19 – Growth mindsets, vulnerability, sociopathy, totalitarianism… that escalated quickly (ft. Billie Mandel)

In which Peter and Jesse speak with Billie Mandel, design leader, team coach, and UX educator, and we somehow get from team dynamics to leadership qualities of vulnerability to sociopathy to totalitarianism in surprisingly short order.


Billie: The conditions that are required for a more just world line up as the same conditions that are required for a more successful, more creative, more innovative technology team.

Peter: I’m Peter Merholz.

Jesse: And I’m Jesse James Garrett,

Both: And we’re finding our way…

Peter: …navigating the opportunities and challenges of design and design leadership.

Peter: On today’s episode of Finding Our Way is my good friend, Billie Mandel. Billie has an illustrious career in design leadership, and team coaching and UX teaching.

Billie: So I got my start in tech in the first dot-com boom. And like many of us, I started as a refugee from academia. I was working on a PhD in political science. I was studying political behavior and comparative politics.

So I started my tech career along with 20 other people who doubled the size of Ask.com on one day. And at the time, the company had proof of concept as a search engine and suddenly corporations realized that they could pay us to make a custom that thing so that their users could ask a question on the internet and maybe not charge the company 50 bucks every time they called up.

So I was hired to be what they were calling at that point, a content editor, and to lead a team of people the way we started. So UXC, but it was not UX.

There were 20 of us who were hired on the same day to start building these things custom for enterprises. And, as things were back in the late nineties, within a year I had a team of 50.

Peter: That you were in charge of.

Jesse: Wow. I mean, talk about being thrown into the deep end of leadership. Had you ever led a team before?

Billie: Had I ever led a team before? Well, the way you lead teams, when you’re  the resident assistant in a college dorm, and you’ve got your finance manager and your kitchen manager. But had I ever been trained as a manager?

No, absolutely not.

Peter: Did they provide any training or were they just like, no… Okay,yYou’re laughing. So, no…

Billie: I mean…

Peter: “You seem capable, here, just have more responsibility.”

Billie: The thing about the first.com boom, there was the work that needed to get done and whatever you were interested in doing and capable of doing, you had the opportunity to do.

Jesse: Was leadership something you raised your hand for?

Billie: Yeah.

Jesse: Why did you want it?

Billie:  I’ve always gravitated towards people management, people, leadership, and maybe some of it has to do with being interested in the social sciences and believing that humans knowing themselves better and knowing each other better and being intentional about how we organize and what the rules are under which organize and what the agreements are we make. I’ve always believed that that creates the opportunity for human creativity and social change. And I found pretty early that the desire to see those connections and create those connections and help other people orient when they’re confused, and to give people guidance in combining their super powers rather than fighting it out, I think that’s something that I developed an aptitude for and an interest in pretty early on.

Jesse: One thing that we hear a lot from design leaders is the challenge of staying close to the creative work as you move into leadership. That the responsibilities of leadership start to take over your time, your attention, your energy, and so forth until those kinds of creative decisions become something that you have to really fully delegate to other people, and you aren’t really having the level of creative influence that you had when you were a designer. But it sounds to me like at least through this phase of your career, you’ve been able to maintain some connection to the creative work, even as you were moving into more and more leadership responsibility.

Billie: I definitely have stayed close to the work and the decisions that feel creative to me.

In my coaching practice, I also hear a lot of leaders saying they’re struggling to stay close to the creative work, and, well, sometimes they mean I miss just sitting down and getting into the zone and figuring out if this is the top layer, what flows come next and what flows coming back, that obsessive fun interaction design zone that is enjoyable for a lot of folks, a lot of people miss that.

I don’t necessarily miss that as much. What I’ve seen as most important in terms of staying close to the creative work is maintaining the ability to care and the ability to ask hard questions and engage without being attached to the outcome. So, I think that’s become one of my favorite things about being here. And an educator role is everybody brings me their creative problems that they’re solving. I get to engage and get my hands dirty and get my brain dirty. Understand what kind of problem are you trying to solve? How far have you gotten, where are your blind spots?

