April 11, 2023

Article at granicus.com

Living Life by Design, Not by Default

My contribution to Granicus' internal monthly learning & development newsletter with a theme of emotional intelligence for April 2023.

It was not the perfect house. 

The living room walls were painted deep red. The kitchen was a tiny galley, closed off by swinging doors straight from an Old West saloon. There were three different styles of flooring on the main level — some tile here, some planks there, some 50-year-old wood blocks further over there. It looked like a cartoon ransom note, and my heart was held hostage. 

Then the next-door neighbor yelled at my kids to get off her lawn. Enough already, Universe. I get it. Next! 

If emotional intelligence provides our personal view of the world, our experiences certainly provide the window. And the experience of viewing terrible house after terrible house, looking for our perfect family home, was not going well. 

Sadly, we cannot control all of our experiences. We must take life as it comes. But we can control how we react, and that’s where emotional intelligence comes in.  

Thoughts are the language of the mind. Feelings are the language of the body.
Thoughts are the language of the mind. Feelings are the language of the body.

What is emotional intelligence? Academically, emotional intelligence refers to our ability to recognize and manage our emotions and the emotions of others. Central to both is the ability to manage the experiences of both at any given moment. When you’re having a tough day at work, would you prefer your colleagues console you or pile on? 

Most of us prefer a considerate word. Consider my feelings, our spirits scream, and our brains do their best to respond. Strong emotional intelligence, however, yields to the unavoidable moments when experiences must simply be endured. Properly trained, humans can find a way to just be. 

According to Daniel Goleman, an American psychologist who wrote the pioneering book “Emotional Intelligence: Why It Can Matter More than IQ,” the first domain and competency of emotional intelligence is self-awareness. You must first know and understand your own emotions and responses to those emotions. You must know your current state. 

As an experience designer, nothing rings more true to me. You won’t get anywhere if you don’t know where you are now and where you want to go. Having a goal, being intentional, deliberately moving on a mission — the results are more measurable, more impactful and more satisfying. 

Transformation journeys are all around us, from planning a vacation to buying a home. And while the end goals and the journeys themselves may be different, the general principles overlap. 

By design, not by default. Here at Granicus, meeting our customers where they are is key. What are they trying to achieve? How have they been working toward those goals? What has been working? What could use some help? 

Once our teams start work, we dig even deeper on understanding a customer’s current state. We audit their data and their content. We interview their stakeholders and their customers. We try to understand what’s happening organizationally and where our customers’ customers are getting stuck. We look for gaps in processes, content, or tech, and we find opportunities to improve engagement, sentiment, or action. 

We start with a goal, an intent, and an awareness of where a customer is now, before we build a plan to get somewhere new. This approach is built on the principles of human-centered design, focusing on people, solving for the right problem, understanding every problem is part of a system, and validating our design decisions. 

Making the move. Listen, change is hard. The issue isn’t so much a fear of change, but a fear of loss. Our brains worry that the end result won’t deliver and often seek out patterns we’ve seen before. 

So, people spin on the how or the steps to take, applying previous experience to build something new. Instead, they should stay focused on the why and the goal, then let the new opportunities unfold as they come. 

“Thoughts are the language of the brain,” writes Dr. Joe Dispenza, a researcher and New York Times best-selling author in the fields of neuroscience, neuroplasticity, and the mind-body connection. “Feelings are the language of the body. How you think and how you feel creates a sense of being.” 

So it went with the house. Once I looked past its current state and focused more clearly on what it could become, I remembered that paint can be covered. Floors can be replaced. Walls can come down. 

But you can’t manifest a strong school district, or a sprawling back patio, or a five-minute walk to the gym and the pool. The neighbor? Well, we’re still working on her. 

In the end, nearly nine years later, the house went from a caterpillar to a butterfly following a bedrooms-to-basement renovation, and my daily living experience now meets my tough expectations. I just needed my brain to remind my heart that we can do anything we decide to do. I had to manage my emotions to succeed. 

It wasn’t the perfect house, but it became the perfect home.

Our house before we moved in. And our house after our big renovation.
Our house before we moved in. And our house after our big renovation.

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