The Slow Rot of Stagnation


Melbourne Graff August 2013

This happens to all of us from time to time.

We get in the situation where we are stagnating.

You know it well – it has been months since we learnt any new skill or technique. It’s not that we are just perfecting our existing skills.

The day to day routine isn’t unpleasant, it’s just not stimulating, it has become more of the same.

The research is all the same, the analysis is just the same common patterns. Everything seems to be on a constant washing machine cycle of rinse and repeat, sound familiar?  Think about it, are you stagnating?

Is there Anything New

When was the last time you applied something new, or discovered a new technique, instead of relying on the usual suspects (techniques) to help you through your day.

In the UX industry it is especially important we try and avoid this as it doesn’t help the client or end of line customer at all, let alone our own level of professionalism.

I always take the view if you aren’t learning and growing, you are already half dead as it is.

Often the reality of the situation escapes us while we are in this rut. Modern society and our own wiring wants us to take the easy way out, and do nothing. The reasoning behind this are usual not one distinct factor, but a combination of external and internal forces.

Your Environment

It can be your work (or home) environment that is not conducive in allowing you to try new techniques.

There are even extreme cases where you maybe pushed to just “do what you did before”.   While I can understand this situation from an employers view, you shouldn’t be treated as a robot.

However sometimes this millstone is of our own making. In many professional environments, we perceive that there is culture of repeating the tried and true methods. When in fact this is not the case, it’s just that our own bias convincing us that its the culturally expectable easy road.

That’s not to say that poisonous design factory environments don’t exist , they do, regardless of the outwardly facing veneer they may project.


The ideal solution here is to openly approach this with your team or boss.

Voice your concern,  even if it’s unfounded, and there is no real restriction.  At least it will show you are thinking on the subject.

I have found in most cases people around you will want you to grow and try new methods.  It’s just you holding you back.

The kicker factor the stops this is usually a project viability or profitability.   To overcome this it may pay to tryout new techniques on less critical projects or ones with established clients.

What happens when the environment isn’t open to change.   This is when you have to resort to stealth methods to improve your skills.   If this still isn’t going to work, well I would question really why are your there in the first place.

The Time Factor

We all say we don’t have time, it’s a common cry from any professional.

We will make excuses, time and time again, preferring to find the simple path, the one with low cognitive load.

This will just lead to you putting off any professional development, hoping you will have time in the future.

Time management is no different, we can fool ourselves into believing we are time poor, when in fact we are not, we just make excuses for ourselves that we believe.

Often you get into lifestyle patterns, we can’t help it, afterall humans are the great pattern finders, we do it without even thinking about it. No matter how random you may think you are, you will be following some patterns and will be organising your life accordingly.


This really is just simple time management.

Just like you, I personally hate doing this, but I find it a necessary evil to keep my chaotic nature at bay.

Find those dead times, the times you waste with no real benefit, like watching mindless TV, driving to work, on public transport, taking a break between tasks.  What do you really do with them, are they productive?

Often we only “think” we use them productively; but have a good hard look at them, even consider keeping a diary.  I bet you’ll find you waste most of them.

These are the moments you need to fill with something that is really productive.

Draw up a regimented routine of professional development, slot it into some of theses dead-times.  Fill them with information resources from podcasts, collecting and reading blogs, books (e-books, audiobooks, paper books). Podcasts, audi0 books, e-books, blog posts and the like can be consumed when you have those small moments of dead time.

While  face to face or longer term activities such as meetups, formal online or remote education to conferences, will take some planning.  Take the time to do this and don’t put it off.

Remember time isn’t unlimited it’s finite, once it slips through your fingers it’s gone forever.

Another key is to also get lots of sleep and exercise.


It is very easy, in some roles, to become closeted and not have a lot of contact with the outside world.

All you see from day to day is the same people in your team, and you know most of them have been there forever.

We can even fool ourselves into believing we are having the right level of contact with the right people, and that we are savvy to the direction our industry is taking.

When in reality we are just being fed the same old outdated information from a regular media channel.

This can happen very easily if we aren’t in contact with a wide variety of people all the time.  Now the problem is as humans we trent to want to circulate with the same people, with the same options, read the same authors –  our tribe.  As you maybe aware this just leads to an echo chamber.


Just a matter of finding the right resources (see below).   The key here is to trying a new topic or maybe looking into the background material to something you are already familiar with.

In the UX space this can be particularly helpful as it will lead you to new viewpoints on your existing knowledge base.

Read into areas outside your normal interest, you will find a point where it ‘s all the same or old information from your view point, this will be the middle ground of that topic.

This is the point were you need to stretch and read more. Networking into new related circles would also help, try looking for groups that are related yet outside your usual crowd.

Fear of Failure

This is the one aspect we tend to brush off and tell ourselves it isn’t an issue.  Really it’s all based on the fear of the unknown, than failure, of not knowing what is expected or how hard it may be to learn a certain topic.

In some ways it could just be a lack of self-confidence with a new topic.  There is also the flip side of this in perfectionism, where you won’t try something new because you won’t be prefect at it in the first instance.


This can be a big issue, as we will procrastinate and ignore it, however it just needs a change of view point.

Realistically we just need to cut ourselves some slack.

Take the view when you start a topic it’s in a way “already half done”, by just taking this first step in the process.

Also think of the worst case scenario, if you don’t push forward and do this professional development. That’s right the honest-to-goodness worst case.

The secret is look hard for the “real” worst case, not the watered down one. This should act as a motivator in this instance, as something you want to avoid.

Can’t find Resources


You know I don’t think this is a problem anymore, years ago maybe, but now there are so many good UX resources on the web and events to attend (even in Australia).

To the extent that one can be spoilt for choice. I have found that the more you learn the great your reach of resources will become.


Most of the time the resources I find are always now just a simple search away.

If this doesn’t uncover what you are specifically looking for then ask your peers, ask twitter, approach blog or book authors, most of the time you will find them very helpful, particularly when you are after very specific resources for a specialised topic.

Learning is not Learnt

You may have it all organised to regularly undergo professional development and learn new skills and techniques.  This is good.

However we have to remember you have not truly learnt a technique or skill until you have practiced it and really applied it in a real world situation.  Up to that point you are just familiar and aware of it.

The practical application is where the real learning comes in.

So if you are stagnating, what are you going to do about it?

Tags: , , , ,

Looks like there is no conversation here yet, why not start one.