How do you define power? We may subconsciously define it as:
Laugh all you want, but deep down, this is what some of us believe is power - something bestowed upon us or others through a title (or a special sword) in an organization. This person can change and approve things - expenses, strategies, roadmaps, UX sketches, etc.
But is that an accurate perception of power?
From my experience, I don't agree. I define power differently. Responsibility doesn't necessarily give us power. If anything, it is something we need to worry about. With responsibility comes the need to report what's going on to others to ease their minds that we are handling things appropriately. We become a caretaker.
Power also doesn't guarantee the ability to make fast changes. You can't make a change and expect everyone to get onboard just because powerful you have a "magic wand." From my experience, change doesn't happen through dictates. It happens through a lot of conversations, a lot of thought, and a lot of white boarding.
I believe power comes out of influence.
Experience designers wield a lot of influence - and a lot of power. We help people visualize what they want an intangible experience to look like and feel like. We provide ideas and options for new ways of interacting with a device to access information. We offer different perspectives of a problem and help people further define it and discuss potential solutions.
We have more than a voice in the discussion - we are actively participating to shape the final solution. We directly influence the result.
Decision making usually is associated with the person who has budget responsibilities. Although UX teams should have some budget responsibility, in most organizations they don't. They offer a service. But that doesn't mean that the service can't influence the team and their solution.
Decision making always includes many people, even in royal courts. There were a number of advisors in those courts - from chamberlains to courtiers, all providing an opinion when requested, influencing the royalty. Not all opinions were held equally at all times; each advisor had his own area of expertise. However, they contributed to the final decision, influencing the outcome. Many of these nobles were held in high respect because they influenced final decisions.
Influence is so powerful, it became the basis of the movie Inception. I love this movie because of its message - the possibility of planting an idea in someone's mind in a positive way (positive thoughts have more power than negative thoughts). In the movie, they achieve this through dreams.
We can all do this too, but not through dreams. We can modify "inception" by using the power of suggestion.
Here are 4 steps to use the power of suggestion to achieve "inception:"
1. Get allies and create a support team for your effort.
You can't suggest a new idea to a decision maker in any organization if you don't have allies. Allies are usually people in your peer group who are willing to publically support your approach. Run it past them, get their feedback, and revise your idea. You can't be too committed to your ideas - you have to be flexible enough to make adjustments to answer the question: does your approach solve an existing problem?
Signs you won: Your allies are willing to back you up in a meeting.
2. Plant your idea.
Present your idea to the decision maker. Talk about it's benefits and how it will drive revenue. Again, don't be too tied to it. And definitely don't sell it as the best new thing going. Present it as a proposal, as a thought that came to you in passing.
You are painting a picture of possibility and providing the sketch of a vision that the decision maker can adopt as their own.
- If the vision is too complete and thought thru, the decision maker may dismiss it because it may not solve the problem from their perspective and they don't see room for modifications to suit their needs.
- If the vision is too sketchy, there is nothing for the decision maker to leverage to visualize a solution for them to use.
You want to leave this idea with this person after the presentation. Remember, what goes into our heads during the day doesn't disappear after a meeting. You can't unsee or unhear anything. Let that person's subconscious process what you presented.
Required for the meeting: Your ally is in the room during the presentation and gives you backing, if needed.
Your goal: Plant the seed. Bonus points if the person you present to gets excited about your idea on the spot and wants to talk about it more and critique it.
Signs you won: The decision maker brings up your idea in another meeting when you aren't present. Winning doesn't mean ownership. That's not your goal here.
3. Expand the idea for their needs.
Ideally, the decision maker will discuss your idea with you again on his or her own. That is a good sign and shows interest. But if not, you can bring it up again in a week or so.
Some things to have on hand if the idea comes up:
- A list of benefits to the user and business - first, list the qualitative benefits. Usually lists like these get people to brainstorm about possibilities.
- The numbers (revenue, new user projections) - something from the business side of things. If you have this on hand, this helps sell your idea.
- Sketches of how the concept could work - concrete enough to paint a picture in their imagination, loose enough to allow for additional brainstorming.
- Roadmap for implementation. What would this take to implement? Be prepared to discuss this from a high-level.
Let the business owner pull the idea apart and reswizzle it. When people pull apart an idea, that's actually a complement. It means that people care enough to consider it as an option. Let them debate the pros and cons. Don't try to defend your position - let everyone else discuss it. Put your ego aside and let them brainstorm ways to use your creation.
Let your allies speak for you. That's why they are in the room. They can also promote your idea if needed.
Remember, if the execution of the idea shifts, this isn't about the execution. This is about the concept. Where a button goes on a concept is irrelevant - you can adjust that during the final implementation. What matters here is that you are able to convince the team that your approach for change makes sense.
Sign you won: The team is discussing the details. That means you have won their hearts enough to seriously consider its merits.
4. Let the decision maker own it.
Yes, you heard me right. It may be your idea but you have to let other people own it too. If you aren't the person on the business side with the budget, you are an influencer and need to get them to buy into it. Only the person who manages the budget can make anything happen. Let them own it and drive it home. Support them in any way you can - help them see the vision, get them to buy into what it is, help them sell it, and then help them drive it to implementation.
Sign you won: The idea makes it to the roadmap - the roadmap approved by senior executives.
A criticism I often hear about this approach is, "You let them take your idea." It may seem that way on the surface, but that's not really true. Most who participate in the discussions about your idea know who brought it to the team.
And what are you after, anyway, by suggesting this idea? Determine your own motivations for getting credit. Are you after greater recognition in general? Are you actually after a promotion? What are your true motives here?
As a UX professional, your goal should be helping users have a better experience. If you achieved this, then you did your job and everyone will see that. You will maintain your rockstar status and expand into the role as an influencer, possibly being included in more visible projects, work with more senior staff, and expand your role.
Inception and influence is about rising above your own success to support the team's success - especially the decision maker. Demonstrate that you want everyone to succeed, and success will come to you.