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Andrew Stewart
Andrew Stewart

Akendi Alumnus

Don’t be a Chicken!

Over the weekend, I had the opportunity to attend the CanUX 2015; a volunteer-driven event that has come to be Canada’s premier annual UX event… a moniker I’m sure all in attendance would agree with.

The event was incredibly well organized and drew a great mix of presenters speaking on topics that were interesting, informative, and thought provoking. If you haven’t gone to this event in the past, or were not able to attend this year, I strongly recommend making the effort to attend in 2016.

While all of the presentations were excellent, it was actually a quote presented light heartedly that resonated with me.  It immediately brought to mind a fable about a Chicken and a Pig, reminding me that I never want to be a Chicken!

So what was this quote and how does it relate to this fable?

I believe it was during Cennydd [KEN-ith] Bowles presentation, Product Design for Tomorrow where he quoted Peter Merholz, the opening keynote speaker. I believe the quote was:

“Since the first table was built, designers have been complaining that they don’t have a seat at it.”

It was explained that this quote was referring to the proverbial big “Table” where decisions are made.  Cennydd proposed that there has always been a seat at the table for designers, but to fill it requires you to be invested and committed to the entire process, not just to design.  This was followed-up with another quote from Merholz: “My biggest issue with designers is they want authority (do what I tell you!) but don’t step up for accountability.” This further added to the context suggesting that if you want people to listen to you then you have to be willing to be held accountable.

All in all I think the points are well founded.  I have heard many a designer, maybe even me, express frustration when our designs were not followed through on as we intended; “And they didn’t even tell me!” All too often this occurs when design is handed over as a fait accompli. We leave our baby in the hands of other design specialists, systems engineers, software engineers, program managers, and walk away; acting with surprise and frustration when we don’t see what we designed when the project is finished.

My biggest issue is

How does this relate to a fable about a Chicken and a Pig? Well, one day when I was exasperated and expressing frustration to a colleague stating that the Systems engineers did not implement exactly what I designed, he calmly asked if I had “any skin in the game?” I promptly said I had no idea what he was talking about.  To which he replied, “You have never heard the fable of the Chicken and the Pig then?”

The Chicken and the Pig is a business fable about investment and commitment to a project; the version told in Agile circles goes something like this:

A Chicken and a Pig lived on a farm where the farmer was very good to them.  They both wanted to do something nice for the farmer in return.

One day the Chicken said to the Pig, “I have a great idea for something we can do for the farmer! Would you like to help?”

The Pig said, “of course! What is your great idea?”

The Chicken said “I think the farmer would be very happy if we made him breakfast.”

The Pig said “That sounds good but what would we make?”

The Chicken suggested, “I could provide some eggs.”

The Pig said “That’s a fine start. What else should we make?”

The Chicken thought for a moment then said “ham? The farmer loves ham and eggs!”

The Pig, very aware of what the menu implied, said, “that’s fine, but while you’re making a contribution I’m making a real commitment!”

So what can we learn from the Chicken and the Pig?  If we want a seat at “the table” we can’t continue to act like the Chicken, and simply contribute our design, leaving it in the hands of others.

By leaving our design in the hands of others, we cease being accountable and allow someone else to bear that burden.  In summary, if you want a seat at the table, if you want authority, then be like the Pig and have some skin in the game – stop being a Chicken.
Andrew Stewart
Andrew Stewart

Akendi Alumnus

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