Helen and I saw the new hit movie Everything Everywhere All At Once last night. It is a reality-bending epic about finding purpose & balance & truth in the vein of The Matrix, Inception, and Memento. Among many themes is the concept of control over who you are and what you can do. That’s been on my mind recently as I return to work from my sabbatical and drive more intentionality into my day, my mood, and my actions.
In product making, designers use a concept of a mood board to reflect the ethos of a product. Before focusing on the details of interactions, a designer creates a board that sets the tone for the product and the emotional connection that people should have with the final result. It’s a creative and visual way of anchoring future decision making.
As an experiment, I created a mood board for my work life.
It is not as visually opinionated as a typical mood board; the concepts and text are what give this one meaning. Nonetheless, here’s what each element means to me and how I want to show up in Spring and Summer 2022.
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I find myself coming back to this phrase I heard a few weeks ago. I love it for its simple language. Every word has meaning:
Do = Bias for action. Get things done. Not talk/debate.
Hard Things = If we don't do them, then we make our customers solve the hard problems. Plus, my job as a product leader is to push beyond the status quo and most expedient path.
In A Calm Way = I've come to appreciate poise and intensity as force multipliers for product leaders. It's also the area I see so much opportunity in myself and the team around me to grow.
With Me = Not "for me." Partnerships are key to successful tech products. So is letting hidden figures shine.
How I Want to Feel
These were the themes from my sabbatical and I talk about them in my Field Guide to Happiness. It’s heavily influenced by Dr. Santos’ class on the Psychology of Happiness. I found it a lot easier to practice these when there were no work distractions in my life, so this is on my board to encourage a drip, drip, drip reminder of how I need to seek out these moments and feelings that encourage joy.
The 🎖️ on the mood board is from the 15K Birch Bay Run in April. It represents my recent uptick in long-distance running - a totem to continue the habit and a reminder of the zen it provides.
How I Want to Make Others Feel
Recasting a cross-team situation to assume the counterparty in a stuck relationship has good intentions and then figuring out what those intentions are is the number one reframe I use to unpack an issue. I learned it when it was used on me and enabled me to uplevel my thinking. That’s the job of a great manager of high-performing, busy people - to be the one who helps someone break a narrative if it’s getting someone stuck.
I wish I could give credit to both the artist and the author of the 10 Behaviors for Inclusion - it’s a great frame and I’m sorry I don’t have the deets to credit here. Although my company has simplified D&I to three key practices of awareness, curiosity, and courage, I still find this poster - which has been hanging in my office for years - a great tool for encouraging creativity and awareness around a culture of inclusion. I often choose one of these to focus on at a time; I recently chose #5 and it dovetails nicely into assuming the best intent.
My boss has sponsored me for a leadership training class called Pathwise. It’s rooted in positive psychology, which means that it uses psychological principles to enable high-function people to perform better. One of the concepts centers around your core personality that can drive your behavior when on autopilot (e.g. my core personality tends to withdraw myself from situations and people when I’m under stress). It establishes a set of cognitive levels 1 = pathological 2 = driven by personality 3 = you are aware of your personality’s impact 4 = you can see the entire system around you.
This graphic on my mood board is all about rising above Level 2 thinking: Don’t be on autopilot. Be present and suspend attention. Know my triggers and what triggers others have.
How I Want to Drive Impact
Here are a set of pictures that encapsulate the influence I seek to have on product, steeped in things I find myself interjecting in brainstorms, reviews, and strategy sessions. My role on the team is normally focused on the What and Why (vs. other disciplines covering the How and When). Since I’m a portfolio manager of many projects, I often find myself reviewing the plans owned by others - so pattern matching and developing consistent nudges and pithy quotes that demonstrate my philosophy is a way to scale.
Context matters = So often people jump to solutions or apply principles of product without knowing the business, team, and industry context. This is my counterweight to encourage folks to be more curious about the inputs and risks of a given situation vs. get attached to an idea or even an outcome. What are our unique strengths? Is the team ready for this complexity? Why didn’t this work before and will it work now?
Fit before scale = I work in Big Tech. All the systems are trying to scale things out immediately - it’s just the nature of the institution. “If it’s not a $1B business already, then it won’t bend the curve.” Yet great product isn’t built that way - you must iterate towards product/market fit before scaling it up. Since my team works on several 0→1 product areas, this type of air cover is something I commonly provide.
As simple as possible, but no simpler = There is no other phrase that encapsulates the intellectual part of my job better than this. Products often get pulled to extremes around complexity - either a product must be “dead simple” or it must win every feature bake-off. The right product truth is about riding a curve to be as simple as possible - that creates end-user love, longevity in code, and nimbleness - but not too simple to the point of missing the opportunity capture.
Hamilton’s 7 Powers = This is a reminder that my job as a product strategist is to build durable differentiation. Often this requires a leap of faith to do what’s hard and takes a while because the expedient thing will not create a product that will durably stay relevant. Hamilton’s book on the types of persistent competitive advantage is a great framework for thinking through this and I find it especially useful for bringing multiple systems and products together into one strategy.
I’m keeping a copy of my mood board in my studio and near my desk. We’ll see if it becomes a durable part of my work habits and if so, I update it once every couple months as my moods and needs evolve.
If anyone else has experience with using a visual tool to help set the tone at work, reach out!