Introducing #MindMatters, our take on a book club

About this month’s #MindMatters spokesperson

Name: Jennifer Sisson
Team: We Are Mammoth Consulting
Role: Front-end developer
Location: Portland, Oregon
Favorite place to eat/chill/drink: My current go-to comfort food in Portland is a Kati Roll and hot chai tea at Bollywood Theatre– a casual restaurant known for serving Indian street-food in a warm environment.

What’s good and plentiful in life for you lately?

I’ve been doing a lot of knitting while listening to audiobooks lately. Throughout my life, I’ve picked up a knitting project here and there, but I’ve recently started knitting in earnest. I really enjoy that knitting is a linear process. It can be mindless and relaxing or can involve paying close attention to small details. I’m working on my first sweater now, and I’ve learned a lot by trying things, looking up online tutorials, and asking for advice at my local yarn shop.

What did we read as a group this month?

This February, we read “Anything You Want” by Derek Sivers- a collection of concise lessons the author learned while accidentally growing CD Baby from a hobby designed to help independent musicians sell their CDs online into a booming business that sold for $22 million in 2008.

We all agreed that we wouldn’t necessarily want to work for Derek Sivers- he has a very casual, make it up as you go along, style that might make us uncomfortable, but his overall advice for aspiring entrepreneurs is sound- start extremely small, execute your ideas until you find one people love, always strive to delight your customers, don’t let rules prevent you from doing what you think is right, and make sure to value your own personal happiness.

Here are a few points our team is taking away from the book:
  • When you are trying to decide what new feature to add to your product or even what to do in your social life, prioritize the things you’re really excited about- the things that, in the words of Derek Sivers, make you say, “Hell yeah!”
  • When you get a message from an unhappy customer, remember that they may be over-emoting to get their point across. Even if they seem to have forgotten that there is a human on the other end of that email (you!), don’t forget that the angry customer is a person too. Look past their anger, don’t take it personally, and try to identify the core of their issue.
  • Find ways, no matter how small, to delight people. A CD Baby customer once asked for a plastic squid (or a real one) with their CD and was shocked and amused to find a real, edible, smoked squid on their front doorstep. Personal touches will make people smile and remember you.

What notable discussions happened in the #MindMatters HipChat room over the past month?

One thing that came up in our #MindMatters HipChat room is the vital importance listening. We got on this topic after Craig shared an article from Fast Company on becoming a better listener by not focusing on what you’ll say next. The idea that you should focus on actively listening rather than immediately reacting resonated with a lot of us- not just from our experience with clients and customers but from our experience with friends and family as well.

When someone is speaking, they want to be heard and understood. In my experience, in order to deeply understand what someone is saying, you have to listen very carefully to the meaning, emotion, motivation, and context behind the words themselves. That kind of listening leaves no room for distractions.

A few years ago, I heard a story that stuck with me like a modern day parable. There once was a person who, when meeting a client or having dinner with a friend, made a point to take out their smart phone, switch it into airplane mode, and put the phone out of site.

In a world where glancing at an incoming notification or monitoring incoming emails during a video call can be alluring and easily justifiable as “multi-tasking”, this kind of deliberate gesture to show someone you care enough to listen, without interruption, to their thoughts is incredibly powerful for your relationship. Doing the opposite can be toxic.

What are some other interesting things you’re reading, listening to, or learning from lately?

I recently finished the book, “The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up: The Japanese Art of Decluttering and Organizing” by Marie Kondo. What resonated with me about the author’s method for putting your home in order, is the focus on thoughtfully selecting what to keep rather than on ruthlessly jettisoning items in an effort to simply have “less.” Reading this book inspired my husband and me to donate, recycle, and discard many items we were hanging on to (and even moved across the country!) because we might use or enjoy seeing them “some day.” Letting go of items that had served their purpose in our lives felt incredibly cleansing and gives us more space to appreciate the items that bring us joy right now.

I’ve also very much enjoyed listening to the pilot season of the podcast, Invisibilia. Each episode explores an invisible force that shapes human behavior. The content tickles your brain and challenges what you think you know. My favorite example is the episode called How To Become Batman. If you think you understand even the very basics of blindness, go listen to that episode and be prepared to consider this alternate reality: blindness is a social construct.

What are we reading as a group next month?

In March, we are reading “Peopleware: Productive Projects and Teams” by Tom DeMarco and Tim Lister. Specifically, we are reading the 2013 edition, which is an update to this classic book on managing software teams that was originally published in 1987.

#MindMatters is a book group, a chat room, and an exchange of ideas, books, links, podcasts, and rants. It’s a simple way for our distributed team to share what we’re learning. Each month, we read a book and pick 3-4 other topics to discuss as a group (drawing from life, our chat room, or suggestions from friends and coworkers). Then, someone in the group writes up this lovely blog article to share the month’s experience.