One thing in life is sure. The more exactly, accurately and the sooner you know what you want from life, the easier your will get it. Usually the most successful people in the world are the ones who know what they want to do in life from a very young age, and have the talent to really do it.
The best programmers, athletes, businessmen and so on, they all know that they were born to excel at exactly one thing. Knowing what you want in life allows you to focus on that thing only. If you are lucky and the environment supports you to the point where you can invest 10,000 hours into your talent development, then you can become a real Outlier.
I very well remember one sentence from the movie Limitless, where Bradly Cooper gets the special brain enhancement pills, becomes super smart and goes from rags to riches. When he takes the pill, only one magical thing happens – quoting him: “I wasn't high, I wasn't wired. Just clear. I knew what I needed to do and how to do it.”
Well, that is the secret to a much better quality of life – be clear about what you want and make the strategy for how you will get it. You must know what you want as clearly as possible. You have to see the final outcome you want. Just saying to yourself “I want to be rich” or “I want to have a cute girl/boyfriend” is not enough. You have to be more specific. That is the rule for every aspect in your life. Even for relationships.
And you don’t need any pills for that. Let’s look at a better technique for being more proactive at choosing your personal and professional relationships – personas.
Personas in business
In internet user-experience and marketing expertise, personas are used to represent different user types that might use the product in a similar way. Personas are fictional characters representing the ideal customer or a typical character for a user segment. They are hypothetical users. It is also a very popular method used in lean start-up marketing to help you focus your efforts. You try to imagine everyone who could potentially use your product (customer segments) and then you create fictional characters for either every segment or for the priority ones.
In user experience, the purpose of defining personas is to more easily make decisions about product features, interaction, architecture and design of the website. A persona is nothing but a substitute for a target user. You create as realistic and reliable representation of the user segment as possible.
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When you are defining a typical persona for a selected customer segment, you are defining their goals, desires, behavioral patterns, buying triggers, limitations and other elements, such as demographics, biographics, geographic and psychographic attributes, and so on.
The most frequently used parameters for defining personas are especially based on what they want to do, how they behave, what motivates them, how they think and what they want to accomplish.
To be more exact: for every persona, you should define the elements listed below, if you have enough data to back them up. The list is meant to help you with ideas for defining personas in your personal life later on.
- Fictional name, photo, representative quotes for a better notion of the potential user
- Demographic and geographic features
- Professional background, responsibilities and skills
- Context or a narrative story
- Behavioral patterns and key characteristics
- Values, attitudes and beliefs
- User goals, desires and expectations
- Life goals
- Product experience goals
- End goal of using the product
- User tasks, activities and workflow
- Limitations and accessibility issues
- Buying triggers
- Needs and pain points
- Use cases or specific usage pattern
- Interaction, information, sensory, emotional aspects
- Typical day in a life
- Potential customer journey
- Empathy map
The biggest benefit of creating personas is personalizing abstract data and therefore better understanding different customer segments and their goals. You “materialize” your assumptions and much more clearly define who your potential customer could be.
Creating personas helps the product development team to:
- focus on creating value,
- user experience experts to prevent common (design) pitfalls, thus avoiding “self-referential design” creation which means subconsciously projecting your own mental models on the product.
- With personas, you can more easily (3) evaluate product feature ideas, develop wireframes and site architecture, design the overall look,
- and of course copywriters can write a better (4) targeted copy.
Here is a good presentation about personas:
Before defining the persona, you should also do user research and gather as much data as possible about the selected segment. Data can be gathered by interviews, surveys, different testing methods (A/B), user observations, field studies, and so on. In reality, personas are only as good as the research behind them. The best research is usually based on ethnographic data – ethnography being the systematic study of people and culture. The purpose of research is to find what people do, what frustrates them and what gives them satisfaction. After conducting adequate research, you should be able to identify their behavioral patterns. One technique to do that is user mapping by behavioral variables.
For every product, more personas are usually created, specific to every customer segment. But even the same customer segment can be represented with more than one persona, for example if there are gender specific roles and use cases. When you create a persona, you also try to imagine a typical day in the life of that persona and, of course, how and when they would use or buy your product.
All information about the persona should lead to some decisions. In the next step, you can also make scenarios describing a persona trying to do a specific task in a specific environment or context. This is the so called scenario-based design.
If you don’t have enough research information to create real personas, you can create provisional personas. They are not that detailed and are based on a few best guesses of their needs and characteristics. That is still better than having no personas.
