The Optimal Path

Fostering a culture of organizational learning with Roy Opata Olende | Zapier

Episode Summary

In this episode of The Optimal Path, host Ash Oliver sits down with Roy Opata Olende to delve into the complexities of UX research across organizational altitudes.

Episode Notes

In this episode of The Optimal Path, host Ash Oliver sits down with Roy Opata Olende to delve into the complexities of UX research across organizational altitudes. They explore the different modalities of learning that take place inside organizations, the critical need for leadership buy-in, and the challenges of communicating research impact. Roy introduces the concept of a "menu of learning" along with his best practices for fostering a culture of curiosity within your own organization.

About Roy:

Roy Opata Olende has been involved in user research and service design since 2012. He currently leads the UX Research practice at Zapier, a SaaS automation company. Prior to this role, he led Research Operations at Zapier and UX Research at Buffer.

When not working or hanging out with his wife and three young boys, he can be found obsessing over football (soccer). Roy hails from Kenya and currently resides just outside of Toronto, Canada.

Connect with Roy:

You can connect with Roy on X or LinkedIn.


Research Maturity Model Report by Maze 

How Zapier's Head of UX Research Organizes Projects 

How to Build a High-Impact Learning Culture by Josh Bersin 

Just Enough Research by Erika Hall 

Research Practice by Gregg Bernstein

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Episode Transcription


Ash Oliver: An appetite for learning is essential for product success. When you foster a culture of curiosity, you empower teams to unlock critical insights that inform better decision making.

Roy Opata Olende: A healthy culture of learning. Honestly, I think that comes directly from the leadership. If you don't have leadership that one talk about being connected to customers, learning from customers consistently, that being baked in, no one is incentivized to prioritize that.

Ash Oliver: Today on The Optimal Path, we're dissecting the hidden structures of organizational learning and answering, how can organizations consistently learn from customers and triumph through change?

Welcome to The Optimal Path, a podcast about user research and product decision making brought to you by Maze. I'm your host, Ash Oliver. And in this podcast, you'll hear from research, design, and product leaders about the ideas and experiences informing decision making across all [00:01:00] aspects of product development.

Research is a conduit of learning. Maze's 2023 Research Maturity Model and Report found that organizations that leverage research at their highest potential gain 2.3x better business outcomes, including a reduced time to market and an increase in revenue. That's a seismic advantage, one that today's guest is familiar with.

Roy Opata Elende has been involved in user research and service design since 2012. He currently leads the UX research practice at Zapier, a SaaS automation company. Prior to this role, he led research operations at Zapier and UX research at Buffer. He's not only gained first hand experience with organizations that learn, but also writes extensively on the topic of research on the substack Scaling Research.

Roy, thanks so much for being on.

Roy Opata Olende: Hey, I appreciate you having me.

Ash Oliver: I'm really excited about our topic today as we're going to discuss the modalities or menu of learning as you say that takes place inside of organizations and I thought we could start maybe with an overview of what characteristics you believe qualify an organization to be considered an organization that learns.

Roy Opata Olende: I was thinking about this question and the first idea that popped into mind was just thinking through the sort of the different stages of a business. And think about someone who starts up a cafe, for example, and you start up a cafe and essentially you need I think of this, this solo person who's doing all the baking and working front of house making the coffees are really hustling, right?

And in that stage, this person is just looking for any signal at all. Like just any level of feedback you can give [00:03:00] me. Was that coffee? Okay. Oh, that was too hot. Okay, good to know. How was the croissant? Awesome. And they're in this stage where they Just need to learn to survive. If I don't get this feedback, I'm not going to be able to survive.

But That sort of posture and that openness to learning looks different. The more that company grows, that business grows to the point of imagining a company at 10,000 people, right? that same co founder, CEO, whatever is not in the same place as that founder of the cafe who early stage is just really hungry for learning.

So I think learning. looks different depending on the stage of company that you are. If you're early stage, you sort of have to be learning. Uh, but as you mature and you bring on that second person who's going to be a barista, and then you bring on that a hundredth person who is, you know, a marketing [00:04:00] coordinator.

You bring on the thousandth person who is, a rev ops manager. You bring on the 10, 000th person who is, a customer support advocate, whatever it is, it looks different at each stage. So I think what I tend to think about, organization that's open to learning is at each stage, there are ways in which.

