Trust and Consistency in UX

Scenario 1: You go on a date with someone new. You met them online. They seem pretty cool. You wonder if you should worry about them doing something weird. You get closer. You see their behavior remains consistent over time. Your trust continues to build.

Scenario 2: You meet someone online. You start dating. They seem cool. You wonder if they'll do something weird. They say they love women. You get closer. You find a Trump sticker on their computer. Your trust is shattered due to the inconsistency of their behavior.

Dating and UX are strangely similar. Users check you out. They see how you make them feel. They're naturally suspicious because they may have been burned in the past. They trust your designs more over time as they see consistency in your product's behavior. Do you adhere to certain themes, UI patterns, and interactions? Do you stay consistent with the language you use? Is the information (pricing, product descriptions) the same everywhere?

I ran into a situation like this today and laughed at how betrayed I felt. My longtime romantic interest, Airbnb, displayed three different daily rates on its site. Here is the first view. Airbnb shows me I can rent this place for $123 per day for two people during the time period I selected.

So I click into that place to learn more about it. At the very top, the app tells me the daily rate is $90 per day. But wait, with the fees and taxes, it's more like $150. Which is it? $123, $90, or $150 per day??? WHO ARE YOU AIRBNB? HAVE I BEEN DATING A TOTAL STRANGER?! WHAT ELSE ARE YOU HIDING?!

As the paranoia ensued, I spiraled into thoughts like, "Has Airbnb ever been true to me with it's pricing?" and "Is Airbnb trying to make more money off of me by lying to me about the actual prices?"

Clearly consistency in pricing, among other things, has a significant impact on trust. I've heard this echoed by UX Directors who work at banks where money is at the center of every interaction. They explained that they have to be extra careful to be correct, transparent and reliable.

If you want to grow and retain your users' trust, make sure to be consistent and to keep it real-especially when it comes to money.     

Ambiguity in Tech

Tech is unique. It's young and ever changing. It gets bored easily. It likes to feel special.

This is great for a lot of reasons.

1) It helps you stay on your toes and forces you to be flexible.
2) It's socially progressive (relative to other industries like banking) so it's a friendlier place for women and people of color.
3) It has a lower barrier to entry and it comes with less bullshit. Are you smart? Can you show it? No fancy degree? No problem.
4) It embraces non traditional thinkers. Maybe you're smart but horrible at tests and school. Maybe you're dyslexic (me). Maybe you're autistic. Regardless, you can still find a place in tech where you can shine and be appreciated for you originality.

It is, by all means, not perfect. According to the Harvard Business Review, 41% of women working in tech eventually end up leaving the field (compared to just 17% of men). There are also barely any Black people in tech (source : me). 

After eight years in software, I've noticed a recurring characteristic: Tech is really ambiguous. You don't know what you should do in your job. You don't know how to grow your career because you don't exactly know what your career is. Your title could mean many things. You don't know who your boss really is. Someone got hired and you don't know what they do or how you should interact with them. 

This can lead to paralysis if you're afraid of conflict or screwing up. What if you miss something you should be doing? What if you step on someone else's toes by doing something you shouldn't have?

I'm guilty of paralysis. My mentor, Glen Lipka, offered this piece of advice: If you don't know what to do, go solve a problem and show it to your execs. Any problem. If you make something awesome, others will recognize it and you can have a huge impact on the company. If you don't, you made something for your portfolio, you've learned something, and your execs think you're prolific. You have nothing to lose.

Don't let tech's ambiguity overwhelm you. Keep learning and growing regardless of the rules (or lack thereof). That's what leaders and innovative thinkers do.

What We Remember About Good Managers

This evening, I asked my mentors who their favorite managers were and why. I was really surprised by their answers-not because they were unusual but because they weren't about anything technical or specific. It was about how those managers made them feel. Here's the breakdown:

1. Good Managers are Compassionate
For both mentors, this was the strongest value. Their managers were forgiving, supportive, and understanding. When direct reports were having a hard time (either because they failed or because they were going through difficult in their personal hardships), these managers were steadfast. One mentor described his favorite manager as one of those people who makes you feel their warm, encouraging energy just from being in the same room. I found this really interesting because it wasn't about prioritization or structure or direction. It was about managers making their direct reports feel accepted and valued as human beings.

2. Good Managers Empower Direct Reports to Make Decisions and Fail
This was the second most prevalent type of feedback on good managers. Their managers did not micro manage. They trusted direct reports to run independently and when they failed, managers didn't judge or punish them as a result. They asked questions and provided recommendations but always made it clear that in the end, it was not the manager's decision.

3. Good Managers Don't Take Credit
One mentor pointed out the fact that their favorite manager was selfless. He said his boss never took credit for the work of his direct reports and that he was mainly focused on his team's personal and professional growth (maybe even more than his own).

