In their book Put Your Mindset to Work: The One Asset You Really Need to Win and Keep the Job You Love, James Reed and Paul G. Stoltz say:
“Your mindset is about what you see, think, and believe. … It is the internal lens through which you see and navigate life. Mindset influences everything you see, as well as everything you do.”
Mindset is who you really are at your core. It’s your habitual way of thinking. While it’s not easy to change, the purpose of life is to evolve and become better a human being. So you should think about these human qualities from time to time and always endeavor to do better. Your mindset is what really differentiates you from your peers. If you work hard at developing what Jo Wong likes to call your human qualities, you’ll set yourself up for success in work and in life.
“Men acquire a particular quality by constantly acting in a particular way.”—Aristotle
Having the right mindset can be a competitive advantage when you’re seeking employment or advancement. According to Reed and Stoltz:
“Given the choice between someone with the desired mindset who lacks the complete skillset for the job and someone with the complete skillset who lacks the desired mindset, a total of 96 percent of the employers surveyed picked mindset over skillset as the key element in those that they seek and retain.”
These employers also believe that it’s much more likely that a person with the right mindset will be able to develop the required skillset than that a person with all the hard skills would develop the right mindset. Plus, the tactical skills that jobs require change over time, while the desired mindset is a constant. This is especially true of user experience jobs. The tactical skills that it takes to be a UX professional are forever evolving.
Essential Qualities of UX Professionals
There are several qualities that it is especially important for UX professionals to have. These qualities are at the core of what makes UX professionals successful: empathy, intuition, creativity, passion, and the desire to learn throughout their career.
1. Be Empathetic
empathy—“The ability to understand and share the feelings of another.”
First and foremost, UX professionals must be empathetic. As a UX professional, the primary focus of your work is on the wants and needs of the people who use the products that you create. Empathy enables you to understand other people’s motivations, needs, and emotions more deeply, and you can use that understanding to create better products for them. Having empathy lets you accurately perceive people’s needs—without your own lens introducing any distortions or occlusions. Whether you’re a UX researcher, strategist, or designer, empathy is an essential quality for you to develop. Being empathetic lets you look at things from different people’s perspectives and internalize what you see.
Having empathy—whether for colleagues, family, or friends—comes from focusing on someone else’s needs, struggles, and feelings. It requires that you open your heart to them and put their needs before your own. That you be fully with them in the moment. That you look deeply into their eyes and really see them for who they are. You need to be open to many different types of people from many different cultures. But you can’t connect with people when you’re feeling worried, defensive, angry, frightened, or ashamed.
“Empathy is about standing in someone else’s shoes, feeling with his or her heart, seeing with his or her eyes. Not only is empathy hard to outsource and automate, but it makes the world a better place.”—Daniel H. Pink
“If there is any one secret of success, it lies in the ability to get the other person’s point of view and see things from that person’s angle, as well as from your own.”—Henry Ford
2. Be Intuitive
intuition—“The ability to understand something immediately, without the need for conscious reasoning.”—Oxford Dictionaries
Having intuition is being open to the mysterious workings of your own mind—seeing what is or what might be clearly in your mind’s eye. Sometimes, through intuition, holistic solutions to problems may arise fully formed—or very nearly so—from your subconscious mind. At other times, your intuition may give you just the seed of a great idea. Intuition lets you draw connections between diverse inputs without conscious thought. The effort lies in gathering the relevant data for your subconscious mind to work on.
Intuition often plays a strong role in decision making. You rely on intuition when you must make decisions and take action on them very quickly, the problem or the solution is ambiguous, or there's no precedent to follow.
“The intuitive mind is a sacred gift and the rational mind is a faithful servant. We have created a society that honors the servant and has forgotten the gift.”—Albert Einstein
“You have to trust in something—your gut, destiny, life, karma, whatever. This approach has never let me down, and it has made all the difference in my life.”—Steve Jobs
“Sometimes making a decision is hard, not because it is unpopular, but because it comes from your gut and defies a technical rationale. Much has been written about the mystery of gut, but it’s really just pattern recognition, isn’t it? You’ve seen something so many times you just know what’s going on this time. The facts may be incomplete or the data limited, but the situation feels very, very familiar to you.”—Jack Welch
3. Be Creative
creativity—“The use of the imagination or original ideas, especially in the production of an artistic work.”—Oxford Dictionaries
Being creative is allowing your intuition to reveal possibilities to you and following them in the moment—in other words, it’s being in flow, which Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi defines in his book Flow: The Psychology of Optimal Experience,as follows:
“The best moments usually occur when a person’s body or mind is stretched to its limits in a voluntary effort to accomplish something difficult and worthwhile. Optimal experience is thus something we make happen. … [Flow is] a state in which people are so involved in an activity that nothing else seems to matter; the experience is so enjoyable that people will continue to do it even at great cost, for the sheer sake of doing it. … [Flow lets people] achieve a joyous, self-forgetful involvement through concentration, which in turn is made possible by a discipline of the body.”
