From Jargon to Honesty to Openness

I’ve been dipping in and out of the Dare Conference live stream. The theme of the conference is People Skills for Digital Workers. Soft skills are considered an asset for people working in technology. Why? Design is no longer a solitary pursuit, in order to design effective modern web services teams have to collaborate across domains. In The Next Big Thing in Design is … posted on LinkedIn, Tim Brown writes:

In my book, Change By Design, I chronicle the end of Design with a capital “D” and the rise of “design thinking,” a more collaborative, human-centered approach that can be used to solve a broader range of challenges. Design thinking harnesses the power of teams to work on a wide range of complex problems in health care, education, global poverty, government — you name it. By taking this more expansive view of design, you’re able to have much greater impact.

Without effective communication complex projects are likely to fail or not reach its full potential.

I get this, but the Dare Conference made me question effective communication by introducing the concept of openness.

What is effective communication in a business context? Is it a good command of jargon, or is it simply being honest? Often things that are quite ordinary are overblown and distorted for maximum impact by not telling the ‘truth’ – the perfect pitch.

The conference is testimony to the fact that a growing number of people have the desire to tell it like it is, taking risk by being open and sharing their methods and experiences, both the good and the bad in public – as a form of catharsis to ignite personal growth. Honesty creates empathy in others and encourages them to do the same (if they’re human).

I call this phenomenon Open Process and consider it is similar to the Open Design and Open Source movements. Melissa Frost highlights a blog response by Josh Longwhere he explains why the idea of working in public appeals to him:

1. It makes you think clearly and directly. 2. It forces you to know what the hell you’re talking about. 3. It shows people how much you put into your work. 4. It’s a great way to document your work. 5. It’s a great way to give back and teach others.

I like this because it triggers learning by revealing things that are usually hidden – fragments can be insightful and trigger surprising thoughts more effectively than something that is ‘complete’. It also confronts the fear of not being perfect, of not having all the answers and owning up to it by having your peers look at your process.

This kind of openness and honesty (or authenticity) breaks down the divide between our personal and professional lives and it inspires trust. And it attracts people who think alike – and that’s the point – use honesty to scare away the wrong people and attract the right ones. The best things are created when people who think alike work together. (This, at least, is my summation of Laura Kalbag’s talk, My Secret is Honesty, one I particularly enjoyed.)

I’d then re-write the last line form Tim Brown’s quote by interchanging design with communication:

By taking this more expansive view of communication, you’re able to have much greater impact.

But like all things in life this approach has its own risks – but I believe in this case they are stacked on the good side.

From now on I’m going to err on the side of openness.