Response Crafting


Leave a comment

2015 Review

The year of broad shoulders and the bay.

tumblr_nqfgzxWp5f1qzqzfao1_500

If last year was the year of the bike – and running that horse hard from city to country – this year was about broad shoulders and a bay.

The little things: I drank cheap wine, light beer and great whisk(e)y. I learned about good whisk(e)y; learned scotch. I listened to Whilk and Misky more than any other artist, got into my bike’s oil, and finally dragged someone out to a shooting range to show me how to fire a gun. These all matter to me.

The bigger things, they went a little like this:

HIGHLIGHTS – the four most important things of my 2015:

cubacigar

Cuba. By far the most meaningful trip I took in 2015. I had wanted to go for several years, and went at a time I wanted it most. Cuba offered me the tiny but much needed consolation: “Nah, girl. You different, but you ain’t wrong.”  We came as we were and, with her, we lived off bad food and good coffee, wandered the streets with bottles of $2 beer and got just as drunk on the rainbow of modern ruins; we smoked Cubana cigars in bars, and ran down neighborhood alleys turned to mud in the pouring rain.

San Francisco. A move I had wanted to make for well over two years, while running things out in Chicago. After that long, some people cautioned against having built it up too much and warned me not to make it into something it wasn’t, but I knew what I wanted and wasn’t let down. From day one (okay, maybe day two), San Francisco’s streets already felt as good as mine in a way Chicago’s never had. I also hit the SF apartment jackpot and found an utterly darling place in Nob Hill, living with the coolest person I’ve met in the city.

Why San Francisco? For startups. To learn about “the making of something from something, against something, in relation to something.” To meet people starting startups and funding startups, go to startup pitch fests and  VC panels, and work at a startup. To see what good and bad startups look like, what good and bad founders look like, how their devs compare to the Midwest’s and what, if anything, is essential and unique to the San Francisco Koolaid that makes starting one there so common. Chicago has startups too, but ain’t nobody got the sheer density of startups that San Fran* do, so I went to the mecca to see.

That, and the people always seemed more my people. The city always a little more me.

*”Nobody” calls it San Fran and they all say you shouldn’t either, but I’ve never heard a good enough reason why, so I still do.

SF2

Product Management. As I started looking to make a change in company and city, I was looking to make a change from program to product management as well, and I found an opportunity with a great startup in SOMA in August.

I like product management, though it’s not a forever move. (We all knew it was never going to be a forever move.) I came into it with a few objectives, which really boil down to: learning what goes into the pot. What tools, used in what way. Turns out, tools aren’t that tough. Any good product manager can “tool” and “recommendation.” “Politics,” even. A great product manager, though, knows how to add value, in the way that’s valued most. That’s what I wanted to learn.

soma

Last: a pivot and a machine. More on this next year.

On to the rest of the things:

TRAVEL.

Beyond Cuba, I also did the sort of travel most everyone does a little of: Denver, Summit County, Cancun, Vegas, Orlando, as well as first-time trips to Portland, Mexico City, and Cayman Islands.

By the way: Mexico City, originally just a layover from Cuba, is incredible. And hotel Downtown is utterly breathtaking. It’s a renovated 17th Century manor and it is cool AF.

The photo below is not the hotel. This is a cathedral.

cathy

Mexico City Metropolitan Cathedral

This is the hotel:

Portland was cool, too. We spent a couple of nights in this totally darling, secluded place – some renovated, whitewashed barn way off by Mount Hood – hiked to waterfalls, and met goats.

goat

READING.

I read 60 books in 2015, ranging from management and product development to philosophical essays and fiction.

By far the most important and influential ones to me this year were:

*I read both Value Proposition Design and Business Model Generation, both out of the Strategyzer team, and strongly prefer the former, despite value prop only being a fraction of the business model and the latter being recommended more often. Because frankly, if you don’t get value prop right, there’s no use worrying about generating a business model.

