2015 in Review

I read my 2014 in Review as I was writing this one. I laughed at the opening. Despite my insistence that I’d prioritize more in 2015, it didn’t happen. It was another very full year, for both large and small things. I finally met someone solely because of their Olin ring! I got sicker than I’d ever been before (ugh). We got engaged. Gutenberg continued to be an excellent household member. I’m going to newly resolve to focus better in 2016. I even rearranged my phone’s home screen to focus on that goal.


When 2015 began, I was still at HBS. I covered that pretty thoroughly as the year happened. Here’s the summary of what I learned throughout the year, and my round up of ways I think that HBS will change.

HBS wasn’t just about class. These three activities I did outside of class contained lessons that still stand out:

  1. Startup Lockdown. We went through the process of starting five companies in five days. I learned a lot about my work process that I’d never questioned before. I think the biggest thing is — no matter how long you’ve been working a certain way, that doesn’t make it right.
  2. Google ATAP Visit. Regina Dugan visited HBS from Google ATAP. I was fortunate to attend her talk and a small dinner after. She had an uncanny ability to hear what I meant, rather than what I said. It was a next-level version of “always take the most respectful interpretation” which I learned from Bill Stauber at Microsoft. Since then, I’ve been trying to cultivate that skill. Listen to what people want to be saying, not what they do say.
  3. FIELD3 Presentation. I got the change to speak on stage to pitch our entrepreneurial project to all 900 RCs (photo!) My presentation contained an unintended joke, and I had no idea how to respond when the audience started laughing. Living through 900 people laughing at you really kills the public speaking jitters.


Working on Lola was a huge part of my year. I started as an intern doing research for Paul in April. That research evolved into pieces of our new travel company. Now I’m leading the Product team. Though this was one of the biggest parts of my year, it’s still ongoing and thus difficult to reflect on. Maybe next year there will be more to say.

A cool side part of this is that I went to Travel Agent School and now I’m a certified travel agent.


I got to take a few cool trips this year. I started out in Jakarta, working with a cereal company on a project for HBS. After that, I headed to Cambodia and Angkor Zen to do yoga. I happened to arrive on the same flight as another solo traveler, so we explored temples together. I also had the chance to go to Iceland with my parents for my birthday, France with my entire family over the summer, and Quebec City for the second iteration of Design Play.


I wrote a little less this year. A total of 38 pieces: 32 for the blog, 2 for Medium (cross posted to Business Insider), and a few interviews. I’ve also started writing for Aha! (on feature creep) and will continue to do so next year.

My HBS summary piece was my most-read (ever). While the title is clickbait-y, I think it has a lot of substance and I am proud that people found it as useful as they did. I re-learned to never read the comments. That said, I’m most proud of the piece on how HBS will change by the time I return.

Speaking & Teaching

The most notable thing this year was the end-to-end class I taught at Olin. I also just filmed a class version of the blog post I was most proud of last year for Skillshare (that will open next week). I taught a PM Bootcamp at General Assembly throughout the year and evolved the course, but have decided to stop doing that in order to have more focus.

I gave a talk I was proud of on checklists (but haven’t shared yet!) at Industry Summit in Cleveland. I plan to attend the conference next year — join me?

Next year I’d like to do more speaking. Have an event that might be a great fit? Let me know — ellen.chisa@gmail.com.


I read 144 books this year. The full list is on my Goodreads (with every book I’ve read since 2009). This year was much more gender balanced — 79 by women (55%) and 65 by men (45%). Once again, the balance came out almost dead even between fiction and not — 49% fiction, 51% nonfiction.

I always have a hard time deciding what to share as highlights. This year I’m defining it as “the books I couldn’t want to go back and finish.”


  • The Signature of All Things — Elizabeth Gilbert — most people read Gilbert’s nonfiction work, Big Magic, this year. I read both, and while I wasn’t a fan of Big Magic, I loved the Signature of All Things. I was happy to see she loved it as well (which I found out by reading Big Magic). It was a wonderful adventure throughout Polynesia.
  • The Martian — Andy Weir — This was my “Ready Player One” of this year. I was always on the edge of what the next engineering challenge would be.
  • A few others I enjoyed: Aleph (Coelho), Americanah (Adichie), The Knockoff (Sykes and Piazza), Dietland (Walker) and Kitchens of the Great Midwest (Stradal).
  • A guilty pleasure was the Cheese Shop Mysteries (Aames) if you’re into the genre of mostly-single-middle-aged-woman-who-owns-a-specialty-store-in-a-small-town-and-then-turns-into-a-detective. (Yes, this is a genre, that I read regularly. So does my Aunt, and my Grandma. It’s the best.)


  • Crossing the Chasm — Geoffrey Moore — I have to echo my trend of “finally” reading classics and then loving them. This year, this was it. The book was not at all what I was expecting, but I found myself frantically reading it on a bus in Iceland.
  • The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up — Marie Kondo — I know everyone loved this, but I did too.
  • American Icon: Alan Mulally and the Fight to Save Ford Motor Company — Bryce Hoffman — I grew up in Detroit, and all the newspapers were about the car companies. The boom/bust oil and American auto cycle was a big part of my environment. I really enjoyed hearing a story about how an industry can go wrong (and how to fix it).
  • A couple others: Ascent of Money (Ferguson) and The Feminine Mystique (Friedan) — highly recommend pairing with watching Mad Men.


By coincidence, I read 20 memoirs this year. I just realized that I’d done this, and I’m not sure why. Since it was 13.8% of my reading, I wanted to call out a few separately.

  • The Year of Magical Thinking — Joan Didion — Again, I prefer a classic. I can’t place exactly what’s so good about the style. I’m sure someone more literary could. I loved reading this.
  • M Train and Just Kids — Patti Smith — I’m grouping these together because I like to read things in a row. I did the same with Ann Patchett and Lucy Grealy last year.
  • Between the World and Me — Ta-Nehisi Coates — Again, everyone called this out this year. I don’t think I have much to add to the dialog surrounding it, but I do recommend reading it.
  • A couple others I’d recommend: Year of Yes (Rhimes), Just Mercy (Stevenson), Girl in Glass (Fei), Her (Parravani), The Empathy Exams (Jamison). I’d recommend Wild (Strayed), too, but that technically got in under the wire in December 2014.


I also want to call out some of the things I didn’t get done this year. I mentioned last year that we were in the preliminary stages with Wallace (an app for cheese enthusiasts) — we still haven’t finished, hopefully soon. We also toyed with the idea of a cocktail blog, but we didn’t do that this year either. We’re the worst wedding planners ever. Maybe this year.

Here’s to 2016.