That feedback doesn't just sort of drift, but it's brought in and used much like That cafe owner takes in as much signal as possible to be able to make a change that's going to add more value to what's going on, the kind of coffee that's made, the kind of baked goods that are delivered, etc. So, we can, so we'll go into this more, but I think the first place I landed was sort of these different stages and they look different, but ultimately what's really important is the signal that's coming out from those people being served by the business is received and some sort of action is taken.[00:05:00]

Ash Oliver: That's a great visual. I'm tying that, you know, early stage hunger of learning to survival, I can see how this maybe gets transposed into certain areas of the business as you scale, but what do you think can be done to instill that same level of hunger and that connection to, you know, the, the desire for learning equates to the survival of business as you scale?

Or do you think that there's a cultural component that can keep that kind of cafe mindset as the business grows past that initial stage?

Roy Opata Olende: Some bits of this that are out of the control of the business and force the business into it. And then there's probably a healthy approach where it's sort of built into the business as, as it grows. So, on the former, when you get to a stage that your business just needs to survive, because you know, you grew to 1000 people and things are not going [00:06:00] well, you're going to be forced to go out and learn and no one wants to be that spot, right?

You don't want to be in a spot where things are so things are so thick that I need to go out again and figure this out. And we see this a lot in really large companies. I remember reading the story of IBM back in the late eighties, early nineties.

And they were in a spot that the company is imploding upon itself and what the new CEO did was go out and make sure that they were learning as much as possible, as quickly as possible. So I think one, you don't want to be that side, but that is, that is an eventuality, a possible eventuality for a company that newly considered to be a learning organization is you're in, you're in dire straits.

You need to figure it out. But on the other side, sort of building in a healthy culture of learning. Honestly, I think that comes directly from the leadership. If you don't have leadership that one talk about being connected to customers, [00:07:00] learning from customers consistently, that being baked in, no one is incentivized to prioritize that.

So the COO, the head of design, the head of product, the head of up or whoever it is, there's very little incentive for you to spend time explicitly learning from folks. If as a leadership group, that's not top of mind, right? So there's no way a company is going to be a learning organization without buy in from from the top.

And then I think there's, there's the elements of, well, now that there's buy in, how does that work out? I think this comes down to what we talk about a little bit here. There's a menu of learning and every company can learn in different ways. So I think when it comes to implementation, the how, that's quite scattered.

But ultimately, if you don't have leadership who are brought in, you're not going anywhere.

Ash Oliver: Yeah, well said. And many of the leaders that I've spoken to have underscored the same thing. [00:08:00] Leadership really sets the tone. I think this is a perfect place to get into what you mean by the menu of learning or what modalities of learning are present inside of teams.

Roy Opata Olende: This is a topic that is near and dear, because I'm in a practice, UX research, that I think is going through. Um, you know, we're, we're relatively new practice in the world. You know, if you compare UX research to say sales or marketing, we're in the very early stages, you know, like really a couple of decades old. And with that comes the questions of like, where's UX are positioned as an industry, within organizations, whereas UX are positioned as a practice. There's a lot that we have to think through. If I think of my company and places I've worked, when you think about learning from customers, I think UXR has often been in a place where we think, Oh, we're the people who empathize with our users.

We're the [00:09:00] people who, you know, help product managers or salespeople or whoever it is to further understand what people's needs are, what their motivations are, etc. But realistically, that's not true, UX research is one practice one stream of methodology by which you can learn from different folks.

There are others that exist. So, a very common one is customer support. So, we have folks who are interacting with customers day in, day out, often dealing with problems, but 100 percent learning some things. And this is for supports, probably one of the most frustrating aspects of their work is knowing so much, learning so much all the time, and that not always being filtered through to leadership in a consistent way that helps with decision making.

But if you think about learning, they are learning, they're learning a lot all the [00:10:00] time. Let's think about a group like sales, right? Sales, if it exists in your organization, is learning from prospects, from people who are considering your tool, your service, whatever it is. Uh, then you have folks who just generally may interact with customers in some way.

