Some Helpful Thoughts
Detoxing from ranting. Here are some helpful thoughts.
· Have you been having a tough or stressful time at work? Know that you are not alone. We have challenging jobs. Nobody gets into product work because it’s easy. We need to support one another. In a feature-factory-ish environ, it’s common to feel like a cog in a machine. This misses the gold. The real value in any org comes from the relationships between its people. It’s healthy to keep the focus there and dysfunctional to distract from it. If you’re having a difficult time with something, reach out. If your manager doesn’t help with this, they’re not doing their job.
· Stop focusing on velocity, even personally. Realize that if you’re spread too thin, the only way to get more done is to quit trying to do so much. In your work (and in your life), don’t neglect the necessity of insight and empathy, which only grows from spending time. Emphasize discovery and encourage your team to embrace it as well. Everyone needs time with users and customers to build the contextual understanding and empathy that insight arises from.
· And what is empathy? The word didn’t exist until 1909. The psychologist Edward Titchener created it from the German word einfühlung, having to do with projecting oneself into a work of art. If your team doesn’t spend time with users, learn their workflow, feel their struggles, “walk in their moccasins,” then they can’t “project” themselves into the context that actually matters. Their frame will remain incomplete, and their decisions will not be grounded. It’s like working a 100-piece jigsaw by futzing with 20 of the pieces. To explore the frame you’re in, you have to gather context. If someone else has framed your work for you, insight may only occur when you step outside of it.
· Instead of seeing “problems” and searching for “solutions,” start thinking in terms of “outcomes,” in terms of clear and unambiguous statements of what you want to achieve, of the change you want to create, of what you positively want to move toward. (Problems are an “away-from” orientation, looking for things you want to escape.) Treat these outcomes as pivot signals, as beacons. Approach your work with joy and large doses of humor, and realize, the minimal path to value cannot be discovered by following a plan. As you explore feature ideas tied to an outcome, capture and prioritize the assumptions underlying each idea. What presuppositions are being made? Try to tell the story of what it is you need to learn to derisk the path forward. If you have a “roadmap,” it should be a roadmap of hypotheses to test, of questions to answer, of assumptions to vet.
· Act so as to increase the number of choices. Optimize for being wrong, generate and explore options, and treat the right path forward as an emergent property. We all agree that “continuous improvement” is the way to go, and yet we all too often get bogged in a particular framework or approach, where the “improvement” devolves into the self-stultifying process of iteratively tweaking the unworkable. That’s not “continuous improvement.” If a process isn’t working for you, throw it away. Fire it. Create the degrees of freedom needed to allow space for meaningful development.
· Take action and learn, and then visualize what you learn. Make it physically manipulatable. Don’t assume you can keep learnings straight in your head. You can’t. Think in terms of value, not cost, realizing you tend to get more of what you focus on. Learn about cost of delay. Again, if you need help, reach out. Experiment with new ideas, new ways of looking at things. Get a new coach. Coach someone new. Teach something new to someone else to force you to learn it well enough to tell it well.
· You’re placing bets on human behavior. You build to change behavior. You want someone to change their behavior in some way to provide some benefit. You don’t know what will do it upfront. Users will use what you build sometimes in unpredictable — assuming they use it at all. If most guesses are wrong, and they usually are, realize it’s self-defeating to just focus on placing bets faster. Focus on smaller, cheaper, smarter bets that derisk larger ones. Don’t build faster than you can learn, and use what you learn to drive meaningful action. If you don’t act on it, you’re engaging in theatrics, and theatrics is waste. If you tested an assumption, and the assumption was wrong, that’s not a failure. Throwing out what you built is not a failure. Keeping what you built when your assumptions were wrong is failure.
· Maintain an attitude of positive expectancy, a willingness to learn and be surprised, recognizing the right path forward is surfaced only by collaborating with others. Create a psychologically safe space. Exclude rock stars and thespians. Rock stars get their hands in others’ work, not to genuinely help, but to gather attention to themselves. Thespians are more interested in generating drama than meaningful action. Both derail more value than they create.
· If you’re looking to branch out in new directions, but are feeling nervous, or lacking confidence, realize the needed resources are likely already within you. There is deep wisdom in the adage, “Fake it ’til you make it.” That doesn’t mean you should dupe people or be in any way dishonest. It means that knowledge is rumor until it’s in the muscle. So, “fake it ’til you make it.” Don’t put your toe in the pool. Jump in, pretend you have the confidence you need, and then pretend you’re not pretending anymore. Remember what it was like to learn something difficult you now greatly enjoy. This can be like that.
You’re not bricklayers. You’re detectives.
Now get to work, detective.