Season 3 Episode 5 with Sinem Erdemli and Callum Goodwilliam is now available. Listen now.
Sept. 29, 2022

Designing is Not Your Superpower - Joe Leech

Advisor and coach to CEOs and recovering neuroscientist and UXer, Joe Leech, gives a pep talk for designers who’re feeling bored or trapped and encourages them to question what they’re doing and why.

#020 - Most designers pride themselves on their craft. After all, that’s what clients are paying for, right? But is that what they need? In this episode, Joe Leech challenges the notion that delivering designs is a designer’s superpower and how you can find your real superpower instead. Joe is an advisor and coach to CEOs and recovering neuroscientist and UXer. We also talk about work-life balance and what to do if you’re bored as a designer.

In this episode:

  • Why inexperienced designers look for answers
  • The role of craft
  • What can you do if you're bored as a designer
  • What if you realise design is not for you
  • Quiet quitting
  • A designer's superpower
  • A better way to do things
  • Determining your value as an employed designer
  • Things that scares CEOs the most


Find Joe Leech at

@mrjoe on Twitter

Professional Principles to work and live by

The Crossroads of Should and Must by Elle Luna

Are you an ‘insecure overachiever’?

Show credits

Illustrations by Kim Habib

Music by Brad Porter

Episode edited by Niall Mackay


[00:00:00] Joe Leech: So if I was to tell anybody who's feeling bored and frustrated what they're doing say, right, fine, you stop tomorrow then. Okay. no more design from tomorrow, you're gonna do something else. How would you feel? And what would you miss about that? And that just really unlocks what it is that they love about design that maybe they're not doing enough of in their current role. 

[00:00:17] Nirish Shakya: That's Joe Leach. Joe is an advisor and coach to CEOs and helps them gain more clarity and find their superpower. Joe also describes himself as a recovering neuroscientist and he is a UXer as well. In this episode, Joe and I talk about the value that we bring as designers and why a designer superpower is not actually designing stuff. We also talk about work life balance and doing less for more and what to do if you're feeling bored as a designer. And Joe also gives us an insider info on what scares CEOs the most. And here's a sneak peek. It's the same things that probably scare you and me.

[00:00:57] Shivaun: This is the Design Feeling Podcast with your host Nirish Shakya. 

[00:01:11] Nirish Shakya: Hi, I'm Nirish Shakya, and I'm a designer, educator, and the host of my new podcast Design Feeling. Most of the time, you'll probably find me helping organisations put their customers first, or you might find me teaching design thinking and creative innovation, but I'm on a slightly different quest here - to explore the human behind the designer - who you are, what drives you, what frustrates you and why, and ultimately how you can bring more impact and meaning into your work.

[00:01:45] On this podcast, my expert guests, and I will be uncovering ways to increase your self-awareness, creative confidence and meaning.

Joe's most favorite memory from childhood

[00:01:56] Nirish Shakya: What was your most favorite memory from childhood that you remember?

[00:02:01] Joe Leech: Hmm. That's a good question. It was helping my mom, my mother lift, lifting my mother up from the floor when she was pregnant with my little sister, definitely was a great memory for me.

[00:02:14] Nirish Shakya: You helping your mom get up from the

[00:02:16] Joe Leech: Yeah, yeah. With my little sister and it cuz my dad,

[00:02:18] Nirish Shakya: old were you?

[00:02:19] Joe Leech: I was maybe three or four and my dad used to work from home quite a lot.

[00:02:23] Cause he was an architect, my dad and he from and remember that very well. And I remember then, around that time also my dad, cause he was an architect. He had used to create these little, these buildings. So about that it was all drawings. it was all, all sketch by hand or tracing paper.

[00:02:38] And he had somebody on his team who, who used to build little miniature drawings of the building so they could get a feel for what the building was gonna be like. Cause again, a 2d image is never gonna do a building 3d building a lot of time and effort building models. My dad used to have some of these around the house.

[00:02:54] I just remember it as a little kid, just looking into these buildings and trying to imagine myself in these buildings and all the effort that got into crafting these beautiful Buildings made out of wirekind of almost the original wire frames to bring these buildings to life so people could get a feel for what they were gonna be like.

[00:03:09] And some of my very earliest memories are exploring these 3d spaces, small that my dad had created for the building that he was designing.

Influence of Joe's childhood in shaping a design career 

[00:03:16] Nirish Shakya: And, and would you say that some of that kind of had an influence on you in terms of going into design

[00:03:23] Joe Leech: Oh, profoundly. I mean, my, my mother is a psychologist by trade educational psychologist and my dad is an architect. So

[00:03:30] Nirish Shakya: mm-hmm

[00:03:31] Joe Leech: user experience and user experience design was kind of the perfect matching of those two, really, teenage me would've hated that thought I'd actually become the combination of my parents.

[00:03:41] But in reality it was absolutely the truth. And. Coming from a background where there was psychology books all over the house and architecture in terms of design. And what, what I loved always were always about architecture. It was fundamentally designed for humans is you had to take the physicality of a human into account and the sociological impact of how humans moved together in a space, not a, you're not designing a building for just one person who designing a building for a group of people.

[00:04:08] And that had a real profound effect on me. And I think definitely I took that forward into my later design life where I used to react quite strongly against designing an app for one human or for a single usage stuff. And, and yeah, definitely my upbringing with psychology and architecture helped

Joe's way into design 

[00:04:27] Nirish Shakya: And then how did you actually formally make your way into design?

[00:04:33] Joe Leech: So I did come into it from a very formal point of view. So I studied neuroscience university, so psychology, but again, actually, if you've ever I've. So I wrote a book psychology about 10 years now. And chapter two is all, is an art is a, a conversation between me and my so very psychological on a number of meta levels.

[00:04:50] My mom was always at, and he is a social psychologist and I always to kind of rebel against her. I went into the very cognitive world of neuroscience. So

[00:05:00] Nirish Shakya: Mm-hmm

[00:05:01] Joe Leech: psychology really is about looking at humans as systems, really where sociology is much more about looking at humans in the context, the social world.

[00:05:10] And so I went neuroscience, which was really the embodiment of psychology as a biological process. And so I went from there. A few years after that as a teacher. So I didn't quite know what to do. It was time. I was gonna looking to do a PhD in neuroscience, but that was all about snail brains and were interesting to me.

[00:05:27] So I was a teacher for a little while, and then I retrained, I did a master's course in H hi, so human computer interaction. So the, kind of the psychology of how people interact with technology to really kind of the masters of in, in user experience, that was two, three. Then I tried to find a job in that in 2003.

[00:05:46] And there were none cause user experience wasn't even a term back then usability was starting to take off. And so I ended up becoming a front end web developer for a little while, bought a book by a guy called Jeffrey Zelman. If you have any of you, your listeners know him, start building websites.

[00:06:02] Nirish Shakya: I started my career as well

[00:06:03] Joe Leech: There we go.

[00:06:04] See, brilliant, wonderful. It's it's a rooting for many of us and I wasn't very good at it. I've shared lots of stories of how I accidentally deleted a huge chunk of the natural national health service in the UK's websites. When, when I. It was never for me. So then went from where kind of segued from that into kind of more consultancy in terms of digital strategy.

[00:06:23] And then from there really into kind of pure user experience. And then about 2006, I joined a very innovative, very leading UX agency in the UK called CX partners back then.

[00:06:34] Nirish Shakya: mm-hmm

[00:06:35] Joe Leech: And then from there, that kind of things sort of

[00:06:36] Nirish Shakya: they still around? Aren't they?

[00:06:38] Joe Leech: They're still around. Yeah. Doing very well. Yeah. Mm-hmm

Pivotal moments that shaped Joe's career

[00:06:41] Nirish Shakya: Yeah. And looking back at this career timeline, you've got were there any kind of pivotal moments in that timeline that shaped, shaped you to be who you are now?

[00:06:53] Joe Leech: yeah. I mean, there's always these moments of truth. I think in, in, in the, in the world that you're in that at the time, you don't always think that they are, but when you look back at them, they absolutely are. One of them for me, was working in starting work with the train line. So that's the UK train ticket.

[00:07:07] Online train ticketing system. So a hugely important piece of web infrastructure in the UK and previous to when I worked on it, it was, it was pretty awful. I mean, the, the lead product manager at the time I remember having, cause we went through quite a lengthy pitch process and we were up against some very large, sophisticated global agencies to redesign the train line.

[00:07:27] And it was basically me and a couple other people on a small team also pitching their, of course we got it. What was interesting in the conversation was the, the lead product manager said to us, you could, you could hit our website with a big stick and it would be better than it is now, which was really interesting.

[00:07:43] Cause it's like kind of, it was quite easy. But when I started really you could just do anything. And what was there before was truly awful. So anything, any small improvement you could make was quite transformational. And so that relaunch of that site was, was a huge boost in my career because it was a, you. 20 30 million pounds a year throughput. At that point, it's obviously much larger now. But it really kind of helped me cut my teeth on quite complex interactions and also interactions that have a lot at stake in terms of when you're booking a train ticket. There's lots of factors involved in that.

