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Dan Brown on IA Lenses


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Dan Brown is the co-founder of UX design studio EightShapes. He’s also the author of Communicating Design, Designing Together, and Practical Design Discovery. In this conversation, we focus on Dan’s Information Architecture Lenses, a set of cards that help designers interrogate IA decisions.

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Show notes

Some show notes may include Amazon affiliate links. I get a small commission for purchases made through these links.

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Jorge: Dan, welcome to the show.

Dan: Jorge, it’s fantastic to be here. Thanks so much for having me.

Jorge: It’s such a pleasure to have you here. I believe that you are one of the very first people I ever met in person in the information architecture community. And I am not going to reveal the year because that’s going to peg us as old, but, I’ve known you for a long time, Dan.

Dan: It has been a long time and I love it! It never occurred to me that I would end up in a field where there would be a community and that community would be strong enough where I would have relationships with folks for decades. Do you know what I mean? Like to me, that is one of these unsung parts of the world that we find ourselves in. I don’t know if that’s still true. Like, I don’t know if you become a UX designer today if you’d still feel that same sense of community, but for me it was… it’s been one of these aspects of being in this world that I have come to appreciate more and more with each passing year.

Jorge: Hear, hear! It’s been a true privilege to be part of this community. And to… like you’re saying to have these very long-standing relationships with people who have a real commitment and passion to the discipline. And I certainly place you in that category. Now, it’s clear from what we’re saying here that we know each other, but some folks tuning in might not know who you are. How do you go about introducing yourself?

About Dan

Dan: Yeah, that’s… it depends on who I’m talking to, but in the field, I will say that I run a small web design and user experience design company. It’s kind of a boutique shop, based in the DC area. Most of my professional career has been in the Washington DC area and I specialize in information architecture but also the discovery process, as part of the design, and I like thinking about… let’s call it, sort of the dirty underbelly of the design process. So how do we work together effectively and how do we improve our collaboration and how do we embrace the mindsets that are essential for creativity and collaboration.

Jorge: You have written three books on the dirty underbelly, in part. And, you also share a first and last name with another writer, which might be problematic for folks searching for your books, which is an IA problem.

Dan: Yeah. It’s… you know what? As long as they eventually find me, I’m okay with that. Actually, my hope is that people go searching for that other Dan Brown, and they discover me. So, you know, it works both ways, honestly.

IA Lenses

Jorge: That’s great. Well, I’m going to include links to your books in the show notes, but the books aren’t what bring us together today. Rather, I wanted to talk with you about your Information Architecture Lenses, which started…. why, I think I first encountered them as a Medium post?

Dan: Yes.

Jorge: But then they manifested as a set of cards, and I’m holding the deck in my hands right now. And they’ve gone on to take on other forms, and I was hoping that you would tell us about the cards and the forms they’ve taken and where they come from and everything about it.

Dan: Yeah, yeah. I think I unveiled them at the IA conference in 2018, I want to say, and I honestly don’t remember what city it was in. But I gave a talk on the lenses, and really what it was a talk about was typical information architecture problems and the lack of tooling that we information architects have, in doing our work.

We’ve got tools that help us test IA, like tree testing. We’ve got tools that help us do some investigation, like card sorting. And everyone will talk about how they use spreadsheets to think about categorization. But I think the complexity and the abstractness of the spaces in which we work, make it difficult for us to really meaningfully have tools to help us do the work.

And one of the things that I realized while I do IA work, is that I ask myself a lot of questions. And so I will ask sort of, “what if” questions. Like, what if we create a new piece of content, where does it fit? Or I’ll ask myself how might questions like, “How might someone who’s new to this product navigate through it, or be introduced to it?” I’ll ask questions about how do we balance the needs of users with the needs of the business.

So, I realized that I have all of these questions, and so I just started writing them down. And as I’ve said before, I just couldn’t stop. Like I just… I thought I’d maybe have a dozen, and I kept writing. And I realized that even though some of these questions are overlapping, they each provide a unique perspective or a meaningful, distinct perspective. And it comes from my instinct to try and understand how I do what I do, and how other people do what they do.

My hypothesis is that we all… information architects, you know, people think in a systems sort of way. Even designers look at something and ask ourselves questions about it. But we don’t always know… can’t always say it out loud or don’t know exactly what question we’re asking. But that’s sort of the mechanism. And so, I started writing down and then elaborating on them and then giving them names, and that turned into this set of lenses with the cards, which turned into a talk, which turned into an interview, series, which I completed over the summer.

Jorge: And the interview series manifests in two ways, right? There’s a set of videos on YouTube and now there’s a podcast, yes?

Dan: Yeah. Basically, I recorded it… and this is purely an old dog refusing to learn new tricks. Like I figured out a couple of years ago, how to post videos to YouTube. I could record an interview session via Zoom and I can post it to YouTube. I learned that through some other hobbies that I have outside the business.

And I was like, okay, “well I can just do this.” And then I realized that I could just grab the audio from those videos, and I found an easy way to post it as a podcast, and so this is… it’s literally like to me, the content is what’s important. To me, kind of hearing from 50 different people about information architecture, is what’s important. So finding easy ways to get it out there, was my priority.

Jorge: Well, that’s great. And I want to circle back to this idea of the lenses as tools. And you mentioned that in information architecture we have certain tools that we… or what we think of as tools, right? You talked about spreadsheets and tree jack tests and card sorts. In just those three there’s kind of practical tools. Like, a spreadsheet is an app, right? Like a tangible thing that you can… well, tangible as far as a digital artifact goes, but something that you can open and examine, much in the way that you can pick up a hammer to do stuff. And, a card sort is more of a practice, but that is also kind of tool-like. But the lenses I see not in that realm, but more as kind of conceptual tools, right? Is that the intent there?

Lenses as conceptual tools

Dan: Yeah, I guess each of those is used at a different part of the process. So to your point, some of them are more like methods that we apply in certain moments. And I felt like there were no tools; there was no conceptual tooling to help us think through the complexities of the structures that we’re designing. We could visualize them, yes. We could try and lay them out as best we could in a diagramming program. But really the word I’ve been using is interrogating them. Like really, really doing the work of a creative person, which is to sort of look at something that we built and ask ourselves, “Is this good?” You know, for art, we have the language of aesthetics. For IA, what do we have? And this was, I guess, my swipe at that, right? It’s sort of my attempt to give us that.

Jorge: And folks who might not have seen the lenses might be wondering how these things manifest. And I’ll give an example. I pulled out one of the cards from the deck here just randomly, and it is titled, “Comprehensiveness.”

Dan: Yep.

Jorge: And it says, “the navigation should encompass the entire domain, especially if users come with pre-existing expectations about the domain. If it doesn’t, it should be clear what is excluded.” And then it lists a series of questions that you can ask yourself to assess the comprehensiveness of the structure that you’re working with, right?

Dan: Right.

Jorge: And there’s 51 of them currently, yes?

Dan: Yeah, 51 cards. 51 lenses. Yep.

Jorge: You use the phrase, “interrogating them,” which I loved. It makes me think of something like the… Brian Eno’s Oblique Strategies cards. He did them with someone else; Peter Schmidt, I think, is the name of the artist that he worked with. It sounds almost oracular, like the I Ching or something like that.

Dan: Yes.

Using the Lenses

Jorge: So, what I’m getting by that is that the intent of the deck is when faced with some kind of… let’s call it “architectural conundrum,” you consult the cards. Is that the idea?

Dan: Yeah, I think there are at least two ways I conceive of using these things. One is sort of the way I had to do a lot of my work early in my career, which is, I was not encountering a lot of folks who were good at systems thinking. And so I developed these questions so I could have a dialogue with someone, i.e., myself, about the work. I would design a structure and I would then serve the role of a critique person rather than a design person and try and critique it. So, the intent is to give you that voice — to give you the voice of another designer who might look at this thing and ask these kinds of questions, because you’re too close to it to ask them yourself.

Another mode of using these is to facilitate a conversation, which is not something that I had intended or really thought about when I designed them, but as I get feedback from folks, they are indicating that they bring these cards to meetings so that they can put them out on the table, and have people zero in on maybe what their chief concerns are. Or challenge people to ask questions about the structure. So, it ends up being a tool for facilitating conversations that are otherwise maybe difficult to facilitate or unstructured or hard for folks because they don’t have the range of experience that they need to facilitate these conversations.

Jorge: Well that’s really fascinating. I’m really intrigued by this notion that the lenses are a catalyst for conversation either between groups of people, or in groups of people, or with yourself. I find that really fascinating. And the way that I imagine that would play out… I mean, I’ve used them myself, but not in a group setting. And in a group setting, I would imagine that you would want to be able to gravitate to the lens that is most appropriate to the issue under discussion, yeah?

Dan: Yeah. I mean I think so. The other thing that I’ve heard is that people will use it to highlight issues with the team that they feel like the team is not adequately paying attention to. So, I did try and include… you know, there’s a lens of ethics in there, and there’s a lens of who benefits. And these are difficult conversations for folks to have when they look at their structures of their designing and are really trying to ask themselves, am I really designing this for the users, the actual consumers of this content? Or am I designing this with some other bias in mind?

I’m working with an organization right now. I have the opportunity to provide some IA coaching which has really just been very gratifying for me, but it’s really interesting to see them struggle with getting out of their own heads, getting out of their own space, and design a structure that will be meaningful to the actual end-users — to use an antiquated term — of this system. And even just in our first few conversations, just by virtue of explaining the system to me, just that process of explaining it, they have been able to see their navigation in a new way and understand how they need to bring new perspectives to the table.

Jorge: So, it’s kind of a framework for the articulation of things that might otherwise go unspoken.

Dan: Yes. Well said.

IA Lenses video series

Jorge: That’s awesome. Well, speaking of making things spoken, let’s talk about the first video series and now podcast. You’ve interviewed different practitioners and released a video, one on each lens.

Dan: Yes.

Jorge: And, the range of practitioners is both wide and deep. And I’m hoping that you’ll tell us a bit more about the video series, how that came about. And more importantly, I’m curious to know how your understanding of the lenses themselves has perhaps shifted or evolved, after hearing them reflected from other people.

Dan: Oh, yeah. I wish I had a better origin story for the video series. I was wrapping up a project in the late spring and I saw in front of me that I would have a gap in time. I just, I didn’t have a project to fill it, and I was thinking, “that’s fine. I’ve just rolled off this really big project.”

I have a business partner at EightShapes, Nathan, and he and I frequently give each other permission to take some time to think about our practice or think about our portion of the business or what have you. He was very encouraging of me to not necessarily worry about filling my plate with billable work, but just think more deeply about…

At that moment, I was really interested in thinking more about IA and the IA practice, and the phrase “a lens a day,” popped into my head. And I pitched it to my colleagues at EightShapes and they asked me a lot of really, really, really good questions. And I’m a middle-aged man and did not heed any of their wisdom. And instead said, “you know, I’m just going to do this. I’m going to see what happens.” So I was about to go off on my summer vacation, and what I did was I kind of put together a pitch, an email that I sent to folks, and a Google Form… I think it was a Google Form or a Calendly or something, to sign up, and I had recorded a pilot episode.

So, the first episode I recorded with my old friend James Melzer, also at EightShapes. And the point was just to see like, could I get a 20-minute conversation out of a lens? And it was not really a good test because James and I can talk for 20 minutes about anything. But it was still enough for me to feel like this could be a thing. And then the Calendly signups started rolling in and I was like, “Oh, I think I need to do this now!”

And I would record sometimes ten episodes a week because they were quick little half-hour conversations. And I would change my shirt each time, to maintain the illusion that I was recording a lens a day. And then a couple of weeks after that, I just started posting them. And it was incredibly gratifying.

It was just fantastic to talk to so many different people. I mean, I got to talk to folks like you, Jorge. You know, old friends, people that we’ve known for a while that we don’t always get to dig in and talk shop. Like, really talk about the work that we do.

One of the last interviews I did was with Karen McGrane and that was just so great. You know, we’ve… again like two ships passing in the night, we’ve seen each other at conferences year after year. See each other on various Slack groups, but here to just sit down and talk about the work was awesome. But then I also contacted folks who I barely knew, and just had been following on Twitter, and seen Tweet about information architecture stuff. Folks who were relatively new to the field, and relative meaning three to four to five years into their career, as opposed to twenty-five years in.

And for me, it became an opportunity to do the thing that I get to do at the IA Conference, which is meet new people in a very controlled, safe environment. And have a very specific agenda for that conversation. And that was great. It was really… it was really great. You asked me if I now see these lenses in a new way, and I think it’s really hard for me to think about that at the individual lens level.

