I’m not going to recap Michael Lewis’s essential book Moneyball, nor the (somehow) even better movie. But one thing Moneyball captured was that Oakland A’s general manager Billy Beane prioritized players who get on base. How they get on base was irrelevant to Beane. Home run, single, walk—it didn’t matter. Players who get on base are players who create opportunities to score and win, and a win is the most important outcome.
My professional mindset has always been to find and share the lesson in what I’m doing for a receptive audience—a practice I carried from my previous life in academia. It’s why some of my happiest career highlights are contributing to the Mailchimp UX newsletter, writing for the Vox Product blog, and building a growing audience for my newsletter. But in August of 2021 I started a new role with a new personal mission: take the time and space to just do the work without distraction.
I entered what Dorie Clark labeled heads down mode. I focused on growing as a people manager and research leader, which meant very little public writing, minimal engagement on social networks, and no public speaking unless I could just show up to a panel discussion or interview.
To take this back to the top, I stopped playing ball. I needed to explore and reflect without the (internal) pressure to do anything other than show up for my colleagues. For what it’s worth, I spent my heads down time noodling on these questions:
- How have I been managed? How might I manage my team? How should I manage my team? For these questions, I highly recommend Lara Hogan’s Resilient Management and professional coaching from Mandy Brown.
- In a large, global organization, how has user research worked? How might it work? How should it work?
I certainly didn’t come up with all the answers, but that wasn’t the point, either. I removed the pressure on myself to have any of the answers except those that mattered for me and my team.
Learning how to baseball again
Toward the end of 2022, I felt ready to go heads up again—I was ready to start engaging publicly. But I also wanted to keep the (internal) pressure off and maintain my focus. A couple of things helped me see a path toward sharing again within the boundaries and structure I’ve relished for the last 18 months.
First, my friend Kyle Lambert shared some practical advice about writing blog posts quickly in his excellent newsletter. My takeaway from Kyle was a reminder to stop being so precious about writing and just let it rip. I mean, I have a blog—it’s mine. I can just throw stuff up there as often as I’d like (or not!), even if it’s half-baked or includes references to movie adaptations of nerdy baseball books.
Second, I started to create short responses to video prompts about user research for the Learners community. These videos are liberating, and continue the theme of not being precious: record my thoughts, upload, and get on with my day.
So here’s my plan to just try to get on base going forward.
- I’m going to write more blog posts—some long, mostly very short. And I’m time-boxing myself to the wee hours of the morning before my family awakens.
- I’m going to create Learners videos when I have a cogent thought, but only in the few minutes before my first morning meeting of the day.
- I’m going to create blog posts based on Learners videos, as I’ve done about growing a research team and where research should report to.
- I am going to answer your questions! What’s on your mind? Hit me up and let me know what in the world of user research or publishing or book authoring or midwestern emo album design or whatever I can try to answer for you.
If this sounds remotely tolerable, and you’d like to keep up with my posts, you can visit my website from time to time. Or you can opt for efficiency by subscribing to my posts via my newsletter—every week you will receive a digest of whatever I wrote that week. If you don’t receive a newsletter, it’s because I had nothing to share that week.