**Elizabeth Hawes is legit AF. She made this list twice for a reason, because she had the best damn stance on clothing I’ve ever seen. I was so impressed with “Fashion is Spinach” that I tracked down a reference-only copy of “Why is a Dress?,” now out of print, and rode my bike up to a university to sit in their library for as long as it took to read the book in one sitting. Because the book is tough to find but amazing, I also captured my favorite quotes and shared them for you here.

Other books and essays I highly valued this year include: Rework (Fried, Hansson), Peopleware: Productive Projects and Teams (DeMarco, Lister), The Mythical Man-Month (Brooks), Homesteading the Noosphere (Raymond), The Cathedral and The Bazaar (Raymond), What Customers Want (Ulwick), Naked Innovation (Paradis, McGaw), and Infinite City by Rebecca Solnit, my most cherished writer of 2014, though she had mostly lost me and would have remained distant had it not been for my move to San Francisco, about which Infinite City is written. I wrote about it – and my San Francisco – here.

You can see everything I read in 2015 here.

WRITING.

I published 70 posts to this blog this year (a few more to other blogs.)

I wrote the most about:

I also wrote a lot about work, creativity, my respect for developers and engineers, motorcycles and driving, whisk(e)y, Cuba, San Francisco, and love, among other things that struck my fancy.

My most popular post of 2015 was “the first week in SF.” (Last year, it was “from this place to a new one,” so apparently you guys like reading about my moves.)

My own favorite posts were:

And, in a way, this one.

THINGS I KNOW MORE TO BE TRUE.

The task of management should be taken seriously. More seriously than managers take themselves. Get your priorities straight. People – your customers; your team – always come first. Then the product. Then the project. Then the process. Don’t manage the other way around.

Layoffs are disgusting. Everyone in a company has a job to do, and the job of financial success is foremost the responsibility of the executives. If the company is struggling, then “streamlining” and “headcount cost cutting” should start with the people whose job it was to take care of the company and failed, not with the people who actually held up their end of the deal. There’s a special place in hell for managers who first fail at their job of running the company, and then fail at their job of managing people, charging the expense of their screw up to individuals who actually did their jobs.

I’ve always hated layoffs – a normal viewpoint when you watch your parents lose their jobs this way – but nothing solidified it quite like 2015, when my own company did a round of layoffs in Q1 (I high-tailed it shortly thereafter) and someone dear to me was laid off when his company did a round in Q4. (Oh, but then offered a transfer. I have a lot of respect for his response.)

I will not tolerate layoffs – will not continue working for any company that does them and will sooner surrender my own salary and make changes at the top before doing layoffs at mine. I have no fear about saying this – no fear of one day facing my people and going back on this word. I know who should fall on a sword, and have no appetite for cowards who instead use it to slay others.

There is nothing without something of value. Adding value is the most important act. Figure out who matters to you or cares about what you’re doing, figure out what matters most to them, focus on that and de-prioritize everything else. Don’t waste time doing anything that doesn’t matter to the people you value and value you, including anything that matters a lot only to people who don’t. Only do things that are real. Pushing papers nobody reads, just to look busy? Delaying the delivery of a proposal so that you can perfect every sentence? Creating high-fidelity designs when all your developers needed was a sketch? Writing business plans and whiteboarding instead of talking to customers? All not real. Deciding, developing, deploying. Those are real. And value-add.


Leave a comment

Dear “women in tech” event organizers: you’re doing it wrong.

I recently attended a “female founders pitch fest,” where each (female) founder had 3 minutes to describe her startup to a panel of (female) venture capitalists, who then had 4 minutes for feedback and Q&A. I don’t much like “women’s” events, despite occasionally going to them. And this is part of the reason why:

Most of the startups pitching had one founder. A few had 2 or 3. All of them, though, were women – except for one dude, co-founding a startup with a woman.

When it was this team’s turn to pitch, only the woman was allowed to speak. When it came to questions, only she was allowed to answer. The guy was permitted to do nothing but stand there in silence. (The one time he did try to say something, gently offering clarification, the event moderator quickly cut him off.)

