Posts tagged “conversation”

Ask Us Everything online series

If you follow me on LinkedIn, you may have noticed I’ve been doing an online series of open conversations called Ask Us Everything. Each hour-long meetup (on Zoom or Google Meet) is co-hosted with someone else, and we take questions from the people who show up. We might talk about mentorship, or leadership, or career transitions, or product management, or design, or collaboration, or user research, or…everything!

Past co-hosts have included Lauren Isaacson, Amy Santee, Tom Greever, Jason Ulaszek, and Rich Mironov.

Upcoming sessions will feature Justin Dauer, Noel Franus, David Holl, and Gabe Trionfi.

Listen to Steve on the Conversation Factory Podcast

It was great fun to speak with Daniel Stillman about research, collaboration, communication and facilitation. now live on the Conversation Factory site, and embedded below

Here’s part of how Daniel framed the conversation in his writeup

Steve is a User Researcher, heart and soul. And he talks and writes about it, fluently. Facilitation is something that he *has to do* in order to bring people together. He’s an extremely reflective practitioner about research, but about facilitation, less so. For me, it’s fascinating to see that divide. I think there are a lot of people where facilitation is a means to an end.

Steve illustrates something I coach people on often – you have to be your own kind of facilitator. I can be theatrical and energetic. Steve is more introverted and centered. My way of solving for group work isn’t Steve’s: he’s adapted his own approach that feels natural and gets the job done.

Steve interviewed for UIE Book Corner


Interviewing Users is now available. Get your copy here!

I spoke about Interviewing Users with Adam Churchill for UIE Book Corner. Listen at the link, or below.

The transcript is here.

Adam: What do you think people are going to do differently after reading this book?

Steve: I think the book sets people up-it sounds maybe a little trite, but let me try to unpack it a little bit-it sets people up to really hear the people they talk to, their users, their customers, their target, to really hear where they’re at and to understand what’s important to them, as opposed to sort of hearing what we want to hear.

And so this is where I said earlier there’s some philosophy, and there’s some tactics. And the tactics come from the philosophy. I think this is what I’ve seen lacking in practitioners that I meet with over the years, is that it’s sort of easy to ask questions or even ask questions well and hear what people are telling you.

But the broader approach, which is to understand people’s world as it’s organized and kind of structured and labeled from their point of view-it never matches either the frameworks that we have going in or the architectures of tools that we’re providing.

So to take that kind of deeply, completely user-centered approach and understand what the user’s building up their world out of, how they think about it and feel about it and talk about it, I mean, that’s what starts to be where you get towards excellence types of user research.

So that’s not what everyone’s always going to do. That’s not always what the objective is, but I think-I’m hoping that this will start to open up people to be able to do that, to have that kind of be baked into their approach to users. It’s not just collecting responses to questions but really grokking where they are coming from and how they’re operating.

We Might Do A Show Called “We Might Swear”

Dave Gray and I are experimenting (e.g., we deliberately did not overthink or even plan) with a new show called We Might Do A Show Called We Might Swear. We did it live as a G+ Hangout (that anyone can watch live, and send in comments, etc.. Our first episode featured guest Chris Reimer and we talked about social media addiction, entrepreneurship, production pop culture, the writing process and a fair amount more.

The video is embedded below

We might do a show called we might swear!

Dark Patterns for Interviewing

How to Win at Conversation is a humorous New Yorker article that frames conversation as a competition and offers up strategies (including Seed of Doubt, Barrage of Interruptions, Intentional Mishearing and Unfulfilled Intimations of Actual Gossip) for winning. You’ll likely recognize when you’ve been on the receiving end, or maybe when you’ve done it yourself. The piece can be read as a set of dark patterns for good interviewing.

OPPONENT: We just got some pretty good news.
YOU: I can’t believe it! They finally gave you a five-hundred-thousand-dollar raise, didn’t they?
YOU: Oh. Sorry. So what’s the good news?
OPPONENT: Our little Jimmy just got into his first-choice preschool.
YOU: Oh. That’s good, too. Certainly nothing to sneeze at!

Strategy used: Intentional Overstatement of Expectations.

Talking to Strangers: Eugenio and Grace

Where I see boundaries, you see opportunities. – Steve, to me

On Monday Steve and I stumbled into a conversation that surfaced this difference between us in how we think about communicating with people. I’ve been reflecting on it all week and considering how it affects my interviewing practice. Mostly I have been paying more attention to how I am thinking during conversations and what kinds of opportunities I am seeing and looking for. Hot on the heels of Steve’s post with tips to improve interviewing skills, I hoped to surface a new point or two.

Yesterday morning I was walking a trail along the ocean. I heard a woman remark to the man next to her, “Well that was very creative of you!” I tried to keep walking, honestly I did. But I love creativity almost as much as I love talking to strangers so I had to backtrack- two loves in one conversation was irresistible! “Excuse me. Hi, I’m so sorry to interrupt you, but I overheard you say something about him being creative and I’m so curious! What creative thing was he doing?” So began my 20-minute interlude with Grace and her husband Eugenio (as Grace explained, “It’s pronounced ay-you-HEN-ee-oh”).

He is an artist, a painter. “I prefer mostly abstract and figurative painting. But you have to find your own voice-You can’t do too much school. I did some school when I was younger, in Mexico City. But if you are in school too long you become a mannerist. It just gets harder to find your own voice and be honest with it.” He told me about Joseph Beuys and Hockney (who Eugenio insists is overrated). We shared our mutual love of making art in and with nature. “You haven’t seen The Crack by Goldsworthy yet? Oh, you have to take your son to see it.”

