29: Listening with Intent (ft. Indi Young)

In this episode, Jesse and Peter speak with their friend and former colleague Indi Young on the eve of the release of her forthcoming book, Time to Listen. The conversation ranges from our time together, to how she approaches her work, her focus on listening deeply to each other, and her passion for matters of equity and inclusion.


[This transcript lacks the polish of some of our others. Please forgive!]

Peter: I’m Peter Merholz.

Jesse: And I’m Jesse James Garrett,

And we’re finding our way

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

Jesse: On today’s show, Adaptive Path co-founder and author of the forthcoming book, Time to Listen, Indi Young joins us. She’ll share some of what she’s learned from her career, giving organizations tools for empathy with their users and individuals, the skills to listen deeply to each other.

Origins of Indi’s methods

Peter: Hi, and welcome to the podcast. So I, we’re just going to dive right in. We’ve known you, we’ve known each other for well, over 20 years. We started Adaptive Path together. I knew you, I think, through the Miller Freeman web conferences even before then. And I’d love…. So we, when we were working together at Adaptive Path early on, you introduced me to your pro… process, in particular the mental model process, and then you ended up writing a book on mental models, and then you’ve written a book on practical empathy. And now you’ve about to, and you can tell us kind of the details, release a book called Time to Listen.

And this is a big question and take as much time as you want answering it.

But I’m curious about this trajectory that you were on and how you’ve seen kind of your progress or your evolution from when we first started working together, building mental model diagrams, to kind of your, where, where your head is today in, in, in how you approach your work.

Indi: I could take like the whole hour answering that one question,

Peter: Well,

Indi: you guys will, but, but in with other clarifications yeah, the and yeah, I, I was trying to think back, like how, how did we meet? And I only remember meeting Mike from Adaptive Path on the ski lift at Sugar Bowl. So I can’t remember all the other origins story, but anyway trajectory, I started off, trying to embrace and adapt the the business, or rather the engineering approach of writing functional specs. This was long, long, long ago, Jesse had written, he, he wrote that book. Uh, What was the one? I can’t remember the title of it. It has

Jesse: My book, you’re talking about my book. Yeah.

Indi: yeah. Your book. Yeah. And that that’s it.

Yes, the layers one.

Peter: right.

Indi: But that came out like after I had given up on the func spec and it reminded me a lot of the func spec, the functional spec is just kind of like writing out everything that the thing has to do. And that is very much about understanding how a process works, how a standard operating procedure works.

And, and in coding it and how do we encode it? And then, you know, w- how do we make an interface on it? And so that was very much about processes, methods, procedures, all of these things have different contexts, where there are edge cases where like, okay, in this context, the method doesn’t work quite this way.

This is how it is done, or how other people have done workarounds. And so we need to encode those work arounds or those other contexts, and those are called edge cases. And what was happening when we started Adaptive Path was that we were no longer focusing only on engineering and science as things to encode or business processes to encode.

Right. We, we were starting to encode things that had more of more of a service aspect to it. We, what did we do? The NPR site or something, right.

Peter: NPR, PeopleSoft. Yeah.

Indi: Yeah. W- it was not a process. I mean, sure. Sell PeopleSoft. We were working with a sales group and sales could sort of be said to have a process, but it’s the closest thing to listening deeply, actually.

So So we were w- w- that shift had happened. And along with it, we pull a little bit of the functional spec with us. And we also pulled that word edge case. And the edge case was now a word that was applied to people. And this is where I started going, like, okay, there’s friction there. That’s not right.

So that was my personal response. And because you don’t call a person an edge case, no person is an edge case. No human mind is an edge case. There are communities and groups and ways of thinking. Yes, but nobody’s an edge case. The edge case belongs to the process. Anyway that was my personal sort of issue with it.

And the rest, the rest of the evolution is really all about me learning from the people who are working with me, or me learning from the people who are learning from me about how. How to, how to make a clear guide, a clear method you might say for working at understanding people’s minds so that we can create support for different thinking styles for different approaches to the same purpose.

Evolving mental models

Peter: How so, you know, in 2001, we worked together building mental models, right? You’re, you, you talk to folks, you listen deeply, you take a lot of notes and then you kind of decompose and recompose what you heard to create these structures that help you better understand how folks think about how they solve problems and then also go about solving those problems.

Right? There’s almost that it’s almost kind of two layers to it and you call it that mental model diagrams, a book about that. I’m curious because that’s where you and I kind of diverge is, is you, you know, you left Adaptive Path and continued to develop your practice. And you’re mentioning how you developed it in response to collaborating with I’m guessing people within various organizations.

I’m wondering if you’ve had kind of, if you have a stories to tell of kind of a clear aha moment where you thought things should be one way or behaved one way or where you used to practice one way, and then based on an experience you had in collaborating with someone you’re like, oh, wait a moment.

This is, I have a better idea of a better way of approaching it, given this kind of experience I’m having. How, how has, what were some of those steps… step changes been.

