(upbeat music) - So, these days everyone is really excited about something new. New technology, a new process, a new approach. But today as John said I'm going to talk about some old ways of thinking. So, my name is Libby de Souza and I'm a Senior Producer at Portable as John said and Portable, a research design and technology company web-based in Melbourne, and we seek out areas of social need and policy failure to create change.
We work on an agency client service model.
And we also have a number of in-house products that we've designed and developed.
So my role at Portable sits somewhere between part product manager, part client service and just a lot of hats.
And so the ideas that I'm sharing with you today are ones that I wanted to share because I'm curious. And I'll preface this talk with I am not an academic. Just get rid of this, trying to connect to the WiFi and so I'm not an academic but I've been exploring ideas of eastern and western philosophy for ways to think about product management.
Why? Well, apart from everyday being an emotional roller coaster, juggling lots of tasks at one time.
I'm trying to keep my client happy, trying to keep my team busy, trying not to feel anxious about the 173 unread emails in my inbox.
And I'm trying to remember whose desk I left my coffee on this morning.
So surely someone has felt this way before and yes, ywa they have.
For all of human history.
And so I turned to philosophy.
This is what people think I do.
(laughs) But this is what I actually do (laughter) And so everyday I'm questioning and as David said, (sighs loudly) How can I love this job so much and have an existential crisis about it everyday? Ugh. Gully.
So many feels.
And so look, you may have heard of this guy.
So Plato was born in 427 BC So Plato was born in 427 BC in Ancient Greece and he's well known for his thinking around fulfilment. You might be familiar with the saying "Know Thyself." So Plato taught that it's important to question our ideas rather than to act on impulse and that it's so important to know ourselves so that we're less affected by our emotions when it comes to decision making and I think and I interpret this as it's good to know what you're good at basically but it's even more important to know what you suck at.
And so Liz spoke a bit earlier about strengths and weaknesses, right? And so I'm very early in my management career I was brought on board to manage a team who were having issues with their quality assurance. And I'm a lover of process that's why I'm a producer and so we looked at the issues that they were having we started to design some processes around what was going to fix these quality problems and sat down with the team we looked at those issues found out some work-arounds and then we started to roll out a new process ironed out a few kinks in the middle but other than that it was going really well and but I had one team member who was... really struggling to meet these quality assurance processes and months kind of went by and I had spoke to this individual they understood what was going on and we continued chugging along but (exhales) month to month went by and I, myself was feeling quite frustrated that I wasn't seeing any improvement in this area And then it hit me this team member was completely demotivated by anything to do with routine like the complete opposite of me, right? And it was in that moment that I realised that my strength and process and doing things well and vigorously and fine tooth combing things that was really a strength of mine but, it has a dark side. And this team member was completely motivated to do things differently every time and I started to see that as a real strength. And so had I known that information one, about myself as well as about this team member I would have approached the way that I had managed this- the way that this team was operating completely differently and Liz said earlier that we should be leaning on people's strengths and not kind of drumming in things that they're weak at that they don't enjoy, that they're not motivated by. And so How do you find out about these kind of leadership blind spots? Well the first is to acknowledge that you have them. Like, everybody does, if you've got a strength you've got a weakness and the Johari Window is a psychology tool that's all about increasing self awareness. So if you're a bit unsure about where your weakness might lie a tool like this is a great way to think about how you can float these things to the surface and so it's really important to identify our personal blind spots because once you know what you're good at and once you know what you suck at you can actually start to build a team that has strengths where you are weak.
And so looking to the East Lao Tzu was a 6th century, Chinese philosopher. I really like this picture because his eyebrows are like also part of his beard (laughter) and he loved to give analogies using nature and he talks about how to become more like bamboo and so he says, "Become as bamboo already is.
Hold fast to the mountain, take root in a broken up bluff, grow stronger after tribulations and withstand wind from all directions." So it's really important to be flexible when it comes to being a product manager and the reason why is we can't control everything, right? So I'm going to talk a little bit further about someone else who also liked to give analogies using trees which was this guy, Kant and this next quote of Kant's is going to make you go a little bit deep, right? "Out of the crooked timber of humanity, no straight thing was ever made." Humanity isn't perfect so there's no way to run a perfect product.
(explosion noise) (laughter) And so, it's really important to be flexible to imagine yourself as that bendy little piece of bamboo because, as I said earlier we can't control what happens to us but we can control how we respond.
Stoicism is a movement in philosophy all about how to do life and I'd like to talk about two philosophers who were apart of this school of thought.
The first was Marcus Aurelius and he at one point in time was the ruler of the ancient Roman Empire and the other guy was Seneca.
Now Seneca knew a lot about how to manage a difficult client (laughter) because he was a tutor to Emperor Nero and if anyone doesn't know who Emperor Nero is he did some really messed up stuff, he was pretty nuts and including ordering Seneca to death in front of Seneca's own family and apparently Seneca's last words were, "What need is there to weep over parts of life? The whole of it calls for tears." (motorboat noise) Philosophy.
