Katie Saindon and David O’Malley took the ideas in Forever Employable and put them into action immediately. After reading the book and leafing through the workbook I’ve put together that accompanies it they set out to plan their forever employable journey. When they reached out to share what they’d done so far I was blown away. They worked through the process, put ideas into practice, experimented with new ways of building their platform and future-proofing their career and learned a ton in the process.
I immediately invited them to join me for a webinar to share their journey. In this conversation, Katie and David take us through their thought process and cover:
- Why they even set out to become Forever Employable in the first place
- How they managed to do this while keeping their day job a top priority
- What lessons they learned along the way
- What channels were most effective to get their ideas out
- How their ideas have evolved over the past few months
Check out the webinar recording here:
JEFF: This is the first Forever Employable Lessons Learned webinar. I couldn’t be more excited to put you in the extremely capable hands of Katie and David who will soon introduce themselves and say hello.
I want to make a quick plug. If you haven’t already gotten the book, please pick up the book Forever Employable at Amazon or anywhere that you can buy books online at this point. If you do buy the book or have bought the book and read it, I’d be very grateful for a review on Amazon. Reviews go a long way. Even if it seems like there’s a lot of them on there, the more the merrier would be terrific. Yesterday I launched the new Becoming Forever Employable Program which is a workshop designed to help walk you through and coach you through a lot of the stuff you’ll see that Katie and David are taking the initiative to do on their own as well. You’ll find a link for that on my website at jeffgothelf.com on the Forever Employable heading in the navigation.
David and Katie, please say hello to the folks. Tell them a little bit about yourselves.
KATIE: Hello everyone. My name is Katie Saindon or some of you may know Katie Kemmerer. I recently changed my name. I’m a product manager at GE Healthcare. I manage a small team of product managers that are focused on managing the core components of the GE Healthcare website and the mobile experiences. What does that mean? That’s everything as far as how our users register, how they pay for things, our payment engine, our notification service; my team manages those capabilities. Fun fact about me: When I’m not doing product management for GE Healthcare, I love to run. I recently moved from Milwaukee, Wisconsin to Tampa, Florida and I’m loving the fact that I can run yearlong, outside in the sun and don’t have to trench through the snow. That’s where you can find me.
JEFF: And they’re still allowing you to go outside in Florida.
KATIE: They are. There are no rules now in Florida. It’s pretty much a free for all. Yeah, hitting the track hard.
DAVID: Hi everyone. My name is David O’Malley. As the title says here, I’m the senior director for product strategy at GE Healthcare. In the same vein of what Katie said, what does that mean? We’re really trying to make a shift from being a project waterfall oriented type company towards being a more user centric product management type company. I’m the one who is leading the charge in that direction. I get to work an awful lot with Katie in that regard. She’s definitely one of our best, without a doubt, in leading product management here at GE Healthcare. I’ve been at GE for five years. Most of it has been in the transformation space. It’s been cloud transformation, agile transformation, and now product management which is where I’ve been for a large part of my career. I live in Connecticut. I married up. I have two amazing girls who always keep me honest. A little bit of a fun fact: you hear about these people who are spending all of their COVID time focusing on their houses, I’ve turned into that guy. I’m redoing floors, painting, you name it. I’m getting kind of good at it which is scary.
KATIE: New forever employable potential. So, that’s us. We added our Twitter handles, our LinkedIn URLs. Feel free to follow us. We’d love to meet you and hear your feedback based on today’s presentation. We want to know more about you. You started to chat about where you’re from but it’s always more fun to make this interactive. If you can come on the MURAL board, use a post-it on the side here. You need to add a new one if you’re new to MURAL. There’s a left hand panel here where you can add new post-its.
Let us know where you’re from, what your motivation is for wanting to be forever employable, and what you’re hoping to take way from today’s session.
DAVID: I reside in Norwalk, Connecticut which is about one hour north of New York City.
KATIE: I was originally from Victoria, Minnesota. Moved from Milwaukee. So, it was Minnesota, Milwaukee, and I progressively got warmer and ended up in Tampa.
DAVID: I spent more than half my life in Connecticut. As you can tell from the accent, I’m not originally from these parts. I’m from the north side of Dublin. We’re asking you what your motivation to be forever employable is. I think what you’ll get is the differences that Katie and I approach this on even though we’re using very similar formats or framework to go through this. I had been, what you’d call, in transition three times in my career. I’ve been in the game for quite some time. Not all of these have been your traditional layoffs. Some of them have been because an exit occurred, a company was bought, and it was a positive thing. What I think I learned over time and especially what we’ve gone through here with COVID is that could happen at any time. I’ve seen what it’s like to be in that situation when you have a game plan and a network to rely on and when you have not. The former is a much better place to be. For the next one, I put next. For me, it’s really about what’s the next evolution of my career? Where am I going to next? Where are we going to next? I think it’s about exploring that.
KATIE: I worked at GE my whole career so far. I started as an intern and then I went into their leadership programs and am now product manager at the company. A little bit different from David’s story, but for me, I know that as I continue to progress in my career, I want to always be working on something that I’m passionate about. I think, Jeff, in the beginning of your book when you highlighted that the further you got up, the bigger the target on your back, and it was this realization that, “Hey, where does this end? Where does this start?” I felt that and I got a little scared when I read the first chapter of your book. I’m glad I continued and didn’t stop. For me, it’s about I recognize in that moment that my network is really limited to the people at GE and they’re amazing people and they’re wonderful but how do I start to get outside of that sphere and expand my network?