My favorite thing to do is to help fill in people’s blind spots and get a more complete picture of the problem space that they’re working on. To me, that’s one of the most fun things we can do, is use our experience and our designer brain to help add and fill in blanks and create context for other creative professionals.

Peter:  Atlassian was your most recent full time job, if I understand right. You were brought on in kind of a, maybe not unique role, but not yet widespread role  of design education, helping the design team do what they do better.

But you’ve also mentioned teams and team building. And I think that was something you did at Atlassian. It’s funny, you mentioned your PhD or near PhD,  political science, and how do people work together to achieve, accomplish, and  come back around 25 years later, thinking about how people work together to achieve and accomplish.

How do you approach teams and teaming?

Billie: Ah, this is my favorite topic. This is my favorite, favorite, favorite topic. It’s so interesting because the job that I came to Atlassian to do was design education. And when I started getting in deep with the designers and the design teams and their cross-functional collaborators in engineering and in product management, one of the things that became so clear to me is that it wasn’t, How well do they use Sketch? How consistent is their design system? You know, Are they writing good code?

Software teams aren’t limited because they don’t know how to code or they don’t know how to make wireframes. They’re limited because they are not as effective as they could be at combining their ideas and their proposals with each other.  This is my big Aha! In the past three, if not five years. If teams are struggling,

it’s probably because of their teamwork more than it is about their craft skills.

Peter: One of the insights I had at some point in my career was reflecting on my degree in anthropology, which felt, for the longest time, utterly disconnected to my work, and realizing, Oh, Oh, wait a moment. That actually, was a pillar in my foundation of what became my career, later doing user-centered design, human-centered design. I’m wondering what, if anything, from your academic development and understanding, have you brought forth?

Billie: It’s amazing. Now at this point in my career, now that I, have really found my focus and the work that I want to do, the work that’s my work to do in this world feels like helping teams be more effective, helping teams hear all the voices of all the people on the teams and value them all equally and maybe have the most effective or the most valued idea not come from the person with the largest amount of bona fides in the room. And now I get to bring in everything from what I studied academically in political behavior, political sociology.

These ways of understanding human behavior are super helpful in getting us to be a little bit more critical about what do we do at work, and why, I think, right now, one of the things that’s most exciting to me is seeing our industry start to take inclusion seriously for the first time.

And one of the themes that I’m hearing more and more in the coaching work that I do, and in connecting with other folks who are doing more directly work in diversity and inclusion.

One of the things that’s most exciting to me is seeing the conditions that are required for a more just world line up as the same conditions that are required for a more successful, more creative, more innovative technology team. That, to me is what I’m on fire about right now.

What I’ve learned, is you’ve got a whole team of people and you need to hear all of them in order to make it worth everyone’s while. Wow. Amazing. Those are the same conditions that create improved inclusion. I think that gives us a big opportunity in this historical moment to make those connections. So, I’m excited.

Jesse: So to my mind, that kind of stuff often comes back to culture and the tone that leaders set in their organizations for how voices get included and how decisions get made. And I’m curious what you’ve seen, some of the struggles, some of the successes, whether from your own practice,as a leader, or other leaders that you’ve worked with, in creating that sense of inclusion within teams.

Billie: The most important thing that I’ve seen is that, just like our children, our employees and mentees will do what we do, not what we say. And the most common mistake that I see is leaders grandstanding about, “we want you to do this, and these are the values” and bla bla bla bla bla bla bla, from a perspective that’s facing outward and talking down and telling, but those same people, not walking the walk.

Music break

Peter:  So, I really want to be the woke leader, but I also know that I’m a middle-aged white dude, and I’m likely going to behave in not so great ways. 

How does a legitimately, authentically desiring leader, who is demonstrating these behaviors unknowingly… Who’s calling them on it? How do we set up a context internally so that they can get some reflection and be called on it?

