Scott Welliver, Design Manager, Experience Design, Comcast

Scott Welliver, Design Manager, Experience Design, Comcast

If life imitates art, can life imitate work, and vice versa? Scott Welliver, Design Manager, Experience Design at Comcast, is a design leader, starting writer, husband and amateur dad to three kids. In many ways, Scott approaches his work and family lives in the same fashion. Whether he’s changing diapers or devising a UX solution with his team, he’s constantly working to adjust and take the ego out of things to really center in on the people who are involved.

Scott joins us to talk about repeating values at home and work, and meeting everyone—family member or team member—at their unique place. As he says, “We're all common together, but you're unique and I want to meet you where you're at.” Tune in to hear about Comcast’s core value of experimentation, how the company is entering a new era of thinking and why it’s important to connect with people who make you better at work and at life.


Carl Smith: Hi everybody and welcome back to The Bureau Briefing. I have to tell you, I've done a lot of intros, 73 maybe 74, I don't know. But what I do know is this one makes me laugh. So swinging by the Bureau studios today, it's a design leader at Comcast, a starting writer, an amateur dad and the king of one-liners. It's Mr Scott Welliver. How are you doing, Scott? 

Scott Welliver: I'm pretty good, man. I like that. I like that. 

Carl Smith: You should. You wrote it.

Scott Welliver: I did.

Carl Smith: So I love that I'm taking credit, but with the exception of switching bearded dad for amateur dad, that was one of my favorite things when I was getting to know you better. And when I went online I was reading some of your stuff and I saw amateur dad. I was like we all are.

Scott Welliver: For real. I mean, like, we all act like we're professionals but we're totally amateurs.

Carl Smith: We have no idea. So tell anybody listening a little bit of your background and what you're doing today. 

Scott Welliver: Sure thing. So on the dad part, my wife and I are proud parents of three kids. Got a 12-year-old, Chase, an 11-year-old, Savannah and a seven-year-old, Hope. Hope is actually new to our family. We recently adopted her from India about…it's coming up on two years. So that's like our little home component. I've been a designer for, I don't know, many years I guess, and I sort of can triangulate and map basically my career timeline to my timeline to being a dad. So the professional life of a designer has been about the same as being a dad, so 12 years in, maybe a little more on the designer side. And right now I'm leading the team here at Comcast, working on a product called Xfinity Stream, which is the mobile and web and smart TV and Roku version of what you all often understand is cable TV. 

So we're breaking it out of the TV, off your wall basically, and putting it in your pocket and letting you take it anywhere. So it's been a real journey and a joy to be a part of this team that I got here at Comcast. 

Carl Smith: Well, and congratulations for cutting the cable. I think you did good there. 

Scott Welliver: It's controversial I'll say that. Even within the building here. It's pretty controversial.

Carl Smith: Wait, well you're doing what? No. 

Scott Welliver: But then we decided to do, I don't think we should do that. That's kind of our business, but the thing of the matter is we actually, the groups that I get to be a part of, even the development team, the product team, the business teams, the whole group, it is sort of counter cultural, but might be counter cultural to what we've been as Comcast doing for the last 50 or 60 years. But outside pressures are making us think about things differently and so we are thinking about things differently and I'm really happy to be part of that kind of new era of thinking. 

Carl Smith: Well, I think it's a requirement for you to be happy in your job, for you personally to be happy in your job, to have that ability to kind of learn and change and continue to develop. And I think it's the same thing with being a dad. I tell my girls every year on their birthday, I'll be like, and they're 17 and 15 now. I don't think they appreciate it quite so much, but I used to be like, so what's it like being an eight? You're eight, you know. What's it like being 44? I don't know. Those were good days though. 

Scott Welliver: You answered that question? That's a tough question to answer.

Carl Smith: It is a tough question, but I would do my best. So tell me what got you motivated to not only start thinking about what to write about the connection between being a dad and being a UX designer? 

