How do we Make Meaningful Work?


Matt sat down with Jo and Dan to chat about what makes work meaningful and how to go about making meaningful work. Part of the answer is to both deeply reflect and learn and practice together as a team. Dan and Jo are on to something that more and more companies need to start considering.


Matt: Hey, everyone this is Matt with We Can Do Better. Welcome to the show today. We are joined today by two special guests: Josephine Wong and Dan Zook, all the way from Hong Kong. Though, today they are here in Atlanta with me. Welcome Dan, Welcome Jo.

Dan: Hey.

Jo: Hi. Happy to be here.

Matt: We are gonna talk today about your journey from UX research and design into what you're calling, "Make Meaningful Work". So let's start off the show today just real quickly. You guys give quick introductions. Tell us about your background and what Make Meaningful Work means to you.

Jo: Hi, I'm Jo. I've been a user researcher for the past, over 20 years and we're here for the User Research Atlanta.

Dan: I am Dan, I've been in this field that's gone by various names over the last 25 years and I've been living in Hong Kong for 21 years and the last six years have been focusing on Make Meaningful Work.

Matt: And what is Make Meaningful Work, if you wanna describe it to our listeners and viewers who've maybe never heard of it before.

JO: Make Meaningful Work is all about a healthy team culture. It's about understand me, which is yourself, and understand we, which is your team.

Dan: And mine's a little longer but I'd say Make Meaningful Work's about re-humanizing the work place. It's about equipping the individual on the team with practices for inserting meaning into and strengthening and deepening healthy relationships between people. It's about encouraging healthy behaviors as well. And an ultimate's about creating a sustainable culture to foster conditions that support practices like trust, respect, support and care, and to ultimately reduce tangible and intangible waste at work. Really, Make Meaningful Work's about creating a community of practice to help people move along from a spectrum of sleepwalking to sparkle to indeed make meaningful work.

Matt: Very cool. So for yourselves, can you talk a little bit about your experiences and why you've transitioned from kind of core UX to Make Meaningful Work? What's led you to this new evolution in your careers?

Jo: So about six years ago, we have some kind of review about what we've been doing throughout our work. A lot of our project works we might feel very good about what we've done to the project, but if you look or widen the picture a bit more, the whole project, the value to the customers, or how the team works together, are they stressed, how healthy the culture is in the team, a lot of them are not that satisfied. So we started to do some reflections and stock-take our project a little bit and started to do more research and look into this problem.

Dan: We certainly did all of that and I think for me primarily transitioning was about continuous learning. I felt within user experience and all of the other related disciplines that go into that, I felt like we both wanted to broaden our horizons. And as Jo said, in stock-taking the projects across many domains and industries that we'd worked in, and we had discovered certain patterns in those projects. And so we just decided to think about what would be a very difficult, somewhat audacious question to try answer together that would give us more learning over time. Make Meaningful Work didn't just emerge, it probably took a good two to three years before we even discovered that question. In researching with other people we've understood that to be, continue to be a very interesting question to continue to research. And what it's led to is it's certainly been part of the transition and it's certainly led to learning and continuous learning in that. So it's worked out, it's working out to be very very good.

Matt: So talk about, If you don't mind, some of the changes maybe you've seen in yourselves or your clients or your partners now that you've been applying Make Meaningful Work to your core deliverables and your core practice.

Jo: So, we have been talking about the practices that we been working on. They mention a few like trust, respect and that type of practices. When you pay more attention to these words, we've been talking about it's attention turn into words and then turn into actions, and then you look at what impact that you can make. All these implicit practices that we've seen in different teams and different people, it's not structured in a way, and people are not paying attention in a way, so we're trying to bring these implicit practices more intentional when people see things and how they behave. So we call it practice spotting. So I pay more attention to what I do and what other people do, and we also have a way to practice that so you can continue this journey throughout your life.

Dan: I think I heard the keyword in there was change. Change is a word that gets used pretty generously in distance today and I think this is probably also gonna sound pretty cliche but change is hard and it is indeed hard. So I personally, and I think Jo as well, we prefer not to use the word change that much. I certainly don't focus on touches more on the answer from the previous question which is to do with learning. And so if indeed an integral part of Make Meaningful Work is creating spaces to learn, it means that you need to think about what that would look and feel like. And what we've discovered at work is, we sort of draw it as a heart, and we talk a lot, Jo and myself talk a lot about the brain, the heart and the body in terms of embodying practice. If you look at the heart, we sort of divide it into two parts as it pertains to work. One half is what we call the transaction on the delivery part of work, and that's the very common way that people think about projects and work, and the second half is what we call the meaning part. Now both are important, but obviously we're trying to stress practices that derive meaning, hence Make Meaningful Work. What needs to happen is within a space of learning, you actually need to stop and reflect and what we've seen is people don't really do that in explicit ways. If you can stop and think about how you're working, how you're interacting with people, collect stories, do practice spotting as Jo's been discussing, and use that as a way to actually practically document practices and make that a way to codify meaning in the work, then what you're actually doing is you're promoting more of the meaning side of the heart, which gets you to both deeply reflect and also learn and practice together. And that's a cycle that really doesn't happen at work as much as it should be. It tends to happen in sort of dark corners or if people go to training or if people go to retreats, but I think one of our primary aims with Make Meaningful Work is to make sure that continuous reflection and codification is indeed happening more often.

Jo: And so since we've been doing this with different teams, I also see that one of the things we kept trying to encourage people to do is understanding yourself and understanding the team. So by understanding yourself and the team better, you can see the work together much better.

Dan: Mm, that's true.

Matt: Do you have advice for other people, either in UX or not in UX who can kind of embark on this journey to transition from one career to another? Any advice that you've learned along the way that you could share with everyone else?

Jo: Make Meaningful Work, so our tools and our framework is helpful for not just transitioning to another career, it's helping current team as well. But if you specifically talk about transitioning I would say understand yourself is almost the most important thing and understand yourself in a very deep way. I'm not talking about you know, what color do you like? What food do you like? But rather, all these, you know, values and beliefs and what are you trying to achieve for yourself in a way that not superficially like those business articles talking about, and reflection is a big tool or big way to do it I think.

Dan: Yeah, it gets me thinking about, when Jo was talking and also your question, I actually think of Jo and you Matt as examples. I think that the idea is that we talk about it like it's a hub, and the hub means, it's meant to describe a small community of people that are inside that hub. And that can start with a very very small number of people, but what you're going for in that hub is you're going for a, for lack of a better word, a diversity of thinking and backgrounds and disciplines and anything that creates a lovely mix of thinking inside that little hub, which can form a community. And the nice thing about community is that you get support where you need it to supplement what you don't have. And if you can get that support, and sometimes that's described as, you know, more recently coaching and mentoring, if you can get that support, especially Jo talks a lot about, we've created a journal whereby it's very important to do that learning as a pair. And so like when I think of the conversations that we have, so that's Dan and Matt, some of that might be the same or it might be different to the conversations that I'll have with Jo. But what's explicit or implicit in that is the professional development, is the learning that goes on. Now, Jo and myself are actually very lucky in that we do that every day. She'll send me articles, I'll send her articles, we'll tackle a question that we're not sure about, and we are constantly learning together as a pair. And so I would, I guess the answer then becomes, or one answer becomes if you're looking to develop professionally find some buddies! And find buddies that come from different backgrounds and learn together, yeah.

Matt: That's great, thanks. And that wraps up for today. Thank you both for joining me and sitting two feet from me and pretending we're in a different room when we're not. And that's it, we'll see everyone next time and we're gonna go hang out on the porch. Bye all.

Dan: Bye!

Matt: All right, good show people, good show.