Yesterday I had a bit of a dwell. One of those thinking-about-things-in-the-past-that-pissed-you-off-but-are-completely-irrelevant-now moments.
It’s unhelpful, I know. But everyone indulges themselves now & again.
Anyway, so there I am. Dwelling.
And this thought strikes me. And that was that, at the root of almost all problems, whether in my personal life or in my work life, lies one commonality:
It’s the thing that makes the CEO irrationally charge in saying ‘I’ve got this vision & everyone needs to get with the programme or f**k off’.
It’s the thing that makes your product manager unwilling to accept that we may just be completely wasting our time on some new feature.
It’s the thing that stops you searching for objective insights in user research.
The thing that gets you offended when someone suggests you might be wrong.
And that thing, my dear friends, is ego.
( A little over the top, I know, but I couldn’t help myself)
Not too revolutionary an idea, right? There have been numerous books written about it, endless quotes on the subject — even Marcus Aurelius bangs on about it nearly 2,000 years ago.
Yet we still collectively fail to recognise or even acknowledge it because everyone is in on it. Everyone has an ego. And all of our egos are really good at telling ourselves that they aren’t the problem.
Of course they aren’t the problem. They are great. Special even. Actually, they are probably the best thing that’s ever happened to the world. Everyone should feel blessed to be living in such a moment.
The problem is everyone else. Because everyone else doesn’t recognise how awesome & special your ego is. So when you don’t get that job, or the team doesn’t want to bring your amazing idea to life, you get annoyed. You get irrational. You feel personally offended.
Which doesn’t really help anything, does it? And we just go round in circles again until you finally stop, think & realise that maybe that ego-is-at-the-root-of-every-problem-forever stuff has something to it.
“Nobody loves my ego like I do. I have tremendous respect for my ego.” Why is this relevant to UX?
Firstly, it’s relevant to everything. And recognises & learning to deal with your ego will just make everything better. Your decisions, your empathy towards others, your reactions to events in life. Everything.
Secondly, because, as UX professionals, our job is to search for the truth.
The truth is not held in our grandiose ideas. The truth is held in data. In the objective facts of how a product is used & by whom.
Furthermore, that truth is not one within us, but within our users. We must, for the sake of successfully discovering truth, put our ego aside & be selfless.
We must be fully empathetic to those users. To serve those users. To provide value for them, not for us.
Empathy is about them, not about you. An idea is not a good idea unless it provides value for them. Whether it was your idea or someone else’s is, quite frankly irrelevant.
Start recognising your ego for what it is & you’ll start improving yourself, your work & your relationship to your users. Let it run riot in your mind at your own peril.
For further reading, Ryan Holiday’s ‘Ego is the Enemy’ is a great place to start. He’s not only way, way better at writing than me, but is also way more credible & just generally seems to win at life quite often.