Indi: The there, yeah, there were a lot of step changes. Probably too many for us to cover or from even to remember what his step changes was that aspect of taking notes, lots of notes. I, when I started trying to teach her, I think our team members at adaptive path, right, how to do this, it’s like, Ooh, paying attention to what a person is saying and, and writing things down about what they were saying.

I’m a light, just let it be a transcript. It has to be a transcript cause otherwise you’re going to be doing too much thinking and not hearing. And, and and this happened even after I, I left Adaptive Path as that people would want to write notes and they would say writing notes is how I make sense of the state is writing notes is helping me analyze this data so I can come away with insights. And that was a huge aha moment for me because, and of course this is layered. First of all, I don’t want the insights to happen while you’re listening to someone. When you’re listening to someone, you have to pay rapt attention and that’s it.

You’re going to follow that person. And that’s it. You’re not going to bring up topics. You’re only going to follow their topics. The thing that you do as sort of a background process in your own mind is making sure that they are getting to their interior cognition and helping them there, or helping them clarify points that their interior cognition for each topic.

So there’s a lot to unpack here. So the first aha moment was okay, no notes. This is at the time you know, we, we would sometimes be bringing recording devices in. We would sometimes be doing this by conference call and sometimes just doing video recordings or whatever. Right. But we’re recording, so we’re not taking notes.

And that was a huge, aha. I think that really helped people understand that in a listening session, it’s not, it’s not where you’re trying to forge insights. You not trying to do your work there. Your work happens later. What you’re trying to do in a listening session is understand another person’s perspective, another person’s approach to the purpose, another person’s, you know, if you’re not spending that time, understanding them, you’re not going to get their perspective.

What insights you’re going to pull out of this are going to be your own insights. Not understanding someone else’s way of thinking. And this is why we continue to have software and services that, that don’t support anyone. That’s very different thinker than the team themselves, because we automatically, we feel like if we’re going into a listening session, we have to work.

We have to do some thinking and come out of it with insights. And in, in, if we’re going to understand somebody else’s way of approaching this purpose, what we have to do is let go of… we are not an employee at that point. And so this was an early on thing I would say, you’re not an employee, you’re just a person you’re just listening.

And then later on, I ki– you know, and no notes, right? You can, if you think they’re bringing up a topic that they may want to unpack later, and you both may forget about it, you can jot down that topic, but that’s all, you’re not going to write notes. And then later what happened was this idea that the rapt attention and the following and the topics really help people or give them sort of a guideline for paying attention to the other person.

Being able to recognize that you’re not allowed to bring up a topic. You’re not going to bring a question into this that you invented outside of that. You’re only going to be asking people about their interior cognition, their inner thinking which includes, you know, all sorts of inner thinking, their emotional reactions and their guiding principles, which are kind of the rules that they use to make decisions or how to act or react.

Types of empathy

Indi: So so those are the interior cognition things and that’s so I was sitting at breakfast with Lou Rosenfeld. I really wanted to write this next book. We were, it was like a perfect day and we were at this restaurant that was on the water and there were sailboats going by and we’re both like, oh my gosh, this is like, how did we end up here?

It was beautiful. And so I’m trying to explain to him what this is. And he finally goes, he says, well, so what you’re talking about is kind of a practical empathy, right. And um, Okay, that works. And that’s when and so, and then he finally agreed to let me write the book. And and that’s when I started researching, well, what is it the mean anyway?

Cause like the way people use it as varied and it turns out that there’s so many different types of empathy in the psychology world and they’re all totally valid. And there are books written by particular professors of Yale um, who um, who take one definition of empathy, which is the def– the type of empathy called emotional contagion.

And then they’re all like I’m against empathy. And and the kind of empathy. I meant that when I’m paying rapt attention, what I’m trying to do is get my head inside their mind and understand their perspective and see their perspective. And that kind of empathy is called cognitive empathy. It’s just a different kind of empathy.

There’s a third kind of type of empathy that this very popular, Dr. Brene Brown speaks about it. And that is what the psychologists call empathic listening. So it’s an in the moment, empathy, cognitive empathy is building an understanding of somebody. It can, it can happen over time trying to get their way of thinking their interior cognition and empathic listening is noticing something’s going on for some.

And it’s normally introduced as an emotion going on for someone normally a negative emotion going on, but it can be anything, it could be interior cognition, which includes inner thinking. It can includes like a, a pause, like so normally my guiding principles to do this. And normally I would decide that, and you know, you’re not thinking that consciously, but you’re pausing.

And if you notice somebody pausing or you notice somebody having something going on, then what you can do is offered, listen, and that’s called empathic listening. And so in the moment, what happens is that the end of it, the other person feels heard and maybe their pause or the something going on is a little easier for them to deal with.

But that’s a, in the moment thing, whereas cognitive empathy is long-term thing. It, it gathers information for us to be able to understand what those groups and communities of thinking are so that we can start writing support. services for those different communities of thinking. And those are what I call thinking styles.