Billie: Like any other life-sustaining habit, using your superpowers for good requires practice and requires a critical perspective. So, thing one, I’m going to say only leaders who choose to lead with vulnerability actively and regularly will be able to lead to real inclusion. And I absolutely believe that. And I don’t throw down “only”s and “never”s and “always” very often, but I absolutely believe that. I think you must have the ability and the willingness to look critically at your own behavior and to choose to be better.

Probably the most important leadership and professional book that I have is Mindset by Dr. Carol Dweck. And I reread it about once a year to see the ways in which my beliefs about my own inherent goodness, superiority, and talent are holding me back and causing me to probably be propping up systems that benefit me unfairly.

So, I think every leader, particularly a leader who is from a majority group, you need a trusted dissenter. And that person needs to be somebody who will tell you when you’re full of shit, who is keeping an eye out for what you’re missing and who has a perspective that’s different from yours. It’s a thing you and I have done in our friendship together over the years, Peter, that I really appreciate.

Peter: I’ve been fortunate that I’ve had those people in my life, professionally, who’ve been willing to call me out on my bullshit, and however defensive I am at the outset, I usually over time realize like, okay, yeah, they’re right, and I learned to take that in, but I think a lot of people don’t have that in their lives or they wouldn’t know how to find it. It’s not something you go to your HR business partner and say, “I need someone to call me out on my bullshit. Can you find me one of them?” Like, so any tips on how to develop that?

Billie: Yes. I have a few ideas. So, I do believe that any leader who wants to create an environment of inclusion and who wants to be able to make use of the team creativity that you get by having that environment, you need to create an environment of regular productive critique, and you need to participate in it yourself.

Jesse: What does that look like? Your participation. Does that mean offering your workup for critique or are you simply serving in the role as sort of arbiter

Billie: Oh, no, it absolutely means that your stuff is on the line. So, to me, one of the most important questions a person on a team can ask their teammates is, “What am I missing?” So this idea that each person on a team has a perspective, and I call this the alchemy of teams. If the three of us are on a team and one plus one plus one, there are three of us. But if we’re all like, well, Jesse’s got that bright red hair. And so he’s going to be the leader because he is, he is forceful.

So we’re all gonna follow him. We all do what he says. One plus one plus one is one. So we do what Jesse says, cause we want to impress him. And we essentially subtract the value that we could have added from the ultimate value the team creates. So the conditions that we want are one plus one plus one is more than three, when the three of us get together and combine our passion and our creative vision. We want the output of what we create together to be bigger and better than what any one of us had brought from the start. The conditions that you need in order to do that as a leader, you absolutely need to be willing to submit your own work and decisions, both to your peers and to your team, to get their perspective, and you absolutely have to do it from a place of honesty.

It can’t just be like, “Hey, what do you think? All right, great. We’re going to do what I wanted in the first place.” As soon as you do that, you’ve demonstrated to your team that you actually don’t give a shit, so the way you would do that as a leader is, you’ve got some kind of critique practice and critique practice is my jam. It’s the thing that I do the most and that I’m working on a book and I will have more tools available for folks to use.

Really, the best thing that you can do is, “Here’s what I’m working on. Here’s what my best thinking has produced. Here’s how far I’ve gotten. This is the part that I’m less than confident about.”

One of the most counterintuitive, but I hear the most high value, parts of my method is, shine a light on the ugly part. When you’re showing your work to people to get their input.

What most of us do is like what our kids do when they bring us a picture. “Do you like it?” Which is great when it’s your kid. But if you bring me something, I mean, Peter, you and I have a good friendship. If you bring me something. And you want to know what I think you don’t care if I like it. You want to hear what you’re missing.

So what I encourage folks to do is to ask, “Here’s my best thinking, shine a light on the ugly part. This is what I’m concerned about, and what I’m afraid is going to happen. Help me make sure my butt’s not hanging out in this way. What am I missing?” And you’ll find, as you ask that of the people on your team, and your peers, you will start to find who are the folks who are really going to tell you what you’re missing in a way that helps you move it forward, but you’re right.

You absolutely have to be willing to hear the answer. To me, most of the core of developing comfort with the answer has been in mindset. I’ve shown someone my work and it’s not landing. Why does that feel so crappy? Most of the answer there is because I was taught to believe that if I’m not brilliant and talented, I’m nothing. So therefore if my work is not brilliant and talented at the get-go, how does that make me a value?