[00:08:15] And it was also the point where I could leverage a lot of the research skills that I built up. So we spent a lot time on trains talking to train and managers to customers. I spent a day working, selling tickets at Bristol temple weeds, train station and Manchester pick Italy, selling train tickets, just to understand what it was that people wanted to be able to do when they were buying a train ticket to replicate that online.

[00:08:36] So it was a huge moment for me, not only. Was a great project to work on, but it also opened my eyes to the real power of designing and human centered design. But from that really then it, it gave me the confidence to know, oh, if, if we can do it for that, I can, we can do it for, I can make, have that, have that level of impact there then gonna be coming elsewhere.

[00:08:53] And then that led to much larger, far more intimidating projects from that one. But that was definitely a big moment for me.

[00:09:00] Nirish Shakya: yeah. And how did that change you? How did that kind of shape you to be who are you are now?

[00:09:07] Joe Leech: one of the challenges that many certainly younger designers have is that they feel they should have all the right answers to something. Hey, how would we design, Hey, Hey designer, how would you design the new iPhone? And they will tell you at length exactly how it should be done. And often early on your Ukraine, you are expected to have all the right answers to these questions.

[00:09:25] We think that's what success looks like. And actually the reality is, as you get. Design and just leadership as a whole, it becomes like being able to ask the right sorts of questions. And that line project opened my eyes to that is being able to ask customers the right of question to really what should be what, and I think that definitely separates say in experience designer from an experience designer is thinking, know what to do, or they have designer never like that.

[00:09:58] Nirish Shakya: Hmm. Yeah. Yeah. I love that. Is, is Joe, like, I mean, I have been through the same process myself where, I've, I've been too scared to, say the wrong thing and always looking for the right answer in my projects, where do you think that need comes from for us 

Why inexperienced designers look for answers 

[00:10:17] Nirish Shakya: designers

[00:10:18] Joe Leech: yeah, it it's interesting. Cause I think I, I think design education doesn't very help in that matter. As I think you often design education is, is based too much often in the world of art education to a certain extent and that you are design should be an exploratory exercise.

[00:10:34] Not. Critique or a, it's built around a lot of, come up with five concepts and we, everybody will critique your concepts and you'll end up getting the better thing is it ends up being that you have to sell your work to people, and that's never really how it should be. You should be able to take people involved in the design process on that journey of discovery with you not present great design work back to them and expect them to get it.

[00:10:58] So what I've definitely found in my design career really on was that you need to take people on a journey with you to create great design. Anytime anybody says they wanna choose from five different concepts. You're never gonna win from that because you're never gonna do your best work. It's all about the journey to get to the final result.

[00:11:15] And that point it's like watching a kind like a Marvel, right? You watch a Marvel movie, you know what you're gonna get, the process that's there. That's really exciting. Cause you now kind of know where it's gonna go to the end. They're gonna big battle with a bad and they're gonna win. And that's really the design and same journey.

[00:11:28] There's gonna be some adversity, but you've got go on that journey with your. With your stakeholders to really, to get to the point where you can defeat that badly at the end of it, you can't just expect that to happen straight away. So it's all about the journey of design and really embracing that journey is the thing that I found that I enjoyed the most is I, I'd no longer design, not because I don't love design, but because I love the journey more than I love the output and the creation of the thing and the

[00:11:52] Nirish Shakya: do you, what do you love about the journey?

The design journey

[00:11:55] Joe Leech: Well, that, that discovery, that process of understanding what the question is, know, spending a lot of time with what question we asking here before we can even come towards what an answer is. And I think my biggest reason for hitting the limit with design was that often it was felt that the output was like an, a flow diagram or a service blueprint or a website design.

[00:12:18] And that's only ever part of the story. It's never the full story. So once I, I found it very liberating when I gave up deliverables and delivering stuff, just to really concentrate on guiding people through a journey. Cause I realized that's the piece that I love, not the final output because that by the time the final output comes great, and everybody should be happy with it.

[00:12:39] It's like high five world and everybody, but you should have enjoyed that journey to get there. Really not. It's not about the final thing. And I think that's certainly where a lot of designers think it's about the final. It's about the, you it's about that final deliverable where in the reality is it's not about that.

[00:12:51] It's about the journey that gets you there. It's not even about the craft either. It's about getting to that final point where you are there that's the most enjoyable part for me. It always has been.

[00:12:59] Nirish Shakya: You mean the final impact that you're making with the, the 

[00:13:02] Joe Leech: Yeah, exactly. Well, exactly whatever that impact is. And you're right. The really impacts a great word to use because it's not about delivering a thing or a flat screen or a series of JPEG or a design system, or, I get really fed up with all that talk. Deliverables really don't like it. And yet, it's a big deal, especially in your own kind of the design agency, advertising world.

[00:13:22] It's all about that still, which is ridiculous

[00:13:25] Nirish Shakya: Yeah, but Hey, deliverables deliverables are pretty to look at a lot of times, they fill up a lot of spaces in your portfolio. They're probably easier to kind of produce and

[00:13:34] Joe Leech: I mean, true because portfolios, people again think, oh, the portfolios, the final thing, no. It's like anybody who is requesting portfolios from a designer is missing the point. You wanna hear the stories that designer's got to tell that tells you what a real, what a great designer is, is a great designer can tell a fantastic story from start to finish.

[00:13:51] And even if that end of that story is a failure, it's the story that really counts, not some pretty JPX or dribble or any of that

[00:14:01] Nirish Shakya: Hmm. So what, what's the role of the craft then?

The role of craft

[00:14:05] Joe Leech: Well, the craft is about the process and the journey to get there. Really, it's like, remember being at the kinda height of my design. Time and people are like, oh, what design program do you use?

[00:14:15] Do you sketch, use Figma thinking that was a secret or like, do, how do you do this? And it's like, no, it's never about that. It's never about that

[00:14:23] Nirish Shakya: It's like, whenever I'm taking photos, cuz I'm a photographer as well. They ask me, well, what camera do you use? What lenses it

[00:14:28] Joe Leech: exactly. Like the camera's making you a great photographer. It's never is, is it, it's never that point. And I think there's a Fe Fe of the, the craft that's endemic in design really. And again, but it's one of those things as a, as a younger designer, you think that's what design's about.

[00:14:44] And it takes you experience to really learn that it's not. And you can listen to me talking about that now, and you're gonna be like, yeah, I suppose you're right. But you don't believe that that's right until you really experienced it and been on that journey of, of delivering ANMA delivering impact and creating impact.

[00:14:59] Nirish Shakya: How did you experience it? How did you have that first moment of realization in your career?

[00:15:04] Joe Leech: There's two ways to think about it, really. So I know, I remember one of those early on, which is I worked for a company called saga in the UK who were saga are an organization for the over fifties. Well, I mean, realistically there for the over 60 fives, but therefore for the, for the silver hair generation really is really where they've targeted and they've been very successful in that regard.

[00:15:25] They have a magazine and they have a series of products that are very focused on that age group. And that demographic and I work with saga 2007, I think it was. And what was interesting about that is we were designing a cruise booking system and booking a cruise is very complicated thing to be able to do.

[00:15:45] And they'd built something really great. you could write down to the point, you could actually choose which cabin you wanted, but we'd spotted about that is we'd heard. They've done some research and they'd say, Hey, Hey customers, do you want to choose which cabin you're in? And customers went, yes, we do, please.

[00:15:59] Yes, we do. And was all of the research had, had led them to that answer. And what was interesting about that as well as like, well, of course, if you ask a customer that, of course they're gonna say that, do you want to choose from every cabin on the ship? Yes, of course. I want to choose for every cabin on the ship because you think you can, but what the reality is is nobody really wants to be able to do that.

[00:16:20] They want a great cabin. It's the answer to that question. That's really what the job to be done is at that point is I want a great on a cruise ship. I don't wanna have to choose from 500 cabins because that's almost an impossible task and that's far too many for me be able to be confident to choose that I've got the right one.

[00:16:35] And so there were lots of kind of red herring design insights coming out from SAR that they were confident were what, what was driving them. And they were selling very few cruises. And the real opener for me was going on a cruise and. Talking to customers about all of these things and realizing no that that's not what they wanted.

[00:16:53] They didn't want to be able to choose a cabin. They wanted to choose a cabin that was good for them, like near the lifts or near to the TV room or near, near to there, there had certain sets of criteria that they wanted from these cabins and really that's what, what drove them not, they wanted to choose their seat.

[00:17:08] The same was true. When, we actually did the people like, oh, we're it. So you choose your perfect seat on the, on the, on the train. And that's not what people really want to be to do. They want a great seat. And so it was just shifting that around really to make sure that people were, we people, what they wanted and giving them what wanted.

