The latest episode of The Informed Life podcast features an interview with my friend, graphic recorder and facilitator MJ Broadbent. MJ uses visual thinking to help folks understand themselves and each other more effectively:
Graphic recording — the large scale version — can be very valuable for meetings and conferences because people see that it’s happening and they can watch in meetings, they can see that they’re being heard and that, that they’re being paid attention to. And it can change the dynamic of the conversation. They become more focused often, and they feel cared for in a way. There’s somebody taking this, this step, this action and that there will be an artifact afterward. So a lot of just times we’re in rooms where people are doing a lot of talking and maybe someone’s taking notes. Mostly people are looking at what do we need to do coming out of this meeting? And then maybe capturing action items, but the capturing the content or the key aspects of what’s being discussed, is something that I think we can do more of.
I asked MJ a question I’ve asked of previous guests in the show: How has this way of working influenced how you manage your own information? MJ pointed to casual drawing in everyday situations to make things clearer and more fun:
Recently I got some new black jeans and you have to watch out when you wash them. You don’t put light-colored things in there because you know, the dye will leach. And so I made a note to make sure to use cold water and I made the big blue cold with the waves underneath, like kind of just as a reminder. So I’m… That’s kind of fun. And then also a really cool way is on a little simple calendar or paper calendars on the refrigerator. And sometimes I’ll put a little drawing of something that happened that day. The way people make journals. Yeah. Maybe it was the weather or something you ate. Just drawing simple little icons, or you know, I keep colored pens around the house. We have cups of pens everywhere and so that’s keeping it fun.
And it’s always nice when somebody else is involved. They enjoy it. It’s like how we used to be about getting paper mail, getting a letter in the mail. And then, I think the other part is, in terms of how I manage my life, I can’t have a conversation with people in, in person, often cannot have a conversation without drawing something.
MJ also shared about her upcoming seminar on this subject at Stanford, which sounds like a great opportunity to learn how to make drawing a greater part of your life. As always, you can see a transcript and links for the episode at TheInformed.Life. Hope you enjoy the show!
The Informed Life Episode 16: MJ Broadbent on Graphic Recording
The latest episode of The Informed Life podcast features an interview with IT consultant and author Jeff Sussna. The focus of our conversation was cybernetics, an important subject that was popular in the 1940s-60s and is on the cusp of a renaissance after a long hiatus.
In the course of our conversation, Jeff gives one of the clearest and most accessible introductions I’ve heard to the subject of cybernetics. He spells out why it’s relevant to the work of implementing digital technologies, and also calls out its relevance to design:
there’s an idea that as designers, you have a responsibility to design systems that don’t cause harm. The problem is that what you’re trying to design are very, very complex systems and on some level, while it’s important to think in terms of doing good and not doing harm, I think you also need to confront the inevitability that you will do harm on some level that there will be unintended consequences.
And what’s more interesting and to me where the cybernetic approach comes in is you could say that doing harm is is a very compelling version of there being a gap between actual and desired, right? We wanted to build a system that would help people collaborate better and instead we built a system that’s starting to help people dislike each other more.
Let’s assume that’s going to happen and let’s look for it and let’s design for it in a much more continuous way.
Our conversation took several interesting turns; at one point we explored the connection between cybernetic thinking and Eastern philosophy. (Especially Buddhism.) I loved talking with Jeff about these subjects — I hope you enjoy the results.
The Informed Life Episode 15: Jeff Sussna on Cybernetics
Episode 14 of The Informed Life podcast features an interview with information architecture/digital strategy/customer experience consultant Lis Hubert. Over the past year, Lis has been living around the world as what some folks refer to as a “digital nomad.” She’s using this time to “architect [her] best life:”
I want to be the best person I can be and I want to take the and I’m one of the best life I can have and I’m going to take all of the knowledge that I acquire along the way and create a life that gives me the most purpose.
In this show, we discuss what this means for Lis. It’s an inspiring conversation for anyone who’s ever thought about structuring their lives more intentionally.
An ask: if you’re enjoying these conversations, please rate or review the show in Apple’s podcast directory. This helps other folks find it. Thanks!
The Informed Life Episode 14: Lis Hubert on Living Intentionally
Earlier this year I had the pleasure to speak with Tony Daussat for his podcast, Experience Design. We discussed the arc of my career, Living in Information, and designing for the infinite game.
Listen to the episode
Episode 12 of The Informed Life podcast features an interview with design executive Kim Lenox. For the past twenty years, Kim has served in leadership positions in top global organizations like LinkedIn and HP. Now she’s leading product design at Zendesk where she manages and interacts with teams dispersed throughout the world. In our conversation we get into the keys to making this work:
I think really critical is just finding alignment, making sure that we are all in alignment. The company Zendesk was founded by three Danish founders, and the Danish culture is very consensus-driven, and so we spent a lot of time in building relationships and having conversations around our shared vision, so it’s not a top-down mandate. It’s really about it coming from all directions and great ideas. It comes from every direction, it’s really about us making sure that we’re aligned, and that comes through conversation.
Kim also shared her latest tool to help her keep track of conversations:
I have a lot of memory recall when I am writing conversations down, and it’s really a visceral, very important part of my work style, and what I was finding was on paper, I wasn’t… every three months I would change notebooks, and so I would walk around with two notebooks because most of the things that I’m doing don’t get done in three months, and even if it’s the end of the month and you start a new month you still have to reference back, so I got this iPad to be able to help my work style, and so that’s my latest tool.