Flashback to 1998...
My favorite manager is still my teacher, Chris Jaglo, from the 6th grade. Every day she'd make the girls in her class recite the phrase "I'm a bold, strong, woman." If we didn't say it loud enough, we'd have to repeat the phrase until the volume was sufficient.

She made us all learn the same material regardless of our level and ensured the success of every student through repetition. Throughout the drills, she'd enthusiastically call out every student's name, ask for the answer, and throw candy at them once they replied correctly.

If students fell behind, she'd keep in them in during recess and have them play board games that gave them further repetition. She was a steady, positive force with high expectations for all of us. We followed her happily, knowing that she'd never let us down or make us feel embarrassed in front of our classmates.

Chris Jaglo, my favorite manager, didn't make me feel warm and fuzzy and she didn't let me fail. She did, however, give me credit for my success and she was selfless, devoting all her time and energy to helping me grow. She had my utmost trust and respect and I worshipped her because she made me feel capable and confident. To this day, I still think of Chris every time I get promoted, receive a raise, lead a meeting, take on a new direct report, or present a design. I guess she was right. I am a bold, strong, woman.
 

The UX of Choice

I had a great design session with Tyler Ziemann of Yozio. I presented some designs and he continually asked me questions about how I could help the user make decisions in my screens. I realized I had planned for what information we needed to gather but I didn't think about what it would be like to provide that information as a user. How do they choose what to select? How can we help them choose? Can we bypass any fields entirely by gathering that data in some other way?

I started thinking about fields and how I should create a rule of either providing suggestions (either by helping or by autofilling a value) or automating that step and removing it all together. Then I stepped back and started to think about choice. 

What else can I do to help users make a decision and what factors come into play with decision making?

I watched Barry Schwartz's TED talk again about the Paradox of Choice. He goes on to explain that the more choices people have, the more paralyzed they become in their decision making (sometimes to the point where they make no decision at all). He then goes on to say that not only do people slow down when there are more choices, they're more dissatisfied when they make a decision. Because there were more choices, they have more alternate scenarios to envision as they walk away with their final decision.

I read "100 Things Every Designer Should Know About People" by Susan Weinschenk. She went on to support Barry's research with similar findings. There was a jam study where they sold one table with four jams and one with twenty. She pointed out that because people want more choices, more people went to the twenty jams than the four jams. However, because more choices paralyze people, more people purchased jam at the table with four jams.

I thought about Des Traynor's talk on how to make product decisions. He talks about scope creep, giving the example of a scalpel. It's easy to market, easy to explain, easy to make, and easy to use. Unlike the scalpel, the swiss army knife is hard to market, hard to explain, hard to make, and mediocre to use. While this wasn't Traynor's point, I reflected on how, by choosing a scalpel model over a swiss army knife model (fight scope creep), one could limit the choices more for the user and therefore cause less paralysis, more happiness, and potentially more adoption.

I thought about Virgin America's sexy site redesign and how it became a super simple, one step per screen experience to book flights. I always hated booking flights because there was so much noise on every page and it was always hard to verify my details among all the clutter.

I thought about a talk at the Warm Gun Design Conference in San Francisco. The speaker gave the example of a product created around World War II when instant, cheap food was highly valued. Instant food was a new thing and the company was excited to create a cake mix that was simply powder and water. To their surprise, the consumers of this product bought less because it was too easy and non involved. They wanted to still feel like they were baking. So the company redesigned their product again to make the baking process more complicated-allowing them to add eggs and other things. Weinschenk's book also related to this example-stating that people feel they're more in control when they make more decisions.

Clearly, creating a good decision making experience is much more complicated than I thought. Due to the many factors mentioned above, it definitely needs some serious, thoughtful consideration.

I've Got 99 Problems But a Useless Feature Ain't One

Problems are negative. They're scary. They make us worry. They make us feel bad about ourselves.

I'm going to go out on a limb and say that if you aren't drowning in problems, you're not doing it right. If you have a problem, you're self aware. You probably want to get rid of that problem. Eventually you'll find a solution.

The more problems you're aware of, the more problems you'll solve, and the better off you'll be. Eventually you'll get so good at finding problems that you'll uncover other problems and increase your capacity for finding solutions.

Will you always see problems and feel the need to find solutions? Yes. Will you be better off because you see those problems in the first place and fine tune how you design solutions? Absolutely.

My biggest pet peeve is when I see people reject the possibility that problems exist. They see it as defending their legitimacy or saving their product from criticism and negativity. What I see, is a conscious decision not to grow. Every identified problem is an opportunity for improvement. It's what great designers live off of and it's what good companies focus on. I challenge you to embrace every problem. Think of them not as failures, but as essential opportunities for growth over the course of a career. 

