've learned from students that not everybody has this metaphor in their culture. The elephant in the room is the important thing that's big, that you're all afraid to talk about a name. I like this image better. This is from Banksy. She's so much does not want to see the elephant that she's covered it with the same wallpaper as her living room, just camouflaged it.
The elephant moment was that, we're digesting these people. We're talking about the consequences of it. They bound as a group. Now, they're one group, instead of four or five. There came a time, when a guy...his name is Randy...said, "Hey, if I say something, can it stay in this room?" He's starting to feel some safety. He got agreement.
He says, "I don't feel trusted. I don't feel trusted." Now, he's down on the bottom layer. He named a monster. "I am the guy who says red light, green light in the final tollgate. I'm the guy who says, go to production, or it's not ready. I feel that if I say red light, I will be blamed personally for costing the company millions of dollars."
He wasn't lying, making it up, he was in that position. He was [laughs] in that position alone, holding that red light switch. That broke thing's open. Through the conversation that followed, now these silo boundaries are dissolved. They're in it together, because they realized, "If he feels that way, how are we going to ship quality?"
What came out of that conversation, it got written up on a sheet is that, what we realize is we all care about quality. We actually all care equally that people get stuff that works, that they understand, that they like, that lasts. We all care about that. It happens to be our job. We have a job doing something we care about. Together, we change the agenda. In the last day of the workshop, they redesigned their quality function.
See, schedule is king. It was something worth trying. It wasn't like, "OK. This is how we want it to be." It was like, "What if we did it this way?" They called up an executive. In the last two hours, they pitched to this guy. He said, "I like it. You should try it. I'll fund it, and I'll give you time." That's a happy ending. Most of my stories don't have such a happy ending.
What happened? This company, they had tremendous design capacity. In this part of the organization, it was stuck in this repeating pattern. Other parts of the organization were closed to designs insights, because of lack of trust. People doing the design work were frustrated, because they didn't know how to persuade.
They thought persuasion is the only tool in their hand. "Can I say it to somebody else? Can I say it in a different way? Can I make different slides? How can I persuade them?" Getting outside together broke that pattern, which you remembered purpose down in their cultural layer. Then, they could have done it before. Then, they could design and experiment about reconfiguring their quality function. That's in service to the bigger story. The blame was gone.
This for me is like a tenet of culture work. Doing design together creates open culture. I won't say it creates open culture, it nudges culture towards openness. We said earlier, design capacity without openness produces laden results.
How do you open a culture, it's really difficult. It turns out that doing the fundamental creative process helps create openness. The process helps create the conditions it needs for its own improvement. By the way, your managers should know that if they say they're serious about developing design capacity, they're taking a virus into their organization that is going to attempt to pry open the culture.
It's going to try to get into conversations about identity, values, purpose, and relationships. It will try to raise that question, "Who must we become?" As supposed to how can we be a bigger me. Design is scary damn stuff, when you let it into your culture.
Since that workshop a big tip of the hat, this is almost, I say derived, I could say stolen. This form for organization becoming that efforts must be systemic. We need to convene a representation of the system. They have to do it together. They have to make together as to be participatory. It has to be emerged, and not figured it out, not to solve the problem. We have a terrible disease of solutionism. Holy crap!
Not figuring it out, but agreeing on a number of things worth trying now. One of the goals are on which we design our workshops in studios as partly taking lessons from that is get the other into the same room, and give people experiences that help them be abstract to the other. Help them act like shoemakers. There's some cool text.
We use a sequence that I will say to you, as a kind of building block. Document our bubble together. Just spill that out. Get it out. Look at the seven different ways on the wall seeing this thing. Then, immerse. Visit some slice of life, or each other's slice of life. You can fix this with the magic of...oh, that was a bad idea.
Then, immerse. Have an experience that challenges people's judgments and pre-suppositions, and give people time for reflection and little structure, because we're out of practice of taking time for reflection in a corporate environment. We use intuitive method, some like model making. We've had Central Pennsylvanian IT managers stay five minutes in silence. [laughs]
Then, facilitate dialogue in a way that makes it safe to say something, other than the old repeating story. You can stack these. You can use that as a design brief and stack sequences of these experiences together. It's powerful. My problem is that, there's too much to talk about. I had just pages lined up, maybe in a some future version there can be a workshop.
This is a conversation that a lot of people are having. A lot of it outside the corporate world, longer than the corporal's been having it. There's a lot of parts on the shelf. There's a work of advancing our own practice by putting these parts together in ways that make sense for our world, for our work. It's fun to show those to people, but not now.
There was a list for you. I want to conclude with a kind of invitation, because my favorite Irish poet with a corporate consulting practice, David Whyte, says that, "The game is up, as far as the illusion that you can live your life and run your business in isolation from a larger story. It's an illusion." We're all here together, because we're seeking creative change.