JEFF: It’s really important. I lived in the suburbs of New York City for so long working in design and product management and in tech. After a while, you go to the meetups and the conferences, and the happy hours, and you feel like you know everybody. Then one day, somebody shows up and they’re like, “I’ve been working in Citibank for 25 years as a design manager,” and you’re like, “I’ve never heard of you.” I think that was a safe path up until the last 5-7 years. These days, to really kind of trust that your 20 year career inside a bank without that network is risky and unnecessarily so as you both are demonstrating.
KATIE: As far as what we’re hoping to give in today’s session, kind of looking at the board on the left. We definitely want to show you the framework that we used. Sounds like Jeff has an awesome course that he’s launching. David and I will talk about how we went in not really knowing where this would end up and it worked. Things happened to me and I’ve gotten the new mentees that I have. I’m starting to get feedback on content I’m sharing. All of that felt like a big “I don’t know” in the beginning and yet here we are today and I feel a lot more confident. Hopefully you’ll get some confidence in hearing that story. Next we’ll talk a little bit about the approach we took and how we got to Forever Employable.
DAVID: It’s important to understand that Katie and I have known each other for quite some time. We’ve had a very good mentor/mentor relationship over a number of years. It’s evolved as all mentor relationships do. We met each other, I don’t know where. We both learned a lot from each other. One of our mentoring sessions, we talk about what’s pertinent at a particular time and this came up. We deliberately sat down and we ran a sale board exercise. I’ll give you the bookends of this. We ran a sale board exercise. We talked about what was good about our current brands, what’s good about our current positions. As you can see, there’s a lot. You go inside GE and you ask about the two of us and we’re known. People know us. We’ve gotten out there. We’ve been highlighted in the various mechanisms that exist within GE. There’s a lot of uniqueness in there. There were certain elements we thought were holding us back from specifically going out and expanding our reach beyond GE. Many of you can maybe relate to this. I don’t think that we’re unique in this. We talked about not knowing where to start. We talked about neither of us are in big tech hubs. We’re not in San Francisco. We’re not in one of those large areas. Time was a big one but I also think risk and fear. The idea that we would put ourselves out there and no one would listen. It’s very comfortable to be inside your own ecosystem of which GE is a massive on. 300,000 people, spans the globe. You could spend your career here. We deliberately needed to talk about what was holding us back from expanding beyond GE. We came up with a couple of questions.
From here, we asked ourselves, in traditional design thinking way, how might we get past our fears, MVP our brand experience? Jeff talks in the book about don’t quit your job and then do it. Work on this while you’re still employed. We had to fit this into demanding weeks which GE is a demanding company. We then had to understand who we were and expand beyond our local market. We had already done this. We had this discussion when I came across Jeff’s Forever Employable book. I started reading it and I was like, “Katie, I think we’ve got our “how might we?” answered or at least we have a framework for being able to do these. That’s when we discussed it and we went into a process of using that framework to bring us forward. I’ll let Katie, who is our process maven here at GE, talk about how we structure that.
JEFF: Specifically, it says get pasts our fears. Let’s dig into that a second. What were those fears? What were those concerns that motivated you to head down this path? The opening story in the book is me waking up my 35th birthday in a cold sweat, panicked that I’m going to end up being old, too expensive, and unemployable in a very short amount of time, and not able to feed my family. Those were the fears. Then putting myself out there was interesting because what am I going to talk about? Can you give us a sense what some of these fears were that you were working about how to get past.
KATIE: For me, it was a fear of a little bit of imposter syndrome. I started my career. I’ve only been at GE. Fell in love with product management and had done a lot of reading on my own in trying to apply it to my company. While in my company, I’m well known for product management, we’re all on the same page at GE. We’re on a journey and we’re not experts at it yet. There was a sense of, “Well, if I’m working at a company where this isn’t our bread and butter, who is going to want to listen to me in how I’ve done things? Is what I have to say valuable? Do I know what I’m talking about?” There was definitely an element of that as well as sounding dumb.
In full disclosure, the first time I ever posted on LinkedIn was while I did this course. I’d been on LinkedIn. I’d obviously spoken to recruiters, gotten asked a bunch of times, connected with people, but I’d never actually posted. I’m also not a huge Facebook, Instagram poster. A little bit here and there but I’m not someone who posts every minute of every day. It was kind of scary to go out there and be like, “Are people going to like this? Are they going to comment on it?” Having my message resonate and having it be of value where people would want to hear and listen to me.
DAVID: A lot of what you said in your forward, in early parts of your book, Jeff, resonated an awful lot with me. Maybe this is just immigrant syndrome here to the United States in which you feel you’re only as good as your last ham sandwich and you can be a starving dog on the side of the road tomorrow. I definitely would put that as a driver. That was a driver to always make sure that you’re staying current and on the front edge of things. Definitely, I’d say when it comes to the fear – my dad used to tell me, “Intelligent people doubt themselves. Unintelligent people are just sure.” I don’t know. Maybe it reminds you of someone. I don’t know. Definitely when Katie starts talking about the imposter syndrome, a lot of us self-analyze ourselves about that. We certainly felt there is an element of you’ve got to go all in and put yourself out there and by doing that, then you are opening yourself up for others to judge you in some manner. I think in the beginning certainly. I’m not sure if we’re still there. That was definitely a mental hurdle we had to get over.
JEFF: Having been at this a dozen years or so, it never goes away, that imposter syndrome or that fear. I told you I launched this education program this week. I was telling this to my wife about an hour ago and my daughters had just come home from school. I’ve got teenage kids. I said, in front of them, “This thing launched and I hope it works.” Nothing fires up that imposter syndrome when you’re putting a new idea out there. It could be something like a new product like a program or a post on LinkedIn or an idea or a thought you had in the shower. I still get those butterflies every single time. I hear you on that.
KATIE: It’s true. The same goes for anything. I get nervous every time before I race no matter how many times I do it. I remember afterwards that I love it. It’s worth it in the end.