Peter: The curse of the honors student.

Billie: That’s exactly right. That’s why I love Mindset so much because it gives us the best possible framework for why these beliefs have served us.

To be honest. I think one of the greatest illnesses in our industry is that while we all talk about fail fast, fail fast, fail this, fail the other. We collectively have no tolerance for failure. We collectively have very little tolerance for showing our mess.

I would bet you money, go ahead into 10 design critiques across most companies in this industry. You’re not going to see sketches. You’re not going to see wireframes. You’re not going to see user journeys. You’re going to see pretty shiny high-fidelity things that people have gone off and spent a whole bunch of time making look the way they think you want it to look. And that’s a huge problem because all the opportunity for one plus one plus one is more than three comes from showing our mess and shining a light on to the part of the problem that requires the most brain power. So if I could wave my magic wand and give all the designers in our industry something, it would be understanding the value that you get from being vulnerable and being able to do the work that we really need to do in those vulnerable spaces to improve.

But it means that we all have to be willing to improve and willing to start from a place of, It’s okay if our first cut doesn’t have all the answers because we need to figure out what the right questions are.

Peter: You were talking about vulnerability, which I don’t dispute.

Billie: Well, good, ‘cause we’d have to throw down.

Peter: Well, there is a counterfactual.

Billie: Okay. Gimme, I double dog dare you. Try and talk me out of vulnerability.

Peter: Well, well, the counterfactual, I’m not trying to talk you out of it, but the counterfactual is the number of seemingly successful leaders who exhibit sociopathy or narcissism. And I’m wondering, how do I make sense of that. Of this demonstration of an almost lack of interest in others or an actual lack of interest in others, and yet an evident ability to engender success. I’ve worked at companies, I’ve worked at…

Billie: I’m going to interrupt you, my dear. I think the variable there is your definition of success.

Peter: Making lots of money.

Billie: That’s the whole point. I think if it’s making lots of money for you, that’s your goal and you’re a sociopath heck yeah…

Peter: Well. I would say growing a business, I’ve worked for sociopathic slash narcissistic leaders, who’ve been the CEOs of businesses, of some success. There’s clearly, I….

Billie: How are those companies doing on innovation or retention or inclusion?

Peter: I don’t know, but I mean, I’m not one to, apply the DSM out of school, but you can look at wildly successful social media companies and the man-children who run them. And there’s a disconnect between that and what you’re talking about. 2.5 billion users is a measure of success.

Billie: A current measure of success for some people. If you’re talking about longevity, if you’re talking about loyalty…   

Peter: I’m not trying to be a devil’s advocate, ‘cause I actually don’t like devil’s advocacy, but there is a model of leadership that is anti-vulnerable.

It seems that can succeed in certain contexts, and I want to unpack that. I don’t want to believe it.

Billie: One could also say, and for the Jewish lady to say this during the Days of Awe, I’m going to throw down and I’m going to throw down hard. One could say for his business initiatives, Hitler was pretty fucking successful.

The amount of power that was required to take that shit down. It was pretty intense. The level of execution that was possible with a machine like that. I know bad, bad metaphor. When you were talking before, it had me thinking about Hannah Arendt and the origins of totalitarianism.

There’s a thing about the division of labor in a totalitarian system that looks a lot like the division of labor in a company that has a sociopathic narcissistic leader. I think if you look at the Banality of Evil, you read Eichmann in Jerusalem, and looking systemically at what makes large-scale atrocity possible. There’s a level of a division of labor and specialization that can be incredibly effective at a large scale level.

Peter: Hmm. You basically compartmentalize the organization like you would compartmentalize emotions, Like in order to deal with this thing.

Billie: That’s absolutely right. So there’s no one person that is making the decision to press the red button. Each person is responsible for a little bit of the decision that collectively adds up to atrocity. And frankly, I do think that what we see in a lot of massive multinational corporations smells a little bit too much like that for my own comfort.

