Be a Mentor, Get a Mentor

This week I got to chat with my mentor, I got to meet a new mentee (what we call colleagues  we are mentoring), and got to have a productive career conversation with my boss. It coincidentally was the week I celebrated my 26th year with the company. As a result I was quickly reminded how valuable these conversations are…at all stages of a career journey, so I thought I’d share what came to mind…

Get a Mentor
It’s really easy in a corporate career to get lost in the swirl. I did…and to be honest I think I’m just coming out of it. I’ve always strived to hustle and perform my best, but without guidance and direction, I can feel like whatever I’m doing isn’t getting me anywhere (tires spinning in mud is what I’ve been saying to describe what I felt). What I’m reminded is that I’m not in this alone. My brief conversations with my mentor show me that others have experienced this before, and found a path for them, and they could help me find my path.

Be a Mentor
My experiences in my 26 years are valuable lessons for others. I had my first mentor session with a potential mentee, and instantly I became grateful for both the good experiences I’ve had and the bad…they’ve helped me become who I am at work, and at this moment provide insight to help others on their journey.

I think this is what I most valuable at this point in my career…to help others succeed…and part of that is to be a mentor to others.

Invest in Meaningful Conversation with your fellow Humans
I’ve also had meaningful conversations at work this week that are not about technology…they were about personal lives, college journeys for our kids, and more. What I’m reminded is that the more I share and engage with other humans the more that conversation helps both myself and the other person.

I become grateful for the things working well in my life, I receive cautionary tales of things that could go sideways in my life in a blink if I don’t continue to put effort into it, and I receive guidance for things I’m struggling with that the other person is succeeding in.

What it all Comes Down To
I’ve got about 16 years left. I told my mentor that regardless of specific path I take, my overall goal is to “Make these last 16 years the best of them all”. After these sets of conversations, I think part of making these coming years the best is to:

  • Help others succeed – no matter what I do, how many I lead (or if I don’t officially lead anyone), or what projects I’m on, if I can help others succeed, it will add more meaning to my career than anything I succeed at personally.
  • Keep Hustling – Keep the throttle down, keep learning, producing, delivering…all the while being nice and supportive of all that surround me
  • Keep Perspective – Nothing I do in my career will last. Tech companies move so fast that even the most successful product will be replaced, enhanced, modified to the point where my individual contributions will disappear.

In the end, at least for me, it’s about relationships, helping others, and working hard. If, once I’ve left, I hear someone say, “Greg? He was a hell-of-a-guy” and says nothing about my technical achievements, that will be enough.

Don’t Do What Users Expect

I know. Seems stupid. “Greg, you’re an idiot”, you say. Well, hear me out.

If you’re like me, as you think through what your product needs to deliver next, the first thing you try to answer is,

“What are customers complaining about?”

…and then work to solve those exact problems. While that does help our users a bit, if we’re on our game, we step back and try to answer,

“Why are customer complaining about that?”

That usually gives us a much better solution that not only solves their immediate problem, but also may solve many related problems. We have a chance to meet or even exceed their expectations since the solution is just better.

But what if we took one more step back and asked,

“Is the way customers want to accomplish their goals really the best way?”

…along with,

“Is there a different perspective we could offer that would completely change how fast/better their goals could be accomplished?”

…and quickly finish with,

“…and how can we solve it with new technology that’s just emerging?”

If we did that, I think we could start hearing the kind of customer feedback we all really want…

…not “Neat. That helps my current need”

…not “Cool. That saves me time to accomplish my current goal”

…but we could start hearing,

“Wow. This is incredible. I didn’t even know that was possible!”

I’m starting to think that taking the extra effort to not only understand our users’ goals, but also think of how to accomplish them from a unique perspective that’s different than everyone else in the market, combined with using new, innovative technology, can truly deliver a killer user experience.

What do you think? What products have you used that don’t meet or exceed your expectations because they completely blew you away because you were in awe at how incredible the product was?


Craft a Killer UX – The Grin Metric

“If using this software doesn’t put a big ol’ grin on your face, it’s probably not worth it” *

I love this quote. How many times have we been asked to measure user experience, when all along a simple glance at our user’s face would suffice?

