The Human Centered Design Podcast with Gerry Scullion

Melis Senova ‘Exploring what we mean by Design Character’

John Carter
February 28, 2023
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Melis Senova ‘Exploring what we mean by Design Character’

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In this episode I speak with Melis Senova author of This Human and soon to be published book, Design Character. On Melissa’s website they say “I help leaders find a deeper source to fuel their potential for leading others to have great impact in the world.” And we speak openly about Melis’s own journey of self-discovery and journey that has led her to a Phd in Human Centered Design, Co-Founding Huddle and now running her community for designers, titled This Human.

Before we jump in, I have a favour to ask. I've been creating content for This is HCD for over 5-years or so, all for the love of sharing knowledge to the global design community. One thing you could do is leave a review (preferably a 5-star one!), as it helps us grow our community - every little helps. Even if you don’t review, you can go one better by telling people you work with about the podcast.

Thanks so much - let’s jump in to the episode...

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Episode Transcript

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[00:00:00] Gerry Scullion: Have you ever given a thought about what, what your subconscious was trying to tell you?

[00:00:05] Melis Senova: Well, I think beyond what I've shared, it was an overwhelming feeling that I was never, ever going to get to the answer. Like I was never really going to be able to work it all out because we used the thing to work out like we are using the brain to work out the.

[00:00:22] Melis Senova: And since then I've become fascinated in different forms of intelligence so that we have as a part of being human, so body intelligence, heart intelligence, gut intelligence. And if I had the knowledge that I have now, back then, I may have taken a different direction.

[00:00:45] Gerry Scullion: Hello and welcome to Bringing Design Closer, and this is h cd. Our goal is to have conversations that inspire and help move the dive forward for organizations to become more human-centered in their approach to solving complex business and societal problems. My name is Jerry s Scalian. I'm a [00:01:00] service designer, human-centered designer, an educator, and obviously a podcaster.

[00:01:04] Gerry Scullion: Here on this is a CD in this podcast I speak with. Sonova, author of This Human and soon to be published book Design Character now on Melissa's website. They say that I help leaders find a deeper source to fuel their potential for leading others to have great impact in the world. And this is something that really rang true in the conversation with Melissa.

[00:01:27] Gerry Scullion: We speak openly about their own journey of self-discovery and journey that has led to a PhD in human-centered design, co-founding huddle in Melbourne, and now running her own design community for designers. This human, I'll throw a link to that one in the show notes. But before we jump in, I have a favor to ask.

[00:01:43] Gerry Scullion: Look, I've been creating content here at, this is Eight City for nearly six years, all for the love of really sharing knowledge to the global design community. And I love doing this. But one thing that you could do for me is just leave a review wherever you listen to the podcast. It really helps. The podcast grow, helps us grow our [00:02:00] community across the networks like Spotify and Apple Podcast.

[00:02:03] Gerry Scullion: Google podcast. So if you do get a chance, every little helps. And even if you don't leave a review, you can go on better by telling the people that you work with about the podcast, they might find it interesting too. Thanks so much. Let's jump straight into the episode.

[00:02:18] Melis Senova: The whole illustration thing was an accident.

[00:02:20] Melis Senova: I, and there's something really freeing about not having my identity. Connected with being an illustrator because I just draw stuff and stick it out there and I don't really, there's nothing, there's nothing personal. Whereas my friends who are artists are just like, they're really, it's not good enough yet.

[00:02:36] Melis Senova: It's not, it's not exactly what I wanna draw and all of this sort of stuff, so. Well,

[00:02:41] Gerry Scullion: they are wonderful. I think they're wonderful. They're, um, they're unique and when you see them, I'm like, okay, well that's part of that brand. So it's, yeah. Doing its job. Yeah. Thanks. Um, I'm delighted to have you here. We've been chatting for quite a while and, um, you know, For five or six [00:03:00] years actually, to be honest.

[00:03:01] Gerry Scullion: But we're we're, I'm delighted to finally have you on, on the podcast. Um, thank you, Jerry, the names you mentioned to me so many times over the years, but for anyone who doesn't know you, maybe give them, uh, an overview of what you do and where you're from.

[00:03:18] Melis Senova: Sure. Um, well thank you, Jerry for. Persisting and having me on your show, I'm very happy to be here.

[00:03:27] Melis Senova: Yeah. Um, uh, maybe I'll go backwards in time as opposed to, uh, sort of a normal chronology I'll do about your engineering background chronological,

[00:03:36] Gerry Scullion: sorry. Tell us about the

[00:03:37] Melis Senova: engineering background. . Let's start there. Okay. So, um, I, uh, my. Sort of career or education started when I was doing sort of biomedical engineering and I made it in neurosciences.

[00:03:53] Melis Senova: Okay. And I was always fascinated with, um, how the. How the human brain [00:04:00] worked and, and how we made sense of the world and each other. And, and so, uh, that's what I did. And that took me to, uh, Japan where I did a bunch of brain research and mm-hmm. , um, I, uh, Had a moment where I was just, uh, trying to understand whether or not this is what I wanted to do for the rest of my life.

[00:04:24] Melis Senova: And, um, what I realized was I was more interested in understanding how this brain that I was studying interacted with the world and how I could. Better design that interaction. So how humans meet the world that they occupy, and really understanding that because our brains are so different, our realities are so different.

