Companies hire us to fight with each other. Let me explain.
If you’re like me, you bring a skeptical eye to industry predictions, ones that insist that by 2020 experience will overtake both price and product as a key brand differentiator. But with one year to go, this one seems to be coming true. Experience has emerged as the industry’s newest tool for driving brand growth, with user experience of sites, apps, tools and products as the tip of the spear. But what do we really mean when we talk about user experience?
To put it simply, we’re talking about the business of figuring out what people want. Or at least, figuring out what may make people’s lives better tomorrow, even if they don’t know it themselves. This can be difficult stuff. There’s an art and science to it that necessitates using every tool in the toolbox—strategy, narrative, design, content and technology – wielded by diverse personalities with equally diverse points of view. After all, people come with all different kinds of wiring. An analytically-inclined person may be compelled by very different experiences than one with more expressive wiring. Only through their collaboration do they find the best solution.
But not without the inherent fighting.
Most companies hate inviting conflict inside their walls (for good reasons), so we fight for companies that can’t or won’t fight for themselves. Small teams like ours can be a sample group, reflecting the target users and personality types in any business. Then we clash so that they don’t have to. By design and by nature, we’re good at it, but we shouldn’t be the only ones. Every company should learn how to leverage tension in positive ways. Fighting (in a healthy way) to build better brand and user experiences is one of the most necessary skills in today’s new creative economy. Here’s how you pull it off.
1. Surround the problem with different perspectives
Create decidedly small internal teams comprised of specific leaders from disparate disciplines – strategy, creative and technology. But, forget about the traditional waterfall approach to making something, where the baton gets passed on down the line. Instead, these three archetypes need to be present and driving each phase.
Then get ready for the mess. When you start, you’ll quickly find that there’s an “who’s driving?” vibe permeating a conference room. And that’s the point – no one is driving. Or more accurately—no one person is driving.
The problems our clients face today are not one-dimensional and so the approach can’t be either. This means inviting a little tension – the balance of different perspectives. At times, it can feel like a game of tug-of-war, but keep at it. The tension is simply an indicator that the solution is multi-faceted and that the opportunity exists. It’s the required precursor to any great solution. I mean, you can’t have a solution without a problem, right?
2. Cultivate VERY limited hierarchy
This may seem counterintuitive but it helps to be purposefully top-heavy in any fight. Healthy fighting depends on experienced and capable team members that can shirk hierarchy and favor diversity of perspective.
Leveling the playing field dismantles the idea that one person can have all of the right answers, background, experience, worldview, and point of view. That doesn’t mean that you don’t have accountability or internal reviews to figure out what’s working and what’s not. It’s just that no one person is ultimately holding the “red pen” of decision making. It becomes everyone’s responsibility to find that balance of tension.
Sound hard? There are definitely easier ways to do it. It’s why we have hierarchy to begin with. Hierarchy is the intentional structure for decision making and it makes it easier to know who’s in charge, avoiding some of the difficulty and ambiguity. But it can also be a trap when it comes to creating better user experiences. Easier is not always better.
3. Make it safe to fight
Trust depends on transparency and transparency depends on trust. Politics, hierarchy, politeness – they all choke the life out of good work. Any one of those is going to keep someone quiet. Some person with a refreshing point of view is going to keep their mouth shut and not call bullshit to avoid career harm, uphold good social graces, or simply to stay in their lane.
Well screw that. Screw all of it.
Good work is when you find compelling truth and you can only get to compelling truth if everything’s on the table. So anything should be said and anyone should feel safe to say it.
This means more than just telling people to be open and honest. You have to invest in creating a work culture that values the personal lives of your team members so they can trust you’ve got their back. That way, they can bring their full selves to work and feel right as rain calling bullshit on anyone’s ideas. Again, I’m not saying to be aggressive or mean. Just value truth and then fight for it.
Start a battle, Win the war
Fighting is an absolute necessity for all kinds of companies, as perfecting user experience is an inherent need for every company in business. That tense and multi-faceted problem-solving process only reflects the complex challenges most brands face today.
That doesn’t mean that fighting is the solution to every challenge. I’m more practical than that. There are specialty problems to solve – engineering, financial, or manufacturing issues where tension can result in catastrophe. This approach is not intended for those speciality concerns. To be clear, it’s definitely not recommended that committees be created for any or every problem.
The goal is truth instead of efficiency-choking corporate buy-in. It’s about swift, informed, and diverse perspectives pointed at imagining how to improve the experiences of others. The benefits are too effective to ignore – allowing people to be heard, relationships to be made more robust, and ultimately multi-faceted solutions to multi-faceted problems.