JEFF: I think a lot of folks feel that way. I think there’s things like how do I fit this into my life? It’s this idea of putting yourself out there and starting to share what you believe is your experience and expertise and believing that it has value. That’s the riskiest part because it’s what if somebody doesn’t like it? What if nobody likes it? I’d love to hear how you started taking steps to move forward from that as well.
KATIE: These were the four components of the Forever Employable workbook. They’re on Jeff’s website. We looked at this and one of our “how might we’s?’ was how do we fit it into a busy schedule when we’re working 11-12 hours a day? David’s got kids that keep him busy. Me, not so much yet but there’s plenty of other things going on. We looked at it and said, “What if we were to complete one component or one canvas per week?” That’s what we did. We met every Friday and we talked about the progress. We challenged each other. We looked at what each other had written, asked questions. It really helped the process in a way where we were getting feedback throughout the journey just like you do if you’re developing software in an iterative fashion. We were able to take the feedback from each other, the examples from each other, and apply that to the next component.
JEFF: These meetings on Friday, were they at lunch?
KATIE: They were on lunch. We’re both in the eastern time zone. For me, it ended up being that last actual meeting before I typically end up just clearing shop, trying to get everything ready for the weekend. It was nice in a sense that I think at GE, Fridays tend to be less meeting heavy. It’s easy where the time didn’t get rescheduled too often. If you’re booking earlier in the week, I think both of us have proved case-in-point that we’re always suggesting a new time as things come up. Fridays seem to stick really well.
DAVID: Fridays, the rest of the world is shut down by around noon which is where a large part of our meetings always are between India and Europe. I think it’s important to understand and to your point, we treated this as work, as professional development between the two of us. We didn’t treat this as a side thing. The feeling is that this makes us better as people which makes us better as employees no matter what happens. At a time when a lot of organizations are using this time to talk about remaining laser focused on what business objectives there are, everyone recognizes that we’re losing the focus on people and developing people. We treated this as an important part of personal and professional development which we know will stand to both us and our organizations as move forward.
JEFF: Making time to do this, treating it as real work is really important. I love the buddy system you’ve developed. If you grew up in the U.S. and you’d go on a trip with school, you always had a buddy. You held hands with your buddy and you’d never get lost. This idea of having somebody to help you stay accountable. Every Friday, I meet with David. These are tips and tricks to make this happen. If you know that your life is hectic and that life is going to get in the way, maybe having that regularly scheduled check-in with a buddy keeps that accountability moving forward which is a nice twist on this.
KATIE: Definitely suggest it. If you’re anything like me, you can see I like process. I like lists. If it’s not scheduled, it won’t happen. If I have someone and it’s on the calendar, it will happen. Now the meat of it which is talking about our journey and how we got here. The outcomes of doing this exercise. We’ll ping-pong back and forth.
DAVID: When it came to the assumption canvas, what we realized was this was kind of hard. We talked about doubting yourself or wondering what it is you have to give to the world. Jeff called that out in his book. You have to be introspective. You have to talk about yourself first. This is really where we got very focused on what we are, what we actually are now as opposed to aspirational about what we want to be. From my perspective, that was quite bit. Putting that in the context of what’s going on in the world. The idea of transformation in any sort, digital, agile, product – a lot of that has been accelerated now because of the situations we find ourselves in. That definitely helped me focus on what are my core competencies? What do I feel that I could help anybody solve? We even said at one stage, Katie, if the speaker didn’t turn up and you had to jump up there on stage and talk about something for a half hour, what would you talk about? This is what I feel I could talk about and give new insights to in a pinch if I have to do that.
Then the rest of it really forced us to think about who were the people we wanted to reach and how? At a high level, do we want to be able to engage people, reach them, and take our expertise and give it to them?
KATIE: I attest to this. If you need help in any of these areas, David is your guy through and through. For mine, when I looked at this, when I started, my canvas looked like this. For me, I started just everything. What problem do I help people solve? I’m a runner and I sprint specifically. I love to travel. I’m good at communication, I’ve been told. I just listed everything under the sun. I think with the canvas, I found it a little challenging to fit it all on it with the different aspects. What was cool in doing this is in walking through the exercise saw, very clearly, where those key areas that I was passionate about and wanted to focus on. As I went through it, you can see that my thoughts trailed off and that I was like, “Eh, I don’t really want to think about that anymore.” I wanted to think about the greens, the pinks, and the blues. That’s what actually fed into my final assumption canvas. It was about applying modern product management principles to large corporations. I work at a very, very large company. We’re going through a huge transformation. I also love to workout. I ran track in college. I’ve continued to run as I’ve moved around. You can see some of my interests and problems I think I can help people solve are around that.
JEFF: Why didn’t cheesecake make it into this list?
KATIE: I was like if I pursued that one, I’d get huge really fast. Cheesecake connoisseur. I love it. It was my Twitter handle for a while and then I realized I’m not really talking about it; maybe I should change it. Anyone who knows me and some of the people on this call do – the people at the Cheesecake Factory know who I am. I actually call it the Factory. Kind of like Beyonce; it just deserves one name. I go there quite a bit. That was our assumption canvas. We then took that and we did the audience mountain.
