Indi Young — Mental Models and Thinking Styles

Indi Young — Mental Models and Thinking Styles

My guest in this episode is Indi Young, a solution strategist who uses purpose-focused qualitative data science. She created her method over a 30-year span, and teaches that method in courses, coaching, workshops, books, talks, and through working with teams on research studies.

People are complex and nuanced and their mental models and thinking styles are not fixed personas or personalities. They changed based on context and it is essential that organisations listen to and consider different ways of thinking and addressing user needs.

Indi was a joy to speak with and this is a long episode, but she articulates her thinking and insights so well I could not bear to edit out more.

You can view it below or on YouTube or subscribe to it wherever you get your podcasts or listen on the player below.


Indi on LinkedIn:
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Indi’s Newsletter:
Indi on Medium:
Time to Listen -
Practical Empathy -
Mental Models:


Design Leadership Coaching:


Lisa Dance’s Today is the Perfect Day to Improve Customer Experiences:


Note: This transcript is machine-generated and may contain some errors.

[00:00:00] Andy Polaine: Hello, welcome to Power of Ten, a show about design operating at many levels of Zoom. My name is Andy Polaine. I’m a design leadership coach, service design and innovation consultant, educator, and writer. My guest today, who I’ve been wanting to get on for ages, actually we’ve been talking about it for a very long time, is Indi Young, who I think may not need an introduction, but I’m going to do it anyway.

She is a market strategist who uses purpose focused qualitative data science. She created a method over a 30 year span and teaches that method In courses, coaching, workshops, books, talks, and through working with teams on research, research studies, she was one of the founders of adaptive path. And we had Peter Merholz on recently, and pioneered opportunity maps, mental model diagrams of people’s approach to purpose aligned with the support a solution provides or doesn’t. I think probably mental models might be the thing that people know you most for. But you’ve written several books: time to Listen, the latest one, Practical Empathy, and Mental Models. And there’s another one on the way. If I keep going, half the podcast will be gone.

So let me instead welcome you, Indi, to Power of 10.

[00:01:11] Indi Young: Indi, thank you.

[00:01:14] Andy Polaine: So, I always like to know a little bit about people’s pathway from, from, from there to here. So, you know, how did you end up doing what you’re doing? And, you know, you’ve had this 30 year span.

[00:01:25] Indi Young: Oh God. Yeah. But yeah, um, 30 years ago I was a software engineer. And I think that was at the point in time where software was starting to expand and they weren’t making it only to encode a process for an engineer or a scientist or something or some math.

And before that point, all then the software engineer had to do was go understand the process and understand the, the edge cases to the process and then encode all of that. And I got asked to, um, do a, an upgrade for the call center for the visa. Um, when you lose a car back then it was travelers checks and the call center had people in there speaking like 14 different languages, uh, all at the same time it was global and the management was just going to rip all their computers away and give them windowed computers with mice.

And I’m all like, um, you probably don’t want to do that.

Let me go do some research. So that was kind of. The beginning of my… my core, which is to, um, get let’s not accuse management. Let’s get anyone who’s working in terms of the strategy around digital products, but also services tied to those, um, to stop thinking only in terms of themselves. There are other people who have to use this software.

Um, who have to use the, uh, the, the, the processes that you’re setting up through that software and it doesn’t match them. And that’s the big thing that I’m about. Hey, you’re only writing some process for a one way of doing things. You often, especially with IA now we’re like, um, sorry, AI. I’m betraying my background.

Um, we’re, we’re trying to like optimize to one way. And then we’ll just, you know, invest in making that one way. And it makes most people struggle. I’ve never met a piece of software that I really thought matched my thinking style in that context. And there are millions of us out there.

[00:03:51] Andy Polaine: Yeah. I’m really interested. So this was quite a long time ago, given the, you know, shift from, I guess, some kind of DOS based thing to a windowed computer that you were just talking about. And you said, you know, let’s go and do some research. Um, how did you know what you were doing and what to do back then?

[00:04:12] Indi Young: Uh, UX didn’t exist, UX research didn’t exist.

Yeah. I knew in my heart that I needed to represent. Those people working there and I needed to understand their approach to it. I think at that, at that point, my working my way through it. I had no tools. I wasn’t aware of like, um, anthropology or the ethnography. I wasn’t aware of any of those other parallel fields that have now sort of we’ve we’ve pulled some ideas from them.

All I had was a state machine, which is a way of sort of mimicking what a computer might do with a process, but I wanted to mimic what reps might do given certain customers. And that was all I had. And so that’s, that’s, uh, it was kind of the beginning of, Hey, we need to represent these other people there’s a variety out there of thinking. Let’s, let’s, support it.

And that is, that’s been my philosophy. I’m all about support. Let’s support the variety of approaches and thinking styles out there. And at the time I just, I was just trying things. The, that particular project, uh, the state machine that I made and the things that fell out of it actually, I ended up creating the data schema. There was a whole team of people doing the data, but I’m, I created a data schema for what we might need. I messed around with the architecture of the, the whole software suite. Um, and that whole approach ended up holding the whole team together. Everybody on the team, they’re all like, Oh my God. Okay. Yeah. Now I see how this is going to go together. Thank you. You solved it. Or at least you’ve given me like a little glimpse into a direction where I can see. And that, I felt like that was very powerful because I’m representing people.

[00:06:24] Andy Polaine: You said that sort of helped the team. You sort of brought the team together, it helped the team.

You know, there is a whole feeling out there. I don’t think it’s actually completely true, but I think I understand that lots of people have been laid off and they’re feeling it, but there is, there has been quite a lot about, you know, UX, UX, in fact, but certainly UX research is dead and it’s kind of gone somewhere else.

And even down to kind of, it’s not necessary. So in what way did this help the team? What, what did they not know? Um, what were they struggling with because what I’m hearing isn’t that they didn’t say what we need is some research. That was you who was saying this, right? Um, so how did it sort of, when you brought that to them, did it then help them?

