Turn down the volume a little

A friend who was transitioning into a new position at work asked me the other day if I have ever thought about my working style, which I definitely do. For some reasons — of which I’d like to believe I am always a driven person and have a great amount of self-discipline — I always end up in a managing or a leading role wherever I work. I am also a very strategic person, where I see things could be approached just as how we play chess. Because of this combination of personality, my perceived authority at work tends to overshadow others and my outspokenness often unintentionally drown out the voices of other team members who are shy or more introvert. Because of this combination of personality as well, the other team members tend to rely heavily on me, and in extension I unwittingly reached into the glass cliff and enabled their reluctance to professionally grow. In awareness of this current working style I have and the weaknesses, I needed to do better by learning to trust and delegate, and to turn down my volume a little.

Speaking of turning down the volume a little, I was reminded of two articles where a privileged group of people (as always) tend to be given more space and magnification more so than those who had been doing the work for a number of years. The first is from Maria Farrell on the “ethics transformation” of tech bros of the likes of Tristan Harris, where she says, “I wish all these guys well. I also wish that the many, exhausted activists who didn’t take money from Google or Facebook could have even a quarter of the attention, status and authority the Prodigal Techbro assumes is his birth-right.” The article also lists down the names of the digital rights activists and ethicists — like Nighat Dad who runs the Digital Rights Foundation in Pakistan, Gus Hosein who runs Privacy International, the UK-based non-profit, Bianca Wylie who founded the volunteer-run Open Data Institute Toronto and works on open data, citizen privacy and civic engagement, Aral Balkan who runs Small Technology Foundation, hvale vale who works tirelessly on championing women’s rights, sexual rights and the political and practical path to a feminist internet, and many others — who are more rightful of this attention.

design thinking diagram in yellow

The second article was written by German professor Adrian Daub, who recounts his experience going through a design thinking workshop for academics. The facilitator explained, while the participants were playing with Legos as part of the exercises, that design thinking is meant to ‘reframe’ the things we are always doing in a new context. Specifically to this workshop, the exercise was meant for the participants, all academics, to learn to centre the students and their learning in order to create an ideal syllabus. A participant nudged Daub, “I mean, what do they think we do when we design a syllabus? Do they seriously think we don’t think about our students?” This was a situation I did not consider years ago as I myself graduated from a design course where design thinking was part of the syllabus. We learned, rather arrogantly, that our expertise was always needed, and that our ‘assistance’ is meant so that we can swoop in and ‘help’ our clients to find their way to engage their intended audience. What we forgot to ask, the same in this case, is that how much our clients already knew? And rather than taking the lead, maybe let them lead instead? Daub wrote, “It’s a question that all of us have asked of the tech industry and its thought leaders. When they sweep in and confidently disrupt an industry, when they remove the middleman in a long-standing process, the question almost forces itself on you: what is it that you think we were doing before you came along?” Centering those who actually matter and having the tech people take the back seat is also the premise of Sasha Costanza-Chock’s new book Design Justice — an exploration of how design might be led by marginalised communities, dismantle structural inequality, and advance collective liberation and ecological survival, as what design should be.

Now on the personal front: I have been sending numerous cover letters this month as I narrowed down my career aim as a product manager. Among the two main questions posed by these companies at the point of applying were: “What could you bring to the team?” and “Why do you want to become a product manager at our company?”. The first I understand (please correct me if I am wrong) is how your personal attributes could bring value to the team — attributes which I have mentioned above: a strategic thinker, a leader material, perpetually curious (the last time I got curious I produced a 365-page PhD thesis), high amount of self-discipline etc. and how I could tie these attributes specific to the role I am applying. The second is much trickier, as in the right sense of words, I have never been a proper Product Manager before. I was a Project Manager in the capacity of a Product Manager before, seeing it was a small company and we all learned together along the way. From my understanding of my online research and my current Coursera Product Management course as well, there is no definite answer as to what the role of Product Manager entails. A PM can zoom in and out, have a detailed view of the engineering (or not), have a high level of autonomy in business direction (or not), and so on so forth. The role is quite fluid, and it seems that in order to answer the question, I needed to know how the company is run first — how much rein do they give their PM? I decided at this point of time, I would answer according to the rein that I decide for myself: as a PM who is within the intersection of high abstraction and business-facing axis, and less on low abstraction and engineering-facing one.

Saeed Jones asked in his newsletter today: “You just invented a time machine that allows you to visit a past version of yourself for three minutes. Your invention also allows you to take one object with you to give to yourself. What version of your self are you visiting? What are you going to say? What are you going to offer?”

My answer? “I would visit 20-year-old me, out of the town for the first time in her life. I’d tell her to say no to the man who asked her to marry him, and to run the other way, like, SPRINT and never look back — and perhaps take up that offer to the university in Germany. I’d bring her a copy of my PhD thesis, and tell her, you would probably be more capable than doing this today if you listen to me now. But even if she doesn’t, I would still love her, she (and I) are still loved, and we are both powerful nevertheless.”

Reading in my tabs:

STATUS BOARD

  • Reading: 50% in Silvia Moreno-Garcia’s Gods of Jade and Shadow.
  • Listening: This interview Aminatou Sow of Call Your Girlfriend had with Glennon Doyle, author of the book Untamed which encourages women to break out of being good daughters, mothers, partners and be good to ourselves — and then, in living fuller lives, we can be better to our people and the world. Shit, this episode is so good.
  • Viewing: This bookbinding scene from Little Women.
  • Food & Drink: Got some nasi lemak and made some earl grey latte.

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