What we learned from our AMA with Indi Young: a Recap

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  • Indi YoungDuring our “Ask Me Anything” with Indi Young, author of Mental Models and Practical Empathywe touched on subjects ranging from opportunity maps and research repositories to Jobs to Be Done and empathy as a design concept. Read on for a recap of the session, and please join our Slack here to stay informed about when our next #rm-chat author AMA will be!

    Q: I’m wondering if you have any thoughts to share about using empathy as a concept to design for not just people but also the environment or any larger system. -Behnosh N.

    A: I have used it and seen it used for designing systems for people, but not environmental ecosystems. Several government digital offices are using my approach to understand people more deeply, to see the differences in approach, to see different thinking styles … and to think in the problem space so as to discover people they’ve ignored.

    Q: I’m curious about using the thinking styles approach in developing key archetypes within a body of population health research. Often, patients tend to get heavily sorted by demographic characteristics because they map to certain physical and social determinants of health conditions. But these don’t go far enough to capture attitudes, beliefs, behaviors etc. How have you used the thinking styles frame for rather large and diverse populations? – Jeremy B.

    A: What I’ve done is framed several studies by “a person’s purpose.” Often, with health, their purpose is to “cope with,” so for example one study was “coping with my three ongoing conditions.” You must frame by a person’s purpose, so then you can get deep. (either in solution space or in problem space). You can go deep in listening sessions where you help the person trust you and get into their inner thinking, emotional reactions, and guiding principles as they were pursuing this purpose. Here’s my course on listening deeply.

    Q: Research ultimately is about learning what we don’t know. Often we’re so focused on who our customers are that we forget that the real work in understanding how we’ve lost or who we’ve failed to win.How do you find, recruit, and drill down to the why of those who were near loses or recent loses? – Arpy. D

    A: I would like to see us quit measuring by “engagement” altogether (“hey, someone looked at me through this glass pane!!”) and start measuring by how well we support each thinking style within each slice of their mental model toward accomplishing their purpose. I encourage people to do listening sessions with stakeholders, over and over, like monthly with each stakeholder at first, to develop rapport and trust. But you could totally make thinking styles if you do enough of them!

    Q: What’s your opinion on research repositories. I hear a lot of design / research leaders are aware of them but wary of how it scales? How do you interpret what’s happening? – Om.

    A: “Repository” as a neutral word  … that’s needed. My opportunity maps are research repositories in visual form. But “repository” as in a software product … I’m very wary of those. A file system with folders, or Slack, or Basecamp … those ought to work. Truly, what it takes is the team to engage on it. A tool won’t do it. Equally, I distrust the software tools that claim they can go through your data and analyze it. Nope. I’m not buyin’ it. I spoke to a guy very involved in AI and speech understanding a year ago, and the best example is STILL KEYWORD RECOGNITION. Hah. That will not bring understanding. Keywords <> sarcasm, irony, laughter, hesitation, depth…

    Q: Is there a place where we can find examples of opportunity maps and read about use cases? – Jess

    A: Best bet is on my site, and even better bet is my course on using mental model diagrams as opportunity maps.

    Q: Jobs to Be Done intersects with much of your work. Your Thoughts? – Scott. W

    A: Yep!! Here’s a good diagram to get you started. I speak to this in my course on using mental model diagrams as opportunity maps. Basically this is a deeper method that provides a more solid foundation for JTBD … the diagram shows how the concepts map easily back and forth. I do talk about it in some podcast appearances that are listed on my site.



    Q: I remember attending a talk you gave referencing the image below. A challenge I have is to group various user types based on thinking-style. Personae have been used by Agile coaches. I am having a hard time to convince folks to frame users based on thinking style instead of job titles. any thoughts? – Chika A.

    A: You can totally use the word persona to mean thinking style, if that works better for your context. Or you can use “archetype.” There is a problem with any archetype that uses demographics to describe the group: invites subconscious bias. (Unless those demographics are related to a context of discrimination, physiology, and a couple of others.) When you explain to someone how demographics cause assumption, they don’t need to be convinced further. Here are two helpful articles: Challenging the Make-Believe in Personas and Demographic Assumptions.