 

No One Knows What they Want

I realized today that I made a common mistake. I took my CEO's direction to heart, assembled my team accordingly, and plowed full speed ahead with his requirements as our guide. 

We had our first meeting today to touch base on the progress of our projects. They were required to be released by the end of the year. The timeline was incredibly tight and I was concerned about the quality of the work because we had limited resources. I also didn't want to sacrifice research and prototyping time and build band aid solutions.

One of my colleagues presented a project that had a rough scope of one year. I pushed back, telling him his plans weren't within the requirements we agreed on. There was no way this could be done by the end of the year. 

To my surprise, the CEO loved it. He applauded my colleague for thinking big and he was excited about the project because it was much more impressive given it's larger scope.

Sheepish, I realized I screwed up once again by assuming that my boss knew exactly what he wanted. I assumed he thought about all the different scenarios and saw all the different designs we could create in his head. I thought these requirements were written in stone after lots of research and careful planning. I made way too many assumptions. 

It's common for people to think they know what they want simply because they can't imagine things being any other way. Sometimes it's because they literally can't see it. When they do, they have the potential to get really excited about it and even change their mind entirely.

I should have made the conscious decision to take his direction as a clue rather than a directive, presenting the best related solutions rather than only solutions that fit within his rigid framework.

 

 

Vietnam

This isn't a post about product. It's about people and culture.

I went to Vietnam for two weeks with my partner. He studied there ten years ago and I went for the food. While the Bun Cha and Pho was indeed delicious, I found that the country was even more inspiring than I had anticipated. I miss the strong feeling of community and the smell of noodle soup every morning. It feels sterile and a bit lonely now here in the United States. 

Short Story 1: The Best Tailor/Restaurant/Doctor Ever
We headed to Hoi An in Central Vietnam because it was a UNESCO World Heritage Site and it was well known for custom tailoring. "You can have an entire suit made in a day!" boasted our friends in Hanoi. We walked through the streets in the scorching heat with sweat dripping down our necks. Women reached out to us regularly, encouraging us to come into their stores. After taking a short break in the shade of cafe, we chose a tailor across the street based on her TripAdvisor reviews. 

As soon as we stepped in, a woman approached us and pulled out two chairs-asking us to sit down. She gestured to another woman who brought us cold bottles of water and refrigerated wet wipes. Her face was tan and angular with thick, perfectly shaped eyebrows. She had a look of focus and determination. 

Two hours later, we had been measured for two suits, shirts, and a few dresses. "You hungry?" she asked. "Yes," I replied. "I get you food. You try Cau Lau?" she asked. "Sure?" I said. I had no idea what Cau Lau was.

Five minutes later, her fellow worker returned with two steaming bowls of Cau Lau on a tray. She brushed aside the papers and fabric in front of us and served us Cau Lau right there in the store. With the intense heat and humidity, the site of food made me sick to my stomach. Regardless, we were hungry and we were being closely observed. We ate, gave her a thumbs up and smiled to show our extreme pleasure. She sent us back to our hotel with a bag of bananas and pineapples.

That night my partner came down with a gnarly stomach bug. Miserable and sleep deprived, he returned to the tailor with me the next afternoon. We arrived for the fitting and the tailor asked him how he felt. He said he was sick. "Bathroom all the time?" she asked. He nodded, embarrassed. "I get you medicine," said the tailor, waving to another woman who disappeared into the streets. Ten minutes later, the woman returned with five cans of Diet Coke, five cans of Pringles, and a mysterious plastic bag of pills. My partner looked at me with raised eyebrows. "We're headed back to Hanoi tomorrow so if you start dying, we'll be near a hospital soon," I said. He downed the pills and drank two cans of Diet Coke (she kept encouraging him to have more). He felt better from the sugar, developed a headache from the caffeine, and awoke fully recovered the next day.

 

A Letter to My Past Self

After trying to grow my career in Product, I've attained a good title and a decent growth story. What I've realized, however, is that I've fallen behind in skills I may have polished if I were more discerning about the employers I considered. I was so focused on title and salary that I failed to examine how companies develop product. Consequently, my product development chops are somewhat lacking for someone with my years of experience.

If I were to meet myself three years ago, here is what I'd say:

Dear Loe,
You're doing a great job but you still have no idea what you're doing. You're going to be tempted to take opportunities as they come because it's exciting and you're impatient. Unfortunately, this will bite you in the ass years later. Here are the crucial questions you must ask before even considering an employer. If you can't get hired by an employer that meets all of these requirements, go get your masters in HCI (for UX) or your MBA (for Product Management).

1. Are Product decisions made from data? What data? How is that data gathered? Are there tools used to analyze the data? Who analyzes the data? Do all Product Managers make product decisions in the same way? Every product decision (hypothesis) needs to be based on data. It should never be because someone thinks it's cool, because one customer asked for it, or because the company is trying to imitate a popular brand. 