So there’s another, there’s another a day. But I tell you about when Christina was talking to me about thinking styles, but um,

Peter: Christina Wodtke

Indi: yeah. Do you want to insert anything first?

Peter: uh, Jesse, Jesse looks like he’s got a

Jesse: I, I am going to change direction here a tiny bit.

Seeking the intangibles

Jesse: I curious about this turn that you described in your thinking and not just in your thinking, but I think in the thinking of a lot of people at that same time, from a process oriented approach, to thinking about how we structure the requirements that will ultimately drive design decisions toward an approach that looks at more of the intangibles, right?

Less of the things that you can measure with a stopwatch in the old fashioned industrial style And ended up curious about what you went through in bringing organizations around to this kind of thinking as someone who was working most of the time as an independent consultant, just one person coming into an organization as you have over and over again, over the years, and helping people see a different way of doing things.

And and I wonder what you learned about about helping to create that shift of mindset inside organizations over the years.

Indi: THat’s a really good question. That’s the thing that I have had the hardest time with because I’m I’m naturally an introvert, so I’m like, I don’t want to get in other people’s business, you know, they can do things the way they do, but I was so on fire about this and I actually caught fire. Stronger after we have sort of this populist political scenario happening in the mid 2010s. So the, the fire pushed me past being an introvert. Um, And I utterly did, I, I’m not naturally gonna go there, but, but this had to be done because, and I did not do it well, I didn’t know how to do it.

I still am struggling to do it, but I’m getting a lot better at it, which is taking this idea. So I’ll, I’ll, I’ll sort of lay it out as a, before and after, before what would happen is that the. Methodological-ness of it. The, the way that a an opportunity map, which is another change that we did looks, it’s a mental model diagram on top with the capabilities aligned beneath, it looks like a city skyline in that that sort of like solidity attracted people to to this approach because you’re right.

We’re trying to, we’re trying to understand the intangibles and having a tangible method for doing that was really reassuring,

Jesse: so you think it was the visualization itself that helped make it feel real?

Indi: yes. I think it was. And then my confidence in being able to build that visualization based on cognitive empathy. So to, to make that intangible, tangible, I think is what made people reach out in the beginning.

And so for many, many years, that’s all I was doing was I was relying on an individual to get interested in the way of looking at it, that city skyline kind of thing, and interested in how it is built and then to hire me to build it. And I would do that. And then I would work with them with the, with what we’ve got, okay, what are we going to do with this?

How are we going to approach it? How are we going to find you know, a solution? And in the beginning I knew these things would last for decades and it wasn’t about a solution. It was about many solutions, but it was very hard to convince people of that now Now I speak about it in an entirely different way that that bring that starts there.

This is a, this is a way for us to go forward over the next 50 or a hundred years. We’re going to find little areas that we’re interested in right now as an organization or as a team. And we’re going to dive into that. What I call it is we’re, we’re looking at gaps between how we support some thinking in the mental model, part of the opportunity map and how we support the thinking styles there. what we can also do is, well, we’ll find a gap that we’re really interested in right now. Let’s say, Hey, we’re not supporting people who are hard of hearing or are deaf. And in this one particular area, now that is not a thinking style. That is a demographic lens on a thinking style. So what we get to do is we get to look at thinking styles who are both deaf and not, they have the same thinking style, but what extra things do we need to add in with this extra lens?

So we’ve got a tiny sandbox and we’ve got this information in the sandbox, but we can also put other information in the sandbox, pull other toys into the sandbox, other data from secondary research, other data from institutions, other you know, quant data that we’ve collected ourselves. Survey data.

What have you, right? We can put all that information into the sandbox work on that one small thing at once and create something that is different, something that is specific or, or in a way bespoke for that community of that. With that demographic lens and be more intentional about it rather than say, oh, you know, we can just, you know hire or use AI or something to make the captions and it’ll be done.

And that does not work very well for someone who is deaf. And so we’re paying more intentional attention in this way. And this, now I want to go back to this idea of measuring the intangibles. Is it in the first few? Probably the first decade, maybe that I was doing this half the time we would get this information, we would set out to do something.

And then, and then somebody, that person who was leading the team would either leave that company or would get changed positions or get vetoed or something by someone higher up. And so we didn’t get a lot of traction. We didn’t get the things we did every once in a while, like PeopleSoft was a good example.

Or we got something out of it and it kept that project kept going. And indeed, that’s actually a good example because the person who hired us, they’re moved to a different company and hired us again. Right. So that’s how it was like sort of the, the Tinker’s cart, like clanking along, down the road the beginning.

Jesse: Yeah.

Indi: Yeah.

Problem space and strategy space

Indi: But, but now it’s much more the idea that I speak about, Hey, we need to create support more equitably, and we all agree on this. And yet we’re spinning so fast through our processes of development that we need to understand that there is a different space, a strategy space. There’s a problem space to.