[00:17:23] And then from that, the sales went up quite dramatically. they sort of 40,000 crew pound crews in the first week in two seven. This was, this was a long time ago. That was a big eye opener for me, that actually user experience is not only gonna be great for the user. Hey, it's gonna be great for the business if you get this right too.

[00:17:41] And that really shifted how I talked about the value of design away from. Empowering users and all that stuff. And people are like, yeah, yeah, you're right, Joe. You're right, Joe. And what's interesting about the term you are, right. Is that they know you are right. And there's a difference between when people talk about being saying you are right versus saying that's right, because that's right.

[00:18:00] Is accepted truth. Not a, yeah. Your argument makes sense to me. And what was interesting about that is when I got to that's right with people, it was around wrapping up the human value of design into the lagging indicator of commerce that comes from that. If you make people happy and given what they want, Hey, bonus, they'll pay you for it.

[00:18:19] Was a realer for me. And soon be able to round you talk about design in terms of money, as well as impact was a big idea for me, really, because those two things are the same can be the same thing. If you want them to be you just talk about money, you may not create impact, but impact. And plus money is a winning combination to make sure that stuff gets built, know, and the right stuff gets built.

What can you do if you're bored as a designer

[00:18:40] Nirish Shakya: Yeah, love it. Cuz I, I hear from a, a lot of designers who are currently, super focused on their craft. And a lot of times, they, they are feeling bored uninspired with the work they're doing. but you know, it's, it's, it's safe, it's comfortable. It's what they know. They're good at it.

[00:19:02] they get all the praise and recognition for it. What would, what advice would you give to a designer in that scenario?

[00:19:08] Joe Leech: Stop designing. Stop, change. Do something else, throw it all up in the air. Quit and you're laughing. That's a nervous laugh there, which is interesting because like in saying that to somebody they're gonna say, oh no, no, I'm not gonna quit. And they'll be like, well, okay, so you're not gonna quit. Well, why not?

[00:19:28] What do you like about what you're doing? What do you like about design? And in putting out there that kind of the nuclear option of giving it all up that opens the conversation to say, well, what is it you love about what you do. So if I was to tell anybody who's feeling bored and frustrated what they're doing say, right, fine, you stop tomorrow then.

[00:19:45] Okay. No more design from tomorrow, you're gonna do something else. How would you feel? And what would you miss about that? And that just really unlocks what it is that they love about design that maybe they're not doing enough of in their current role. Cause it's quite hard when you feel motiv, not motivated because you lose energy and when you lose energy, you lose imagination.

[00:20:07] And when you lose imagination, you just, you become a bit of a zombie. So by throwing in that nuclear option of saying, well, you should quit. Then it should open up your mind to actually, what is it that you love about design and how can you do more of that? This is the things that you find Drey, cause again, if you're hating your job, you are feeling like a zombie there.

[00:20:25] Then you should do everything in your power to change that. And if that means, you have to leave and go and find a job somewhere else. I mean, honestly, this is the best time probably ever to be a designer because there are jobs everywhere, even downturn, not withstanding, there are jobs everywhere.

[00:20:40] You can find a job that will suit you, but can't just carry on being a Zo. You need to figure out what it is you love and go and find more of that. If it's not in the,

[00:20:49] Nirish Shakya: Hmm.

[00:20:49] Joe Leech: you, can't more of that. Another.

What if you realise design is not for you

[00:20:52] Nirish Shakya: Yeah. Hmm. What if they got into design, whether it's UX, design, product design, UI, design, whatever, and then they realize it's not for them. But now they've been in the design for so many years that they find really difficult to get out of it.

[00:21:09] Joe Leech: Oh, I'm interested to sound like. I mean, I, it feels like you're trapped, so there's two ways to think about this, right? So I went into initially I was a researcher when I first started my career, I mentioned being a web developer earlier on and consultant for strategy. Then I, fundamentally when I joined the design agency, I, I was a researcher for, and then I became a designer after being a researcher.

[00:21:30] And then following the design, I did much more strategic stuff. And then following strategic stuff, I did more product management and I had a big stint as working within product management and product strategy. More recently, I've completely given up all elements of design and product strategy. And I now purely coach executive CEOs and leaders of tech companies, because I don't like to feel trapped by my career.

[00:21:54] I take what I like about what I'm doing and just go and find. An adjacent career that has more of that. So there, whatever got you into design, there must be some kernel of something there that made you choose this. That's there's more to choose was that you now, can you find more of that either in what you're doing now or in, in an adjacent career, maybe you'd be better off in development.

[00:22:25] Maybe you better off in product management, maybe better off in, agile who knows what you can do, but you need to figure out what it is that you like about what you are doing and what got you here and what to the point you are now. And how can you just find more of that? But standing still is the worst thing you can possibly do, really,

[00:22:42] Nirish Shakya: Yeah. And that's something that's, a lot of us tend to do more of in terms of, I'm not really standing still, but just always on the hamster wheel, doing your. Your day job, always busy, never stopping to, reflect and think of some of these things in terms of yeah. What is that kernel that got you into this in the first place and what can you do to get more of those?

[00:23:06] Joe Leech: Yeah,

[00:23:07] Nirish Shakya: Hmm

[00:23:08] Joe Leech: And do you know what here, I'm gonna give you my secret now. And I'd like to say I was smart enough to figure this out by myself, but I was not. So what happened to me? So I was working for CX partners, design agency. I can tell this story now, cause it was 10 years ago this year and my bosses, great bosses.

[00:23:23] And we had a stellar year I'd bought in lots of work. I delivered some amazing things. In fact, it was actually, I just finished the train line project to go live. I was just delivered a huge piece of work for money supermarket in the UK. We were really doing well as an agency and I went into my annual review thinking.

[00:23:39] Right, great. I'm gonna get a pay rise here. Nailed on. Absolutely. I've had a great year and I didn't well I did, but it wasn't anywhere near what I thought that I was or what I expected. And so I went in and I was like, do you know what? I'm just gonna work. I'm just gonna do four days a week. If you're not gonna pay me anymore, I'll just do four days a week.

[00:24:02] And my boss went fine.

[00:24:05] Nirish Shakya: Was it that easy?

[00:24:06] Joe Leech: So we kind, well, no, but we kind of got to a St mate with the salary and we got to that point. I was like, wow, fine. Well, we can't negotiate anymore on salary. You're not gonna, you're not prepared to shift on that. It's like, you're not gonna go to what I want fun.

[00:24:15] I'm just gonna do four days. We had this and now was a flippant, throwaway comment thinking I was trying to negotiate thinking they were gonna go, well, no, no, no, no. Let's figure this out. And they went, yes. And I went OK. Right. And so I did. And to, so I went to four days and I was like, well, I'm gonna work four days.

[00:24:32] I'm not gonna give them that extra day. Even though there is more work, I'm not gonna, because it was a matter of, of pride at that point. So I did, I work four days and that what that fifth day gave me was the kind of was clarity. Was it a time to think about things, time to. You mentioned the hamster world, just to sort of take my head out and look at what was going on to figure out where it is that I wanted to go and what most of us are probably missing.

[00:24:53] And I know that that's very true in my life, right? At the moment I've got young children is you, haven't got the time to stop and think and to decide what it should be that you're doing next. You just are working hard. You're coming home. you've got kids, you've gotta put to bed in a life. You've got to live at home.

[00:25:09] You don't have time. Or, seemingly feeling like the luxury, which is another word that people use to be able to do that. But clarity and having a clarity time for clarity is enough. and we all have space in that. You've have your lunch. Every lunch time. You could go out and sit down at a coffee table and think about what is it I could do.

[00:25:26] What do I love about what I do? What do I hate about what I do? How can I get rid of the things that I hate and do more of what I love, but just even going through that exercise over lunchtime is enough. But what it gave me having that day was time to think. And I still work for, I thought I worked less than four days now.

[00:25:43] But that clarity and that time, just to think about stuff is so valuable to me. So I don't get trapped or stuck or anywhere like that. I can sort of have the ability to take a look around and see where the traps might be.

[00:25:55] Nirish Shakya: Yeah. Yeah. I think it's so crucial to embed that into your daily practice rather than waiting for this big moment in the future, which, which never really arrives anyway.

[00:26:07] Joe Leech: It's too late by that point, because at that point, when you think, cause often what I see is people burning. 

[00:26:13] And I work with a lot of people that, that suffer from burnout. And that's the point when you kind of, you throw the table over and like, right, I'm gonna stop working for three months cuz of burnout and you can't think straight when you, you are burned out, you haven't got the mental energy to be able think anything else.

[00:26:28] when it's like, when you're burn, you can't even decide what to watch your Netflix when you're 

[00:26:31] Joe Leech: let alone making big choices about your life. And so by the time burnout by that point, time 

[00:26:37] you need it most. So you should need to do yourself a favor and now have clarity, even if it's not, you you need take some time about it the point when you need, is often the time when it's hardest find time within your day, or even in mental strength and resource to be able to do that. So yeah, I mean, by all means factoring today, the very start you can do is just go out, just take your lunch break, go for a walk, have a think about what it is, but just time away from screen from work and from family is just all you need.

