Create better user experiences by killing your ego.
Ego lives in, and haunts every one of us.
It sits and waits around every corner.
It waits for us to succeed or to fail.
It waits to tell us that we’re important, that we’re special and that we’re better than everyone else. At the same time, it waits to tell us that we’re useless, that we never had a chance and that we were doomed to fail.
Ego stops and hinders growth.
As experience designers, learning and growing is at the heart of what we do. Everything we see, hear, and feel, builds upon our ability to help others, and create incredible experiences.
But when we’re consumed with ego, all we see, hear and feel is ourselves.
By understanding why ego exists and why it’s the the biggest enemy of experience design (and design in general) will do more than just open your eyes – it’ll change your life.
Realising my ego was an issue, was a hard lesson to learn. It took a huge amount of failure, hard conversations and self-exploration to realise the damage it was doing.
Ego was killing me.
It made me defensive, over-confident and closed to new experiences.
I stopped learning. I stopped trying. I stopped creating.
It’s far too easy to dwell on one or two successes (or one or two failures) and use those experiences to define you. And that’s how your ego grows, it feeds off both confidence and weakness.
But ego can be controlled, it can be managed and it can be killed.
Ego Kills Good Decisions
To start with, ego directly impacts your ability to make decisions. It’ll tell you that everything you’re doing is perfect and that no-one can (or should) question you. You might start telling yourself that you’re the smartest person in the room or that you’re better than everyone else around you.
Ego doesn’t allow you to give your honest opinion or thoughts, instead, it acts as your shield.
It seeks holes, rationalises poor arguments and creates ripostes that (until this moment) never even existed. Because you believe you’re better, you refuse to take feedback on board or open up a meaningful dialogue.
This doesn’t mean you aren’t allowed to challenge or give your opinion/feedback, but it does mean being honest with yourself on why you’re giving that feedback.
Is it to improve the result or is it to make sure you don’t lose face? Are you contributing for the sake of contributing?
As an experience designer, it’s your job to take, filter and action feedback.
There’s a fine line between critique and feedback, but when ego takes hold, everything is critique. Everything is an attack on you and what you know.
If you can’t take feedback from those around you, then you can’t do your job. You can’t make decisions that are meaningful or beneficial to what you’re working on.
Remember, design solves problems.
If you can’t take feedback, listen and contribute meaningfully to a discussion that’s outcome focused, then you’re feeding your ego.
No-one is asking you to become a catalyst for groupthink, but challenge information accordingly and for the right reasons.
Be honest with yourself, are you doing this to be something or because you want to do something?
It Tears You Apart
You will make an incredible amount of mistakes in your life.
You will make poor assumptions, you will misinterpret data and you will create failed and unusable designs, products and patterns.
You will fail, but with failure comes the greatest opportunity of all — the opportunity to learn.
“You cannot and will not learn from success, in the same way you will learn from failure.”
Be graceful and grateful in failure and be humble with success.
Although that sounds idealistic, it’s possible and achievable without stonewalling your feelings or emotions. Instead identify when those feelings start (and where they come from) and learn to point them in a better direction — a direction away from your ego.
…And It Destroys Your Work
Ego will make overly attached to your work and the designs you’ve created. You won’t look for inspiration, you won’t feel inspired and the results you create will be incredibly one dimensional.
And once the feedback cycle repeats, you’ll fail to learn or build upon any of your previous work.
Worse than that, you’ll blame others for your mistakes.
You might reluctantly implement changes or feedback, but when it all goes wrong, you’ll rid yourself of any liability.
As an experience designer you’re a major part of any project’s direction. Even if you’re making changes based on the feedback of others, it’s your responsibility to find the best possible solution moving forwards.
If something fails, then you’re a part of that, accept the failure and use it as wonderful opportunity to learn.
Dealing With Your Ego
Start by becoming more mindful and open with yourself about your actions.
At the very least, learn to be honest with yourself.
I spent far too much time lying to myself about my ability, my accomplishments and the story I told myself. Only when I became more open and honest, did I realise how much of a problem this was.
Meditation makes a world of difference to your mindfulness and your ability to identify the truth of a problem or situation. It might sounds cliché, but meditation is the start to creating an open (and honest) mind.
A mind that’s free of ego.
Journaling is another incredibly effective way of managing your ego, and reflecting on your actions throughout the day. Every evening, I use DayOne to spend five minutes looking at my actions, behaviour and the affects this had on everything around me.
A journal typical entry asks theses questions:
- In what way was this day unique and different from other days?
- Did I have any particularly meaningful conversations today?
- How did I feel during the day?
- Did I find myself worrying about anything today?
- What did I read today and what did it teach me?
- Today I learnt…
- Today I failed at…
- It taught me…
These questions help to keep me in check and to reflect meaningfully on whether or not I’ve let my ego take control.
Look at the above like versioning design files.
It might take 5–10 minutes a day to keep your filing system organised, but it makes it much easier to identify where changes have happened (and why).
You can miss a few days of filing, but when you come back to tidy things up, it’s going to take a lot longer, and you’ll realise you’ve missed a lot of subtle (but important) details in the process.
It’s the same with managing your ego.
Keep the process going every day and you’ll only need a minimal amount of work to make a massive amount of difference.
Reaping The Rewards
Your ego will remain dead for as long as you choose to keep it that way.
If you let it, it can and will come back.
But without your ego, the benefits are tremendous.
- You’ll learn to take feedback and identify critique.
You’ll understand when and how to process information related to outcomes and to focus on the end goal.
- You’ll take more risks and learn from these risks in a better way.
Without your ego hounding or haunting you, you’ll be open to tracking real (and actionable) success metrics, focusing on the only thing that matters — results.
- You’ll be so grateful in failure and humble in success.
But more than that, you’ll be keen to move forward with new and exciting adventures. You’ll promptly identify what went well, what didn’t and how you can learn from the experience.
- You’ll be less worried about trying something new
You won’t worry about failing or that you’ll be bad at new things. You’ll show your work and seek useful, actionable feedback. Feedback that will make a difference the way you do things. You’ll admire the hard work of others and the effort needed to get there.
The day my ego died, was the day I truly started living.
It takes time, diligence and patience.
It’s something I’ll never stop managing or maintaining, the rewards are far too great.
To be free, your ego must die.