And I do see it showing up in our tech companies. You know, we’re talking about  massive scale of global atrocity, but even if you bring it back down to something more tangible on the daily, I think there’s a commodification of individual skill and then leaving big decisions up to the big brains, that can work pretty effectively to generate a lot of money, a lot of product, a lot of productivity. And I think it’s problematic because nobody is responsible for the ethics of what that totality puts out. Other than the people at the top, who keep their hands clean.

If my hands are dirty as a leader, then I have skin in the game. I’m in it. I understand what the decisions mean. I’m sharing both the responsibility as well as the spoils. To me, if I’m designing a company that I still want to have exist in 50 years, if I’m designing for 150 years, if I’m designing for sustainability, if I’m designing for a different future, I don’t want everybody to have their hands clean, I want everybody to have their hands a little bit dirty.

The way this shows up in design and in technology is designers or developers who don’t have their user flows, who don’t have their user journeys, who don’t understand why they’re just delivering the screens. They’re just delivering the ones and zeros. They can’t tell you how that piece fits into the other pieces, that holds them back in their craft. And it holds them back strategically, but that’s also what enables them to participate in things that don’t really feel right. And that’s what enables a company to bring in diverse people, but not really include them and have it never really feel right.

I think we overvalue the visionary. I think we overvalue the person who can do everything on their own, and then we become dependent on that person. The company that I want to design, the future that I want to design for our industry, world, everybody’s contributing and everybody is sharing the accountability. I think it’s a different definition of success and a different measure that’s going to get us to different decisions about what we value and different decisions in what we spend our time on.

Music break 2

Last one case in point here. Why the hell is it so damn hard, after 25, 30 years of doing this work, and everybody knows your first cut of what you think the problem is and why it matters, everybody knows, everybody knows that that’s not right. Everybody knows you’ve got to do some real discovery, and really understand your customers or end-users perspective before you put in money and effort into building your product. Everybody knows that.

I have a graph you made, that I use to teach, it’s still the best possible visualization. Why you should figure out your options while it’s cheap to do that rather than expensive. But 30 years later, we’re still having the same effing conversation. And every design team in the world is still going, “They’re not giving us any time for discovery. They just tell us, make the thing and we’ll figure it out later. And we never come back to it.” Nine out of 10 teams out there are saying that. So they know they’re supposed to iterate. They’ve got their pictures of your iterative process and your one, two, three, four, five, and your arrows all day. Nine out of 10 of them don’t do it. Why? Because the definition of success and the, way we assess business value, hasn’t caught up to the way we need to be defining it for the future.

I’m not opinionated about that. Guys, this is really fantastic.

Jesse: I think…

Peter: We’re just here to help you testify.

Jesse: …when it comes to evaluating leaders and the impact of their choices and evaluating them against some success criteria, it’s often a question of your scope of reference, because we often see leaders who make choices that are right for their team, but wrong for the product; right for the product, but wrong for the organization; or right for the organization, but wrong for the users.

Or maybe even right for the users, but still wrong for society. And so as you keep sort of scoping out, you start to see these wider and wider ripples of impact of the choices that the leader makes. And so I think your point is a good one, that where that sociopathy tends to take root is often in the organizations that are most myopic about the wider impacts of the choices that their leaders make.

Billie: Yeah, I would agree with that. I would definitely agree with that.

Peter: As you were talking about the totalitarianism and the kind of atomization of activity within an organization, I realized there’s a devil’s bargain as we think about teams and team building, which is we can create highly actualized teams,  and encourage them to behave in all the best ways. But that team is its own little unit and there’s dozens, if not hundreds, of them in some of these organizations and the risk is a hundred highly actualized successful teams, whose efforts when all added up lead to these societally problematic outcomes. Because we’ve broken up what each team is doing, they can feel super empowered, super positive about what they’re doing and how they’re doing it, but there’s still something happening behind the curtain, where all of that effort that’s embraced with genuine idealism still can be shaped and manipulated. Ideally, it’s manipulated towards positive goals, but it’s most often manipulated towards this gestalt where the whole is so different from the sum of the parts that you don’t know, it becomes the Skynet or the monster that just gets unleashed, that even the creators, even the most senior folks, don’t realize what they’ve done, and in the worst of outcomes it can actually be steered or directed towards what we would consider nefarious ends.  