Where we understand a person’s approach to the purpose. And there’s a strategy space where we’re collecting. I mean, we’ve already the strategy space exists right now, but it isn’t, it isn’t cohesive. It’s just kind of like held by a couple of leaders and the leaders aren’t all that intentional necessarily about it.

At least in my experience. But if we have an intentional space that we call the strategy space and in that we have all this knowledge that we’re building and all this knowledge from past places that we built knowledge, all this knowledge from that is coming out of the services that we’re providing right now.

And if we can then look at those with relationship to where we want to S you know, exit a gap or move, I’ve got these help and harm graphs now that you can actually do with numbers, where you can measure this benchmark is. And then see yourself getting better over time moving the, moving the marker up.

So so that’s now I think that’s a whole different way. That’s a much less tinkers cart kind of approach, and I’m still, I’m still trying to get better at it, but yeah.

Long-term thinking

Jesse: Yeah. I’m interested in what you said about the idea that this kind of work can guide an organization strategy over the span of decades, 50 years, a hundred years. What is it about this? Because you don’t often hear people talk about deliverables that have that kind of staying power. What is it about this work that enables it in your opinion, to be the foundation for that kind of longterm thinking and longterm strategy on the part of an organization?

Indi: THis opens up a whole other book, which is to say there is a lot when Silicon Valley started developing, it was, it was making Silicon chips, right as a totally different game. And then the game changed and a lot of money could be made at places like Google and Facebook and Google and Facebook are not necessarily for the long-term they’re in it for the money, right? They’re not in it to be a business that is going to sustain its employees for a hundred years or a business that’s going to sustain its employees and the people that is trying to support because it does such a good job supporting those people that is going to be around in a hundred years.

So many businesses right now are like, oh, I’m going to like spin something up and then get bought by Google or whatever. And that’s a totally different mindset. Now you can still use deep listening and mental model diagrams and opportunity maps and gap analysis and the help and the harm diagrams to help you get bought by Google.

But so like venture capital is about return. It’s not about sustainability necessarily. At least at its outset, I think there are VC firms that are about sustainability and there are lots of people across the entire world who are in it to be sustainable, who are spinning up their own businesses without venture capital, because they’re running a small business.

So in a way, that’s, that’s the difference between like a startup and a small business is that VC is involved in the former and not the latter in a way. And I think that this small business mindset, this idea that I’m going to run something that not only supports me in my employees, but also really does an amazing thing in the world for people, not for me, not getting me famous and rich, but for people then that.

So that’s, that’s kind of that whole water that we’re swimming in.

Jesse: yeah.

Indi: So the the idea of being able to… to have a way to think longterm to think, and especially for culture here in, in the us, we tend to think short-term, I don’t think all of us think short term, I think all of us at least think individually within with respect to the next generation, but not a couple of generations.

Right. At least in terms of popular culture. And there are certainly a lot of cultures and communities in the United States who do think farther, but this is a way of, of giving you permission to bring that kind of thinking into your organization. Long-term thing. It gives you a way to use it in the near term.

And also it is usable in the long-term.

Finding users’ purpose

Indi: So one of the, one of the things I say is like, we are listening to people about a purpose that they have, and purpose can be defined in any way you want a goal. I think that you need done now, or thing that you’re doing over the course of 10 years. It can be anything.

And if we frame each study by a purpose or a sub purpose or something uh, it can be it, you know, many levels of granularity, but we frame it by that purpose. And people talk to us about their interior cognition as they address that purpose in the past, then we can see patterns. And the neat thing is, is that that purpose is not the solution. That we create the service that we create. The neat thing is, is that that purpose is something that they’re trying to get done no matter which tools they’re using. And I remember in the early days, Peter, I would call it like agnostic of your of your solution. And Peter used to give me a little bad time about agnostic of the solution.

Cause, cause this is, this is what we’re trying to do is like, let’s say the solution is insurance and insurance. Wasn’t a solution a hundred years ago, but you could get in a time machine and go back in time and talk to people about certain purposes that you could talk to people today about like how did you recover from this injury where, you know, you were, you know, you couldn’t work for a year, right?

You couldn’t earn anything for your family for a year. How did you deal with. The the time that your husband who was a minor died in an accident, and now you have, you know, your six kids and you have to leave that town. Right. Nowadays we might have a tool called insurance to help with that. They didn’t then, but it’s the same purpose.

And so if we did get into a time machine and go back and collect that information about what went through people’s minds, it would still be useful today.

Peter: um,

Indi: The, yeah, go ahead.

Peter: Oh, so I am wanting to unpack the word purpose. It’s, it’s one of those words that I think can have a lot of, not just definitions, but valences, and it’s also very bound in perspective. So I think about purpose typically in my work with the design teams that I’m supporting and what is the purpose of that design team?