2. Who will be the primary decision maker for all of the products I build? Who is responsible for that person's performance? There should be a clear answer to this. One person needs to be the final decision maker of every decision and it needs to be clear to the entire company. If it isn't, the internal misalignment will result in a lot of conflict and it will be impossible for you to succeed since your goals aren't clear.

3. Who manages the budget for the products I build? This needs to be crystal clear-similar to the one decision maker in #2.

4. Who defines the company's product vision? How do they do that? How do they communicate that vision to the rest of the company? Also similar to #1 and #2, one person needs to be responsible for signing off on this. They also need to communicate the plan or have a strategy for communication with the rest of the company so plans and products don't live in a vacuum.

5. How are development resources allocated to product? The loudest, most aggressive person on Product should not have all the resources. Resources should be dependent on the company's product priorities and the best development strategy (different developers have different skills and different projects have different dependencies).

6. How does the development team work with Product? Making product should be an ongoing collaboration between development and product. It should not be a hand off. Developers should understand the use cases and personas and Product Managers should ensure those stories are clearly articulated.

7. Who will be my primary mentor? How will they mentor me? There needs to be some sort of structure in place to define and determine growth. 

8. How does Marketing and Product work together? Is there a Product Marketing person or team? Is Product Marketing in the dark about Product? Is there good collaboration between the two departments?

9. Are your developers on site? Are they in the country? This has been a huge painpoint of mine. Communication is difficult. It's even more difficult when people are in different time zones and when you can't collaborate regularly face to face. It takes a toll on the product as well because misalignment leads to a decline in product quality.

10. How is Product success evaluated? What happens when a product fails? The best products are measured so PMs can keep iterating or kill new features. If product isn't measured, it becomes bloated and inefficient.

11. How does Product and UX work together? How do their responsibilities differ? How do they overlap? UX and Product are very similar. It's really important to distinguish roles and responsibilities for the two departments to prevent conflict/butting heads.

 

 

Tech and the Have Nots

I was born and raised Jewish. Every High Holiday season (Passover, Yom Kippur, Rosh Hashana) my family would spend time reflecting on how lucky we were to have what we had. We'd pray for others who weren't as fortunate and think of things we could have done to be better people that year. We trained ourselves to reflect on the misfortune of others every time our lives got easier. It was a way to keep ourselves in check. To stay human.

I read another article today about a Black person being physically abused by the police for no reason. This time it was a one legged man on crutches outside the Twitter building in San Francisco. You can read the article here. While all of these videos and articles are horrible in their own way, this one compelled me to write because this instance and this author struck a certain chord with me. Here we have an incredibly rich, White city with rich White companies and rich White people. I am included in this population. Then we have a Black, one legged man whose living on the street. He's abused and humiliated in public by the police as they stomp on his leg, hit him on the head, and hold him to the ground for 30 minutes with his bare behind exposed. No one does anything. Not a peep from Twitter about the treatment of human beings in their neighborhood.

I understand that Twitter can't save the world. I understand that this is a complex issue because of the violent, racist nature of police culture. I understand that racism against Black people is deeply ingrained in our country's history. What I don't understand as a Jew and a human being, is why the Haves (i.e. wealthy tech companies) are not using their money and power more to advocate for the Have Nots-especially in the case of police brutality against Black people. I had an argument with a developer from Apple about something similar. I told him how awesome it would be if Apple took their smart people and designed solutions that would help everyone-not just those who can afford Apple watches. He claimed it was "not Apple's problem to solve." Personally, I think that's bullshit. I also think he's misaligned with his CEO who "plans to give away all his wealth, after providing for the college education of his 10-year-old nephew" and explains that changing the world always has been higher on Apple’s agenda than making money.

Here is an example of tech using money and influence to advocate for human rights. Marc Benioff, CEO of Salesforce, threatened to remove all Salesforce business from Indiana when Governor Mike Pence signed a Religious Freedom Restoration Act that allowed employers turn qualified employees away because of their religion, sexual orientation, gender, or race. Benioff spread the word on Twitter and a week later, offered relocation packages to Salesforce employees living in Indiana in case they wanted to transfer out of Indiana. Apple and NASCAR followed his lead and soon Benioff had a group of executives teaming up to put economic pressure on Indiana. Angie's List, an Indianapolis based tech company, froze their $40 million dollar expansion plan in the state. Mike Pence revised the legislation after coming under national scrutiny for his ridiculous legislation. Unfortunately it's still discriminatory. But at least he's under pressure, he revised it, and big tech companies are highlighting the issue and forcing further revisions because of Benioff's initiative.

