Onto the the next of my three major take-aways from Karen McGrane’s fabulous IA Summit closing keynote.
Major Take-Away #2 or “The Role of the Lovable Fool”
Next Karen had a slide with “skill” (may not have been that exact word) on one axis and “likability” on the other. She began by observing that people who are highly skilled and highly likeable are rockstars and there isn’t much to do there except hang onto them (although there is plenty to discuss there, as hanging onto rockstars isn’t necessarily the easiest thing to do since they get a) bored and b) poached–but that’s for another post).
She then went onto to dispatch with incompetent jerks by pointing out that they really don’t create that many problems–they either get fired, transferred to become someone else’s problem, or people just work around them.
That leaves us with the competent-but-unlikeable and incompetent-but-likeable categories–the incompetent jerks and the lovable fools. And here she pointed out that competent jerks tend to stick around and even get promoted; no one likes working with them, but they survive economic downturns due to their competence. And we all know what happens to the lovable fools–in good times they are kept around because of their affability but in economic downturns, they are among the first to be let go.
So, what’s the problem? Doesn’t this just make sense–in a capitalist system surely competence is more important than affability, right? Karen says not so fast–there is more to the lovable fool that meets the eye.
As someone who has done quite a bit of hiring in this field (and hopes to do a lot more) understanding the role of personality in management is important to me and as soon as Karent displayed her axis I had the feeling there would be something important here. Karen’s next point didn’t surprise me a great deal; she observed that lovable fools reduce stress in workplaces and lead to happier teams. I’ve seen this in action.
IMPORTANT CAVEAT: “fool” or “incompetent” really aren’t the right words for this phenomenon, as I don’t think anyone would ever recommend referring to a colleague this way as it would almost certainly be perceived as insulting or demeaning. The people who fall into this quadrant are typically perfectly smart, competent people–but they’re often not as visibly productive, aren’t aggressive, aren’t boastful, and typically aren’t producing deliverables that are quite as sharp (or flashy) as their jerkier (or rockstar) peers.
Onto the 3 major take-aways from Karen McGrane’s fabulous IA Summit closing keynote. These aren’t necessarily in the order they were covered in her presentation, as I’m working from memory and spotty notes–but one of the things that stands out to me about this talk is how vividly I recall key points, which I think is another indicator of a powerful talk.
Major Take-Away #1 or “The center does not hold.”
After talking about her vision for what she’d like the world to look like by the time she is relaxing on her ‘retirement island’ with some tongue in cheek and some serious elements Karen launched into what was essentially a love letter to IA. With a slide like this:
So of course, I reveled in every moment of it since it was all kinds of IA is wonderful boosterism that I can’t get enough of. This probably should have clued me into the fact that she was about to go somewhere potentially contentious, but it didn’t…and then she intoned “but the center does not hold.” And she transitioned her slide deck to this:
And I experienced a bit of a stomach lurch and broke out in a cold sweat thinking “OMG, Karen McGrane is about to tell us there isn’t any such thing as information architecture or that we don’t really need IA now that we have content strategy and interaction design or, or, or” and I have to admit that I probably didn’t hear what she said until this slide:
Where in I started to breathe again, sort of. (Important caveat: she explicitly stated that she was *not* attempting to start internecine warfare and I’m sure she said some other important things that I’ll definitely listen for when the podcast is out.)
Her point being that information architecture can/should/must be a bridge between content strategy .and interaction design. Part of me sees this (and I definitely think that communication between and respect of the multiplicity of disciplines required to ensure good user experience design is a worth goal in and of itself), but…when I look at the “bridge” diagram I find myself seeing San Francisco (fabulous), the Golden Gate Bridge (impressive…and also something desperate people jump from), and Marin County (differently and perhaps even more fabulous). And therein lies the rub–because here’s the thing, you can take the GG Bridge out of the picture completely and SF and Marin will still be there, essentially unchanged and unharmed. They don’t require the bridge for their existence. Equally important, there is no point in the bridge without SF and Marin. And this image lends itself to the interpretation that “information architect” is not a role that can stand on its own while “content strategist” and “interaction designer” both are.*
For the record: I really don’t think that’s what Karen was trying to say, but it’s what I’ve been chewing on since. More thinking to do here, I’m sure.