(laughs) Like, real, really, really deep And so stoicism is all about how to deal with anxiety Yes, you may miss that deadline.
You may blow out that budget, you might even lose your client.
But! You will be okay.
And I love- I love this, this is great. (laughs) because you know at the end of the day you you will be okay and so (exhales) I've reflected lots on this and you know each of us is in fact stronger than we think, as Marcus Aurelius would say.
So, building resilience to except the worst the Stoics say, "to regularly rehearse worst case scenarios in your mind and by doing so, you will be able to withstand any challenges, even failure. Now I think another name for my role could just be professional communicator because I spend all day talking to lots of people and so Aristotle was really obsessed with communication. He used to sit in these forums in ancient Greece and he could not believe how many people could get up there and fail to convince others of their good ideas. The art of trying to get someone to agree with you is what we called rhetoric.
It's what he called rhetoric, it's what we called rhetoric and there's two main scenarios for myself.
One is that I have to take what my team have designed and developed, I have to go and explain that to the client. I have to give rationale, I've got to frame it up, I've got to get them to understand our ways of thinking that have led us to create what we've created. And the second is that I need to talk about that scope with my client. I need to prioritise with them, make decisions, we have to look at the big picture at organisational needs, user needs, and then I need to take that back to my team and I need to talk to brief them back in on what's being decided.
And so Aristotle says there are a couple different ways that we can be better at making others understand our ideas.
The first is to calm people's fears.
Fears can completely undo a project and we have to understand what is motivating people and often people will be motivated by fear.
The second is understand their emtoions.
If we can't understand their emotions we're not going to have any insight into the types of decision making that they're going to have and the third is make it funny because even people in ancient Greece, had short attention spans.
So producers and product managers will have lots of different communication styles and I guess I'm kind of in the scenario where I have my internal team but I am also a part of the client's team and so something that has been really fantastic for me in this client service kind of aspect of my role is having a shared psych channel with my client and with my team pretty much because it's an acceptable way to share gifs and use emojis and it completely breaks down that really formal aspect of writing an email, right? And so that has been fantastic for me and my long-term clients to build a relationship and if a psych channel, channel isn't something that you have access to and it's not something that your client is able to set up at their end, just picking up the phone way more often.
We really rely on writing but I have to say that by picking up that phone and talking to that client, you are going to get a much better sense of understanding and you're going to have much more opportunity to communicate your ideas clearly.
So it's really important to use empathy and to understand emotion when we are communicating so that our ideas can get across.
So this is me when I've got 200 slack messages and I've got 130 emails and and and I've got 62 things to do on my "To Do List" and so my experience of these roles is that some days are so overwhelming and Baruch Spinoza was famous for looking at his ideas around suffering and so he came up with this concept of, "Under the aspect of eternity" which is pretty much just like looking at your problems as if you were looking at them from Space.
He says when we do this we partake in what is called, eternal totality, which sounds like a description for the end of the world which is you know, what I feel when a project's going wrong but I like to call it "a moon moment" so, we have to create space between the challenges that we're facing and ourselves and I find that I need time, that is the way that I create space.
Those days where I feel really overwhelmed are the ones where I've got back to back meetings and I have no time to do anything in between. I need time to make sure that I can digest what I've taken on in that meeting that I can communicate outcomes, actions.
I need time to reflect on a decision.
I need time to leave work and exercise and take time for myself. I need to be able to decompress and read a book or chill out and watch "Parks and Recreation" and speaking of "Parks and Recreation", (laughter) Leslie Knope who could be considered one of Western philosophy's greatest thinkers. (cheers) She had a lot to say on perspective, "We have to remember what's important in life: friends, waffles and work.
Or waffles, friends, and work.
But work has to come third." So make sure that you leave yourself time to travel to the moon and back.
To make decisions.
to reflect and to gain some perspective.
So Here is my cheat sheet for old ways of thinking for modern ways of working. Acknowledge what you suck at and find out your leadership blind spots.
Be a flexible little piece of bamboo to withstand all forms of challenges.
Imagine the worst, but do your best.
You'll be okay.
Use empathy and understand emotion to communicate and vist the moon, when you feel overwhelmed. So (exhales deeply) I really love my job but you know, I the biggest thing that I love about it is that I get to spend time talking to clients who are trying to solve really unique challenges and that I spend all my days with some incredibly talented designers and developers and I love sitting in that gap between client and designer and developer but this job is really hard and every day I ask myself why, is this job so hard? but what philosophy has taught me is that there are fundamental human challenges that we face everyday and actively applying philosophy is a wonderful support mechanism to make you feel less alone more resilient, more stoic, more able to create some calm in this chaos of work.
I'm so calm right now, thanks so much! (laughs) (applause) (upbeat music)