In this keynote session at #mtpcon SF+Americas 2022, Ben Newell, VP of Product at Stitch Fix looks at disrupting ruts and the benefits of bringing the joy back to work.
Watch this video or read on for key highlights from the talk.
- Positivity is contagious, even at work
- Be proud of your work and build excitement with every demo and release
- Energize teams and deliver better results
Ben begins by examining how many practices embedded in our social and working lives have evolved out of rituals of ‘habit and consistency’. For example, when looking at behavioural identifiers like the terms “extroverts” and “introverts”, people may assume themselves more or less able to energise a group in a social setting, when in reality, introverts just spend energy being around others, while extroverts acquire it through social interactions. “I like this definition”, Ben says, “it speaks to the fact that anyone can be around others.”
Disrupting these normalised patterns of thinking, practices or process ‘ruts’, is something Ben focuses on through the lens of ‘joy’, challenging ingrained thought and work practices to inspire and energise, with the goal of delivering better, (and more exciting) outcomes. “Most teams can execute and build and deliver things, but if you want to deliver great things [..] you have got to capture that kind of lightning in a bottle,” he says.
Referencing a Harvard Business School article titled The Best Leaders Have A Contagious Positive Energy, Ben explains how leaders that demonstrate authentic value-based leadership skills act as ‘positive energizers’, with a heliotropic effect on those around them – meaning that employees both receive and therefore reflect positive energy. For organisations, this results in higher employee job satisfaction, better workplace cohesion, and greater innovation and teamwork. Describing an organisation as a garden, Ben looks at employees as the plants trying to grow effectively, while energizers can act as the sun, shining a guiding light, while the practices and the processes employed within the workplace are water and nutrients used to facilitate and support successful growth.
Understanding the MVP
Focussing on improving some of these practices, Ben first looks at the MVP – something used to de-risk and de-scope – “we’ve lost a lot of the excitement and the joy that comes from building things in this way” he explains. Some examples he includes are from organisations where “everything’s an MVP”, and the original intent of a project is lost, or maybe there’s an MVP 1, 2, and 3, to define phases of a project. Ben also points to teams that only take on simple easy-to-execute development pieces which are called MVPs just to ensure something is completed, essentially saying “Let’s just do this, and this will be our MVP”.
A solution Ben recommends is to focus on storytelling – framing the MVP in the context of a more complete vision and explaining to others how this is as a step on a journey or ‘the arc of where you’re going’. By not solely discussing just one little piece, but rather part of a larger vision and a larger story, you will build excitement and you can bring that joy back to the team and continue to remind them this is why we’re doing this.
The repeatability of demos
Demoing new features and capabilities is another practice Ben describes as too often being stuck in a rut. He describes how teams often rush demos to meet deadlines and receive little to no feedback during sessions which become increasingly burdensome and are just low value.
Ben encourages teams to take more time to generate pride in their work. This is necessary for motivating and inspiring those around you. He describes demos as the best forum for giving and receiving feedback and encourages everyone present to ‘nitpick the details’, highlighting how detail-oriented teams will achieve better results. He also stresses that while there may be business pressure to deliver that feature now, which may dissuade teams from demoing well and adjusting to feedback, that’s not really the pressure, the pressure is to do it right, he says, “If you do it right, and you are successful in what you do, no one will remember that it was a month or two delayed”.
Releases in a rut
Lastly, Ben looks at releases, describing how “release readiness” is too often thought of exclusively in technical terms, when in reality a major consideration should be around building “release excitement”. Fear of failure, he says, is not a reason to sabotage or downplay a release, he says, as it’s “such a big moment to generate joy in the organisation and get people excited about what you’re doing […] the real failure is not learning.”
Ben advises teams to spend more time exploring how their release will help the business deliver value now and recommends looking at what metrics can be tracked and shared, demonstrating that “we are holding ourselves accountable to the results and the targets that we set for this work.” In addition to the release notes, Ben pushes teams to use video messages, highlighting how 95% of a video message is retained, vs 10% of text. Lastly, he advises us to ignore the detractors who may say “but it doesn’t do XYZ or we still need this”. What’s most important, he says, is to focus on the easily excitable middle group “that’s who you’re trying to generate joy and excitement with…and it is contagious. It’s proven to be contagious.”
Ben ends by summarising how ruts may be embedded deeply into the way we live and the work we do, however, “to get out of them, someone’s gonna have to be the sun, it might as well be you. Smile, laugh, get excited, inspire your teams, and bring the joy back to work.”
There’s more where that came from!
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