What do your teammates call the audience for the software you create or deploy for your organization?
- End users
If I were a betting man — or a cheap psychic — I might bet that your answer is 2 or 5. Despite my wary ways, however, I wouldn’t hesitate to bet that you didn’t answer with 3.
I confess that over my decades in this business, answer 5 has been a common label for me to use as well. But with each passing year, if that word slips out of my mouth, I feel ever so slightly more sick.
I’m going to be lazy here and quote myself from an interview I did in 2019 with Phil Weinzimer:
I encourage my teams to avoid the terms “users” and “end users” whenever possible. These terms imply a class divide. Arguably, our industry has adopted these terms to help us empathize with people who we are not. But I find that to be an incomplete thought. It’s a very condescending concept when you think about it. We are all people, and we share similar limitations. If we are solving problems, and we create an “us” versus “them” scenario, we are really not putting ourselves in the same bucket as our customers. Some people will say to this, well, if I create something that works for me as an engineer, it will not work well for a non-engineer. I say: don’t create something that works for you as an engineer. Create something that works for you as a non-engineer. If you cannot get in touch with your inner non-engineer, then I believe you have further personal development to do!https://thestrategicciojournal.com/2019/03/18/cios-outlook-people-process-technology-formula-for-business-success/
Listen to your teams over several hours or days. You will likely hear the term “users” pop up from time to time, and it might just start to feel like weeds or crabgrass in your lawn or garden in mid-summer. I might argue that this is the most basic indicator of a lack of humility in our field that you can find.
It is wise to remember that we are all simple bags of blood and bones. No one of us is more special than another. We may be asked to perform duties because of certain willingness or abilities, but the people who we serve deserve every minute of us being just like them that we can give them. You will never — never — deliver a brilliant solution to the people you serve when you come to the table as the person who you are, but who they are not.
If this is starting to sound like a discussion about empathy, you’d be onto something. But empathy is most attainable if we start with a foundation of humility, and we have plenty of time to discuss empathy at another time.
Will you admit that you are a small, meek animal in a universe that is infinitely larger than you are? Will you admit that you really understand very little, and that you will never truly understand everything about your life?
If not, why not? What have you got to lose?
🎹 Music for this post: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=j13oJajXx0M