Cause I see purpose as essential for any team to have a thing to rally around. And what I say in my workshops as a team, without a purpose is just a group of individuals. um, so.

Indi: a mission

Peter: Yeah. So you have, you have teams having purpose, you have businesses having purpose or purposes.

Indi: and those,

Peter: I think, let me just finish this thought though. You’re not talking,I think more on the side of the person. The customer or user of whatever the business is providing and you’re using purpose in a singular way, but I don’t think you mean it that way. Cause cause you might talk to 20 different people and around what you think is the same purpose.

But, but you know, you were talking about healthcare, right? So I want to, I want to be, you know, I have, you might have some higher order purpose of, of feeling confident in your long-term health, but as you talk to 20 different people that might be interpreted, maybe not in 20 different ways, maybe through your analysis, you realize four or five different purposes that have emerged.

And I’m, I’m just wondering kind of how, like how you unpack purpose cause so that it becomes something you can really work with.

Indi: So the, I told you that it was at any level of granularity and what you’ve been talking about is the super broad umbrella level. I have be healthy. Right. I did do very early on a study where it was like, how do I cope with my health? And it was too broad, no patterns come from it because everybody has different approach to different aspect of it.

So a study where we looked at people who have three chronic issues, medical issues at a time, and how do you cope with those three chronic medical conditions that kind of narrowed it down a little bit. So it’s like, you know, you can, you can narrow it down further and I prefer narrow or purposes. It because of the patterns, you’re not going to get patterns enough patterns or, or you would have to do listening sessions to get patterns with like, 55 times as many people.

And I tend to make very small studies. So the purpose is very compact. You can think of it like the Goldilocks, right, kind of thing. It’s like a small purpose, very small. It’s just an aspect of, of this taking care of my three chronic conditions. And it’s only the aspect of say changing doctors. Okay. You could take that with the insurance thing and only talk about the aspect of when you are when your co family income earner dies and you have to go on and you have dependents, right? So you. Think of it in this very small, very well-defined way. And still the beauty is, is that people think about it differently.

And we can then find patterns with a smaller set of people. We can do listening sessions with say 15, 25, people instead of 50 or 75 people. So the idea of purpose can be quite grand, but it is granular. I used to call it intent. And something that Jared Spool said made me dissuaded me from using intent.

Purpose is not the greatest word to use, but it gives me it’s like language is going to evolve. And so at some point that word is going to change swell. It gives me a place though, to actually react and say, Hey, this. Can be a very small thing. It can be a very large thing. It can be a thing that you do in a couple of hours.

It can be a thing that you do over the course of years. But if you’re going to do a study with the big thing, like it could be a very small thing that you do over the course of years. And that could be a very well-defined purpose, which could be something like develop a way to not get so stressed.

When I am in front of a person who behaves in a certain way, and it could be a certain person, it could be any type of that representative of that person. But it’s like over time, I’m developing a way to handle that situation for myself better. So I don’t get stressed. and that’s over time. Right.

But it’s still a very small purpose. So the idea that. Purpose can be any level of granularity. It can be a goal, it can be anything.

From insights to solutions

Peter: It feels like,

Indi: the thing, the thing that it is not is the use of the service or the

Peter: is the solution, right? That’s that’s what I think I’m kind of getting, getting to here is that you’re you’re you’re you were being. If, if if there’s any rigidity in kind of how you’re approaching this or thinking it’s to distinguish between an insight and the solution, and I’m sure we’ve all seen this where especially working in software folks want to get to solutions very quickly there.

We want to solve problems and they don’t spend the time, provide the focus or attention to really understand the insights, the, what you’re calling purposes, all the they’re… they don’t sit with that long enough to then better understand what solutions are best given this whole range of purposes and insights and stuff that, that that’s in front of them.

They instead to quickly jump on a solution and kind of drive to that. And so you’re really trying to distinguish between purpose and solution. How much in your work then though, do you stop at the identification of purposes? You know, or are you working with the, your who, your collaborators to turn that corner and identify solutions?

Where, how, how directed do you end up getting there?

Indi: it depends on the teams that I’m working with. So a team that I just worked with is extremely experienced, but also stretched extremely thin. They wanted me and my team to help them. Develop thinking styles in, for employees who have the purpose of getting through a very particular intensity or a couple of months of intensity or a year of intensity in their work.

We called it a challenge. And sometimes that challenge was this manager and I do not get along. Sometimes that challenge was I’m not getting the attention or the, the, the what’s the word, the promotion that I want. Sometimes the intensity was, oh my God. There’s layoffs. Okay. And so the purpose was to get through whatever that thing was for employees and that team knew what they were doing.

They just didn’t have the time to do it. And, and that’s very typical. So you’re right. Everybody. So much weighted. I like go off camera entirely because there were weighted way over there on the solution land. And we don’t spend enough time over here. And this is, this is the way it doesn’t give you permission to spend some time over here.