Cause I think it’s kind of useful to hear the origin story of that.

[00:07:05] Indi Young: Yeah. Yeah. Yeah. So in this case, it was a bunch of different contractors that were hired by Visa. One contractor to do the software architecture, another contractor to do the data. I was sort of the contractor to do the front end, you know, the lipstick on the pig sort of thing.

And they were without leadership. There was somebody who was supposed to be the leader. As many leaders are not a lot of people got along with them. Um, and so there was like it, so there were that it solved that it was like, "Oh, here’s, here’s somebody who actually went and did work, did some understanding and has something that we trust."

[00:07:53] Indi Young: That now me looking at this other contractor over there, who’s like thinking in a different language than me, not literally, but, you know, figuratively, um, how, how do I communicate with them? Now we had this thing and it was from somebody that we, that had done some work. And at that point in time, we didn’t have the get it done yesterday kind of speed thing.

This was, that was not a part of the picture. So having done the work was an okay thing. You didn’t have to like persuade people to, to take time. I think the other thing is that being able to see how it would function for people in the end gave them a way to look, uh, to sort of like see what should be behind it to make it function in the end.

Does that make sense?

[00:08:50] Andy Polaine: Yeah, it does. You said a thing just now, you know, it helped them to trust. And I’m, I’m really interested in this, uh, you know, especially back then, but, cause this is the sort of number one problem, but it’s certainly a big problem for UXers in general, but, or, you know, design in general, actually, but certainly, uh, researchers because there is a, a tendency to, you know, we know our customers, I know our customers, I know what they want, or, you know, I’m Steve Jobs and I kind of have got this brilliant idea and I don’t really need the research. I’m sure you’ve heard every single kind of variant of this. So getting people to kind of trust the, trust the research, what have you found that is successful there?

[00:09:28] Indi Young: There are some ingredients that go into it. Uh, one of the ingredients is… and they vary from organization to organization, and really when I say organization is usually an individual or a pair of individuals within an organization who have done the work to get in a position where they might have budget, they are maybe in the position where they have a connection to somebody in the, at the executive level or the VP level, they might be in one of those VP, uh, positions themselves. They might’ve made a relationship with somebody up a couple of levels, but what happens to that person or a couple of people is that they have in mind this idea that, If this org is going to be sustainable. And so I think I’d step back and say, this doesn’t work for orgs that don’t care about being sustainable.

If you’re…

[00:10:26] Andy Polaine: By sustainable, you mean longevity?

[00:10:28] Indi Young: Around for a long time. Yeah. Yeah. Having employees for a long time. Um, yeah, if you’re like a startup and you just want to get bought by some big tech company, this doesn’t apply to you. Um, you have to be the kind of person that’s, um, I’m interested in not only like the technical, the typical innovation, the idea of like having a competitive edge, but also having some sort of an idea of including more people or supporting more people. This idea that, uh, it’s been a struggle with the people who are working in accessibility. I think we’re finally starting to see some progress there. Fable has been doing some great, um, webinars with some amazing guests that talk about their accessibility process within their org.

And I think what’s happening with the idea of getting people to trust research or to be interested in research is that whole idea of like, oh, there is more out there. By reducing what we make to one optimal, when I realize the kind of harm it’s doing to people out there, and it is a harm that does not help our organization.

There is harm that people, organizations do that help the organization. Um, let’s think of, you know, your telecom or whoever allows you to stream, uh, movies, they, they do things intentionally to keep you on a higher price or to delay service or whatever, you know,

[00:12:26] Andy Polaine: All the scummy things.

[00:12:27] Indi Young: Yeah. Yeah. All the intentional harms, all the dark patterns they’re called.

Um, So those are intentional harms, but if they’re, they find out that they’re doing harms that are hurting their org.

[00:12:40] Andy Polaine: Oh, okay. Right.

[00:12:41] Indi Young: Hurting their org. They’re unintentional. Yeah. And they’re hurting the org. And that’s where, where we have some, ability to get interest. I think like a large SAAS kind of company always was thinking, okay, here’s one solution. Everybody’s going to use it. And then an org buys it and forces all their employees to use it and the employees don’t use it or they use it wrong and they don’t get out of it what was promised to them and so they go back to the big organization that sold them this big software and they’re like, hey this is not working

[00:13:24] Andy Polaine: I’m giggling because I’ve, I’ve said this exact thing so many times, I’ve had this, here’s Damien Newman’s kind of squiggle diagram and kind of flipped it around as a sort of design process. He said, you know, you think it’s this way, it’s all kind of neat and planned out and, and you know, and you, someone, and you know, I used to work for Fjord who are owned by Accenture uh, you know, technology consulting company, someone has sold you a kind of multi million dollar SAP system and then you’re going to come back as it hits the kind of messiness of humans. You’re going to come back in, you know, a few years time and go, Hey, you know, Why do, why do people hate this or hate us or whatever it is, you know, we spent a fortune on this? And instead of starting with the messiness.

[00:14:05] Indi Young: Right. Yeah.

[00:14:07] Andy Polaine: I’m interested, you also kind of, you, you, I’m kind of reading it off here. You talk about the work you do is purpose focused, qualitative data science. And in your tag there, you’ve got, you know, data science that listens. Has it been helpful to phrase it in that way, to talk about it as data science than, UX research, you know, sort of, you know, hugging customers and, you know, and that’s just your opinion and all that stuff.

[00:14:33] Indi Young: Exactly. Right. I think the other thing is that , I don’t do UX research.

[00:14:38] Andy Polaine: Yeah.

[00:14:39] Indi Young: UX research has become known as, and it’s odd, because user experience means like the whole experience, but UX research has sort of become, oh, we’re just like doing A B tests or doing usability or, you know, that kind of stuff.

[00:14:56] Andy Polaine: Just the sort of end bit of it, right? Yeah. Yeah. Once you already know what it is you’re making and it’s just about kind of. Working out which right, which bit is right.

