The premise of this column is that different disciplines have very different ways of thinking. This is not bad. In fact, by leveraging our strengths, we can bridge the gaps between disciplines. The fact is that the different disciplines need one another. Product managers may or may not want designers to help inform product roadmaps. Marketing representatives may not always appreciate user research data. But we can help one another see our blind spots and prevent group-think. We need to question one another’s assumptions, because our different perspectives can broaden each other’s thinking. This kind of cross-pollination of ideas is a critical aspect of sustaining a successful business.
In a presentation to the User Experience community at Yahoo! in 2008, Roger L. Martin, author of the book The Opposable Mind, pointed out that UX research teams think differently from business teams—such as Product Management. UX research teams tend to think in terms of validity—using the perfect methodology—while business teams think in terms of reliability—that is, how representative data is of overall customer needs. They speak different languages.
Martin also pointed out that the best leaders actually encourage contradictory points of view, so they can generate a creative resolution that contains elements of the opposing ideas, but that is superior to each. Unfortunately, most leaders appreciate people who think like they do, not those who question them or present different perspectives. This is why it’s so valuable for UX organizations to let our designs show our thinking—highlighting new ideas and opportunities. If we take a stand on the hill of principle and our ideas are just abstract ideas, they are easy to reject. It’s easy to disagree with theory. Instead, we need to do what we do best—show our thinking through great design visualizations.
One of the things we can do best is help create a common understanding of strategy. The challenge with strategy, as Jared Cole of Adaptive Path suggests in “Making Strategy Tangible,” is that it is often abstract. As such, it can be difficult to envision. This can pose challenges for leaders who want to create alignment around their strategies—that is, who want everyone to understand their strategy and follow it uniformly. When designers are part of the strategic dialogue, they can often help articulate strategies and make them real. In his article, Cole suggests creating rough video sketches. I like the idea.