Scott Welliver: It's sort of, I don't really have a lot of good stories in either place, in either context-

Carl Smith: Well, this will be a great episode then, right?

Scott Welliver: We're making it now like I don't have a lot of great stories of, you know when I come to work and I want to describe maybe a pain or a situation or like a customer pain point I should say, or a design situation or a problem. I almost always contextualize that with this. It feels like I'm contextualizing the stuff that I came from home with. Maybe this is just more emblematic or symptomatic of our modern culture, where we're kind of bleeding both work and life stuff at all times. But likewise it goes home. I'm like, okay, cool. So we have a problem. I'm here with the kid on the floor. I read about the story, how I was changing my son's diaper when he was a baby and he exploded out of the diaper, like a poo explosion.

But I was trying, I was all cavalier about stuff and I was just kind of like, I'll do my own thing and in doing my own thing. I actually put them on the floor of my sister-in-law's house. And of course the poo explosion goes everywhere. But if it had been on like a normal baby changing device, it wouldn't have gone anywhere. Or if I had listened to my wife, it wouldn't have gone anywhere. Or if I did the right thing earlier, it wouldn't have gotten anywhere. And all of those things were like mapped back to what I do on a day-to-day basis, if we're really like ... In some ways design can be extremely prideful or proud or we have to puff our chest up because we need to know the right answers are assumed to know the right answers. 

But we don't do enough of like listening to the customer sometimes. We don't necessarily do enough actual inquiry of what the problem is or like settling in on what the problem is. And then just kind of like I'm formulating responses that make sense to the problem instead of just formulating cool solutions. And so they start to mirror each other. We're really in the same cycles of put it out there, test it and come back and iterate on it. Same thing as with parenting. If I did anything out of a book, like a playbook for parenting, it would not go as all the dynamic changes are happening with like what my kid is doing. 

Just yesterday in fact we were teaching the little one how to ride a bike. She can ride a bike with training wheels but taking the training wheels off and we actually tried the same thing last summer around the same time and it was like an utter disaster. I get frustrated, she's frustrated, I'm frustrated, we're all frustrated, my wife's frustrated, but it takes that year of like learning or teaching. Also even showing her where balances and what balance means almost things start to come together and bear in on what I think design is like. Doing the work of design is like coming, coming forward and rendering intent as Jared Spool say, rendering intent but you got to learn a lot in order to render that intent. 

Carl Smith: I mean so we were talking before the episode and I said, you know what, I've always compared running a business to me being a dad. With your example right there, riding the bike, I remember when my oldest, we were trying to teach her to ride a bike. My wife could even stay outside with us, right. 'Cause she could see it on my face. I was forcing the smile. I was trying all these things and my daughter was just like I can't do this, I can't do this. And then maybe a few minutes later we decided not to try again. And I went and just started shooting hoops right. So I'm there in the driveway shooting baskets. It's not a beautiful thing to watch, I'm not the best and all of a sudden here comes my daughter down the driveway on the bike and like, hey, hey, watch where you're riding. You're riding a bike, oh my God. And you realize that sometimes you have to get out of the way. 

Scott Welliver: Definitely. I think we are in the way of ourselves in both places, the parenting and maybe even the professional life. And I think a lot of, for me especially in design we can come to problems fairly egotistically. Like one of the big things I've been recently hammering on here is making decision. I think we and myself, the designers, even the developer and product teams, we may be like the worst examples of the typical customer that we're serving and designing and making for. We do use our own stuff. We're a consumer product that consumers use. I'm a video consumer. I watched Better Call Saul on the Xfinity Stream app last night and that's cool. But I can't come into work and be like, hey, well this is the way I use it. Therefore, everyone else uses it that way. And in some manner it's the same way with parenting too. I've got three unique kids. You got two, they don't learn the same patterns in the same way as the last one did. And we have to keep constantly working to adjust ourselves and removing the ego out of it so that we can actually center in on the people who are involved with whatever situation it is. Especially in parenting. 