[00:15:05] Indi Young: Right. And maybe you’re making some prototypes and throwing those out there. It’s all in the solution land. I call it the solution space.

[00:15:12] Andy Polaine: Yeah.

[00:15:12] Indi Young: Right. It’s all about ideas and solutions and figuring out how those solutions rub up against real people.

[00:15:19] Andy Polaine: Yeah.

[00:15:19] Indi Young: I don’t do that at all.

[00:15:21] Andy Polaine: Yeah. You’re all about the problem space, aren’t you?

[00:15:23] Indi Young: Yeah. Well, yeah. Although I’m starting to call it in one of my diagrams, I started putting this, this little space in between and I called it the strategy space. And I hit the strategy space actually speaks a little bit more strongly to people. Nathan Shedroff just, um, published a book in December called A Whole New Strategy um, and he’s, and his opening is like, "Oh my gosh, companies don’t do strategy. They just like, you know, stick a finger in the air."

They’re like, “Oh, I think this is, you know, the direction we’re going to go.” And strategy is based on a bunch of things, but one of the very first things with the biggest chapter is the qualitative data. Is understanding your market. So, um, trying to understand, A market, a market segment, get market insights, all of those kinds of words, I think are describing what I do, what I’m trying to do. I do have a, a purpose of , and, a mission is to get organizations to realize the variety in their market and start supporting it.

[00:16:34] Andy Polaine: Yeah.

[00:16:35] Indi Young: Uh, so that’s, those are kind of the, that’s the difference. I’ve never done UX research. The way it’s defined now. Um, yeah, it’s always been more of the strategic level. Like let’s do some gap analysis between what, how we support people, Richard Dalton calls it capabilities, uh, the capabilities and org has, how do we support people? What are the gaps? And then I ask questions like, well, what are the gaps between different thinking styles? And those capabilities and how do we measure those and track how we’re changing them over time?

It also helps, uh, in terms of being able to prioritize, cause there’s so much you can do. And sometimes we get sort of stuck going, well, let’s just, you know, follow this direction. Cause that’s the direction we’ve been following. And it’s hard to. To not only see a new path that like goes off piste, into a direction that’s really interesting, especially for a certain thinking style that you’re interested in having that maybe you’re harming, and that’s detrimental to your organization or… the traditional way is like, we’re only going to follow the path where it’s the market segment that has the most money, is the most, you know, the, the most profit for us, but there’s other reasons to do it. And so I’m trying to bring those other reasons in there. It’s been, you know, so many studies like, Oh yeah, your brand can get damaged.

[00:18:04] Andy Polaine: Can you, can you give us some examples? Cause I think, I think I’ve got a pretty good idea of what you mean, but I think it’s kind of useful to, to hear sort of concrete examples of what that, what kinds of things you’re talking about.

[00:18:16] Indi Young: Right, right. So, um, Hmm, which example shall we follow?

[00:18:21] Andy Polaine: Uh, you don’t necessarily have to mention brands, but you know,

[00:18:25] Indi Young: Well, I just did a post about something I heard a Netflix product person say, so Netflix is the streaming company. Um, they do, they develop a lot of their own content and then they also stream other movies and then they just turned off this DVD, uh, spin off that they had where, which is how it started actually.

[00:18:52] Andy Polaine: Oh really have they stopped doing that now. They were sending out a DVD and, and.

[00:18:56] Indi Young: Yeah. So you can’t, you can’t just go order a movie that you wanted. This is actually, I remember seeing.

[00:19:02] Andy Polaine: I didn’t even know that still, I didn’t even know that still, they were still doing it.

[00:19:06] Indi Young: They were still doing it. Yeah. They spun it off as another company. So you saw the writing on the wall 10 years ago.

So, so I heard this, uh, Netflix product person say, uh, and the Netflix product person was very and like trying to charge up the audience to start thinking like product managers and the, and he says something very biased and he didn’t realize it. And so I wrote a post about it and the biased thing that he said was, well, we have this $7 a month subscription that has ads, ads are coming, ads are going to come no matter what.

And so we decided to make it a subscription for only $7 a month so that people love it. They love it. You know, all these ads are great. I, I love the ads that I’ve been seeing on Instagram. I’ve bought so many things like this little, you know, blah, blah, blah. And so as we’re coming, and so we did it this way, and I was just like, my jaw was on the floor.

I’m like, okay, this guy has no clue how biased that statement is. And how is it biased? It’s biased in a couple of ways, two ways. One is that he is thinking only from a point of view of someone who has never had to struggle for money. Okay. Um, if you have done research, I have listened to people who have struggled with money there are different thinking styles within certain contexts. And so when I talk about thinking styles, it’s not a personality. It is your approach, your cognitive approach to a thing that you’re trying to get done. A purpose. I call it, you can call it a goal. You can call it a job, whatever you want to call it.

Um, the thing about the, the reason I use that word purpose, cause it sounds all fluffy. And so maybe I shouldn’t use it, but, um, I’m flexible. I can adopt whatever language an org likes to use. A driver was something somebody was using just the other day. The idea is that it’s. Super big. It could be a purpose that you don’t ever want to finish or it could be something that you want to get done in five minutes.

[00:21:20] Andy Polaine: Yeah. Yeah.

[00:21:21] Indi Young: Right. Yeah. So, um, and, and it could be something negative and there’s a lot that that’s maybe what we should be talking about is all the negatives that I’m trying to get at. So what happened here is that he’s looking at it just from the point of view of someone who’s had a lot of money, hasn’t had to struggle and doesn’t realize that there is thinking styles within this purpose of deciding whether to buy a streaming service. There’s a thinking style of like control the luxuries.

[00:21:54] Andy Polaine: Yeah

[00:21:55] Indi Young: Where, you know, and even it’s, it extends beyond luxuries, like I’m going to control my water bill, my electricity bill, I’m going to turn off the heat because it can’t afford the gas. So it’s not just luxuries that, uh, it’s involved in, but this thinking style with regard to deciding whether to buy like a streaming it’s around luxury. And if you’re going to serve ads to people who are in that mindset, they’re going to be harmed.