[00:04:49] Melis Senova: So that became a really fascinating question for me. So how do you design Yeah. For these multiple different Always present at the same time. [00:05:00] Yeah. Yeah. Are you afraid to talk about the.

[00:05:09] Melis Senova: Yes, I can talk about the eyeball. So the reason why I decided to, uh, shift my focus from becoming sort of a brain researcher, scientist person to a human-centered designer was while I was in Japan, I had a dream. And , the dream was of an eyeball, uh, in space that was, uh, frantically trying to see itself.

[00:05:36] Melis Senova: Literally, it was just turning around and round and round. And, uh, I woke up that morning and I just felt like, my gosh, you know, I'm using, I'm using the brain to, um, Try and work out the brain, and it just felt a little bit futile to me. Mm-hmm. , it just felt like I'm using, I'm using the brain to try and work out [00:06:00] how the brain works and.

[00:06:02] Melis Senova: You know, because I studied sort of engineering, there was a bit of sort of systems theory and systems thinking and stuff that I had already learned about, and I was like, don't we need a higher order system to make sense of the lower order system? So I got into this bit of a, you know, um, I just realized that it wasn't for me.

[00:06:21] Melis Senova: And then I did my, my PhD in human factors and Nice. I was interested in, um, Sort of high performance. So you know, when you've got the human system pushed to the absolute limit and you've got technology pushed to the absolute limit, what role does human factors and design play in improving performance when both of them are maxed out?

[00:06:46] Melis Senova: So, of course that meant fighter pilots and jets and, and all that kind of stuff. And

[00:06:51] Gerry Scullion: let's go back to the eyeball a little bit. So, um, you're loving the eyeball. I just think it's, it's a really nice, um, [00:07:00] symbol. Symbolism. Yeah. What do you think, uh, what's your interpretation of, of what was happening there in the dream?

[00:07:06] Gerry Scullion: Have, have you ever given a thought about, um, what, what your subconscious was trying to tell you?

[00:07:15] Melis Senova: Well, I think, um, you know, beyond what I've, what I've shared, what I. , it was an overwhelming feeling that I was never, ever going to get to the answer. Like I was never really going to be able to work it all out because, um, we, we use the thing to work out, like we're using the brain to work out the brain.

[00:07:39] Melis Senova: Hmm. And since then, Um, I've become fascinated, and this is something we haven't spoken about yet, Jerry. Yes. In different forms of intelligence, so, um, that we have as a part of being human. So body intelligence, heart intelligence, gut intelligence. And if I had [00:08:00] the knowledge that I have now, back then, I may have taken a different direction perhaps, but in that moment I was just like, I can't.

[00:08:08] Melis Senova: I'm never gonna get there.

[00:08:10] Gerry Scullion: It's, it's interesting because how do you see organizations hiring for different types of intelligence? Mm. Is that something that organizations are at a point that they can consider? Um, or is it typically a skills, skills-based, um, attribute that they're looking for? Like in terms of Yeah.

[00:08:33] Gerry Scullion: Building gap. Because there's so many different types of intelligence. I, I remember when I was a teenager and I, I'm not saying I was stupid , okay. Right. But in school, I was very artistic and creative in, in those senses. And I didn't probably fall into the, the categories of, uh, academic excellence. That was probably the nice way of saying it.

[00:08:54] Gerry Scullion: And one of my friends, their, their mother, um, their, their brother and sister [00:09:00] was, was really smart. And she said, My friend Derek, is his name, said, oh, um, SKK, which was my nickname, S Schooly isn't your typical, um, person to come outta that school. He's got so many other types of intelligence going on. And I was like, yeah, is that a backhanded, is that a backhand saying?

[00:09:20] Gerry Scullion: Like, and I remember at that stage, mid nineties in Ireland, I. I wasn't able to accept that. I didn't understand that, but now I, I kind of understand myself an awful lot more over the last 15 years. But going back to that question, um, how do organizations in your experience hire? Is it for one type of intelligence or are they even at that point?

[00:09:45] Melis Senova: Well, uh, I think all organizations are, um, Grappling with what it means to be truly diverse. Yeah. And inclusive. Yeah. Um, [00:10:00] and, uh, you know, back when we were building huddle and um, we have always had a philosophy that good design happens when you have, um, Multiple and diverse worldview views around a table.

[00:10:17] Melis Senova: Yeah. And um, but one of the things that we did learn about that was that you also need a culture that can withstand that because if you do have differences of perspective and different ways of thinking and different ways of working and different needs around your creativity, Then that also causes friction.

[00:10:39] Melis Senova: It causes creative friction it causes, which I have always advocated for. I think that's a good thing. But around that, you need a culture that can withstand that. Mm-hmm. And that takes a lot of effort. Yeah. Um, and I think that there are, you know, especially for large organizations that have got a whole bunch of [00:11:00] other things that they need to manage from a risk perspective and, you know, a legislative perspective and a governance perspective, it becomes really difficult to do it.

[00:11:09] Melis Senova: I think. Um, and that's not, that's, that's not an excuse that I'm giving them by the way. Mm. I think that it's a really, really important thing for us to get right. Um, and design and creativity only benefits from that, in my view. Yeah.