So, you know, if you're in a physical space, maybe again, your cafe, there's going to be some level of interaction with your customers, right? You give someone a coffee. You have some quick conversation about nothing. But all through those interactions, there's some form of learning and if I speak from the UX research perspective, we need to sort of like figure out where we sit in this menu of learning, because so much of what has been spoken about internally from the UX research perspective is we empathize so much with these folks.

You know, if you want to learn about these folks, we're a great, you know, we're a great source of these insights. And that's true. [00:11:00] But we have to appreciate that there's other folks that learn in different ways. And what they learn, whether or not it's deeply researched or not, is applied into decision making and does have some level of effect.

So I think there's an attraction to me in talking about learning more than research, because that's actually what happens in companies is we learn in different ways. We do research in different ways too, but research is part of learning, not the other way around.

Ash Oliver: love the way that you've drawn that comparison. I think it very specifically to kind of the shift that we've observed in the industry occurring today where we'll talk about some of the democratization of research as well. But it, it reminds me, of this, you know, kind of tug of war, so to speak, where perhaps Previously, or some individuals may be of the mindset that research is kind of the epicenter of the learning that happens, and therefore, you know, it might be quite centralized and siloed.

And then these insights kind of trickle out, really radiate out from [00:12:00] the research team, wherein what you've described is more, you know, less of an oracle by, by nature of the UXR practice, but more of the, the harnessing, where research still takes place. But there's, you know, all of these other, streams and currents of learning that, you know, kind of make up the broader picture, especially, even given my background in, in sales, that's one of the things that I've talked about a lot in terms of, you know, being on the front lines of that learning. It's all different types of learning. So maybe that's what you've described in terms of this modality. that's present in teams.

Is there something you want to say more about that?

Roy Opata Olende: Yeah. And I think, something you're saying, it made me, made me think about, think why research has been you know, this level of, like you said, being an Oracle, right. And being this expert. And I think part of it, I had a great conversation with a fellow called Dave Hora, really smart fellow in UX research.

And we talked a bit about this where there is some level of attachment to. Like, what's my value if I'm not the oracle, [00:13:00] right? Like, what's the value of me being in this company only to learn, only to do the research, but there's other people also learning. So, where do I fit in? How am I valuable? If that person can jump on a call with a customer, why do you need me, right?

And I think there's part of this that actually, from the UXR perspective, I think being more open to like, This menu of learning is the reality of well, what's my value if other people can can hop on these calls? And I think there is unique value in the skill set that researchers UX research provides But I just hop on that comment like there's there's some level of an easiness in the UX world when learning is this organization wide practice and not just specialized within, not that UX research is not specialized, but you know, there's more than one well, right?

Roy Opata Olende: There's seven wells on this patch of land. One is [00:14:00] deeper, you know, one's wider. This metaphor can really fall apart as logic and fall apart. But I think you got them going here. And I think that's, that's part of why as research, there's a lot we need to think through when comes to the menu of learning within our organizations. 

Ash Oliver: And I, it resonates and I can empathize with that because as, design has become a bit democratized as well. There are, you know, folks on, counterparts of mine that are on the marketing team that may not use the same tools but are self servicing some of the design needs, right? And the same argument be made, for designers.

And I think that, you know, leaders like yourself and others have, have really shown and demonstrated how this shift occurring in research is, less about the value that's generated individually by the research team, but more so about. How they're able to steward that, you know, education and practice throughout the organization.

So the, you know, kind of high tide raises all boats, you know, it's definitely doesn't take away from what I've, I've seen in other teams where the researchers are now freed up [00:15:00] to do the highly specialized, you know, practice where you want to put, your most practiced individuals in front of that, like, strategic level of research.

I think you may have talked about this as well in, an article that you, you, uh, wrote in terms of the research at, at Zapier. and this was around kind of the, the high altitude versus mid altitudes and low altitude. is there something you want to maybe comment on in terms of that and how this shaped by kind of the shift that's in the industry?

Roy Opata Olende: Yeah, yeah, so essentially, when I started off, was originally hired to lead research operations at ZAPI. And then after sort of like a year and a half, moved back into UX research to lead the UX research practice. And essentially, the place I landed with reforming how our team worked was using this altitudes model.