I do feel like a lot of my feelings about the world of information architecture were validated. And maybe that is not a good objective for a podcast, but maybe it’s what I need at this moment. But one of the things that people talked a lot about was curiosity and how that plays such an important role in their work and their process, in their identity as an information architect. And that was really gratifying to hear how important just questioning the world was to folks. But also finding joy in… which is what I take curiosity to be, is sort of finding joy in uncovering and learning.

Jorge: Finding joy in finding out.

Dan: Yes. Exactly. Exactly. So I’m not sure I can point to any specific lens on say, “Oh, I got a ton of new insights about this lens in particular.” What was cool was no one looked at a lens and was like, “I have nothing to say about this.” Or if they did, like a couple of people did say that, and then when we got into it and I had a million things to say about it. So, there was also some validation that these lenses as a framework were useful and provocative in the way that I had hoped they would be.

Jorge: Part of what I see as the value of the series is that it gives these lenses wider exposure. And I’m wondering what kind of reaction you’ve had from folks, perhaps folks who might not be as aware about information architecture. Have you heard about anyone who’s discovered this through the series?

Dan: No. That would be ideal, right? If I were to outline what my objectives were, And, I mean the dirty little secret is, the idea for “A Lens A Day” popped into my head, and then I backed into these objectives. And if you listen to the conversations, you’ll hear that the lens plays really just a… kind of a narrative role in sort of propelling the conversation. I don’t force anyone to talk about things that they don’t want to talk about — I hope! And I don’t sort of force us to come back to the lens if, you know, the conversation goes in a different way. It’s really just an excuse. It was literally just an excuse to talk to fifty-one different people and maybe dig a little deeper on information architecture.

So, that was my goal was to talk to as many folks as I could, and maybe create some momentum around deep thinking around information architecture. I don’t know if I was successful in that goal. There’s interest. People are subscribing. People are listening. I get some nice comments and feedback on it.

At the end of the day, it was maybe as much for the interview subjects as it was for the listeners, right? It was as much for them to give them a place to talk about the work that they do. I’m happy to use whatever cache and platform I have to provide that. That is important to me, to lift up other voices.

One of the things that occurred to me way after the fact was that this is a snapshot. It’s almost a time capsule of where the state of information architecture is in 2021. And I understood the… or I imbued — I don’t know if I understood, but I certainly imbued the work and the series with a sense of importance, because I recognized that even if it doesn’t create any momentum, what it is doing is capturing where we are right now with the practice of information architecture. And to me, in some ways that was almost more important or at least equally important to thinking of this as a vehicle for promoting IA or promoting myself or promoting the lenses.

Jorge: Would you be willing to share with us your impressions of what that snapshot looks like?

Dan: Yeah, and I do want to do a deep dive and look through things. I did try and capture some themes as I was recording the interviews. So, as I said, curiosity is one of the big ones. I think there are two things that stand out to me and that is — and again, the sample that I was working with was you could say biased because it was just people who said yes to some random guy emailing them — but two things stand out to me, one very positive and one very concerning.

The positive one is that people see this work is highly collaborative. I think I was forged in the fires of being a sole practitioner of IA. And one of the things that was very clear when I first moved to Washington and started practicing IA here is how desperate we all were for collaborators. And what I’m hearing today is that is largely changed. I would ask people like… I did ask people about their collaboration practices, right? So I was sort of biasing the conversation in that direction and then about halfway through, I was like, “okay, well, let me change up my first question.” and let me… instead of asking about how do you draw people into the process? Let me ask, “What does it look like when you’re just sitting in thinking deeply about IA?” And this is not a knock on my guests, but none of them could answer that question because they would all say, “Well, I’ll usually go and talk to someone.”

And I’m thinking to myself, that is literally not what I’m asking, but it is very telling, right? That when they’re doing IA work, their instinct is to draw other people into that process. Even though I can say for certain that a lot of… you know, that there’s still a good portion of my IA process that involves just sitting and staring at a spreadsheet and building connections in my head. So, that was one thing that I really appreciated: that there’s an acknowledgment that this is complicated work and that it needs to be collaborative.

I think the other thing that occurred to me is that the fears that I have about the lack of emphasis or the lack of resources that are being given to IA are still very much true. I interviewed very few people who called themselves an information architect; they were either UX practitioners who did IA, or they were content strategists. Which was by design, right? I wanted a wide swath, but it became very clear to me that IA is still something that a few people do and draw other people into that process, but there’s not as much dedication to it in the organizations that probably really need it.

when I’ve come to realize… actually, maybe this is one of the things that I realized through this interview series, is that information architecture is yes, in part, interrogating your structures, answering these kinds of questions. But sometimes the answers are framed in terms of trade-offs, and that by doing one thing in the navigation, we’re not doing another thing, right? Or creating content types in one… you know, following one scheme, are deliberately choosing not to do it in another way.

And so my next project, the next tool that I’m thinking about for information architects, is understanding what those trade-offs are. And I mean, like everything in my life, I’m conceiving of it as a deck of cards where, you can sort of make provocative choices of, you know, if you’re thinking about how to structure the items in your menu, one choice that you can make is that all the items have the same weight and another choice that you can make is that some items are weighted more heavily in that menu right? That’s a trade-off that you would make.

And so, I’m really, really curious about identifying the range of tradeoffs that we make when we’re designing a structure. So, that’s one direction that I think this has provoked me to go in, and another direction that it’s provoked me to go and hopefully I can do this — find the stamina to do this — is to keep up the series and keep interviewing people. It will not necessarily focus on specific lenses, because I think I’ve done that. But I do like the idea of having people help us understand the lens through which they see the practice of information architecture. So I will… my intent is to pick up on that theme and keep going with it, but using the lens metaphor to turn our attention to the practice of IA itself.

Closing

Jorge: I’m sure that folks are going to want to find out more and keep up with all the work that you’re doing. Where can folks follow up with you?

Dan: For better, for worse, I’m still enmeshed in Twitter. And so I think my handle on Twitter is @brownorama and I tweet a lot of work-related stuff, but also hobby-related stuff. The IA Lenses have their own Twitter account. It’s @IAlenses. And that may be better if you just want pure IA content in your timeline. Yeah. And EightShapes has a YouTube channel. I don’t know how to tell you where to find it, but EightShapes… you can see the interviews on EightShapes’ YouTube channel, or you can look @IAlenses’ Twitter to see links to the podcasts as well.

Jorge: And I will include links to all of those, including the YouTube channel, in the notes.

Dan: Thanks.

Jorge: Well, fantastic. Dan, it’s been such a pleasure having you here. Thank you for sharing with us.

Dan: Jorge, I love chatting with you. I just wish we could find more excuses to do this throughout the year.

Jorge: Well, let’s do that. Let’s make sure to do it again.

Dan: Cool.

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Annie Murphy Paul on The Extended Mind


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Annie Murphy Paul is an acclaimed science writer. Her work has appeared in the New York Times, the Boston Globe, Scientific American, Slate, Time magazine, The Best American Science Writing, and other publications.

Our conversation focuses on the subject of her latest book, The Extended Mind, which is about how human cognition relies on our bodies, other people, and the material world. I loved this book and was thrilled to ask Annie about how this line of thinking plays out in the context of our heavily digitized lives.

Show notes

Some show notes may include Amazon affiliate links. I get a small commission for purchases made through these links.

Read the transcript

Jorge: Annie, welcome to the show.

Annie: Thank you, Jorge. It’s really great to be here.

Jorge: Well, it’s a real pleasure and an honor to have you. I recently read your newest book and I… like I wrote on my blog, I loved it. So, it’s great to have you here to talk about it. Some folks might not be familiar with you and your work. How do you go about introducing yourself and what you do?

About Annie

Annie: You know, I usually say that I’m a science writer, but even as I say that, I feel like a little bit of an imposter. Because to me, a science writer is someone who writes about the mission to Mars, or the COVID 19 virus, or something. And I really only write about one particular kind of science, and that is the science of human behavior. If it has something to do with people, and how they act, and how they think, then I’m a hundred percent interested. But I don’t write about other kinds of entities or report on other kinds of science. I’m exclusively really devoted to thinking and writing about human behavior. And in particular, human cognition. Learning and cognition are really my… that’s my wheelhouse.

Jorge: These are hugely important subjects. The Extended Mind is your third book, yes?

Annie: It is.

Jorge: And, the other two deal with cognition…. and I have to be frank, I have not read the other two. But just from looking at them, it seems like they deal with cognition at early stages of human development. Is that right?

Annie: Well, my first book was about personality testing. It’s called The Cult Of Personality, and it was a scientific critique and cultural history of personality testing. And that was very interesting to me. I found that topic interesting because I’m interested in why we are the way we are, how we think about the way we are and how that interacts with what society tells us we are and who we should be.

And personality testing seemed to me like a really interesting example of society creating these categories, which people often embrace, you know? And after writing this book that was critical of personality tests, I heard from many people who love the Myers-Briggs personality tests, for example, and who felt that it made everything… made the whole world makes sense to them, made themselves legible to themselves and others in ways that hadn’t been possible for them before.

But I do see myself not just as reporting science and the findings of science, but often acting as a kind of social critic. And I really wanted people to stop and think about whether the categories of personality psychology were really an adequate way to describe the fullness and the richness of their humanity, you know?

And then my second book was different from that. It was called Origins, and it was about the science of prenatal influences. And there, I was interested in making an intervention in the long-running nurture-nature debate. It seemed to me like there was, this nine-month period that didn’t get enough attention as a wellspring of who we are and how we turn out in life because there’s so much focus on the moment of conception when this genetic blueprint gets laid down and the moment of birth when nurture by the parents begins, conventionally speaking. But there were nine months in between those two events that actually turn out to be really consequential in shaping our future health and perhaps things like our future personality and how we handle stress and things like that.

So, to me, those two books as different as they seem on the surface were really investigations into the same question, which is: what makes us the way we are. And I would even say that this latest book, The Extended Mind, is just a continuation of that question or that search for an answer to that question. In this case, I was interested in how we understand the question of intelligence and how we understand the activity of thinking and, you know, conventionally… again, this is where the social criticism comes in. Conventionally, we think of thinking as happening inside the brain. And I was very intrigued by the concept originally introduced by two philosophers that actually thinking happens out in the world. It happens throughout our bodies, you know? Below the neck. It happens in our physical surroundings, it happens in our interactions with other people. And that to think of thinking as happening only inside our heads is really limiting and constraining and also just simply an inaccurate picture of how thinking happens.

Jorge: I would expect that there are people listening in who hear that we have this perception that thinking happens inside the brain and they go, “Well, yes! That’s where it happens!” Right?

Annie: Right.

Jorge: Many of us were brought up with that impression. And as you’re suggesting here, the work of particularly Andy Clark and David Chalmers, the philosophers you were referring to, points to there being more to that, right? The way that I understood it is it happens in concert between the nervous system, the body, our senses, and the environment around us. And other actors in the environment, yes?

Where we think

Annie: Yes. And I want to be clear to those who would be skeptical of this concept that the brain is still central to thinking. It’s not that the brain is not the locus of thinking; it’s just that it’s not… the process of thinking, the argument goes, is not limited to the brain. And in fact, the brain is really orchestrating resources from outside itself, from the body, from the physical surroundings, from other people.

And that that is a broader and more expansive view of the thinking process than imagining that it all happens in the brain. So the brain is still central, but I think we can change our notion of what role the brain plays: less a kind of workhorse that’s doing all of the work itself and more of like an orchestra conductor that’s bringing in resources from outside itself and coordinating them and assembling them into this dynamic process of thinking.

Jorge: Yeah. I love that. The notion that it’s not that the brain is driving the show, perhaps, but like it’s orchestrating things. I like that way of thinking about it. The old distinction, the old way of looking at the way the mind works, if we might call it brain-centric, has led to designs for the world that we live in, right? And you get into several of those in the book. I’m wondering if you could talk a bit more about how that kind of brain-centric way of thinking about the mind has led to the various structural aspects of the world that we work and learn and play and interact in.

Metaphors: the brain as computer

Annie: Yes. Yeah, I do see evidence of that brain-centric view all over the place. Once you start noticing it, it’s hard not to see. But you know, I just a moment ago we were talking about various metaphors for the brain and we understand the brain and it’s working through metaphor. And one of the most common metaphors, and I’m sure your listeners have encountered it, is the brain as a computer. And that notion got its start in the cognitive revolution of the 20th century, and it’s been very fruitful as a kind of paradigm for exploring the brain and inventing all the applications and technology that are so useful to us these days.

But it is very limiting in its capacity to explain to ourselves what the brain is, what it does. I always like to say we’re more like animals than we are like machines. You know, the brain is a biological organ. I mean, I know this is obvious, but we really can get very entranced in a way by this metaphor of “brain as computer.” The brain is a biological organ that evolved to carry out tasks that are often very different from the tasks that we expect it to execute today. And so, our misunderstanding of what the brain is leads us, as you were saying, Jorge, to create these structures in society — in education and in the workplace, in our everyday lives — that really don’t suit the reality of what the brain is.