[00:22:26] Andy Polaine: Yeah, because they’re constantly being sold, sold stuff or advertised stuff that they are unable to buy or don’t want to buy.

[00:22:35] Indi Young: Yes, that’s one another could be that maybe they know someone who went through bankruptcy or maybe they themselves went through bankruptcy and there’s a lot of shame around it.

[00:22:44] Andy Polaine: Yeah.

[00:22:44] Indi Young: When you find yourself in that position, you realize maybe you had some habits that you, that were out of control. That’s also, you know, shame, shame is a harm. And so every time they see an ad, they’re going to feel shame. Is that what you want to do to your customers? No. The second reason why it’s biased is that… so what I did in my post is I like, okay, let’s have a control the luxuries option where you, you can get it for $7, but you don’t have ads, but maybe a few other things are, um, restricted. Like maybe you can choose four days a week that you can watch it or something like that. I’m just making things up.

[00:23:28] Andy Polaine: Yeah. Yeah.

[00:23:29] Indi Young: Yeah. Um, But you don’t have the ads, but you’re still at $7 a month and you don’t get that harm that’s happening to you. And so the second bias is, well, Hey, by offering that Netflix doesn’t really have to do anything, spend any money, invest, they just have to offer that and maybe have some sort of, you know, code for which days that particular account is allowed to see the streaming, but is that not the right kind of growth, right? That’s the question. I mean, it is growth. And I think what’s happening within organizations all over the place is that they’re defining the right kind of growth versus the wrong kind of growth. There’s something that just happened with Lululemon. I don’t know if I’m saying that brand right, but it’s like a fitness clothing.

[00:24:24] Andy Polaine: Yeah. I, Lululemon. I know from all the yoga and yeah, fitness.

[00:24:28] Indi Young: Yeah. Yeah. Yeah.

Apparently, recently, they’re all like, okay, no, no, no, we’re not going to be like this. We um, you know, we’re going to cater to people who are overweight or we’re going to cater to people only exercise once a month or, you know, people who have brown skin or, you know, whatever it is, they’re just like, Nope, we’ve got our market. It’s fit people and we’re gonna do it this way. And they’re like, just like pulling back into the dark ages.

[00:24:57] Andy Polaine: Wow.

That’s, I’m amazed. I’m, I’m amazed that they should do that. And, and is that a, is that a sort of classic sort of rationalization thing where, where, you know, supporting these. I mean, it’s what you’re saying before there’s the center of our market, which is the most lucrative and the return on investment isn’t worth it for those other things, right?

[00:25:15] Indi Young: Yeah. Yeah.

That’s, that’s the classic thing that we’re all, I think, trying to fight against. But the, the thing is, is that it’s, it’s raw bias.

[00:25:27] Andy Polaine: Yeah.

[00:25:27] Indi Young: It’s like, we don’t want to support those people. We don’t want their money. Even though we don’t have to do anything, invest anything to get it.

[00:25:38] Andy Polaine: Yeah. It’s funny, isn’t it?

There’s, you know, there’s been this whole, I’ll try not to kind of be hugely into the politics of it, but as you know, being in America, there’s been this whole kind of anti DEI thing going on. And you know, putting it that way, phrasing it that way, someone else, this isn’t my word, someone else was pointed this out the other day, I think it was Kara Swisher or something, you know, um, was saying, you know, when you say anti DEI, it sounds like, you know, I’m just anti this thing, but actually if you’re going to break it down and go, so what you’re saying, you’re anti diversity, you’re anti inclusion, you know, it’s kind of like an anti equity, you’re, it’s, and the way you just said it, it’s like, so what you’re saying is we don’t want those people, you know, we don’t want to serve those people, we don’t want your money, you know, It sounds much more, I mean, it’s the reality of what it is, but I think it’s, you know, it’s a much more stark way of putting it.

Yeah. I’ll be, I’ll be really interested to see.

[00:26:29] Indi Young: Or we’ll serve them, but we’re going to harm them.

[00:26:32] Andy Polaine: Yeah. Well, that’s even, yeah, that’s even worse. Yeah. Yeah.

[00:26:34] Indi Young: We’ll harm them in order to serve them. Yeah.

[00:26:38] Andy Polaine: So I wanted to ask you something because you, you were, we should get onto Time To Listen.

[00:26:41] Indi Young: Okay.

[00:26:42] Andy Polaine: Um, but your, your first book was Mental Models and with this, this way of, you know, so, uh, some mental models were, were a thing already.

I mean, I, they were, they are still a thing, what I’m saying and what I mean is there was a. Yeah. Um, they had all been already been kind of research into, there’s different versions of it like the mental models, how people understand things that they don’t understand is maybe one way of putting it. So, you know, I think one of the very first bits of research in the um, that I ever saw about it from the, I think mid eighties about thermostats, you know, I can’t remember who the authors were now, but people understanding, you know, how do your thermostats work, is it a switch that goes on and off at a temperature or is it a valve that it sort of opens more or less depending on the, and people had these, I think the, the original research was about sort of folk taxonomies or, or, um, or explanations for how things work like that work. Is that what you, that’s where I very first heard the term.

[00:27:40] Indi Young: What I wanted to do was make a mental model for a team about a population, about a segment of a market. So that’s all I’m doing. My mental models look like a city skyline. They look like a whole bunch of towers.


[00:27:57] Andy Polaine: And really importantly, I guess it’s probably saying this is a bit that, you know, I really love from a service design perspective is you, you have these, well, you have a few things. You have these kind of some of what we’re talking about, the, what are the purposes that you use going to a movie actually? I remember. And there’s lots of different reasons for going to a movie, right? Most people go and see a film, as you point out, it’s now I want to go and hang out with some friends. I’m going on a date. I want to, you know,

[00:28:23] Indi Young: One of them was like, I had to escape work. It’s like the only place I can turn off my pager. Oh, whoops. Another word.

