Principles of humility

Humility begins with an outward focus. You are not the center of the universe. The customer is. Humility is about gathering evidence, about listening intently without prejudice. It is not about what you think. It is not about what you feel. It is not about what your gut tells you. Whether you like the design or content or not is largely irrelevant.

It’s what works that matters. It’s how the people who you made the thing for react that matters. And if they don’t like it, don’t understand it, don’t get it, that’s your problem, not theirs. The road to delivering exceptional customer experience can be a very humbling experience.

Buurtzorg is a fascinating Dutch healthcare organization that has grown from a couple of nurses in 2007 to 14,000 today. The golden rule at Buurtzorg is that nurses must spend at least 60% of their time with their patients.

In other service organizations such as Walmart, Starbucks or Tesco, the golden rule is: be with your customers. It’s hard to do service design well if you don’t spend lots and lots of time with those you’re designing the services for. That requires humility because many designers, content and coding professionals are consumed by their own discipline, their own expertise, their own peer group. Constant testing, constant observation, constant analysis of usage data, continuous building of empathy for the customer—that’s how you’ll deliver exceptional services and customer experience.

Spotify talks about servant leaders. It expects its managers to also design and code, not simply to manage. Its culture is more sharing than owning. It is obsessed with its customers, seeking to listen and respond as quickly as possible.

“If you don’t know, it’s not shameful,” Jack Ma, founder of Alibaba has stated. “But if you don’t know and you pretend you know, it’s shameful.” Today, it’s not about knowing everything but rather about knowing how to know or knowing the people who know or know how to know. The amount of information you need to know is growing exponentially every day. You simply can’t keep up by using old models of learning and memorizing. You need to become part of the network. You need to become endlessly flexible.

Tote was an early app for the iPhone. It didn’t work well and only  had a couple of thousand customers. Its founders obsessed over those customers, meeting up with them, watching them use the app. They noticed that there was one feature that people liked a lot, which allowed customers to grab items and share them with friends. RIP Tote. Pinterest was born.

A team was developing a game called Glitch. The world just didn’t love Glitch enough. The team noticed that the tool they created to help them develop the game was pretty useful. RIP Glitch. Slack was born. Snow Devil was a website for selling snowboards. It was doing ok, but the ecommerce software they designed seemed even more useful. Shopify was born.

Changing your mind based on new evidence is not a sign of weakness. Adapting your great idea based on how it is being used is the way to create a great service. Remain open. Network beyond your peer group. Be humble. Listen. Observe. Embrace teams.

 

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