Quiet quitting

[00:27:09] Nirish Shakya: Yeah, another 

[00:27:10] Joe Leech: it's too late. But it's the some 

[00:27:16] Nirish Shakya: quitting. I'm 

[00:27:17] not 

[00:27:17] Joe Leech: think it. Just just to I have, it the 

[00:27:23] Nirish Shakya: role. 

[00:27:26] Joe Leech: but 

[00:27:29] Nirish Shakya: dot, and going back to doing, like living the 

[00:27:31] life. And apparently there's been a lot of backlash 

[00:27:34] against them more recently as well 

[00:27:37] Joe Leech: the and 

[00:27:37] Nirish Shakya: industries in terms of how that's not good enough. What are your thoughts on that, Joe?

[00:27:45] Joe Leech: there's two ways to there's. There's lots of ways to look at this and different perspectives to take. Right. It's number one, if you're not motivated to do the work and you, in the old days, we used to call this work to roll. Basically you do exactly the bare minimum that you are expected of you and nothing more.

[00:28:01] and there's two ways to look at it, I mean, number one, if that's your job description, great. Why shouldn't be a problem if you're doing everything that's, you're being told to do and more why not? That's what hire in the employer

[00:28:17] Joe Leech: extra. So, and I have a role as well. And anybody in any company that I work with and have worked with over the years, if anybody is expected or is working late after 6:00 PM, that company probably doesn't have a very strong or culture in terms of that work. And that's not a company I want to work with. I can help them to get to a point where they don't have to feel like they should work after six o'clock, but that's a real problem and if you look at it, there's, there's, there's a great piece that I'll I'll share, which again, really opened my mind when I read it. It's it's called, is in the Ft.

[00:28:51] It's called, are you in insecure overachiever? And what it looked at was, was people. And I think designers fall into this, this quite a lot is you, are, you, you bring a certain insecurity to everything you do. You are, especially if you're working in client services or you're an a in an agency model or you're working, you always over deliver, right?

[00:29:09] You're you have this deep insecurity about the quality of your work, call it imposter syndrome, call it something else that that means that you always overachieve and you over deliver and you over produce. Okay. It's very common in law firms. It's very common in what,management consultancies. It's very common in ad agencies. It's very common in agencies and consultancies generally is that you are very insecure about the relationship You have with your clients or your boss or your job. You think your crap at what you do, and everybody thinks your crap at what you do. You look at all your colleagues and think they're much better than you, again, echoes of,imposter syndrome.

[00:29:40] And so you overachieve and you over, and I've been guilty of this in my life. And I read the article and I was like, God, that's me. I'm always over delivering on everything that I And I never feel satisfied. I never feel at the end of a project, like I can celebrate, cause another big thing with insecure over achievements is they never take the time to celebrate a success.

[00:30:01] They're always like, yeah, great. We've climbed the mountain, but look, there's a big mountain over there. We should be climbing. They never allow themselves to have the praise. Even if somebody praises them, they don't necessarily believe that praise they're driven internally because of this underlying insecurity.

[00:30:16] And that can lead to things like quiet, quitting or to burnout where you, you like screw this. I'm not gonna do that anymore. And you don't know what to do instead. So you just kind of basically do the minimum. And I think what it feels like certainly in the work society is it's one or the other. You can either be an overachiever or you can just do enough, but there's a third place, is where I am and where a lot of people are, which is where you don't let is you understand what value truly is? And the value you truly deliver to your work, your boss, society, your family, everything, you really are very clear on that value. And you double it down on And that value is not hours worked or money. It's something else. There's some value there that you bring and you just double down on that. can deliver that value in 20 minutes. Like, I mean, I, I coach leaders these days, most of my I, as one leader, I speak, I have a engagement with, I speak to him maybe 20 minutes a week, right? Pays me handsomely for this. If I was to work, if we were to work out any point, how much I was being paid by the hour for this work it financially.

[00:31:30] And if any financial model, it would not hold up. But the value I can offer in 20 minutes is tens of thousands hundreds, of him. can even, we've even tried he's even told me how much he's measured

[00:31:43] you

[00:31:43] work you

[00:31:44] you're not exactly. Yeah. And that's all of these things are associated with that same problem where doing nine to five is not the value you bring.

[00:31:54] Right? Quiet, quitting, and just working the bare minimum is not what it's about. It's about delivering value and that if you don't feel like you're delivering value, then you're gonna feel like you want to quit. Cause they're just flogging you for something else. It's, it's about understanding the value conversation, having that value conversation with your boss worth 

[00:32:11] Nirish Shakya: is where a lot of designers, 

[00:32:13] Joe Leech: of thousands of dollars to 

[00:32:15] In fact we to 

[00:32:16] Nirish Shakya: the outputs they're producing, cuz people think, oh, that's what they're paying me, paying me for the wire frames, 

[00:32:22] the flows, the charts and the canvases and whatnot.

[00:32:26] Joe Leech: true. And do you know, what's interesting about that is when you start to, to frame that and you work with your customers and you work with your bosses, they always ask more of that. Always give us more, give us five concepts. Oh. That concepts made, give us 10 more of these. Give us 20 more screens. Give us there's always more.

[00:32:43] And what's interesting is. Guy. I work with always said, you can never have too much of what you don't need. And that's so true when you define your work as deliverables. Cause that's not what your business needs. It's not what your customer needs. It's not what your boss needs. It's not what your team needs.

[00:32:58] They don't need more deliverables. And they'll keep asking you for those, but that's not what they're after and they'll keep. And so you need to reframe that conversation about what is it I need to deliver. What is it I need to create? What is need to look like 

[00:33:11] Nirish Shakya: Mm. 

[00:33:12] Joe Leech: that, 

[00:33:14] Nirish Shakya: Yeah. 

[00:33:14] Yeah. 

[00:33:15] Joe Leech: of these things. Just the satisfied. 

A designer's superpower

[00:33:21] Nirish Shakya: Another argument that I hear from, some of the people that I coach and, and mentor is yeah. I, I know, like I have to care about the impact first, but I am just, part of a bigger machine. Right. And it's not all up to me to solve the problem. My design will be taken by someone else and they might or might not build a builder.

[00:33:39] There's other people's stakeholders involved and I'm just a small fry here. So that's where they kind of, resign themselves to the fact that, they probably don't have any power in that system. 

[00:33:50] Joe Leech: And that's hard, but the thing is, everybody has power and power is, is inherent in any role you've got right. As a designer, you have power. You just gotta understand what that power is and how it manifests and how you can multiply that. And people think that their superpower is creating pixel perfect designs or choosing the most amazing web font or choosing a great color palette.

[00:34:15] That is not your power. It's never your power, right? That's just a distraction. Your superpower is something else. Be that understanding it is what stakeholders and customers need and giving it to them. That's a power understanding what it is, your development team absolutely fundamentally need to deliver this thing next week. That's power understanding what it is that keeps your boss awake at night and helping them deal with that. That's power understanding what, how your business makes business, all of those things. These are all power. 

[00:34:48] Nirish Shakya: Yeah, but Joe, one, one thing that I've, I've noticed there in that list, you just described is the first list which you said was not power was mostly like hard skills, like craft related skills, where the second list you describe it, Morely, mostly soft skills, like emotional intelligence skills.

[00:35:01] Is that how you would define 

[00:35:05] superpowers for designers 

[00:35:07] Joe Leech: Most definitely. If you're a developer, it's, it's a different thing. Right? Cause developers absolutely are about the quality of the work they produce. And designers are to a certain extent, but designers so subjective. And you can make it objective. You can look at OKRs and there's ways to make design objective, but the reality and the strength of where you are is you solve, you're a problem solver as a designer.

[00:35:29] And if you dunno what problem you're solving well, that problem is not very well defined. How could you possibly know if you've solved it or if you are solving it in the right way and all of those points that I talked about as soft skills that are all all about understanding what the problem is all about, understanding what the problem is, not about what the solution is.

[00:35:47] If you can't define the problem, how do you know if your output, your design is, has answered that problem and answered that properly? 

[00:35:56] Nirish Shakya: Hmm. Yeah. So, Joe, I'm gonna ask you the, the question. What is your superpower?

Joe's superpower

[00:36:02] Joe Leech: my superpower is recognizing superpowers in other people that they may not be able to see themselves. So helping people uncover their own superpower and understand it is what makes them great and make them better at. That's what I found to be my greatest strength for all of my years is helping other people be great at what they do. So I've gone throughout my career thinking there were lots of red herrings about what my superpower was, right. So I thought, oh, my superpower is I can write amazing blog posts. Right? So early on in my career, 2007, I wrote a blog post about the page fold shows how old it's got thousand hits.

[00:36:39] Great. I started writing and blogging a lot more. I was a very successful blog. 

[00:36:43] Nirish Shakya: Mm-hmm . 