Cause it’s actually very very well laid out. There’s a very strong framework, a trustable framework. But the, so we stick around with some teams like that team to help them get that first sandbox designed like which out of all. So the insights don’t happen with the listening sessions. The insights happen all the way down after we’ve got the opportunity to map and we see the gaps, the gaps or the insights, and there’s going to be a plenty of them.

There’s going to be like 50 to 199 sandboxes that we could play in with various you know, Layers to them. So like maybe this sandbox, but that thinking style or the sandbar, same sandbox with the other thinking style or with that demographic lens on it. Okay. So, so we help them figure out what set first sandbox that we’re going to play in.

We can help them with playing in it, finding other toys to bring into it. Other knowledge that got built as what I call toys to put in the sandbox so that we have more toys to play with. We have more understanding as we’re developing some solutions out of that sandbox.

Aligning team culture to user purpose

Jesse: It seems to me that part of what that requires is a culture of a cultivation of these insights and of this knowledge and a, and a culture of knowledge stewardship in the organization that looks beyond the immediate project. Because most of the time, what you see is insights that are generated for the context of a specific product problem that’s been defined. And then they work backward from the context of the proposed product to to populate the insights. And then as a result, those don’t get used in any other context. And I’m curious about what you’ve seen in terms of organizations that do that ongoing cultivation of their insights really well and, and separating them from solutions the way you’re doing.

Indi: Yeah, exactly. There are a few and they’re they’re growing. So I mentioned insurance because oddly enough, several insurance companies are very good at this. Eh, they, I think most of them have a central kind of team that works with different divisions, right? In terms of, Hey, we’ve got this knowledge, we’re building this knowledge.

What knowledge do you need? What are we missing here? Maybe we don’t need to do a study because we’ve got all the, all the knowledge we need in this sandbox. Maybe we need to extend our. Mental model diagram. One of the things I did with the airline project was we worked on it. We did eight studies one after the other and just kept extending it so that we had some sort of framework for people to work with in the future.

It, isn’t going to be complete in the future. You may need to add a little study here and there to build knowledge. That’s very specific to the thing that you’re trying to solve for, for the gap that you’re trying to solve for. But but the idea, so, and a certain financial companies are doing it as well.

There’s one, I’m not sure if I’m allowed to mention company

Jesse: I don’t need names. I was really, it was really just more curious about methods and approaches.

Indi: yeah, yeah. They’re the one that’s doing it without a centralized office actually has. Baked into its very founding day, the idea that we’re supporting a person trying to accomplish a purpose. So they’re very much focused on the people’s purpose. And that makes it a lot easier for them to be, to not have like a centralized team that is helping other teams build knowledge or use the knowledge

Jesse: interesting. So there’s already a larger culture in place. That’s keeping them all aligned toward common purpose. So you don’t need these mechanisms to do.

Indi: It may not work a hundred percent in every case. They do try to share knowledge with each other quite a bit. There’s a lot of work done internally. So it’s not. If nothing is perfect yet we have not made the perfect shift, but there are companies and you’re right. It is definitely a culture.

And I like this idea of cultivating to the whole idea of growing something new part of, part of what attracted people to the tinkers cart in the beginning was it, it felt so right. And I think most practitioners out there who aren’t like already drunk on the Kool-Aid of going fast, this feels so right to have to have.

And this is how it works mostly is it? You’ve got your solution space and that’s where everything’s spinning really quickly. And that’s fine. Keep it spinning quickly. I’m not asking you to slow that down, but you’re adding the strategy space and to fill that strategy space. The things we need to make better decisions to support more people, to be more equitable.

We need to understand people’s thinking, and that’s the problem space. That’s where we go and understand different purposes. People have. We try to s– skill, scope them down so that we can get patterns. But there’s other data too, from different sources, not just listening sessions that go into the strategy space.

And I think that that just feels amazing. It’s like, yes, that’s, what’s missing. I get that phrase all the time that this is what’s missing. You have a way of thinking about it. That’s very clear and feels trustable. And what happens normally is that teams will will do work in the solution space in the strategy space. with their work in the solution space. Okay. It doesn’t, it isn’t a vacation from the solution space. There are some companies where they can take a vacation from the solution space and go and do this. The airline for one, it was merging, there was this space where all of a sudden we had time because during the merging of the two airlines, there was that space.

And so they paid, they put their team a hundred percent into the problem space. But most of the time there isn’t that vacation space. And so it’s done interleaved like when you do a listening session, you only do one a day and you may only do two a week. Or with respect to the one that we just finished with the employees, looking at the employees handling that intense period. I don’t think they did more than they had different team members. Maybe one team member was doing one a week. It took us probably 26 weeks to finish that. There was another startup. I was doing this with and we, we reached 38 weeks. Before we came up with our final gap analysis. Just because it’s interleaved, that’s how it works.

It’s okay. Because we’re not in a hurry. It’s okay. Because we want to spend time with our data. One of the things is that when you’re paying rapt attention in a listening session, it’s only that one person and it’s only that one person for the day. And when you’re done with the listening session, you still pay rapt attention to that person.

