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Book-talk with Ashley Hathaway - Enterprise Product Manager

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Ash Hathaway is an Enterprise Product Manager. She’s currently in New York, working as a Senior Product Manager at Pivotal, a software and services company on a mission to transform how the world builds software.

Previously, Ash worked as a Product Manager for the IBM Watson Developer Cloud, working with IBM’s machine learning and deep learning APIs.

She’s also one of the alumni of Seth Godin‘s altMBA, a program that helped her define her vision and be confident in the decisions she’s making.

I reached out to Ash and asked her about all the ways books impacted her life. Read our interview below to find out what books helped her start trusting her gut more, whose words inspired her, and what she recommends to young people interested in taking the same career path.


What’s your favorite book and why? Business and non-business, if possible.

Great question! I’ve had so many favorite books. I consider myself a generalist so I have a ton of interests. One of my values is to be continually learning which can be anything from cooking to Muay Thai. I think if a book provides me knowledge to level up then it’s a favorite at that time.

That said, The Power of Myth by Joseph Campbell has got to be at least one of my all-time favorites. I reference it constantly. If you’re not familiar the book is just a conversation between the journalist Bill Moyers and Joseph Campbell, who worked in comparative mythology and religious studies. It so beautifully brings every human experience together from the beginning of time. The world is basically explained through archetypes of people and the stories we tell. I highly recommend it and re-read parts regularly. I also have to say Zodiac by Neal Stephenson for fiction. It’s about an eco-terrorist in Boston. It’s an amazingly fun read.

For business the book that comes top of mind if The Hard Thing about Hard Things by Ben Horowitz. It’s pretty well known I suppose. I read it when I was thinking a lot about what makes a good leader. He basically just tells a story about his experience and really humanizes the role of the CEO. I still basically ask myself “what would Ben Horowitz do” a lot when I’m working and faced with a tough decision. I really started to trust my gut more after I read this book, and it doesn’t that he sprinkles rap & hip hop lyrics throughout the book. It gives the read a killer soundtrack basically.


Was there a moment, specifically, when something you read in a book helped you? Can you tell me about it?

Sure. I could probably name a dozen books here, but I’ll point out The Business Model Generation and Value Prop Design from Strategyzer. I steal from these constantly and are ingrained in my work process. These books put into practice really taught me how to think. As soon as I saw that everything should have a foundation of empathy, what good user-testing looks like, how to test and iterate it changed everything. After that any problem could be solved. It wasn’t solving one big monolithic problem. It was going through a process.

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What books had the biggest impact on you? (perhaps changed the way you see things, dramatically changed your career path)

You know, it’s not actually a book, but I remember vividly an experience that definitely changed my life. When I was a kid my Dad would clip articles out of magazines for me to read. He’d give me pages about female leaders and anything that was relevant to my interests at the time. This was hugely impactful, actually. One day he gave me an article about IDEO, the design consultancy. It was at that time that I learned this word “design” and saw that- holy shit- I could make amazing products and experiences for a living? So much of my life I think has just been finding out words to describe what I’m interested in. Once I figured out what this thing called design was it was like “yes. I totally want more of that.”

Reading was always highly valued in my house. It didn’t need to be anything fancy. A magazine, newspaper, whatever it was as long as we were reading which I think really built a love of knowledge and books. We always had a dictionary close by, too. Looking back hats off to my Mom & Dad. I think that really has given me an advantage.


What books would you recommend to youngsters interested in your professional path? Why? (no number limit here)

Honestly I think it’s important for people to find their own stories. Again as long as you’re reading that’s a positive thing. I think it’s important to have actual books, too. There’s something about not staring at a screen that’s important. Books are perfect for just discovering or trying on an idea. You get to escape and play a little bit without any risk. That’s magic, so try on lots of ideas.