JEFF: The workbook that Katie and David are working through is the workbook that I send you if you buy the book and you send me your receipt. This first exercise is really designed to get you to think critically about where to plant your flag, where to start the conversation, where to build your platform, to start to build that network where you want to build reputation. I was joking about cheesecakes here but the reality is – the questions is what problem do you help people solve? What is the root thing? The natural thing to reach for is your job title. I’m a UX designer. I’m a product manager. I’m a scrum master. I’m an accountant. Whatever it is. Really starting to dig through for the underlying problems that you help people solve is the goal of this particular exercise because how you solve that problem is going to change over time. Today, maybe you’re doing design work and tomorrow you might be doing product management work and maybe you’re doing sort of CEO leadership work in the future. My guess is that the core problem you’re helping solve probably stays the same. How do you increase the product centricity or ways of working to large organizations? That’s something that can be applied today as a product director or project manager. It could be applied as a business unit stakeholder or leader. It could be applied as a CEO. There’s a variety of ways to apply that. Really thinking through, in a design thinking way, “Great, if this is the problem that I help solve, who do I help with that problem and where do those people hang out? How do I actually start to reach those folks in a way that is natural to them?” You could argue that tech folks hang out on Twitter and LinkedIn and so, there’s a lot of opportunity there. You could argue that accountants don’t necessarily hang out on Twitter as much. Maybe they do. I don’t know. They probably hang out somewhere else and consume content in a different way. How do you reach those folks? Ultimately, the thing I want you to think about, as you’re going through this particular canvas, is how will you know that you’ve reached those folks? Again, generating the content is a start. It’s tweeting. It’s publishing. It’s maybe making a video and that type of thing. Really starting to see the change in behavior, the outcomes in that target audience is the key to really understanding whether or not what you’re doing is resonating. Like Katie says here in her canvas, people are liking it. They’re sharing it. They’re commenting on it. They’re asking her to come and talk about this topic. I see you’ve had a lot to contribute to the conversation about applying product principles at a large organization. We’re facing this same challenge. There’s this enterprise conference that’s coming up and we need a speaker. Can you come do that? That is the behavior change that indicates to you that what you’re doing is resonating. To me, that’s the key in thinking about this. All of us will say, “I wrote the blog post. I’m out.”
DAVID: I think there’s an important point we were getting here. You’re obviously seeing the canvas after we’ve done it. Katie showed a little more of her process that she went through. When we were doing mine, she gave me some good coaching on this. It’s like, yeah, I do help people be more organized. I do help people communicate better. There’s a lot of adjectives that you can put on there. You need the verb. Like why am I talking? Why are you listening to me talk about this specifically? Anybody can talk about it. You can pick up 100 books and you can read about agile, for example. Why would David O’Malley be up on a stage talking about being agile? As we get into this, we’ll look at the fact that it’s agile in certain context. That was one of the things that we deliberately did. It took a few iterations for us to get there. Let’s talk about the specific problem we help people solve; not the general problem we help people solve.
KATIE: At this point, we’ve defined our assumptions. We know what problem we want to solve. We thought about who we want to reach and how we’ll do that. Now it’s onto the mountain. That is your audience. This is the audience mountain canvas where we thought about who are we going to reach out to? What makes them unique? How will we reach them?
JEFF: Let me set the stage here. Audience mountain is my attempt at reversing the conversation. Reversing the idea of a funnel. A marketing funnel is the idea that you start up with a lot of people and you work your way through. I don’t like the metaphor because everything comes through a funnel at the end. If you turn it upside down, it becomes a mountain and your goal is to start with everybody at the bottom of the mountain, at the foot, at the base, and then to try to convert them further and further up the mountain to get them to the top. If you think about building an audience and a network and getting people to pay attention to you, the base of the mountain is your free audience. Those are going to be the people who don’t necessarily hire you for work or speaking or writing. Then trying to move folks to build that audience to a point where people might actually pay you for some of that. That becomes your donors and patrons. At some point, if you can build enough of a high value content platform, then you’ve got these subscribers and these high value purchasers. How are you going to meet the needs of those folks uniquely? That’s what we’re looking at is those three levels.
DAVID: We needed a little bit of a reset on this. I think you actually see Katie made some notes in here on the side that helped us. We were struggling. Obviously, free is kind of easy. Then if you look up high value purchasers, that’s kind of easy as well. We did struggle a little bit in the middle which we can discuss in a bit. The counterintuitive point is the give it away for free which is always an interesting one. How much do you give away and what should you give away? We haven’t really gotten to that yet but this did force us to break down the people you want to reach and talk about what would we do regardless of whether someone was paying for it or not? In this case, I’ve talked about the product transformation. There’s a lot of people in project who want to get on that train and they want to go forward. I’d expect those people would at least have their interest peaked. At the other end, then you talk about the high level purchasers. I know some of these. It was easy to put this together. The people who want to see the change created in their organizations. For me, it was very much about talking about when you talk about how to reach those folks, it’s really through the power of networking. Networking with others. To get to the mountain idea, that if you say it often enough, in my head, I hope someone will say, “You should talk to David or let me introduce you to…” That’s an untested hypothesis as this stage but that’s where we want to. The donors and the patrons was that little middle layer because it was a little hard to understand but I didn’t do it at this stage. It was a little hard to understand what would people pay for. Katie and I talked about what does pay really mean? Does it mean dollars? Is it direct? Is it indirect? We weren’t 100% sure. Personally, I think I need to work at what that is. There definitely was a middle layer between those folks who are just going to peruse and they’re bombarded with a lot of information, those who are all in and they want to purchase. That’s where these folks came in the middle layer.
JEFF: Are they paying me with money? That would be nice certainly. Offering you access to a stage, access to a platform, access to an audience. That’s pretty good too. There’s a lot to be said about what does that actually mean if someone is at that middle layer. The person who can give you access; the person who runs a conference or has got a popular podcast, certainly is a different type of audience than the general free audience.