You still let it dwell within you. You may jot down a couple of concept types that they said little concept summaries. Just to help you meditate on that person. And, and it’s not a race to like do six or eight interviews in one day. It’s a totally different animal.

Peter: now like how we used to do it.

Indi: I never did listening sessions that way.

Peter: Well, and I mean, I, I guess it speaks to one of the probably a difference between being a con consulting firm, doing this stuff where you don’t usually have 38 weeks to ease into it, versus it sounds like you’re operating in almost more of a coaching and then somewhat embedded realm with an, with a, with an established team so that you can ha you can operate with this.

Interleaving, as you’re talking about it, it’s not chunk projects that are chunked up with clear, like um, Gantt charts and, deliverables.

Indi: well, sometimes there are Gantt charts, but they always get blown out of the water.

Peter: Yeah. Um,

Indi: To be, to be honest, though, there are teams that do want to do this and we try to get it done in 14 weeks or 16 weeks or something. And they have a little bit more time, but yeah.

Designing for inclusion

Peter: So I’m looking at the cover of your new book and I’m thinking about the conversation we had around making time and space for the insights, understanding the problems and purposes distinct from trying to solve them and the cover of your book, time to listen.

And it seems to have, I guess it’s the subtitle though. It’s above the title on the on the image of the book I have, how giving peoples, how giving people space to speak. Invention and inclusion and the, the word inclusion is what I’m picking up on, because the last few months, like many of us, I mean, probably for the last couple of years, like many of us, but in the last few months in particular, I found myself taking part a bit more actively in some of the conversations around inclusion and true well and, and issues of equity and kind of thinking more and harder about how we do our work and also paying more attention to the work of folks in diversity and equity and inclusion kind of practices. And one of the things I’ve learned that runs contrary to my own behaviors is… my behavior is… diversity, equity inclusion is a problem. Let’s solve it. Let’s, let’s, let’s fix it. If it’s a problem, we should be fixing it. And what I hear from people who know better than I, who operate in this space is, is, is to not rush to solutions, to actually there is value in sitting with the discomfort, sitting with the… sitting in that problem space and not, not, not, not to get comfortable with it, but I guess to better understand it.

And, and I’m wondering how, if I, you know, given, given the new book, given, given your continued evolution as a listener, given the, the use of the word inclusion and giving people space, it feels like you’re also embracing, this mindset around in, in your practice. And I’m, I’m wondering kind of just, yeah.

What your thoughts are as in your continued evolution in your work and how it aligns with what we’re hearing about being truly human centered and about kind of how we adjust our practices to be much more equitable and inclusive than, than they have been.

Indi: this is what drives me. This is, this is the singular thing that drives me. Inclusion. We have been running roughshod over, I’d say 95% of the people that we’re developing for. This is why I use this, the listening is the basis of it. So when you talk, I’ve talked to a lot of people who run diversity and inclusion to one extent or another, and whole point is to listen.

The whole point is to give a person a chance to on the one side, feel heard. And on the other side, start to explore what their inner cognition is. What is their inner thinking? What was their emotional reaction? Why was that their emotional reaction? Where did it come from? What were the roots? Right. So the, the idea of taking time is so, so, so important.

The idea of letting us. ‘ cause I mean, Jesse said measure the intangibles, right? What, what intangibles did he mean? He meant our interior worlds. Our reactions to things are, are our guiding principles for how to handle situations and how those shift and change over time and how they maybe get crusted up with worse and worse reactions because of the situations that we’re in. And we can’t find our way through the crust, right? So if we, if we are developing support for people and again, developing support for people is not necessarily something. Every business is about. A lot of them are only about making money for themselves, but if you’re developing support for. You have to understand that those people have different approaches than you.

I think that, I think that we, we can, we can speak to this. Yeah. Okay. They have different approaches. Okay. So now let’s go off into the solution land, got to solve it without understanding what those differences are and without truly dwelling in it’s doing in it, I used to call it, simmering yourself in it.

So to understand it, somebody at the Lousanne conference years back made a little badge that had a pot that was simmering. And this is like our, our brains, our teams, if we truly want to support people and you might not be working in an org where that’s the goal, and it’s important to recognize the difference.

Okay. But if you are in the team who desire to support people, spending that time is so important. You’re, you’re not gonna understand it in one year. You’re not gonna understand it in two years, you’re going to keep understanding it and it is going to be your practice, right? It is an ongoing thing of trying to, to help another person’s perspective, be discovered and supported. And we do this for communities of thinking for thinking styles. I’ve been calling them. Other people have called them mindsets or mind states. There’s, there’s a variety of ways of thinking about this. We’re still building it, but there’s very much a desire, a yearning. This is what, what is missing amongst leaders and practitioners.