So high altitude research, mid altitude, low altitude. So high altitude research really connects with executives and directors, the kind of decisions they need to make, the kind of questions that are on their minds, that often feed into [00:16:00] company strategy, sort of longer term planning. Mid altitude, in our context, we have essentially groups of product teams work in a zone.

And so you have leadership who oversee that zone. And so for those folks, they're not making company wide decisions, but they're making decisions that impact the work of many teams, right? And so what kind of questions do they have? What kind of decisions do they need to make? Mid altitude research connects at that level.

And then low altitude is the work that happens within product teams, within product squads. They're delivering features, they're delivering new products. what kind of evaluative work they need to do, what kind of generative work they need to do, that's very much low altitude. And if we think about this I think a lot of this is dependent on how your company approaches say UX research and other fields, If you're ever approaching a company where you're going to have one UX researcher per product team, this looks very different than a company that has three researchers [00:17:00] across the entire company with, you know, dozens of squads, right? the reality is you have all these different types of research that need to be done.

The amount of people you have and resources you have determine where you should focus, right? Because again, there's going to be learning that happens within product squads. That is very much traditional UX research. And there's going to be some learning that happens. It's just not UX research. It's product ops saying, Hey, here's some stuff we've got from support.

What should we do about this? Right? So in our context, we want to make sure that we have coverage at all those altitudes. And if I'm the only researcher in the company, I know it's pretty common to start off low altitude, but ultimately, I want to do high altitude research. I want to do the kind of work that is highly directional, which is actually the kind of work I did in the last company I worked, Buffer.

So I joined as a team of four [00:18:00] researchers. Eventually, it was just me left as the sole researcher. And the big switch that we made is not only did I enable folks to do research, learn how to do research as designers and product But the kind of research I did was essentially working with the CEO on the questions that he had because if I'm going to be the one person specialized in going out and investigating, you know, what?

The needs of, of folks in our customer base and perspective basis. Well, I should probably be at the highest altitude. That's what's going to help us as a company the most. And then we can use all the different, pieces in this menu of learning to learn a different altitude.

Some of which will be UX research carried out by a designer, for example. And some of which will just be, let's hear from support on what's been coming in what issues have been popping up most frequently and where the opportunities are in our business. So, yeah, in Zapier, that's sort of how we [00:19:00] approach it is we use an altitudes model for research, but appreciating that it's not the only place where people learn.

And to be honest, it's something that we're also coming to terms with is, how do we add the most value? My perspective is research adds the most value higher up altitude wise, because that's where the most directional decisions are made. But I also understand there's times where you come into an organization, you have to prove the value of research and high altitude work tends to be It tends to take much longer than going in and running a usability test.

Right? You've also got to get, folks to buy in to the value before you can go high altitude. but yeah, in terms of how I think about that, that's, that's how we've generally approached research and how we're trying to think about research versus other, other types of learning.

Ash Oliver: I love the framework. I'm curious, considering you have a background in ResearchOps, do you feel that that's a fundamental building block in order to orchestrate these [00:20:00]  altitudes of learning across teams because maybe traditionally one would think ReOps is really more around, you know, the systems and the tooling and, you know, processes, but I, I can't help but maybe see a pattern here between how you've carved out this framework and how the kind of system or model based thinking might, lend itself to the ways in which organizations learned in this way.

Roy Opata Olende: Yeah, I think in our context, research ops is essential one, because we don't have, we don't have coverage across every team. We just don't have the people to do all the altitudes of research. And I don't even know if I really want the people to do all the altitudes of research, to be honest. but we also have buy in to have research ops, right?

And we have teams that want to perform research. In some cases, Maybe [00:21:00] even too much. So I, I just hopped off a call with one of my team members who essentially, and I'm really glad about this, was really proud about talking a pm out of doing research and just shipping. So there's definitely times where we also want to get folks to not be reliant on research.

Like, uh, sometimes we can actually just get the thing out the door and learn through something that's live, right? But yes, in our, in our context, research ops is very helpful because we have, product squads and product leadership, and this includes design leadership as well that are bought into the need to learn, right? And so when the expectation is out there that, okay, I need to run some sort of evaluative work. How do I do this? Research Ops is going to be very helpful freeing up researchers to not have to do that operational work, to not have to have to do the setup and, you know, the procurement and all that stuff, right?