I mean, I’m thinking about how, for example, we expect ourselves to be productive. Whether that’s in the workplace, or what we expect our students to do in school. You know, we often expect ourselves to sit still, don’t move around, don’t change the space where you’re in. Don’t talk to other people. Just sit there and kind of work until it’s done. And that’s how we expect ourselves to get serious thinking done. And that makes sense if the brain is a computer, you know? You feed it information and it processes the information, then it spits out the answer in this very linear fashion.

But that’s not at all how the brain works. Because the brain is so exquisitely sensitive to context, and that context can be the way our bodies are feeling and how they’re moving, that context can be literally where we are situated and what we see and what we experience around us, and that context can be the social context: whether we’re with other people, whether we’re talking to them, how those conversations are unfolding — all those things have an incredibly powerful impact on how we think.

And so, when we expect the brain to function like a computer, whether that’s in the office or in the classroom, we’re really underselling its actual powers — its actual genius — and we’re cutting ourselves off from the wellsprings of our own intelligence, which is the fact that we are embodied creatures embedded in an environment and set in this network of relationships. So, it really… we’re really kind of leaving a lot of potential intelligence on the table when we limit our idea of what the brain is in that way.

Metaphors: the brain as muscle

Jorge: There’s another metaphor that you also discuss in the book, this idea of the brain as a muscle.

Annie: Yes.

Jorge: Which is a… because the idea of the brain as a computer that processes has some kind of input and then generates an output, I think that we can all relate to. But what is this notion of the brain as muscle and why is it wrong?

Annie: Yeah. This is an interesting one because although it’s so common to think of the brain as a computer, it’s not like people have… well, this is… that was wrong. I was going to say, it’s not like people are passionately defending the metaphor of brain as computer. But in fact, there are a lot of people in artificial intelligence and other areas that are quite attached to that idea.

But it is also the case that there are many people who seem very attached to the idea of the brain as muscle. And this, too has a pretty long history, longer than the brain as computer, obviously. You can find tracks from the 19th century by medical authorities telling people that your brain is like a muscle and just like a physical muscle when you exercise it more, it gets stronger. So, there’s a very long history of that idea. But more recently, it was really brought into the public consciousness by the work of the psychologist, Carol Dweck, who introduced this idea of the growth mindset. And the growth mindset is very popular and very beloved for many good reasons.

I mean, Carol Dweck is a very accomplished scientist and I very much admire her and her work. And what appeals to people about the growth mindset and its metaphor of the brain as muscle is that it’s a very hopeful message to give to a student or to an adult. You know, that intelligence is not a fixed quantity. It’s actually something that you can grow, you can cultivate through effort and through practice. And of course, there’s a lot to that. And there’s a lot that’s positive about the growth mindset.

I do have some issues with that metaphor because again, it’s a very brain-centric kind of metaphor. It focuses all of its firepower on the brain on the idea that exercising the brain is how we make it stronger. And I think in a way it limits people who are very attached to the growth mindset because if simply exercising the brain harder and harder isn’t getting you what you want, there aren’t many other options.

And what I so enjoy about the theory of The Extended Mind is that it offers so many choices and options and avenues, you know? It may be that if sitting and thinking harder and harder is not working for you, it may be that you need to stand up and move around and maybe act out the problem that you’re wrestling with. Or you may need to go outside and spend some time in nature, restoring your attention. Or you may need to engage in a social activity with another person, like telling them a story about what you’re struggling with or engaging in a debate with them. And so, there are so many ways that we can draw on our environment and on our own bodies and on our own relationships to think better. And so that to me is what the theory of The Extended Mind adds to the conversation.

Jorge: Yeah. What I’m hearing there is that the notion that intelligence can be grown is not wrong per se, it’s that we’ve been limiting intelligence to just the one organ up here, right?

Annie: Yes. And I do notice there’s a wonderful new paper by Carol Dweck and some other researchers that’s really explicitly recognizing this and saying that growth mindset needs to be practiced within an environment, a context, that supports actual growth and development. So, I think the idea that context is so important to our thinking is really, you know, it’s having its moment, I hope. And I actually think the pandemic has played a role in that, you know? Because so many of us have spent the past 18 months as almost like brains in front of screens, and we’ve been cut off from many of the mental extensions that normally pre-pandemic would, in normal life, would have helped us with our thinking, like being able to move around and even commuting or traveling in ways that are stimulating and being in new places and interacting with people in person. In a lot of cases, we’ve been missing those things and we’ve felt the impact on our thinking, you know? We’re not thinking as well as we would like to, and it’s not for lack of working our brains hard, because we have been doing that. But that’s not enough. We really need the support of those external resources that have been harder to access during the pandemic.

Interacting in information environments

Jorge: I wanted to ask you about that. The tagline of this show is that it’s about how people organize information to get things done, and the notion there is that we are living… even before the pandemic, we were living in a society where so many of our interactions are moving from — let’s call them real-world contexts — to contexts that we instantiate in these small glass rectangles we carry around in our pockets, right? And the glass rectangle, when compared to real life, is a relatively limited channel.

Annie: Yeah.

Jorge: And I’m wondering how awareness of our embodied intelligence can help us think better, act more soundly. I’m wondering if there are any lessons from that that could help us become more effective users of these digital systems that are currently going through these very narrow channels.

Annie: Yeah, well, I think we do need to think carefully about how we use these devices because they really… they can’t be beat, in terms of convenience and ease. And I think we’ve all experienced that during the pandemic, that actually all those meetings that we were going into the office for, or traveling across the country to meet people, they can happen online and they probably will continue to happen online more than they did before.

I do want to urge people to be aware of what the trade-off is. You know, it is easy, it is convenient. It’s… from my reading of the research, I have a real bias in favor of in-person interactions because the signal, as you… I think you used the word “signals”… you know, the signals that we’re exchanging with other people as we talk, as we spend time in each other’s presence, they’re so much richer than when we are communicating with each other across the screen digitally. This is part of our brain-centric culture that we are so focused on simply the words that people say, like the actual information being conveyed in this very explicit sense, that that’s what we focus on. And we feel like, “okay, well, that got the job done.” You know, that interactive virtual meeting, that got the job done because we exchanged the appropriate words. But there’s so much more going on when two people relate to each other in person.

And I wouldn’t want us to think that the sort of pale simulacrum of human interaction that can happen online– I wouldn’t want us to think that that can ever substitute for being together in person. And not just two people, but in particular, the power of a group of people getting together– that is very hard to simulate online.

So, I think you had asked, Jorge, about not just about the compromises we make in terms of our social interactions when we’re online, but also this embodied aspect. You know, it’s very easy when we’re using our devices to think of ourselves as just a brain in a vat, a brain looking at a screen. When, as I’ve been saying, so much of our intelligence emerges from the fact that we are embodied, you know? And that’s easy to forget when we’re so in this head space of using our computers and our devices.

And so one other thing I would say is just to… first of all, to take time to make sure that you’re not on your devices all the time and that you do remember that you have a body and use it and tune into it and all those things. But also if it’s possible, look for technology and look for applications that involve your body. And that there are applications and technologies like that, that don’t require you to just be sort of like a face or a head in the screen, but that do involve the body to a greater degree. And we can make choices about, you know, which technologies we use in that sense.

Jorge: Is one aspect of that getting greater awareness of how our bodies function? And I’m thinking of things like the Apple Watch, which I’m wearing, and this notion that all of a sudden my movements get quantified as this exercise ring that I either close or not, depending on how much I move my body during the day. Does that serve to bring us closer to our awareness? Or does it somehow build a distance by abstracting it out into a number that we’re aiming for?

Annie: Yeah, that’s a super interesting question. I am not sure, actually. I mean, I think I’d be in favor of any technology that makes us more conscious of our bodies and more conscious of our movements, but then again, as you say, is there a cost in terms of moving away from the actual embodied experience of being a body and turning that into a number or, and then turning the number into a goal, you know? That you’re either meeting or not meeting. I think there’s definitely potential there for a kind of detachment from the body instead of tuning into the body. That’s a really interesting question. I think we’re living in a moment where so many of these things are unknown and unsettled and it’s really… it’s going to be a process of learning how these technologies affect us and how they affect us long-term you know? Which no one can answer except for in the long-term.

Jorge: Right. The question came to mind as I was reading the book. And, just for folks who may not have read it, the book is divided into three parts. The first part has to do with thinking with the body. So that includes things like gestures. I came away with a new understanding of what… like I’m moving my hands right now, right? And I came away with an understanding of why I do that. The second part deals with thinking with environments, and the third with thinking with other people. And in the first part of the book that deals with thinking with the body, you covered this concept of interoception which in my notes, I put down as kind of like learning to listen to your gut.

Annie: But not just your gut!

Jorge: Well, no — colloquially, right?

Annie: Yes, colloquially.

Jorge: It’s like, check in with your body. Are you feeling anxious? You know, are you feeling… and as someone who designs digital environments for a living, it made me wonder. It’s like, is my work making people somehow fall out of tune with being able to listen to their bodies? And how might we move to create digital experiences that make better use of the full experience of being human, which is not constrained to these small rectangles that we tap, tap, tap? Right?

Designing (dis)embodied experiences

Annie: Yes. Well, it’s a very powerful cultural current — and a very old one — to separate mind and body and to elevate mind above body and to believe that mind is kind of pure and cerebral and the body is irrational and unruly and ungovernable and has nothing to contribute to intelligent thought. Whereas I think the more we learn, the more scientists research the connections between mind and body, the more we see that that is not at all the case. And I think, in our culture that is so achievement-oriented, that’s so much about getting things done, it’s so easy. And I fall into this trap myself, in the middle of a busy hectic day, to be focused so much on the external world and all this information flowing in for us to process, and to forget about the fact that we have this internal world as well from which there’s a constant flow of internal sensations and cues and signals that’s always there, but we’re not tuning into it. We don’t take the time. We don’t take the quiet space that we need to tune into that internal world. And what that means is that we’re missing out on all the information and the wisdom and the accumulated experience that can really only be communicated to us through those internal signals because so much of what we know is not really accessible consciously.

And the way that we become aware of this vast repository of patterns and regularities and experience that we do possess, the way we become aware of it, is through the body kind of tapping us on the shoulder or tugging on our sleeve with these internal cues and saying, “Hey! Pay attention to this!” Or, “this is what happened last time, and this is how it turned out.” You know, all this kind of information that we have access to, but we’re so used to pushing that away, and to believing that the body is actually a kind of a barrier to intelligent thought rather than a conduit to intelligent thought, you know? We think we have to sort of power through and like push away those annoying or inconvenient bodily sensations when really tuning into them would enrich our thinking so much.

Jorge: Yeah, sometimes it’s time to go for a walk or to take a nap. Right?

Annie: Oh, it’s always time to take a nap! I’m a big fan of naps.

Annie’s thinking environment

Jorge: I want to ask you about your own processes and how working on this subject has changed the way that you approach your own work. In the book you describe the writing process of Robert Caro, who has written some amazing biographies. I remember reading the one about Robert Moses and having my mind blown at just how rich and the big that book is, right?

Annie: Yes.

Jorge: And, the way that you describe it in the book, these books that Caro writes are just have so much stuff in them that it’s not something that you can hold in your “meat computer.”

Annie: Right.

Jorge: So he has this corkboard in his office, this four-by-ten corkboard, where he kind of outlines the book. And I got the sense that his office is part of his writing apparatus– but not just because it gives him a place that shields him from the elements, right? And I’m wondering about your own thinking and writing environment and if it has changed at all as a result of doing this work.

Annie: Yeah, I write in the book that I don’t think that I could have written this book, which was a very ambitious project that involves so, so many journal articles and books and interviews and things. So much information to synthesize and put together. I don’t think that I could have pulled it off if I had not applied the various strategies that I write about in the book. So, it was a really kind of meta experience.

But you mentioned Robert Caro and his process of laying out the ideas and themes in his book on this really big wall-sized cork board. And I love that example because of how he uses it. You know, he’s able to walk along this cork board move in and move out, and physically navigate through this three-dimensional landscape of ideas that he’s pulling together for each of his books. And to me, that’s such a beautiful example of how when we remember what the brain evolved to do. And when we think about how we adapt this stone-age organ to the kind of tasks that we require of it today, we can see that it’s really powerful to harness our natural and evolved strengths, which include physical navigation and spatial memory. When we can harness those in the service of these very complex cognitive activities that we undertake today, it just gives our ability to think this enormous boost.