One thing I have learned is that some books don’t stick or I’m not ready for them at that time and that’s ok. Now if I get 50 or 100 pages in and lose interest I don’t struggle through the rest of it. I put it down and find another book. I try to just stick with books that I think about when I’m not reading. When I’m standing in line somewhere or walking and think “I wonder what’s next.” That’s a good book. I’m in the middle of Brene Brown’s new book right now. Before that I was reading a book by Miranda July. Next up is a book about the CIA. I’m also constantly buying really nice art and cook books. Alex Katz & Maurizio Cattelan have been recent purchases for the art library. I was really into French cooking & baking last year so I have a lot of French cooking books as well.


I’m interested in finding out more about your reading habits. How often do you read? In what format?

I would say I read everyday but that’s a lie. A couple times a week depending on the week, and sometimes only a few pages a night. I think it depends on the week and what’s going on. I spend a lot of time reading the news and long-form stories. That’s constant. I always have fashion magazines, some business magazines, cookbooks, and art books lying around. I usually keep reading pretty light since it’s a way to relax my brain. Anything super heavy or is just a list of dates and names I lose interest in pretty quick.


How do you make time for reading?

Hmm. How do I make time for reading? I honestly don’t know. I don’t think it’s a purposeful thing unless I have a deadline. Anytime I need to actually use my brain I reserve decisions for the morning when I’m most alert. For fun, leisurely reading I like the evenings since I’m winding down and my brain isn’t as sharp.


Do you take notes or have any other technique for conquering the torrent of information?

Sometimes if I find something really impactful I’ll actually take a picture of the page. I used to markup fiction books but found it doesn’t really do anything unless I look back at it, which is rare. If I’m reading for studying or for a specific problem then I’ll use post-its and write down thoughts on a certain page. It’s way easier to find things that way, too. I like to send people articles and books if I think they’ll like them, too.


How do you choose what books to read next?

I’ve got an Amazon book list a mile long. I actually exceeded the limit on one list so now I have a fiction and two nonfiction lists. It depends on what’s going on at the time. Sometimes I just need a cheap easy fiction read. Sometimes I want to nerd out and pick a heavy non-fiction book. I was reading The Fountainhead earlier this year which was pretty beefy. Got that checked off the list.


Do you prioritize those recommended by certain people? Is there anyone that you consider a book-recommendations guru?

When it comes to work books I definitely like to ask my leaders what their favorite books are. There are lots of repeats (Crossing the Chasm, Innovator’s Dilemma & Solution, Lean Startup, etc), but every now and then someone will have a really unique one that I’ll read. I always read those right away. I’ve also taken book recommendations & then not read the book for like a year. I’ll go back and say, “Hey I finally read that book you recommended forever ago.” It’s fun.


From the books that you had as recommended reading in Seth Godin’s altMBA program, which one had the biggest impact on you? And how did you apply in your life the lessons you learned from it?

I’d say Finite & Infinite Games was my favorite & quite impactful. They were all impactful, actually. I read my altMBA books on a beach in Kauai (highly recommended). It was odd though because I was by myself and it was just – total knowledge bombs all over the place. Reading the altMBA books in rapid succession like that took a few months to digest honestly.

Austin Kleon’s Steal Like an Artist is efficiently impactful. Like I’m so jealous of him that book is so good. I actually like Seth’s books even though they weren’t in the altMBA reading. My old boss gave everyone What To Do When It’s Your Turn. Just looking at that book makes me motivated now.


Last question: what book are you currently reading and what are you expecting to gain from it?

The Brene Brown book right now is pretty amazing so far. It’s the perfect book for me to read towards the end of this year. There’s so much negativity in the world and hate, especially now. This book is reminding me that vulnerability is the pathway to strength and that compassion and love are the best ways to help the world. It’s a pretty emotional read.

I’m balancing that with a book that I haven’t really gotten into yet about the clandestine services and the history of the intelligence community. I always love good intel & covert operations books. I definitely geek out on those.

Links where you can follow Ashley Hathaway or find out more about her projects:

Books mentioned by Ashley in this interview:

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