Creativity and Culture

Creativity and Culture
Miles Orkin, UX Vision and Culture Lead, Google Cloud

From the Design Operations Summit website:
By focusing on key operational concerns like methodology, tooling, design systems, org models, and business rationale, DesignOps helps evolving design orgs succeed at their core purpose: Making the Experience. But there’s an important and sometimes overlooked flip-side to that operational coin: The Experience of Making. How do you keep teams inspired, engaged, and intrinsically motivated to deliver meaningful, resonant, innovative work? Miles Orkin, UX Vision and Culture lead for Google Cloud, will describe (and maybe even demonstrate) some key ingredients for cultivating culture.

His role at Google – the flat tire diagram from Jason’s presentation.  He works on organizational narrative, and helping to define a vision for a team or a big group.  And helping people enjoy that thing they call work every day.

What is culture, and what do we do about it?  It’s one of these things.  It’s like poetry. When it’s good and it’s working, it can be elusive to understand why.  When it’s bad, it may be hard to figure out, too.

We’re in the business of making experiences – product, process, goals, metrics.  But if you want kick-ass teams, you have to think about the experience of making – enjoyment, authenticity, emotion, and community.   These things are what add up to make culture.  It is really hard to define.  But we can take a formatted, structured appaoch.

How can we create cultural infrastucture?  Yes, we could create a measurable framework.  But, we’re not going to do that today, rather he is going to show how it works.

But Miles started with a rap, which, sadly, I was not fast enough to catch on video!


I’m not here to bust your chops
I’m not here to put circles in crops
I’m not about to use elaborate props
I’m here to drop a rhyme about design ops

A number one hit sweepin the nation
Optimization through design automation
Prototypes with real live data
APIs makin’ everything greater

I’m not a hater
I’m just an allocator
Trend-line skater
Gantt chart creator

To the D to the O to the P to the S
I go to crits in a bullet-proof vest
I flip bits like a man possessed
But I never let design teams know I’m stressed

I am the man with the annual plan
Got the headcount ask in the palm of my hand
Got the OpEx sittin on the edge of my desk
This ain’t no infinite jest, it’s just a funding request

Moon shots, big bets, I never fail it
You got a program? Yo, I’ll scale it

I’m doin’ sanity checks
I’m bustin strategy decks
I’m pushin’ design specs
And cuttin’ vendor reqs

And when I’m up on stage I don’t need a band
Just a mic — I’ll be hypin’ our employer brand
Got the candidates bumpin’ every day of the week
You know my pipeline’s a river and yours is a creek

You know my keynote nuggets are so re-tweetable
All my components are so sticker sheetable
And while you’re laptop’s still rebooting
I’ll be out there participant recruiting

I’m on top of the ops and you know I got proof
Tonight I’m drinkin’ beers with Dave Malouf
So come on over — Google NYC
We’ll have a little chat about the D-O-P

He does have a real talk.  🙂  If you are thinking about culture, people should have FUN. Yes, you can organize paintball, pottery.  But you need to work harder than that to change culture.  Introverts may rather sit back and watch someone else be goofy.  It means getting people excited, engaged.

We have to feel great about the experience of making.

He’s a proponent of design with a little D.  But everyone is a designer – we are all crafting experiences, including engineers.  Some have a capital D in their title.

This whole Enterprise UX thing – compared to consumer we’re the stepchild.  But we are passionate about their work, and they feel a lot of responsibility to enables people work.  Why is it a monolithic skyscraper or a shack?  There is a semantic mismatch.

When you say consumer you can envision a consumer, and it’s also a verb.  And Enterprise is not a noun or a verb.  That may be sexy, but it’s not about people.  So, that needs to be changed.  Let’s reframe it.  Do you want ice cream, or round food?  So, let’s rethink it?  Cake is round food, but it’s cake.  And from a consumption perspective, we like them both, and we like them together.  And there is even ice cream cake.  They are now more semantically equal.

What are PEOPLE who are working in the enterprise doing?  They are working, they are building, they are making, they are creating things.  Enterprise is helping make things – supporting people’s work.  We design for creators, rather than consumers.

orkin-01.pngThis generates positive energy.  How they think about enterprise at Google, along four dimensions.  Through is workshop, they bring their own authentic voice about these dimensions.  It’s more about designing how we think.

People want to feel like their leaders are authentic, and they they can be themselves at work.  It can be hard to find meaning in complex environments.

Authenticity isn’t something you can explain, it’s something people have to feel.

There is no framework for it.  His brother was a skateboarder and told him this:


He worked for the American Cancer Society for many years after his brother died.  There were always tissues in the conference rooms, because people cry.  And people hugged a lot. They talked about all these hard emotions … at the same time we needed to give them hope.


We have to think about compassion, not just empathy.  Teams that thrive are often compassionate, not just empathetic.

We have emotions.  Some of them are challenging, difficult emotions.  You can feel same feelings – the good and the bad – both in your personal life and at work.  When you go into corporate workplaces, be your full self – as long as it’s only your happy, excited emotions.  People should support you even if the emotions are difficult.

We have to support the full spectrum of emotions.

What are you scared of – just do it.  “Let’s not get our feelings involved.”  “Those are just soft skills.”  This is a very unconscious, implicit bias in the workplace.  It shows up in gender discrimination in the workplace, too.  This is deep in the firmament of culture.  People need to feel a sense of safety before they can do their best work.

You can’t feel pain, you can’t feel joy.  If you can’t feel fear, you can’t feel love (because love is scary).  So, how can you love your job?  You can’t get creativity, flexibility, etc. if you don’t take the other emotions, too.  There are no rules for this – you just have to be emotionally open.

Think about this:  When was the last time you held back from a situation at work that involved difficult emotions?  Now, visualize what you could have done differently.  And own it.  That is how we grow and develop emotional intelligence – it’s like retrospective.  Own it, and take it back to the office.


We talked about Fun, Authenticity, and Emotion.  But there is no wierd intersection point – no Venn diagram – where it’s all perfect.

What about the Creativity (part of the talk title)?  People are already creative, it’s organic.  We just have to till the soil, and culture is the soil. Sometimes it’s better to do something that’s really orthogonal.  We can’t force it – we have to be intentional, and intuitive.  You can just hope it works out, but intent does not equal process.  You need to find ways to make it organic.  It is like an English garden. It has to be a little wild, but you have to think about it, fertilize it.

Sometimes the best answer is to ask more questions:

  • Are we having fun, do we enjoy our work?
  • Are we being authenthic, do we have a sense of purpose?
  • Are we honoring our full selves and emotions?

You don’t need to be emotional every day at work, but you need to feel like you could if you needed to.  That is all our responsibility – be more thoughtful, more emotionally present for people.  Could we be doing more?

1 Comments on “Creativity and Culture”

  1. Pingback: Design Ops 2018 – Recap | Natalie Hanson

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