[00:28:31] Andy Polaine: They were like mobile phones that you couldn’t talk back on. And then, um, uh, but the, the other crucial bit is sort of underneath you had, you had, so that you had those different sort of, uh, sort of tower blocks of, of depending on kind of those different purposes and things.

And then, but underneath you had sort of where the organization is where they’re supported, uh, in those different stages. And it, it sort of very nicely made a kind of, well, here’s, here’s a massive need or set of purposes here. And there’s a gap there, right? There’s no, there’s no one supporting it. So, you know, opportunity. I know I’m skipping through and I feel terrible because I don’t think I’m doing any of these justice, but my, my, my real question is, you then wrote Practical Empathy and then Time To Listen and I’m interested in the kind of through line of that, because what I’ve experienced most often with, I mean, myself, but other authors is I wrote this book and then I started, you know, people started working with people about it and talking to people about it. And then I got all these questions or I saw people didn’t understand bit this bit and had these problems. So I then wrote this next book, you know, and so I’m interested in that kind of through line for you of like, what’s been the development.

And I guess that might get you to the one you’re writing now.

[00:29:38] Indi Young: Right about three months after mental model diagram, uh, Mental Models came out the book. I realized I was using the word task in that book to represent cognition and that was just wrong. And it was confusing the hell out of people. So, um, so that was one thing that I had to change.

And the other thing was that I was, um, so. It is evolved, but it’s still the same thing. In the very beginning what I was trying to do was make it more like a functional map, um, functional, uh, gosh, I can’t even, it was some document that we would do in terms of software to describe what the software ought to be able to do.

And I was trying to make it like that. So I was shortening things a lot. People would be saying things and I would shorten them. Um, basically just as a explanation of what these are is that people would tell me what went through their mind as they were doing that thing, like going to a movie, all those other times they went to the movie, what went through their mind and the different reasons.

And, uh, I would pick out of there, the interior cognition and the interior cognition. I would then just sort of shorten into a summary and stick it, um, in my head. using affinity of focus of mental attention in that’s how it like emerged as these towers. The towers literally grow, um, kind of like seeds and yeah.

And so, um, I also realized, and this was feedback from a lot of people. It’s like, we need to have more in there that can’t be that short. It’s hard to suss out what those things mean, even though we label the tower and then we label the block that the tower. Um, but as you start labeling higher, those labels get shorter because they’re trying to represent more.

So those labels, those little summaries in the windows, in the towers had to be longer. So that was another thing that I changed. Um, and I started learning how to listen better. As well in the very beginning, as I was listening, I would be taking the transcript, so that’s wrong because, yeah, I had all these tricks and tips for taking a transcript while you’re listening to someone, but it meant that still, there was a chunk, maybe 20 percent of my cognition was going into getting that thing through to my fingertips and the keyboard, um, getting their words into the keyboard.

And, um, And you don’t want to use your cognition to do that. So another thing I changed was like, let’s just make sure these are being recorded. If it’s a situation you can’t record, then afterwards you spend 20 minutes writing down summaries of the concepts, the interior cognition concepts, um, of which there are three types.

But, um, I also realized, uh, right in the beginning, I knew that I was not after people’s needs. Like, I’m not going to walk up to them and say, what do you need? Um, instead I’m going to say, what went through your mind as you did that thing? Cause you already are a human. You’re already doing it. Um, email was not something brand new that like was something people never did before, because before email within an organization, we wrote memos and put them in little boxes in the central room.

[00:33:16] Andy Polaine: So this is turning into like, Oh, the thing, do you remember those?

[00:33:20] Indi Young: The festival of the old!, Anyway, so email was letter writing email was so many other forms of communication that people already did. There’s nothing new under the sun. What we are doing is enabling things that humans do. And so what I wanted to do was understand the interior cognition of it.

So learning how to listen and understand the layers. Of what’s coming out being able to teach people how to do that more clearly so in the latest book I have this analogy of a sort of a jaw breaker or a jaw gobstopper I don’t know it’s called a lot of different things.

[00:34:03] Andy Polaine: We call them I think I called gobstoppers you call them a jaw stopper, jawbreaker.

[00:34:08] Indi Young: Yeah. They’re called something.

[00:34:09] Andy Polaine: I’ll find the picture.

[00:34:10] Indi Young: Yeah. Yeah. They’re called something else. Um, in Latin America and they’re slightly different, but what it is, it’s a candy. It’s round. It’s spherical. And often it’ll take a very long time for someone, yes, there’s the book for someone to like suck the candy all the way through and it has layers and the layers are often different colors or different flavors or something. So that explains the jawbreaker. And in time to listen, I help people understand what someone is speaking about as a jawbreaker at the outer layer, uh, we have the description layer.

That’s kind of like that, that outer layer that explains how a process works or gives you seen like sets the scene for what was happening, what the context was about whatever topic this is, or maybe it has some statements of fact, and that’s not what I’m after. That’s going to happen in a listening session, but that’s not the good stuff.

Then we’ve got something I call the expression layer, which is where the opinions and the preferences are and opinions and preferences or perceptions, opinions, beliefs, and attitudes are what market research has always been about. I don’t believe those go deep enough. Those are based on past interior cognition, and I want to know what the interior cognition was back then when you formed that opinion.

And oh my gosh, this is so helpful to ask your manager about their preferences and opinions this way. You will suddenly see them as a person. Um, then there’s another layer that I call almost cognition, which is where we’re talking about sort of generalized interior. Thinking so maybe like every time I go to the airport, I get coffee there because I don’t want to have to, you know, sit in traffic and then have cold coffee when I get on the plane or blah, right, whatever that’s a generalized every time I go implied emotional reactions.

Uh, a lot of cultures don’t like to speak out loud about their emotional reactions. So they kind of hide them behind a word fence or implied fence Uh, but the central core is this interior cognition that i’m after that’s the inner thinking a person’s emotional reactions and a person’s guiding principles and the guiding principle is a personal rule It’s not a value because a personal rule can be set up because of some sort of belief or something that happened to you in the past and so you’ve set up a rule.

