PUNK PM #4

The big ideas in product management, productivity and personal growth I've been contemplating this week.

YOUR PRODUCT’S BIGGEST KILLER IS APATHY

You’re not Kevin Costner. This isn’t Field Of Dreams. You’re not carving a magical baseball diamond out of a strip of corn on your Iowa farm in order to summon the ghosts of the infamous Chicago Black Sox

If you build it they won’t come. 

It may come as a surprise, but the product you’ve spent ages crafting just isn’t that interesting. Even for the people you’ve designed it to help.

It takes a huge amount of effort to get people to change.

As product managers, the biggest competitor we face is our customers’ apathy. We can deliver all the value in the world, but if it’s not enough to shift our potential users from their current way of working, then our product is doomed.

In order to stand a real chance of instigating change, then our products can’t just be marginally better than existing processes, they’ve got to be significantly better. Like Peter Thiel says in Zero to One, your product has got to provide a 10x improvement over the closest alternative if you want to get real traction.

Sahil Lavingia argues there are only two kinds of products: the ones people complain about and the ones nobody uses. While I’m not convinced that’s 100% accurate, it’s a great soundbite for measuring success. History is littered with the corpses of fantastic products that no one cared enough about to use.


WE ALL NEED A BIT OF CHAOS IN OUR LIVES

I posted a thread on Twitter this week about the problems with productivity systems like Getting Things Done:

Productivity systems that require effort to set up and implement always fall apart eventually. The reason? They’re not designed to evolve over time. I’ve wasted countless hours rebuilding and reorganising my system instead of actually getting work done.

In his epic article about setting up your smartphone to work for you instead of against you, Tony Stubblebine advocates using Evernote as a messy all-in-one note-taking and task management tool, and I agree with him. By letting structure evolve over time instead of imposing it at the start, it allows you to develop a robust approach that grows with you.

In his outstanding Productivity for Precious Snowflakes article for Ribbonfarm, Tiago Forte argues that the next age of productivity will be driven by states of mind rather than tools or context. We need to craft our own personal systems that support our changing states rather than rail against them.


THE TRANSFORMATIVE POWER OF TALKING TO YOURSELF

I’ve always wanted to keep a journal but I’ve never been particularly good at it. For all the millions of words I’ve written in blogs, articles and social media posts, my personal journal is little more than a handful of bullet-points in long-neglected Evernote notebook.

I read an article last week, though, that has convinced me to try and turn journaling into a habit. Derek Sivers’ post about the benefits of a daily diary and topic journals has some great insights into the power of journaling and self-reflection garnered from 20+ years of practice.

Here are his recommendations:

  • Keep a daily diary

  • Create journals to capture your thoughts on topics you’re interested in

  • Ask yourself questions, then question your answers

Simple, but effective. I’m definitely going to try and fold these into my daily routine.


AND FINALLY…

In the 2.5 years he worked for McDonald’s, Cody Bondarchuk put 11 chicken nuggets in nearly every 10 box he made. The world needs more heroes like this:

Thanks for reading

Toby

PUNK PM #3

The news, books, blogs, articles and social media conversations shaping my thinking this week

HOW USABLE ARE YOUR NOTES?

I’ve long been interested in note-taking and note-taking apps as a way to build an archive of knowledge. After reading a few articles from Tiago Forte on building a second brain, I’ve started to think a lot more about how I structure what I’m capturing so that it has the potential to supercharge my creativity in the future.

One really interesting approach is Niklas Luhman’s Zettelkasten which emphasises making connections between your ideas. The key to great note-taking is to make your notes as usable as possible and to easily surface them at the right point in your creative process. Done well, your second brain can become its own serendipitous stream fuelling new ideas almost on its own. Like a songwriter who picks up a guitar and feels new music flow out almost subconsciously, your aim should be to build a body of creativity that drives future creativity. As Sonke Ahrens, author of How to Take Smart Notes says:

If you do it right, these notes can be much more than just an archive of ideas. You can build up an ever-growing external memory that helps you to develop your thoughts, keeps your biases in check, streamlines your writing process, sparks new ideas and improves your learning.

I’m becoming more and more convinced that having a digital second brain is all-important when it comes to fulfilling our potential in the digital age.


BE VERY WARY OF VANITY METRICS

A conversation on the Product Management HQ Slack chat this week has got me thinking about the metrics we all use to measure engagement with our products. Like all PMs, I want people to use my product and I’ve probably been guilty of tracking metrics like DAU and MAU that have given a skewed impression about how much my users really care.

