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What I Learned About Software Consulting from Marie Kondo

Meredith Edwards
Jan 16, 2019

Have you seen Marie Kondo’s new Netflix show, Tidying Up? I have, and I love it.

I work as a software developer consultant at Stride. My job is to go into companies, join their engineering teams, and help them build better software and processes. So what could Marie Kondo, organization consultant, have to teach me?

There is a moment in the show when Marie is helping a family clean up their kitchen cabinets. She pulls out a silver cup. The wife explains that it is an engraved sippy cup given to the husband by his godmother. The wife says, “We asked him, ‘Will you drink out of it?’, and he’s like ‘Yes! Yes!’ and we’re (the rest of the family) like *rolls eyes*”.

How does Marie respond? Does she roll her eyes or pinch her lips together in a sarcastic smile? No! She says, “Let’s make this a decoration for the kitchen.”

Let’s make this. A decoration. For the kitchen.

Marie respects that the husband has already gone through the exercise of asking if the cup sparks joy for him. She accepts that the husband wants to keep the cup and gives it a new role to honor its significance: a decorative item.

What I appreciate about this exchange is that Marie does not try to make people feel bad or shame people into making a decision she believes is correct. It would be easy for her ask, “When is the last time you used that cup?” But instead, she suggests making the cup a decoration for the kitchen. Her action underscores the importance of respecting what matters to other people. This was a light-bulb moment for me as a consultant.

Once upon a time, I worked with a designer who challenged my “don’t motivate people by making them feel bad” urge daily. This designer and I disagreed over pixels, line placement, box area, you name it. One time when we were not seeing eye-to-eye on something, I asked her in a condescending voice: “Sure, but what value does this have for the user?”

Zing! Got her.

Just kidding. Regardless of whether or not this argument is compelling, it was not effective. I did not change the designer’s mind. I made it clear to her that I had no interest in what she had to say.

So what should I have done instead? I wish I had spoken in a sincere, neutral voice. I wish I had presented the designer with a clear idea of the trade-offs: “Making this change will take two hours, possibly more. Is this change a higher priority than starting work on a new story?” I wish I had asked, “Tell me more about why you’d like us to make this change.”

That’s what I imagine Marie Kondo would do. That’s what I imagine the best version of myself would have done. #WWMKD

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"Debbie Madden has cracked the code on hiring and retaining women. This book is a must-read for anyone serious about diversity and inclusion." —Verne Harnish, Founder of Entrepreneurs’ Organization (EO) and author of Scaling Up (Rockefeller Habits 2.0)
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