Meghan Keaney Anderson

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What I read in summer 2015

Posted by Meghan Keaney Anderson

 I've delayed long enough in getting this one up, so I'll skip the intro and go right to the good stuff.  Here's your fall-almost-winter recap of the best of what I read this summer.

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Topics: Curriculum

What I Read in Spring 2015

Posted by Meghan Keaney Anderson

I've been on a good streak with good books lately.  There's always this trepidation that comes with investing time in a new book. How far will I get into it before realizing I've been taken by a clever title or good cover-art.  This Explains Everything, was an example of that for me.  A smart idea in concept, but it was clearly rushed in realization and resulted in a collection of truisms rather than anything truly illuminating. I should have known.  Never trust a cover that promises you everything. Here's the collection of books that did have an impact on me this spring. 

3dBridge

Pedestrian Bridge, 3D Printed by Robots 
(Created by Joris Laarman, discovered in the folds of on the internet in June) 

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Topics: Curriculum

What I Read in March (Puppy Edition)

Posted by Meghan Keaney Anderson

Otto-Sleeping-500pxSometimes you've got to draw your own asterisk. The goal this year was to read two books a month -- not too much of a stretch, but enough to require some thought, time and selectivity. This month I brought home John Brockman's "This Explains Everything" and Meghan Daum's "Unspeakable: And Other Subjects of Discussion".  I also, however, brought home Otto, a 12-week-old Terrier-Chihuahua puppy.  So while I technically "read" both Brockman and Daum's books, I can't tell you in any honesty that I finished them.

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Topics: Curriculum

What I Read in February

Posted by Meghan Keaney Anderson

Smarter Than You Think

There's been a lot of hand-wringing lately about the damage technology could be doing to our brains.  As someone who spends nearly every waking hour tied to technology, the concern has preoccupied me. In some ways, I feel it. I panic when grappling for words I should know or having to revert to Google to blindly keyword around for the the name of a celebrity. So I understand the surge we've seen in books and speakers that chicken-little the demise of independent thought at the hands of the Internet, but it also doesn't feel entirely right to me. I'll readily admit that I'm over-reliant on Google and my unaided memory on many things may be worsening, but it's hard to argue that technology hasn't enriched my life and my intellect far more than it has caused it to shallow. All of which is why I was so impressed this month by Clive Thompson's book Smarter Than You Think. 

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Topics: Curriculum

Taking a Short Break from Teaching

Posted by Meghan Keaney Anderson

Heads up: All my posts are a little self-referential, but this one definitely jumps straight over the line into a personal update.  If you stumbled upon this blog and don't know me well, I won't be offended if you back away :-). I'll return to the only-moderately-self-referential posts soon. Now, onto the update... 

This year, for the first time in five years, I'm taking a break from teaching my writing course at Boston University. True to form, it took about a month of wavering before finally making the call, but here's what's behind it. 

I've loved teaching. The single biggest surprise for me about being an adjunct professor was how addictive it became. There hasn't been a single semester where I've gotten to the end of a course and not thought to myself: "I could do that better... I know how to do that better next time." Each class had its own unique personality, its own challenges and its own way of learning. That's how five years flew by in a blink.

Teaching was always a second job for me. I taught in the evenings after work. But this "second job" stayed with me over the course of three "day jobs". When I started, I was director of communications at United Way. I took it with me to my first start-up job at Performable and then onto HubSpot for the last three, almost four, years.  In all likelihood I'll return to it again -- maybe next year, maybe in a few years -- but for now, the break...

I'm taking a break from teaching mainly so I can have time to learn something new. The decision is both a time-opener and a motivator for me to make sure I spend the extra time in a way that matters, because I gave up something that matters to make it possible. I expect to return after a year sabbatical, better and smarter for it.

Things continue to move quickly at HubSpot. Undoubtedly some of the found time will find its way there, and that's well worth it. In addition to HubSpot though, there are a few new things I'm excited to take on this year.

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Topics: personal update

What I Read in January

Posted by Meghan Keaney Anderson

This year, for the first time in five years, I've taken a break from teaching.  The added free time opens me up for a few things, including what I'm hoping will be at least a couple of books a month.  In the interest of not compartmentalizing, one of the books each month will likely focus on an area of business or tech that I need to learn and the other will be something wholly different. I like to read with a pen in hand. Whether it's fiction or tech-related, taking notes has always meant that a book will stay with me longer - that I'll remember more. These are the books and notes from January.