Tech has the huge potential to do good. When I see and read about police brutality against Black people, I see a ripe opportunity for tech to leverage its money and power to push for justice and reform. 

 

Keep it Real

Ja Rule once sang that he can't go on without JLo because she keeps it real. Similarly, it's important to keep it real when designing interfaces and interacting with your team. Here's what I'm talking about.

A wise Glen Lipka (Chief Design Officer at Marketo) once taught me that it's a bad idea to use lorem ipsum in my design mockups. I didn't understand it at the time but now that I've been designing longer, I've realized that fake text or fake numbers weakens your designs in a big way.

Content and content prioritization should be the foundation of a design. If you're not being real about your content, your design mockup loses its meaning and feedback will off base. A prime example of this is designing a report. If the numbers don't relate to each other as they would in the real scenario, any viewers (developers, other designers, etc.) won't understand what you're trying to do.

It goes even further. People have strong associations with words. One word may trigger a strong reaction. It's important to have time to identify and examine those reactions early on in your design process. A reviewer's interpretation of words may completely change your design and rushing through those changes could damage the quality of your product.

So, in conclusion, keep it real from the start (or as real is it can be). Scrap the lorem ipsum. Use numbers that make sense. 

 

 

 

Survival

Today, I placed my leftovers in the microwave, pressed start, and it did nothing. I started looking around the back of our office kitchen to see how it was powered. I found the unplugged cord, and ate a microwaved lunch.

When I found that cord and plugged it in, I had a flashback to the worst job I ever had. I remembered arriving on my first day to a desk full of paperwork. No one was there to help for the first three days. I was lost and frustrated.

A month later, I was recruiting and interviewing people for jobs I didn't understand on the phone. I was also setting up new computers for new hires.

A month later the CEO asked me to make the internet faster with an AT&T device he purchased. I spent days weaving ethernet cables hundreds of feet through the ceiling of our basement office and down the long hall to the window. That didn't work. Apparently linked ethernet cables loose their signal. My effort was worthless.

A month later I moved the office to a different location and had to set up the new printer so it was linked to our wireless internet. The printer worked.

While that job made me miserable, I can distinctly remember that it changed the way I think. I was forced to do things I didn't know how to do and to learn new things to survive. I didn't have time for self doubt. I realized that too often, I assumed I was incapable of learning things and that that mindset alone was my biggest barrier. I was sabotaging my own success for a very long time.

I think everyone, because of stereotypes or what they've been told, assumes they're limited in what they can learn. I see this a lot with women in tech and I wish I had a better strategy for getting them to step into the fire repeatedly just to realize they're capable of much more than they think they are. Maybe that strategy is to replicate my worst job. Give people new things to learn. Let them struggle without help. Give them more new things. Only then, will they realize their potential? Maybe it's a matter of putting people in a position where they have to learn to survive.

Makes sense in the context of my family.

My mother told me she married my dad because he made her feel like she could learn or do anything. He felt the same about himself. It wasn't because he had a huge ego. It was because he's a first generation Chinese immigrant who grew up relatively poor and saw his family prosper over time after working hard in the United States. He was born in a small apartment in Chinatown New York where they'd kill rats for fun with scissors. They moved to Minnesota where my grandpa started a successful business making tooth fillings out of precious metals. My dad became a doctor and his brothers became doctors, dentists, and lawyers. He had no reason to think that anything was impossible. Clearly, a lot was possible. It was just a matter of effort.

I want to instill this sense of openness and determination in others so they can accelerate their learning and not be constrained by self judgement. Especially with women. Maybe it's something you can't force. Maybe it's just something you learn in life as you stumble, fall, and find solutions to survive along the way.

 

 

Throw Users a Bone

I keep seeing examples of where software assumes the user is psychic. 

Salesforce, YouTrack, JIRA, and our own product here at IdeaScale often times expects the user to configure something in one place and then psychically infer that they need to go somewhere else to complete the configuration or to make that new thing work in particular ways. Does it makes sense? No. It doesn't. Users like me are now aware that if things don't work, we go poking around other parts of the system to see if there's some switch or linking capability in another somewhat related section.

So why does this happen? Here are my theories:

1. It's hard to redesign everything and find the optimal solution every time you add a feature. There are less dependencies to consider if you design and add something separately because it's on its own island. 

2. Information architecture is overwhelming with a complex product. Salesforce, JIRA, and YouTrack are all relatively elaborate products with many different possible user flows. They're awesome because they're flexible and robust. They'll make you tear your hair out for that same reason.

 3. It's a symptom of designing for developers, not users. Does the thing work? Yes. It works perfectly. Do any non developers know how to make it work? No. 

I remember reading about the simple UI solution for a refrigerator's temperature control (I think it was in The Design of Everyday Things?). It was two nobs. The development and reasoning behind those is nobs was pretty complicated and it's clear that the development solution was worlds different from the UX solution. This should be true in most cases for software products as well.

