Emulating Processes — How far can it take you?

I came across a tweet about integrating the UX process into the Agile development process. If you’ve done UX with an org that governs product production with Agile processes, I’m sure you’re shocked by the prior sentence.

The author had a nice take, and included a found illustration of Leonardo’s Mona Lisa in various fictional states of iteration. He said that while time for iteration is theoretically encouraged in both UX and Agile development, what people plan for is a single successful iteration.

I shared this tweet with my design teammates at work, in a Slack channel. Our head of design responded,

which (iteration process) do you think Leo used for his creative / creation process?

After my mind darted in a few different directions, I asked myself, “Does it matter? Leonardo is a unique soul who may never be equaled again, could a commoner like me ever expect to adopt a master’s technique and find it useful?”

Randomly, my next thought was of Babe Ruth. To this day, many of his sporting feats remain at the top of the record books. He was fond of hot dogs and whisky. Many men are fond of these things, and are not legends of baseball. Conversely, many of today’s athletes are as physically and mentally trained as any human ever… and while Ruth’s career ended in 1935, and his feats stand.

Both men are exceptional. Are Ruth and Leonardo to be emulated, or merely appreciated?

They are worthy of study, but like many things in life, direct emulation is unlikely to duplicate their success. You are not like these men in nearly any manner.

Consider two other notable men… Bob Dylan and Steph Curry. Have these two men have ever existed in the same sentence together? Regarded as one of the greatest musicians and songwriters of modern times, Bob Dylan’s voice is unique and instantly recognizable. It does not meet the textbook definition of a successful singer.

Steph Curry may be taller than you or me, but at 6’ 2”, he is short for a professional basketball player. That’s particularly notable for a player likely to be remembered as the best shooters to ever play professionally.

What would we gain by examining Dylan and Curry? Both have elements that make them non-traditional prospects for their level of success. Both approached their work aware of their liabilities, and made a point to lean into them. Dylan leans into his vocal toolset, using it to amplify the emotion of his lyrics. You and I may not even be able to understand the poetry he’s singing, and yet, the outcome is formidable. Steph trains relentlessly on skills that help keep him away from players of even lesser talent whose height and reach could block his shots by practicing farther from the hoop. He practices difficult, off-balance or awkward shots, and works on his footwork, to allow him to get away from his opponents.

Emulating either man will not make you into voice of a generation, or lead to your own sneaker line, no more than emulating Leonardo will allow you to approach his heights. Instead, be inspired by how they achieved success by making the best out of who they are.

Be honest about your strengths and weaknesses. Experiment with ways to leverage your strengths. Ask others whose work you admire about their weaknesses and see how they address them. We can find a process that succeeds for our situation, our mind, our time, our context.