66 minutes | Mar 26, 2020

28. Laura Faulkner of Rackspace

In this episode of Dollars to Donuts I speak with Laura Faulkner, the Head of Research at Rackspace. I’ve never just sat and done just what I was asked to do. I’m always looking for something new, something else. It’s probably just part of how I’m built but it’s also a conscious choice of, of just doing my my current job is simply not enough for me and even just that extra 10 minutes of curiosity or desire to see something else or learn something new while still doing my job and delivering on that, it’s just opened so many doors helped me step into a lot of opportunities and learn new things. – Laura Faulkner Show Links Public Speaking Laura on LinkedIn Laura on Twitter Rackspace Blink by Malcolm Gladwell Applied Research Laboratories Follow Dollars to Donuts on Twitter and help other people find the podcast by leaving a review on Apple Podcasts. Transcript Steve Portigal: Welcome to Dollars to Donuts, the podcast where I talk with the people who lead user research in their organization. I just watched Martin Scorcese’s 2010 documentary “Public Speaking” a profile of author Fran Leibowitz. I honestly didn’t know very much about her, but she’s a smart and acerbic social critic, whose persona, and perhaps her life is built around her strong opinions and her skill in expressing those opinions. She repatedly emphasized in the film how there are too many books, and thus too many poorly written books; she’s pretty critical of the ability of most people to have an interesting story to share and to have the ability to communicate it in a valuable and valid way. While her career is indeed public speaking in one form or another, for the rest of society, she advises public listening. But really this is because she wants to be listened to, she doesn’t necessarily want to listen, she wants to talk. This is in no way meant to be an indictment of her – she very clearly exists in a world of her own making. While the mode of the times, and indeed given the work that many of us do, emphasizes the importance of everyone’s stores, and we put real effort into inviting people in and giving them space. I mean, this approach, this mindset is at the core of user research! But I found it remarkably refreshing to hear a different point of view. It reminds me of an experience I had in the field last year interviewing a head neurologist, someone who was very successful, who had written multiple books and taught surgery around the world. Before this project, I was kind of warned to expect a lot of ego from surgeons especially, and I guess in some ways this particular interview subject was the platonic ideal of that. He would not sit through my carefully scripted concept presentation. He interrupted. He pointed out his bookshelf of published books, he told us about his children attending an Ivy League school. He gave examples of where he’d been influential, how many times he’d taught, how much money he had saved the hospital with his process innovations. I had to adapt my approach for him so that we could get through the session. After we left, my colleague, who worked my frequently in this domain half apologized and half-checked-in with me to see if I was okay or not, given how quote awful and difficult the interview had been. But I didn’t have that feeling at all. The interview was amazing! We learned so much from him! He was incredibly accomplished, and very very opinionated. And like Fran Liebowitz, a total New Yorker about it. But I wasn’t having lunch with him, I wasn’t trying to be friends with him. I was trying to learn from him. And I approached him – as I do everyone I interview – as an expert. He was just more able to act in that role that most people are. I am very sensitive to people who don’t listen to me, or who let their ego run all over me, or otherwise disrespect me. But this was an interview situation, and his so-called arrogance and ego was amazingly helpful and honestly didn’t feel disrespectful in any way, so it was just fascinating to see how someone else in the same session felt about it. I’m glad there are people like Fran Liebowitz and this surgeon. They are in the world to do amazing work, to inspire people, to make a difference. That doesn’t mean I want to hang out with them and try to tell them about myself. But that’s okay, isn’t it? So, we’re back with some more episodes. As of this recording, we’re in a particular bizarre period. This episode was assembled quickly, with the budget I have available for this, which is zero dollars. I’ve foregone my professional editor and my professional transcriptionist. You will hear some digital noise and distortion on my part of the upcoming interview, but it comes and goes, and I’m not talking too much, so I hope you don’t get too bothered by it. It is a challenging time for businesses of all types, and certainly for small consultancies. It’s a challenging time for my own practice. I hope if you’re listening to this that you’re in a position to consider me as a potential collaborator for user research, training, coaching, and facilitation. Thanks! All right, let’s get to my interview with Laura Faulkner, the Head of Research at Rackspace. Steve: Laura, thanks for being on Dollars to Donuts. It’s great to speak with you. Laura Faulkner: Thanks, my pleasure. Steve: So I think it’s a great starting point would be to ask you to introduce yourself. Tell me and everybody what about your work and we can kind of dig in from there. Laura: So I’m Laura Faulkner. I have a doctorate in research psychology focusing specifically on human computer interaction. I got that from the University of Texas about 10 years ago as I was already working in the field. As of just a few weeks ago, I celebrated 24 years in this field. So I was in it before it was a job. And when we were just doing it and practicing it alongside whatever else we were doing, especially in technology now I’m the head of research at Rackspace, which is rather fun in in a couple of ways. One is that it’s an enterprise organization. And we do really deep technologies essentially provide the internet and manage that for folks. So we’re doing really complex interfaces. And I love that I love that problem space with all those bizarre technical details and add lots of complexity to manage. And our to make that easy for customers who like are sitting in their chairs, working hours and hours every day, and often in high stress situations. It’s just really fulfilling. So I’ve been here about three years, three and a half years and our team works as as an internal agency really, for the entire organization of Rackspace. So we’ll do pretty much any kind of research for anybody who asks Steve: That’s a nice position to be in or not? I don’t know. We’ll do research for anybody who asks you, how did that come about? Laura: So within the organization, we were we sit alongside design and where we work with them and and we have some close partners with a content team. So we’re like always at the ready for them. But that ends up being just a fraction of our work. We will, will work for product to the any of the product managers or product teams that need to want to market test their product ideas, and the directions that they’re trying to go or to prioritize their products to discover demand in the market, what’s going to make things easy and best for them. And then we’ll do larger scale market research. We’re currently running a large scale market survey, because it it lets us flex to whatever questions that that any of right anybody in Rackspace has that is that where there’s unknowns and they can’t move forward to make a decision that we’re all about that we’re our mission statement is to spark fast, confident decisions. And so that’s where we come in. And sometimes it’s just to confirm unknowns that certain teams are having, or to break ties. We break ties a lot with the data and and also to support business cases based on what’s best for our customers and our users. Steve: Stay over the 24 years. I was gonna ask about this later, but now you’re making me think like the arc of, you know, your, your experience in the profession over 24 years, but also your observation of what the professional looks like. you’re describing an interesting state. I think, you know, this this mission statement and the The positioning and the interest and the provision, I guess, to help the whole company kind of wherever this, this, you know, critical decision, information is needed. You’re there to do it. You know, how, if you look at that positioning where you are now and kind of what you’re able to provide? How, how would you describe the arc of just this one part of it? Like, who and how do we work with and what’s kind of how are we? I keep saying positioning, but but I guess that’s really what it’s about. How do you think that has evolved over 24 years? Laura: That’s a great question. And I really I get really excited about this question because I see this as one of the possible futures of our profession. So we we began and even the DNA of the team I currently lead began holy just like as design testing kind of organization at the beginning of my career. It was really a unicorn position. It’s like there was the design and the research. And I, I like I have a special like passion for the research part because I have degrees in sociology, anthropology and psychology. And so I just love love love studying human beings and I love research methods is like finding that that question and applying the best method to it. So as the the need has evolved, and William say as the field and the practice have evolved as a as the need has evolved, for answers f
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