[00:11:25] Gerry Scullion: I mean, I, um, I do some of my best thinking when I'm doing the dishes and I was doing the dishes this morning and I was thinking about what it means to be a good.

[00:11:37] Gerry Scullion: Service designer Okay. In particular. Mm-hmm. . And one of the strengths that I can see is the ability to communicate and be succinct and bring people together and have a, have a pretty high EQ in terms of being able to read situations and read your timing and stuff. And we can talk a little bit about what that might mean in the remote [00:12:00] sense and the distributed teams.

[00:12:03] Gerry Scullion: The different types of intelligence, the social intelligence is the bit that I'm really interested in. Um, what's your experience with teams hiring for that? Because if, if you look at the, the application process for how people are hiring, it tends to be either a portfolio, maybe a conversation, um, maybe some Zoom calls, and then they get in and then.

[00:12:28] Gerry Scullion: Then it's the real test. What's your take on, um, how, how teams can hire for that social piece? Because that's, that's the integral part I feel, um, for teams to be hiring, uh, not always for that social person, but being, being aware of the different strengths of the person.

[00:12:51] Melis Senova: Yeah. Well, I think a lot of the, um, A lot of the way that hiring is done is really, um, first of all trying to [00:13:00] work out individual aptitude, right?

[00:13:01] Melis Senova: So skills and worldviews, and there's so many different tests and stuff that you can do at an individual level, and then there's sort of, if it's a really thorough hiring process, then there's sort of group activities perhaps. And I know that at Huddle we had. You know, a few, we had sort of an initial interview and then we had a bit of a, a working interview, and then we had the, can you have a beer with this person interview?

[00:13:26] Melis Senova: And so we were doing a few of these sort of rudimentary, I would call them tests. Mm-hmm. . Um, but I feel like, just like in service design, what makes a really, um, powerful service designer in, in my view, and also what I've witnessed is, Someone who can see the in betweens. So the, and I've always said the magic exists within the gaps.

[00:13:51] Melis Senova: Yeah. So within the transition points between this and there, and I think it's also true in. Relationship. So it's the person who can [00:14:00] see the in between dynamics, the things that aren't said, the, the tension that's being held. Mm. And those things can only be witnessed and learnt, um, relationally in, in group.

[00:14:12] Melis Senova: Um, so you've asked me a question about what do I know about how organizations recruit for this? The answer is I don't know much about it. Yeah. Cause , that's fair enough. I haven't really witnessed that much of. Yeah, one,

[00:14:25] Gerry Scullion: one of the bits that we were chatting about before, um, was. The, the kind of the reframing of the conversation that a lot of organizations and a lot of practitioners as well, to be fair, um, talk about the outcome of our design efforts.

[00:14:41] Gerry Scullion: Like it's on, it's on the, the end experience and the end outcome for the business and the customer. And what I really like about where you're working with now with the new book design character, um, available on this, this human, be joking, we're not gonna go into the sales pitch, but, um, Or [00:15:00] maybe we will when you're joking.

[00:15:01] Gerry Scullion: Um, what I really like is about the, the reframing of the importance of the practitioner and getting to know who yourself is and what you stand for and your principles. And that really echoes, um, a lot of the stuff that I'm hearing when I coach people as well, because I think something that's happened over the last couple of years with, uh, COVID and the pandemic is people are really starting to tap.

[00:15:29] Gerry Scullion: um, what it means to be me and how I fit into this big system. Tell us where your experience came from. Um, obviously the eyeball was a pivotal moment in your life that spinning eyeball, and I think that might have just reading, reading between the gaps, , um, might, might have put you on a trajectory. Towards, uh, self-identification of what you wanna do with your Yeah.

[00:15:56] Gerry Scullion: Is that fair to say? Yeah. Have I made that assumption? Yeah. Yeah. That's correct. Yeah. Yeah.

[00:15:59] Melis Senova: [00:16:00] That's, that's a good assumption. I think there's, there's another pivotal moment which we haven't touched on, which you actually, um, there was a reference to this film in your previous mm-hmm. Episode

[00:16:12] Gerry Scullion: wasn't, you're joking me with, with Carl.

[00:16:16] Gerry Scullion: I had the need for speed .

[00:16:18] Melis Senova: It was so funny cause um, yeah, cuz when 1986 the first top gun film came out and my father and I went, um, to watch it and there's scene and I recently spoken Aruba at a, at a leadership conference called Lira. And I opened, I opened with this, with this story cuz it was all about purpose and, and leadership.

[00:16:42] Melis Senova: and there's this scene where, um, car, Carrie Kelly, McGill's character Charlie, um, she walks out. It's after the famous, you know, you've lost that loving feeling scene. Oh yeah, yeah. And, you know, she gets introduced and, you know, she has a PhD in [00:17:00] astrophysics and the Pentagon trusts her. So I think you should.

[00:17:03] Melis Senova: And she's gonna be, you know, assessing you on your flight performance and all this sort of stuff. And she turns around and here's. This is this woman with a PhD in astrophysics. We works at Pentagon, and she's standing in front of the top 1%. You know the world's best of the best, and she's got something to teach them.

[00:17:19] Melis Senova: She's got something that's gonna make em better. And I remember sitting there and going, I wanna be her. You wanna be Kelly? There was something in me that just kinda went. I wanna be that person who gets to contribute, continue to contribute to the growth of people who are already doing amazing stuff in the world.