You know, as we were saying earlier, the brain evolved to do different things from what we expect it to do today. And two things that it evolved to do really effortlessly and easily and powerfully is manipulate physical objects and navigate, as I was saying, through a three-dimensional landscape. These are things that we’re just naturally good at as human beings. And so, the more we can turn abstract ideas and information into physical objects that we can manipulate. And I’m thinking here about like Post-It notes that you can move around and redistribute at will. And the more we can turn ideas — abstract ideas and information — into a physical landscape that’s big enough for us to bodily interact with, then the more we’re harnessing those embodied resources that are a part of our sort of heritage as human beings. We don’t get any of the benefits of those embodied resources when we try to do it all in our heads, you know?

So, I do have a giant Caro-inspired cork board in my office. I do make profligate use of Post-It notes because there was just too much here to wrap my head around. And I really needed to externalize my thought. Scientists call it offloading cognition — cognitive offloading. I needed to offload those ideas, put them out into physical space, move them around, and move myself around in relation to them, in order to pull off this very challenging mental task of writing this book.

Jorge: And what I’m hearing there is that there is something about the physical nature of that experience and the fact that your body is in that room, that matters here. Because there is software — thinking of like Miro or Mural — that simulates a whiteboard with sticky notes. What I’m getting out of it is that it’s simulating the kind of aesthetics of the thing, but it’s still constraining it within the glass rectangle, right?

Annie: Yeah, that’s interesting. I do think that software and other technological applications can learn from what we know about how humans think in embodied and environmentally embedded ways. Certainly, there are lessons there for people who are designing software, but I think you’re right that such a program might sort of emulate the look of using Post It notes on a big corkboard, but it does lose some of the functionality just simply because it’s not going to be as big as the format that I’m talking about. And it’s not gonna involve that material and tactical kind of experience of literally moving things around, which I think offers its own enhancement to the thinking process.

Jorge: Yeah, and surely that’s what the folks who are researching things like augmented reality are really after, overlaying the information onto our physical environments.

Closing

Jorge: Well, this has been super insightful and, as I said, I love the book and I recommend it to everyone, but especially to people who are designing software and interactive experiences. It covers a subject matter that I think everyone in this field should be aware of. So where can folks follow up with you?

Annie: So, I have a website. It’s www.anniemurphypaul.com. I’m also really active on Twitter and I encourage people to find me there. My handle is @anniemurphypaul. Yeah, and I’d love to hear in particular from your listeners and from people who do this kind of work because I do think there are so many connections between designing — literally, designing the experience that someone has online — and The Extended Mind. I mean, I just think there’s such an enormously potentially productive overlap between those two things, and I’d love to hear about their own thoughts.

Jorge: Well, you’ve heard it, folks! Please reach out to Annie and let her know because this is important stuff. Thank you so much, Annie, for being on the show.

Annie: Oh, thank you, Jorge. This has been fantastic. I’ve really enjoyed talking with you.

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Episodes

Nathan Shedroff on Foodicons


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Nathan Shedroff is an entrepreneur, author, speaker, and a colleague at the California College of the Arts, where we both teach in the graduate interaction design program. Nathan has worked for a long time on driving innovation and sustainability through design. This conversation focuses on his latest project: Foodicons, which is creating a shared, open-source, and royalty-free iconographic language of food.

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Episodes

Sunni Brown on Deep Self Design


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Sunni Brown is a social entrepreneur who uses visual literacy, design thinking, and visual facilitation to solve complex problems. She’s the author of The Doodle Revolution and co-author of Gamestorming.

In this conversation, we discuss Sunni’s current area of focus, which uses Zen Buddhism and design thinking to help individuals craft a more fulfilling and engaged life.

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Some show notes may include Amazon affiliate links. I get a small commission for purchases made through these links.

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Jorge: Sunni, welcome to the show.

Sunni: Thank you.

Jorge: It’s a pleasure having you here. For folks who might not know you, would you mind, please, introducing yourself?

About Sunni

Sunni: Oh, when you let me know that we were going to have to do that, I had this like moment of, oh God! How do you introduce oneself when you’re a, like a… well, the new term is multipotentialite. Have you heard this obnoxious term?

Jorge: No.

Sunni: Well, it’s like if you’re a polymath, or if you just have multifaceted aspects of yourself. It’s not easy to summarize who I am, what I do. So, I always dread the question. But there is a term floating around called multipotentialite, and it just means the person that has many skills and many things that they pursue and many things that they’re interested in. There’s a lot of neuro-diversity going on, so we’re not easily put in a space. So, it’s hard for me to summarize myself.

But I would say what’s useful for people to know for the purposes of this conversation is probably that… I’ll just tell you my role. I am an author and a public speaker and a visual thinker, and a facilitator. Really, a sort of deep-dive facilitator. And a Zen student. And also what I call a Deep Self Designer. And a book coach. So as you can see, my friend, Dave Mastronardi, finally gave me language for this the other day. He goes, “you’re just a creative with a capital C!” And I was like, “Cool, Dave, thank you! Because that kind of helps, you know?” It’s like, I just am interested in a lot.

Jorge: I don’t like the word generalist because it implies like Jack of all trades, master of none.

Sunni: Yeah, right!

Jorge: I love this idea of multipotentialite. I recently heard the word “nexialist,” which…

Sunni: What is that? Like a person at the nexus of lots of things?

Jorge: Doesn’t quite roll off the tongue either. It comes from a sci-fi book, and I’ll put a link in the show notes so that we don’t have to go into it in too much depth here. But I think it’s a similar idea, that you are driven by several different interests.

Sunni: I love science fiction for that. They always give us language that we need, you know?

Jorge: I feel like I want to explore several of the many… what’s the plural of nexus? Is it nexuses? Or nexii?

Sunni: Nexialisms!

Jorge: Several of the different identities that you served us there. Or potentialities, maybe. You spoke of… well, let’s, tackle two of them that I’m especially curious about. You mentioned that you’re a Zen student and a Deep Self Designer. I don’t know if you want to take those independently or if they somehow connect?

Sunni: They do connect, actually. And it’s cool that you alighted in on those two, because they’re the… I think honestly, the most important ones that I do. And they have the most… they have the most liberating capacity of all the things that I do. And they do have intersections, absolutely.

Zen

Sunni: So, Zen is not something you can summarize really at all. It’s such a deep and ancient lineage and an enormous body of practice. But what I find useful and what actually… it was sort of the groundwork for my pursuit of designing another method. And what it did for me was help me understand that the mind is a machine, and it has like projections onto reality all the time. And it has narratives and stories that it constantly creates and recreates and lives into. And they can be very confining, these perceptions of reality. And so when you run into some ideas about reality that are actually created by you, based on your history and your experience, if they cause friction for you, then there’s a sort of place where you can redesign that intersection with reality to create a better reality for yourself.

And I know that’s like a lot to just unload in conversation, but Zen made just sitting, which is… I’m in what’s called the Soto Zen lineage. So literally, you sit in meditation for hours. I mean, I probably sat for 10,000 hours easily, and – not easily, but difficult-ly. But we call it just getting on the cushion, right? So like you just take it there, and then you kind of watch what your mind is up to. And through that process, I learned how I trick myself, how I can have distortions in my belief systems. I think Steve Jobs used to call it a “reality distortion field.” I think he was also a Zen practitioner.

But that laid the groundwork for me to understand, “oh, I have a lot of agency and choice once I understand how my system works.” And you know, like you’re a systems thinker and a design thinker, so of course I was interested in that. And then I just went from that place and started to practice with different methods to support other people.

Jorge: I’m reminded of our mutual friend Dave Gray’s book, Liminal Thinking.

Sunni: Oh, Yeah! It’s so funny you said that. Because I have it, of course — I always will buy whatever Dave makes, but I haven’t read it because I always have way too many books. But I understand kind of the vibe, and a lot of people, when I talk about this, they bring up his book, and I’m like, I should read that.

Jorge: When I first read that, I remember asking Dave about it because I got the sense that there was a lot of Buddhism in…

Sunni: Yeah, I don’t know that Dave knows that he has a Buddhist aspect. I don’t think he’s a Buddhist practitioner. But I have found there are multiple people that actually arrive at some of these deep wisdoms because it’s not… it’s in reality. So, the Buddha was just describing reality. So, anyone can find their own path to that awareness. And so, yeah! It’s funny to me when I work with people, and I go, “oh my God, that’s like a very ancient principle that you stumbled upon,” you know? So I think Dave must’ve done that too. Because he doesn’t like go to the zendo, I’m pretty sure.

Jorge: The path, it seems to me… and here I’m reflecting back to you what perhaps I layered through my own experience onto what you were saying, which is that we experience reality at various different levels. And if you step back far enough, you’re able to contemplate the fact that much of what we experience is in some ways emerging from within us? Or at least the way that we’re experiencing it is emerging from within us.

Sunni: Well said! Beautifully said, yeah!

Deep Self Design

Jorge: I want to bring it back to this idea of Deep Self Design. What I’m projecting onto this or where I think that the two circles in the Venn diagram might overlap, is that, if you understand this – this fact that, much of what we are experiencing is emerging from within us – and you are someone who sees the world through the eyes of design, then perhaps you can do something about it,

Sunni: You do a lot.

Jorge: So what would you be able to do about it?

Sunni: It’s so funny, we’re talking about this because last night I was having this conversation with my husband about workability. So everything… well, I won’t make totalizing statements. I’ll try to avoid them, but almost everything in your internal system is workable. Meaning that it all has plasticity and an adaptation capacity, or a significant amount of it.

This is going to sound very hyperbolic, but the reason I have such confidence in the workability of the system is because I redesigned my own internal experience over the course of… it’s been 15 years now. But the mind that I started with when I started investigating this practice and the mind I have now are entirely different planetary systems.

And I have a complex trauma history, which is relevant because when you have a complex trauma history, you have a whole host of distorted ideas about reality, all of which are workable. And so, for me, it’s like an actually hopeful message. It’s like, “oh my God. Your backstory can be kind of f*cked up, you know?” And you can completely… as long as, to your point, it was a really important thing that you said Jorge, which was, “if you step back.”

So, you have to get some separation and observe, with compassion, your belief systems, and from that seat, it’s like a gentle observation, then you have space with which to work. Often the traumatized brain is terrified of making that separation. It can be, for a variety of reasons. So, that’s why it is a practice, and it’s a patience game, often.

But you can literally redesign your experience of yourself and of the world and of other people and of what’s possible. And the energy that you liberate in that process is insane. It’s absolutely insane how much energy you get when you untether yourself from a lot of distorted ideas about yourself in the world. And that’s why I thought like, well, it’s a design thinking challenge, you know? It’s basically like internal system mapping and then giving people methodologies to support the spaces that they want to loosen up or soften.

I’m very fortunate to have encountered great teachers, really extraordinary teachers, and I’m fortunate to have had the time and the passion to do a deep dive. But it’s like that hero’s journey where you go in, and you come out, and you’re like, “well, I have something I could share.” So, I’m still sorting out how to teach it, how to format it, how to design a methodology because it is not a small thing to try to do, but it’s worth it. It’s completely worth it to try.

Jorge: It sounds empowering.

Sunni: It’s extremely empowering.

Jorge: It sounds like a practice that restores perhaps a sense of agency where you’re not buffeted by the contingencies of whatever happens in everyday life as much.

Sunni: And it’s so important! That message is so important because there are places you go that are scary. And there are fires you have to walk through. And you have to know that on the other side, not only will you be more free, but you’ll be stronger. But you can’t know that going in. Once you get your sea legs and you start to understand, “oh my God, this is like Jedi training!” then you can feel more confident about the outcome. But the early stages for most people is it can be absolutely terrifying. 100%. Absolutely true. I mean, that’s why most people can’t even sit in meditation, frankly because a lot of people do not want to sit with the content of their own mind.

It’s not something that we’re encouraged to do, and it’s not something that we’re taught to do, and we don’t know why we would do it. So we spend a lot of time avoiding that very thing. Understandably. I mean, I understand that instinct completely. It’s… it’s terrifying. But it’s so freaking worth it. It’s so worth it! There’s no question about it. No question! And it improves your life, you know? It improves your relationships with yourself and other people. And really, your relationships are the most valuable thing you have. And your health, and maybe time, you know? So it’s a significant process, but it’s not necessarily for everyone.

And probably you experienced this with your students. There’s what I call a state of readiness, which means that they’re willing to do the work. They’re willing to be honest with themselves and others, and they’re willing to address and hold space for really difficult content.

And if I work with a person and it’s very clear that they’re not actually at that place, then they need to come back. They need to go and come back, you know? Because it’s a thing. And then in Zen, the analogy is when you go to the zendo, and you knock on the door three times, and a monk opens the door, and they say, “go away!” You know? And they shut the door, and then you sleep out in the cold or whatever, and then you come again. You knock, and then the monk opens and says, “go away.”

So it’s a way of saying, if you’re not ready, don’t bother! Don’t come, you know? And that process is a person’s individual journey, and you can’t rush that for people.