Grace is the mother of a 43 year-old and retired from some job that required her to sit in front of a computer all day. “I already spent a lot of my life in front of a screen. I don’t want to do that anymore.” They don’t have email addresses and don’t bother with the Internet. They do walk by the ocean everyday, each one carrying a soft ball to squeeze. Grace has a red ball she kept turning in her gloved hands. Eugenio’s is a faded dark turquoise-y blue. “The hands of an artist require dexterity” he told me, fingers flexing. They laughed when I pulled out my iPhone to take notes so I would remember the names, the words, etc. and agreed that I could take their picture for this story but didn’t care to see it.

At some point early in our chat I became aware that I wanted to blog about my encounter with this couple. This awareness immediately transformed my thinking. I found myself struggling to just listen to their words once I started searching for a story I could later write. I prefer listening to, over listening for when I meet new people. It feels more organic, more natural. It also feels hard to stay present when my mind wants to narrate.

Thanks to a conversation with Steve, I got curious about the art of inquiry and how we have different perceptions of conversational openings. Thanks to Eugenio (and my love of talking to strangers) I got curious about the local work of an artist I admire for his love of the ephemeral. People (and conversations with them) are fleeting opportunities to pique curiosity and learn something new. I guess if any tip emerged from this interaction it would simply be to stay curious. And look for learning.

And that’s what art’s about, isn’t it? … It makes you see things in a different way than you would normally. – Andy Goldsworthy

Listen, Do You Want To Know A Secret? (My Age of Conversation chapter)

Six months ago my chapter in Age of Conversation 2 was published. Although I’m reprinting my chapter here, it’s for a good cause (Variety) so you might want to buy a copy from Lulu, although I heard Amazon sales may be coming soon, too.

Listen, Do You Want To Know A Secret?

We’re in the business of digging for insights and that frequently takes us into the territory where secrets reside. Recently my colleague and I sat in the bedroom of a young rapper and watched as he demonstrated his creative process. While playing a simple backing track on iTunes, he improvised into a hand held recorder for a few minutes. Afterwards, he sat down with a notebook and reviewed his recording, scribbling furiously as he refined the lyrics. Finally, he took the new text and performed it against the same backing track.

Had anyone ever witnessed this particular music-making process before? We didn’t think so. But was it a secret? Probably not. Although it may have been hidden from view, the details of his process were undiscovered, rather than secret.

To reveal the undiscovered, the first thing to do is look. Go where something is happening, and watch. Sometimes we have to do more than look, we have to ask. Find someone who is involved in something that is happening, and ask them.

To get to the “secrets”, we have to do more than ask, we have to listen. Listening is much more complex than asking. It means adjusting our mindset and ensuring that we’re truly giving permission for secrets to be revealed.


It’s easy to fall into the familiar mode where we consider secrets as that which is deliberately hidden because it’s inherently bad or wrong. And although only the Shadow knows for sure what evil lurks in the hearts of men, consider that much of what is kept secret is out of our fear of violating social norms (the unspoken rules of a culture that determine what is and isn’t acceptable) and being embarrassed rather than being sent to jail. As producers of goods and services and experiences, it’s powerful and useful to understand these fears.

Those secrets are not unattainable, but they require a significant listening effort. The engine that drives the Age of Conversation isn’t talking, but listening.

Dan Writes: Scene and Herd


Are we having fun yet?

Friday night in San Francisco, I heard the following conversation (reported here verbatim) as I walked by the wondrous doorway pictured above:

Guy: (walking a few steps into entryway)
Look at how cool this place is.

Girl: (standing on sidewalk outside entryway) There’s no one in there. What you need to understand is it doesn’t matter how cool it is if there’s no one there.

A few years back in Osaka, I was talking to some Japanese friends about the phenomenally busy “Yogrian Tabby” frozen yogurt shop that had just opened up in the Umeda underground shopping area. They told me that sometimes in Japan, new shops will hire people to show up en masse, creating lines, which attract customers, who then attract other customers, and so on . . .

Verizon to End Airline Telephone Service

I wrote (a while back) about phone calls on airplanes, and was intrigued to see this news today

Verizon Airfone, whose handsets have graced the backs of airline seats for more than two decades, will end its phone service on commercial airliners before the end of the year.

Verizon Communications, Airfone’s parent company, has decided instead to focus on its faster-growing broadband, cellular and television businesses, Jim Pilcher, the director of marketing at Verizon Airfone, said yesterday.

Though Mr. Pilcher declined to say how many customers Airfone has, industry analysts said the service was rarely used. Verizon, they said, would have had to spend heavily to install newer, more compelling technology.

“The business they went after is the calling business, and the reality is no one sits on planes and makes calls,” said Jonathan Schildkraut, a telecommunications analyst at Jefferies & Company. Verizon has “much bigger fish to fry,” he said.

Airfone, which Verizon acquired when it bought GTE in 2000, has phones in about 1,000 planes operated by Continental, Delta, United Airlines and US Airways. The company will work with the airlines to figure out how to remove the phones and other equipment from the planes.

Airfone, which began service 21 years ago, is still exploring the option of selling the business. Mr. Pilcher declined to say whether his company had identified any potential buyers.

Airfone will continue to provide telecommunications services on about 3,400 corporate and government planes.

I’ve rarely seen the phones used, as their expert suggests. Do we think data services (i.e., get your laptop on the Internet while you fly) is a bigger fish? Is using your own personal cell phone a bigger fish? Maybe we’ll get seatback LCD screens in place of the phones. Or in-seat pretzel dispensers that could make use of the credit-card-swiping mechanism already in place?


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