Are you actually happy with the way things are for you at the moment? Do you feel like you’re challenging yourself? Do you feel like you’re doing something that makes you a valuable contributor to society, to the industry, to everything? If not, why? Maybe looking at some of these topics might help you understand a little bit, make you examine yourself more, seeing how other people have gone through these things. Maybe helping understand ourselves and each other better would help improve the way that you work, and your enjoyment of life in general.
What you see when you have technical people, when they start to get frustrated, when they start to find that they’re not getting the traction that they want, they go to what they’re good at.
If I’m a designer, I’m going to go and I’m just going to [work on] my design skills. I’m going to go back, and I’m going to just tell you more about how responsive design is the right solution.
The truth is that’s not the route that’s going to get you success. You’re doubling down on the one thing that you don’t need to double down on right now. What you should be doing is instead saying, “The fact that this person isn’t listening to me or doesn’t believe what I’m saying is not a reflection on me or my skills or my competence. In fact, I am every bit as good and smart and competent and capable as I was.”
And then focusing on external skills, saying, “OK. If I’m not getting this person to understand and buy into my point of view, what do I have to do differently? How do I have to persuade them differently? What are their values? What are they bringing to the table that will maybe help me frame my argument or frame my point of view in a different way?”
Every organization has an operating system, and there’s an operating system that’s visible, which is performance evaluations once a year, and job titles, and processes, and so forth, but there’s another operating system, and that’s far more powerful and far more related to our daily work, which is the culture of the organization. Those who have a good, strong understanding of the culture can be more effective in that organization, no matter what their title is, no matter what their formal authority is or powers. Understanding the culture of an organization is like in some ways being the person who can see in the kingdom of the blind. You are able to get the things done that you need to get done, or at least understand what the barriers are.
Anyone who has hit their head against the wall over and over asking, “I followed all the rules. I did all the right things. Why am I not getting the budget approved? What am I not doing right?” Well, you’re doing everything right according to the written rules. What you’re not understanding is the unwritten rules. You can call this the soft stuff, but this is the stuff that gets people promoted, gets people rewarded, gets people hired, gets people fired.
Yes, it’s soft stuff, but it’s also probably the most important thing you need to understand if you want to be successful in an organization.
I would say if you are frustrated at work, if you find that you can’t get the things done even though you know the things that need to get done. If you find yourself coming up against excuses why people aren’t going to give you the budget, or if you’re coming up against bosses who are unwilling to listen to the things that you feel need to happen and you want to break through that barrier, then I think this is the collection of people that are going to help you do that. If you feel like everything’s fine and nothing needs to change in your organization, then this probably isn’t the group for you.
One thing that really attracted me to your pitch for the Dare Conference is that we don’t talk about failure. We present these very easy narratives of success, and I think that probably does a lot of harm to people, and leads people to think that they’re doing something wrong when they’re not doing anything wrong. It’s just how the world is, in a way.
I think it all falls back to: you don’t need a five-year plan. You don’t need an answer to the dreaded, where-do-you-see-yourself-in-five-years’-time question, necessarily. If you do what feels right for you now that can lead you to all sorts of interesting and good places, if you let it.
I think failure is a trigger for people, thinking about projects going badly, and going badly. I feel like a big piece of this is, philosophically, how do you think about the work that you do, and measure your own success? How do you know you’re doing well? How do you evaluate yourself in such a way?
I think a lot of people tend to beat themselves up. I think that it’s appealing to meet people who philosophically feel like, “OK, you don’t know what you’re doing in some cases and in some cases you do.”
It’s more important that you’re open to that, then it is that you don’t know. It’s OK that you don’t know the best way to do a 12 column grid or whatever. You might still be a good type designer and not know how to do that, but it’s more important that you are open to how that can improve your abilities.
I think like the self-awareness piece, like really helping people develop a really solid self-awareness of where they are doing well, where they are not and how they can improve and develop on their own. That’s what appealed to me about this, is that it was an open conversation about those kinds of things.
So much of where my brain naturally goes to in my work is the strategy and the culture stuff. That really does seem to be the underlying theme that attracted me to the Dare Conference. The unspoken stuff, the authenticity, the change which it would create in our culture and our organizations. I think sometimes I look at the work that other people do and think that I’m lucky to even have the opportunity to do that. I think it needs more discussion, and so I’m really glad to be a part of the conference.
I think Dare is the first conference… and I’ve been fairly openly critical… about the kind of conferences that we have in our community, as web designers, developers, content strategists. To me, it’s the same old thoughts and the same old best practices that all sort of gravitate around these hard skills. At the same time, we idolize…I don’t know, pick your idol.
We idolize folks like Jeffrey Zeldman, or Jeremy Keith, or pick someone. Everyone has one. Kristina Halvorson. We want to be like them, and we want to be successful like them, but what all those folks have in common, at least from the ones I’ve met or know, is that the hard skill is a granted. It’s their ability to actually leverage their soft skills, and utilize their soft skills that actually takes them, their work and their ability to influence in an industry to the next level.
Most of us try to get very good at something—and by something, I mean a hard skill—get good at pushing a pixel, get good at writing some code, you name it. The reality is that anyone who’s anyone became what they became not because they mastered a hard skill. It’s just the minimum requirement.
They became someone because of a different set of skills, which are the soft skills, getting a technical understanding of humans to make things happen. Dare is about soft skills. That’s what I see it as. It’s a conference that’s about breaking that glass ceiling that we hit when we’ve mastered a hard skill to get to the next level. Honestly, this is the first conference that I’ve come across in a long time that is actually going out and just trying to do that.
It’s talking about these things that happen in our organizations, like how does disability affect us in the workplace, or how we all hide behind process, where we really need to be making up our own methods. These are all real things, and nobody talks about them. We just go to our same old conferences and then talk about HTML5. I don’t mean to be a curmudgeon about it, all that stuff’s great, but I think we’re doing enough of that. I think we’re not doing enough of what Dare is trying to do.