KATIE: Exactly. Having that understanding really helped me and it was surprising that that framework did work for a non-work aspect. Just like Jeff said, you could do it about anything. Maybe I’ll spend a little bit more time on the fitness one that I thought about. For my free audience, thinking this could be people that haven’t yet found the right fitness program or they just got hurt and haven’t had to figure out how to work out being hurt. I tore my Achilles when I was 24 racing. I had to deal with that. I was actually in the gym putting a weight wherever I felt like would work and just lifting something thinking I’d make progress. Anyone who’s been through that, I was like, “I could be someone that you turn to.” Maybe you haven’t found the right place yet but you check myself out. The donors and patrons thinking this is someone who’s found the right community. They’re starting to see your field results based on what I’ve put out there and they’re starting to maybe buy a class or pay for a onesie time versus the subscriber which is when they fully get up the mountain and they’re either purchasing something more long-term or I think a commonality that David and I saw was this could be more corporation versus individual. Maybe I work with a company on a fitness plan for all their employees versus just an individual. I think you could also see that in a work environment working with a company to improve their agility, their project management practices versus a consumer level.
JEFF: One thing to note here is all of these are still assumptions. We’re sort of transplanting some of the ideas from the canvas over here thinking about them a bit more critically here. These are going to be your hypotheses. If you think about this as a product or service that you’re building, this is your hypothesis about who you’re going to reach, how you’re going to reach them, what you expect them to do if you reach them effectively. Then the idea is that I ultimately start to test these. The goal is to form these hypothesis statements out of this so that it really gives you a sense not only of what is it that you want to do but how will you know that it worked? Which I think is the key because you can fill canvases up with post-it notes and a lot of great ideas, but how will you know that it actually worked? David, there was a question in the chat. It was from Chet and he said, “I didn’t fully understand the point you made about specific problems versus general problems. Can you explain that again?
DAVID: Katie and I, as we were going through this, talks about communication, for example. The problem I can help people solve is I see so many people out there at my level, above my level who present poorly. They don’t have the communication skills. They don’t know how to get up on a stage and talk to people. Communication is something that you can say you helped people solve a problem. It’s very broad and general. Communicating what? Communicating writing. Communicating speaking. Videos. We did a really great video about the agile work, the accelerators we ran in New Orleans. How do you do that? That’s rather what we felt was generic. We went through a few iterations and got into the specific about – it’s almost like a verb versus a noun. What is the action or the outcomes oriented items that I could really help people with, help them solve that drive their own personal outcomes? They’re a little more tangible. You see in here but I couldn’t come up with a better way of putting like cracking product management. It’s a riddle. It’s a mindset. It’s a change in perspective which knocks over a whole bunch of dominoes that you then have to write in order to be good at that. I know what the answers to those things are. We’ve been through that. I’ve made the mistakes already so you don’t have to. That’s where I really talk about being specific as opposed to being general.
JEFF: One more question that came in. Do we have to figure out all of this, everything that you’ve done on audience mountain before running your first experiment?
KATIE: For me, that is a great question because what I found in doing this is I was making assumptions. I was asking questions and kind of writing things down and not knowing. One thing that we added to our exercise is we did do an assumption map. As we went through this, I was making assumptions that I think large companies want to be more like the Facebook’s, the Amazon’s of the world in terms of their customer focus and agility. I’d assume that to be true based on what I know but I can only speak for one company that I’ve worked with. I started to document them as I was thinking about who I was reaching out to and it was actually a really good segue into writing hypothesis because David and I mapped them on an impact as well as likelihood scale. How impactful is that if we’re wrong with that assumption? What’s the likelihood that I’ll base a solution or do something based off of that assumption? What we did was we really focused our hypothesis on those assumptions and questions that had the highest impact if we were wrong and we were most likely to base something off of it. I think that really helped.
Getting back to exactly what you asked, I personally don’t think it’s wrong to test a hypothesis as you go through this. For me, it was something where I sat down and I just did it all and made sure I noted the questions as I went.
JEFF: I think it depends on your level of patience ultimately. If you come across a couple ideas you feel are pretty good and you’re targeting an audience that you’ve researched and you’ve got a good sense of where to go, I don’t think you have to figure everything out. What’s interesting is that as you start to run these experiments, you will learn more information that will then change the assumptions that you have in this audience mountain exercise anyway. You can lay it all out but then as you start to actually execute on some of this stuff, inevitably, it’s going to shift some of these things around. Maybe the thing you thought you could get paid for, no one is going to pay for. The person you thought was going to be a high value subscriber turns out they aren’t but then there’s a donor or patron persona that all of a sudden, you didn’t think that person would actually end up converting into a high value purchaser but they end up doing that. I think the sooner you can start to collect data, the better, but it does make sense to at least get a couple solid ideas in the canvas before moving forward but you don’t have to do the whole thing.
DAVID: I think you can go full waterfall on this. Only joking. I think one of the interesting parts though is we timeboxed this. We didn’t really give ourselves a lot of time to overanalyze. Katie, when you did that assumption map, was it at this point that you actually tested one of those assumptions? Something around YouTube or something or was that later?
KATIE: I did do it later. As I went through this, I basically said anything at a high impact, high likelihood, I wanted to test that in a hypothesis. You can see I put these stars on those ones and then I actually made sure they were linked to a hypothesis. I didn’t do it in the moment but I definitely made sure I kept in mind as I went forward.
