Indi Young on problem-space research for cultural organizations


I’m so excited to share this conversation with Indi Young with you all!

Indi and I discussed how problem-space research can be a practical way to introduce diverse voices and perspectives into organizations’ strategic planning — a whole lot more.


As always, reply to this email to let me know your thoughts or leave a comment on this post.


P.S. If you’re interested in exploring how problem-space research can help your organization support your organization’s visitors and members, you might want to apply to become a founding member of The Museums-As-Progress Community. We’re limiting the community to 100 members to launch.

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Photo of Indi Young: Laurie B. Studio



Kyle Bowen: [00:00:00] Indi, it's so great to talk with you today. I have been looking forward to this conversation all week.

[00:00:06] Indi Young: [00:00:06] Yeah, it's nice to see you again, Kyle. I love our conversations.

[00:00:11]Kyle Bowen: [00:00:11] Great. So we have a lot to talk about, so I think we'll just jump right in, but first, I introduced you to my readers the author of Practical Empathy, and Mental Models. So they know a little bit about you, but maybe you'd like to introduce yourself as well 

[00:00:25] Indi Young: [00:00:25] Yeah, sure. I am right now very interested in trying to design for different perspectives rather than letting ourselves design for the mythical average user. So I'm getting people tools, and actually, more powerfully I'm giving people mindsets and awareness. And mindsets and awareness seem to be the thing that people are so grateful for because every situation is different, and you have to be the person who brings this mindset and this approach into your own context into the way that works for that context. One of the things I'm doing, also, is empowering people and giving them self-confidence that they are able to do this.

[00:01:20] Kyle Bowen: [00:01:22] So I want to let listeners know that. Let's maybe first define what the problem space is, and then we will get to how it relates to them as museum leaders, multicultural organizations. What is the problem space?

[00:01:36] Indi Young: [00:01:36] The problem space is the thing that's been largely ignored. You've probably heard of design thinking in the museum space, and that begins with a section called empathy. A lot of other jobs to be done, also, begins with the section where it's like, oh, we need to understand our users. However, growing up all of us are taught to solve problems, to come up with ideas that that is the way that we get feedback. That's the way that we get known. That's the way we get promotions. That's the way that we graduate university. So we're swimming in this culture of solving problems, and very little is done to understand the problem first. So that's what these methods are trying to do is say, oh, yeah, yeah, we've got to those understand problems first, and by understanding the problems we need to know user needs, right?

[00:02:40] When I took it all apart I realized that whenever you say user, whenever you say patron, or participant, or family member, or any of those other nouns you might use to reference somebody that you're trying to support you're looking at them through the lens of your solution. That noun is somebody who has a relationship to your organization, or a potential relationship to your organization that you're trying to market to. And so all of that is still within our realm of how we grew up of problem solving. Let's come up with ideas. Let's understand these patrons that we're trying to support better, and yet what we're missing is their point of view. So instead of using any of those nouns I use the word person, and I try to understand the person's purpose without relationship to our organization.

[00:03:42] So one of the things that's really different about the problem space is that we're paying attention to people and their purposes not to our solutions. We're not even getting into idea land yet. All we're trying to do is absorb their perspective, and absorbing their perspective takes time. It takes trust. You have to build trust with people. You need to get to depth with people. You can't understand them just based on their opinions and preferences, and explanations. We have to get to depth in the problem space. We need to understand their inner thinking, their emotional reactions, their guiding principles, so that we understand what their world is like, what their context is like, how their thinking changes from context to context. And really get into that so that we can see patterns.

[00:04:41] So in the problem space it's all about getting to individual unique depth with different people, and then finding patterns across those different people, and starting to support those patterns, and inviting in, bringing all of this knowledge into the strategy space, into the space where you start thinking, you start a project. Well, what are we going to change? How are we going to change this? We have this problem. We have these numbers. How do we address it? Well, let's look at our depth of knowledge, and see what's there that can tell us something. See if it can tell us something about different thinking styles, and a thinking style that we could support much better. Now that we're in the pandemic days and cultural institutions, and museums are much less attended shall we say. I was going to say largely abandoned, but that's probably not what you want to hear.

[00:05:46] Kyle Bowen: [00:05:46] That's harsh, that's harsh, yeah.

[00:05:48] Indi Young: [00:05:48] Exactly, but it's temporary. It's temporary, and we'll all going to get our lives back after our vaccines. So theoretically what I want to talk about is before times, and the future times because the current times are hard except the current times are great for developing problem space knowledge. This is the perfect time. The way that I develop this has always and only been one-on-one, and it has always and only been by telephone with no video, remote. So this is perfect timing for us. We're forced to take a little pause. Normally, the pushback I get is, well, we don't have time to really go understand people, so we're just going to keep failing fast, and get nowhere. Oh. So, anyway, that's how I wanted to capture this is the problem space is about people, what are the purposes?

[00:06:55] Let me just give an example…

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