Regardless of the research, design iterations, analysis, tutorials, and user testing, if a product makes the user smile…ear to ear…when using it, it’s got a killer user experience.

That grin communicates that the UX surprised them, delighted them, exceeded their I’ve-got-a-crazy-idea-to-make-my-life-a-ton-easier-but-I-doubt-this-product-is-awesome-enough-to-do-it-for-me expectations, and most of all…

…that grin communicates an instinctual delight that only comes from deep emotional impact…resulting in loyalty, trust, and, in the end, a very happy user.

What better goal is there?

* Paraphrased from an awesome article on Recording Review by Brandon Drury…read it!

Omni-Tasking: An Illuminating Experiment

This originally appeared in Power IT Pro blog

Like you, I work in a fast-paced, high-tech business where I am constantly being challenged to increase productivity. For years this has involved multi-tasking across a large set of tasks that seem to constantly need my attention. While I feel I am quite effective at juggling multiple tasks at once, there are times I feel that the results, while complete, are not as satisfying as they could be. However, since the nature of our business holds up multi-tasking as the source of excellence and experience, the pattern has been accepted, and many times, required.

Recently I had an experience that began to challenge the very notion that “multi-tasking == better”.

Here is how it happened…

I’m sitting down to watch the season finale of Glee with my wife…beautiful thing…Netflix ;-). I had timed it just right…kids were asleep, wife was on the couch, and my very yummy evening dessert was freshly dished (heated home-made berry crisp bar with some really great French vanilla ice cream).

But it wasn’t just the ‘together time’ with the wife, the dessert, and Glee. I had my iPhone next to me, and even my laptop. I WAS SET! I clicked play, and my multi-sensory, multi-tasking late night experience started perfectly as planned.

And then the wife got up. WHERE DO YOU THINK YOU’RE GOING!?! I shout with my eyes (I’m good at that…especially when she’s walking away from me). She just hears the clink of the spoon and the pause of the show.

Dang it! I was so frustrated!

The experience instantly changed from a synchronized multi-tastic media blitz, to a time-wasting “watch the dessert melt while waiting for the missus” disaster.

I stared at my dessert in despair.

It started melting. Sadness.

I stared closer…

…it continued to melt…Amazing! I had never noticed it before:

The top of the ice cream was changing in real-time from a jagged mountain-scape into a smooth, soft pillowy cloud-scape. The berry crisp was causing the ice cream bottom to melt faster and created tiny fjords … ending in a micro sea of sweet deliciousness. The first spoonful was exhilarating! The textures I saw translated into a complex symphony playing across my tongue…complete with instruments of cold, warm, smooth, hard, sweet, tart…all within the first taste. The remaining bites were just as exhilarating…but different. As the melting continued, the texture changed, blending of sweet and tart increased, and each spoonful turned into a seamless tastexture that no amount of preparation could have produced.

I began to feel grateful for what I now refer to as “wifus-interruptus”. All I saw, felt, tasted, heard, smelled, savored…was all because I focused 100% on this one singular event. A multi-tasked version would have resulted in the dessert disappearing without barely tasting it, while at the same time a less enjoyable show with all the interruptions of glancing down at the dessert!

Then a sudden realization shook my core beliefs: Could my constant push to increase efficiency, experience, exposure, and excellence through multi-tasking actually be decreasing those very goals?

What if, instead, I focused 100% on one single thing at a time?

What if I took the time to dedicate all senses, all brain power, every curious and analytical fibre to experience everything that surrounds me like I just did eating that dessert?

What else would I notice that usually zips by without a neuron of recognition?

What delightful details evaporate before I can partake in their beauty?

What insight, skill, or invention escapes me because I constantly swap to the next of 18 things I’m trying to accomplish all at once?

I started to focus 100% on other things…

Did you know that the froth on a newly shaken glass of iced coffee bubbles like it’s alive…only to settle into a delicate blanket of protection over the liquid…preserving it for the perfect first taste?

Did you know a glass filled with iced coffee contains 1000 micro waterfalls? At least that’s what it looks like when the glass spontaneously starts sweating in the 90-degree summer air.