DAVID: I also did an assumption map over the right. I think that’s a really valuable thing to be able to add in here is just document your own personal assumptions. I think it does help you move the ball forward a lot quicker. On the hypotheses, what’s interesting here is – and I remember the first time. I know this is one of those ones where I came in here and Katie had about 40 hypotheses and I was struggling to get three. One of the things that was really interesting about this is the belief. What you believe you can do. I think I was pretty okay on this in the beginning. In a world for the particular patrons and donors, of course, it’s listed that way. When we got down to the second half though, really started to talk about was I focusing on the donor and the patron? Or was I focusing on me? Was the hypotheses my success or their success? In the beginning, I had very much – I thought success would be I would generate X number of links. I would generate X number of likes. My first attempt at this was very much metrics. I was writing down all of the things I thought were successful. Then we had a conversation about it. It was like, “No, we really need to start focusing in on something that is much more important for the consumer. In order to help them get promoted or acquire a senior product management role, the frameworks that I use for managing products is what they will use to do that, to achieve that outcome. How I will know it’s working, which is going to be incredibly hard to test, will be when I see X number of people, give me the feedback that, “Yeah, they did what I said or they took what I said. They applied it. They got the kudos. Then somebody said, “Here you go. Here’s the new role. You’re now the expert.” I can tie this back to 1 or 2 people already. Feedback is a difficult thing because it’s not as structured as a number but I think that was one of the big items, that in going through these hypotheses, that was difficult to overcome and it took a little while.
JEFF: One of the things I’ll call out as well is that with all this stuff, the more specificity that you can put into this, the better. As we talk about subscribers and high value purchasers, if you’ve got 2 or 3 different personas in there, you can always get a bit more specific with that as well which I like. There’s specific behavior changes that you’re looking here to tell you that you’ve actually succeeded. Engage me professionally from my direct experience. Two people do that. That’s very important as well to get a sense of whether or not you’re impacting people with the content as well which is great.
There was one quick question in the comments. Are you updating the audience mountain regularly? Which of these assumptions canvases are you updating regularly and is the mountain one of them?
KATIE: We did this maybe a month ago. We’re not quite there yet where I’m changing the audience mountain too much. I’d say we’re still testing a lot of the hypotheses that we put forward but would participate coming back to change it. One interesting thing I learned. I made the hypotheses that if you were interested in fitness type content, the best form was YouTube. That’s what I had been using. I posted to my Instagram and I did a poll and I actually found that a majority of my friends were either running because of COVID. They weren’t using any content. Or Peloton has hit everywhere. People were using that. That was something that I’d go back and change my audience mountain in terms of how do I reach my audience? Maybe YouTube isn’t the right channel which is what I was going to focus on. That’s one example. I don’t think we’ve yet hit a cadence on how often we change it. It almost feels as necessary as you either validate or disprove a hypothesis.
JEFF: You’re working individually. There isn’t that sprint mentality where we take the team to a stopping point every two weeks. You do have your weekly check-in with each other which I think is nice. It does force a conversation and if after a week or two you’re not making progress or something has stalled or it’s not moving forward, you can nudge each other and be like, “We’re going to let that one go because you’re clearly not moving forward with that. Let’s get you onto something more productive.” That’s super helpful. Where do you go from here?
DAVID: It’s only been a couple of weeks. We can actually talk about what has transpired even. Katie just talked about polling those who have mentored and that’s still something I need to actually run in order to validate some of that. I will say that I think just on the initial foray talking about those playbooks if you see the experiment over on the right, it says number 1 but it’s actually number 2. Just talking loosely to others around what that playbook is, the feedback I’ve gotten is when’s the book being written? Audiobook maybe, but written book, I’m not sure I have the discipline for that. In the few people I’ve talked to with regards to testing this, the thing they come straight out with is it would be great to have an ABC of what to do with things. I can’t honestly say I’ve taken a structured and disciplined approach to putting those experiments into place at this point in time but I did spend quite a bit of time in actually going through them. I feel just by planning those out, it gives me a sense of what is necessary in order to go forward with it.
KATIE: The other thing, we talked a lot about this first one around people. I’m one of David’s converts. We met and I loved everything he was saying. It really made it feel like a startup within a very, very huge company like GE. I got promoted as part of the process. I think it works. To David’s point, we didn’t necessarily run this experiment full bore, through my feedback – I know he said feedback with other mentees that he coaches. He’s gotten some good feedback that this worked and it is true.
The product content – I had a hypothesis that I could expose corporate product managers to more modern principles to help them approach problems differently. How do we move to outcome oriented versus solution feature factory; all those phrases we’ve come to hate. The other one was how do I help product managers apply those modern principles in order to help them build the right solution for their customers and their organizations? GE is an awesome place. I love to work here but it’s definitely a place where the stakeholders set the tone. They set the roadmap and it’s a lot of thou shalt build this and you go and build it. As I’ve been reading. I’ve been really excited by other ways to think about that. I started to post on LinkedIn. Did my first two posts on what I was reading, my thoughts. You can see some of the staff. It’s a lot of numbers here, but basically what I was really interested in is finding out if there was a needer gap, if the majority of our enterprise product managers needed this and is there interest? By posting this, I found that a lot of people outside of GE Healthcare were liking it, were commenting on it, were reaching out. That told me it wasn’t just a GE Healthcare problem which is something I didn’t know for sure. That it was a problem that had bigger roots and I could reach more people. I also found there’s interest. I have two new mentees as part of this process. They’re both GE folks but they reached out and said, “Hey, I notice you’ve been posting on LinkedIn. I’m interested in the content. Can you mentor me? Can we talk every month?” I said, “Absolutely.” I was so excited. I had other people reach out that I’d never met before and just wanted to talk. This is the point where I say it works because I was really surprised at the people that were reaching out to prove these experiments and these hypotheses.