Waking Up

Waking up by Sam Harris

Written by Sam Harris, this book aims to take a scientific look at spirituality and consciousness. For the first third of the book, I think he achieves that. There are some studies and concepts from the first 100 pages that are really remarkable. It's worth reading just for those. He loses his footing when he gets into the latter half of the book. He doesn't seem to take the same deductive approach to the sections on meditation and psychedelics and is a bit too swept away by them to take seriously. Still, I'm glad I read it and it's worthwhile.

Lines Loved

"Wisdom is nothing more profound than an ability to follow ones own advice."

"We seem to do little more than lurch between wanting and not wanting."

"My mind begins to seem like a video game: I can either play it intelligently, learning more in each round, or I can be killed in the same spot by the same monster, again and again."

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Topics: Curriculum

Why Compartmentalizing is Probably a Bad Idea

Posted by Meghan Keaney Anderson

Once after reading a post of mine on Medium, HubSpot Cofounder Dharmesh Shah asked me an interesting question. Nice post, he said, but I'm just curious - why post this on Medium? Why wouldn't you publish on your own blog where you'd own the surrounding content and traffic? At the time I told him I hadn't really gotten around to building up my personal blog yet, and it was a one-off essay based on something I had been mulling-over that week. Posting to Medium seemed like the best way to get it up and out quickly.

That was a true, but not entirely complete answer. The complete answer includes what had been an attempt at compartmentalizing. 

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Nothing is Uninteresting

Posted by Meghan Keaney Anderson

"There is nothing to say that hasn't been said before."

Terrence wrote this. For me, it has the peculiar standing of being at once the most terrifying and instantly calming statement ever made. Terrifying because it could not be more true and accompanies every blinking cursor I've ever encountered. Calming because he said it more than 22 centuries ago, in 2 BC.  Millennia of content, art and invention since then have underscored two things: 1) that everything is derivative and 2) that we will never run out of layers.

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Teaching a Product to Talk

Posted by Meghan Keaney Anderson

Thoughts on Product Marketing and Context.

One of my all-time favorite pieces of writing is an essay by Annie Dillard called Teaching a Stone to Talk. It’s about a man who works each morning to train a palm-sized beach stone to answer back.

It has nothing to do with product marketing.

It’s really about humans — and how we spend our days trying to coax the meaning out of things.

Which, of course, has everything to do with product marketing.

Because a stone is never just a stone. It is a puzzle piece. It’s an element to factor into your life and understand in full context. But stones (and complex strands of code) are really good at causing you to confuse the forrest for the trees. Particularly if you’ve spent some time with them. Particularly if you’ve held them at fifteen different angles and stared until you’ve memorized each solitary speck and glint.

A product will always present you with concrete qualities. It has four walls. It triggers alerts when a set of criteria are reached. It’s faster or more effective than its competitors. The challenge is in shifting your definitions from what the product does to what it means — what it makes possible for the world around it.

People think Apple is good at this, but in reality Apple spends a lot of time looking in the mirror. It’s just so damn exquisite that none of us seem to care.

Google is good at thisGE is really freaking good at this.

I can’t watch a GE commercial without wanting to call up my dad afterwards and talk to him about the wonders of modern life. How we can build anything. Solve anything. But it’s not just lighting and plot-lines that leads to this. It’s not that GE saw an opportunity to dramatize a stone and took it. Several years ago, GE’s entire marketing organization shifted its structure to ensure that context was built into their product blueprints from the very beginning.

Beth Comstock, GE’s chief marketing officer, explained in an April interview with Forbes, “GE is a Technology company, but technology alone doesn’t tell the full story… So, for us it’s been a big push to be technology-led as well as market-led. Marketing makes us more ambidextrous in terms of innovation by connecting the technology to needs, and to trends in the marketplace and make us more tethered to the market. We define marketing as a combination of value and innovation, and that means that we had to look at marketers as innovators.”

