The year of broad shoulders and the bay.
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:
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.
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.
Last: a pivot and a machine. More on this next year.
On to the rest of the things:
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.
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.
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:
- The Hard Thing About Hard Things (Ben Horowitz)
- Zero to One (Peter Thiel)
- Value Proposition Design*
- Blue Ocean Strategy (W. Chan Kim, Renee Mauborgne)
- Fashion is Spinach (Elizabeth Hawes)
- Why is a Dress? (Elizabeth Hawes)**
*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.
I published 70 posts to this blog this year (a few more to other blogs.)
I wrote the most about:
- Project management, specifically
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 own favorite posts were:
- Place, white space, and how we make meaning
- How to love, part II and III
- The act of buying flowers alone
- Looking back on a place
- What designers could stand to learn from developers
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.