This is what happens when you have been discriminated against. If you have been discriminated against in the past, you get, you build this little personal rule about how to deal with it in the future. In the future, you’re in a situation you’re being discriminated against.

You have the emotions, you have the emotion, the, uh, inner thinking, and you pull out this rule and this is how you deal with it, right? So that’s what I mean. And I think one of the most important things is to, in a listening session, which was always way back in the first book, Mental Models, it was a non directed interview. There is no list of questions. We’re just going to ask you this one germinal question, which is what went through your mind as you were doing that thing that you do, so that maybe we can help with it and level help, help you level up, give you access to more, um, but I’m not going to ask you about this tool we’re not talking about the tool at all. I’m not even necessarily going to talk about the org. It’s all about your thinking is you did this thing. Now, one of the things that happens at this point when I’m teaching it is that people will start to think that the jawbreaker represents a whole person and it only represents so that we’re like, "Oh yeah, we’re sussing out like the inner thinking of that person. And, you know, we’re getting past that person’s preferences." No, it’s only about a topic. So during a listening session, there’s going to be a lot of these jawbreakers on the table. Person’s going to bring up a lot of topics about the purpose that they were doing that we’re talking about. And each one of those topics is going to have these layers.

And your job as a listener is to try to help them tell you what their interior cognition was. If they don’t go and do it right off the bat, um, you have to set a safe space, um, and not judge and all these other various things that I talk about in the latest book. Um, so yeah, it’s, um, It’s kind of been a continuum, being able to not only improve it myself, but to improve the way that I explain it so that other people can do it as well.

So what we’ve got on the screen here is like a person talking about a bunch of different topics that the whole purpose was decide whether to go to a restaurant six months after the pandemic, the COVID pandemic started. And so there’s a topic about pre screening a restaurant. There’s a topic about just doing grocery shopping or having groceries delivered.

There’s all sorts of topics that come up, each of which is its own jawbreaker, each of which we might return to, or that person might return to um, if, uh, my only job is to understand whether we got to that. interior cognition at the core of each jawbreaker. And if there’s a jawbreaker that they mentioned, but we didn’t get there, I might say, after, you know, they’ve explained a bunch of jawbreakers, I may say, well, earlier you said in this topic, and then we’ll get back to that and see if there’s something at the center.

[00:40:01] Andy Polaine: You’ve talked about it a little bit in kind of thinking styles. My, uh, my ex colleague and friend, Martha Cotton talks about it in mindsets, but there’s just this, this idea of, of different ways of doing things or thinking about things based on context, but there’s kind of a lot of stuff around values in there too, you know, and I guess one of the ones that I often will ask people about or suggest is tell me about what you ate over the last week what context were you in, um, and, you know, cause often you say, you say people, you know, so tell me about your dietary habits and it’s well, you know, everything organic and I really try and, you know, I don’t eat much sugar and, and all the rest of it.

And quite apart from that whole interviewer pleasing thing going on where you want to kind of present yourself as, as this amazing person. You know, it’s all contextual. I mean, we’ve done it with mobility, all sorts of other things as well, where people are saying, well, yeah, no, actually, when I think back through it and do the sort of, or keep a diary, but certainly even just thinking back through it, it’s, oh, yeah, no, I, I grabbed a muesli bar or a chocolate bar or something, kind of more unhealthy on, on the, on the way home or to work, you know, when people used to commute, um, because I didn’t have any time or I skipped breakfast that day or, um, but you know, when my friends came around, we sat down and we spent three hours preparing a meal and together and all that sort of stuff.

And so you get all this kind of this shift in terms of depending on this context, I value certain different things. You sort of talked about, we talked about this idea of, you know, drop the demographics. And I was thinking all the way back to you talking about sort of market, market strategy and kind of where you’re going to go, because obviously a really common thing is we’ve got lots of market research. Why do we need to do this? Um, and it’s less so now, I think I, to be kind to kind of market research people, but I think, you know, there is a, a tendency to look at the demographics as in age, location, wealth perhaps, and, um, you know, and gender and loads and loads of businesses still operate in, in that way.

So how do you sort of, how do you tackle that?

[00:42:05] Indi Young: That’s a pretty, yeah, that’s a pretty easy one because, um, all you have to do is say, okay, so if you’re saying, you know, that all Spanish speakers are, um, probably worried about money. Okay. That’s wrong. Yeah. Right. And I can prove it. Yeah. All suburban housewives, um, have kids. That’s wrong. I can prove it. Um, and then we come back to that. That, you know, the center where, Oh, well, it’s only right to support the most common and you’re making a biased decision to not support what you think are outliers. Um, so back to the beginning there, that’s, um, It’s interesting that you brought up, what did you eat because I did a study for a fast food restaurant, uh, who wanted to improve. I mean, the whole goal was to figure out better ways of doing, um, ordering for drive thrus. Okay. But what we studied was the interior cognition. Of people deciding what to get to eat for lunch and framing it. Framing is I teach a whole course on framing, um, because it’s hard, uh, but framing it to get patterns and framing it to get patterns that are useful for that particular organizational goal of improving ordering, uh, for drive thrus.

It takes a lot of thought. And so what we did was we saw not only this city skyline mental model diagram of what goes through people’s minds as they got lunch, but we also saw the thinking styles and the thinking styles were not, uh, they’re contextual. So your thinking style one day might change the next day, or it might even change when you get to the place where you had decided to go using one thinking style and see that it’s so crowded that there’s no way possible that you can do it. Um, and that’s when you reach for the muesli bar, right?

[00:44:21] Andy Polaine: Or a packet of chips or whatever.

[00:44:23] Indi Young: Yeah, yeah, or whatever. Yeah, exactly. Um, so you can flip thinking styles quite frequently. I’m in the. Just about finished with a comic series of a person demonstrating that flip. Same person, same context, but different things causing the flip, uh, between thinking styles.

