Kedron Rhodes Thoughts on Design, Innovation & Leadership

Lessons from Cooper UX Bootcamp 2012

I recently spent a week with fellow co-workers and UX professionals at Cooper’s UX Bootcamp in Columbus, OH. It was held at Spark Space, which is hands down the best team meeting space I’ve ever had the privlage of crashing.

Although UX took center stage during the bootcamp, leadership and team dynamics were my biggest learning spheres. During each designated time of reflection, I found myself focusing on these two topics.

The instructors (Kendra @kshimmell & Teresa @TeresaBrazen) delegated the majority of team structuring and problem solving to the UX cadets. Had Kendra not been the skilled facilitator that she is, this would have been a complete train wreck.

As the week unfolded, the group was presented with several opportunities to work towards consensus, even amongst some extreme deadlines and uncertainty. **The conditions were ideal for anxiety and fear to flourish. **

These were also conditions for leadership to shine.

Without diving into the specific scenarios that promoted these reflections, here are some of the points that stuck home with me.

I’d rather work with a cohesive team than be apart of a disgruntled fraction.

I found that I value “the Team” more than I value uniqueness or being in control. I knew this about myself, but there were several opportunities throughout the week where I had to choose between “the Team” and being part of a fraction. Personally, I hate that sort of social pressure.

Working in pairs is not the same as working in teams.

There is a subculture within software development that exemplifies the qualities of not working alone – it’s called pair programming, and is truly effective in many circumstances. Pair programing requires a learned set of skills in order to be effective, but it’s important to realize that these skills don’t equate to being a effective team player.

Dominant personalities, when paired with a few degrees of less dominance, can get away with being a bully. In a team, however, this sort of behaviour is toxic. Learning to work with a broader team than two takes a new skill set – even new values.

Designing a team takes steady leadership.

It’s not enough to just put a bunch of smart people together and let them try to solve a problem. You have to know how to balance leadership styles and personalities. You have to know which personalities to bench and which ones to hand the reigns to. If you don’t, dominant personalities will… dominate.

Leading a design challenge requires asking hard questions.

As a designer (big D design), I’m frustrated quite often when I don’t feel like the right questions are being considered. Design is fundamentally about solving a problem. I like solving problems. I like solving the right problems more than just the exercise of solving problems though.

As a designer who often gets tasked with “make this pretty”, it’s frustrating to be left out of the “real” problem solving stage.

You exponentially decrease the value of design the further you remove it from the problem in which you are trying to solve.

Personal Leadership Challenge

As a result of a UX Bootcamp, I’ve found a deeper commitment to build my own personal leadership skills, specifically in these areas:

  • Identify, early on, the fears and anxiety that leads to toxic behaviours.
  • Learn how to direct those fears and anxieties into a healthy resolution or activity.
  • Be bold in asking tough design questions in order to solve the right problem.
  • Sharpen skills in building consensus, even when dominant personalities try to bully their way to a solution.
  • Better understand how to design a team for success.
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