JEFF: The goal here in all of this is to create a continuous flow of inbound opportunities to you. If we’re creating a career safety net, if we’re creating this insurance that there’s always opportunities for you, some of those opportunities may be a new job. Some may be a paid speaking engagement. Some opportunities are just going to be things you least expected like, “Hey, will you mentor me?” That might seem like more unpaid work for you to do initially but if you think about it, one of the things I have found to be tremendously helpful is every opportunity that I get to teach and mentoring is teaching – if you have an opportunity to teach somebody, then you’re learning how to teach and you’re getting better at the craft itself because you have to figure out how to explain it to someone in a way that they get and it changes what they do at work and it makes them more successful. Ultimately, you’re improving yourself which then generates better content which generates better opportunities. All of this is a virtuous cycle even if some of the opportunities that are coming towards you don’t initially seem like this is going to help me. It doesn’t generate immediate income.
KATIE: We’re still testing the hypotheses. It’s exciting because in one hand, for me, this proved those hypotheses that people are interested. I did a podcast episode for this is product management which will be coming out. If you follow me, you’ll get to see it. I’m going to try blogging and see how it goes. That’s the journey. It’s crazy to think how a month ago, I had never posted on LinkedIn. While I was really known at GE, I had never reached out. Now I’m posting content, posting webinars. It’s all been really exciting to see what’s possible.
JEFF: Both of you took us through this process. Could you give us a timeline from start to today?
KATIE: The way we broke it up, it was four weeks of work. I’d say testing the experiments has been taking a little bit longer but if you use this approach, it’s a canvas a week and then the experiments however long you need. A month plus.
DAVID: We were on the same timeline. Afterwards, it comes down to what you can afford to give and how extensive your experiments are. I think that is also one of the other difficult parts. It’s personal. What is happening in your life? Can you afford to give a certain amount of time to this? The experiments are supposed to make you think about the least amount of work to do in order to be successful at that. I think some good examples are – someone wrote in there about did we test the riskiest hypotheses first? Certainly, when you saw Katie’s board, it definitely was like that. On a personal level, my riskiest one was does anybody really care about GE anymore? The stocks gone down, etc. It’s not one of the fangs. That was a big hypotheses for me. I was in the MURAL Distributed Conference that was on last week and we are strong users of MURAL here at GE and myself and Katie have been using it for years now. They invited me out and I was like, “No, I want to speak. I want to know if something I’ve been thinking about is actually going to resonate and I have no idea how I’m going to measure it but I’m going to do it.” I created a new presentation. I put it out there and I said, “This is from the perspective of General Electric.” That assumption, we knocked that out of the park. We got very high ratings at the time. The people from MURAL loved it. They associated LinkedIn posting that went up there was really a recap and an image. It got some great feedback. In that regard, that’s been a piece of confidence that people really do want to know what a large company like ours is doing. It’s a good thing to build off.
JEFF: There’s a question in the Q&A box. Do you believe that Forever Employable principles are applicable to all areas? Imagine being an attorney.
DAVID: I invited my sister here. She’s in Ireland. She’s an actor. She’s had some recent success. She also does yoga. Like all starving artists, there’s always something that needs to be done and developed on the side. I’m not sure if she’s here but I invited the person who does my training as well because she’s also thinking in a COVID world how to expand. Her gym has essentially shut down. Developing an identity and a brand. If nothing else, I think plans are useless but planning is essential. This is a good system to run through even if you came out at the end and said, “Nah, I got nothing.” Maybe you could turn around and say, “What do I do?” Maybe it’s volunteer at the local community center or church or food bank. Maybe that’s what you can offer. Something you feel passionate about. When we start talking about donors and subscribers and the free and all that kind of thing, maybe that’s not the monetary value but it’s the personal value that you get out of something. I think there’s currency there for you to be able to define on your own personal level and I would say, without knowing what an attorney does or what part of law you’re in, I definitely think it’s a good exercise to go through and to try. Even if you come out at the other end and you say, “This isn’t for me.” You’ll know.
JEFF: I’m a strong believer the answer is yes. It’s a resounding yes. As an attorney, you have expertise. You have specialization. You have experience. There are lots of other attorneys out there. There’s the formal, continuing education things that they have to do but there’s the informal education. They’re staying up. They’re staying current. There’s guarantee to be thought leadership in the legal community and where that ultimately translates – this is one of those things where you end up being called in as a commentator maybe on some legal cases whether it’s in the press or the media. There’s lots of examples of this on Twitter of either attorneys or legal scholars that kind of weigh in on all the politics that’s going on in the world today and they’re developing not only their own following and brand but whether it’s a monetizable newsletter or a book deal or something along those lines. Generally speaking, I don’t see any reason why an attorney couldn’t be successful at this or most other professions.
There’s a question in the Q&A and I have another question as well. You said this took you four weeks to build. Is there a way to make it faster or is it slower but of more value compared to other design thinking methods?
KATIE: It could definitely go faster. For David and I balancing work, life, and everything else, this felt manageable. One of the key risks or fears that we had going into it was there’s so much going on. How do I put anything else into anything else? That was the approach we took but depending on how much time you have, you could definitely go faster. I don’t think that there was a ton of added value in having more time to noodle on it as long as you have that partner where you can bounce ideas off each other.
DAVID: Katie and I are big fans when pre-COVID of getting dozens of people in a room and using these tactile boards and working through things together. We’ve built our professional relationship upon getting to good fast. You could do that. I tend to think that four weeks, coming in with no idea of – to go from those “how might we’s?” that we had at the beginning which were all very big questions and to be able to at least test those all in four weeks was a good amount of time given what we had no our plates. We do work for an employer that asks a lot of us. I’m sure you all do as well. I’m sure you can. I mean maybe you could actually do less and do it quicker, an MVP that way. In the spirit of true agile, maybe that’s a better way of doing that. Would love to hear what you’ve got done.
KATIE: I don’t remember if we actually wrote it down or we talked about one of our exercises that we’re like, “Okay, if we can get 60-90 minutes per week, that’s doable.” That’s what we timeboxed it. We each spent about that much time on each exercise and then our meetings on Fridays were about 45 minutes long. Give or take, the first 10 minutes was just catching up and shooting the breeze. That’s if it helps. You can take those times and condense the timeline for what makes sense for you.
