A Life of Happiness and Fulfillment

I took a Coursera class called A Life of Happiness and Fulfillment, which I highly recommend. I was definitely happier while taking the class because professor Raghunathan kept the lessons fun and lighthearted, and also because it inspired me to survey how I live and architect my own happiness.  Here’s a quick summary:

  1. First we need to rebuff the myths on happiness to become fully committed to achieving happiness.  The reasons we devalue happiness are:
    1. We think happiness is fleeting and makes us lazy and selfish.  This is untrue.  Happiness is a sensory experience like love and connection.  As love begets more love, happiness begets more happiness. A happy person is more abundant and can more ably take care of others. 
    2. It is hard to measure happiness and we prefer easier to understand things like money.  We are susceptible to medium maximization, that is, maximizing money, which is measurable medium.  We can overcome this by defining happiness in concrete terms.
  2. To be happy we need to consciously make happiness enhancing decisions.  The nuance is to prioritize but not pursue directly or monitor constantly.  For example, when presented with restaurant choices, choose the one that makes you happier.  However, avoid constantly monitoring your own happiness levels, which can instead add stress.
  3. The Pursuit of superiority is a happiness sin.  There are several reasons we seek superiority: 
    1. To get others' approval
    2. To boost self esteem
    3. To progress towards mastery
    4. To have autonomy
      Pursue flow instead.  You'll get 3 out of the 4 above. Use the following to fight need for superiority:
      1. Self compassion: Suffering and imperfection isn't just you.  it's part of the human condition. Ask yourself: What would I say to a good friend in same situation? Write a letter to yourself as a good friend.
      2. Gratitude
  4. Don't quit your job, bend it until it breaks.  This was advice referenced from Steve Tomlinson. 
  5. Giving can boost happiness, but keep these three rules in mind maximize your happiness while giving: 
    1. Include yourself when in comes to charity and giving.  Contain the cost of giving, don't give selflessly as you must keep yourself well too, but do give with others in mind
    2. Scale your giving.  For example, can you help multiple people at once?
    3. Knowing the effect of your giving makes you happier. So seek to see the results of your giving.  This is referenced from the book Happy money. 
    4. Have fun while giving.
  6. Finally, there is a chapter on maximizer vs satisficer. 

Mind the Product Conference 2016 Summary

I went to Mind the Product conference in SF last month.  My company sponsored a booth to do some brand marketing and PM recruitment.  

The event was hosted at Davies Symphony Hall which is a concert hall with one seating area.  The event sold out weeks ago, and the auditorium was packed at the keynote.  There was only one track, here it is: 

I sat through all the talks, mostly because it was not so easy to get in and out of the auditorium.  We do live in a torrential downpour of TED talks and product advice books these days, so the bar is fairly high for good curation.  It is clear that there is pent up demand for a conference such as this given the audience size, however the hosting organization is still in early days and the program quality shows.  I would like to point out two particular talks that stood out for me though, and a third you might want to get a listen to yourself.

Ken Norton

Ken Norton is a partner at Google Ventures. His opening keynote compared a Product Manager first to an orchestra conductor, then, more aptly to a jazz musician.  He’s an incredibly good storyteller and his jazz analogy played well in the concert hall conference space.  I am a huge fan of Ella Fitzgerald period music.  So he resonated very well with me when he pointed out that Ella’s version of Mack the Knife was actually a happy accident of forgotten lyrics.   Because the band / team was so in tune with each other, they continued to improvise their way to a Grammy winning live recording.  He gave an example of a Miles Davis recording to illustrate that “the only mistakes were the opportunities that were not taken,” referring to an accidental cymbal crash that launched a perfect trumpet solo.  The (product) creation process is messy and uncomfortable, and a team that tunes into each other and let each other solo will come out with a Grammy. 