It was like I was given a sixth sense…focus. I wondered: Is this experience of omni-tasking, this 100% immersive focus of all senses into a single task, the key to unlocking a deeper, fuller, more satisfying experience? In my home? In my work? In everything?

I continued…

How about the pond and crick burbling in our walkout? It’s usually a background artifact filling the silent gaps between task switching. What if it was the foreground? The primary focal point? What would I absorb?

Did you know a chickadee stares at the water like it was the first time he’d seen such wonderful thing? Every time! “WOW! Look at that amazing, thirst-quenching river of life!”…he looks around…not frantic…looking for a friend? Lonely…he looks back: “WOW! Look at that amazing…” Did you know that a yellow finch seems so afraid at being eaten that every time he takes a drink he quick looks all around assuming it’s his last?

It was like I discovered a super-human power…

Did you know that 100% focus on your oldest son at the end of the day enables him to talk in a continual stream of consciousness? That through that kind of focus you can ask deeper questions, absorb his passions, likes, dislikes, and in the end show your love for him by just listening, reacting, and laughing?


Now I’m wondering: Could omni-tasking help in other areas?

What if I focused 100% on my girls gymnastics training? Could we have deeper discussions on what the ropes feel like as they climb, arms only, in a pike position? Could they convey the feel of chalk on their hands as they spin the bars? What do they see as they flip across the floor?

What if I listened to my youngest? 100% focus. What would I learn from his crazy-smart brain? What insight would a 7 year old not-yet-jaded-by-assumptions-and-rules child have on a 42 year old too-distracted-by-everything-all-at-once-to-appreciate-much-of-anything brain?

What if I omni-tasked while writing music? What hidden gem would I discover? What deeper emotion could I share? What funnier lyric could I write?

What if I scheduled dedicated time throughout the day to omni-task on one work activity at a time? Would I marvel at what I accomplished? Would I find greater insight? Solve harder problems? Provide better leadership?

Lets get specific: As I leave work the day before, what if I identify just ONE thing to practice omni-tasking…and dedicate 2 hours to it? Heck, even 1 hour of 100% focus. What kind of solution or idea would appear at the end of that session?

Would I discover that through the self-driven pressure to multi-task I’m cheating myself…and everyone around me…from a deeper, better, happier, appreciative, wonder-filled, higher skilled, more inventive, kinder, better playing, love-giving, attentive, listening man?


Omni-tasking. I might just have to spend 30 days experimenting…

Anyone want to join me?

Tell A Story With Our Designs – For A Better Future?

I love to write songs.

My best songs are story-based…you know, in verse one we meet the character, the bridge describes what their struggle is, and the first chorus what they’re feeling. Verse two brings in detail or a new wrinkle to the story, followed by a slightly altered chorus that applies to the situation. Of course after that is a killer guitar solo, and then verse three or a B-section brings a surprising twist…that not only makes the song memorable, but by the end of the final chorus makes the listener think about how it applies to their life in hopes that they will become a little bit better person.

I’m starting to wonder: should our user experience designs tell a compelling story, too?

In this case, instead of the story being about a character we hope the listener likes, the story told by our designs would be about the users data, or their systems, or even the users status updates, photos, and chats. We know these are things our users are already passionate about and they are rooting for to win!

…so why do some of my designs seem like a documentary? “Hmm, your system is this, that, the other thing. You data takes up this much space.” …Distant…sterile…


In these standard designs, there is nothing to connect our user emotionally to their data/systems…nothing to draw them in so they WANT to invest their time helping the story along.

Instead, what if I told a story? What if I introduce their systems as characters in a story…knowing that there are challenges ahead, relationships to nearby networks and storage that deepen the story? What if I make the user interface react to what the characters want instead of asking what the humans that use the product want?

For example, I currently define a target user (persona) along with what goals they have. I then design the software to help the human accomplish their humans goals. What if I turned it around and defined my central character as the users data or the systems they are managing, and then showed in the UI what the characters need?

I know the first push-back would the classic rule saying that I shouldn’t personify a non-living object…

…but what if this is what our next-generation of IT professionals need?