Starting the journey

Jorge: You mentioned in your own journey having suffered complex trauma and without getting into it, just thinking that many of us – many folks listening – have… especially over the last year and a half… gone through some pretty traumatic experiences. And with the caveat that you just laid out that not everybody might be ready to undertake such a practice, but assuming that someone would be interested in at least trying to envision the path, where would they start?

Sunni: So the chapter I was telling you I sent to Kate, there are writing exercises, and there are visual thinking exercises. And often, I will just say, you know, you’re in a creation when your energy has become contracted, combative, tight — when you feel conflict, internally. Your body gives you all these signals that all is not well, and it can be a very subtle signal. Say you’re in a restaurant, and a person walks in, and your stomach clenches. That’s an indication.

So, you start with noticing. Just pay attention to what is happening inside of your system because you have to understand that you are the reactor. And the stimulus is out there, but you are the reactor. And so, noticing it’s a huge part of the practice — just to start there.

It’s like when I used to teach visual thinking — and I do occasionally sometimes, still — but the visual thinking alphabet that Dave created, Dave Gray. It’s the basics. Just start with observing where these forms are and draw them on paper. Really, you’ve got to start at that place and notice if you judge it. Because a lot of people will be like, “oh, I should be more brave. Why did I get nervous when the boss came in?” Or whatever. We’ll instantly have a reaction to our reaction. So just noticing that.

So that’s the start, right? And then once you have a relationship with your experience… so you’re like, “man, every time my mom comes over, I want to argue! Like right away! I just want to argue with her,” you know? So you’re like, okay! And so, you notice that. So, you begin to take responsibility for what you’re bringing, and that’s why it’s empowering. It’s so fascinating how accountability is like not sexy, but I’m like, that’s the greatest thing you can do because you’re in charge of your life. You’re driving your bus, you know?

So, then there are exercises that I give people that are really simple. Like just notice that a part of you came online and wanted to argue with your mom. And then it’s really like a design inquiry. It’s like an investigation of, imagine that that’s a persona. So, say that’s a design persona. And I’ve taught it in this way in some keynotes and stuff. So, I depersonalize it, and I say, “just treat that like a persona or an avatar. And just like you would if you were anthropologically studying a user experience. But do it for your own self.” Start to understand that persona and just give it some quality… I mean, it will name itself. That’s what’s so fascinating is that these personas, these internal personas — they give you information. They actually let you know because they’re part of your brain.

So, it’s just about accessing that information that’s in the brain. And I’m saying it trivially like it’s just that. But it’s all there, and so you just get curious. You just get curious and start finding out. And so, over time, I like to teach people to create like a constellation. Like a map of their internal system with all of these different personas so that they can relate to them differently. And when they do that, that’s when it starts getting good.

Jorge: All of a sudden, you start understanding the territory — I would imagine — when map-making. I wanted to clarify, you mentioned Kate, and you were talking about our mutual friend, Kate Rutter, who we were talking about before starting the recording. And you alluded to a chapter. Was that a chapter of a book that you’re working on, or…

Sunni’s new book

Sunni: Yeah, this book… So, as I mentioned earlier, I’m a book coach, and I’m obsessed with books. I could be wrong, but if I had nothing but time and money, I think books are all I would do. Just unpacking and looking at publishing, coaching writers, writing… That’s all I would do. So, you know, I’m published twice, and we pitched this book, actually. It is the Deep Self Design book, and the title was called, The Only Way Out Is In. Like one of the original titles, The Only Way Out Is In. And then the… I can’t remember the subtitle. I have like 4,000 subtitles. But, so we pitched it. So, it was actually in proposal form.

When you want to pitch to a traditional publisher, you’ve got to get your book in a proposal that essentially describes the product for them. It’s unfortunate, but for them, it’s a product. And for you too, really. So, that… it was like 90 pages of just glory, you know, and it took me years. And so, anyway, the way it ended up, and I can tell that story — but at one point in the process, I said, “Kate, can I send you, like, chapter one? And you just see if it lands for you. Like, give me a reader reaction” And apparently, it turned some keys pretty quickly for her. Because she wrote me and was like… she’d had drawn a picture of one of her personas. And I didn’t even ask her to do that. And it was called “The Aviator.” And so, she learned about this part of her that like flies around and sort of conducts the situation and looks from a high level and is very functional, you know, high functioning part, persona. She just got it, you know? But she’s really smart.

So I was like, well… because you got to write to like an eighth-grader, right? That’s the level of communication that you want in books, which is why Brene Brown’s tone is so beloved. So, she just listed that chapter again, and I’m willing to share with anyone. I mean, people need to know how to do it.

And so, the book was pitched to publishers, and there were 17 of them. And then like 12 of them wrote back, which is pretty good. And they all said the methodology was too complex for a typical reader. And I lost my mind because I had already simplified it so very much. That day, I was like standing in my neighbor’s yard, and I was just like, “nooooooo!” Because it’s hard to attract to the marketplace and to still deliver something really of high value. My God! It’s exhausting. So, I have put it down for now. And I started working on another book about confidence because I was like, I can’t. I can revisit this thing. I’m going to f*cking freak out. Yeah. But it’ll emerge at some point.

Taking your space

Jorge: Well, I’m hoping that we’ll be able to read the Deep Self Design book at some point. I’m wondering about something that you said, and again, trying to be kind of practical for the folks listening in and wondering about where we start. I would imagine that doing this sort of internal map that you’re describing here is not something that we can do effectively amidst the hustle and bustle, right? And you spoke earlier about making space. And I just got back from a weekend of camping with my family, and we went pretty far out into the woods. And I was… yeah, it was nice, but I was still surrounded by devices, and I…

Sunni: Oh!

Jorge: I got into a little bit of a Twitter kerfuffle.

Sunni: Oh no!

Jorge: Right? And I’m bringing up the story to say: it’s so hard for us these days to find this space to be with ourselves and to be introspective? And even if we are aware…

Sunni: You have to take it. You have to take that space.

Jorge: Well, how do we do it? Do you have any advice for folks wanting to take the space?

Sunni: Well, yeah. When you do a Zen sesshin, you can’t have books or paper or phones. And so, you’ve got to do like seven days of like 10 hours of meditation. So, that is sacred time — no question about it. But for a normal person, that’s not going to be on their calendar. First, you have to understand that you probably have an addiction, right? If you can’t remove yourself from an object for any chunk of time, that is actually an addictive relationship. So, that’s serious shit, if you ask me. And I don’t think it’s a popular opinion. And I think that it’s also true. So for me, just labeling it as an addictive relationship is step one. And then, you don’t even want to go into, like, it could be an abusive relationship. We don’t even have to talk about that, but that’s in there too.

So, you have to understand that. And you have to just understand what is in it for you to separate yourself from it and give yourself a path. So, can I separate from my phone for four hours? If you don’t want to go cold turkey, just try for four hours and notice what happens in your system when you do that.

And that’s actually part of the practice for Deep Self Design anyway. So, you can be like, wow, I started having FOMO. Or, I start thinking that someone’s going to be mad at me because I didn’t respond to them. So, you get all kinds of information from just that short separation. And there’s a lot of data around… Like it literally keys up your nervous system, being in a relationship with a digital object all the time. It keys up your nervous system.

And so, actually to regulate your nervous system again, which is what camping is kind of for. Camping, when it’s safe and beautiful… the point of it is to actually get you into a different state. To get your regulatory system in a different state so that you can enjoy your life and be present with your family and look at the sky and realize that you’re part of… you are the sky, there’s no difference between you and the sky, you just project that there is. And like, you know what I mean?

So, you have to understand that that space is essential for your humanity and make it a priority. And you can tell people, I mean, there are ways to approach it that are gentle on other people. So you can let people know, “I’m going to go dark for 72 hours. You should know that.” Or, “I’m going to go dark, and then I’m going to have one hour where I look at stuff,” you know? You have to design it for your life and what’s actually available for you.

Sometimes people have sick parents at home or sick kids or whatever, but you have to start to understand the benefit of it. Because I think most people think it’s just like something they would lose. Like, they wouldn’t get… something taken away from them. And I’m like, “no! It’s something you’re giving yourself that is priceless.” And you get amazing ideas. Like your productivity goes up. So, I call it going slow to go fast.

Actually, I read this interesting Nietzsche quote, which I don’t read Nietzsche a lot or anything, but as he said like great ideas are found when you’re walking. And Steve Jobs was… Also, I’m not obsessed with Steve Jobs, but he did a lot of walking meetings. So, If you are a productivity junkie, going slow helps you go fast. And it actually frees up a lot of stuck tension in the body and stuck ideas that you can’t get through, and it gives you solutions and ah-has and insights. So there are huge rewards in it anyway if you need it to be aligned with productivity. But it’s like, dude, we’re gonna die one day, Jorge. Like all of us! And the last thing I want to do is be like, “I spent my whole life on my iPhone!” That is like the worst thing that could happen.

No! And it’s like, if you mess it up, try it again. Just like don’t give up, you know? Go camping again and have a new policy with your family. Get consensus around it, make an agreement, and just find other ways to occupy your time. But it’s a practice, you know? Are you digging this? You’re smiling.

Putting it in action

Jorge: I am. I’m smiling because I’m looking at the clock and thinking, oh man, we’re running out of time, but I don’t want to leave folks with, “we’re going to die someday.” So, I want to bring it back to… Well, you’ve mentioned two things. One is this idea of making space, which, as you were saying, in our modern world often entails not just space but also shielding ourselves from these potentially addictive devices. And then the technologies that they enable.

And then there’s this aspect of self-awareness through — you talked about map-making and using the lens of design to think of ourselves as personas. It sounds like those two are essential to getting kind of a read — it’s almost like the first part of the double diamond diagram. But there comes this moment where we have to do the synthesis work in design, and we have to think through how we’re going to move forward, what we’re going to do about it. So, is there a step three here as well?

Sunni: After synthesis?

Jorge: No, after we’ve done the map and we have understood ourselves.

Sunni: Yes. There’s definitely a step three, which is what I would call the “befriending” step. So, you have your constellation of parts of you, like how many personas are in there, and there’s an average, but it’s kind of infinite when you go in too far. But the next step is basically finding your most active personas. Because, when you wake up, you… I have an active persona, which is like, “oh, I’m going to be really productive. I’m going to be very in touch with a lot of people. make sure that everyone is well-fed.” You know, so I have like a kitchen/caretaker part. Like I have all these personas.

So you can find the most dominant ones – the most operative ones. And then, and you start to learn about them. And then, but the ultimate goal is to make friends with them all. Even the parts of yourself that you do not like because what happens when you allow and support and befriend all of the aspects of yourself is that all of this internal tension that people experience… like people wake up with anxiety, you know, people wake up with self-criticism, et cetera. All of that energy stabilizes and is calm so that your experience relating to yourself is not fraught with tension anymore.

So, you actually have to befriend them, like you would an external child or a person that you care about who lives outside. You do that work internally. And when you do, you spend a lot less time kicking your own ass. I mean, people kick their own asses constantly, you know? And it’s like, I’m starting to understand why is that? And what’s happening there, and how do you appreciate that you’re doing that, but also let it know that you don’t have to do that in order to be smart or in order to be productive, et cetera.

So that is like the biggest step is to befriend all of your constellations on your map. And then from there, it’s like flying, you know? It’s like, there’s nobody in the way. There’s nobody in the way. I mean, there’s life; there are institutions of life that are designed to oppress people. Those things are still there, but the way that we relate to them is very different, and that’s why it feels so liberating.

Closing

Jorge: Well, that seems like a really good place to wrap it up. I’m sure that folks listening in are going to want to learn more. Where can they go?

Sunni: Oh, they can go to deepselfdesign.com. And you’re also helping me. Remember that I need to create these little tools that… I always create tools and methodologies. So, deepselfdesign.com is definitely the home page. And also, sunnibrown.com has a lot of content on it. They can follow me all over social media too.

Jorge: Just not while you’re camping.

Sunni: Yeah, no way. You’ll never see me on that. Yeah, no, that’s me and mother earth when that’s going on, for sure.

Jorge: Well, fantastic. Thank you so much for being on the show.

Sunni: Yeah, Thanks for having me. It’s nice to see you.

Jorge: Yeah, same here.

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Mags Hanley on Career Architecture

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Jim Kalbach on Jobs to Be Done

Jim Kalbach is the chief evangelist at MURAL, a leading provider of online visual collaboration software. He’s the author of Designing Web Navigation (O’Reilly, 2007), Mapping Experiences (O’Reilly, 2016), and his latest, The Jobs to Be Done Playbook (Rosenfeld, 2020). In this conversation, we dive into Jobs to Be Done, how it relates to design, and how jobs can create an “out of body experience” for organizations.

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Alla Weinberg on Work Culture

Alla Weinberg helps teams and organizations improve the quality of relationships at work. She has a background in design, but now calls herself a ‘work relationship expert.’ In this conversation, we discuss her new book, A Culture of Safety, and how teams can create environments that allow people to do their best work together.