[00:17:38] Melis Senova: Okay. And I feel like that's kind of where my, my career has sort of circled back to. That moment. Yeah. Now where my entire focus, so I've sort of finished up, um, in the middle of last year with huddle and, um, fully focused on sort of this human and this [00:18:00] and the next book and, and creating courses and stuff that help, um, people who do this work be able to understand that they can never, ever separate.

[00:18:12] Melis Senova: The designer from the designing. Mm-hmm. So they need to understand who the designer is. Yeah. So that they can be resilient to the forces that we are, as people who do this work are going to be coming up against. Um, more and more as we push into the status quo. Yeah. And you know, you were in Australia for a long time.

[00:18:35] Melis Senova: You would've been here when there was the Royal Commission into the financial services sector. And it was just like, people were like a gasp and with like, what's going on? And these were people, you know, so many of our colleagues were working in this industry. Yeah. You know, so it was like, for me it was like, what is happening?

[00:18:56] Melis Senova: You know, and I've really dug deep into that and [00:19:00] what can I, what role can I play? What role does this interest between who we are and what we create become relevant in these places? Yeah. And I landed on this term called, um, moral fading. Okay. Which is this sort of slight, sort of incremental, almost imperceptible shift of, um, Your presence in the moment of decision making, because someone who's more experienced than you says, oh, that's the process.

[00:19:32] Melis Senova: That's how we do things around here. Just fill out this form, follow that process. Submit that thing here. Yeah, and what I've understood now is that if I can support people to establish clarity within themselves, What their values are, what type of ethics they actually prescribe or subscribe to, and what their ethical practice is, and have clarity and confidence around their [00:20:00] voice.

[00:20:00] Melis Senova: Yeah. To be able to say, actually no, that's not okay, and it's not okay for these reasons, I cannot participate in that. I feel like we're going to have a force. You know, a workforce of designers around the world that are gonna become more and more potent.

[00:20:19] Gerry Scullion: And that's, I totally agree. I mean, that, that's, that's a really nice, um, it's really nice ambition and, and a mission and a vision, all one, um, to work towards that.

[00:20:30] Gerry Scullion: Yeah. We, we could look at academic structures. Okay. Because if you look at how. Designers are being produced. Okay. Um, they go through and a lot of the, the people that I've met over the years tend to be, um, and I'm lucky enough to work with a lot of excellent designers. The best designers I've worked with are non-design educated.

[00:20:53] Gerry Scullion: Um, and that that is something that really kind of, sorry, I've got a frog in my throat. Really [00:21:00] kind of is an eye-opener. I'm like, well, if there's design structures there and there's design, design, a, uh, academics out there, why are the best designers sometimes non-design educated. Why do you think that is?

[00:21:15] Gerry Scullion: And by the way, some

[00:21:15] Melis Senova: of those feels like bit pull the pin a grenade and, and kind of

[00:21:20] Gerry Scullion: No, no, no, this, this is what it out there. This

[00:21:23] Melis Senova: is a grenade. I, um, . Yeah, I feel like, you know, I've, I've now, um, for the last few years, um, started teaching back into, um, sort of graduate, so master's, graduate level, um, yeah.

[00:21:37] Melis Senova: Design courses. And one of the things that I've observed is that there is a focus on, um, tools. Yeah. Um, process. Um, You know, pulling together portfolios, how to execute on a design, um, how to do so with quality. Um, increasingly there's a [00:22:00] little bit more sort of client relation type stuff. How to fulfill a brief, you know, in the studio type, um, classes.

[00:22:07] Melis Senova: But I don't think at any point, um, You know, there is a module that talks about, well, who are you, how do you need to develop yourself as a person to be able to withstand the complexity, pressures, uncertainty. Mm-hmm. That comes with being able to do this work. And I wonder whether or not people who are not design educated, um, have, have come into design.

[00:22:36] Melis Senova: Uncertain . Yeah. Cause you know, they don't necessarily have the tick or the qualification or the mm-hmm. . So they've had to bring in multiple different perspectives, multiple disciplines, into. Their emerging practice of design that they're learning as they practice. Yeah.

[00:22:57] Gerry Scullion: It, it's also like, um, those great [00:23:00] designers of, of a couple of people in my mind, they definitely know who they are and they've been through an awful lot.

[00:23:05] Gerry Scullion: Okay. They've, they've experienced, um, a lot of life things and then they could be. They could be immigrants, they could have, they could have gone through separations or whatever it is, but there, there's definitely moments in all of their lives that they've had to sit back and reflect. Mm. Um, and that's something that I found to be very powerful when I was looking at that kind of pattern.

[00:23:27] Gerry Scullion: Amongst those, I would put them down as the top performers, the top 1%. Yeah. So how did you go about finding out who you were and what you stand for? What, what was your journey in that process? Yeah. If not your personal, Melissa.

[00:23:44] Melis Senova: No, not at all. I, um, so, uh, I've always had, not always, for the last 16 years, I've had a.

[00:23:55] Melis Senova: A reflective practice in the mornings. Mm-hmm. . And um, my [00:24:00] version of that is journaling. So I have a journal and I write in it and I've got many, many of them now. Yeah. And old school, like with a fountain pen on paper, you know. Okay. Um, nice. And um, and one of the things that I realized that process enabled me, and I feel like it's the only.