Carl Smith: Yeah. And the one thing that's definitely true is them being kids is not going to be the same experience as when you were a kid.

Scott Welliver: No way, man. Right.

Carl Smith: It's just not, that is not going to happen. I love this example of changing the diaper 'cause I'm sitting here thinking of, okay, so your wife is the customer and your kid is the product-

Scott Welliver: Or the containment of the poo is the product maybe? I don't know.

Carl Smith: Well, no, I think the poo going everywhere was showing that you didn't understand how to develop a product. 

Scott Welliver: That's true, right? 

Carl Smith: 'Cause you didn't listen. So when you're talking with your kids, right? And you've got three very different kids, right? Especially with Hope.

Scott Welliver: Yeah.

Carl Smith: How do you talk with them in a way so that they get along together and I'm just curious, is that something that translates to the way you talk to your team? 

Scott Welliver: Yeah. That's a really interesting question and something I really do. I hope to write about this in the future, but like it comes to bear around like having common values and there are common values that we have in our family. One of them is we want to have experiences over things and so what that means is we'll choose to play video, we'll choose to not watch videos or whatever be on our devices at night when we're together and play card games. Like right now we're way into Farkle, a dice game called Farkle and a card game called Sevens. It's like something we're just doing wrap up the night, 30 minutes of just connecting time. So that's like a value and how that's expressed though for each age group or age person or even kid and their the dynamics. 

We have to adjust a little bit for Hope for almost everything we have to adjust because of her learning the language. She has dwarfism, a form of dwarfism called Achondroplasia and so she's pretty small for a seven-year-old. She's about the size of a three-year-old and so all those things at play and she's recently new to our family. She's learning the American culture. We want to make sure that we meet her where she's at. And I think that's true. Maybe not so much on the design side, but on the leadership side, like my team here, we have common values. One of our common values for work, is everything is an experiment. Now that works cool for some of the guys that are open to change or open to like I can ride on that. 

But for those who need to get a groove and stay in a groove and have consistency and ... It's not repetitive this, but it's more like they can feel safe. That the plan that Scott's proposing here or the team or even the company is proposing will last longer than five seconds. So while everything's an experiment there, it needs to be some level of emotional safety or even mental and workspace safety. So the way that I kind of do it in both places, is I keep repeating the values and then meeting each individual where they're at. Which is sort of saying we're all common together, but you're unique and I want to meet you where you're at and I want you to meet that value from where you're coming from, if that makes sense. 

Carl Smith: No, it makes amazing sense. And I realized that I don't have a rewind button or I would take my family back to the beginning and we'd start over. But no Scott, I don't have that ability. So thanks for really [crosstalk 00:13:52].

Scott Welliver: I'm going to put this on the podcast. I think the reason I think our family is cool is because of my wife. She's super intentional. She raises the bar and she raises the bar for me as a parent for our kids. And honestly I can translate that to work. I want to partner with people who will help me raise my game in some way. There's a buddy of mine here at work, he and I joined the company around the same time and we're always, it's not a competition, but we're always trying to help the other person to become better at who they are. Sort of like a person on the side that you didn't have. You're not competing with them and you're not leading them, but they're just encouraging you along the way. And that guy helps me raise my work game, and I need that. 

Carl Smith: So this is interesting. I'm thinking about what you've learned at home and how it applies to work. And I remember when I first heard about stand-ups, right? Like a decade ago or whatever. I remember going home and we play card games. We do stuff like that. Once my kids got to be teenagers, then suddenly it was over. 

Scott Welliver: Oh dude, I know. This thing I'm talking about is going away soon. 

Carl Smith: Get ready. It's going to happen. You're going to go from the world's greatest human being to what is he talking about? 

Scott Welliver: Depressive shell of themselves.