Maybe our future IT professionals need software that help them relate to the datacenter systems…help them connect on some emotional level so they will want follow the systems status, help the system through struggles, and feel empowered and feel some deep satisfaction when their systems succeed and thrive.

Stories have been powerful tools to help motivate and capture human attention for centuries…maybe it’s time we start telling stories with our software?

What do you think?

What if we started our software experience with, “Once upon a time…”?

3 Steps To Get Started In Social Media

Recently I was asked, “What does it take to get started in Social Media as a corporate employee?”. Here’s my response…


That’s easy: It will take 10 minutes per month — from 12:50-1:00 p.m. central time — on the third Thursday, to be successful in social media.

OK so it’s not quite that simple. The real answer is that it takes three steps:

  1. Define Your Goal
  2. Have Balance
  3. Be Consistent

Define Your Goal
Before you start anything in social media, you need to define your goals. Once you have a clear picture of why you want to engage in social media, you need to be honest about how much time that would require.

For example, if your goal is to help an occasional user, you could, in fact, spend only 10 minutes per month reading your go-to forum and responding to individual questions about a topic you know about. However, if your goal is to be known in the industry as an expert, you could spend an hour per week creating your own technical blog to provide others in the industry tips and insight based on your experiences.

Have Balance
It really is up to you how frequently you are involved with social media, but make sure you can balance your social media effort with what you’re currently doing in your work.

Here are some example guidelines I have used to keep balanced while working towards my goal:

  • Blog: Post at least once per month. The more frequent, the shorter the posts can be. I find 300-500 words is ideal as users want to gain insight but not spend a lot of time reading
  • Tweet: Tweet at least once per week. Followers want regular insight. Think about making it a ‘tip of the week’.
  • YouTube: Post an educational/demo video once every 2 months. Make them short, and have them cover only one key topic.
  • Online in-depth article: Once per quarter since these are generally much longer and have a wider distribution.

Tip: When you feel like writing, work ahead! You will feel much better if you have a collection of blogs/tweets/videos that are publish-ready and can be scheduled using many available tools, rather than scrambling to meet the next deadline.

Be Consistent
The reality is that to be engaged in social media, you need to be consistent with how often you interact. Nothing is more useless than a stale blog or channel. If you think it might be ‘too much’, get a small team together to share the responsibilities. That way the frequency for you can be less but your followers still get the consistent cadence.

Regarding duration: Social media is an ongoing interaction. If you stop, your digital presence will fade. As long as your frequency is consistent, your social presence will stay, but there really is no ‘end date’. If your followers do not see regular updates, they will stop looking for your content. In my experience, if your goal is to help your customers gain insight into a product or service, make the blog/handle reflect the product name so if you move on to another job, someone else can take over the social media outlet and your customers can still gain insight from a new expert.

Finally, don’t forget to interact with your customers through comments. I often create content, but then forget that the real value of social media is in the conversation that happens between you and your subscribers in the comments section. This will not only keep things personal, it will grow your social media presence.

Question: How do you approach social media?

Everything I Know About User Experience I Learned From Jimmy Buffett

One of the best ways I learn about user experience is to, well, experience it. In 2009 I went to my first Jimmy Buffett concert, and while I enjoyed a great show, what I learned about user experience I will never forget.

I was so affected that I had to write what I learned. I initially wrote this for an internal publication, but my organization thought it was ‘not right’ for our development org. To be honest I was sad since I really thought it could help others understand the importance of paying attention to the WHOLE user experience.

Since one of my long-term goals was to get published in “Interactions” magazine, I put on my ‘get it perfect’ hat, re-edited for a while, and submitted it. To my delight it was readily accepted, but in trying to get the right mix of articles, I had to wait around a year to receive the published article.

It was very much worth the wait.

Click HERE to read the article

Not only was I inspired by a great concert, but my love for music helped me directly achieve one of my career goals. At the time it was my 75th published article, and while have 92 published to date, this one still holds a special place in my heart.

I look forward to chatting about how I’ve positioned user experience in my work…

Question: Where have you had a great user experience that affected how you design in your work?

Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...