My desk in 2013 joining the mob

My five questions to understand and learn.

my desk on day one at the mob 2013 march

Sawhorse + Door = Get Sh*t Done

I ask These five questions in various contexts, but my primary use is interviews, where I’m the interviewee or interviewer. More than twenty years of researching human behavior for experience design in many different industries, from convenience stores to pharmaceuticals, have provided some insight that led to these five questions being critical to understanding and learning how humans think, behave, and operate in the world.

The five questions card notes

To explain why these 5, and why this order, and what I believe can be learned by how humans respond or not to them.

Context, Nature, and Substance
I am curious and want to understand more and more about my fellow humans, and I am not a fan or follower of ‘standard’ or conventional interview questions. This is true for interviews, 1/1s, 5 & 10 year 1/1s, exit interviews, informational interviews, meet and greet sessions, and nearly all interactions you seek to understand, period.

Known folks are unknown humans; you can use these as conversation starters, etc. The questions, their sequencing, and follow-ups reveal much about humans. For example, fear is a driver in the human experience; once you understand enough about fear, it tends to tell a story of its owner that can elucidate thinking that goes beyond an interaction’s basics.

Curiosity, Understanding, Insight
Over the years, my insatiable curiosity about human behavior and its intricate nuances has led me to develop a profound interest in understanding how we relate to various key concepts. The pursuit of comprehension and exploration has become almost second nature to me.

In our interactions, how we perceive and interpret these fundamental concepts greatly influences our actions, thoughts, and decision-making processes. Consequently, I have found great fulfillment in delving deep into the intricacies of human behavior and our cognitive processes.

Through my experiences, research, and analysis, I have come to appreciate the nuances and complexities of the human psyche. Each interaction and experience can unlock a treasure trove of insights and lessons, providing valuable knowledge that can shape our understanding of the world.

By closely examining our relationships with these fundamental concepts, we better understand ourselves and others. It allows us to navigate the intricacies of human interaction with grace and empathy. It enables us to foster stronger connections, build meaningful relationships, and create a more harmonious society.

There are no wrong answers. Just dialog
These questions are not gotcha oriented and are not necessarily related to a specific job description, level, or title. Interviews are a little high stakes and stressful for nearly everyone. I struggle with interviewing being interviewed.

So, I came up with a relatively straightforward handful of questions to open up conversation and have a natural dialog on what a candidate thinks, how they approach a concept or question, and how they will respond.

I have been educated, enlightened, shocked, and encouraged by how often, at the end of the conversation, folks have reflected that having a ‘normal’ conversation about relevant ideas, some off-topic divergence had the effect of reducing the anxiousness, fear, and nervousness about the interview itself.

Your results will vary, but any time you can let folks have the floor and think and dialog, it’s likely a good thing. So few are the moments of human connection these days that it is almost like a tiny moment of expression, freedom, and achievement.

People come to these moments with tons of unknown, unknowable anxiousness, powerlessness, fear, excitement, hopes, ambition, etc. All the things. What if there was a 30-60-minute window where you two humans have a break?

Two avatars and some audio on Zoom or Teams to learn about another human you may be a teammate with within the trenches in the future.

Oh yeah, the questions, since you made it this far…

  • 1. What are you most afraid of? You may get a qualifier, ‘in what context,’ I respond with that there is no right or wrong response. Human behavior is pretty straightforward on what fear is about in our lives as we have evolved.
  • 2/3. This is a two-part question: What is the best part/worst part of your current or previous job or role? The sequence often matters here because most of us are negative scanners who look for the presence of problems and give them more brain space rather than the absence of problems.
  • 4. What would that look like if you could retitle your current or previous job to represent what you did genuinely? Give folks a little time to think this through, and then some follow-up discussions will get at the heart of how the alignment or gaps worked out for them in the past. There is perception/reality and mismatches between the role and themselves. Often, this generates a job description for a role they are interviewing for, and the experience uncovers some great questions/dialog.
  • 5. Lastly, if you are leaving a company and you have a session with the board or senior managers, you can give them an action that, once shared, they must take. What would that be? You can wave a magic wand and mandate that one essential action on behalf of the company. What would that look like?

A Finally
This is a set of questions that could, in any context, be used to start a conversation, and it can reduce the stress of interviewing and enable the interviewee to ask the same questions during their interviews. You can ask these of folks you are looking to work with. As humans post-pandemic, I have experienced a definite ability for candidates to feel empowered to create a dialog and learn.

Thanks for reading, and keep asking questions.