When creating your personas you can mark different assumptions as:
- Validated hypothesis (what you already know, is confirmed)
- To be tested hypothesis (what still needs to be tested)
Without doing personas, you have the so called “elastic user”. An elastic user can be anyone and therefore no one. The consequence of an undefined user is usually unfocused design with too many features.
Personas tell stories, spark ideas and ignite action. They are the in-put information for marketing and selling activities (sales funnel, customer segmentation…).
Using Personas in your personal life
Let’s build a use case based on those two understandings – (1) the first one, that the clearer picture you have of what you want in life, the easier you will get it, and the second that (2) the user experience experts use personas as a tool for visualizing probable users of the product in order to make the best possible user experience.
The idea behind using personas in personal life is very simple. Based on knowing yourself and your assumptions about yourself, you can make personas for people and organizations you want to interact with in your personal or professional life. Starting with the most important person in your life, your spouse. After making a persona for your spouse, you can also make a persona for your perfect boss, the company you would like to work for (there should be different name for that, since a company is not a person, but that is okay), friends and business partners.
Having this kind of personas will help you attract or select only quality relationships and improve the current relationships you have.
Well, at this point I know exactly what you’re thinking and I totally agree with you. How can this make sense, especially for your personal relationships, if …?
Attraction isn’t a choice. You are simply attracted to someone before really knowing them. It’s true nonetheless… Maybe you cannot choose who you fall in love with, but you can definitely choose who you will stay in a relationship with and devote your life to. Choosing the right partner is probably the most important decision of your life. You don’t want to make the choice based only on your animal instinct.
It goes the same for the company you (will) work for, as the second most important decision of your life. You are going to spend approximately one third of your life at the workplace. You don’t want to spend your life working only for those companies that first replied to your received CV or that give you the biggest paycheck. You want to work for the companies that make you feel good, with which you share the same values and where you can blossom.
Personas can help you with that. Personas can help you move from lottery to strategy.
With personas, you are more proactive and growth-oriented
You have two options for how to interact with life. The first one is the reactive way and the second one is the proactive way. Being reactive means that you simply react to things that happen to you in your environment based on your (subconscious) behavioral patterns. You assume that your personal power is quite limited. You are how you were born to be and you live life that was given to you. That is also called a fixed mindset.
In personal relationships, that means falling in love because of the “greater power”, usually physical attraction. You try to stay together with someone without thinking of how good you two fit together. But if there is no other fit except physical attraction (emotional, spiritual, intellectual, social attractions, sharing the same values…), relationships often become sour and there are many disappointments for both partners.
In business life, being reactive means sending your CV to hundreds of companies and hoping that one of them will invite you to an interview. In the second step, you hope that at the interview, someone will recognize you as a fit for the company and hire you. In this kind of thinking, people usually don’t even know much about the company. They are only focused (reacting) on being invited to the interview.
In both cases of reactive thinking, what usually happens is that business and personal relationships can very quickly become relationsh*ts. You expected more, you had the wrong assumptions, you find out that maybe there is no real fit after a big struggle. And remember:
The hottest hell on Earth is when you are forced to work or live with people who have totally different values than you, with no common ground to build on.
The solution is pretty simple. You have to know yourself better, you must know better what you want in life and you must be much more proactive. Steven Covey, author of the book Seven Habits of Highly Effective People defines proactivity as the act of taking charge of your life. Proactivity means being responsible for your life and taking actions to master it.
One of the most fun and quick solutions for being more proactive is making a persona – of your perfect spouse, the company you would like to work for, and so on.
Creating your own personas will help you:
- Have better focus for who to meet and spend time with, in business as well as in private life
- Know immediately which relationships you have to discard
- Decrease the number of pitfalls in relationships (wrong expectations…)
- Do a quick benchmark of how big the potential of the relationship is when you meet and interact with someone new
- Be more honest in relationships and avoid many disappointments, like hoping that people will change
- Quickly identify what you can learn from the other person and where the relationship needs to grow
- “Market” yourself better, know what to look for and where
In order to use personas in your personal life, for business and pleasure relationships, you should especially define (the brackets contain an example from business as well as personal life):
- Basic demographics (age of potential partner, size of the company)
- Must-have values and traits (intelligence, technological company)
- Key characteristics (company culture, hobbies)
- Deal breakers (smoking, industries not to work for)
- Goals (building a family, becoming number one in the industry)
It may sound extremely dull, so let’s look at all the benefits of going from reactive to proactive behavior when creating personas in both cases.