[00:36:44] Joe Leech: I thought that was my superpower for a long time. Then I a book I thought, oh, my book been my superpower that I can write book. Then I started talking at international conferences. I've spoken a huge number of international conferences all over the world.

[00:36:55] I thought, yeah, that's definitely at my superpower is being able to talk on stage and all of these things were more. Honestly, vanity metrics for me rather than actually being my real superpower. And what I really have become to realize is that what I help do is make people, help people understand the problems they're trying to address and help them come up with a solution to deal with that particular problem.

[00:37:22] And that feels like giving people superpowers. 

[00:37:25] Nirish Shakya: And, and how did you discover this? Was there like a process you went through or did it just happen serendipitously or was it just a matter of 

[00:37:34] time? 

[00:37:35] Joe Leech: I got a coach and my coach helped draw it out because it's really hard to be able to see that in yourself a lot of time and you can do it. And there are tools to do that can, one of the things that I did before I got my was back and I spoke to everybody that'd with over the last 10 years. And I asked, is it, you valued about working with me?

[00:37:54] What did you like about working with. And I, was expecting lots of answers back, but what I got back was was my abilities to help solve problems. That sort came back my experience in having solved problems, my ability to ask the right questions and that I could then take into where does that take me in terms of career?

[00:38:15] And I, I help, I got a coach and my coach helped me clarify what that meant in terms of my career and my outlook and what was next and what I wanted for my life and what, how much money I needed to earn and who I wanted to work with and all of those smaller questions that come from that bigger, super bad question came from when I, I got, I got a 

Looking for a coach as a designer

[00:38:35] Nirish Shakya: Mm-hmm .And where would you recommend designers? Look for a coach 

[00:38:41] Joe Leech: That's a really good question. It's, it's a hard thing to do to get right. Really. I've got some recommendations of, of people I could recommend. I don't typically coach designers myself. but I do know lots of people that do, and what's interesting about coaches is you need a kind of coach that fits you.

[00:38:55] Not any coach can do, and it may be somebody who understands design if that's what you need, but it may be somebody who's never, ever built a never opened figure in their life. It, it, it can happen in lots of ways. So just contact, I mean, contact me and I can hopefully make some introductions to somebody that can help you do that.

[00:39:14] But to look around, really, to look for design, to look for coaches that can help you, but comes back to, I think the theme of this is is what questions do you want to ask a coach? what is the big problem you're trying to solve? Is it, am I in the right career? Am I doing the right things. Am I good at my job where I'd, where go next.

[00:39:31] It's just to think about what the questions are. You want to answer and hope. a coach can help you answer those questions yourself, but come within you. You're not gonna get those answers from a blog, post you out. What those questions are. You need to ask yourself before you get the answers and the are within you.

[00:39:47] Definitely. 

[00:39:48] Nirish Shakya: So we'll put Joe's contact details on the show notes wherever you're listening to the podcast right now, and feel free to get in touch with him. 

A better way to do things

[00:39:55] Nirish Shakya: So Joe, another thing that I wanted to, speak with you about was whole concept of, work life balance.

[00:40:02] And I was recently very fascinated by one of the posts that you made on LinkedIn, around how you found yourself a better way, and you now work less hours, but earn more money. Which is kind of similar to my story as well, where I quit my full time job last year, around this time last year I didn't really have a job lined up.

[00:40:24] I was scared. There was nothing for me to kind of, do after that. But now I'm actually just like you earning you working a lot less, probably less than half of what I used to work as a full-time designer, but earning more, which has pleasantly surprised me. Could you tell us your story around, how did you find what 

[00:40:44] you call a better way to do.I like to say it was a kind, it was a journey that I embarked on myself thinking there must be a better way, but actually it was circumstances that made me do it. So my wife, after my little, my little girl was born, my wife start to get quite bad migraines and they would last for sort of up to 48 hours at a time. Then obviously locked then locked down here. And that was quite challenging cause we lost all childcare help. So I had, we had a three year old at home and my wife was, was in a dark room for 48 hours. So I could no longer do a lot of the work that I'd I'd been doing before in terms of, workshops and all these other kinds of things that I thought again were things that were my superpowers.

[00:41:26] Joe Leech: And so it, it forced me to really rethink what I should be doing with my life. At that point. I could possible the time I had that time, very, I worked a and hours a in terms of work for 20 hours or that would fit into that schedule that could increase my impact and uncover value in other people.

[00:41:49] And so I got very frustrated as a designer and as a product manager with poor decision making at the. C level in organizations. And I thought, well, I'm gonna follow that curiosity to understand why that's the case. So I started a podcast where I started to interview folks about decision making to and figure out what is that people, when people make good decisions, what was their secret source?

[00:42:10] And alongside that, that kind of helped me unlock the ability to talk to people, CEOs more specifically about their decision making process and approach and how they did that. And to help them understand what a good decision looks like and what a bad decision looks like. Cause we've all been there as designers.

[00:42:28] You get a decision from the top and you're like, what? This is a crazy idea. And everybody knows it's a crazy idea except the folks at the top. And you can't tell them it is because they don't listen. And that was really fascinating me to understand why that was the case. And so that's what I do these days is I work with CEOs, helping them make better choices and decisions in business and. That was a deliberate choice to go there, not only to increase impact, but also because those folks don't need me for, for days at a time when I was working with the product team, they needed me on the ground for days at a time to help support them to deliver work. Whereas a CEO, the real value comes from them is if, if they can get to the right answer within 20 minutes versus two weeks or two months, that's value for them time, ironically as money.

[00:43:15] That's a cliche. I know, but if I can help them get clarity quickly, great. They're gonna pay for that. And they do, somebody said to me the other day, Tech founder I've been working with, he's got a SAS business. We're talking about his sales and marketing strategy. And we had two hours in the calendar to talk about it.

[00:43:34] After 20 minutes, he went, look, stop. You've given me more than 20 minutes. I've saved months and months of time, this would've cost us three, $400,000 to have done this thing that we thought we to hire these people you thought we thought we needed to hire. We, we know what we've got to do. We absolutely know what we've got to do, and I'm gonna go away and do it. And that was a real, that was the point where I thought, okay, I've got this. I can do this. Is that the value came from 20 minutes. It reminds me, that you, you must have heard the story. maybe apocryphal. I'm not sure of the, the Citibank logo. I can't remember the designer's name, what her name was, but she was asked, she went out for lunch with the CEO of Citibank and he was like, he said to her, can you design us a new logo, please?

[00:44:17] We really want a new logo. And she sort of picked up a napkin, took a pen and just sketched something. And it was the one with the two dots and sort upside down at the top. The, she designed that straight right there. And then on napkin, you go and he said, how much, how much is this? And she said, and what just, you just scratched us on a napkin.

[00:44:39] She's like, no, this is not what you're paying for here is all of my experience and my ability to be able to do that for you and to do that for you quickly. So you're not stop taking time and resources and all those things to get to that point where you got there quickly. And that's that same possibly APAL story of in design is, is really where I, I, I took his inspiration to get to where I want to be and where I am now in terms of, of what I do is getting people to an answer that they're very comfortable with as quickly as they possibly can so they can move on and, and with their, move on and get, get things done. 

Determining your value as an employed designer

[00:45:12] Nirish Shakya: Yeah, but I guess also and if you are a designer who's employed fulltime, you get paid a certain salary in a year. So your value is already determined, right? Regardless of how much value at, on top of that what would you recommend they do in that scenario? Is it about changing that scenario altogether?

[00:45:33] Or is there something that can do within that system? They're part of 

[00:45:36] Joe Leech: Well, I mean, it depends really then what your, what you want this life choices. Do you, if you want to carry on working for your employer and have a job, which I think is absolutely great for most people, to be honest is, is to understand again, what value do you bring? And your salary is not necessarily consummate with the value that you bring in an organization.

[00:45:57] OK. I, throughout my career have had,these kind of principles for professional excellence, really, and they're pretty simple. Understand how your company makes money. Do more of that 

[00:46:09] Nirish Shakya: Mm.

[00:46:10] Joe Leech: always seek to uncover truth, do more of that. Okay. And build strong working relationships with everybody that you work with.

[00:46:18] Okay. Simple as that, uncover value in terms of financial, what, what is it, how does your company make value, do more of it, uncover truth, again, do more of it. Build strong networks with the people you work with. If you do those three things. Absolutely. You can shoot your salary to the place you want to be.

[00:46:39] You can get yourself the job that you want. I know a lot of people, a lot of designers actually, who are in really interesting roles within organizations that are. Lower time and not delivery dependent, but are, the ISD individual con contributor route. You can get some amazing roles within an organization.

[00:46:59] If you are prepared to do those three things, the organization will find a space for you in a salary for you. That's consummate with that. If you are delivering those three things to people in your organization, so you can absolutely do it, but you've got to change the rules of the game. If you're playing the game by other people's rules, like I'm a mid, mid tier designer.

