Hey, this is really awkward. | Yay, this is really awkward!

Sometime last week (aka five lifetimes ago in AC4D time) Jesse and I decided to do Contextual Inquiry with teens.

Here’s how we started (in front of the computers):
Focus: How do teens determine career goals?

Rationale: Discussions with educators told us that students still tend to think about ‘Lawyer, Doctor, Teacher’ when contemplating a career despite the evolving job marketplace. We set out to discover ‘how do you know what you want to be when you grow up?”

Here’s how we ended (slumped over cheeseburgers at a bar):

Holy crap, that was fun!
Holy crap, that was hard!
Holy crap, that didn’t go at all like we had planned.
Holy crap, how am I sitting up when I’m clearly brain dead?

Here’s what we learned and what we’ll do differently next time:

Empathy Starts Before “Go.” Like, Way Before ‘Go.’

We aimed to recruit teens through their parents without reflecting on what the cadence of their lives. For teens, they are just getting into the swing of school, adjusting to schedules, trying out for plays, getting into shape for sports. They are busy, exhausted, overscheduled. Same for parents easing back into rhythms of the academic year.

Next time we’ll brainstorm and maybe even do some pre-interviews to orient ourselves to our target group. Trying on other people’s shoes will make us better at recruiting and engaging them.

Wait for it: Ugly Duckings Yield Serendipity, Connection

The most important thing we learned in our first CI undertaking was that the ‘artificial’ relationships we form in the field comprise the same elements that ‘normal’ ones do. You have to conjure a solid connection in a short amount of time so that participants feel comfortable sharing. Understanding that you’ve actually done this before with lots and lots of people in your real life helps. A lot.

To wit: Jesse astutely noticed that that the participant and I achieved the first moment of true connection just after we had awkward in which we both lost our footing. Because we fumbled together and then rallied together, we bonded and were able to move up a notch in openness and willingness. It was, as he pointed out, one of those classic “Hey man, you cool? I’m cool. Are we good? We’re good. Whew. Shake it off.” exchanges. Just before it we had been at the point of wrapping up the interaction as the well seemed completely dry. Afterward we soared off into 30 minutes of productivity.

Before we sit down with our next participants, we remind ourselves to celebrate the awkward moment and stay attuned to the connection. Don’t rush, stay present. Some takeaways:

• Conversations are mini-relationships. In this way, we already have some useful expertise just by dint of having lived in society for a few consecutive decades.
• Even if you have a good connection, it might get awkward and uncomfortable.
• Celebrate the awkward: it may be signaling a leap to the next level.
• Moments of true connection are obvious and can be felt by all. Savor them and don’t rush through them. That’s where you get the good stuff.

To Recruit / Engage Your Target Audience, Pick The Right Megaphone

Recruiting participants turned out to be our biggest challenge. I opted to network through friends and colleagues to find teens. It proved to be a garbled, oblique way to engage people. We chased the pot for days and didn’t hit pay dirt until I drove to a school and marched myself to the guidance counselors. They were super receptive and willing to work with us in future.

Henceforth we are going to use the most powerful form of outreach that we can muster at any given point. We plan to employ this new scale of responsiveness by media’ tool when developing connections:

PLATINUM: In-person. Highest return rate of any of our forays.
GOLD: Phone call. Get a live person on the other end, good chance to enroll them.
SILVER: Email. Quick, short, to the point, Make it easy to say yes.
SCUFFED, TARNISHED, DIRTY OLD SCRAP BRONZE: Voicemail. Waste of time, waste of social capital.

So. Rather than thinking through our inquiry process from the confines of Hackberry House, we had to go test drive it. At the very least, none of the tires fell off and we didn’t crash. No harm was done and much was learned. Once more into the field, my friends, once more into the field.