I attended The Brand Lab Fearless Conversation Series on Wednesday, April 20. It happened to also be my birthday. Nothing like a little light discussion on race and retention in the workplace to say, wow, you're old!Read More
Recently, I've been frustrated with the movement of Lean In. I feel like I've been Leaning In for years upon years, and now I'm just burnt out, and not sure that all this Leaning In is effective. Leaning In seems to be tough on women like myself, right as we're trying to be kind to ourselves. And in my case, I'm a glutton for punishment and just like to do all the things. This winter, I've been leaning the heck out of everything and hiding in my basement playing Fallout4. For days.
Those who know me, will recognize that I'm a huge advocate of not wasting time and not letting anything stand in your way — just Beyoncé strut right on through it and GSD. And although I love playing video games, and see it as my relaxation time, I need to get my Beyoncé on again with something that I can't help but Lean In to. I'm craving it, even though I haven't completed Fallout — and yes, I'm a Bethesda completionist.
So how can I find ways to feel more effective with my time, more purposeful, less burnt out, and more accomplished with Leaning In, and Out.
There is a plethora of processes in technology, each with their own pros and cons and optimal uses. I prefer to do whatever is needed to just GSD personally, but my messy chaos isn't scalable to large teams and organizations. In my day job in Product at Target (officially pronounced Tar-jay) we work in Agile Product teams centered around different guest needs. I love working on cross functional teams and wearing many hats regardless of title, and though I rebel against some of the overly ceremonious aspect of Agile in general, though it's mostly fab for our team.
I've been applying some of the Agile methodologies to life in general — to Leaning In & Out effectively, and though some of this still is conceptual in my head, and some of it has been great practice to integrate into my Messy Chaos GSD Process and I wanted to bounce it off the internets. Off you friendly folks.
Iterate & Learn over Perfection
As a recovering perfectionist, this has been one of my biggest personal and professional developments in my career thus far, and one of the core principles of Agile software development. It's not possible to have everything planned for and mapped out upfront. Ever. So quit trying. In Agile we get small chunks of functionality in front of real users quickly so that we can learn and iterate to improve our products. It's not about having the perfect answer up front — it’s about learning, and moving quickly alongside our users to give them good experiences that are good for business too. Refining as we go, and iterating constantly.
Before I was working in an Agile environment, I got world-view changing advice from a mentor several years ago:
Beattie, you slave all night to get your work to 99% perfect in your eyes. No one can see that last 25%, and you're killing yourself. How about you aim for your 75% and eat a fucking bagel?
I may be paraphrasing, but I took it as a challenge anyway. Instead of staying at work into the wee hours of the morning to get something up to my standards of perfection, I started blocking the hour before the deadline and just GSDing. And it worked. I got things done in one hour, that I previously would have spent five on. People were no less impressed by the ideas I was communicating and colleagues felt more a part of the evolution and made it better rather than feeling like they couldn't participate when I had it all figured out and perfected.
Garner useful feedback early and often — then iterate towards “perfection”, or at least towards 80-90%.
Learn Efficiently & Effectively
There is also the concept of the MVP, Minimally Viable Product, in Lean Product work where you find the simplest first iteration of an idea to test it's potential success with your audience. Then you build off it. I could write for a year on my varied frustrations with the concept of MVPs, and I'll promise a follow up on that. However, for our purposes let's take the concept forward — what is the minimum thing I can do efficiently to learn from effectively.
This medium post is my MVP. For years, I've been wanting to start blogging and podcasting my ramblings on everything from design and coding, to feminism, to wine, to recording my mum reading The Gruffalo's Wean. And for years I've been perfecting what my content strategy could be, who my audience is, designing and then coding (and then redesigning and re-platforming) the perfect blog platform. And at the end of 2015 I took my own medicine and just started writing. I'm learning about myself through the catharsis of getting these kinds of weird things out of my head and into yours, refining my tone, seeing what gets traction, and without any more upfront investment, I'm gaining feedback on my ideas.
An MVP in your world could be having five coffees to garner feedback on a sketch from people you trust. It could be creating a Facebook group and seeing how many of your network join. It could be anything really. Whatever is the most effective use of your time to learn something about yourself or your ambitions.