[00:47:19] Therefore I am a, I only earn $70,000 a year, $60,000 a year to be, I need to be a senior designer to earn $90,000 a year, whatever you're never gonna ever break out of that. You're never gonna get to the point where you could be earning a lot more money and a lot more of an interesting job because you're just playing by those rules.

[00:47:36] And reality is it doesn't always have to be like that. 

[00:47:39] Nirish Shakya: Hmm. Yeah. And, and a lot of times, we, we think of our career as this kind of linear pathway where you're kind of just like stepping up and your pathway is clearly defined. Okay, I'm gonna, I'm starting off as a junior, then I'm gonna go into mid then senior, then lead principal manager, whatever.

[00:47:56] And it's really difficult for us to see beyond that in terms of what is beyond that linear, steps. A lot of times it can be, I think one of the articles that shared with me was around it can be really like, you're, you're, you're standing at the edge of a cliff and not knowing what's 

[00:48:11] beyond that and really. afraid to. make that take that.

[00:48:15] leap.

[00:48:16] Joe Leech: Yeah, and it is, I'm gonna mix metaphors a bit here, but it's like, your life is a bus and it's under understanding, who's driving the bus, right? Is your boss driving the bus? Is your partner driving the bus or you driving the bus okay. Of your life. And you've got, decide who that is at any one point. And you are always in control to don't these choices and decisions.

[00:48:34] You've just gotta take that control really. And that can mean, like you say, staying in a, in the corporate world, but again, if you are upset and not sure about that, that doesn't, that's not the only job that's out there. If you go work for an agency and the beauty of going to work for a design agency is you get exposure to so many, many different organizations in so many different ways.

[00:48:52] So many, so many more different creative projects, you learn how to. Sell projects, you know how to learn, how to do sell all of those things that a game could be useful for you for you later in your career. If you do decide to go freelance or sell on your own, but there's not, there's other opportunities.

[00:49:06] You don't have to be a senior designer at, big tech company or startup X. You can go and work for an agency and get some really rich experience. And then so many different things and still, still be having a job and being able to go home at six o'clock every day. And all of those sorts of things, a job doesn't have to just be with a company or a bank or anything like that.

[00:49:26] There's lots of options available to you. And a big part of my job as a coach is to helping people understand there's there are always more options than you think there are, is your universe is. I will often say your universe, you might think of your universe as being a jam jar. My job is to smash that jam jar so that your universe expands to be the size that it actually is of all of the possibilities available to you.

[00:49:48] Right. And that's absolutely the case. If you're a junior designer, okay, you've got so many possibilities. You just need to open your eyes to what those possibilities could be. Not think, okay, I'm junior designing, gonna be mid. Then I'm gonna be senior. Then I'm gonna be creative director. And all of these sorts of things, you don't have to be on that path.

[00:50:06] You can make any choice that you that's the luxury of working for the world that we work for is we have that choice. 

[00:50:12] Nirish Shakya: Absolutely. And I love that metaphor of like, being trapped in that jam jar, cuz there's, there's a lot of self limiting beliefs that we 

[00:50:19] hold onto that are really limiting our options And and how we 

[00:50:23] Joe Leech: Which it's like the laws of phys the laws of physics inside that jam jar. You build them, you decide what the rules are inside your jam jar. Oh, I can't do that. Cause I've not got enough experience for that. Or I can't apply for that, that promotion. Cause I I've only been a junior for one year.

[00:50:36] You need to be two years, you set those rules within your universe, your jar. If you smash that jar, the rules are all different. And that's really what a great coach can do is help you smash that jar and understand the possibilities of what's there. 

[00:50:49] Nirish Shakya: I love it. Love it. So Joe, you work with a lot of CEOs and business leaders. What are some of the things that scares them? The most that designers need to know about.

Things that scares CEOs the most

[00:51:01] Joe Leech: The same things that scare all of us failure, hugely insecure. so many of them have imposter syndrome,is the same things that keeps them up at night. The same things that keep us up at night. 

[00:51:12] Nirish Shakya: they're also humans after all 

[00:51:14] Joe Leech: Of course they're humans after all. But the challenge a lot, I have a lot with CEOs is to understand that they are, they don't have to drink their own Kool aid.

[00:51:21] Is they project themselves as being impeccable leaders. they, they are great at what they do. They have, they feel like they have to project this to the world. And what that projection means is when you project yourself as being perfect to the world is that you, everybody else feels that they should be doing the same thing. And as soon as you project small amounts of vulnerability, what's really interesting is you see vulnerability everywhere around you. And it becomes a comfortable space to be able to share that vulnerability. That's there. One of the most powerful things a CEO can do is saying, I dunno what to do at this point.

[00:51:54] The problem is this. I've got no, no right answer to know what to do about it. Team. Can you help me come up with that answer? Whereas many CEOs and leaders believe the job of a leader is to have all of the right answers and to know what to do in any one 

[00:52:07] Nirish Shakya: just like designers.

[00:52:09] Joe Leech: just like designers. Absolutely. And 

[00:52:13] Nirish Shakya: Hmm. 

[00:52:14] Joe Leech: what I help leaders to understand is they don't have to have all the answers.

[00:52:17] They have to know how to get the answers. And they're actually pretty good at that. And most people are, but they're not expected to have those answers. They need to be able to empower their team, to go out and find the answers to the questions that they need. It's back to the same thing I've talked about.

[00:52:29] Again, they just need to frame the problem they're trying to solve. And the answer will become clear about how to find the answer will become a lot more clear. So a lot of what I do is that, and that's where a lot of that insecurity comes from is that they feel like they should know what to do, and they should be perfect.

[00:52:41] Like I should know that my startup's gonna be doing this in a year that a pivot is somehow a failure or all of these sorts of things is the reality is that the best leaders of the leaders that don't know all the answers, but are prepared to run, make a lot of bets on what those answers might be and see which one of those bets comes out.

[00:52:57] and that's also much more exciting is to have a series of bets rather than one large bet. Cause again, that removes a lot of that insecurity and a lot of that. A lot ofthe people I work with, they, they always come to say, Joe, I need clarity. And I'm like, well, why do you need clarity? I, no, I need to know what to do all of the time. And I'm like, well, clarity's not an end result in itself. Clarity is often something you find retrospectively over. Something you've done before is what you really need is just the confidence to make a choice. And that doesn't have to be the right choice.

[00:53:26] Joe Leech: You just need to be able to make a choice. And clarity is if you're ever looking for clarity, you're never gonna find it. And when you keep looking for clarity, you never make a decision or a choice the right way here is to start making decisions and choices and understanding if those decisions and choices are the right one.

[00:53:40] And if they're not just make another decision and another choice,

[00:53:43] that's how you 

[00:53:43] Nirish Shakya: having faith in what of a choice you're gonna make? Cause you, if you wanna make a confident decision, you probably need some level of clarity as to what the impact of that decision might be. 

is it about having faith in what of a choice you're gonna make? 

[00:53:55] Joe Leech: Completely 

[00:53:55] you do, you do. And, but it gets to a point where you need to make, you need to go on kind of 70, 60, 70% clarity, 

[00:54:01] not a hundred and a lot, what you find with a lot of leaders, especially in certain larger businesses is they believe they need to go there with 90 or even a hundred percent confidence.

[00:54:11] And they push their team to get that confidence for them. Or they put pressure on their team to deliver with a hundred percent confidence because they believe that that's what they should have. And if they have that, then that maybe that insecurity voice in the back of their head will go away. And that's simply not the case because you can never move like that.

[00:54:28] Everything is a bet. Everything is a gamble and you, you can only ever be sure you can never know what other cards are on the table or the other, the opposition have got, you've just gotta play your own hand. And what a lot of CEOs tried to do is try to, know, do a huge amount of research to understand what the cards are on the table or what their opponents doing, or trying to get to a hundred percent confidence.

[00:54:48] So when they put that bet down, they, they can be sure they're gonna win. And the reality is is no, that never, that's never the case. And what you find also with organizations that try and do that is they're then trying to go all in on those bets. Like we want a hundred percent clarity cause we wanna go all in on.

[00:55:02] Metaverse for example, to quote a big famous blue company, that's dangerous because again, if you're going all in and you, haven't got the confidence that that's gonna be successful for constantly looking for clarity to tell you that that's the right choice you've made, and that's never the case, it's all about making small bets, and maybe one in three or four is gonna be successful.

[00:55:24] And that's great, but those one in three or four are gonna be so good for you. And those are the future of your organizations. It's all about risk taking. So weirdly and ironically clarity comes from taking risks. And once you understand that in your head, that risk taking is actually the way forward and you fully embrace uncertainty and go all the way, wholly all in on uncertainty.

[00:55:44] That's only really when you start to make the biggest strides because you are making 10 small bets and two of them are coming in and that's the future of your business. you've doubled revenue. There's so many things you can do when you start to embrace risk, rather than striving for clarity.

