November 23, 2023
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Fuzzy Knowledge vs. Trained Intuition

Exploring fuzzy expertise in UX: navigating Imposter Syndrome, intuition, and mentorship. Where skills evolve into intuition, self-doubt fades, and mentoring shines.

My coach recently mentioned that your skills become fuzzy as you become more senior in your craft. Somehow that thought stuck with me. It feels like an explanation for imposter syndrome worsening with my career progression, but even more than that, it just feels entirely on point.

The more knowledge I collect over the years, the less I see that one proper way of doing things. Different methods and approaches mix and merge and turn into something completely new. When asked about my approach, my answers subsequently can become a lot less precise and a lot more it depends. At first glance, this may sound like a lack of professionalism or concentration on detail. But I think the exact opposite may be true. Many experienced UX professionals have made a habit of lifelong learning and expanding their skills. We have studied many different UX methods and read books on human behavior, UX practices, and how to make UX work in organizations. Our work engagements have led us to a multitude of diverse experiences, and so many methods have turned from trained procedures to second nature.

In my coaching studies, I recently came across a description of intuition as being based on "deep intellectual knowledge of the subject [that] makes use of expert knowledge and manifests as intuitive, elegant, and beautiful responses "(Claxton, 1999: 159). What a great way of looking at it. So in my interpretation, the fact that we've become experienced in our UX field leads us to work based on subconscious intuition rooted in our deep knowledge of the area. If that's true, then it may also mean that we can focus more of our energy on solving the problem rather than how we solve it.

As lovely as that might sound, it also comes with a side order of challenges. What may seem obvious to you may be difficult to see for others. So unless you work in total solitude, which I hope no good UX designer does, you'll have to take others along for the ride and, at times, explain the why behind your decisions and conclusions. That's when recalling those hard-earned skills becomes a part of your skill set.

In my opinion, helping younger UX professionals find their paths and grow their skills is one of the most critical responsibilities of senior UX professionals, leaders, and managers, especially in a field like UX design that holds such a broad spectrum with vast opportunities but at least just as many pitfalls. But we can only do that if we remain cautious of the different levels we all operate at, understand where they stand, and help them comprehend and apply "the rules "before we show them how to "wing it."

Obviously, you can only teach UX methods you know and have present. Relying on your intuition only won't get you far in teaching UX to people who want to learn the craft.

Communicating your craft experience is essential to your career success. No one can tell what you know until you explicitly express it. You must prove what you know to others to be acknowledged and valued for your expertise level. No matter if you're looking for your next client or a full-time position. People outside your area of expertise will often judge your skills, many of whom will have difficulty valuing trained intuition as a UX skill.

Another aspect that this "trained intuition "may bring forward is a growing feeling of disconnect toward what methods others are using as they evolve over time and imposter syndrome or, worse, arrogance and bitterness creeping in. All of these can prevent you from successfully continuing your career path and contributing to products and the UX field.

While being able to use my proverbial gut to guide me along makes me flexible and quick, I have chosen to try and optimize for the best of both worlds. To better connect to others, I'm rediscovering clarity for my unique UX skills and how they help develop others. I clarify approaches and methods that seem intuitive to me so that they might be used, adapted, and improved by others. A reflective process that can be daunting at times, even if looking inward is something I feel relatively comfortable with, but that is immensely rewarding. I love how regaining clarity about my UX craft is helping me make better connections to people within and outside of UX.

I found that partnering with someone as a coach is extremely helpful. In just a few sessions, we rediscovered some skills, uncovered hidden values, and reconnected with my passion for learning and sharing. So I can honestly say I'm enjoying this fuzzy journey.

Written by

Marvin O. Hassan

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