[00:24:20] Melis Senova: Process that we have to really have an experimental approach to having the witness on board to kind of go, well, how did you go yesterday? ? Yeah. And you know, that conversation or you know, that workshop that you ran and, and what happened there and how did you feel? And. What's going on? And, and just that sort of inquiry.

[00:24:40] Melis Senova: Yeah. Because we're so good at doing the inquiry when we're, when we're interested in other, some someone else's life. Yeah. But obviously there's some barriers to be able to do it to yourself. And what I realized was the clearer I got around where my boundaries were, around what's okay, what's [00:25:00] not okay. In every aspect of my life.

[00:25:03] Melis Senova: But in particular when it came to my practice around human-centered design, the more people listened to me. Yeah. The more people were quiet when I spoke and more, um, people would say, oh, you know, you, you, how do you, how do you speak so confidently about how do you advocate so strongly for design? And, and where that was coming from was really just this, it was just coming from this place of clarity.

[00:25:28] Melis Senova: Like I was just really clear. And I feel like that's, And I, and I talk a little bit about that actually when I'm teaching the design character material. Because when you do become clear and you become, um, more articulate in what your practice is and what's okay and what's not, not okay and your boundaries, Yeah.

[00:25:50] Melis Senova: Then stuff starts to come back at you. Mm-hmm. . . Yeah. And um, so there's this whole part of that which is around [00:26:00] self-care. It's around understanding how to have really difficult conversations, how to process difficult conversations cuz they're the types of conversations you end up having. Um, do you

[00:26:10] Gerry Scullion: think it's fair to say you need to go.

[00:26:13] Gerry Scullion: Um, to really rebuild. Um, because if people are in those top one percenters as you, as you referred to them, if they're high achievers and they're, they're kind of, um, looking to build on it, I think sometimes it's harder to get them to come to the table and say, well, that's just another thing for me to do.

[00:26:36] Gerry Scullion: Whereas if you've almost. Gone low in terms of like, you have to rebuild yourself. These attributes are much harder or much easier to, to adopt because they're self-care related and you don't, you're, you're building from that point of being quite low. I mean low in terms of the mental health kind of state, I mean, I think after the pandemic, a lot of people are, are looking for ways to maintain their [00:27:00] health, um, get to know themselves an awful lot better.

[00:27:02] Gerry Scullion: And journaling was one way. I, I did it a number of years ago with the Artist's way. I dunno if you remember the Artist's Way. I do, I do. Yeah. And it's really good. And in a former life I was a singer songwriter and, um, it was something that I was blown away by How powerful it was. The morning pages? Yeah.

[00:27:20] Gerry Scullion: Yeah, the morning pages. Mm-hmm. . But what I want to ask you about, say, say you do those, those things, the reflection pieces. Um, and I wanna pull you back to a term that you, you said there were about 10 or 15 minutes ago about moral fading. Um, How does that affect, uh, you in, in your practice at the moment?

[00:27:42] Gerry Scullion: Like, you know, because you're not immune to these things, they can arrive. Um, and just because you do a practice doesn't mean that you still have to be aware of it. Yeah. How does that affect you? Can you tell us a little bit more around how you handle that? .

[00:27:58] Melis Senova: Well, I feel like there's a couple of [00:28:00] things, well, there's a lot, lot in that question, but there's a couple of things I wanna talk to and I might forget the second one.

[00:28:05] Melis Senova: So I'll say both of them now and then you can remind me, spit them. So the first one is the word reflexivity. Yeah. And the, the first one is that, and the second one is about forgiveness and acceptance. Okay. So bring me back to that point when I forget. Yeah. Cause I'm gonna . So one of the things that I learned, All those years that I did my reflective practice was that nothing really changed unless I did something different.

[00:28:31] Melis Senova: Mm-hmm. And so that's the whole reflection in action piece. So I have always had an experimental approach to my life and obviously to my work. And I say obviously, because design is an emergent practice that requires an experimental attitude. Yeah. Um, and what I realized, When I sat in reflection and I was able to understand, okay, so perhaps I could've, I could've listened [00:29:00] differently in this conversation, or I could've stood up for myself a little bit more in this moment.

[00:29:06] Melis Senova: Then I created a little, and I call them action experiments, and I have them in all of my courses. I call would create little action experiments for myself where I would actually do something different and that the, the, um, Extent of that experiment was, um, and I now have language around. It was outside of my comfort zone.

[00:29:30] Melis Senova: But it was still within my confidence zone, so I was uncomfortable. I was doing something different. It was a little bit scary, but I also knew that I would survive what was about to happen. So I was confident that I was gonna get through, but I didn't necessarily know how it was gonna go. Hmm. And once I started, and that is actually called reflexivity.

[00:29:50] Melis Senova: So reflex reflection in action. Yeah. So I feel like that is one part of this. You know, working with moral fading, [00:30:00] that's fundamentally crucial is that whenever you reflect, whenever you get insight, you've gotta put something different into, into practice and learn from that and build from that. The second thing I think I said was around forgiveness, right?