[00:55:58] And we all know that to be true in terms of design and growth. These are, these are strong design and growth strategies, MVP of product, put it out there, see what works, do more of that. Businesses need to be doing more of the same. And that's really, I just take that thinking to CEOs

Advice for interacting with CEOs

[00:56:10] Nirish Shakya: Hmm. Yeah. And what is the, the top advice you'd have for designers? interacting with CEOs or leaders. 

[00:56:21] Joe Leech: is to frame 

[00:56:21] everything as a bet to say, 

[00:56:24] cuz

[00:56:24] they'll leaders will say to you, how how confident are you? This is the right design to choose. And they'll be judging your presentation of the design to see how confident they are that they think you are confident in terms of what's gonna be, they'll say to you, Hey, how confident are you?

[00:56:38] This is gonna be successful. And your answer should be, I don't know. I've got some evidence that suggests this is gonna be successful. Maybe it's gonna be 20% successful. 30%. I can't really put a number on it, but I can't be. The only way we are gonna be sure is when we launch this into the real world and see what customers really think about it, and I know that's risky and a bit scary, but it's the only real sure way of success is launching something into the market is understanding that.

[00:57:03] So I can't give you the confidence that I know you want, you need, I help you get, but I haven't got that. So it's again by saying, I don't know how well this is gonna perform. My experience tells me it should perform better than this version, but I can't be sure. 

[00:57:17] And people really like that candid way of talking.

[00:57:19] That's being vulnerable position as well. You, the answer soon as you say that, and you become more vulnerable, everybody around you talks the same 

[00:57:27] You're gonna get the follow up question. You're gonna get there is, well, how can you be a hundred percent confident?

[00:57:31] And then you've gotta say, well, I don't, I can be way I'm be hundred Cnce by launching it into the market and a success. That's only way we can be sure. We're never

[00:57:39] just understand what our appetite for doing this. What's the risk benefit of spending. Four engineers on this for three months to build this thing.

[00:57:48] What's, what's our appetite for that risk. That's the right. Ask your 

[00:57:52] design. Not like, 

[00:58:00] one of the things that, I used to do use my, insights from research, whether it's discovery, validation, research, then make a deduction as to what would be my level of confidence as to the success of this particular release product. you're usually saying that, just get rid of that and just say, I don't know.

[00:58:18] Joe Leech: And you can talk about the evidence you can say. Well, the evidence seems to point to this and seems to point to that, but we can't be sure because then you are not on the line for that as well. And everybody doesn't have that expectation that this is going to be successful. You're setting expectation, then it may not be successful.

[00:58:32] And if it is great, you've beaten expectations, but again, if people are expecting it to not work and you beat that ex meet, you meet and you beat that expectation. It's great. But if you say it's gonna be fantastic and it's gonna transform the business and you don't beat that expectation, that's way worse.

[00:58:47] So it's all about managing expectations really at the end of the day. And that's all about, like you say, having a com having an adult conversation about risk and confidence.

Joe's advice to his younger self 

[00:58:56] Nirish Shakya: So, Joe, looking back at your own life, if you could give three piece of advice to your younger self, what would they be?

[00:59:04] Joe Leech: oh, that's a very good question. get better. And then just trying to define the problem before you jump to a solution. That's me in my twenties, me in my thirties, drink your own Kool aid. Your superpower is not standing on stage in front of 2000 designers. My advice in my forties, having kids is really hard. Make sure your life's in a good place before you decide to have kids and don't put too much pressure on yourself to be, or don't don't judge your success by the success of how you think other people are judging themselves.

[00:59:41] Find your own measures of success for yourself. That's definitely my advice for my 40 year old me is judge. Think about what success means to you and define that to yourself before you think you have found it, 

[00:59:54] or, you root to it. Cause I used to think success was being a

[00:59:57] billionaire, having a corner office of a hot tech startup.

[01:00:02] And it wasn't for me

[01:00:05] but I didn't know, that. 

[01:00:06] So. It's a hard question to answer in your 

[01:00:08] twenties, just to know what 

[01:00:09] success means to you and success to you in your twenties is different from you in 

[01:00:13] your twenties, to your thirties, to 

[01:00:14] your forties, right? So I'm 46 now. And I'm not, I'm sort of two thirds of the way through my professional career.

[01:00:22] Maybe half, depending on I don't, you know, I'm definitely on the I'm I'm on the down slope now. And that doesn't mean I'm not as impactful or successful, but you know, I'm definitely, I'm calling my life now my pre retirement, where I'm getting to a point where I'm, I'm definitely understanding that what I, what less I need to do to create the impact that I want and what it really means to me.

[01:00:42] But success in your twenties is a different thing to success in your thirties and forties. And that should change a wise person once said to me, we kind of live our lives in sort of three year chunks. Right. So you have three year, maybe it's five year, maybe it's a year depending on you, but you have a chunk of time where you're doing something for three years.

[01:00:58] Like maybe it's a job as a designer. Do you designer for three years, you chunk your life into three years and you have success for those three years in something, but it's to set success criteria for three year chunks, not for your whole life. Cause that's just two difficult to work out. But what success looked for me in three years time, maybe 

[01:01:15] it's meeting somebody to fall in love with maybe it's buying a house.

[01:01:19] Maybe it's having a child. Maybe it's getting experience in something else. I don't know. But you set yourself a, a smaller success criteria. That's less intimidating, but just, live your life in chunks. Don't push yourself too hard to have all the answers 

[01:01:33] at 20 cause nobody does. I don't have any of the answers at 40 I'm closer, but I'm 

[01:01:37] not there for any stretch.

[01:01:41] Nirish Shakya: yeah. I love that. kind of like living your life in sprints, just like we, when we build 

[01:01:45] products. 

[01:01:46] Joe Leech: I like that. way of thinking. 

[01:01:47] Definitely. 

[01:01:48] Nirish Shakya: so Joe, is there a resource, book person, that's been the most helpful for you in your career so far?

A resource that's been most helpful to Joe

[01:02:01] Joe Leech: Yes. Most definitely there has been. So I in, I went to a great 

[01:02:05] conference in 2010, maybe. I think it was maybe 2011 called Brooklyn beater in Brooklyn, in New York. And I sawa lady called ele Luna speak and she, her talk was called at crossroads of she's written book. And there's great blog that put in realer for, and this Ella talks about this point in your life, where you are living.

[01:02:34] So people tell you should do this. You should buy a house. You should have a career. You should be earning this much money. You should be doing this kind of design work. You should be using Figma. You should be doing this. You should be doing that. And the reality is that's what people, other people think you should be doing, not what you really inherently want to be doing yourself.

[01:02:52] And so she talks about must and you get, she talks about this point in your life, where you come to crossroads, where you make that choice about which one of these things you're gonna do. And a must is something that comes from you inside. So for me, that definitely came from a must is I must look after my family. I must have a better lifestyle. I must look after the people that I love the most and those things are much stronger. And actually we find ourselves putting these musts to one side in favor of the shoulds. And Ella talks about being at crossroads in life, on these points in your life, where you're at crossroads of making that between a should and a must and that how you should choose ma and why you should choose must. And it was a huge eye opener for me and it more than anything else, it allowed me to judge situations like big life choices in terms of should and must, should we stay here or, Hey, let's move to the coast. Yeah, let's do that. So me and my wife, we moved to the coast last year. we should stay in a city.

[01:03:49] We should stay there. Cause we're only two hours from London. So there's always gonna be work. We should stay here. And now we live a long way from London. There's no trains here, but we have a wonderful life. And so it's all about judging your decisions in terms of what it is that you internally feel like you really want to do versus what society tells you you should do.

[01:04:09] And it was a huge eye opener.

[01:04:12] Nirish Shakya: It's very powerful. Thanks for sharing the show. And like Joe said, we will share the link to that article and El Lu's book on on the show in the show notes as well.

[01:04:22] Joe Leech: From designer's point of view, actually, the book's wonderful cause she's an illustrator and her, her book is beautiful. It's a joy to own her book. I absolutely love it. And it smells wonderful, but also obviously the message is incredible, which she's really thought about thing of beauty So the book,

[01:04:38] Nirish Shakya: Great. I mean, the first thing I do when I receive a new book is just, smell the, the book first. So, if it smells great, then that's a, a total

[01:04:44] buy for 

[01:04:45] Joe Leech: a good book, isn't it? Yeah.

[01:04:46] Nirish Shakya: So, Joe is there a question that you would ask yourself that I haven't yet?

A question Joe would ask himself

[01:04:54] Joe Leech: Yeah, I would ask myself the question. Are you successful? That's the question 

[01:04:59] I'd 

[01:04:59] ask. 

[01:05:00] Nirish Shakya: Joe?

[01:05:03] Joe Leech: Yes, I am. And I've do you know, it's quite hard to a, to say yes to that question as well. So another smart friend of mine says it's not, it's not bragging if it's true. Okay. And there's definitely a societal thing where we don't like to brag about our successes. Okay. And I think we should do more of that.