But I think just [00:22:00] to, make the point, that's maybe not the case in every organization, right? So in our context, yes. If you're in a context where you bring in research ops before there's buy in for the need to learn through UX research, I know this is even strange for me to say as someone who leads UX research, I do think companies need UX but in the context where you bring someone in before that happens, which I don't think actually happens much, but I think just to, just to play it out, research ops isn't yet essential.

Like what is essential is getting on the same page about, the need to expand this bit in the menu of learning. We need to get better UX research. How are we going to do that? Okay. Maybe actually need to bring in my first researcher. Maybe they bring in research ops because they can see that, Oh, I've got like three designers who are constantly need help with this.

Okay. We need tooling. We need resources, et cetera. But I think just to say it shouldn't be an assumption that research ops is what a company automatically needs. [00:23:00] that's a downstream decision from many other things. 

Ash Oliver: I'm curious if there are ways in which you've communicated the, value and the ROI, so to speak, of research and how that drives business impact, especially in today's climate where we see, some organizations are decreasing the volume of research that they're doing and instead we see more customer centric organizations doubling down on their research.

So in this way, how might you communicate about the link between the research that's being done and the importance or the impact of research on the business?

Roy Opata Olende: It's such an important question because you can be delivering great research that stakeholders appreciate, they value, and key leaders can still have the impression [00:24:00] that research is not delivering value.

So the ability to do good research, That filters into decisions at different altitudes and leadership's impression of research can be mutually exclusive. They're not always, but they can be. and so there's a few things to think through. One is being able to communicate that to your manager, whoever manages you, whether it's, you know, you report into design, report into product, whoever you report into, being able to tell that story in your one to ones, in whatever sessions happen with your leadership team over and over and over so that they can translate that to their level of leadership, right?

So I think there's, there's some level of working through Your leader, your VP, your director, whoever you report into, that needs to be explicit, having them pass on, okay, this is what's happening, this is what's going on. and I think there's another piece, which is, I think, a [00:25:00] much larger part of my role, which is being very explicit, essentially running a marketing campaign on UXR that never right?

So, something I've only just started up, is this monthly report, not on what research has done, but actually. be talking to my team and going, Hey, please tell me about the decisions your research has impacted in the last month. So speak to that stakeholder, ask them, Hey, did you use this in some way?

And then tell me, and I'm going to write it down and I'm going to write up, we have like internal blog called Async. I'm going to write a team update that's not focused on here. Here's the work we've done, but here are the decisions that have been made as a result of Research work, and I'm going to ping the executives so they see that right and so I'm sure there's going to be other ways that this this iterates, but for now, that's essentially what I'm squarely focused on is [00:26:00] I'm going to tell you exactly How this research impacted decisions where I'm going to do the work with my team to discover where this plugged in So that we can actually continue to be reminded the fact that if we didn't have this research we likely would have made a different decision.

And so I think that's upon, that's my job, right? I need to be able to do the marketing. I need to be able to, you know, do the shout outs for the work happening in my team such that the gap between Oh, research, research is really cool. It really helped me in this way. And leadership going, wow, research is really essential.

We need to like really continue to invest in that. We can close that gap, but there's no gap between those two, different ideas.

Ash Oliver: That's great advice. I love the kind of internal road show of that and I think that, you know, design is, is still in that place as well. Think it back to what you were saying, you know, this is, we're only a couple of decades old as an [00:27:00] industry and a practice. So the, you know, kind of continued advocacy, and the showcasing of the impact is not likely to be work that.

It should be omitted and probably know, will be omitted at some point. This is, you know, part of the, part of the practice. going back to what you were talking about in terms of the impact and where some of the maybe assumption or impression by some leadership could be that.

Research is less essential. I'm just thinking about those altitudes where in You know, perhaps in an organization where researchers are spending a lot of their time on the high altitude research. Do you think that that creates, a challenge because there's somewhat of a long tail to the decisions that are being made there, and the impact or the outcomes that can be seen from it?

So do you In that sense, kind of rely a bit on maybe some of the more quicker wins or ways that you can kind of tangibly point to, you know, where a usability study was conducted, maybe in the lower mid altitude and, you know, kind of [00:28:00] related to maybe some, practical changes in the product, like, do you, you know, kind of compensate in, in some way, or is there a different communication model for how you describe the impact that's happening in the high altitude range?