Guys, if you refuse to let dudes speak at your “women in tech” and “female founders” events, you’re doing it wrong.

Your progress shouldn’t depend on handicapping those you think have the upper hand.

What value does your progress have if you won it by tying others’ hands? Worse, what’s the logic in silencing your own team mates because you saw them as “the opponent?”

Do you think women can’t make it unless we muzzle the men?

Well, we can. Women can take on unrestrained (read: real) opponents and we can let the men on our team play as well. We can win by playing fair.

I’d sooner play for real in “the boy’s game” and risk going home empty-handed – would even rather not play at all – than win what you’ve made into a Harrison Bergeron trophy.

Some may point out that women have been silenced historically. Fine. But you can honor this and still treat others as you want to be treated, to show all genders respect, to win more honestly than others did. What happened to all that “male allies” talk? Didn’t we want them on our team?

Get it together, “women in tech” events.

Oh, and serve something other than rosé and rice crackers. That is also not really helping.*

pink

actual rose and “rice crackers” from the event

*If you’re going to serve women nothing but pink wine and “health foods” at your own “pro-women” events, you don’t exactly have room to be surprised or offended when companies try to be more “female-friendly” by handing out nail files as “female swag” or sponsoring #hackahairdryer campaigns.


Leave a comment

San Francisco

I love the irregular rises and falls off your body; the beautiful little ridges and peaks and valleys. Your toe bones and knee joints and hips. Your small stature so unadorned, bare shoulders still exposed beyond cloth.

SF2

I love the roughness of your heels, your skin that’s cool to the touch, the soft gray of your eyes and the real tone of your hamstrings that you hide. I love your ugly, pilling socks; your stretched-out woolen sweater. And I love the looseness of those curls.

I love that deep little scar across your sternum, right over the hollow of your heart. The broken, disjointed stretch of skin that some of your less worthwhile lovers call imperfect. That is one of my favorite spots.

I hear that scar has a dark history and this only makes me love it more. I watch as you raise your hand to shield it, and I want my hand to be there with yours too.

They tell me that I’ll tire of you – that you’ll break me or bore me before we even crest “forever” – but I don’t believe them. Some things, you just know.

Some say you make us soft – that you go too easy on your lovers; boost egos; string us along too long.

They tell me you’re no better than your painted ladies, luring farm boys in with smokescreens and empty promises that they pay – too much – for the chance to believe.

But those farm boys, they are laughing.

“Even under the terrible burden of destiny laughing as a young man laughs, laughing even as an ignorant fighter laughs who has never lost a battle, bragging and laughing that under his wrist is the pulse, and under his ribs the heart of
the people,
Laughing!”

And so while others may prefer to stand on the sideline and sneer at the spectacle – tell us that you’re no good and we’re no good and we’re even worse, on top of that, for our naïveté in the ring – they don’t know what they don’t know.

That this is who we are and why we’re here. This is part of why we love you.

That, and: the irregular little rises and falls of your body; the cool roughness of your touch; the intoxication of those soft gray eyes.

You won’t be my lover forever, but you are the one I’ve most loved to love.

sf

 


Leave a comment

The biggest problem with clothing industries

From mass manufacturers to fashion designers to custom tailors, the biggest problem is: they are all fundamentally selfish.

Fashion designers. 

Fashion designers are motivated to bring their own visions to life; to live out their own ideas and see them manifested on runway. It is a largely self-serving act, with laughably little end value to the average human being.

You think that mass manufacturers at these shows translate these designs and water them down and bring them to us on a silver platter, purely for our benefit? No, they don’t. Because…

Mass manufacturers. 

Retailers – across the entire spectrum of cost – are motivated by one thing: to make money. They coerce us into consumption, churn through garments by “season,” and cut corners to keep us running from one to the next. Because the only way they make money off of their slim margins is to duplicate them as many times as possible, and the only way to duplicate the transactions is to keep us running.