So the idea though, is it like, um, for deciding what to get to lunch. I think, uh, one of the thinking styles was, you know, try to stay on the straight and narrow, whatever my straight and narrow was, right. Our straight and narrows might be different. Um, but I’m trying to stay on it and make my decisions by eliminating things from menus or eliminating locations to go based on what’s available there that doesn’t fit within my straight and narrow.

[00:45:16] Andy Polaine: So that could be, you know, keeping to a budget. It could be health thing. It could be being vegan or whatever it is that’s for you.

[00:45:22] Indi Young: Counting calories. Yeah. Yeah. Yeah. All that thing. Um, whereas another one, you’ll probably relate to this as like, I don’t want to eat the same thing twice. Right.

[00:45:35] Andy Polaine: I’m the opposite.

[00:45:36] Indi Young: Don’t eat the same thing twice. Yeah. Yeah. So, you’re at work, you’re going to go out to lunch with your buddies, you know, two, three buddies. Um, and they all want to go get a burrito and you’re like, no way, dude, I had a burrito last night. Mm mm. And you will leave that group in that thinking style and go get your own food somewhere.

[00:45:56] Andy Polaine: Even though that was your thinking style the day before.

[00:46:00] Indi Young: No, the day before it was, I mean, I got a burrito because the day before I had a grilled cheese sandwich.

[00:46:05] Andy Polaine: Right. Okay.

[00:46:06] Indi Young: Yeah. It’s not about the burrito.

[00:46:07] Andy Polaine: So it’s always, always, it’s always kind of contextually relative to the thing before. It’s kind of moving along.

[00:46:12] Indi Young: Yeah, exactly. It just can’t be the same.

[00:46:14] Andy Polaine: Yeah.

[00:46:15] Indi Young: So it, so what’s interesting is that when you get, the mental model diagram and these thinking styles and then you come back to try to solve this. How do we help people order God? Wow. Already you’ve probably thought of two ideas, how to serve or support the people who don’t want to repeat the same thing two days in a row, or, you know, even the same week, because you can track what they’ve ordered at your organization if you’re doing it through some sort of an app.

[00:46:45] Andy Polaine: Yeah. So, you know, when you explain it like that, so eloquently and, um, you know, ev you know, you can really relate to it. And I think, you know, when, when you talk about this stuff, people are, oh yeah, yeah, I completely get it. I’m like that all the time. People do it. Money is another one. And people do it a lot with a very varied relationship to my, always, always interested in that kind of perception of value, of like, I’m not gonna buy that. You know? And you go, well, that’s you that’s only the cup of a cup of coffee. You know, particularly with like buying an app or something from the app store that was a waste of money. It’s like, yeah, but it costs less than. One of the five coffees you drink every day. It’s really interesting.

[00:47:20] Indi Young: I, I, I just have to inject here that I don’t drink coffee, so I find it hilarious when people use that as the monetary.

[00:47:27] Andy Polaine: I don’t drink tea. I’m English, but I don’t drink tea. So, yeah. I only started drinking coffee when I was in my thirties.

[00:47:32] Indi Young: I actually have no idea what a cup of coffee costs.

[00:47:35] Andy Polaine: Oh, yeah. Too much is the answer. Um, so no, it’s probably not enough is actually the answer. So I think people really kind of get to understand this stuff and, and, you know, immediately get it right. Um, why do we get it so wrong? Why has it been sort of got so wrong in, in businesses or over and over and over again?

I mean, I’m always fascinated by this thing of like, this seems really obvious. I mean, there’s a, there’s a thing in service design. We talked about it in our book, there’s a guy called Daniele Catalanotto who’s just kind of has these little service design principles books. And one of the things, his principles was, you know, don’t treat your customers in, in a different way that you’d treat a friend.

Um, and it’s a very simple kind of principle, but all the time we have these very kind of asynchronous and unfriendly, unkind relationships with companies. Why, why does this all go wrong? Why don’t, why, why are we so sort of, I’m saying we to, you know, why are we as, you know, organizations so terrible at doing this?

[00:48:34] Indi Young: Yeah. Uh, first of all, I want to mention Lisa Dance just published a book called Today Is The Perfect Day. Uh, that’s all about all these things that companies are making us do. And she has this idea of unpaid labor, uh, highlighted in that book. So in the beginning we said like, there’s either intentional or unintentional harms.

And so let’s just answer it for unintentional harms. I mean, I can’t answer that question, but I can only see it through, you know, my little hole, it’s a big giant question. Um, there’s a lot of answers to it. The little, the little piece of it that I see is that we’re a little like in our org, in our team, the, my position in my team, um, my relationship to the people above me, is broken these days because we can be laid off tomorrow.

Often we don’t even build relationships because layoffs happen so quickly. We are not functioning as teams. We are being told we are a team, but we’re not functioning as teams. We’re not making the effort to make relationships. I think there’s a lot of reasons. Yeah, there’s layoffs. Uh, there’s also when you know, so and so who had dark skin tried to make a change and then she got ostracized and she complained to HR and they did nothing and she ended up kicked out. Okay, I’m not going to rock the boat.

[00:50:06] Andy Polaine: Yeah.

[00:50:06] Indi Young: Right. There’s the, I’m not going to rock the boat or maybe I’ll rock the boat for myself, but not for everybody around me. I’m not going to make this huge deal. I’m just going to make it right for me and I’ll be quiet about it. Or I’m going to try to make it a huge deal. There’s a lot of us who are, I’m going to make it a huge deal for everyone so I can try to make a difference in my tiny little way. And if we all try to make a difference in our tiny little way, then maybe we will make a change.

But I think that there’s a lot of stuckness within our orgs. Like what I said in the beginning is like, they’re just going to fall back to the way we always did things. I’m not going to go off piste in that direction because of, you know, it doesn’t adhere to the way that we’ve traditionally spoken about business.

