stephen fishman, ux, user experience
If pain shared is pain divided, then the UX community should be happy that they are not alone in their Don Quixote quest to get people to join their crusade for the good of enterprises, employees and users.

Regardless of how low the signal to noise ratio is on LinkedIn, I still find myself engaging with one or two discussions or posts each week. Last week, I saw a really interesting question in the "Enterprise As A System" group and thought it would be worth bringing out to the CMSWire audience as it talks to a number of topics that get a lot of engagement with the audience.

Eugene I. Khudobin of Russia asked "Why do most managers consider an enterprise as a system but don't manage an enterprise as a system?". Eugene knew that he was asking a perplexing question about human behavior inside a system when he added the subtext: "In many ways, this is a rhetorical question, nevertheless, I'm wondering your opinion ;)"

Try Looking In The Mirror

The LinkedIn discussion was significantly academic and pointed people to foundational management and organizational behavior works from Drucker, Senge and others. Being an org behavior geek myself, I found the discussion interesting, but at the same time I can see how outsiders might find it esoteric. When one pulls back from the discussion to get some perspective, it reveals something completely different and ironic -- the brightest minds in organizational behavior cannot come to a clear and definitive answer to why their discipline is not mainstream within the organizations whose tendencies they study and reactions they predict.

The parallels between this paradox and the struggles of UX practitioners to understand why enterprises view their contributions as luxuries or sophistry when the linear science of user-inclusion is irrefutable makes me laugh. Both groups are missing a greater truth. The problem does not lie with the managers or the enterprises. This model of "outward pointing" blame is a never-ending vicious circle where there will always be a non-believer who stands in the way of ultimate victory for the righteous practitioners.

The actual answer for system practitioners and UX practitioners is the same. The problem is not that "managers are not rewarded to practice systems thinking". The problem is not that "enterprises are not built to care about users". The problem is that "we the enlightened have not repeated the message enough".

A Moment of Clarity

In the course of a large consulting project several years ago, I got very dejected when a member of the project team did not comply with a specific directive which as a result put the entire project team and the account at significant risk. I was venting about this situation to one of my peers when he proceeded to upend my world.

As I was angrily expressing my frustration with the prospect of having to check on the daily activities of every employee, every day to ensure that we were mistake free, he questioned why I was frustrated given that this was my job. Deeply perplexed, I stopped and asked him if he was telling me that my job was to go around to every employee on the team to make sure that their shoes were tied every day. He looked me in the eye and said: "Yes. That is exactly what I am saying. The job of leaders is to patiently repeat until it is no longer necessary to repeat."

Just like real change in society doesn't come from laws or scientific proofs (if you doubt this, go ask Al Gore), real change in the business world does not come from rules, processes or proof points. Real change comes when public consciousness of a basic truth is lifted up to a level beyond a tipping point that the change is self sustaining. Economic incentives are not self-sustaining for a society at the top of Maslow's hierarchy. Rationalistic explanations are not self-sustaining for an uninspired and impatient society. These ideas are what are at the core of Simon Sinek's Start With Why, Dan Pink's Drive and Dan Pink's Whole New Mind.

Be More Than A Broken Record

The idea of repetition in this context is not meant to be constrained to "verbal repetition", given that verbal repetition alone is clearly not sufficient to change society, let alone American management techniques. What my colleague at the time was communicating to me, was that it is up the leader to find new ways to make "show & tell" both interesting and safe enough for team members to fully understand directions to the point that they could self direct themselves through tasks.

Interesting can be hard and we talk about story telling all the time. Safe, on the other hand, is not only tricky but rarely talked about either. Looking outside for reasons why the world isn't what you think it should be (e.g., "why aren't you doing something you know to be right?"), keeps the world as it is because people don't engage with judges. Looking inside yourself (e.g., "what more can I do?"), or your team, to find what actions you can take is what causes change to happen, because people are inspired by leaders. This doesn't mean doing everything yourself; it only means taking responsibility to continue on in your efforts to communicate the value of the approach you are trying to get consensus on.

So whether you are org-behavior guy or a UX gal, if you really want to move beyond asking "Why do most people know X but do Y?" and get to a way that brings more people into the fold of true believers (no matter the cause), the answer is simple; Start writing. Start speaking. Start presenting. You are at the center of it all.

Image courtesy of WELBURNSTUART (Shutterstock)