So yeah, sure, they go to the fashion shows. And dutifully copy what they see. But with the sole intent of giving us something new to chase.

Custom tailors.

Women, overall, don’t get to enjoy the privilege of custom tailoring. It takes some serious legwork to find tailors even willing to do it, and then it’s with a palpable reluctance from the tailor.

When asked why, the number one reason – in fact, the only reason – they’ve ever given me?

“It’s too hard.”

Oh. Okay.

Not that women don’t want it, or aren’t willing to pay. Tailors just don’t want to.

e-commerce.

You want to know why pure e-commerce companies don’t make money? Because pure e-commerce is selfish – it’s a company solving their own problems, not the customer’s.

Number one reason 100% e-commerce retailers are only online? “To reduce costs.” Not to serve the consumer. Not because the consumer actually prefers to shop online (most definitely don’t), and certainly not because we don’t like visiting stores.

Companies that are 100% e-commerce do it purely to serve themselves – because eliminating brick and mortar reduces costs. (And are these savings passed on to consumers? Sometimes, but usually not.)

But then e-commerce companies are actually shocked to learn that, despite all the presumed cost savings, their model doesn’t actually make money. Andy Dunn, CEO of Bonobos, wrote an article titled “e-commerce is a bear,” in which he points out that e-commerce is really freaking hard. That Amazon owns the e-commerce space. And even Amazon isn’t making money. Even Amazon is opening brick and mortar.

Because – whoa. what, now? – people like to see and touch what they’re buying.

And, moreover, people know when they’re actually being served and when companies are only serving themselves.

sn1_6101_1


Leave a comment

“Big Magic” is a better “startup book” than most startup books

Even though she’s a writer and it’s largely a book about writing, Elizabeth Gilbert’s “Big Magic – Creative Living Beyond Fear” is a better “startup book” than most startup books. Here’s why:

Ideas are everywhere and they’re dime a dozen. Just because you “have” one doesn’t mean it’s “yours.” An idea is meaningless without execution. 

Gilbert talks about readers approaching her at Eat, Pray, Love book signings to growl at her from across the table: “that was supposed to be my book! I had that idea!”

This happens to a lot of people. “One morning you open up the newspaper and discover that somebody else has written your book, or directed your play, or released your record, or produced your movie, or founded your business, or launched your restaurant, or patented your invention – or in any way whatsoever manifested some spark of inspiration that you’d had years ago, but had never entirely cultivated, or had never gotten around to finishing. This may vex you, but it really shouldn’t, because you didn’t deliver!”

“People convince themselves that they have been robbed when they have not, in fact, been robbed… There is no theft; there is no ownership; there is no tragedy; there is no problem.”

“The best you can hope for in such a situation is to let your old idea go and catch the next idea that comes around. And the best way for that to happen is to move on swiftly, with humility and grace. Don’t fall into a funk about the one that got away. Don’t beat yourself up… Better to just say good-bye to the lost idea with dignity and continue onward. Find something else to work on – anything, immediately.”

You have to actually work.

Gilbert’s is probably my favorite TED talk, and my favorite line is how she describes her creative process as, quite simply, “working like a mule.”

“Most of my writing life consists of nothing more than unglamorous, disciplined labor. I sit at my desk and I work like a farmer, and that’s how it gets done. Most of it is not fairy dust.”

“I don’t sit around waiting for passion to strike me.”

You don’t need permission. 

It “never occurred to me to go ask an authority figure for permission to become a writer… I decided to just go make stuff.”

“You must possess a fierce sense of personal entitlement.” Not acting like a prima donna, or as though the world owes you something. Just recognizing your right to be creative.

Solve a problem you have. Don’t do it just to help others. 

An old adage in writing is “write about what you know.” Do the work that you know how to do.

“If what I’ve written here ends up helping you, that’s great, and I will be glad. That would be a wonderful side effect. But at the end of the day, I do what I do because I like doing it.”

