What My Mother Taught Me

February 3, 2021

When I was young, and my family was still prosperous, my mother constantly taught me that just because we had a station wagon and food in the refrigerator did not mean that we were better than anyone else.

She didn’t say this just once. She said it many times. Even at five years old, I could tell this was not an abstract moral lesson. The way she said it while standing in the grocery store parking lot, driving by a bus stop, or sitting in a restaurant, told me there was more to the story.

When I got older, and fled Los Angeles for New York, my great uncle, who lived in the South Bronx, filled out the details for me.

He told me about the very hard times that his brother, my grandfather, and his family went through during the Depression, World War II, and even during the relatively prosperous (for white people) 1950s.

The one fact that my mother had shared with me, typically when I was complaining about having to move, was that she and her family had to move *many* times — 23 moving days to be exact. 

They hauled their clothes all over Southern California, at one point unpacking and then packing in what later became Joshua Tree National Park. 

She never explained why. My Uncle Charlie supplied the reason: they couldn’t pay rent. They were, he said, like Okies, but born in California.

So, yes, my mom knew something about being looked down upon. And she was going to make sure that I never developed that bad habit. 

I thought about this recently and realized that it connects to the other thing my mother taught me: the importance of asking for help and forming councils of peers (after she put herself through college, she formed a council of fellow elementary school teachers in 1960 that met for 50 years until the year before she died).

When you ask for help — or simply think out loud with someone else — you not only give them the gift of respect, and of the chance to be giving, but you give them something else that is precious. You tell them very clearly — by your act of asking — that you do not think you are above them.

So, think of each instance of asking not only as a way to get some support, but also as a micro progression toward healing our democracy.



P.S. If *you* need help or want to simply think out loud, get in touch. Operators are standing by.

Upcoming Sessions 

Email Britany if you’d like an invite.

  • JTBD in Large Distributed Environments – Thu, Feb 4 @12pm ET
    Jay Haynes, Founder & CEO, thrv.com
    Talk Type: Product; Skill Builder/Practitioner
    Audience/Roles: All Roles 

    Jobs To Be Done has proven to be an effective methodology for building much better holistic end-to-end products and customer experiences.

    *But* CG Council member companies with large distributed environments are finding it difficult to apply JTBD in effective ways.

    Jay Haynes, CEO of thrv, and a global expert on JTBD will come and speak to the Councils community on this specific challenge of using the methodology in large, complex technology environments.

Recent Talks and Activity Recordings

  • Groundwork: Get Better at Making Better Products
    Vidya Dinamani and Heather Samarin, co-Authors of Groundwork
    Talk Type: Product
    Audience/Roles: All Roles

    Product leaders are all too familiar with the one to two-year period it typically takes to train and coach PMs. Product leaders hire smart people and then work with them individually, guiding them through how to think about product management, and watching them develop. Vidya Dinamani and Heather Samarin wanted a much faster way to help cultivate efficient and effective product managers that consistently create products that delight customers, regardless of the industry, the environment, and the development methodology that the team employed. They took years of experience as product executives and working with hundreds of teams as product coaches to create a framework to Get Better at Making Better Products.

    The design philosophy and methodology behind Groundwork was created to help product leaders be confident that their teams were committed to solving the right customer problems, minimizing costly rework by using individualized needs, and leveraging actionable personas in big and small product decisions. Vidya and Heather want Groundwork to help product teams have a much higher chance of success in the market—and help every product manager shine.

    Join Vidya and Heather as they share the background, principles, and methodology behind the Groundwork to help you, and your team, get better at making better products. 
  • Making the Case for Empowering Your People
    Marty Cagan, Partner, Silicon Valley Product Group
    Talk Type: Product, Leadership Development, Culture
    Audience/Roles: All Roles

    From Marty: “I have long been interested in the difference between how the best companies work, and the rest. Working with both types of organizations for so many years, there are many differences ranging from culture to process to staffing to roles to techniques. But at its core, strong product companies empower their people, and most of the rest do not. My focus over the past few years has been tackling this issue head-on, which means the product leadership. In this talk, we’ll discuss why this model consistently yields better results, and what’s necessary to transform to work like the best.”

    Marty’s Bio: Marty Cagan is the founding partner of the Silicon Valley Product Group, which he created to pursue his interests in helping others create successful products through his writing, speaking, advising and coaching. Before starting SVPG, Marty served as an executive responsible for defining and building products for some of the most successful companies in the world, including Hewlett-Packard, Netscape Communications, and eBay.As part of his work with SVPG, Marty advises tech companies of all sizes and stages, stretching far beyond Silicon Valley. Marty is the author of the industry-leading book for product teams, INSPIRED: How To Create Tech Products Customers Love, and the upcoming book EMPOWERED: Ordinary People, Extraordinary Products. Marty is an invited speaker at major conferences and top companies across the globe.
  • See talks from the last month and beyond here.

About the Author

Phyl Terry

Phyl Terry, Founder and CEO of Collaborative Gain, Inc., launched the company’s flagship leadership program – The Councils – in 2002 with a fellow group of Internet pioneers from Amazon, Google, and others. Thousands of leaders from the Internet world have come together in the last 15 years to learn the art of asking for help and to support each other to build better, more customer-centric products, services, and companies.

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