If you do a persona for your perfect spouse, you can:
- Know yourself much better, and be more aware of what you want out of the personal relationship
- Get new ideas for where and how to meet a potential spouse (hobbies, online dating…)
- Make a better personal “sales pitch”
- Evaluate the potential of the relationship really quickly (common goals…)
- Know what the deal breakers for you are
- Be honest about the potential, avoid hurting yourself and others (we can just be friends…)
- Talk about what you like or dislike in other people and what the deal breakers are
- See what you can work on in your personal relationship to make it even better
- Identify common hobbies and start doing things together
- Based on all the facts above, you can more easily “attract” someone that fits you better
If you do a persona for the perfect company to work for, you can:
- Know better where you would like to work (size of the company, culture…)
- Prepare a list of companies you would like to work for
- Do detailed research for your targeted companies (company goals, board members…)
- Better customize your CV and personal presentations
- Think of ideas for selling yourself to the companies, bypassing traditional approaches such as sending a CV and hoping they will invite you for an interview
- Write down numerous ideas for how you can add value to the company
- Develop new skills you know the companies you are targeting are looking for
- Monitor all new information about the targeted companies via Google Alerts and so on
As mentioned before, you can do the same for other relationships in your life (friends, boss, business partners…).
The more experience you have in life and the more often you reflect on your past choices the more clear picture you should have what you want in your life. Thus more persona assumptions should be marked as validated, not to be tested.
There is no perfect match in life
Of course even if you do make your perfect personas, you will never find a perfect match. If there were a perfect match for you, then there would be no room for growth and learning. And life would be very boring without any challenges. But you can definitely find a close fit to your likings.
On the other hand, you also shouldn’t fear that there is no close fit for you. There are more than 3 billion people of the opposite sex living in this world, and we have more than 100 million companies. Statistically, it is very probable that you can find your fit, a place or a person where you feel extremely good and you can blossom.
The only thing holding you back is not knowing what you want, a lack of strategy, and fear. Life is too short and too precious for that kind of nonsense.
And last but not least: personas should be dynamic. Your preferences and values do change throughout life and therefore your personas can become outdated. The expiration date of your personas usually depends on how fast you grow in life and how fast people in your life grow with you.
Thus you should regularly update your personas. A good compass for when to do it is when you feel that it’s time for a change in life, when you want something new or you are very frustrated with current relationships. Extremely good times or extremely bad times usually accelerate even more relationship transitions and are real relationships tests.
The more you want to experience in life, the more you change and grow, the faster your environment is changing, including people you are spending your time with. Thus you will have to update your personas more often. But it doesn’t take long. It’s just a short exercise to clear your mind, define what you want and focus yourself.
Your ideal self-persona
There are some relationships in your life that you cannot choose by yourself – especially your kids, your mother and your father. Making a persona for them should be done from a different perspective. You should move from what kind of relationships you want in life to how you can help them and empower them to become what they really want.
You can do the same for yourself. If you don’t like spreadsheets and the personal Kaizen table (a list of personal improvements you have to make), you can make a persona of your ideal self. In psychology, the self-discrepancy theory talks about how everyone has an ideal self and that is what usually motivates you to change, improve and achieve more. Having a clear picture of your ideal self will definitely help you focus, set the right priorities and grow faster.
For your Ideal self-persona you can make a mind map, a list, a Pinterest board or a notebook with pictures, quotes and attributes for the direction you wish to grow in. You can expand the context of what kind of person you would like to become, what kind of skills you would like to develop, what you would like to have, in what environment you would wish to create and so on.
The first three steps you can make for creating Personas as a technique to help you know better what you want in life is concretizing and visualizing:
- the ideal spouse you would like to have in life and,
- the ideal company you would like to work for (or what kind of business would you like to have) and of course,
- you should make a Persona for your ideal self (if you don’t already have your Kaizen list).
Here are two examples from my life as guidance to help you with the whole process. I have used the mind-mapping technique in order to create Personas.
Below you can download two files, one for my ideal spouse and one for my ideal company.
In user experience, personas should often tell stories, which means you can make a life or relationship story instead of a mind map or list. Be creative and use the tools in a way that inspires you the most.
Enjoy playing and creating your personas!