Roy Opata Olende: if you think through the experience of someone maybe starting off a practice, it's going to be very tough in an environment where you don't yet have a lot of trust built up, a lot of context built up to go high altitude and stay out high altitude because of like what you said, that work tends to be, you have longer cycles.

It's bigger decisions. There's no guarantee that. what comes out of that work actually funnels into decision making, sort of in a positive sense, right? Like, you can provide context doesn't mean that the recommendations that research is what an exec is going to take and implement as a recommendation, So at the high altitudes, it takes a high level of trust and context about the value of. work at this level. so yeah, I think I'm, I'm with you in that [00:29:00] being able to. Roll out this more evaluative work, this low altitude work, for example, helps people to understand, huh, like, there's something different here, right?

Like when say, the previous modality of learning was, I just put stuff out there. And I got support, hit me up with all these tickets. And like, we've, we've shipped the thing. And now we need to go back and, you know, roll back something or, my engineering manager is a bit annoyed because now the team has to spend more time here.

And we've introduced this new, there's this new piece in the menu, which is evaluative research. And all of a sudden, Oh, cool. My engineering manager is happier because, we're not rolling stuff back. we're more efficient in how you know, we get things out to customers. Boom. That's great. That really helps because it's short cycle.

Really tight feedback loop, which can hopefully funnel up through product design, whatever stakeholders you have, right? So I think getting to that point of doing high altitude work, you need a fair amount of trust and context, [00:30:00] right? In terms of the the socialization piece and the marketing behind this, the road showing.

I mean, it largely is the same. It just looks, it just happens in a different cycle, right? I mean, potentially happens in a different cycle. Like in our context, for example, one of my high altitude researchers has sort of been doing work in the same area for six months. And that work has been broken up into about four distinct projects. I'm generally not a fan of a researcher going away for six months digging into a topic and coming back. That doesn't work in our context. Like it just doesn't at all. Right. so let's break this up into Distinct segments and all through this checkpoints for each project.

So now the end of the project, in a six week window, there's a bunch of checkpoints with stakeholders to let them know, hey, this is what's going on, et cetera. This is what I found. Okay, we're going to roll on to the next thing. Let's clarify if this is what really [00:31:00] makes sense at this moment.

So when it comes to socializing, there's something actually a little bit easier sometimes high altitude because you tend to be engaging with high level decision makers anyway. So there's less work that needs to happen around Oh, like this. I don't need to say this guided x decision. They're like, yeah, we know we're the ones who made the decision, right?

There's more to help with a lot of that mid to low altitude awareness that Oh, wow, you help with that decision that's so needed. Oh, cool. that's helpful to know. If I'm the You know, Chief Revenue Officer, and I'm the one who took in the research by this Hyles, Hyles UDU XR, I don't need to know that that it's helpful to be reminded, right?

But I already have some context that this work is valuable. And so it works a little bit differently. But I think you need to be intentional with how projects are executed because you can land in a place like I remember listening to a researcher at a really large company [00:32:00] who said oh yeah I'm doing this six month project and like I went away and and it's like okay cool that must work in your context in my context I can't do that but also I want these high level folks To have quick feedback, like, hey, okay, this, this is something that is interesting, that's serving me, that's helping me.

So there's a different level of socialization that's needed, compared to different altitudes. It doesn't mean that I don't roll it up together, I do, but it can work very differently depending on how you're actually performing that.

Ash Oliver: And it, it sounds like, you know, there are some, maybe even quote unquote, like metrics that can kind of fit here. you know, efficiency. in terms of time and resources, for example. and these are some of the things that you were describing in maybe the low to mid altitudes. And it seems like, you know, maybe metrics, could be associated, you know, more with direction and risk in some of the higher altitude.

That, that, those aren't [00:33:00] factors at play in the mid to low either, but, um, certainly more of a, and this is something that the, the CEO at Mays has, has kind of coined, and I love this, this mental model around the, the cost of wrong and the time to right. And that, you know, is, is, I'm remembering that as you've described, you know, kind of what this communication looks like at the high altitude, because it seems that, you know, strategically and directionally, That could be, you know, kind of an area that's, that's really focused around that, ensuring that, you know, you're reducing that cost of being wrong, and ensuring, not just that, you know, you're, you're making strong informed, you know, bets and decisions, but that the time to getting it right is also, you know, shortened and not elongated.

