Don’t Walk

Don't Walk

There are three types of people in this world. Each of whom can be identified by their behaviour upon encountering a “DON’T WALK” sign at a crosswalk.

The first type of person, upon seeing the “DON’T WALK” sign, will stop, and wait until instructed to “WALK”, no matter what.

The second type of person, upon seeing the “DON’T WALK” sign, will pause, look to see if there is actually any traffic that they should stop for, and upon seeing no immediate danger from oncoming vehicles, proceed to cross the street.

The third type of person continues on their path, confidently crossing the street whether or not there are oncoming vehicles, only vaguely aware (if at all) that there were some instructions they were supposed to follow.

Which type of person are you? Who do you work with?

The visionary entrepreneurs fit into the third category, only vaguely aware of rules and how it’s done, preferring instead to do things their way. Brash? Perhaps. A sense of entitlement is wrapped up in this personality. But, the confidence that ‘I can shape the world into the place I want to live in’ may come from anyone.

The good leaders fit into the second grouping. They temper entrepreneurial brashness with pragmatism, preferring to assess the situation before proceeding. Risk-averse? Overly cautious? Yes, at times. But, these individuals build the future while selectively abandoning the past.

The dependable workers, like soldiers, dutifully follow instructions. Sometimes frustratingly so—especially in bureaucratic institutions! But, without these rule-followers, nothing would get done; doers move us forward, in the chaos of competing visions. Moreover, repeatable experiences—from theatrical entertainment to the reliable hotel chain—depend on folks content with rules and routines.  

Like any classification, few people fit cleanly into just one of these categories. And each of us may behave differently under different circumstances. But, whatever external behaviours we exhibit, most of us are wired in one of these three ways.

Confession Time

Personally, I tend to see things as they could be, and not as they are. I think many designers are wired this way—to envision unseen opportunities. At times, this entrepreneurial view is welcomed, even celebrated.

At other times, this view is seen as a real threat to the status quo. In these cases, I’ll confess I’ve struggled with the muggles, content to persist with things as they are, even when things are broken and frustrating. My realization? However flawed, the way things are is familiar, and familiar is safe for most people.

While watching others content with the status quo can be infuriating, especially if you’re obsessed with living a few months or years down the road (eager to fix the world’s problems!), I’ve also learned one of my glaring weaknesses: A tendency to launch things without following through. I tend to move on to the next idea, before the prior one has been seen through.

I have difficulty taking on the same challenge more than twice. And I’ve also learned I’m not cut out for repetitive work (the three weeks I spent doing software quality assurance were some of the worst of my career!). But, the world depends on people who delight in routine. And it’s necessary. When I recommend a restaurant to my friends, I’m counting on a team of folks to guarantee a repeatable experience. Could I do this—could I be the line chef obediently following orders? It’d be a challenge. And probably not for long. Through this lens, I’ve learned to see my own flaws. And I’ve learned to value—rather than judge—the diverse ways of doing things.

The UX field attracts many personalities. And the teams we work on attract many different personalities. Some of us are line workers. Some of us are fire starters. Some of us fall somewhere in-between. But, we all need each other.

Moreover, the best teams thrive on diverse perspectives and personalities. Learning to recognise how someone prefers to operate will help you interact with them. But, learning to value how we all operate in diverse ways is how the world moves forward.

And for the record, I always look both ways before crossing a street.

Stephen P. Anderson

Stephen P. Anderson

Stephen P. Anderson is Head of Design in the Innovation Garage at Capital One, where he is helping product teams create amazing experiences. Once a high school teacher, Stephen continues to challenge and inspire people as an international speaker and trainer; he’s presented at some of the world’s largest organizations, teaching product teams about games, play, learning, interactive visualizations, and other fun topics.

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