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Jeff Sussna on Customer Value Charting

Jeff Sussna is a consultant and author specialized in helping organizations deliver software more effectively. This is Jeff’s second appearance on the show. In this conversation, he tells us about Customer Value Charting, a visual tool that helps teams balance strategy and agility.

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Kat Vellos on Friendship

Kat Vellos uses her background in experience design to empower people to learn, grow, and thrive. She’s written two books on adult friendship, We Should Get Together and Connected from Afar. In this conversation, we discuss the importance and challenges of making friends, especially during this time of ‘social distancing.’

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Show notes

Read the transcript

Jorge: Kat, welcome to the show.

Kat: Hi, Jorge! Thanks for having me on the show.

Jorge: I’m very excited to have you here with us. For folks who might not know you, would you mind please, introducing yourself?

About Kat

Kat: Yes. So, hello everyone! I’m Kat. In my current day-to-day life nowadays, I am an experience designer, author and speaker, as well as a facilitator, but my background involves two paths that have blended quite seamlessly into one. The first path is my path as a designer: I got my degree in graphic design and worked in a variety of design roles, ranging from editorial, news journalism, all the way up to tech and digital devices and UX design and product design.

And then the other path was the part of my career that involved working directly in communities as a facilitator, community builder, and program director of empowerment programs, particularly for marginalized youth and marginalized communities. Both of those paths blended together in a way when I found user experience design. This was back in about 2014 or so, and I’ve been doing a variety of experience design projects and roles at different companies. And now I work for myself and the focus of my work right now is really blending those two paths and sets of skills together around helping people cultivate more meaningful connection in their lives.

Why friendship?

Jorge: You’ve written two books, We Should Get Together and Connected from Afar, which are about friendship. And I’m wondering what brought you to the subject?

Kat: Yeah, so for starters, a little bit about me is I am an introvert. I also moved quite a bit as a kid. So, I had the experience of sometimes belonging, but most of the time not quite belonging wherever I was, because I was always from someplace else. And I think that really imprinted me with a real understanding of what it feels like to not have the connection that you want. And then later on, when I found it in high school and college and got my friend groups and got that sense of belonging, I was just like, “Oh, this is beautiful. I never want to let this go.” And throughout my adult life I never really had a hard time making friends. I loved being in a community.

But when I moved to the Bay area, it was the first time in my life — despite multiple states, a couple different cities moving — I had a hard time forming ongoing, lasting friendships. And just dozens upon dozens upon dozens of people I met said that they had the same problem. And I got really curious about that as a user experience designer. I know there may be some UX designers listening right now; I don’t know about you, but when I see that a lot of people are having a certain problem, like completing a certain task, or getting success at something, I get really curious about why that is, and I can’t help but think about how we can improve a process to make it easier and more enjoyable for people. And so, just quite naturally, I got fascinated with the subject of connection in adulthood. Particularly around forming and maintaining friendships as life goes on. And I did a variety of… I can go further into depth, but I did a whole variety of experiments and explorations into that and ultimately ended up writing this book about it. I did not know at the beginning, when I started investigating the topic, that I was going to write a book. But it became quite clear that a book was urging to get out of me.

Jorge: People have been making friends for a long time. And I’m wondering, why now? Why do we need a book on this subject? It’s almost like an instruction manual, right? Why do we need one for friend-making now?

Kat: Right. So, it’s not that people, like, aren’t making friends right now, or that they haven’t been doing that for a long time. But one of the things that has also been happening concurrently in our society is that there is a loneliness epidemic. The first instance of that phrase that I could find in U.S. journalism at least, was around the 1980s. And since that time, it has slowly been getting worse. Or not even slowly, but kind of quickly! Around the time of my original research into this, around 2018, approximately half of people in the United States were reporting that they felt lonely on a somewhat to regular basis. And by 2020, when my book came out, that number had already climbed to around 61%. So, it’s not that people don’t want friends or that they don’t want to make friends or that there’s nobody making friends, but it’s that loneliness is climbing. And my hypothesis is that the cure for that is healthy friendships and healthy communities. And for some reason there is a need for more support and more resources that will help people do that within the demands of our modern world.

Types of friendships

Jorge: You mentioned healthy friendships and the book offers what I think of as a taxonomy of different types of friendships. You speak of meaningful friendships as one type. And I’m just wondering if you could tell us a bit about different types of friendships.

Kat: Yeah. So, part of the qualitative research that I did in researching the book was spending a lot of time interviewing people about their experiences of connection in both friendship and community, which are a bit different. And also doing a survey and asking people to define in their own words, you know, what is friendship to you? And out of that, a few different categories of friendship emerged. And so, I’ll give you a few examples, and this is directly from interviewee quotes and survey respondents that I think really, really hit the nail on the head here.

So, the first is our category of acquaintances. And acquaintances might be someone that you know some basic details about, you can have small talk with them, you maybe have met them in person a couple of times, but you wouldn’t go out of your way to reach out to them. And there’s no real deep, emotional connection. And then next would be like, a friend category, like a casual friend. And this is someone that you feel happy around. You don’t have to try too hard to have a conversation with them. You probably know a bit about each other’s life circumstances, but maybe you don’t see each other as often as you’d like, or it just doesn’t go super deep when you connect. It’s just casual and friendly and li ght, but not on the deep, deep heart level.

And then there’s that close friend level or best friend level. And this would be someone whose wellbeing I care deeply about and who I feel confident I can depend on. Someone else said, “someone who accepts me completely for who I am, and I can tell my problems to, without feeling ashamed.” It can also be someone who, let’s see… someone said, “someone who knows my secrets, fears, and who tells me what I need to hear, even if I don’t like it.” And then last is my favorite, which is someone who is integrated into my life. That’s really when they start to get into the… almost the category of chosen family, at that point.

Hydroponic friendships

Jorge: There’s a metaphor in the book, a gardening metaphor. You speak of cultivating friendship. And I was drawn to the phrase, “hydroponic friendships.” What’s that about?

Kat: Right. So, I am a plant person. I have been studying plants for a while. I really love spending time in the garden, and anytime I’m in nature is where I’m also sourcing a lot of metaphors about life. And as I looked at what were the challenges people were having with friendship, as well as what were the opportunities and how could we create more closeness, I was drawn to the metaphor of hydroponics and gardening because — for those who may be unfamiliar with it, although I think maybe a lot of people have heard of it — it’s where you grow plants in highly nutritious water instead of soil. And at the time when, you know, the grandfather of hydroponics proposed this idea, he was laughed at by his community. They were like, “you’re crazy. You can’t grow plants without soil. This will never work!” But he did prove that by adding the nutrients plants need to grow to the water, they could thrive. And in fact, sometimes do better than they do in the soil.

And this metaphor came to mind because one of the trends I was hearing a lot in the challenges people were having with friendship is that they felt like they didn’t have enough time. They were like, “Oh, I’m so busy. Everybody’s so busy.” And busy-ness is one of the four main blockers or barriers to close friendship that I talk about it in the book. And as a facilitator, one thing that I’ve seen over and over again when I’ve hosted camps and retreats and workshops, and all kinds of events is that when people have the opportunity to come together in a shared intention and a space that is designed to allow them to develop closeness and to share vulnerably and to build trust, they can bond much, much more quickly than they can just out in the wild world. And so hydroponic friendship is my hypothesis that in the absence of abundant time, your friendships can grow much more quickly if they are immersed in quality connection that involves vulnerability, self-disclosure, empathetic listening, and you experience these things in some kind of concentrated form. So that is the theory of hydroponic friendship.

Jorge: So, if I might reflect that back to you, it sounds like it has to do with creating the — I’m going to use the word environmental — the environmental conditions to allow friendships to blossom. Is that fair?

Kat: Yes. That’s a really beautiful paraphrase, reframing of it. Yeah! I like that too.

Jorge: I’m wondering, as someone who… I don’t think of myself as someone who has trouble making new friends, but I can relate to the framing you spoke of earlier of the challenge of moving, for example, to a new city where you don’t know anyone, and everyone is so busy. I’m assuming that hydroponic friendship starts… by necessity, must start in the kind of lower rungs of the taxonomy we were talking about earlier. My expectation is that you would first start as acquaintances, and then move to… you ascend to a higher level, right?

Kat: Yes, generally. Although there are some cases where people meet and there’s like an instant friendship attraction. It’s almost like friendship at first sight! Or like, love at first sight, but for platonic friendship. Where two people really can be quite magnetized to each other very quickly. And in that case, it’s almost like they’ve leaped from acquaintances straight into like, “Oh my gosh, I want to be friends with you!” and then the other person’s like, “I really want to be friends with you too!” And it’s like right there, they’ve got a great spark to like really initiate a friendship that may grow into a deeper close connection as time goes, because they’ve got this like huge burst of momentum and mutual enthusiasm right at the get-go.

Or, as you mentioned, this may also grow at a little bit of a slower pace from someone who just starts as acquaintances that you feel fond about, but maybe not quite at that friendship-at-first-sight feeling.

Making friends online

Jorge: When you say friendship at first sight, I can think of friendships in my life where that has happened, where I’ve met the other person and I thought, “this is somebody who, I feel some kind of simpatico with, and would like to get to know better.” And whenever that’s happened, it’s been in a physical environment where I am with that person. We might be sharing a meal with other people or we might be in a social situation, or it might be a work situation, for example. But it’s always been in physical environments. And I’m wondering, given that we’ve just celebrated a year of lockdown here due to the pandemic, the degree to which our socially distant way of being affects our ability to spark at these potential friendships as we would in physical spaces.

Kat: It certainly does affect it, but it’s not a complete impediment because humans are incredibly adaptable creatures. And we’ve seen this in the ways that people have… you know, after an initial moment at the beginning of lockdowns of like, “Oh my gosh, what are we going to do? The world is ending! The sky is falling!” Very quickly, we adapted. Because that’s what we do! You know, with substitution for what we could do before we find ways to create some semblance of that in the current moment. And one of the things that has been really gratifying and exciting to see is that even though we are generally meeting virtually to do our meetings and our events and our get-togethers and everything right now, I have absolutely seen people have that sense of spark.

Even in some of the workshops and talks I’ve given where… a direct quote from the chat one time I saw that just warmed my heart. Someone wrote in the chat, “Oh my gosh. I already want to be friends with some of the people who just shared in the main room!” Like on the big group screen, where people were obviously sharing something personal about their life, and we’re all talking about friendship together and how people feel and right away, as people get a sense of who this other person is, what they value, what their personality is. There can be that same sense of spark and that same sense of not just curiosity, but a desire to get to know that person and to build something in friendship with them.

Jorge: And do you know what happened? Did they follow up on that?

Kat: I don’t know. I usually… at that moment, I’m like, “Hey, if there is someone you want to talk to like trade contact information, don’t just let the call end and let it slip away!” A lot of people hold themselves back from creating the friendships they want, because they’re scared to initiate. And so, I often say if you are open to friendship, don’t be ashamed to say, like, “I really loved getting to meet you all. I would love to connect again. Here’s my email!” Do that because most people don’t do it. And the ones who do are likely to have greater success. Because again, they, don’t just… it’s not ephemeral. The call doesn’t just end and then everyone’s back to just being alone in their apartments. They have some way to reconnect again.

Jorge: I’ve been part of a few virtual cocktail hours during pandemic time. And the way they usually manifest is as Zoom meetings primarily, where you get this all-up view where you see everyone’s thumbnails of everyone’s video feed on the screen at the same time. And the quality of the conversation is very different than in a physical cocktail party or environment, right? Like, you’re not able to as easily break off into little groups and catch up with folks. And it sounds to me from what you’re describing here that the times you’ve seen it happen, this kind of serendipitous meeting of someone else, it’s happening in an environment that has been consciously structured to enable that. Is that true?

Kat: Absolutely.

Environments for friendship

Jorge: Could you describe to us what that looks like?

Kat: It all comes down to intention. It all comes down to envisioning before you even begin, what is the outcome that you want for people to have and similar to what we talked about earlier, what are the environmental conditions that you can create that will allow that outcome to emerge most naturally and seamlessly. So, certainly everybody’s getting tired of Zoom but there’s other tools that are available and there’s other ways to use these tools.

One of the things I’ve done when I’ve had some small groups get together over Zoom is I simply tell people like in real life, we were in a room together, if you were in my living room, you would not be on mute. You would have the freedom to speak at will, and you don’t need my permission to ask to unmute. And I understand that in say an all-hands meeting at a company with a thousand people, do you need people to be on mute, because there’s going to be a lot of background noise. But if you’re getting like a social gathering together or something to connect with other people? Everybody go off mute! Talk when you feel like talking! It’s fine if you bump into each other and someone interrupts somebody else, because guess what? That happens in real life too! It’s okay. It doesn’t have to be awkward because that’s what natural conversation looks like in person as well sometimes. So, I challenge people to really think about the way that you use the tool and make sure that you’re defining how the tool is used and the tool is not defining how you show up. And with that, as I mentioned before, bring intention to how you want people to connect.