“It’s very kind of you to want to help people, but please don’t make it your sole creative motive, because we will feel the weight of your heavy intention, and it will put a strain upon our souls.”

Experience is the best education.

Gilbert never got an advanced degree in writing. “I was suspicious of the idea that the best place for me to find my voice would be in a room filled with fifteen other young writers trying to find their voices.”

“I wasn’t exactly sure what an advanced degree in creative writing would afford me. Going to an arts school is not like going to dentistry school, for instance, where you can be pretty certain of finding a job in your chosen field once your studies are over… I worry that what students of the arts are often seeking in higher education is nothing more than proof of their own legitimacy – proof that they are for real as creative people, because their degree says so.”

So, too, should we be careful with similar environments for startups, including incubators and accelerators.

“If you’re working on your craft every day on your own, with steady discipline and love, then you are already for real as a creator… let the world educate you.”

Anguish and angst is unbecoming. 

Creators have this tendency to romanticize anguish. We approach our work with toxic mindsets, making ourselves slaves to the craft. It doesn’t have to be this way and, in fact, most great work isn’t.

Success not guaranteed. 

There’s no guarantee that people will like your work. It’s not the world’s problem that you wanted to do something. It’s not the world’s jobs to enjoy your work.

“Stop complaining. It’s annoying.”

Of course it’s difficult. If it was easy to succeed at creating something new, everyone would be.

Quit it with the perfectionism and preciousness. 

“When people talk about their creative work, they often call it their ‘baby’ – which is the exact opposite of taking things lightly.”

“I think perfectionism is just fear in fancy shoes and a mink coat, pretending to be elegant.”

“At some point, you really just have to finish your work and release it as is – if only so you can go on to make other things with a glad and determined heart.”

Done is better than good. Just ship it. Let it go.

What you produce is not sacred just because you think it is. “What is sacred is the time that you spend working on the project, and what that time does to expand your imagination, and what that expanded imagination does to transform your life.”

“Do what you love to do, and do it with both seriousness and lightness.”


1 Comment

To all of the great managers I’ve ever had

Dear Every Great Manager I’ve Ever Had (specifically: SM, EK, and SP)

Thank you.

I am so fortunate to have worked with you. Thank you for teaching me so much about how to run a team.

You were all so different – some tough, some tender; some technical, some functional – and that’s awesome. You all did something great, and I still hold on to you and what you did.

I was all the better for having worked with you. You serve as a guidepost when I manage others.

More specifically (and I am thinking specifically):

And to the managers who trusted the team and who gave us space as long as we delivered on what you wanted…

To those who let us be a little messy and looked the other way or even spotted us from time to time and as long as we got the job done…

To the managers who received new ideas with respect, even if the suggestion couldn’t be used. Or was outright bad…

To the managers who were honest with the team, even if painfully so…

To the managers who tough-loved on us, but made sure the “love” came with the “tough” (even if we didn’t always see it)…

To the managers who demanded a lot of the team but made sure we understood why…

To the managers who demanded a lot of the team but, when it came down to it, rolled up their sleeves and helped get it done, too…

To the managers who rolled up their sleeves either way, demands or not…

To the managers who responded to problems and crises with “okay,” followed by an urgent “what do you need?” or “how can I help?”…

To the managers who took ownership of team failures and doubled down on their investment to make it right…

To the managers who were at least consistent, even when their own preferences or priorities didn’t align with – or even contrasted with – the rest of the team’s…

To the managers who never compensated for their own insecurities by breaking down their team…

To the managers who mentored…

And to the managers who also accepted great team members’ resignations with grace…

To the managers who managed with integrity…

To those who managed with reason and rationale…

To those who managed with love…

To those who managed with courage…

And, above all else, to the managers who mama-bear’d over us in any way. To those who protected us, fought back on our behalf, or stood guard while we carried on, and to those who defended us in any capacity, but especially for things that mattered most to any of us as individuals…

Thank you.

And on behalf of anyone who had the privilege of working with you: you are appreciated.