Be Committed and Flexible

What great advice for any User Experience Architect, Interaction Designer, Project Manager, Visual Designer, Solution Architect… well, really, it’s great advice for all people in all walks of life.  As we build systems that help people do things in ways that delight them, we come up against lots of factors that are out of our control. We can’t control who we are designing for or the tasks that they need to complete. We can’t enforce ethical action on behalf of the business. We can’t control the personality of Project Manager or the technical platform that the client has already picked. Really, from the first user interview, all the way until the release of an exceptional system, there are so many moving parts, different people, needs, wants, desires… our job is to sit there and take it all in… and then make the best decision possible with information that we have; a tall order to say the least.

As I have developed the User Centered Experience model and gone out into the world and used it with real clients, I have discovered a key mantra that keeps me sane, happy and able to do my best work- “Stay committed to your decisions, but stay flexible in your approach.”  – Tom Robbins, author.  Every time I repeat this to myself, I envision bamboo swaying in the wind. The roots are committed to remaining in the ground but the stalk can bend and gracefully move in complete accommodation of the wind. The swaying of the branches does not influence the commitment of the roots, instead it helps keep them in place; reinforcing the commitment. And sometimes, because the movement is so graceful, it looks as if it is intentional- almost as though the bamboo is choosing to respond with grace instead of reacting with a break.

“There is a BIG difference between reaction and response. Reaction is when something happens and we just react – without thinking. It’s like the animal in us takes over and wants to either fight or run. We react with defensiveness, judgment or shock. We react with anger or even hate. We react with disgust. We react with all kinds of emotions that don’t represent our highest nature. I’ve come to believe that our journey is to first become aware of how we react and not make it wrong. To understand that we and everyone we know are doing the best that they can from their point of view. And we can investigate where these reactions come from. And slowly over time we begin to see that when things trigger us “out there” – there is a precious space in between something happening and our reaction. And in this space we now have a choice – a choice of how we want to respond. To me, the ability to respond is far more powerful than unconscious reaction. This is respons-ibility is – the ability to respond.” Mastin Kipp

As we go about our daily chores in this awesome, emerging art and science of User Experience, we have a responsibility to respond and create to our users, clients and team mates with grace and purposeful intent. We cannot control the situation, but we can choose to respond in ways that create systems that work for and hopefully add delightful meaning to people’s lives. When things feel like they are spinning out of control and we just can’t take one more gust of wind, remember the bamboo, and remain committed to your decisions and flexible in your approach.