[00:30:13] Melis Senova: Yeah. And that is that, um, and I did this whole talk at, um, south by a few years ago around, um, the dark side of human-centered design. Yeah. And that is that a lot of, and there's this beautiful paper actually, um, which is called Beyond Good Intentions. Um, and I'll send you the link so you can Yeah. Share it.

[00:30:34] Melis Senova: Um, and that's actually about power literacy, but um, we all approach the work that we do, I think with the intent to, you know, improve an outcome for the people that we're designing with. Mm-hmm. and, um, I think we can always do all of the things, have an ethical practice, do as much research as we possibly can, have a [00:31:00] reflexivity practice as well.

[00:31:01] Melis Senova: And inevitably we're going to, we're gonna do something wrong. We're gonna miss something, we're gonna, and I feel like, um, one of the things that we also need to get really good at is being able to accept. That you're not gonna get everything right all the time. Hmm. And to actually have a forgiveness practice around those things where you kind of go, I actually did absolutely everything that I knew to do in the moment and I still got that wrong.

[00:31:32] Melis Senova: Hmm. And to pretend to be able to go. I'm gonna do better next time because I've learned from this. Yeah. And there have been times where I've been coaching designers who are transitioning from being a practitioner to a leader. And because they're new, they really experienced designers, but they're beginners at leading.

[00:31:52] Melis Senova: They make a few missteps. They say the wrong thing, they go too hard, or they go too soft or something, and they're still trying to [00:32:00] find their way as leaders. Mm-hmm. . And they lose their. And then they. Keep, um, going backwards in their performance as a leader because they take a hit from a self-esteem perspective.

[00:32:13] Melis Senova: Yeah. And one of the things that's really important to maintain is that practice around, look, I'm, I'm always, always, always gonna show up and I'm always, always, always gonna do my best and I'm not necessarily gonna get it right every single time.

[00:32:27] Gerry Scullion: So when your, when your confidence has hit like that, I think that's, uh, a lot of people, um, will have felt this at some point in their career.

[00:32:36] Gerry Scullion: What, what advice do you give to people in terms of getting the strength to show up again? Um, because in, in my experience, I remember years ago I had an incident where he was in a bank, um, and someone asked me why I was here. And I go, well, I'm here to, to design the service. Like, you know, but why are you here?

[00:32:58] Gerry Scullion: And I go, what do you mean? [00:33:00] Like me personally? Like, why are you here? Um, fundamentally, like, on this planet, what, what are you talking about? And they're like, we don't understand why we've got design in the room. And I'm like, oh, conversation beyond me. But I remember after that, uh, I, I had signed up to Toastmaster a few years before and I kept on going to Toastmaster, you know, practiced my, my public speaking.

[00:33:24] Gerry Scullion: And, um, I went to them and I was like, oh my God, my conference is in the. Said like, absolutely it hit me to the bone, like, you know, and I was mid thirties. This wasn't like years and years ago. And it took me months, you know, I was like, I was, you know, dodging the whole kind of like presentations. I was like, oh, oh my God, my, uh, I'm, I'm afraid he's gonna be in the room.

[00:33:44] Gerry Scullion: And he got in my head. Yeah. Uh, and that guy like, you know, I since heard he was redundant and I did it open a bottle of wine that night. But, um, cuz he , but it did get in my head. And I was finding it really difficult to just, to show up again. And it just took, [00:34:00] Toastmaster actually helped me get back on my feet in terms of rebuilding the confidence.

[00:34:04] Gerry Scullion: And that was just getting up in a safe space and, you know, allowing myself to be vulnerable and, and during myself to say, that actually wasn't anything to do with me. It was more to do with him. Mm-hmm. , what advice do you give to people who go through those situations? Um, and listen, like. Maybe, maybe you've got perspective on your own experience.

[00:34:25] Gerry Scullion: How did you do it, Melissa?

[00:34:28] Melis Senova: Well, oh gosh. If you are ever, um, You know, in a situation where you're not wanted in the room, which unfortunately in our line of work can tend to happen, um, you take a hit and I've had many, I've taken many hits like that. Um, and, and. Um, in particular when you, when you get it wrong in your own business as well?

[00:34:54] Melis Senova: Yeah. So there are times where, you know, we tried to do things and we just, we just really messed it up. [00:35:00] And then I, I had a unfortunate practice of feeling like I was. Sort of responsible for absolutely everything and everyone ,

[00:35:13] Gerry Scullion: you know

[00:35:15] Melis Senova: that . Yeah, yeah. You know, and until I realized the, the arrogance actually that sits in that a little bit.

[00:35:23] Melis Senova: Yeah. You know, that you, you are so powerful that you are responsible for, you know, everyone and everything. Um, but I would get really affected by, Things that, that didn't go as I intended. Mm. And um, one of the things that I did learn was that, um, you know, I think you do have to give yourself some time, like this whole bounce back attitude, you know, chin up butter cup.

[00:35:50] Melis Senova: Yeah. Get on with it, you know? Um, I just feel like, you know, people who self-select into this industry of [00:36:00] really understanding the human condition and trying to. Create to, to better it or to assist it in some way or to provide more access. You know, these types of people are hopefully, you know, sensitive humans so that they can connect with other people's realities.

[00:36:18] Melis Senova: And, and it's a little bit like, it, it kind of, it does come with the terrain. And so we need to be patient and we also need to practice the, um, this is not all about. Yeah. Like this is, this is not all my fault. This is not all about my inadequacy or, you know, the amount of people I've worked with that are suffering from imposter syndrome.