Lean In in Sprints
In Agile, we break work down into short phases of work called “sprints”. Usually two weeks in length, with a little planning upfront to determine the goals of the sprint, and break down the work into manageable chunks. At the end of the sprint, you have a functioning thing to seek feedback with, though this can take on a multitude of forms.
So, how about we do this in life too.
We break down our big ambitions and ideas to more manageable bite sized chunks for a set time frame. A sprint becomes be a two week commitment to yourself to give a specific goal your all. We Lean In all the way to whatever our ambitions and ideas are. Beyoncé strut your way right through the sprint, focusing on the minimal effective thing you can do to quickly learn from. You try something, you pivot, you learn.
And then you Lean the fuck Out for a minute.
Your personal sprint could be anything from Leaning In to your new diet or exercise plan in the new year, networking up a storm if your goal is a new job, or spending dedicated time learning a single new skill.
Be Retrospective & Introspective
At the end of every sprint in Agile, there is traditionally a meeting called the Retrospective where the team comes to gather to assess what worked well, what didn't, and how they want to move into the next sprint. It's a great anchor to pause and measure your progress. Did you meet your goals? What did you like about the past sprint? Did you learn? How will you pivot?
Taking a moment to reflect on your own feelings about the immediate past sprint keeps the frame of reference manageable, and holds you accountable to yourself. Was it an effective use of your valuable time? Are you now a step closer to your ambition? What do you want to refine in your next sprint? What's standing in your way?
For life-life, this is freeing.
This gives you permission to not have all the answers up front. To not wait to feel 100% certain in any idea or thing, but to just try some stuff with gusto. To not hold yourself back. To learn quickly when something is not the right thing and to pivot. To be effective in how you're using your energy by more purposefully Leaning In. To learn quickly and pivot, wasting less energy.
And if you throw yourself into purposeful, intense yet efficient sprints at your ambitions and ideas, then you can give yourself a pass to take a break and Lean Out. Play Fallout4, support your partner as they take a sprint for their goals, learn to knit, or watch all of BSG (for the fourth time).
I'm tired of feeling like I'm in a never ending marathon of Leaning In. So this year I'm Leaning Out sometimes to Lean In more effectively.
I’m on the board of an organization called Mpls MadWomen. We’re working towards gender equality in marketing, advertising and creative fields through stimulating conversation and actionable takeaways to evoke change. Whoa.
Single and married, with kids and without kids, career newbies and seasoned #ladybosses, our diverse board met for a weekend retreat to plan our 2016 events and initiatives. Part of the retreat was reserved for exercises to get to know each other better. One activity involved choosing 6 words that described each person in the room. I wish I could have just picked “badass” for everyone.
One of the most common words used to describe me was “cool.” I laughed out loud because I have no idea what kind of vibes I’m putting out that would indicate any coolness about me. Is is the casual snot blob on my pant leg, or the 3-day old mascara I’ve been rocking as a smokey eye? Is it the chronic panic in my eyes that I’ve forgotten to send an email, meet a friend or pick up my kid from daycare? Whatever it is, I’m honored to be considered a cool mom amongst so many other cool people (seriously, one of the women was repeatedly and accurately described as “smoldering”).
It’s amazing even when you’re struggling to feel like yourself, and you’re running on fumes in every aspect of life, other women see you for you and lift you up. Clearly, they knew I needed to feel put together and awesome, even though I’ve had to take a backseat lately.
We should do this kind of “I see you, cool mom” acknowledgement for all women. No matter what stage of life we’re in, we’re constantly pinned against each other for that one female seat at the table, the best bake sale items (f*** that), or the most participation in our children’s lives.
We can’t do it all without each other’s support that leaning out of those areas should be seen as OK.
One thing the MadWomen board does to support each other is a lean out system. Each member has a buddy to tap when they need to step out of the crazy for whatever reason, be it work, health or family. It would be interesting to see a work environment that allowed for this kind of flexibility. The potential for an increase in productivity and retention and decrease in negative attitudes and burnout should be intriguing for any company.
Organizational change like this wouldn’t be met without its challenges and coordination, as it takes the entire group to buy into it, and we can’t all lean out at the same time. But perhaps change isn’t such a bad thing and maybe my group of #ladybosses is onto something.