I can't

A few years back I wrote about an extremely powerful technique in doing user research: sketching with users. The idea of just handing someone a Sharpie and a piece of paper is a simple one, but for my research it has been one of my favorite and useful tools.

There's one part of that post I want to come back to, something that I have faced a lot. You see, when you get the title of “designer” or anything with “design” in it some funny things happen, in my experience. First, people may devalue your skills (“I can have my dog design a website!”) Second, people may admit they can't do what you do (“I can't sketch!”) Both happen, sometimes simultaneously. Here's what I said in 2013.

Now, you know that some people react with, "I can't draw!" or more precisely, "I claim I don't know how to think visually because I fear that it requires some sort of title with 'design' or 'artist' in it and I don't have that but help me here and please don't judge me okay because it looks like you have those skills!"

Now, as a thought experiment, consider something you have in your mind that you say you can't do. It's there. Maybe it's old. Maybe it's something that just popped up, some challenge, some new thing. And now, deconstruct it. Why are you saying that? Is it that you can't do it, or can't do it well? And how are you defining “well”, anyway?

The truth is, you can do it. Whatever it is. Big or small. There may be things that need to happen, yes. And importantly, the outcome may not be exactly what you expect. But you can do it. For me, I found it way easier to be challenged externally than internally. If someone told me I couldn't do something, I would fester and get upset and then come back and do it. But if I took it and fully internalized it, for the longest time I would take it as truth.

It was so easy for me to apply this to other people. Look:

So it was my responsibility to help those people [who said they couldn't sketch] through the process, guiding them and sketching on another piece of paper right next to them. It wasn't to upstage their ideas, but to help them feel comfortable and willing.

Not bad advice for working with yourself, either. Guide yourself. Help yourself through the process. Don't upstage your ideas. Help yourself feel comfortable and willing.

If you have this happen to yourself, this “I can't” mentality, please question it. Do what you need to do to access your self – your true, loving, honest, caring self – and start there. Don't start at the outcome. Start with what you can do, your power, in this very moment.