[00:36:41] Melis Senova: I feel like we're over overrepresented in the design industry. Yeah. It's like, you know, everyone, even people that have got all the degrees and all the PhDs and all the experience will still say, you know, I was in the room and I felt like an imposter.

[00:36:55] Gerry Scullion: Yeah. It's wondering like more, you know, the, the less you feel confident.[00:37:00]

[00:37:00] Gerry Scullion: Yeah. Yeah. It's, it's, it's a kinda a juxtaposition in, in, um, in that whole kind of mindset. One of the things we were speaking about, um, and I'm, I know I'm jumping between topics here a little bit, but the unconscious design, I remember that term that you said earlier on. Yeah, yeah. Tell me a little bit about this, um, and what it means.

[00:37:22] Gerry Scullion: Yeah.

[00:37:24] Melis Senova: Yeah, so it was a, it was another thing that, um, drove me to start focusing on this, this sort of intersection between who we are and how we design and what we design and why we design. Um, and that is that. You know, there's, there's so many restrictions inherent in the relationships that are formed between, say, a design agency and a and a client organization.

[00:37:53] Melis Senova: Yeah. Right. There's a contract, there are deliverables, and in some organizations, you know, those [00:38:00] deliverables or those outcomes need to. Prescribed during the procurement process, let alone at the beginning of the Yeah. The project or having them emerge through understanding of the people that we're trying to serve.

[00:38:14] Melis Senova: Yeah. And, um, and so what, what tends to happen is these, you know, these structures, these artificial structures get into the heads of, you know, the design teams and the leaders. And what I would see is, Design process that's trying to meet, um, a particular criteria or a literally like a checklist of we've got personas done, you know, journey map, done, um, report done, um, systems map done.

[00:38:48] Melis Senova: Um, And in amongst that and the pace that's expected and the, you know, the, um, the urgency, which some this, this work is done within, [00:39:00] um, I can, creates a really difficult context for designers to actually just stop and kind of go, well actually is this, is this appropriate? Like, is, are we, are we doing work in the way that we believe?

[00:39:17] Melis Senova: You know, are we, are we, um, honoring the, um, the opportunity that's been presented to us in a way that's actually aligned with who we are and what we wanna do? And this isn't, I'm not talking about. Um, being a purist and, you know, following the design process to the absolute that's not at all, has never ever been my philosophy.

[00:39:43] Melis Senova: Yeah. But what I am, um, advocating for is for designers to understand that just as, um, it is important to become proficient at all of the tools Yeah. Um, of the trade and the frameworks and to keep up to [00:40:00] date with trends and, and all of that. That is all very important. It's also really important to do the work on yourself and understand, well, how do you talk about your own personal values and what is the rub with your personal values and the values of the organization that you work for, and how do you negotiate that?

[00:40:20] Melis Senova: So I'm not saying only work for organizations that are 100% aligned with your values. I think that's not mm-hmm. , you know, the engineer in me says that's impractical. Yeah. But I feel. The inquiry needs to be present so that you know, you know, one person who's in my network is really clear on her values and she's working for an organization where there is no values alignment right now.

[00:40:44] Melis Senova: Yeah. And she knows that. And she's there conscious of that. And I feel like, and she's there for another reason, right? She's trying to get a different type of experience. She has deliberately put herself in that context. Yes. And I feel like that's the difference. [00:41:00] So when you understand where you are and you know you are there for a particular reason and you have chosen, you have agency around that, yeah, that's conscious.

[00:41:10] Melis Senova: When you haven't done the work and you happen to be doing the type of work that you're doing, and you don't necessarily have this critical lens on that, that is what I'm referring to as the unconscious design.

[00:41:24] Gerry Scullion: So that's really interesting because I think it's very easy for us to say that, um, you should do the work on yourself, figure out who you are, and then match yourself to organizations that live to those values.

[00:41:39] Gerry Scullion: That's what most people will be championing. I know. That's what I've kind of done over the last 10 years. Like I. Got opportunities to work for camera companies. I was like, I can't do that. Doesn't, I can't, I can't wake up in the morning, put my head in the pillow at night and be comfortable. Um, it's really, it is [00:42:00] really interesting and refreshing to hear a different perspective on that.

[00:42:05] Gerry Scullion: If you challenge, if you challenge yourself though at that, at that level and you're working and you're taking money from, from a system that is dysfunctional and. Ultimately destructive to the fabric of society. What benefit is that to the human?

[00:42:23] Melis Senova: Yeah. Well it's even, you are touching on a topic that is even bigger than what we've been talking about at the moment.

[00:42:32] Melis Senova: Yeah. Which is, um, the transition of my perspective from human-centered designed. To, you know, whatever we wanna call it, but more than human. Yeah. Um, and I've just finished reading, listening to the most amazing book called New Ways of Being by James Bridal. Okay. And I'll send you that link as well. I think you will personally love it.

[00:42:56] Melis Senova: Um, where he talks about the delusion. [00:43:00] These are my words, not his, by the way. Yeah. But the delusion that, that we have as a human species, that we are the most intelligent . Yeah. Yeah. We're not. And that, and, and one of the things that I really, um, you know, with all the work that I'm doing, um, I believe is possible is, is a global mindset transformation over time, where it becomes, Inconceivable for us to participate in the design of systems that are extractive to planet and to people.