It doesn’t adhere to the idea that, Oh, that’s a, a market where we can get a lot of profit. It does represent this DEI, it does represent sustainability. It does represent being able to uh, be on a team where we function as a team, where we have each other’s back, where we can make ideas together, where we have, where our managers have our back to make ideas together, where the, where our managers actually make ideas that are great.

Um, it’s broken. So that’s the little piece of it that I see.

[00:51:27] Andy Polaine: Yeah. Dehumanized. Yeah. And actually, I, you know, I kind of often said, you know, the role of what we’re trying to do is to re humanise, de humanized products- and services, right? I mean, I think it sort of leeches out.

So what are you working on at the moment? What is the, the next one?

[00:51:45] Indi Young: So I’m not working on that book yet. Um, the next book is Thinking Styles. I’m working, I’ve got a course that I’m, I’ve got a course right now, but, um, I have upgraded, been upgrading my courses, um, so that they are accessible and so that they are. In sort of they work in people’s lives a little bit better.

What I do is the recordings. There’s a whole set of recordings for a course, like the Listening Deeply courses, 11 hours of recordings. Um, and you’ve, you’re going to do it over six months and figure it out. Right. And there’s, Um, all the exercises and I did this for the two courses around emergent data synthesis, which is my way of seeing the patterns, letting those patterns grow, not putting my codes on it because my codes are my codes and my orgs codes.

That’s not what people are saying. So it’s emergent data synthesis. So those three courses are out. The next course is the Thinking Styles course and then the course after that I’m going to upgrade is the Framing Your Study course. So that’s what I’m working on right now. Although at the very moment, what I’m working on is trying to get more positioning case studies, elevator pitches. How do we talk about this out there for the whole community? Um, so, and, and kind of like, what, what can you do with this kind of data? So that’s what I’m working on right now.

[00:53:17] Andy Polaine: The stuff I asked you before, like make the arguments for this and how do you persuade people to do that? Yeah. You probably hear this all the time. I absolutely do. Whenever I give workshops and stuff. Oh yeah. Yeah. How do I convince my boss?

[00:53:30] Indi Young: Yeah. So I’m, I’m working on that. Um, and, uh, the Thinking Styles, I think is going to be really fabulous because it is one of the things is that people, when they’re, doing those mental model diagrams, um, it is a lot of mental work.

In fact, when I do it with teams, each team member only works on it for 10 hours a week. Uh, because it is a heavy lift. And if you do more than that, you end up burning yourself out and then you don’t wanna do it again. And I don’t want that to happen. I’m also working with somebody exploring what the current types of AI models can recognize. I don’t think it can do, um the affinity technique of focus of mental attention, but maybe in 20 years it can, I want to be the person to help train it. So I’ve got that in the works and so that might make some of that lift heavier, but with Thinking Styles, the lift is a little bit less. It’s a very specific way of working with a team and representing the people that you did listening sessions with, you can get it done I would guarantee after you do your listening sessions, I would guarantee you’d get it done in six days. Um, if you’ve got the right data, if you framed it, right. If patterns show up. Every time I do it, it works because I know how to frame this thing. There’s definitely the chance that it won’t work if it wasn’t framed, right.

[00:55:07] Andy Polaine: Yeah. So I, we, we could, we could talk for hours, but we have hit an hour already. There is one final question always, uh, which is what one small thing is either overlooked or could be redesigned that would have a, an outsized effect on the world?

[00:55:24] Indi Young: I think the one small thing that I’d like to mention is our, pride in our curiosity about data,. When we react to it, when we see a piece of data, we will ask these really stupid demographic questions.

It’s everywhere. We’re swimming in it. It shows up in academic papers. It shows up in journalism. It shows up in our own work. I mean, we’re literally swimming in it in the entire world. It’s like, Oh, you know, 57 percent of respondents were in favor of X but the others were, you know, like all split all over the place. And so you’ll go like, Oh, that 57%, how many of them were women?

[00:56:11] Andy Polaine: Yeah.

[00:56:11] Indi Young: Right. That will be your proud curiosity. Well, I want to know how I was like, that’s a ridiculous shit question. First of all, First of all, it’s often in getting asked in a binary sense and binary does not apply. And second of all, like what, what, what are you going to get out of that? It means nothing. It’s like saying, Oh, all Spanish speakers have trouble with money.

[00:56:38] Andy Polaine: Um, yeah, it doesn’t make any sense.

[00:56:41] Indi Young: It makes no sense. So that’s my one little thing.

[00:56:43] Andy Polaine: Okay.

[00:56:44] Indi Young: Stop, stop that. Don’t be proud of that kind of curiosity, ask different questions like about the thinking styles.

[00:56:52] Andy Polaine: Where can people find you online? I’ve put IndiYoung. com there, you are, you are there.

[00:56:56] Indi Young: Yep. I’m on LinkedIn and I’m also on Blue Sky and Twitter slash X but I think in LinkedIn, that’s where I focus. So I do my most responding to people there. And that’s Indi Young at LinkedIn.

[00:57:13] Andy Polaine: I’ll put the, I’ll put the links in the, in the show notes.

[00:57:16] Indi Young: Yeah. I also, uh, you can, I’m on Medium and I have a newsletter on Substack. Um, I had to switch to Substack because they shut down Tiny Letter and, um, Substack has its issues, but I’m not spending any money through them at all. So I’m like, okay, maybe, I don’t know.

[00:57:36] Andy Polaine: Well, I’ll put the links to that in, in the show notes too. Indi, thank you so much for being my guest on Power of Ten.

[00:57:43] Indi Young: Thank you, Andy. .

[00:57:45] Andy Polaine: You have been watching and listening to Power of Ten. You can find more about the show on polaine. com, where you can also check out my leadership coaching practice, online courses, sign up for my very irregular newsletter, Doctor’s Note. If you’ve got any thoughts, uh, comments, disagreements, whatever, put them in the comments below if you’re watching on YouTube or, or get in touch. You’ll find me on as @apolaine on on Mastodon. You’ll find me on LinkedIn or my website. All the links are in the show notes. Thanks for listening and see you next time.