The Impact of Deep Understanding, Indi Young, keynote, #InternetLibrarian

Presentation available at

Has a volume of letters by a relative who toured Europe in 1937 and documented everything in letters, photos, and movies.

Now, Facebook preserves our memories by date.

How will we make things for “digital natives” and their grandchildren?  Through “deep understanding.”

Matrix with quantitative/qualitative on one axis,  evaluative/generative on another axis.  Third axis: problem space/solution space.  Understand the person through “cognitive empathy.”

Solution-framed and purpose (problem)-framed.  Measure quality: does the solution work?  Is the purpose supported?

Daniel Goleman says cognitive empathy “leads to hustling.”

Support intents and purpose — more than tasks or goals.

Publisher has a solution: how do people see our brand? How are we doing?

Customers have purposes: how do I improve my skills?

We think, “If I were in their shoes, I would …”

Empathy is not you being in their shoes, but their being in their shoes.

Emotional empathy: understanding another’s feeling.  In work: to support another person through an emotional process.

Cognitive empathy: understanding another person’s inner voice, thinking when they are trying to achieve an intent or purpose.  It transcends time.  In work: supporting another person in achieving their purpose.

Walking in their shoes: act their character (not the way you would do it).  Need to listen to develop empathy.  Fast-moving orgs often skip that part.  They guess, they make it up.

Listening sessions, not “interviews.”  Like following a tour guide, you listen to what they want to talk about.  You don’t talk about the other building down the street.

Depth: reasoning, reactions, guiding principles, decision-making, work-arounds, source of reasoning, guiding principles.

Find out why, like a two-year-old, keep asking “Why?”  Not embarrassed about what you don’t know.

Start with scope: What went through your mind as you were trying to accomplish your purpose?  Then follow up from there.

Use an event: What about the last time you did that?  What about the first time?

Avoid judging, contempt.  Her pain is real, even if you don’t agree.  Don’t put yourself in their situation, as yourself.

Rapport: support the participant emotionally.

Active listening: turn off the noise in your head, no notes, no analysis, no problem-solving.

Attempt to banish assumptions.

Often businesses look at stats: gender, age, income, etc.  Not necessarily a correlation with anything.

Divorce rate in Maine correlates with consumption of margarine.  (Spurious Correlations web site)

Ask people on an airline why they check their bags: all kinds of reasons, nothing to do with demographic categories.

A user is a person with a relationship to your organization.

College segmented people by age and grade point, etc.  More useful categories: passionate about the subject, looking forward to college, a means to an end, exploring paths.  Purpose-based, behavioral segments, not “personas.”

Health advice for people who want to lose weight.  Different categories: the resigned, the sidetracked, the inconsistent.

University web users: matchseekers, pulse takers, active supporters, prideful belongers.

Public library users: confused by jargon, people sitting outside using the wi-fi (put in a bench).

Where does the funding come from?  “Budgeting for customer experience vs. advertising.”  A company had $25 million to drive people to web site and $20,000 to fix the experience once they get there.

Deep understanding is not something to squeeze into the production cycle.  It happens on a separate cycle: maybe once a year or once every several years.  The data lasts, it doesn’t go stale.

It’s not about how to build a service, it’s about what service to build.

One on one listening


Mental models (don’t use sticky notes)

Untangle common concepts

Grouping patterns, start to label things

Another blog post about this:

Updated to add links.


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