JEFF: How does your employer feel about you doing this?
KATIE: As I mentioned, I recorded a podcast episode and did reach out because you just hear the horror stories of people getting fired for things like that. I reached out and our communications lead was fine with it as long as the messaging didn’t taint the brand in a negative way. I told my boss about it as well and I think he was excited about it. To the point you made, Jeff, I’ve not only expanded my sphere of influence outside of GE which is helping me get external ideas to bring back into the company but I’ve also gained other mentees at the company and am helping them grow in their journey which is helping GE do better. In both of those scenarios, GE benefits as well in the sense that I’m meeting people and taking those ideas in and also helping coach people through the program. To your earlier comment, my plan as of now isn’t to quit my job and do this full-time. I’m curious to see where it goes but I really just wanted to get myself out there and I felt this was a great way to do it and to also gain confidence in what I had to say.
JEFF: I like that you checked. If you’re concerned about it, ask for permission rather than forgiveness. I’m thrilled they’re okay with this and see the actual inherent value to the organization as well. I firmly believe the organization wins if you win in this case.
DAVID: You’ve got to be careful. It’s not acceptable for anybody in a large organization just to take what you do. It could be considered IP in some manner and then just go and set it on the outside. That’s just obvious. We’re a regulated company. I’m sure there’s legal concerns we don’t even know about but somebody does. It’s this idea that, as it just so happens, when I start talking about developing those product managers, they were all developed internally. A lot of them left GE. To be fair, GE left a lot of them but I think even just the fact that you are going through the process. The high value purchaser is just as easily somebody inside the GE ecosystem in the five major businesses that we have. I think by going through the process, by getting your thoughts a little more formalized, by finding out what your brand and what your niche is, then you can open yourself up to internal opportunities just as much as external opportunities.
JEFF: Two more questions came in. I’ll knock out one question and one for you. Is this a follow-up to LEAN UX? Are we going to have a new book for that? It’s funny that you ask because I did sign on recently to write the third edition of LEAN UX. That will be out next year. Josh and I are working on that as we speak. If you like LEAN UX version 1 or version 2, version 3 is coming out next year. You will find a lot of LEAN UX stuff in this book, just not applied to software products. It’s applied to career. We’re talking about assumptions, hypotheses, experiments.
I like this question here. If you really wish to be self-employed and follow that path, how much time do you think that we may try?
DAVID: It’s really interesting. I think timing is everything and I’ve been on the receiving end of just getting the two week notice. I’ve been on the receiving end of that for a few times now. Two occasions when it happened, I wouldn’t say I was prepared but one of the companies was an exit. Therefore, there was a financial package that keeps you going. None of that matters, by the way. If you’re losing your job, anybody who is unemployed, it’s the worst occasion you’re going to go through. One of the worst outside of health reasons. I don’t know if you could ever be prepared or ready for that. When I did it or when it was done to me, I was a little more prepared. At least two of the occasions I was a little more prepared. I had zero downtime as far as sitting around looking for jobs. They actually were ready for me. I think doing an exercise like this, testing whether or not that’s right for you, and you really should be expecting – you’re not going to be working 52 weeks a year. You should be expecting the majority of the time that you are spending is creating way more hypotheses, way more experiments, and being in this kind of framework. That’s your morning, noon, and night. The delivery aspect of what you do will probably be an awful lot less of your time than the preparation for that.
JEFF: In my experience, is there a timeline? I think the timeline is based on your runway. If you’re going to strikeout on your own, make sure you have some sort of a financial safety net to support you as you do that. One of the things that I did, as I struck out on my own, was knowing I was going to do it, I built a bridge gig. Kind of a gig that bridged me out of full-time employment into self-employment. I didn’t quit my full-time job until I had this. It was a three month consulting engagement with a startup in New York City. I knew I had at least three months with them plus the runway I had saved up which gave me somewhere between 9-12 months depending on how many noodles we ate. I knew I had that much runway. Nothing lights a fire under you than watching that runway slowly disappear day after day after day. The question from before was can you make this faster? Yeah. You can certainly work faster especially as that runway is starting to disappear a little bit. For me, just given the fact I really was concerned about providing for my family, that bridge gig helped me out. It was a consulting gig. It had an end. That really made me feel a bit more comfortable about jumping out on my own and that lights the fire and keeps things going.
Thank you so much for coming and listening and for being involved in this discussion. The recording will be available in the next couple of days and I’ll share it with the folks who signed up for the list. Katie and David, thank you so much. This was amazing. Not only were you super generous with your work and your insights but the effort you put into visualize your journey was tremendously valuable for me personally and for the folks who attended as well. Thank you for doing that. Folks, if you don’t already follow Katie and David on social media, please do on LinkedIn and on Twitter. Give them likes and comments. They’re working hard to get them. I hope you found this valuable. If you’ve got any feedback at all, for myself, for Katie, for David, feel free to reach out directly to me. I’ll put my email address in the chat.
DAVID: Katie and I will definitely take a look at that MURAL board and parts that you put up here and what you’re hoping to take away from the session, your motivations. I’d say if there’s anything you liked us saying here today, if it’s specific around that, by all means, keep us honest. Connect with us and say, “Hey, how’s that experiment going?” Follow us. Prod us. Poke us. We’ll do our best to keep up with you all. You owning a part of this story is huge. Not just for us but we hope it’s going to be fore everyone who is here. If we all own this together, I think we’ll come out better.
JEFF: Thank you all very much. Have a great rest of your day wherever you are in the world. We’ll talk to you soon.