How do we help folks understand that, to what Jesse was saying, those concentric circles out and out and out. Their role, however small, however seemingly focused, it’s tying into something ever larger. And, how do we provide  lenses or views that allow people to get that kind of powers of 10, like in the Charles and Ray Eames movie, so that you’re always looking at kind of multiple levels.

Billie: Yeah. I always call that a funnel of abstraction, another concept that came from political science. If you’ve got the spirit of the law at the top, the letter of the law at the bottom, like the specific statute at the bottom, and the why and what social good it’s supposed to affect at the top, design problems or business problems work the same way, where you’ve got business strategy or the vision up at the top and all the way at the bottom is every specific detail decision that you would need to make.

Most of us are going to have a part of that funnel of abstraction, where we’re most comfortable. We like looking at the system and understanding the why and the big vision. And if we only lived up there, we’d never get anything done. So the way we get things done is we come all the way down. What does that vision mean for what I’m going to do today?

So when I’m teaching, particularly your junior to mids, they will, you know, they’ll start up here. Sure. And then they get down here and then it’s, “Oh, well, what’s your goal on this screen? When you click this, what happens if you don’t go all the way back up?” That’s how you ended up down the rabbit hole.

I think it’s easier to teach your junior to mids, to come up than it is to teach your leaders to effectively come all the way down and back up again, to have people at all levels, interacting in the middle and helping each other specialize, but also stay informed the real contextual details.

So this relates to what you were talking about before, in terms of leaders staying close to the creative work, so that the most effective leaders at a company like that are the ones when were able to, for example, come into a critique session, see the work that an individual designer has done, and if they’re too focused, be, like, “Alright, bring me up a level of abstraction.” It helped me understand what part of the problem have you broken out, and what are the decisions you’ve made, and which are the decisions that you need input on.

The most effective leaders, even if they’re not the ones who are making those detail-level decisions, when they see what their teams have done, can help connect the dots to that big vision and help assess, “Do we make the right call? Do we make the best call or not? How would we be able to tell?” So the idea of being able to move up and down those levels of abstraction, and share context, is how you end up counteracting that tendency for everybody to be a little bit too far away.

There were a few conversations that I think should be happening in every room where there is. Creative work being done, whether they’re physical or virtual rooms, certainly any kind of software design and development. This is another one of those things.

It seems like it’s not brain surgery. Why is it that hard? But for some reason we still haven’t figured it out. Here’s what it looks like. Let’s just talk about the tradeoffs more.

Why are we not talking about tradeoffs? Here’s what the end users need. Here’s what the technology can support now and what it would take to get it to doing another thing. Here’s what the business needs. There’s always going to be some tradeoff. Not that, What’s it going to cost us? What are the trade offs? In any business discussion, in any set of questions about what we should do and why, you’ve got the business, the customers are end users, and you’ve got the technology, and there’s always going to be a tradeoff between the three of them. And you want somebody who can effectively speak for each one, and you want to make a choice, and you want to figure out at what point will we assess, “Have we made the right choice? And when can we change our minds?”

And I see too many leaders who assumed that that’s their domain and their domain only, and they’re doing their teams a disservice because at every level you need to be having those conversations. Even the junior designer, junior PM, and junior developer who are working on fulfilling the requirements for screen X, Y, or Z. Should it go in this order or this order? I don’t know. Usually what they end up doing is, Which one do you like better? Which one have you already done? Because they don’t have the information they needed in order to say, well, okay, let’s go up a couple levels of abstraction. What does the business need?

What’s at stake? If we choose X over Y at every level, we need to empower our people to discuss risks and tradeoffs and benefits, and to be comfortable with their decision making.