[00:43:30] Melis Senova: I really believe that. Mm-hmm. , and I believe that the pathway to that is through this type of work and this type of work is around connection. Connection to self, connection to each other, connection to planet. . And, um, one of the things that I talk about a lot in, in why I'm serving the community that I'm serving, which is this community of what I call world creators and world builders, like people who, whether it's a pixel on the screen or a service, or a policy or a strategy or an organization, you know, [00:44:00] these are worlds that we're creating and.

[00:44:03] Melis Senova: More and more people that do this type of work, that understand where, what their fabric is, what their foundations are, and get closer and closer and closer to a, a way of being together on this planet that is appropriate for everyone on it. And I'm think, I'm talking beyond human animals plants. Like, imagine, imagine having a role in establishing.

[00:44:32] Melis Senova: Yeah. Like that is, um, I can't think of anything more. Um, Important. Important, I wanna say noble, you know, like to be able to do that. Um,

[00:44:48] Gerry Scullion: so what does it look like? So I know you've got this, um, and yeah, how, how do you enable the, the self-reflection? Like as obviously [00:45:00] you coach as well? I coach as well.

[00:45:01] Gerry Scullion: Um, What, what kind of things can people expect? Because you've got a community there at this human. Um, yeah. What kinda pe well, what can people expect to, for Melissa to, to offer, uh, that, that enables, and this is not me for me to set up a, a soapbox, but I'm, I'm interested in the self. For me, I use a psychologist, so I, I love someone to challenge me.

[00:45:31] Gerry Scullion: Look at my life challenge. So I, I'm always doing that. It's not like something that I do on blocks. I always tap in monthly. Okay. So it's like going to the gym for me. Um, yeah. Is that something similar that like people can

[00:45:48] Melis Senova: Yeah. Yeah. It's really deep work and one of the things that I noticed in my coaching practice, and I think it's a nature of the type of.

[00:45:58] Melis Senova: Um, interaction or space [00:46:00] I end up creating with people, um, is that it becomes a very intimate, and I don't obviously mean that in the way that it's typically used, but it becomes a very close and connected dialogue. And so what I've started to do very recently is I am now training . Yeah. Um, in body-centered psychotherapy.

[00:46:22] Melis Senova: Okay. And the reason why I'm doing that is because I have had to hold, and this is part of my ethical practice when I'm working with people, a really clear boundary between the professional context, which I feel qualified to talk about. Lived it and, and my experience is there versus the personal context where I, okay, don't feel qualified to talk about, cause I don't have that training, that therapist training, which is brilliant.

[00:46:49] Melis Senova: And so in my. Yeah. Yeah. And in my, in my coaching practice, you know, I've, I've always been really clear about what that line is, and I, I [00:47:00] established the relationship at the very beginning, going, when I know all of this is one for you, but this is where, this is the dance space. This is where we are. Yeah, it's really important.

[00:47:10] Melis Senova: But now what I realize is, The type of work I wanna do with people is deeper than that, and it needs to be deeper than that because this plays out in every aspect of our lives actually. These, yeah. This transformation. Yeah. And so I'm busy. I'm busy educating myself and, and getting qualified to be able to hold more inclusive space for people.

[00:47:32] Melis Senova: Yeah. Yeah.

[00:47:34] Gerry Scullion: Melissa, we're coming towards the end of the episode and you know, again, I'd love to invite you back, um, because there's other bits that we didn't really get to weave into the fabric of this conversation. Yeah. Um, if you are up for it, I'd love to do another one in a couple, a couple of weeks about ethics.

[00:47:50] Gerry Scullion: Um, cuz I think we've got a lot, a lot of common ground in, in that space. Um, I'd love to hold space with you on, on that. [00:48:00] I've really enjoyed chatting with you. Okay. And I mean this with the bottom of your heart. I try to be as honest and transparent, but just being open and vulnerable enough to talk to me about even the dream that you had.

[00:48:12] Gerry Scullion: I know that was, I might have pushed you into an area that you like, okay, here we go. I'm somewhat vulnerable here. So that me, that time and that and the energy, and I know it's. It's Melbourne evening, uh, at the moment. So I appreciate you meeting me at that time as well. Um, for people who wanna stay in touch and, you know, find out more about you, um, what's the best way for them to do that?

[00:48:36] Melis Senova: the best thing to do is to go to this Mm-hmm. and everything is there. The com links to the community, the books, the courses, all the information is awesome. Is there,

[00:48:47] Gerry Scullion: I'll put a links to those in the show notes and I, I'll also drop a link to your LinkedIn as well. If anyone wants to Great.

[00:48:52] Gerry Scullion: Connect with you and, and learn and follow you as you go along. Thanks so much for your

[00:48:55] Melis Senova: time. Thank you, Jerry. It was an absolute.[00:49:00]

[00:49:01] Gerry Scullion: There you go folks. I hope you enjoyed that episode, and if you enjoyed it and want to listen to more, why not visit? This is hate where you can learn more about what we are up to and also explore our courses Whilst you're there, thanks again for listening.

John Carter
Tech Vlogger & YouTuber

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