One of the things that I do in a community that I run called Connection Club, is providing opportunities for the members to get to build more closeness with each other. And sometimes that needs to happen in a one-on-one conversation. So, I’ll split people off into one-on-ones. Also, in sometimes a small group of three or four. But really keeping in mind, what does it look like when you have a set amount of time, a set prompt, or guiding conversation or guiding question and giving people the amount of space as well as the actual space in a breakout or whatnot, that will allow them to have enough time to go meaningfully into that subject and hear each other and share stories before they then rejoin the rest of the circle.

Jorge: That’s interesting, finding a way of adapting the tools so that it more closely mirrors the way that we’re used to interacting in these social situations. One thing that I was wondering as I was reading the book — and it has to do with this issue that we’re talking about here — this idea that we can be more intentional about how we make friends. And you spoke of the loneliness epidemic that is happening, and your case in particular, when you moved to the Bay area. And when one does a move like that, especially in the stage of life when one is working a lot of the time, and one’s peers are also in that situation, it becomes harder to find the time, space, et cetera, for these kinds of serendipitous encounters to happen.

A more intentional approach to friend-making

And I’m just going to try to summarize the way that I understood it from the book, is that our transactional… kind of highly transactional way of being has somehow impaired our ability to make and maintain meaningful friendships, especially in adulthood. And the thing that I was struggling with, and which I wanted to get your perspective on, is how we might regain this ability without turning friend-making into yet another thing to check off our to-do lists, you know? It’s almost like we’re… it might feel like we’re trying to do to friendship what we’re doing to these other aspects of our lives. And I’m just wondering if that’s a thing or how we might do it so that it feels more integrated with who we are as people.

Kat: Yeah. I mean, the first thing I would say there is, don’t treat it like a to-do list item, you know? Because if it feels like a checkbox to you, it’s likely going to feel like a checkbox to the other person and nobody likes to feel like that. So, I would suggest checking in with one’s intention and really clarifying for yourself, is your intention just to say like, “all right, I did my like one hour of friendship time this week, I’m done.” Or is your intention to actually listen and connect and commune with another person? How do you want the other person to feel when that time is done? How can you show up as who you really are, in the open-endedness of getting together in a conversation or an activity or whatever may happen… because there is a certain open-endedness to this?

You spoke to serendipity and spontaneity, and this is actually quite beneficial for friendship. One of the interesting pieces of research I include the book came from a report in the Washington Post that found that people were happier when they didn’t assign their free time activities to a specific time slot in their calendar, and instead opted to do some of them spontaneously or in a non-specific window of time. One of the things they had people do was get ice cream with a friend. And some people were assigned to an exact day and time in advance. And they had that in their calendar like a lot of busy adults do. And other people didn’t. They had it in this window and it was going to just happen spontaneously within that frame. And the people who had a more spontaneous ice cream with their friend reported enjoying it more and having more fun with their friend. So, things tend to feel less fun when they’re scheduled. And so, adopting rough scheduling as opposed to strict scheduling is something that can lead to greater happiness in your own life and can also lead to greater feelings of spontaneity and play and enjoyment in your friendships as well.

Jorge: I’m hearing two things and I love both of them. One is that there might be an inverse relation between the degree to which you structure these activities and the degree to which they add value to your life. And the other is that when you approach it, the intention matters, and it’s not just about you somehow eradicating your own feelings of loneliness, but also providing the same for the other, right? So that you keep the other person’s benefit front and center.

Kat: And the more you immerse yourself in what is actually happening in that time that you’re connecting with the other person, the more likely you are to feel the benefit. You know, when you’re spending time sharing stories with a friend say, focus on their story, focus on them. Get curious. Ask follow-up questions and have that be the focus of your attention, rather than halfway listening and halfway being in your own head. Like, “do I feel less lonely right now? Do I feel less awkward right now?” Get out of that mental evaluation mode and get really immersed and real curious and interested in the other person. And that’s actually when somebody feels heard. That’s actually when somebody feels more connected is when you’re really present and holding space with each other.

Jorge: That’s wonderful. Thank you for stating it like that.

Kat: And two really, really small follow-up tips I want to give on that is that it’s okay to tell a friend at the beginning of a conversation, like, “Ooh, I’m feeling really scrambled right now. I’ve had a really frazzled day, but I’m going to try to get present with you. I just want to acknowledge them feeling off right now.” And let the other person know. Because if they pick up on it, they’ll probably wonder why.

And the other thing around scheduling too, is it doesn’t require both people to agree to do something in a spontaneous way. I was going to have a phone call with a friend, and she was like, “what day and time should we do?” And I said, “I’m trying to schedule fewer things in my life, but here’s some windows. And if you want to schedule it in your calendar, it’s fine with me, but you can call me spontaneously within any of those windows. That’s fine for me.” So, I get to get the benefit I want, which is, “Hey, a spontaneous call from my friend!” And they get to get the benefits they want, which is like, “Oh, I have to put it at this time at this day.”

Jorge: That’s great, and again, that makes me think back to your work as an experience designer in that it’s trying to give the other person the experience that is ideal to them while allowing you to also get the one that is ideal to you.

Kat: Yes!

Closing

Jorge: So that’s great Kat, and that strikes me as a good place for us to wrap up the conversation. Where can folks follow up with you? Because I feel like there are the books, but there’s more to it than that, no?

Kat: Oh, yeah, for sure. So, the books are there. We Should Get Together obviously is about creating better friendships. Connected from Afar gives you 25 weeks of activities to do with a friend from a distance. And if people want to get more from me, I have so much more to give. So, one is subscribe to my newsletter; that’s at weshouldgettogether.com. Every week I send out tips and guidance around how to show up as a better friend and a better community member in your immediate area or in our larger world. And so, advice and resources are always going out about that. I also have an ongoing events list at my website weyoushouldgettogether.com where I always have something coming up. They can join Connection Club, or they can hop into an upcoming workshop or talk that I’m doing. And I also am available if people want me to come and give a talk at their conference or their company or their community organization. That’s also an option as well.

Jorge: And I would advise that folks should not pass up that opportunity, because this is an important subject and one that people need to know more about, especially in these days when folks are spending so much time apart from others. Thank you so much Kat, for being with us on the show and sharing it with us.

Kat: Thank you so much for having me here, Jorge, and this was really quite lovely. It was great to share this with you.

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Matt LeMay on One Page / One Hour

Matt LeMay is a product management consultant and author. He’s a co-founder and partner at Sudden Compass, which helps companies reconnect with their customers and helps teams focus on addressing human needs. He’s the author of Agile for Everybody and Product Management in Practice. In this conversation, Matt shares with us One Page / One Hour, his pledge to make project collaboration more agile.

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Jorge: Matt, welcome to the show.

Matt: Jorge, thank you so much for having me.

Jorge: Well, I’m very excited to have you here. For folks who might not know you, would you please introduce yourself?

About Matt

Matt: Sure! So, my name is Matt LeMay. I’m a partner at a collective consultancy called Sudden Compass. My career has been kind of all over the place. I was a professional musician in my early twenties and a music writer. I worked in marketing for nonprofits. I accidentally became a product manager and made so many mistakes, mistakes that keep giving in the sense that I am still learning and sharing lessons from the many mistakes I made as a product manager. And now I’m mostly helping teams manage the way they work together to solve problems, which is really, I think, the thread that’s run through everything I’ve done from being a musician and working with my band, to being a product manager and working with developers and designers, to being a coach and consultant and working with cross-functional teams that span marketing and sales and everything else.

Jorge: Well, that makes me super intrigued. What are the connections between managing the work of creating music and product management?

Matt: Yeah, that’s a great question. And it’s kind of the question that got me into product management in the first place. When I was in a band and kind of informally managing the band, a lot of the work I did was managing specialized skills. You know, our bass player was a really good bass player. I didn’t know how to play bass like that, but I knew where we needed to go.

When we worked with mastering engineers and mixing engineers, I didn’t know how to do that work, but I knew what we needed to deliver. It was a lot of managing complex specialized work to achieve some outcome, which spanned both emotional outcomes, creative outcomes — and though they were hardly in the super exciting range — business outcomes as well. We needed to be able to at least break even when we were going on tour in order to have any plausible defensibility to continue going on tour, which was something we really wanted to do. So, a lot of what I learned was about how to motivate and communicate and coordinate specialized work in the service of creating something that nobody could create on their own.

And really that’s a lot of what I was able to bring… when I was doing well as a product manager, what I was able to bring to that experience was… you know, I’ve told people that when I was a musician, convincing four tired people to wake up at six in the morning to drive from Columbus, Ohio to Dayton, Ohio, and play a concert for 10 people and lose money on it, it was a great team motivation challenge. You have to really learn why people are doing what they’re doing. What they’re excited about, how to get people through difficult times, how to get people excited about the work that they’re doing, even when that work isn’t really giving them the kind of external validation that I think we all want. So, in a lot of senses, I think software product management is much easier than being a musician. And in other ways, it’s more challenging.

Jorge: I’m not a musician myself, but I would imagine that musicians also have like their own expression that they want to bring to the project. And somehow balancing the personal needs of the individual with the overall needs of the group must also be a factor, no?

Matt: Yeah, absolutely. I mean, It’s kind of a joke among mixing engineers. But when you’ve got a band in a room and they’re finishing a record, everybody just wants their own instrument to be louder. And at a certain point, if you make all the instruments louder then everything sounds quieter. If you’re not willing to be subtractive, then everything you add actually makes the finished product weaker and less focused and less compelling.

Which I think is very true in product development as well. If everybody has their feature that they want to build, if everybody wants to highlight their own individual contributions, you very quickly get to a point where the thing you’re building no longer makes any sense. Where if you can’t prioritize, if you can’t think systematically and then think structurally about how everybody’s contributions come together to create something new and meaningful, then you wind up with something which is just a collection of features, or a collection of ideas that really don’t coalesce into something interesting or powerful, or that solves a problem.

So, I’ve been on both sides of that one. I’ve been the person saying, “make my instrument louder in the mix!” I’ve been the person doing the mix and trying to manage a band full of of people saying, “make my instrument louder in the mix.” I think both in music creation and in software product management, you really learn to recognize the power of subtraction. That the most meaningful work you can do is often subtractive work, not additive work. That constraints and subtractions and blank spaces are really what define the work that you’re doing more so than features and additions and things that you add in.

One Page / One Hour

Jorge: That is a perfect segue to the reason why I wanted to talk with you, which is that I saw something that you built called, “One Page / One Hour.” And I was hoping you could tell us about that.

Matt: Sure. So, One Page / One Hour… I’ll give you the kind of brief backstory. In my coaching work, I spend a lot of time talking to product managers who are torn between two things. Between on the one hand, the work that they believe is going to deliver outcomes for their team, their customers, and their business. And on the other hand, the work that they believe is going to bring them recognition and praise as individuals. And these two things are almost always in some degree of tension with each other. Because in a lot of cases, for product managers, the most meaningful work you can do leaves no trace. That leaves no deliverable. There’s nothing you can point to and say, “I did this.”

Instead, your team’s success is your success. Your team’s work is your work. And for product managers who… many of us tend to be overachievers. Tend to be, you know, people who are very accomplishment and recognition-driven. This creates a real tension. As if you’d make, for example, a beautiful 20 slide deck and present it to company leadership, then you are likely to get praise and recognition.

However, all that time and effort you spent on that beautiful 20 slide deck is likely not going up in the product. It’s not resulting in any value for your customers. And I’ve seen product managers who will, for example, pull visual designers off of product design and have them help them design the deck, and walk out of that presentation, feeling validated and accomplished, even though they’ve just spent tens, if not hundreds of hours on something which doesn’t actually deliver any value to the customer and only marginally delivers value to the business.

So, in my coaching work, I found myself advising a lot of product managers to start really small, make something that is incomplete and messy, bring it to your team and then work together to co-create from there. I brought this experience to Trisha [Wang] and Sonny Bates, our other partner, and they both kind of smirked at me. And I said, “why are you smirking at me? What’s that look?” And they said, “Matt, you are worse about this than anyone we know! You are always showing up — just in our internal meetings -with these beautiful, like 20 page, ‘look at this incredible workshop plan I put together!’ You are the thirstiest person we have ever worked with in terms of wanting feedback and wanting that validation! And it’s funny, but good that you are realizing in your coaching work that that is not the most productive pattern.”

