Evolution vs. Progress
Feb 28, 2023
I was listening to this Podcast episode (in Portuguese only, unfortunately) when this thought-provoking question popped up: is evolution the same as progress? I never thought about it before. The host argues that evolution is not necessarily good; it's just the nature of things to evolve. On the other hand, progress is moving towards a better place than before. This fits well with a growing feeling that I had about my own career.
When I started working as a Designer, I was in constant awe of all the opportunities to do great work and have an impact. I was taking any opportunities I could put my hands on. I've worked in various industries and finally understood the vast breadth of work a Designer can do. I felt like making real progress.
I've gotten more deliberate on how I tackled Design work. I've been around and seen situations happen in cycles, meaning I could spot behavior patterns, which helped me be laser-focused on what could solve particular problems. As I was naturally becoming more specialized and started focusing on smaller subsets of Design problems, the pace slowed down. I became more aware of my time and where to put my efforts. I still felt like making progress, although things were not as fast and adrenalin-driven as before.
Moving forward a few years, now not doing so much individual contributor (hands-on Design work) anymore, I realized that the sense of progress started fading away. As I dealt more with abstract matters such as stakeholder communication, hiring, organization setup, and other managerial tasks, my sense of making a difference as a Designer took a big hit.
First, I needed more visible progress. I was getting better paid and had a lot more reach for higher-level decisions, but the improvement was just not evident. Don't get me wrong, I had a better career.
Second, the fact that I took a management route naturally took me away from what I considered a productive use of my "Design creativity." (I'm adding quotes here for those with a stigma around the word creativity, this's another topic) Not being closer to the solution space affected my sense of progress.
When I listened to that episode, it clicked; indeed, I perceived a lack of progress, and it's natural as the depth of your knowledge around a specific domain grows. It's just natural that the pace of learning decreases as abstraction increases. The key to dealing with this is to take time and zoom out and notice the overall evolution you've had over time. I'm still making an impact through my Designer lens (I hope), using a different filter. My influence is now making other people feel they're progressing. Supporting companies to improve their bottom line using Design as a tool for customer success. That is not a small task, and I'm looking forward to focusing more and more on embracing the unknown and flexing other muscles that are still very much connected to Design.