Conclusion:
If you don't have the time and resources to research and redesign everything so your product makes sense as a whole (this is the optimal solution), throw your users a bone. Add text to tell them where to go. Give them a link to the next location.  Write useful help articles they can find with a quick run down of links to make things happen and step by step instructions.

Lastly, here is the most recent example of this sort of design problem. I'm trying to create a new custom field in my YouTrack issue view. I created one and it doesn't work. I have to go to a project and add it separately.

Here I am trying to add a custom field to my YouTrack issue view. Nothing appears after I complete #4.

Here I am trying to add a custom field to my YouTrack issue view. Nothing appears after I complete #4.

After getting frustrated and clicking around, I tried going here in the projects section (separate from the custom fields section) to activate my custom field in the right project.

After getting frustrated and clicking around, I tried going here in the projects section (separate from the custom fields section) to activate my custom field in the right project.



Ode to Hans-Bernd Dreis

This week, one of my favorite human beings at IdeaScale is leaving the company to head to Witty Parrot, another Bay Area startup. I'm sad that he's leaving but happy that he found such a great opportunity. 

I learned a ton from Hans in the time we worked together. Thought it was time to share those valuable lessons.

1. Be a Scientist
Hans has had many lives. He was a physicist in Germany, a painter in France, a cofounder of a startup, and now a Product and Innovation Management VP. Every time he approaches any situation, he does it with an open, inquisitive mind. He ensures he has all the information he needs and listens without any judgement. He asks questions to fill any holes. He comes up with detailed solutions and holds no resentment from previous relationships or previous project statuses. 

This is effective for two reasons. One: you can think more clearly because you let go of any biases that may have clouded your judgement. Two: You're happier because you've removed yourself from the situation by being objective. It isn't about you anymore. It's about the problem.

2.  Don't Stop Believin'
Hans is unfazed by failure or setbacks. He's fiercely optimistic. He stays up all night working to solve problems and he never seems to get overwhelmed because he always, genuinely, believes things will get better. I struggle with this one because I'm naturally adverse to pain or conflict. What I realized, however, is that if you give in to negativity, it does nothing but slow you down and paralyze you. Hans never let that happen.

3. See and Acknowledge the Good in Everyone
In every difficult discussion, I've noticed that Hans first voices his appreciation and validates others' feelings before voicing his own opinion. He doesn't try to fight with people or bulldoze anyone to try and get his agenda through. He establishes trust through acknowledging others. I saw others relax and listen more intently. I also saw them absorb Hans' opinions with a more open mind because they felt heard and understood. Again and again, potentially unproductive, conflict-heavy meetings morphed into productive working sessions with collective solutions because of Hans' trust-building approach.

I feel really fortunate to have worked with Hans at IdeaScale and I hope I can master these three lessons. Cheers to being an optimistic scientist who sees the good in everyone. And good luck at Witty Parrot, Hans!

The Last Word

I read somewhere that Tina Fey's decision making strategy is to make the final call and then physically remove herself from the room. If she stays, people in the meeting immediately question her decision. For some reason, they assume her decision isn't final and they begin to challenge and discuss it. She thought it was a common thing among women because she didn't see this happen to men.

I thought this was fascinating and didn't experience much of it until recently. The only difference is, when I left the room, they continued to talk about a solution after I made the decision. Leaving the room didn't work.

Being an adult, I cannot raise my voice or shut down the call or blast them all with Supersoakers so they discontinue the conversation. So what do I do? And why did they feel like they could do that in the first place? I made a decision about a department I oversee.

I would say that it's the responsibility of company leaders to enforce respect among peers and to ensure women's decisions are taken just as seriously as men's.  However, if Tina Fey couldn't demand that kind of respect in a show she produced, I'm thinking I need to examine other tactics.

Here is what I'm going to do:

1) Pull each person aside to talk about what happened and to tell them how it impacted me. If you're the one woman in a meeting of men, it's possible that they didn't see the same thing you did. Communicating to everyone at once will make your case weaker because they'll find it harder to see from your perspective if they're in a room full of people like them.

2) Hold your ground. If the discussion continues after you're gone (in my case, it's about product), shut it down when it hits the schedule. Train people to understand that nothing actually happens without your approval. If it isn't your decision, it doesn't exist. Eventually, they'll realize that ignoring you and discussing what they want is ultimately a waste of time because you're the gatekeeper.

If you can't have power and respect in conversation, find where you can leverage power elsewhere. I liken it to taking away a teenager's cell phone if they're talking back.

Any other tactics would be greatly appreciated :)

Growing Pains

Companies are always changing. I've been lucky enough to be in a few that were growing. One went from 30 to 70 people in the three years I was there. Another was trying to double people and revenue in one year. My current company is growing too.