The recent scandal over Facebook’s inflated video views has brought engagement metrics into sharp focus. If Facebook are happy to fool themselves over product engagement in order to pull in more advertisers, then we’re all at risk of succumbing to the same thing.

The metrics you track shouldn’t just be polished numbers to stop your C-suite and investors asking difficult questions; they should be authentic representations of the success (or otherwise) of your product. If the numbers you’re tracking make you feel uncomfortable, then do something about it—don’t use it as an excuse to start tracking something that makes you feel better.

I published an article on Medium a while ago about the kinds of metrics you should be tracking for your product’s KPI dashboard which I think still rings true. Quick Sprout CEO Lars Lofgren has a much better take on it, though, with this article on the metrics you ought to be tracking at each stage of your startup’s journey. At its most simplistic, though, if you’re masking your lack of product-market fit with vanity engagement numbers then you’re going down.


THE IMPORTANCE OF DIVERSIFYING YOUR INFLUENCES

Visakan Veerasamy posted a reply on Twitter that really struck a chord with me this week:

I’ve been thinking a lot about how I use social media and other channels to expand my knowledge and I’m trying to make it as diverse as possible. Used in the right way, Twitter is the most powerful platform for creative compounding there is. If we’re not careful, though, it has the potential to turn into little more than an echo chamber.

As Yancey Strickler comments in this exceptional article on the dark forest theory of the internet, we’re all building our own “online bowling alleys” of people we think are interesting. The goal, then, is to build your bowling alley in a way that includes as diverse a group of people as possible. Do that, and you’ve got a genuine opportunity to supercharge your own OODA Loop through the interactions you have online.


AND FINALLY…

I’ve just signed up for Spotify Family for my wife and I and now have a Family Mix playlist in my library that recommends music we’ll both like. Our tastes are pretty similar (we fell in love over our shared love for bands like Ride and The Creation), but the whole concept has got me thinking about how we find new music in the streaming age.

When I was at school, I discovered new music by swapping C90s with my friends and buying CDs by bands I’d never heard of because I liked the cover. Algorithms have made discovery ridiculously easy, but they’re stripping the fun and excitement out of it. Anyone else up for a bit of crate-digging?

Thanks for reading,

Toby

PUNK PM #2

The news, books, blogs, articles and social media conversations shaping my thinking this week

HOW FAST ARE YOUR IDEAS?

Social media isn’t just a place to argue about politics and share cute cat memes. It has huge potential for unlocking human creativity. By putting ideas out in public early via social media, creators have the ability to get feedback faster than they ever have before.

Brett Bivens talks about “creative compounding” where knowledge is accelerated through technology so that it grows and matures into novel forms. His example is high school basketball players slam dunking at a level that would only have been seen in the NBA a couple of decades ago. How have they achieved it? By watching videos on YouTube and Instagram.

In the future, what will set the best knowledge workers apart will be their ability to leverage their online networks to supercharge the way they iterate on their ideas. By expanding on Tiago Forte’s concept of bending the curves of productivity and getting intermediate packets out into the open (through shared notes, Twitter threads, Reddit posts, blogs) they’ll be able to vastly accelerate how they deliver value. Those that don’t will be left behind.


ALGORITHMS ARE CHANGING THE WAY WE THINK

Bobby Goodlatte posted a reply on Twitter about how the media we consume is now defined by algorithms that promote outrage and extremism in pursuit of engagement. Linking it to Marshall McLuhan’s legendary “the medium is the message” concept, it suggests that our worldview is being shaped by the algorithms that serve us content, not necessarily the channels that are serving them.

It’s an idea that’s backed up by this article from Buzzfeed that argues algorithmic social media has broken our sense of time. It’s thought-provoking stuff. As a media and cultural studies graduate, I’m deeply interested in the impact of social media on culture. There are some pretty weird things happening at the moment and it’s not all Mark Zuckerberg’s fault.


WE(DON’T)WORK

One of the biggest pieces of tech news from the last few weeks has been WeWork’s spectacular crash in the wake of their failed IPO. Some of the insider stories that have appeared are starting to make WeWork look like the Fyre Festival of tech unicorns. What’s particularly interesting, though, is how a culture of huge investment in unprofitable businesses with supposedly visionary founders has led to this point. Lesson learned? Never trust a CFO who wears a Hawaiian shirt.


AND FINALLY…

Continuing on the Nirvana theme from last week, Kurt Cobain’s cardigan from the band’s iconic MTV Unplugged concert just sold at auction for a staggering $334,000. Gifted to Kurt and Courtney’s nanny after Cobain’s suicide, it’s now the most expensive sweater ever sold. Mind-blowing.

