How to get over yourself, strip away that ego, and become a better team member
As I’ve worked in design, my focus has moved from the practice of design work and “nitpixeling” (thanks for this word Jon Moore) to focusing on the bigger picture.
By the bigger picture I don’t just mean company objectives, or working with the executives. I’m talking about the team I’m working in. The products we are making. The experience our customers have in and around our products. This could be a small startup with a couple of developers, or could be a cross-functional development team in a large organization — essentially a small group, working towards the same outcome.
I’ve had the tendency in the past to be attached to what I create. It’s the Ikea effect in practice, something that we are all subject to. We become attached to what we make. Yes, you can be aware of it, but that doesn’t make it go away. Awareness is only the first step.
I’ve learned that in order to produce the best outcomes, me improving my technical design skills will have much less impact than improving my ability to work better with my team.
Below is a list of seven directives from a bunch of books I’ve been reading on the subject (book list at the very bottom of the article). I’ve been employing these where possible, and they’ve had a huge impact. Am I perfect? No. Will I ever be? No, not even close. But I’m getting better, and there’s lots more room to grow. I highly recommend you have a read and see which of these practices you may be able to apply.
Everything is your problem.
I’m not saying you should do every bit of work that crosses your desk. You’ll wear yourself out in no time. But make sure you take the time to respond to everyone when they seek out your help. Assume the best in people.
If someone has e-mailed you about something you’re not responsible for, remember, they probably don’t know how it works. Educate them. It’ll help everyone the next time.
Being approachable is important if you want to build psychological safety. Don’t scare people off.
Be generous with giving feedback.
Giving feedback is free. If someone has done something well, make sure you let them know about it. We’re so quick to receive negative feedback when we’ve done something wrong, so that dishing out praise becomes a gift. It feels good to give positive feedback, and it feels good to receive it — it’s an absolute no-brainer.
Always seek out feedback.
This is the reciprocal of the above point. But an important point to remember is that you’re seeking out the bad, as much as — really more so — than the good. That’s how we learn. Don’t induce confirmation bias and show your work to confirm what you believe. Get people to question it.
One good way to get over this is to show your work early enough that you don’t feel too attached and it’s easier to change. Practice shortening your feedback loop. Critique is critical to the design process.
Don’t take anything personally. Especially success.
Design is all about failing. You’ll make things that are badly implemented, that have no impact, and that ultimately fail. A lot. In fact, even the good products you create will be torn down and built again in another five years (or less). Sometimes the ones we hate are the successful ones. That’s fine! It’s all part of working in this kind of discipline.
So just remember, the same rings true when you make something awesome. Enjoy that feeling of building a great product, but remember that one success does not make you a success — stay humble.
It’s your habits that define you — champion the right process time and time again rather than focusing on the outcomes, which can be lucky or arbitrary.
Leave your judgments at the door.
Stereotypes are the result of a brain that likes shortcuts. And you know what, sometimes they come in super handy. They certainly kept us alive thousands of years ago. But they aren’t usually symptomatic of a team that’s humming along. Leave them at the door if you want to get your team on-board with your way of thinking.
Dave Grey refers to this as “emptying your cup,” which is a great metaphor. When someone says something that we don’t agree with, there’s a tendency to let your own biases cloud your judgment of them.
By being conscious of this and actively “emptying your cup” and seeking out their point of view, you can start to see from a different perspective. We lead such narrow lives where we only see a tiny slice of what’s happening in the world. Don’t just think “if I was them.” Start talking to people about their motivations and beliefs and see why they think the way they do.
Do more, say less.
Ideas are great. Every time I meet people and they hear I’m some kind of “computer-design-developer-tech guy,” I get the inevitable “I’ve got a great idea for an app.” The thing is, these ideas are often great. But as Derek Sivers puts it, great ideas are just a multiplier of execution. So if you never make the app, it’s worth nothing.
Once you make the thing (whatever it is) — shout from the rooftops. But until that point, talking about what you’re “going to do” can actually be a hindrance. Check out another insight into that from Derek, below.
If you don’t watch it, summary quote:
“Telling someone your goal makes it less likely to happen. When you tell someone your goal and they acknowledge it, the mind is tricked into feeling it’s already done.”
Don’t be the person who always talks about doing things and doesn’t execute.
No one likes working with people who complain. There is nothing to be gained by complaining about things. This one is pretty simple.
It’s pretty much impossible to strip ego from the equation completely, but trying to eliminate it can have a huge positive impact on your working relationships — it certainly has for me. It’s also stopped me from focusing on the activities that I carry out, and made me think more about the shared outcome. The work improves as a result.
“It is sometimes easier to make the world a better place than to prove you have made the world a better place.”
- Amos Tversky
Let’s face it, making the world a better place is what we are all trying to do, who cares who gets the credit?
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