So, I thought about that for a second, and I said, “you are absolutely right. I need to shift this.” Because Trisha is a genius and a powerhouse and I want her to be impressed by the work I’m doing. I want her to be like, “Matt, you’re smart. I feel good about working with you.” So, I realized that if we wanted to change that behavior, we needed to change the incentives. In other words, we needed to create a situation where if I showed up with something too finished and polished and impressive, I would actually get negative feedback, not positive feedback.

So, I wrote up this pledge to my business partners saying I’m willing to forego the sense of individual accomplishment that comes from presenting finished and polished deliverables to my colleagues. I promise that I will spend no more than one page and one hour working on any deliverable — any document — before I bring it to the team. In other words, if I show up with five beautifully formatted pages or a one-page that took me 10 hours to create, I want you to hold me accountable to that. I want you to say, “man, why did you do this? We made a deal. We made a commitment to each other! We all know that if we actually want to deliver value, if we want to do valuable work, we need to collaborate earlier on. You can’t go off onto your own and create this big thing, and then just want us to tell you how great it is!”

So, I did this and massive credit to Tricia who said, “publish this!” Who said, “put this out there. This is not just for you. This is really gonna make a difference.” So, we put together a One Page / One Hour website and we’ve been putting it out there and it’s been just incredible to see folks from so many different organizations, people who I have never spoken to, who so far as I know, have never attended a talk I’ve given, just find this and share it with each other and take this pledge, which now has over a hundred people from over 75 organizations all over the world committed to spending no more than One Page / One Hour on anything before sharing it with their colleagues.

Jorge: That’s really awesome. And it’s… well, proof that it works: it’s how I came to you, right?

Matt: I hope so.

Jorge: I feel totally identified with the problem as you described it. I too am very thirsty for that kind of adulation that comes from making something beautiful — and perhaps overwrought — if I am hearing correctly, the spirit of it. And you’re describing it as a tool to collaborate with your colleagues. I’m wondering, as a consultant, if the boundary for collaboration stops with your team, or if you also extend this to your customers as well? Your clients. Because I’ll just say, like, in my case, I feel most compelled to share the beautiful thing when I’m presenting to the customer, right?

Matt: You know, it’s funny. I used to do a lot of training work in ad agencies. And I would talk to them a lot about how to do paper prototyping in particular, how to do really low fidelity prototyping. And they would all say the same thing, which is, “yeah, this is great, but we could never show this to a client. We can never sketch something on the back of a napkin and show it to a client.” They would say, “why isn’t this finished? Why isn’t this beautiful?” And I kept thinking to myself, I’m also training and coaching a lot of the companies that are your clients… people are pretty capable of understanding if you show them a sketch on the back of a napkin that it’s not intended to be something finished and polished. People are actually much more open to seeing unfinished and to participating in the co-creation of unfinished things than I think we think they’re going to be.

And one thing I’ve found really helpful about One Page / One Hour is especially since it’s one of our calling cards as a consultancy now, it gives us a way to present unfinished, unpolished deliverables to clients that feels purposeful. Where rather than just showing them something and saying, “yeah, here’s what we did. Whatever.” We’re letting them in on this little operational secret of ours. We’re saying, “we have this guiding principle called One Page / One Hour, and we’re going to agree to this with you. So, you’re always going to be in on the ground floor with us. We’re never going to bring something to you, which you’re going to have to feel even remotely guilty about ripping apart.”

We did a One Page / One Hour exercise with a client once where they were 75 pages into an organizational transformation plan. And they had brought us on to help them with this plan. And we said, “tell you what, what if we do a One Page / One Hour pass, just synthesizing this down. You put together all … this big thing. We’re going to just spend One Page / One Hour reading your 75-slide deck, distilling it down and reflecting it back to you.” And they said, “sure, why not?” So, first of all, it’s very hard to read a 75-slide deck in one hour, which already helped them understand that asking everybody in their company to read a 75 slide deck means that you’re asking people for a lot of their time. But we did our best to distill this down, and we presented it back to this leadership group. And they got furious.

They said, “this is not what we intended at all. We don’t want people to take this away. We don’t want people to take that away. You captured this idea, which is totally the opposite of what we wanted.” And we said, “Great. Hey, if this is the best we can come up within one hour, then there’s probably some contradictions in this document you put together. What may have happened is that you have a leadership team, which can’t actually agree on some of these things. So, each person just puts 10 slides in there. Those 10 slides are totally in conflict with each other, but because you can always add more, you haven’t actually identified that conflict. You’ve just worked around it.” And they said, “huh. You’re right. This is really… this is really helpful!” but then something really interesting happened. They started saying, “well, but you know, don’t worry. We don’t have to throw out the work you did. It’s great. We realized….” I said, “I don’t care! I literally spent an hour on this. You know, how long I spent on this!”

How many times have you done an hour of something? If the takeaway from this one hour is that you need to align as a group and work within constraints to actually resolve these conflicts? Then it’s a success, even if we throw it out. So, it’s been really helpful, not just to work in this One Page / One Hour way with clients, but to share with them why and how we’re doing this. To let them in — into this world of One Page / One Hour, so when they receive an unfinished, unpolished deliverable, there’s no chance that they’ll think, “why is this unfinished and unpolished?” They understand that they’ve been inducted into this world of One Page / One Hour and they feel really awesome because they’re seeing this work better for them too, and they’re like, “wow, I get to participate in this in a different way!” So, there’s that meta layer on top of the One Page / One Hour pledge where it’s not just the way of working, but it’s the conversation and the agreement to the way of working that also clears and creates a different kind of space for collaboration, including with clients and customers.

Modes of communication

Jorge: Sounds like a little bit of a jiujitsu move, where you take what is potentially a liability and turn it into an asset, right? And it speaks to this shifting of incentives that you spoke of earlier. I’m wondering what that does to the intensity of communications. Because obviously if you’re spending less time working on the artifact and sharing it more quickly, that speaks to a higher volume of messaging. And is that an issue? How does that get managed here?

Matt: I’m so glad you asked that question because part of the point of One Page / One Hour is to force us out of our comfort zone a little bit. Is to get us having those conversations with other people before we’re sure about the path that we’re taking. Before we’re confident in the deliverable we’re creating. And that is emotionally difficult. It forces people into a very challenging mode of communication. And as I coach more teams through this, I’m just appreciating that much more. That in a sense, One Page / One Hour also forces you to level up your communication skills. It forces you to get more comfortable communicating when you don’t have control.

This has been a big theme in so many of the conversations I’ve been having with teams in the last couple of weeks is: what does it mean to be willing to give up control? When are we truly willing to give up control? When are we willing to let someone else see something we’re working on before we feel confident enough in it that we would do that necessarily of our own accord, if we hadn’t made this commitment to each other? I think that’s really one of the biggest challenges around this, and one of the reasons why it’s so hard to keep up with it is that we do have to be forced into… I think you’re right: a more intense form of communication, a more vulnerable form of communication, a form of communication where we don’t know what the outcome is going to be going into a conversation nor are we trying to convince or persuade or sell people into an outcome. We are genuinely open to things going in an unexpected direction. And the value of that is pretty clear and straightforward. But the challenge of that is something that I think people often underestimate until they find themselves having to do it themselves.

Jorge: One method that I was reminded of when I read about One Page / One Hour is Amazon’s 6-page memo idea. And the main similarity there is that it feels like they both impose constraints on the format in which things are going to be. It time boxes the activity, and also constrains the format in which it’s going to be presented. As I understand the 6-page memo, the idea there is that it’d be shared prior to meeting so that people have an opportunity to review that. And I’m wondering if there are any communication best practices around One Page / One Hour that would be analogous to that.

Matt: That is another great question. It’s funny. To me, the big differentiator between the narrative memo per Amazon and One Page / One Hour? Well, two things. Number one: One Page / One Hour includes that explicit time box. You cannot spend more than an hour. The trap I’ve fallen into with narrative memos as a writer is that I can spend forever writing a page. It’s funny, the program I was in in college had a one-page maximum on all papers. It was sort of a critical theory, very like, post-modern studies kind of program. And a lot of people would take it because all the papers were a maximum of one page. So how hard could it be? It turns out it is really hard, especially when you’re working with really complex ideas. So, for me personally, if I just have a format constraint, I’ll spend way too long trying to make it perfect. So, it’s the duality of the format and the time constraint that I’ve found really helpful for me to not let myself negotiate out of the constraint.

The other thing is that One Page doesn’t need to be one page of text. One page can be one page that you’ve sketched out. It can be one drawing with some text around it. You know, I work with people who are very visual. I’m not a very visual person. But One Page / One Hour can be one page of visuals. It can be one slide. You can use visuals within that format to communicate between people who are more words-oriented and people who are more visuals-oriented.

As to the question of how to share it, the timing of this is perfect. I’ve been using this technique a lot, which I’m planning to write up later today called the “Synchronous Sandwich.” The synchronous sandwich is how I’ve been structuring almost every meeting and activity that I do remotely in particular. And a synchronous sandwich is: an asynchronous pre-read, a synchronous meeting, and an asynchronous follow-up. In other words, you send something through as a pre-read, using a lot of these same concepts. So, you time box how long you expect somebody to take to send the pre-read and how long it will take them to read the pre-read. Then you work through the document or do something synchronously together, and then you send through a follow-up or a revised copy of that deliverable or whatever it is afterwards.

I’ve been really lucky because in a lot of my coaching work, I’ve worked with people who are not afraid to raise questions and challenges. And when I started doing more of this synchronous working through things, some of the people I coached said, “you know, for me personally, I need a little time to think about it before we go into a meeting. I don’t like being on the spot. I don’t like showing up and you’re asking me something I haven’t had a chance to think about until we’re in the meeting together.” So, I found that that synchronous sandwich format gives people who need a little bit of time to process offline, a chance to do so.

You’re really structuring and using that synchronous time well, and then you have a chance to follow up afterwards. A lot of the day-long whiteboard-y type sessions I used to do in person are now three, one and a half hour synchronous sandwiches. We have a chance to pre-read work together, regroup, pre-read, work together, regroup, and… it works really well with One Page / One Hour-style documents so that we can actually work through the document, edit the document together synchronously, and still have a chance to do some of that preparation and pre-reading asynchronously.

Granularity of problems

Jorge: That makes a lot of sense, and this sounds like a really good approach. I love this idea of the synchronous sandwich. It sounds like something that can be applied even to other ways of working, you know, beyond the One Page / One Hour. I’m wondering if there are some types of… I don’t like using the word “problems?” But some types of issues that you’re working around that lend themselves better to the One Page / One Hour approach than others? And I’m wondering specifically about granularity. If there are some… I’ll use the word problems, why not? That are small enough to be dealt with in a One Page / One Hour format versus others that are so huge that maybe you need to pull back too far for it to be useful.

Matt: It’s so it’s so funny because that was how I approached this work at first as well. I was thinking of it for more granular issues One Page / One Hour would be a more accessible and more valuable approach. A year into this, I actually feel the exact opposite way. That the bigger and more strategic and more high-level something is, the more important it is that you take this One Page / One Hour approach and involve more people earlier on.

I’ve been finding myself in a lot of coaching conversations with product managers, hearing people say to me, “we’ve got to put together a strategy for my team. So, I need two weeks to come up with a strategy.” Which is dangerous when you think about it, because if one person goes off for two weeks and crafts this impeccable-seeming team strategy, the team might not feel invested in it. But that person who came up with it is going to feel really invested in it.

So, I’ve been finding for some of these high level, really big picture challenges, One Page / One Hour is actually the best possible approach. I’ve had some coaching conversations where I’ll say to our product manager, “all right, we’ve got a half hour left on the call. Let’s draft our strategy now. Who are we solving for? What problems are we trying to solve? How will we know if we’ve solved them? Great. Bring that to the team and see what they think!” So, the kind of paradox of One Page / One Hour is that the bigger and more difficult to granular-ize a problem seems? The more transformative a One Page / One Hour approach can be, which has genuinely surprised me.

Closing

Jorge: That is so exciting to hear that and intriguing. And I also think that it is a good place for us to wrap the conversation. I definitely want to learn more and I’m expecting that folks listening in want to as well. Where can folks follow up with you?

Matt: Yeah. So onepageonehour.com is the website. We just worked with the fantastic team at Design Stack to revamp the site. So, we now have some templates and resources, some kind of “One Page / One Hour — Getting Started” if you are somebody who is terrified of a blank page, as many of us are. You can see a list of all the people who’ve taken the pledge. You can take the pledge yourself and add your name to the website. I am still — manually, I receive an email every time somebody takes the pledge and I go into our website and add their name and go into MailChimp and add their email address, if they’ve requested so. You can join the mailing list where we communicate with each other and share our own experiences and tips and tricks. So, onepageonehour.com is definitely the place to start.

Jorge: Fantastic. Matt, thank you so much for being with us.

Matt: Thank you so much. This was such a great conversation. I appreciated the questions very much.