As a fellow iPad note-taker, I was keen to hear about how she’s doing this. I hope you enjoy this conversation. (By the way, if you’re enjoying the show in general, please review it in Apple’s podcast directory; this helps other folks find it.)
The Informed Life Episode 12: Kim Lenox on Leadership
Episode 11 of The Informed Life podcast features a conversation with digital governance advocate Lisa Welchman. For the past 20 years, Lisa has helped organizations set up governance structures that allow them to manage their information flows more effectively. In our conversation, she explains the importance of creating mindful content models and governing frameworks:
A governing framework for me is about decision-making. Who gets to make decisions about standards. A content model is a standard for delivering content. Brand has a set of standards that are underneath it. IT has a set of standards. Right? So it’s decision-making about standards.
The objective is to help organizations operate with greater intention and more safely.
Lisa is also an accomplished musician, and in the interview she reveals connections between good digital governance and jazz:
the reason that I like jazz is because it has a structural frame underneath it. Right? And on top of it you can improvise. And that’s really, I think, what everybody’s trying to get to. Some people want to improvise a little bit, some people a lot. But organizations need that structured frame so that everyone just one understands what the patterns are and then if you get that right and you allow each entity inside the team to maximize what they do well within that frame, then you get the best of both worlds. You get a structured content model that is really well managed. You get people who love their jobs because they’re allowed to improvise and freestyle within that framework and do things that they love.
This episode is well worth your attention, especially if you work in an organization that must manage a lot of information. Stick around after our conversation for a special surprise from Lisa. Hope you enjoy the show!
The Informed Life Episode 11: Lisa Welchman on Governance
Episode 10 of The Informed Life podcast features an interview with my friend, information architecture and user experience pioneer Peter Morville. Peter is one of the most thoughtful people I know about the subject of information management, and in this interview we discussed how we can be more mindful when living an informed life:
If we think about the questions around how we manage information, what tools do we use to manage information for our personal and professional interests, and then we try to apply metrics or evaluation, am I using these tools efficiently and effectively? Are these the right tools? It begs the question, the right tools to achieve what?… Are these tools and the way I’m managing information leading me in a positive direction where I’m learning and changing? I don’t think we asked these questions very often, but I think that if we want to sort of talk about the tools that we use to manage information, we have to be mindful of what is the purpose behind that.
Peter introduced me to Henry David Thoreau’s concept of the root-striker (“If you really want to solve the problem, you have to strike at the root”), an apt image for a discussion that centered on thinking deeply about the source of the challenges we face when living in an information-saturated culture. Overcoming these challenges requires that we acknowledge that the system isn’t set up to look after our interests:
The first step in protecting yourself from the information deluge is to understand and accept that nobody’s looking out for you, that you have to protect yourself, that it’s not all good. You’re not going to take any steps to protect yourself unless you feel that you have some something you want to protect yourself from.
He goes on to describe some of the practices that have allowed him to protect himself from some of the more noxious aspects of our “seductive information” culture, including meditation and taking sabbaticals from social media.
This interview made me reconsider the foundations of own personal information environment. I hope you get as much value from this conversation as I have.
The Informed Life Episode 10: Peter Morville
Episode 9 of The Informed Life podcast features an interview with UX designer and educator Jessica Ivins. Jessica teaches at Center Centre, the UX design school in Chattanooga, Tennessee. This is a role that requires that she wear many hats:
I do everything from emptying the dishwasher, to writing curriculum, to reporting anything; any issue with the facilities that needs to be repaired… Lots and lots of work with the students, obviously: working with them one-on-one working with them in the group setting. So it’s really a lot of juggling and a lot of time management and priority management.
Her goal is one many of us can relate to: “to juggle all the things I need to juggle and do all the things I need to do without burning out and without working long hours.” And in 2018, she did it! How? Through a combination of tools and practices, including Basecamp, Google Docs, timeboxing, and by following David Allen’s Getting Things Done methodology.
This episode inaugurates a new look for the podcast’s website. Abiding by the “shitty first draft” principle, I launched the show in January using a very basic WordPress theme. As some astute listeners pointed out, this first theme had awkward issues, especially on mobile. Hopefully the new theme fixes that. Please let me know what you think.
The Informed Life Episode 9: Jessica Ivins
Episode 8 of The Informed Life podcast features an interview with product designer Trip O’Dell. Before his career in tech, where he’s worked leading technology companies such as Adobe, Microsoft, and Amazon, Trip was a teacher, introducing new technologies to students so they could tell stories in new ways. When he was a student himself, Trip was diagnosed with dyslexia, and in this episode we discuss how this allows him to think differently. We also talked about the ways he leverages technology to help him, including this nugget:
[I use] systems that separate but then I also have systems that bring together and synchronize. For instance, it’s really easy for me to lose things. That’s sort of the the dyslexic characteristic like where are we think in matrices we kind of also need to have everything out in front of us to be able to make those connections and a lot of software is built to just have you do one thing at a time. It’s built modally, right?
This idea that some systems are better for “separating” — concepts, ideas, etc. — while others are better for “bringing together” — is important. I, too, tend to jump between systems depending on whether I’m trying to analyze or synthesize something, but I hadn’t thought of it consciously like Trip has.
The Informed Life Episode 8: Trip O’Dell