I don’t see enough decision-making at the junior to mid-level. So then I see people who are new leaders suddenly have no idea how to make decisions. And they’re guessing. You shouldn’t have to guess. People are covering for too much insecurity. When, if we got comfortable at every level, let’s talk about the trade offs. Let’s put our cards on the table. If we choose X, what are we not choosing?

Jesse: This just highlights that as many things as have changed since you first joined Ask back in the late nineties with no leadership experience of any kind, and having it just put in your lap and being asked to sort it out, I think that that is still the case all these years later. That there are many, many design leaders who have not had the opportunity to really exercise the muscles they’re actually going to use as leaders before the role was given to them.

Billie: I think you’re absolutely right. This also gets into why you hear so many leaders waxing philosophical about the days that they got to do the creative work, because they become people managers where they just have to give performance reviews. If we worked decision-making and peer leadership and modeling more into our junior to mid-levels, We wouldn’t have that much of a crisis of what leaders are supposed to do.

Peter: Yeah, that’s interesting because we explicitly don’t give them authority, And I don’t think I thought about what is the progression of decision making ability that you want to encourage within people as they develop. I actually am working with a client and we have this fairly bright line between—and I’m responsible for it, so I might be guilty here—we’ve created this fairly bright line between a senior designer and a lead designer. And that bright line is one of leadership, is that ability to direct others, and there’s recognition that the senior designer is a very strong craftsperson, but doesn’t lead others.

And then the leader has that ability to see beyond themselves, and affect the work of other people. Which feels like a quantum distinction, but what I think you’re saying is that it shouldn’t be. It’s almost not fair to say, “One day, you don’t get to make decisions. And then the next day you’re responsible,” without having provided some path to that.

Billie: Absolutely. If you think about it, even the most junior designer is making decisions. You’ve got a design system and you’ve got a new design problem. Where do you apply an existing pattern and where do you choose to make something new? That’s a basic decision that even a junior has to figure out.

Are we giving them the tools that they need in order to make the decisions that are within their remit? And are we giving them effective ways to you assess what decisions did you make? Are we giving them opportunities in critique to say, “All right. Here’s as far as I’ve gotten with my best thinking, here are the decisions that I’ve made. Does anybody have issues with these things? Am I missing something?” Training people to present the right thing and to ask the right questions. That’s why we have to model it ourselves.

What I’m getting at is the definition of success. So if I want my juniors to still be working here in five years and to be leaders and to have knowledge that they’re able to disseminate, that is more valuable than somebody I would hire in off the street. How am I growing them? What am I giving them to indicate that their investment in me is as valuable as my investment in them?

Another thing that I’ve,got for you. Just my back pocket, a practice that I have found helpful, I was thinking about the thing that you said about finding a trusted dissenter. A practice that I’ve started with some of the people I’ve developed a closest peer relationship with, the people I’m working with most often, is a cadence of “more of, less of,” So, a lightweight way to offer feedback to each other, like once a month, once a week, or whatever.

“Hey, we’re working on this thing together. Can you think of anything that I could do more of, or less of in this next round of whatever to help our working relationship.”

It’s lightweight enough that if you get into a practice of it, it’s kind of like Pilates. You’ll develop that comfort with discomfort muscle a little bit.

Peter: I’ll take your word on anything having to do with Pilates.

Jesse: Pilates is great Peter, you should try it sometime

Peter: Sure.

Jesse: And that wraps up another episode of finding our way. Thank you to Billie Mandel for joining us, you can find Billie on the internet at http://billiemandel.com.

You can find me and Peter on the internet too. You can find us on LinkedIn.

You can find us on Twitter. He’s @peterme, I’m @jjg.  This podcast has a website, https://findingourway.design/. There you’ll find every episode, every transcript, ways to contact us. Please reach out, send us your feedback. We live and die by it. We’ll see you soon.

Peter: Vulnerability and trusted dissenters…

Jesse: Totalitarianism…

Billie: Only you can get me talking about totalitarianism on a leadership podcast. I fucking love you people

Peter: You know, you gotta, you gotta get past the surface layers of that onion. You gotta keep peeling it to get at the, at the, at the real stuff.

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