Carl Smith: So fast from a god to an idiot. It's an amazing switch [crosstalk 00:15:23]. But just ride the wave because they'll still be nice to you. But when I got home that night, I remember thinking, how can I apply the idea of a standup? Right? And so we did this thing called best worst, funniest, 'cause we didn't want to end on worst. But we would basically go round the room, go around the table at dinner and say okay, what was the best thing that happened to you today? 

Scott Welliver: Oh, that's great.

Carl Smith: And everybody would do it. And then we'll go what was the worst? And then what was the funniest? And it's almost always my youngest daughter would say, my funniest moment was hearing my oldest daughter talk about her worst moment. As soon as she shared that, I thought you are ridiculous. 

Scott Welliver: Yeah. That's terrible. 

Carl Smith: But it was so great. 

Scott Welliver: I love that. I'm stealing that one man. I mean, why don't we do stand-ups here all the time. 

Carl Smith: Take it. Do that at work, yeah.

Scott Welliver: I mean for us winding down the night, is that kind of stands, maybe at stand down at night. I don't know. So we do have those conversations. Kind of talk a little bit about the day and what happened and how best we could kind of sort of take the next day. And who can we be thinking about? Who can we be praying for? And those things are sort of in our mindsets at night. I think that's great, man. I'm going to steal to make sure we keep doing that on a regular basis. 

Carl Smith: And we're not using it anymore, so feel free. 

Scott Welliver: Okay, cool, great. I'm going to use it where I can.

Carl Smith: So what about when things go wrong? Like when something's just out of sync. And what I love about what you're talking about with your family is that obviously you're doing things together.

Scott Welliver: Yeah. 

Carl Smith: But say that Chase really acts up right? How do you address that as a family?

Scott Welliver: Well, this is the part why I kind of can't stand like social media, I mean I love it. Everything on social media is like a highlight wheel and we don't really take pictures of our low lights and post them and say, hey, look I totally failed as a dad today. Yelled at my kid for no good reason. We don't do that. We should though. Maybe to balance it out. But it is something for sure that ... I think it's the same kind of input, like leaning back on your values. There definitely are days at the end of the day in both places at work and at home where I kind of like, okay. You didn't act with integrity. You weren't really fair with the comment that you made about someone's design or you kind of talked over somebody, you mansplained whatever it was. 

The same regard, goes at home. At the end of the day is not an awesome time for me 'cause I spent and I'm always the guy like, okay, kids to bed, everyone to get to bed and they still want to connect still. They still want to talk and they're not even being bad about it. They just want to talk. And I'm like, come on, everybody get up out of the couch and go to bed. And so for me it's kind of the reflective point is to say okay, today was the day. I did the best I could today. You did some little bit of retro, right? What went well? What didn't go so well? What are we going to do next time and in any blockers, but forget the blockers. It's like, what am I going to do next time? And for me, I make a lot of personal notes about, okay, this is the situation that you're in. What are you going to adjust and change? And in some regard, one of the quotes that I've been thinking a lot about is whatever anyone says about you or whatever you think about yourself, it's probably not as bad as you think it is. 

You're probably doing better than you think you are. And that's not to give me extra ego. It's actually more to help me in those moments I'm feeling really down about my responses or even the situations that I'm in. And for Michelle and I, my wife and I, we have peaks and we've definitely hit valleys and for us to always remember how it felt or what we got, what took us to that peak is important when you're down at the valley and you say, okay cool. I didn't really treat Chase well or I didn't really manage that conflict very well. But for us, we want to talk about that stuff really specifically. So I guess I'm kind of coming around to say I'm being really intentional about that conversation with our children, with the people I work with, with whoever, our relationships are clear by the end of the day as best as we can and make sure that nothing is left unsaid. 