In some way, all of us here are trying to spark a lead creative change. It's one of the most dumbly difficult things you can do. It's personal, because it's hard. I've been studying, I would say, the poetry of this work, the poetry of culture work, the poetry of creative work. People have been seeking creative change for a millennia, some of them were poets.
Here is one thing they say. They say, "How do you know that you're on your path, because the path has disappeared? How do you know that you're really doing something radical, because you can't see where you're going? You may not even know where you are. You've traveled beyond the realm of planning. You're in the realm of uncertainty and self-doubt."
Dante, the Inferno, famously began his epic story of "The Human Journey" this way. This is the first lines, the first lines of the story of "The Human Journey." "In the middle of the road of my life, I awoke in a dark wood, where the true way was holy lost. In the middle of the road of my life, I awoke in a dark wood, where the true way was wholly lost."
That's what it feels like to begin. You're in the forest, and the way is lost. What do you do? This is a poem by David Wagoner, who is a Seattle poet. He made a whole book of poems that were drawn from Native American stories and teaching. This poem "Lost" comes from the advice of an elder to a young person, who would ask, "What do I do if I become lost in the woods, or lost in the forest?"
The Pacific Northwest. Think. Mettur, Cider. You don't know where you're, when you're 100 yards in. This is Lost. "Stand still. The trees ahead and the bushes beside you are not lost. Wherever you are is called here and you must treat it as a powerful stranger. Must ask permission to know it and be known. The forest breeze listen. It answers.
I have made this place around you. If you leave it, you may come back again saying, here. No two trees are the same to Raven. No two branches are the same to Wren. If what a tree or a bush does is lost on you, you are surely lost. Stand still. The forest knows where you are. You must let it find you."
Now, it's interesting. Like, here's attention again. You find the conversation by paying attention to your world, and your colleagues, and to your own interior, including the negatives and the fears, they're all part of what it is, part of the woods. It requires room for silence, standing still, to simply stand on what is and take it into yourself, and getting conversation with your own values and your own beliefs.
The attention then can flower into something else. Same goes for your team. The courageous conversations are often internal. The first ones are often internal, because we're out of the habit of standing still and listening. There's all these stuff waiting. [laughs] We're out of touch with our own cultural layer.
That does a much better job of noticing, than our busy monkey mind. I like reading "Lost" as a design poem, because if you read that way, it's clever, because it leaves out the making step. We get all the way to the end, and we're still [laughs] in the woods.
Wondering this advice from the elder. We're so apt to skip the steps of observe and reflect. We feel pressured to get walking. We feel pressured to get walking. I see design as a tool for moving through the forest, when you aren't sure you know where to begin. You have intention. You immerse. You listen. You reflect.
Now, you can take a step, without stepping on a snake and falling on a hole. It's design fundamentals for people to using companies. Open your attention, reflect, then walk. You can, by the way, use making. I won't say a lot about this, but we have iteration. We have this idea. I have the idea. Now, let me iterate. There is a way of getting through the woods.
I'm going to stop the woods metaphor for a second. I can try things. I can try a whole bunch of things, if I don't know what to do in a culture. I'm doing culture work. Some of them will attract people. Around those will grow a desirable behavior. If I thought ahead of time, I know how to stabilize that. Some of those things will be negative, or they won't become attractors at all. Great. I learned something. I'm going to try more. We walk through the woods. Making is definitely part of it.
What about the shoemaker and the strategist? We should end our fable, our poor arguing friends. To resolve their dispute, the shoemaker and the strategist began to go into the village together. They went to the schools. They went to the factories. They visited the market, and the offices, and the hospitals, and the gymnasiums. They visited the mayor.
They went to other villages. They spent time with other shoemakers and other business owners. They see that the world is changing. Other businesses have followed the examples of the department store. They also see that other shoemakers are clinging to their craft, finding a way to make a living off of shrinking demand.
Both the shoemaker and the strategist realized that they had been clinging to their own story. Reality is much bigger than either one of them had perceived. I can't tell you their ideas. They aren't sure themselves how it's all going to work out. But they're very excited, because they're in new conversations. They're asking new questions, questions full of creative process.
Like, they're asking, "Who are we together? Who are we together with the children and the teachers, with the blacksmith and the mayor? Who are we together with all the other small shoemakers and all the other villages?" Excited by these questions, the shoemaker and the strategist thought of 12 experiments that they can try. They know some will fail, but that's OK, because they don't cost much, and they don't take much time.
They feel certain that some will be exciting to the people in the village, or the other shop owners, or other villages in those experiments. Those experiments they'll do again, only bigger. They can't wait to see what happens. Neither can I. That is the end of the story. I'll stop there.
Posted October 27, 2015