A new year already! Wow. How time truly flies when you’re busy… prototyping your career? Hmm. The final months of 2015 found me in the midst of a post-startup sabbatical, re-assessing my career trajectory after some unexpected changes, and taking time to shift things around in terms of personal and professional priorities. Lots and lots of coffees and conversations and “catch-up” meetings with many good people in the SF Bay Area, from designers to startup CEOs to engineers and even sales folks. I also began “prototyping” my career situation, trying out a variety of possibilities that keep me engaged and (hopefully) financially sound! I don’t know if it’s permanent just yet, but I landed upon a conceptual structure of proportionally striking a balance among three elements: a) UX Consulting b) Speaking/writing and c) Teaching (or somehow involved in design academia).
The idea is to continually tweak (iterate) the proportions of time and energy allocated to each element, per circumstances and dependencies, i.e., it’s always dynamic and evolving as a “virtuous cycle” framework. This is not new, of course, but it’s new to me for sure!
Some big challenges I encountered while embarking upon this virtuous cycle model during the last few months of 2015:
• Protecting my own time and energy for what I want to focus on, not just giving in to any “we need a designer pronto” request.
• Juggling how to keep various doors and windows of opportunity open while closing those that aren’t immediately or initially relevant, but preserving connections for later… because you never know!
• Communicating and justifying my value as a strategic, principal-level design leader while educating folks who may not be knowledgeable about the wide, diverse spectrum of “design”.
• Defining my own goals for pursuing “academy” in small engagements, and how to balance that with paid vs non-paid speaking opportunities (for pragmatic reasons, of course ;-)
• Reconciling the inherent “hurry up and wait” model of consulting with an innate passion to tackle problems and prove my talent / leadership / value to skeptics with immediacy of impact — definitely not easy!
So, the non-stop iteration of this model continues in earnest as I head fast into 2016. But looking ahead I’m mindful of also applying attention to a few key areas of significance for me:
• Role modeling good design leadership behavior, with clients and students alike. This includes communicating abstract concepts of design and demonstrating how to apply design thinking effectively…and strategically.
• Avoid preaching or lecturing (ahem ;-) but instead cultivate an attitude of “inviting people along”, via thoughtful questioning of issues, encouraging responses and debates from skeptics, thus serving as an unbiased open-minded guide, not someone with an agenda to prove.
• Allowing situations or personalities to play themselves out and assess the outcomes with curiosity, rather than impatience beset by remorse or regrets. Some things aren’t meant to be, or maybe they just connect nicely!
• Pursue design challenges (in practice and teaching) that speak to issues around ethics, philosophies, psychologies, and organizational themes, beyond “yet another screen/device”. Start developing the “meta-design” aspects of practice with clients and students, for long-term traction.
Amid such reflections of the past and what’s possible for the future (at least this year), it will be an exciting time with further forethought and adjustments along the way…Stay tuned.