It's fascinating to watch things unfold. Who do you hire? How many people do you hire? How do you create a company structure that satisfies the company's needs both in the present and the future? It's a crazy puzzle.

Here are the common problems I've seen:

1) Lack of strategy/direction
Sweet! We lured in all of these sharp people! Wait. What should they do? Do they have good managers? Wait-we just hired twenty more-what's the strategy now?

2) Communication breakdown
This is somewhat related to #1. You hire a lot of people. Teams grow. The bigger a company, more likely it is that things will get lost in translation or not be communicated at all. It's like playing a giant game of telephone.

3) The wrong people
A perfect start up team is completely different from a perfect mid-sized company. Personalities are different. Communication style is different. Management style is different. How do you scale without shoving squares into circles?

4) Loss of culture
It's easy to generate a cohesive, fun culture with similar people in a small company. When you get larger, you need more people-and that's harder to find. Those people are inevitably more and more different from each other. You try to accomodate everyone and that leads to a more tame, vanilla atmosphere with less humor (you never know who you could insult by accident). 

So what could be some possible solutions? If I were CEO of a growing company, here's what I'd try out.

  • Try to give employees time and resources to have lives outside of work so they have time to pursue their passions and to go out for lunch, dinner, or drinks with their coworkers. You can't craft better relationships between people but you can create an environment where they're more likely to interact.
  • Divide larger groups into subgroups whenever possible to make working more efficient and to encourage closer, more trusting relationships among peers.
  • Make your office an experience that employees can discuss and bond over. Put art on the walls. Buy a mini golf set. Put in a slide. Server coffee and bagels every Friday. Host internal hackathons. Play the news. Play the World Cup. Even if employees have never met, they'll be able to bond over a common experience.
  • Be clear in your management and responsibilities structure as you grow. If managers and responsibilities are clearly defined, it's easier to distribute information efficiently. If you're growing fast, put in the time to reset with every burst of growth.
  • Be real with your people. Know what they want and be clear with what the company wants. As you grow, they may leave but you'll maintain those relationships, expand your network, and transition more smoothly from employee to employee. You may even end up with a network you can tap into at every stage of your future company's growth.

Again-these are solutions to problems I've witnessed. I'm not sure if they work. Would love to hear how others are tackling similar issues.

Yoga Makes You Rich

You may think yoga is for privileged, skinny, hipsters. Lady hipsters who like Lulu Lemon.

While I'll admit to being privileged (if you're in tech and you say you aren't, you're lying), I am too cheap and reasonable to be a hipster and I refuse to buy Lulu Lemon. I think yoga is for people who want (and have time) to be more successful in their careers. It may also rid you of anxiety and make you buff-but that's a less provocative argument.

Why yoga makes you rich:
1. Yoga makes you calm and level-a highly desireable quality in any leader.
2. Yoga trains you how to focus better-also something essential as a leader since leaders manage more people and more projects
3. Yoga makes you more perceptive-Every time you practice you think about yoga and life from a new perspective. This type of brain training can help leaders see through the lens of their peers, their CEOs, and their customers.
4. Yoga makes you more patient-things fall through, politics ensue, you might be blamed for something you didn't do because that's part of being a manager. Yoga helps you breathe through it and maintain your sanity.

 

 

What to Tell Your Daughter

This may be a sexist statement.

In my experience, women seem to give a much bigger shit about what others think of them. I've always been like this myself.

Sometimes it's beneficial. I started songwriting in college. People told me I was talented and that I should keep writing so I did. I wrote and produced two albums and I performed at nationally known venues. It was awesome.

Sometimes caring about others' opinions of you can hurt you. I work with a bunch of people who are more senior than me and they expect a lot out of me. It isn't a bad thing but sometimes I question whether or not I can learn quickly enough to catch up with them and eventually help lead them and lead the company. I was overwhelmed one day and I reached out to others for help. One person told me I wasn't equipped to handle the situation. Others suggested I didn't have the experience or the executive authority. One suggested I should start looking for a new job. I descended into a cloud of anxiety and self doubt.

In my confused desperation, I reached out to a mentor of mine. I asked her if she thought I was in over my head. She responded, "In over your head? Fuck that." All of a sudden the fog cleared. I could feel the ground under my feet again. I felt empowered and capable. I started thinking of ways to solve the problems I was dealing with and I started executing on them-eventually leading to successful results. Her simple rejection of failure had a giant impact on me. She believed in me without question. Consequently, I believed in myself.

Here's what I took away from this whole experience. If I ever have a mentee who's a woman or a daughter of my own, here is what I will tell her:

1. You can do anything. No one is better than you.
2. If anyone says otherwise, fight the urge to accept that as your reality. It will slow you down and impede your ability to improve. You decide what you're capable of. In the end, it's not about what you can do. It's about what you want to do.