So, I love, you know, just kind of your, framework for, for thinking through that. I

Roy Opata Olende: just made me think of something, you know, like in the context of a company, you think of this many of learning, right? Like you've got the traditional folks, your support, maybe your market research, your data, your maybe have voice, a [00:34:00] customer or some sort of, you know, quantitative or like serving, you know, serving team or, or person, whatever it looks like.

Generally, especially when you compare against the quant, like lot of the items in this menu of learning are, you know, those items that if I use the, you know, continuous metaphor, and you've got, items coming out relatively quickly, right?

Like the pace of delivery, it's across the menu tends to be like on the quicker side, right? So imagine you're, in a restaurant, you got the menu and it's a five course menu, The first three things you get, they're all good. And they all came out within 10 minutes, right? The fourth thing, you're waiting an hour for it, right? And you're like, hmm, this is very much unlike the others. That's the first thing you're going like, like what's going Like everything else came out in 10 minutes. How come [00:35:00] this one is taking an hour? Like, oh no, this one's like special. You know, there's something different, right?

And it comes out. And it is different, right? It's maybe a yeah, there's, there's something, there's something more delicate about it. Maybe even for your taste buds, it's like, Oh, this is like actually pretty good. But then there's a lingering question is like, is this actually good enough compared to the other things that it's worth the hour weight versus the 10 minute wait for other things.

I don't want to say that that's exactly what UXR is, but I think it's just thinking through when you have this menu of learning, right, where other pieces come at sometimes a faster clip, what does it mean? And I'm not just talking about speed here. What does it mean for the way in which your part of the menu is delivered.

Like your [00:36:00] part of the menu works and how it tastes, right? Like you just have to have that consideration because you're not dealing with one item on the menu. People can pick. From they're gonna eat, right? They're definitely gonna eat and I think this is one of the pieces Whether it's like the high altitude work which can be longer Or the even for the more low altitude that can be shorter and evaluative I think just thinking through the fact that we're not living in a vacuum here we're living in a spot where there are other options and People are gonna eat something Right, it's gonna happen.

They're not leaving here With an empty stomach, it's going to happen. So I think from the context of UX research, well, context, even maybe of data and market research, how do you make sure we fit into this menu? Not in a way where we would need to be exactly like the other things, like dessert needs to be different than the appetizer, but there needs to be some level of connection so that you [00:37:00] don't seem like the

odd one out.

Ash Oliver: Yeah, and it, connects to, you know, just kind of the larger piece, uh, I really like this, this phrase that you've coined in terms of the, the menu of, of learning, because it's, you know, all of these, these pieces that come together, I think that's very much aligned with the democratization of research and, how all of the components of learning is, formed into, the, the strength of the organization, which reminds me of the, uh, There was a quote by Josh Berson from Deloitte, where he said that the single biggest driver of business impact is the strength of an organization's learning culture.

and I think that this, you know, kind of menu of learning speaks to the entirety of the organization and its learning, not just, you know, some of the pieces. I'm wondering if there's maybe one, like, single, What is the most important thing that you would advise in terms of building this menu of learning?

Is there any one thing that you would say is [00:38:00] absolutely critical to get right in order to kind of have this modality of learning happening?

Roy Opata Olende: the first place I go to is what I talked about at the top here, which was the leadership being on board. I think it's tough to come into a new context and to convince folks of something really quickly, like to convince a group of execs that, Oh, you need to like really invest in learning.

I think eventually they'll, they're going to find out because, you know, we talked about those, two pathways where You end up learning because you're in dire, straits, or you end up learning because it's just sort of built into your culture. You're gonna learn somehow. You're gonna be into it.