So, one of our lines that we say a lot is, you said, you whenever you have conflict and trying to resolve what you'd probably say about 95% of what you want to. But there's a 5% of hold back that is either what you wish you could say if you weren't super heated in the moment, or what you needed to say if you were a little more rational in the moment. And that's the stuff that sometimes just gets stuck on the table stuck in your head and in some ways can take in weird places. And for our family we've just been intentional to make sure that we get to say the last 5% and that our kids too are invited to say the whole thing so that they can also be heard.

So I bring that to work to man, there's, I don't know who wrote this, so I'm not trying to steal their thunder on it, but the question like one-on-one questions they always end with “What else?”. And then they keep saying and what else until your counterpart, the person on the other side of the desk doesn't have anything else to say. But keep inviting them to say that there's probably something you're holding onto that if you don't say I won't know and then you won't feel good. So, that's the kind of stuff that we like to do in our family. I bring it to work too. 

Carl Smith: I think this idea of one-on-ones is great, especially with the family. Right. And I had a friend who told me once that he does this thing with his wife called drive-by or maybe it's drive-in. I'm not sure. Anyway, I'm not really good at listening, but basically they each get a few minutes just to say exactly what they want. And then the other person gets few minutes to say exactly like, You know what? This morning, I don't know what was up with you with the coffee.” “I didn't mean to take the last of the coffee. I thought you put your cup up. I thought you were done right?” “Yeah. Well I wish you would have just asked me. I mean, can't you just asked me?” Those little things because when you're in a relationship for a long time and the big difference between work and home is you can't fire Savannah. Like where's Savannah? We had to let her go. Just the bike thing [inaudible 00:22:12].

Scott Welliver: She's not doing a thing for me. I'm done. No. You're with them for the long haul.

Carl Smith: Yeah. Which is how you want to be with your team as well. Obviously, Savannah's also not going to find another family she wants to move to. So these things happen as well. But I'm curious when you're with your team, do you ever mention that these similarities between how you are as a dad and how you are as a leader? 

Scott Welliver: I'm so bad at keeping secrets from both sides. I just tell, I think my team knows more about my family than most teams do because I just talked about it a lot or it's my context and then vice versa. I'm pretty sure my kids know some of these guys who they've never met before. In some ways some of the guys, one of our team members, one joined about the same time that I did and he's just kind of like the crazy story of the American dream. He emigrated to the U.S. from Dominican Republic a couple of years ago, got his citizenship and while we knew him he helped bring his mom to the U.S. from the Dominican Republic and he bought his first house. It's like a crazy, crazy, good heartwarming story. And my kids are invested in it and they ask about him and they whatever. 

And likewise with [Juan 00:23:41], he's way invested in my family. We don't hang out after work a lot. Sometimes we do, but in both cases., I see the way that I'm investing in both places affecting both places for good and for the right kind of connections. And I need that for my family, for sure I need my kids to have experiences with adults that are normal, that are different than their parents so that they have like a broader sense of the world. And then likewise for some of my team members, most of my team members don't have kids. Some of them do. But I remember being in college and I went to Penn State walking the streets at Penn State, you only see people your age and then you go home and you hang with your nephew or your cousins or whatever, your family and you actually see kids at different ages or you had friends that have younger kids. 

That was weird. We never got to hang with families. I think in some way it's hard for me to really separate the two places is really where I started. It's hard for me to separate Scott from the two, from work, from family, and I think they're better for both.

Carl Smith: Yeah and as somebody watching from the outside, I just want to say you have got to keep writing about this 'cause it's really inspirational and I know you're going to deflect that. 

Scott Welliver: Thanks man.

Carl Smith: There you go. All you have to do to say thanks. I'm learning too.

Scott Welliver: I am. Yeah. 

Carl Smith: I appreciate you swinging by today and sharing the way that you approach work and the way that you approach your family and life. I think it's been great. Thank you Scott.

Scott Welliver: Thank you Carl. I appreciate you and the way that you make me think about things, make us all think about things and kind of connect dots for things that I didn't even connect dots for all the time. 

Carl Smith: There you go. Thank you so much and we'll be back next week. We'll talk to you then.