Next up: Take-away 2: Competent Jerks & Lovable Fools
*Which led me to wonder what employers are calling what they're looking for, so I did a quick search at Monster (perhaps not the best source of these kinds of postings, though)--where interaction design has won this war (112 postings), but I was pleasantly surprised to pull up 62 postings for information architect and quite surprised to only find 14 for content strategist.
This conference tends to be a highlight for me on an annual basis but like all events that you attend over and over, the energy and impact varies with some years being more about the brain food and others more about the socializing (or the politics). And of course my perspective from year to year has as much to do with where I am in my life and career as the nature of the conference itself–although as the event has matured the degree of competence and professionalism of its (completely unpaid!) conference planners has risen dramatically. (I like to think that we IA’s learn from our mistakes along with having boatloads of good ideas.) This year’s planners, Crystal Kubitsky, Giles Colborne & Kevin M. Hoffman outdid themselves and deserve a standing ovation.
The thing I loved best about this year’s event was how rich the IA content within the program proved to be. Over the past several years there has been a broadening of scope that I think has been positive in terms of making a larger tent and attracting people who were on the periphery but who should be in the thick of it, but the past few years sometimes left me (and others) feeling like “where is the IA at the IA summit?!” (And this is not to point fingers–I think in many ways this issue got its foothold in the summit I co-chaired*.)
Having been born there, I’m technically a Baltimore native, but we moved to Wisconsin when I was 6 or 7 and I lived in the land of dairy and progressives (well, they were famous for that before I was born), through college–so I’m inclined to say I’m “from” Wisconsin. That said, I have many lovely relatives in Maryland and the conference location afforded Niles and I the opportunity to spend nearly a week cavorting with a cadre of aunties and cousins and friends we see far too rarely. Subsequently I went into the conference in a sunny frame of mind (despite unseasonably cool weather).
It’s going to take more than one post to summarize the wonderfulness that was the conference–and I’m going to need to listen to a bunch of podcasts since there were many sessions I wasn’t able to attend. I will be sure to post the link to the podcasts here as soon as it is available. In future posts I’ll definitely comment on some of the interesting and insightful sessions I attended but my first shoutout goes to Karen McGrane’s closing keynote, which was truly masterful. (Slides here.)
I’ve seen Karen speak several times before and have found her an engaging and intelligent speaker drawing on rich experience but this talk had a different flavor to it–it just felt like she’s kicked it up a notch and has moved into a new plane. There were certainly points I might disagree with or not see from exactly the same perspective, but it feels nit-picky to quibble when the end product was the perfect balance of the kind of critique/constructive criticism of the profession/discipline we’ve come to expect from our closing speakers coupled with an uplifting, energizing quality that left me inspired to go back to my office and Be/Do BETTER.
In my next post I’ll talk about the 3 points in her talk I found the most compelling.
*I knew that chairing the event would be a lot of work, but much like parenthood you really don’t know just how hard it will be until you do it. Subsequently I have made a rule for myself of refusing to complain about “the small stuff” at the summit, not because it doesn’t matter but because being the chair is just so thankless. (And due to the happy accident of an early baby, I didn’t have to take the heat in Memphis, so I was spared more than probably any other chair in summit history.) This year’s chairs, however, raised the bar on attention to detail to a level where I suspect next year’s great lineup of chairs are probably already sweating a bit!
I’m delighted to announce that I am formally changing the name of my consulting firm from BaileySorts to SiftUX effective today with the launch of my new website: SiftUX.
While I will continue to provide solo consulting, the new name reflects a shift in focus toward more partnership and team-based work efforts that will enable my colleagues and I to take on larger and more complex projects. I’m excited about moving forward with a new name and an enlarged vision.