What does this mean in action? It means that before you build an ultrasound machine, you’d better understand how that machine fits into the larger panorama of hospital operations and global need. You’d better, as Comstock says:

“..Go to China, to talk to the hospital organizations to who say, we’re all about world health. We need an ultrasound to that we can, if not fit in our pocket, put in a briefcase. We can’t have one that’s the size of an air conditioner to go to some of the remote locations.”

Understanding that marketplace before a product gets there is as essential to telling the product story as it is to building the product. So marketing and product teams need to be side by side on it from the get-go. They have to see the gap together and envision respectively 1) how to fill it and 2) what filling it will mean for the people around it.

If you capture that inherent narrative from the beginning, if you understand the context into which it is born, the product will grow up learning to tell its own story. The lights and plotlines will be authentic, and the meaning won’t need coaxing at all.

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Spotting a Good Moment and Hanging on Like Hell.

Posted by Meghan Keaney Anderson

In the last few weeks we’ve learned a few things. We’ve learned that people take selfies in funeral bathrooms. Not just some people, lots of people. Scores of people. Of all different shapes and sizes. Of all different ages and locations. That’s right. We belong to a culture of people who sneak off into bathroom stalls, yards away from the broken, rapidly numbing hearts of their families,to smile seductively at cameras and click capture on their own miserable faces.

We’ve learned, quite separately, that we are also part of a culture that will stop everything it’s doing to play make-believe with a five-year-old who may not see six. We followed closely as the city of San Francisco transformed itself into Gotham to bring joy to a young leukemia patient who wanted nothing more than to be Batman for a day. And we learned that such an act will lead an entire nation of people, including the president, to stop everything they’re doing for a moment and take it in.

For the now-treasured BatKid, a day that started predictably with rubbing the sleep from his eyes and teeth brushing, ended in a city transformed, more than 78 thousand tweets, a presidential address, and a near universal sense that, yeah, we got that one right.

Humanity got it right. It proved once again that we have the capacity to do unselfishly perfect things.

When you’re a kid you lump these two compulsions into wholly different categories. You see the world as good and evil. Political party X and political party Y. Home team and away. You remain that way until one day, you find yourself embarrassingly on the other half of that wall. However slight the infraction, from that point on — the world becomes exactly as it is: a tumbling, chaotic mix of degrees. Most of which is spent unremarkably in-the middle.

When as a culture we spot a good moment, particularly a moment as wholly exceptional as Friday’s BatKid saga, we want with every fiber of our tangled chaotic being to stay there. We want it to signify a new era of humanity. Which of course, it never does.

In the 1940s, Harvard launched a study to determine, at least in part, the path between these two extremes. Suffering only one interruption in its lifespan, The Grant Study became one of the longest studies of human nature on record. The goal was to chart the route to well-being. Along the way it made a few predictions. Among them:

l. Goodness is rooted in a happy childhood.

2. Maturity grows alongside a deepening capacity for love and work.

Just as it sounds, the goal was to find the science behind beliefs we’ve stitched into wall hangings for years. And in some cases the wall-hangings came through. But not, most notably, when it comes to consistency.

George Vaillant, the young (and troubled) psychologist who took over the study after it had stalled out, explained that when it came to maturing consistently the men studied were “as changeable as the weather…Periods of success at work and love came and went unsystematically and according to circumstance.”

In a fascinating article he wrote on the whole thing Dan Slater pretty much nails it, writing “Triumphs of Experience, [the study’s summary], is not only a history of how the Grant men adapted (or not) to life over 70-plus years, but of how author and science grew up alongside them.”

Valliant himself was a flawed man. The product of a father driven to suicide and a marriage driven to separation, Valliant strived to be better. He made cracking the science of happiness his life’s work, even, according to Slater, ignoring his own children in its pursuit.

Our whole lives we vacillate between baseness and our own wildest realizations of perfection. This is how it goes. In single nights, we have awkward conversations and moments of unmistakeable connection. We do good things, and then we unravel them. We can’t seem to find the balance. We are, after all,inventors of the #humblebrag.

The Grant Study was looking for a path. There is none. The Grant Study was looking for formulas. There are none. There is only the life-long continuum of submerging and coming up for air, of being lost and finding a clearing.

And at any given point, you don’t really know what side you’re on, or how close you are to your next clear stance. But some days, you get there, and you’re thankful for the view.

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