Any ‘thing’ we design, create or make has little impact if we don’t take the users of those things into account. And understanding our user’s experience means understanding our user.
“Yes, yes, we know all of this!” I hear you sighing, but that impatience and assumption is part of the larger point.
When our user or customer is not part of our local community, our typical way of connecting with them is via a digital space, which is also filled with noise and overwhelm and distraction.
As the speed of our digital existence ramps to Hyperloop, some of our behaviours are being threatened by these rapid technological changes, and the additional (often unseen) pressures they add to our analog lives.
The term is becoming frayed at the edges from over-repetition, so I’m hesitant to use it. But we (everyone and their chatbot) all keep banging on about it, because it’s evident (Google it) that we’re losing the ability to put ourselves into someone else’s shoes. Just when we need to try them on for size the most.
When levels of uncertainty escalate beyond mild discomfort, we become closed, which isolates us further. I bet you don’t typically consider yourself to be narrow-minded? However, the limiting paradigms and old-fashioned belief systems we’re bringing along with us into this ‘new world’, still foster parochial thinking.
Being insular in our thinking may make us feel safe in an increasingly uncertain world, but it limits our perspective of everything outside of ourselves.
This is particularly relevant now, as our worst selves are showing up in growing numbers.
The flag I wave the most is about getting to know yourself better. Self-knowledge helps you be better at work, at life, at love, and everything in between. But to know yourself better, you need to know others better too.
You need to know what it’s like to exist in a life other than your own. You need to experience life in a different way to what you’re used to.
So how do we learn to live ‘outside of ourselves’? Here’s a few ideas…
Apart from reading books, travel is THE most important thing you can do to expand your mind. Because what you ‘think’ you know, is not all there is to know. Knowledge also has to come from real-world experience.
‘Travel’ for you could be learning to find your way while you live in a big city for a few years. Backpacking through Asia for a month. Volunteering in a remote South American village. Attempting to order a beer on your Paris city break. Or crossing county lines to attend a music festival for the very first time.
All the little pieces that make up those experiences expand our awareness. They unconsciously influence our thoughts, perceptions and actions. They remind us that there are always other ways to live. Other ways to think. Other ways to communicate. Other ways to be.
Even if you do end up back in the little town where you were born and raised, putting yourself out into the world will change you. It can also change those you spend the most time with back in your little town too.
Being creatures of habit though, we tend to stick with what we know. So we might prefer to avoid weird sounding foods from foreign lands. Especially if our peers don’t like the sound of that foreign sounding food either. But how will you know if you like / don’t like it, unless you try it yourself?
Every country or region has specialities — a specific type of bread, pie, cheese, meat, salad, spice, stew or other foodie drinkie thing that is different to what you know. They may be prepared differently, have different flavours and different textures. However, they’re often made with the same ingredients used to prepare meals you’re accustomed to eating.
So, not that foreign after all.
Be more adventurous with your cooking and eating, whether that’s at home, or on your next trip away from home.
Some of the most iconic artworks, musical pieces, inventions, designs and political movements have come about as a result of a constraint, a challenge or a celebration. The culture we find ourselves in affects how we approach solving a problem, or beating the competition, or creating a platform for our views, or honouring the beauty of a ‘thing’.
What if you approach the work you do from a different cultural perspective? ‘Different’ can be skin colour, political persuasion, gender or orientation. Or it can be ‘coeliac’, ‘left handed’, ‘origami maker’ or a thousand other little distinctions that create our differences.
What if you look at how someone very different to you might deal with the constraints you face daily? How do they handle challenges or celebrate life events in their community? How is it different? Or perhaps similar? What can you learn?
We find similarities in the unfamiliar. We find connections.
As we learn how to stretch our edges to encompass more of the outside world within us, we also discover our capability to care about others.
Learning to be someone else makes you become better at being you.