The value of slowing down

Jesse: I noticed very much throughout what you were saying here. A theme of making the argument for slowness in the face of a culture of speed. And I wonder what advice you might have for folks out there who are trying to make that argument inside their own cultures of speed to get the people around them, to slow down, take a breath connect, take the time. Listen.

Indi: Our world is full of other examples of other fields that have slowed down to great benefit. One obvious example is slow food, food. Has you, you take your time to prepare it. Sure. But it’s been grown locally and not covered with chemicals not being fed chemicals, if it’s an animal to make it grow big, faster, To take a natural approach. We’re doing this with respect to unfortunately being very slow with respect to our transition to green energy. But green energy is another way of like let’s, let’s produce energy in a slower way. There’s authors who write about the idea of bringing back sailing ships and bringing back dirigibles as a way of traveling where you’re slowing down, you’re getting your, your movement of your body and your mind from one place to another.

And during that transition, you’re able to think more clearly. And you’re able to produce and be more creative. And so there’s a lot of other fields that are using this idea of slowness that you can point to, but you’re not going to be able to persuade anybody. So one of the things is and I talked to Erica Hall about this, cause she’s on fire about you can’t persuade people. In fact, I think she referred, she talked to you in one of your podcasts earlier about this idea. But you can’t persuade people. There are people who once they latch on to the way things work in the solution space and that’s speedy methodology, those cycles spinning they feel like it has to be a way that applies to everything. And yet they have their own life and they in their own life probably has have something that they practice that takes. Anyway, you don’t persuade people. But what you do is you listen to them and if you listened to them, you can find out where that came from, find out why they’re thinking this, what were those experiences?

How did that opinion or preference form, where does it come from? What are their guiding principles and help them as you are listening, explain what their guiding principles are, help them get familiar with their own guiding principles. We are not therapists though, just, just to have that communication is so missing.

One of the things that I’ve been doing lately is offering a workshop to people who are having trouble with a different team, for example, maybe writers versus product owners. And they just can’t see. Communicate. And so what I do is I ask them to bring a, a typical conversation. And I break down that conversation into the parts, because there are parts when that’s what the whole book is about is it’s going to teach you what the parts are.

And I break it down. I’m like, look, you are lobbing commands at each other. You’re loving opinions at each other. And you’re not talking about your interior cognition with one another at all. And so no wonder you can’t communicate, no wonder, nothing works, no wonder there’s distressed. And so as soon as they see it, every time this happens, like, there’s this like hush.

And then like, that’s what that, I see what, cause I teach them how to recognize it and they see it. And then there’s like this huge round of applause. It’s like, oh my God. So that’s not the solution, but it’s the aware. And the solution is to start listening and start that practice of getting to the interior cognition.

Where did it come from? What were the roots? How do you think? And maybe, maybe, and here’s the, maybe, maybe that person will do the same for you

Wrap up

Jesse: That’s fantastic. Indi, thank you so much. Where can people find you on the internet?.

Indi: Indiyoung.com is the website. And I’m Indi Young on LinkedIn and Twitter and on Medium, I am the, in Indi Young Inclusive Software Design. So those are places I am right now. I think that’s going to shift a little bit and expand but who knows? Launching this new book as a self-published book.

So that should be its own interesting journey. That book should be out. Like we have it, we’re figuring out the table of contents, it’s that close. Uh,

Peter: Written the manuscript

Indi: Oh God. Yes. That was done in January. And it’s been all. So one of the other things is that this has taken a long time because I met a person who’s really intentional about things and she’s doing the layout and she’s fantastic. And the life happens, you know, there were, there were a lot of things that happened where she had to take a week out or two weeks out or this or that. Right. And that’s what I accessed. I am not in a race to get this book published because it’s becoming a better book because of the time we’re spending and the time we’re able to breathe around it and let it sort of trickle into our bones.

They’re like, oh, you know what? Not only is there like more typos than you could ever imagine coming out of the woodwork, but there, but there’s like, wait a minute. What if we use this word instead of that word? And now the sentence is way more clear kind of thing. So that book should be out by the end of April.

I am counting on it

Jesse: very

Indi: we are at the point where we’re just tweaking the last bits. Yeah. It was super exciting.

Jesse: Well, congratulations. And thank you again.

Indi: Yeah. Thank you.

Jesse: Of course the conversation doesn’t end here. Reach out to us. We’d love to hear your feedback. You can find both of us, Peter Merholz and Jesse James Garrett on LinkedIn or on Twitter, where he’s @peterme and I’m @JJG. If you want to know more about us, check out our websites, petermerholz.com and jessejamesgarrett.com You can also contact us on our show website, findingourway.design where you’ll find audio and transcripts of every episode of finding our way, which we also recommend you subscribe to on Apple, Google, or wherever fine podcasts are heard. If you do subscribe and you like what we’re doing, throw us a star rating on your favorite service to make it easier for other folks to find us too.

As always, thanks for everything you do for all of us. And thanks so much for listening.

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