What prompted Csikszentmihalyi to do research on the flow state? According to Wikipedia:
“Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi and his fellow researchers began researching flow after Csikszentmihalyi became fascinated by artists who would essentially get lost in their work. Artists, especially painters, got so immersed in their work that they would disregard their need for food, water, and even sleep. Thus, the origin of research on the theory of flow came about when Csikszentmihalyi tried to understand this phenomenon experienced by these artists.”
Being in flow is a sort of meditative bliss state, in which your mind is more fully concentrated than at just about any other time. Great ideas come to you when you lose yourself in your work. Some of the best creative experiences come from working in collaboration with others—especially when you can achieve a flow state together. Flow brings joyfulness to your work.
Flow is all about focus, which is the antithesis of the monkey-mind nature of most people’s experience of the Web—with the mind jumping quickly from one thing to another. Just as with meditation, you can get better at calming your mind and connecting with your creativity through practice, practice, practice.
The source of creativity is your imagination. When creating, you synthesize all of the ideas that you’ve taken in from myriad sources and, magically, all of those inputs fall into place, forming a cohesive whole. This is your intuition at work.
All creativity involves improvisation—whether you’re designing user experiences, acting on a stage, jamming with a band, doing some form of creative writing, or making up a new recipe.
“To raise new questions, new possibilities, to regard old problems from a new angle requires creative imagination.”—Albert Einstein
“Creativity is just connecting things. … Creative people … [are] able to connect experiences they’ve had and synthesize new things.”—Steve Jobs
“The organizations of the future will increasingly depend on the creativity of their members to survive. Great Groups offer a new model in which the leader is an equal among Titans. In a truly creative collaboration, work is pleasure, and the only rules and procedures are those that advance the common cause.”—Warren Bennis
“Creativity is contagious.”—Albert Einstein
4. Be Passionate
passion—“An intense desire or enthusiasm for something.”—Oxford Dictionaries
Being an effective UX professional requires great drive, enthusiasm, and focus. To sustain the level of effort and concentration that the work demands, you must have a passion for your work. With passion, your work ceases to feel like work. Your passion keeps you focused on your goals, enables you to get things done and take risks when necessary, and makes it possible for you to realize your vision. Always strive to do great work! Don’t settle for less. Don’t compromise on quality.
Love your work and you’ll have the motivation to continually hone your skills and expand your areas of competency, as you must forever do in this field. When you work with passion, you can reach your full potential.
“Your work is going to fill a large part of your life, and the only way to be truly satisfied is to do what you believe is great work. And the only way to do great work is to love what you do.”—Steve Jobs
“Pleasure in the job puts perfection in the work.”—Aristotle
“You have to be burning with an idea, or a problem, or a wrong that you want to right. If you’re not passionate enough from the start, you’ll never stick it out.”—Steve Jobs
5. Be a Life-long Learner
learning—“The acquisition of knowledge or skills through experience, study, or by being taught.”—Oxford Dictionaries
Being a life-long learner is a quality of successful people. Having the motivation and the ability to learn and grow throughout your life is an essential quality in today’s fast-changing world—especially for UX professionals. You can learn through reading and deep reflection—but most of all you’ll learn through life experience. You can learn by questioning things—and asking the right questions enables you to solve problems. Often, you’ll learn from your mistakes, so life-long learning requires that you have the courage to keep taking risks.
In a field that is as broad and fast-changing as user experience, it’s important that you keep learning throughout your career. Sustaining your commitment to continuous learning takes curiosity about the world in which you live and a desire to improve your mind. The more you learn, the more you can contribute in the workplace and the more likely you’ll advance in your career.
“Learning is a life-long process of keeping abreast of change. And the most pressing task is to teach people how to learn.”—Peter Drucker
“I have no special talents. I am only passionately curious.”—Albert Einstein