Yesterday was Halloween, so here’s an article about the origins of the iconic Michael Myers mask from John Carpenter’s original 1978 movie.

Thanks for reading,

Toby

PUNK PM #1

The news, books, blogs, articles and social media conversations shaping my thinking this week

WHAT YOU CHOOSE TO CELEBRATE SAYS A LOT

When I was working for a major utilities company, an email landed in my inbox from the Managing Director celebrating the successful launch of a brand new internal billing system. In reality, it was the culmination of a five-year, £500m Waterfall software delivery project that had run out of steam.

What limped over the line was a product based on requirements that were half a decade old, weren't fit for purpose, and had barely undergone any user acceptance testing at all. But rather than admit failure, the leadership team decided to celebrate it as a huge success, much to the chagrin of everyone involved.

What organisations choose to celebrate says a huge amount about their culture and outlook. Here’s a great Twitter thread full of horror stories like CEOs popping the champagne when deadlines are hit, regardless of whether they’ve got working software or not.


IS BEING INDISTRACTABLE A SUPER POWER?

This week I started reading Nir Eyal’s new book, Indistractable, and it’s already given me a heap of ideas to put into practice to help me stay focused. The top takeaway so far? Being able to manage our attention is going to be one of the most important skills for knowledge workers in the future.

As a child, I was diagnosed with attention deficit issues and I’ve been fighting a lifelong battle against distraction. While a limited attention span and ability to hyper-focus on topics I’m interested in has actually helped me professionally, I’ve had to work hard to put the structures and processes in place to prevent me falling down a Wikipedia wormhole when I’m supposed to be working.

What’s refreshing about Nir’s approach is it doesn’t follow the popular trend of advising people to ditch their smartphones and start living like digital hermits. Instead, it offers practical tips for making technology work for us, not against us. This post on Nir’s blog provides an excellent overview of what the book is all about. His recent interview on Mike Vardy’s Productivityist podcast is also well worth a listen.


FREQUENT USE APPS ARE FALLING OUT OF FAVOUR

Following on nicely from the idea of becoming indistractable, a16z partner Andrew Chen published an insightful Twitter thread about the kinds of consumer apps that are ruling the market right now. What’s really interesting is the shift from frequent usage to episodic usage apps. The reason? Maybe we’re all getting wise to the way comms, social and entertainment apps are hacking our attention.

The next wave of successful consumer apps is going to be dominated by those whose focus is helping us live healthier lives, not turning eyeballs into advertising dollars. Today’s digital natives instinctively understand the hook model and aren’t going to accept having their time stolen by the likes of Facebook, it seems.


IS MARK ZUCKERBERG COMPUTER GENERATED?

On the subject of Facebook, CEO Mark Zuckerberg has come under a ton of fire this week in the wake of his free speech speech and a brutal interrogation by Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez. The funniest, though, is this tweet comparing him to the CGI characters in The Polar Express. You’ve got to feel a little bit sorry for him, haven’t you?


AND FINALLY…

In 1991, Nirvana were in the middle of their transformation from punky Washington State indie-rockers into one of the most influential bands of all time. This original NME cover story by Mary Anne Hobbs that popped up on my Twitter feed yesterday is an extraordinary glimpse into the moment when everything changed.

Also, it’s worth remembering that greatness doesn’t need to be complicated. Check out this extraordinary video of harmonica player Sonny Terry performing “Crazy About You, Baby” back in 1958. Cool.

Thanks for reading,

Toby

ABOUT ME

My name's Toby Rogers, I'm a Product Manager passionate about helping socially responsible organisations build innovative tech products.

I want to prove you don't have to have a Silicon Valley background and a resume that includes giants like Facebook, Google and Amazon to create world-beating software.

Even without the luxury of bottomless VC funding, entrepreneurs and product managers can disrupt the status quo with great ideas (if they go about it the right way).

I've learned how to be a product manager by doing. I've made a ton of mistakes and I want to help others make sure they don't make the same ones.

A passionate music fan, I used to freelance as a music journalist until I realised I’d never pay the mortgage with free CDs and gig tickets. I love horror movies and am still trying to build my definitive collection of video nasties, Italian schlockers and slasher films.

I’ve been writing for the web since the early days of Blogger with posts about music, movies, productivity, customer experience, leadership, business strategy and entrepreneurship (and probably any other topic you can think of).

I’m rapidly hurtling towards middle age but still stand at the front at gigs. I won’t turn into the bald fat man in the red BMW convertible.

PUNK.PM is my weekly newsletter where I share and comment on the books, blogs, articles, videos and social media conversations shaping my thinking on product management, productivity, personal growth and more. I hope you’ll enjoy it.

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