[01:05:23] I think we should be able to say and celebrate our success as much as we can and to be able to confidently say, I, I am successful in what I do. And by my measures of success, I'm extremely successful. Like I work 20 hours a week. I earn more than enough money for what we need. I work with incredibly impactful people, amazing CEOs of some incredible businesses.

[01:05:45] So I, yeah, for the first, no. Do you know what? I, I could have answered this question yesterday a few times in my life, but I feel certainly yes, I am 

[01:05:52] successful. But what's interesting is I would've always, always answered it before with a yes, but yes, but, but I'm not answering it with a yes. But at this point 

[01:06:01] again. 

[01:06:02] Nirish Shakya: all right. Yes. Let's go with the yes. And, and,

[01:06:05] Joe Leech: Yes. 

[01:06:06] And

[01:06:07] Nirish Shakya: and a question I would like to ask is Well, imagine that this is your last day on earth. And someone comes up to you with a very tiny piece of paper and a pen and says, Joe, write down your last few words for humanity that would fit on this little piece of paper and will put it up on a big board billboard for everyone in the world to what would you write down?

Joe's last few words for humanity

[01:06:28] Joe Leech: I'm proud of you.

[01:06:29] Nirish Shakya: of you.

[01:06:30] Joe Leech: Because I think I'm very proud of a lot of the work that, that human's done. I mean, there's lots of mistakes that we've made and we're still making, but I'm very proud of a lot of the work that I've done. And I think there's not enough celebration of what we as a species have done well and where we've got ourselves to.

[01:06:45] There's a lot of criticism of the things we could have done better. And. That's a metaphor for the design industry as a whole too. But I think we should be very proud of what we have achieved. Like, space travelor the man miracles of technology that we've created. There's so many things that we should be proud of. Definitely. And I want 

[01:07:05] more 

[01:07:05] of that, 

[01:07:06] Nirish Shakya: love that.

[01:07:07] Joe Leech: cause we'll only do more better work if we're proud of the things we've done. Nobody has any better work when they're under regime 

[01:07:12] of criticism. 

[01:07:13] Nirish Shakya: Absolutely. Yeah. And that, I think the same thing will apply to designers as well. Be proud of the work you've done so far. Hmm. 

[01:07:21] Great. 

[01:07:22] Joe Leech: Cause work. All of you. I know. It's great work. You're all great at what you do. I know you may not think that, but I know it's 

[01:07:27] true.

[01:07:28] Nirish Shakya: Hmm. Yeah. Cause a lot of times we create, fictional stories in our head of, what our work, what our work is really worth. And a lot of times those stories might not be true.

[01:07:38] Joe Leech: Let me tell you into another little secret, actually. So I used to be a big, I have been a speaker at a lot of design events, right? I've met a lot of super, super human designers, super ones. I've met Dan I've met Trent mass. I've met some incredible designers over the course of my career. Some amazing people that we all look up to and we read and we've, we've done that.

[01:08:00] I've met them. I've been out for dinner with 'em. I've been in that lucky position of being in that place. And I always felt very insecure before that. And I still did when I was meeting them. But what was interesting about that is they also felt that to be the truth as well. 

[01:08:11] And they're not gonna mind me saying it.

[01:08:14] They aren't as great. As we think as they think they never think they're as great as we think they are. I mean, they're great at what they produce and what they do, but they're, they're no different necessary for the rest of it. They're just better at publicizing themselves in terms of doing it. So you can often put yourself up against an amazing superstar designer that you follow on Twitter and never think you're gonna be as good as them.

[01:08:32] But the reality is is you are better than them in so many different ways you just D know about and meeting these incredible people and these incredible people, you.

[01:08:43] Nirish Shakya: Yeah, absolutely. Yeah. So don't, don't believe all the stories in your head. Mm-hmm .....Great. Thanks, Joe. 

Nirish's recap

[01:08:52] Nirish Shakya: So I'm gonna do a quick recap of all my learnings here from our conversation of the past hour. and one of the things that I picked up in view was around how success lies, not in finding the right answers, but also finding the, the right questions first.

[01:09:06] and that's something that I think, we struggle to do as designs, not such designers, even CEOs, we try to get straight to the answers when there's questions to be uncovered first. And we also talk about embracing the journey and not just. Going in a journey to end up with deliverables, but also focus starting off with 

[01:09:25] what is the impact to have here.

[01:09:27] and another thing we talked about was around how, you can sometimes in your career you can feel trapped. and when that happens, find the kernel that got you into that career and see you can multiply that, see like, what would bring you more of those, kernels of joy and meaning, and, and do more of that.

[01:09:44] even if it means that you have to jump off a cliff in, into the unknown do it. and it's just those kind of small steps can take you into a, a better career in life. Another thing that we talked about was around your value, being super clear on that and doubling down on that what, what is the, your, your superpower?

[01:10:04] And a lot of times when you're looking out for your superpower, you might, you'll have to watch out for some red herrings that might distract you from your real superpower. So for example, if you think your superpower is to speak to like a thousand people on stage, it might not be the superpower, but you know, this, your actual super power might be the actual change you will, you want to make in those people's lives, maybe.

[01:10:26] Right. So dig deeper into the superpowers you already have, and see, like, if there's a deeper something deeper, that's pushing you even further. And I think one, one tip that I picked up from you, there was around how important it is to get a coach who can help you dig out some of these Nuggets, some of these kernels from, from, within you.

[01:10:44] and it's so important to find the coach that fits you not just, any coach that you find somewhere. and I love that metaphor. You mentioned around the, the jam jar and how we build, we live in this jar, that we create for ourselves and with our limiting self limiting beliefs.

[01:11:02] And sometimes it's a matter of you go break that jar and let it all out and see what the universe has, to offer. we all talked about, CEOs and what scares them. and, they seem to have the same fears as most of us other, mortals in terms of, fear of failure, shame and so on.

[01:11:19] So as a CEO one of the things, or as a leader, one of the things you can do is to not just have to put up the brave face all the time, but also, be, have the courage to be vulnerable, which can be really scary, but that's like, know, showing the way to your team in terms of saying, yeah, I don't have the answers.

[01:11:36] Let's, let's find the right questions and hopefully it will find the right answers. so clarity, seems to be overrated. you don't need a hundred clarity all the time to have the confidence to make a decision. if you only have like 60, 70% clarity, that's good enough take the small risk, hedge on those small bets.

[01:11:52] and that will make the next. Clearer. and I love that the resource you shared around, should versus must you what are the things that you know you're doing because someone else has told you, told you, you should do versus think that you must do in your life and be clear on that. and. Ultimately, whatever you've done, what have you gonna do? Be proud, be proud of the work you've done. and also be proud of the work you will be doing because there is no one else. Like you, you are a very unique being with your own unique traits and no one can replace you. So you gotta really, cherish and embrace that.

[01:12:29] The fact which, can be really hard to do when you're trying to compete against so many other amazing, talent like designers, CEOs, founders and whatnot especially the stories that they put out on online, but just be careful what stories you believe in it's the stories of other people or stories by yourself and, really see yourself objectively. so yeah. Thank you so much for that, Joe. lots of learnings for me, lots of notes I've taken and I'm sure. our listeners have gotten a lot of value out of conversation as well. 

Coaching offer for your boss or boss' boss

[01:13:01] Nirish Shakya: so Joe, you have something for, the listener's boss or their boss.

[01:13:06] Joe Leech: Yeah. So if you've mentioned some of those things about your frustrations with your boss, if your boss is a, on the CSU and they are constantly looking for clarity or they. Struggling to make choices when they know that they should be, or they're overburdening and stretching themselves introduce them to me.

[01:13:24] I can definitely help them make the choices they need to make and to gain that clarity that they think they need. So, yeah. Do introduce me and offer 90 minute coaching sessions to folks in the CSU. If they are needing some help, support, support, some guidance to make decisions and choices, I'm there. 

Finding Joe online

[01:13:42] Nirish Shakya: Thanks, Joe. So finally how would, you like people to find you after this episode?

[01:13:49] Joe Leech: You can find me in the usual places. I'm Mr. Joe, Mr. J OE on Twitter. I'm Joe Leach on LinkedIn. I post a lot more on LinkedIn these days. Believe it or not. I quite like LinkedIn or the best is really Mr., which is my website. So everything's there made writings from the last 20 years or so of blogging as well as links to books and other things, the place to go.

[01:14:12] Nirish Shakya: Amazing. we'll put all those links on the show notes on the podcasting app as well. 

[01:14:16] Joe Leech:

[01:14:16] No, thank you very much for your time. I've really enjoyed it. Thank you so much.

[01:14:21] Nirish Shakya: Thank you so much for joining us in this chat. if you are enjoying listening to the Design Feeling podcast, please do consider leaving an honest review on Apple Podcasts. It'll really help get this podcast out to more people. And please do share the podcast with a Design Thinking friend who could benefit from these conversations. See you next time.