Abby Covert

Abby Covert is an IA consultant, helping her clients untangle information architecture messes.  My team is facing just such a challenge with DAC right now. So I found her talk compelling.  My most memorable analogy from her was the pizza example. Imagine you’re drawing a diagram to show aliens how to make pizza.  Something like this will probably leave them scratching their heads:

She suggested a diagram that shows both the process and the results. Like this:

Her other main tips were: 
  1. Language matters
    1. How many duplicative nouns and verbs are you dealing with?  Your goal is not to decide on one, but to actively decide how many are appropriate. Make a glossary.
  2. There is no right way.
    1. Classifying eggplant and tomatoes as fruit in an online grocery delivery service reduced sales on those items. Instead classify them as vegetables. Often word choice is not a matter of taxonomy, but rhetoric.
  3. Draw a picture

Des Traynor

Des Traynor is the co-founder of Intercom. His talk was on survival, and the idea that your product is already out of date, right now, as we speak. He was full of good tips, observations of general technology trends and comedic timing. I recommend watching to get the full effect, whenever the conference organizers post the talks. Here are some highlight points:
  • Your product is not a set of screens.  It is not a single destination but part of a system. Where and how your users interact with your system will always change. Plan for it.
  • Every time you see a new upstart, the urge is to laugh at it. The GPS industry did and and Google maps had the last laugh (for now). It can happen to you. The main question you need to ask when you see an upstart: Does [new technology] make it cheaper, faster or easier for our customers to make progress in their lives?  If you see it coming from far enough, hustle and pivot.
  • Three main trends he sees are:
    • Integrations
      • Software tools are now part of a wider network of capability.  If you’re not connected, you’ll be rejected.
      • Spot on!  My work on Atlassian Marketplace rides this trend by enabling a network of tools for Atlassian customers 
    • Artificial Intelligence
      • Computers can learn in seconds what we can learn in a lifetime.  Companies with data that can be used to train computers will have the edge in the upcoming race. 
    • Messaging 
      • You product needs to part of the conversation.  Selling pizza? You need to suggest it when two friends are on Facebook messenger chatting about dinner plans.  It’s called conversational commerce.

So how was the conference?  From talking to other attendees, it seems about 20% of the talks were worth it, which is probably near or just below average. Conferences like this are for networking, and networking opportunities is an area for improvement.  There were no meet-and-greet areas, birds-of-a-feather lunches, or walls of sticky notes to bond over.  And you know how Product Managers love sticky notes.  The conference promoted a tinder-for-networking app, which did not yield a single match for me, since only about 30 people logged in.  There is much to improve upon next year. They’ve clearly struck gold in terms of market demand, and I imagine it can only get better from here.


Happier at Home

I read Happier at Home by Gretchen Rubin a long time ago and just got around to publishing my notes on it. As I re-read my notes, I get the feeling that this book is jam packed of little tips similar to ‘Don’t sweat the small stuff.” So here’s the download:

  1. On emotions: Under-react to a problem.
  2. On connection: "Enter into the interest of others.” -Tolstoy
  3. On self control: “Limits set you free.”  You drain your self control with every decision your make. Preserve your self control reserve by setting limits to automate your decisions.  The nuance is that limit-setting will be different for moderators vs abstainers. I am a moderator and my husband is an abstainer.  I can eat 2 chips out of a bag and close it for another sitting, but he will lick the bag before he stops. So my limit would be 2 chips per day, and his limit would be no chips except of 1 bag on Sunday. 
  4. On Possessions: People have different tolerance for an optimal number of possessions.  Ownership can bring joy too and stuff can also be an experience.  I live on the low-count end of the spectrum and my husband lives on the high-count end.
  5. On Purging:  Allow yourself to keep a few symbolic items per category to make purging easier.  When my parents sold the house I grew up in, I took pictures of my possessions there before purging 100% of it.  Knowing I can still see the pictures helped me let go of these objects I no longer needed. 
  6. On Happiness: Beware of happiness leaches.  Hang out with Tiggers not Eeyores. 
  7. On Positivity: Make the positive argument.  When you are about to complain about spouse or children such as thinking "He's so messy,”  Try to argue the opposite.  For example, thinking “He’s so clean,” and look for evidence of it. 
  8. On Exercise:  Get a dog.  All you have to do is put on your running shoes and close the front door.