MJ's Recap of 2020

A year during which I read less, ran less but felt that I grew a couple years older.

Sitting in our Kiwi.com bistro on my final day at work in 2020 feels somehow weirdly satisfying. The new office we moved in just a month ago and built to accommodate a couple of thousands of people has been emptier each day as people left to enjoy well deserved Christmas time. This quietness provides me with great clarity to retrospect on the eventful journey we went through this year. As a travel company, we had to reinvent ourselves in the span of COVID-19. On top of the pandemic smashing down our company strategies and completely adapting our work, I have faced one of the most significant changes in my career. I moved to a mid-management position to lead the consumer product design team. I hope you will enjoy this personal recap.

Inspired by the pandemic

It has been a wild ride full of uncertainty and personal insecurities. When fighting coronavirus, we had to switch around a lot of our design approaches. The way we do research, work during the night, and constant adjustments of product roadmaps, to name a few. We understood that the pandemic would forever change the way we live, and it would be stupid to hibernate and wait until it passes by. We switched the mindset and used this opportunity to accelerate, pivot, and embrace developing faster than ever. But we also doubled down on making sure we are building the right thing by implementing a more rigid ROI and discovery process.

After all, as history has shown, there is a period of prosperity after each crisis, and companies that can adapt will strive. The team went beyond in applying this mindset to everything we do. In November, I had the opportunity to speak on its behalf at the World Usability Day in Slovakia. Unfortunately, only in the Slovak language.

From maker to leader, from pixels to people.

On top of the coronavirus, the second biggest topic I thought about this year was leadership. The only way I did not collapse in my new role was mainly because of the people around me. The support I got from Vlado Koncar as my manager and all the designers I'm privileged to work with helps me overcome challenges and failures. Going into the position, I wasn't anticipating that 1x1s with my reports will become the coolest highlight of my weeks. I also learned I could use a lot of my sports captain knowledge back from the athletic years.

After my first year in management, I established my leadership values and started exploring how to help others be better. Making sure that as a team, we can push for greatness. I wrote it down in my final essay of this year: "From Maker to Leader.

This essay was also the first issue of my new newsletter, "People Over Pixels," which will substitute my blog going into next year.

I want to focus on deeper, more thought-through writings and send them to people who genuinely are interested in those topics. So if you want, you can subscribe here:

On my "old" blog, I only wrote one article this year called "Scaling enterprise design structure," which describes a couple of insights into building our organization.

With the new newsletter, I also did the annual portfolio facelift. Check mjancik.com

Investments into people & stocks

Although physically, we were mostly separated, people were at the center of my life this year. I observed that who I am is defined by the people I spend time with. I moved to a new apartment which not only provides me with a much cooler home-office but is closer to all my friends in the city center.

Thanks to this move, we spent our regular weekend brunches with Misa Stetiarova, who gave me the opportunity to join the Femme Palette and start making a real impact on closing the gender gap. Not only talking about it as in last year's recap.

Doing meaningful work without having to make sacrifices because of money has been a long-term goal of mine. Therefore I decided that this year I will start more consciously investing my savings. Ending the year, the investment portfolio is at a performance of + 20%, which I consider a solid achievement. This doesn't tell me I'm a good investor; it tells, that I was probably lucky to have invested during a good period. And also that, my friend Peter Sevcik gave me a lot of good advice during our runs together.

Reading - top picks from 2020

Although I spend more time at home, I read only 17 books this year. However, all the books were memorable and impactful, and it was tough to pick specific ones that stood out.

No Rules Rules by Reed Hastings, Erin Meyer

Disclaimer: this book might make you feel as everything at your current company is somewhat flawed. It provides excellent insights into Netflix culture's details and how they achieved perks like unlimited vacations, top of the market salaries, or no budget approvals. It is essential to say that every company is different, and what works for Netflix might not be the best way for others.

Deep Work by Cal Newport

After reading this book, even the writing of this recap feels easier. Cal Newport's well-researched book on how to make a significant impact with your work is something I wished I read ten years ago. It shows how to spend less time doing operational tasks and get deeper into the profound progressive innovation. No matter what field you are in. To my surprise, I enjoyed the theoretical part the same as the practical applications.

Creative Selection by Ken Kocienda

An inside story from one of the principal designers at Apple during the golden age of Steve Jobs. Ken designed the autocorrect of the iPhone & iPad keyboard and described the story together with processes Apple used to achieve this quality level. Accompanied by Guy Shield's amazing illustrations, this book has inspired our own Kiwi.com design critiques.

Other great reads from this year: Uncanny Valley, Invisible Women, Billion Dollar Looser, Monetizing Innovation, A higher loyalty, Creativity Inc.

The daily grind

In this ever-changing landscape, one thing stayed stable—the daily running routine. I had been able to hit my 6 am run more times than before. Altogether I ran 2200KMs and did a sport in 229 days of this year. I listened to almost 3000 minutes of podcasts during that. The favorites were Pivot, The Daily, Sway, and Design Better.

What's next?

This year I marked three years at Kiwi.com and started to think that maybe it is a reasonable time for a change. It felt natural to switch context to accelerate learning. At the end of the year, I even got a great opportunity to work at another fantastic company, move abroad with a generous salary and get on a boat sailing directly towards an IPO. I thought I wanted to make the change, but something kept me thinking. I couldn't figure it out myself, so I went on a "soul searching" journey to talk transparently with people I trust. After all the talks, it hit me.

From a work perspective, I would probably never forgive myself if I left when the company faced the biggest challenge ever. Being the person who left when things were the hardest when there is still an impact to be made would hunt me. This is not me.

On the other hand, from a personal perspective, I have never had better, deeper relationships with my friends, colleagues, and family. No need to change from a personal perspective, either.

Altogether, I’m trying to say that I will continue grinding, and I genuinely hope that you, my friends, will keep inspiring me.

Edit: Reading this after writing the draft, 2020 was somewhat fun.