 

Shut Up. Now Talk.

I was raised to be an opinionated, outspoken woman. My Mom quit her nursing job to take care of me and my two sisters but regardless of how much money she brought in, she was an equal, if not more dominant presence in our household. She determined our religion. She organized family events. She took primary responsibility for growing and molding us because she was simply around more and that was her job. She was the Nudell Lee CEO.

I continued my managerial character development in 6th grade with my 6th grade teacher, Chris Jaglo. She's my favorite teacher of all time. Daily, she'd tell us girls that we're "bold, strong women." She'd make us say it to ourselves too. It sounds silly but it had a huge impact on me.

Now I find myself in the Bay Area with a full time job in tech. I expect to be heard and respected all the time but I'm discovering that that's not how it works. Not everyone wants to hear my opinion. They may not respect me either. It isn't like my family or my 6th grade class because work is not democratic. Every organization is a unique combination of personalities and egos that must be handled in a specific, careful, way. There are ways to succeed but you may have to compromise your voice and elements of your personality. 

If you don't have the executive authority to speak your mind, your next best bet is to ally with as many people as possible. Help as many people as you can and follow through in a thoughtful, organized way. You may never call the shots but people will take you with them if they have the opportunity to pave the way.

 

 

Great Manager, Lame Friend

I've said I love being a manager but it's scary because of the responsibility.

I've also mentioned how I feel like I naturally fall into the roll of nurturer and caretaker (IdeaScale Mom).

What I haven't discussed yet is how awkward it is to be a friend when you're trying so hard to be a calm, even leader all the time. You have to keep people on track. You don't have time to grab a drink or to go out because you have a million things to do. You're the last one in line and everything is ultimately your responsibility.

Good managers tend to have certain behaviors that make them inherently uncool. They're always trying to be fair and stable and politically correct. They never have favorites. They make you do things you don't want to do sometimes-so it's impossible to be their friend because it's never completely equal.

I love the people I work with but as someone who's new to management, I'm finding that being a good manager can mean being a bit lonely sometimes.

Take Your Space

As Head of Product at IdeaScale, I need to collaborate with and serve team members on the East Coast, the West Coast, and in Bangladesh. Together, those work hours equal a full 24 hour day.

Naturally, I want to be as helpful as possible. I feel my developer's pain when they're stuck on projects because no one is awake to discuss requirements. I feel my east coast account managers' frustration when they're trying to help customers with problems and no one is awake to discuss solutions. I feel my sales teams' frustration when they have unanswered questions about how features work and how they factor it into their sales pitch.

Flashback to My Youth..

I had a Nigerian soccer coach from London who'd scream at us at soccer practice. He made us cry because he was a passionate guy who tended to shout when we made mistakes. "Why are you crying?!" he'd say. "Crying doesn't make you better at soccer." The funny thing is, he was right. Eventually we stopped crying, took feedback objectively, and realized we could improve our soccer skills faster if we nixed the crying, listened to feedback, and changed our behavior accordingly. That's how he coached the boys. He insisted that he coach us the same way.

Dave also taught us how to take our space. We'd step in front of people, grab their wrists and pull them off balance to create a protective bubble around the soccer ball so no one could take it away from us. If we took our space, we'd never lose possession, and we'd inevitably win the game (assuming our passes and shots were just as pristine as our dribbling skills).

I haven't played soccer in 6 years but I did work two 12 hour days last week. I worked normal US hours and then stayed up 'till 2am to communicate with my team in Bangladesh. Following my two day bender, I fell asleep mid day and spent two days recovering from sleep deprivation and too much screen time. My brain was foggy, I felt miserable, and my boyfriend reported I looked like a crazy person.

Following my recovery, I came to the realization that I seriously failed at what my soccer coach had trained me to do. I failed at taking my space. If my happiness and creative spirit were a soccer ball, it would have been stolen from right under me.

I needed techniques to create space for myself. Here's what I came up with. I call it, The Startup Survival Guide.

  • Work from home at least once a week to provide more flexibility, quiet time, and brain space
  • If you work 'till 2am, you should wake up late. Work days should be 8 or 9 hours. If those hours are during the day and late at night, you need replace some of those work hours with free hours-even if others are working.
  • Amp up the self care. Sleep 8 hours. Go to yoga. Get a massage (if you can afford it). If you're going to work really long hours and your hours make you disoriented being both during the day and at night, you need to take extra care of yourself to maintain a happy equilibrium. Aggressively veg during your nonworking hours. 

Hold your sleep and personal time sacred just like a soccer ball. It'll make you a better, more dependable worker and it'll prevent a preemptive burn out.