You're gonna do it. I think honestly most practical, option that comes to mind is just helping folks learn in the most immediate way possible, right? Like I think whether you're a UX researcher, whether you're a designer, whether you're a PM, any level, I've never been in a spot where maybe I've shown a clip from a customer, or we've gone to visit a customer.[00:39:00]

And the rest of the group is just like, I sort of knew all that stuff is generally a sense of like, what? What? I, I had no idea, my goodness, or even doing, I did the service safari, which is essentially a, I took a bunch of our leadership and we were in Miami and I sent them on this sort of this, it seemed like a wild goose chase through the Miami Metro to perform a, you know, a certain amount of actions and I purposefully made it.

So that some of these things were hard to do some of them are easier to do and then we came back and they Talked through it and then we actually sort of contrasted that with the experience in our product and then Everything became so much more tangible. It's like, Oh, when I was walking in there, I couldn't find that sign.

I couldn't find the place to buy the ticket. What's that experience in Buffer? Oh, let me actually go. Oh, wow. If I feel like this, when people who [00:40:00] come to our. You know, to this landing page, feel like, et cetera. So any way that you can sort of just help people to be exposed, like, you know, even going back to that, solo cafe operator, right?

Just any way to give some level of that experience. Like there is information here to be had just interact with it in some way. Right. however that's possible. , I think that's what you need to do. I think it's very tough to go very high level and philosophical and say, this is the kind of thing we need to be doing.

Just start doing it and people will see the evidence of it. cause yeah, theoretical

is really tough in those situations.

Ash Oliver: I think it's such sage advice, and I think we oftentimes overthink it, you know, maybe too close to the problem, and, you know, try to, you know, build out something much larger when, in fact, you know, what I can take from what you're saying here is creating that connection. Whether it's, you know, putting someone in front of.

and creating that impact because they're [00:41:00] first hand having that experience or having someone be able to make the connection in their mind, you know, having gone through it themselves that connection piece seems like it should not be overstated. So I appreciate that. Yeah. Wonderful advice. Right. I want to transition to the last part of our, our time together here.

We, we, we take the last few moments to ask just a few personal questions to every guest, just to get to know them a little bit better. so my first question for you is what's one thing that you've done in your career that's helped you succeed that you think few others do?

Roy Opata Olende: I think what, what I did, especially early on in my career was just go out and learn and try and don't be afraid to, to put yourself out there. And then opportunities sort of unfolded as I learned more. folks I speak to, I find that they're shy to go out and try things. yeah, you'd be surprised how much value you can add, only

learning a few things.

Ash Oliver: Yeah, a lot of people, Don't get [00:42:00] started. I think that's an important step. next question for you is what is an industry related, and you can use industry related as broad, a broad spectrum here, what is an industry related book that you've given or recommended the most and why?

Roy Opata Olende: I'll say two. One is just enough research, Erica Hall. 'cause Erica Hall was sort of someone I read. Anything that she put out really to the point and really helpful. and I think that's like a great book to read, not only for researchers, but folks who are research adjacent to the design. product management, etc.

another one that I give out and recommend is Research Practice by Greg Bernstein.

Ash Oliver: Mmm.

Roy Opata Olende: There's a bit of selfishness there because I wrote one of the chapters, but Greg did an excellent job. Getting perspectives from folks who are in the research field on all these aspects of actually doing it.

It's like very applicable. It's, you know, there's some theoretical in there, but you can go in [00:43:00] there and really get a view into how to do this work. So yeah, both

those books are excellent reads.

Ash Oliver: Yeah, great recommendations. My last question for you is what is an unusual habit or an absurd thing that you love?

Roy Opata Olende: an absurd love for The football team I support, Arsenal, but you know, we've got, there's millions of fans around the world. So maybe it's not so absurd. That, that would be probably the thing that you know, is maybe most unusual. I get a little bit unhinged with anything Arsenal related. I'm always irrational when it comes to Arsenal.

Ash Oliver: Roy, thank you so much. I really appreciate, having this conversation with you. I think this is so poignant and timely and, uh, yeah, I appreciate you, you sharing your insight with us.

Roy Opata Olende: It was fun. Thanks for

having me.

Ash Oliver: Thanks for listening to The Optimal Path brought to you by Maze, a continuous [00:44:00] product discovery platform designed for product teams. If you like what you heard today, you can find resources and companion links in the show notes. If you want to hear more or subscribe to the podcast newsletter for exclusive content, you can find The Optimal Path by visiting, and send us a note with any thoughts or feedback to, and until next time.