The last chapter of my career was a 2 year period in which I specialized in software product design. When I started it I was convinced that it was the best possible line of work for me at the time. To this day I view it as my favorite. I left not because of the work, but because of people – namely customers.
I view design as an opportunity to go deeper – to revisit the purpose of a product, it’s alignment with the larger purpose of a business, it’s value to customers, who the customers are … many questions that come before screens are actually designed, even before user experience and way before usability is addressed. I believed (and still do believe) that having a clear purpose of where you want to go makes everything that comes after that (design, development, testing, sales, support … literally everything!) smoother, more efficient, more pleasant … better. Without it is too easy to drift off course without even knowing it … sometimes until the business itself fails (you can create a failed product with superb usability). All of this, I am happy to say is aligned with my personal beliefs and pursuits.
The problem was that customers did not share my views. Customers would usually reach design at the end of their development cycles – when there were very little time, resources or motivation to actually do design. There really was’t space for raising the kind of challenges design can bring to the surface – it would mostly introduce insecurity, aggrevation & frustration. So the alternative was a compromise. Sometimes the compromise would work OK – not necessarily in the sense that we would arrive at a good product – but a satisfied and paying customer – I never was at peace calling that “OK”. Sometimes it wouldn’t work and that would lead to friction and divert the project into harsh & unpleasant energies – I hated that but I was OK with it – because I wasn’t expecting anything else. The odds were that “design” wasn’t going to work out well (with one outstanding exception which deserves a separate post).
I do believe that bridges between different views can be built – but that takes care, time, patience and requires that everyone involved want to pursue that. I also felt that there were some pretty long bridges to build. Design, if given a chance, inevitably introduces creativity and unknowns into any process. Most the organizational cultures I encountered were not mature enough or open to these qualities. This would start with top executives who felt it important that the fact “they don’t like yellow” be incoporated into the design process – through to programmers that would decide that some of the visual details were too much of a hassle to implement. Unfortunately the circumstances of little time, budget or patience in which most of the design projects took place – left little chance for any bridge-building.
Many times I felt that the place to start was to take the leading executive aside for two years of Yoga – and then, when the foundations were in place, to resume design. Customers didn’t want that, it wasn’t part of the contract … but it came to a point where I felt that was the only way to move forward. I felt that people needed Yoga but didn’t want it. Add to that the fact that I like teaching Yoga waaaay more then I like design – and you may be able to see why I chose to leave my career behind.
Recently I had another “business-related” incident – which prompted this collection of thoughts. I was participating in a high-friction business-related conversation (there is no customer this time – it is a project I initiated) – and it reached an impasse that had a deja-vu feeling from my design days. But this time the other side wanted and insisted on understanding. So we got into a conversation about communicating, the limits of understanding and it’s friction with the need to understand … and finally I tabled my theory and said “But this isn’t about me being your Yoga teacher – you don’t really want that!”. Before I finished saying those words I intuited what the response would be – and it was “Yes I do”. Woah!
This stayed with me for a few days – and I began to wonder … is it possible that people I met in business were actually looking (consciously or unconsciously?) for a more spiritual significant context in their lives that I overlooked? Is it possible that many of the frictions I experienced (and sometimes still do) are actually an expression of unspoken words? It is possible that people need Yoga and (consciously or unconsciously) do want it?
Knowing this doesn’t make building bridges any easier. A “mind & control” dominated business relatioship does not resonate well with a “heart & surrender” teacher-student relationship. Reasoning can lead the way in business, but it takes faith to let a spiritual teacher into your life. I have no doubt that qualities that can be acquired in Yoga can be beneficial in business – but they can’t be acquired using the way things are acquired in business.
Things keep going round and round 🙂