Product leaders -- understanding customers is still a top priority

It's now somewhat common best practice (inconsistently practiced though) for Product Managers to talk to customers regularly. The reasoning is pretty straightforward - if you aren't really understanding what customers need, then how can you successfully prioritize what to build and build it well?

But product leaders (PM Manager) can feel a push away from talking to customers directly as they take on more team management and strategy tasks (based on my true story). I'd posit that's going to hurt your effectiveness, especially if you are new to the domain or company. How are you going to set or vet the right team strategy, provide feedback, or take bold bets/changes if you aren't familiar with customers? How can you stop falling for availability bias (over-index on a limited set of user insights presented to you to develop an incorrect or incomplete model)? How are you going to stay connected to the ground reality of customer experience vs what's visible to you through your team? How can you maintain enough empathy to drive yourself and your team to make things better?

You can't fully rely on metrics, broad market research, or secondary/tertiary hand downs of user research. Those are all necessary and helpful - you can triangulate from various signals. But I'd say it isn't sufficient -- you still need first-hand customer conversations. 

Some helpful tactics: 

  • Request one of the product managers or user researchers on the team to organize a weekly customer call that you, PMs on your team, UX/Engineers, and other stakeholders can listen in on. 
  • Schedule a weekly time slot to review or participate in customer forums and/or look at reviews and support tickets. I like to join relevant subreddits, for example. 
  • Pay attention to user research from your team and other teams; ask clarifying questions and point out if there are flawed or missing methods or insights. Ask for it if there isn't sufficient research (both broad and feature level) that's being done. 

Paying attention, listening, and caring

I was upset and having a particularly rough day. We were meeting a few of our close friends couples that day. Not wanting to be a downer (and likely to avoid being judged), I covered it up and put on my regular act. But I couldn’t fully hide it towards the end of the day. One of my friends noticed something was off and when we had a moment, he asked me if I was okay and even texted me later that day. I felt loved and supported, and it helped. 


People around you may be silently suffering. If you want to help, you can’t expect them to express an ask…you have to pay attention, listen closely to pick cues, and care and act thoughtfully. And that can make a big difference. 

Wrong goals and targets can be damaging to early-stage product teams and personal hobbies

I was tasked with starting a "big bets" team at a startup I was working on. The goal of the team was loosely defined as to achieve step-level improvements -- either in the core job-to-be-done or through new job-to-be-dones. 

I was previously leading growth for the core product and I set this team's key performance indicator (KPI) or key result (KR in OKR) similarly -- X monthly active users. 

And that was a mistake. 

Done right, a KPI is a measure of the most important thing, provides directional guidance, and is a measure of progress. A wrong KPI can be useless, misleading, and demotivating. 

For a new product area, the most important thing is to identify the problem space to play in and to achieve product-market fit. The goal of X monthly active users is a step removed from that (and a very big step). It didn't provide us directional guidance. It didn't provide a measure of progress to either the team or the execs. It felt pretty demotivating to declare failure against that measure every quarter. Yes, eventually what we build would need engaged users and revenue, but that's pretty obvious and therefore unhelpful as a KPI at that stage. 

KPIs for early-stage products are a bit mushier. I'd prefer a checklist of inputs and KRs around making progress on it, rather than numerical measures. For example: 

  • Have we aligned with the team and execs on the approach, timeline, KPIs, and a way to check in on progress?
  • Have we identified and understood promising problem areas?
  • Have we developed confidence in the problem areas?
  • Have we identified and prototyped solutions?
  • Do prototypes show promise?
  • Are we ready to double down now or should we explore further? 

Rahul Vora, co-founder of Superhuman, has shared one of the most robust frameworks for getting to and measuring product-market fit. You may be able to define KRs and outcomes using that framework (score of X for "how would you feel if you could no longer use the product" for a segment Y, with sufficient TAM)

Some teams and execs feel compelled to use numerical goals and sometimes fall back to measuring inputs like the number of prototype iterations or user interviews, but you have to be very careful with those as that can direct people to do busy, but ineffective work. Classic Goodhart's law -- when a measure becomes a target, it ceases to be useful. Bad measures, especially with early-stage teams, can be damaging. 

It's also hard to commit to a specific timeline for outcomes as the timeline to product-market fit is unpredictable and can sometimes take years, even with the most capable team. But you can have timelines around inputs, as long as you keep it short-term and agile.

So if you are an exec/manager, you are largely relying on your PM and team to do their best attempt, without much visibility or measure on progress. So you'll have to give this responsibility to a trusted, capable, and innately motivated team that can communicate well. You'll have to reward them based on the quality of inputs, rather than on business outcome or impact as these are high-risk bets. 

I think this philosophy applies to personal life too. When you are starting on a new routine or hobby, say exercise, people often rush to set a goal to exercise X days of doing Y a week. They often fail at it, feel guilty or defeated, and give up. Instead, your initial goal should be to find routine<>person fit first by exploring and iterating before you decide to operationalize and scale the routine. 

Talking to your parts and pasts

I may have stumbled onto a life-changing practice on Twitter yesterday. I have only practiced it a couple of times so far and I feel a dramatic effect on happiness and equanimity each time. 

Whenever a life-changing practice works out, it...well, changes your life. So well worth trying out strong recommendations. 

Here's how it starts: 

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I'm so glad that Visa actually caught the casual mention and asks Nick for a demonstration (I'd probably have simply brushed through the tweet, so this is a good lesson in paying attention and being curious). Nick shares a live stream of self-talk as an example - 

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You can see that Nick has a few different kinds of talks with his parts and pasts in this example:

  1. Check-in talks: How is every part feeling and doing, is anything disturbed or joyful.
  2. Reflection / looking ahead talks: What do we think about what happened or is going to happen. 
  3. Past self talk: Talk to a past self about something memorable - good or bad, and show compassion and heal from that experience.  
  4. Casual chats: No particular agenda. Just talk about whatever is on your mind. 

The practice seems almost cuckoo! Basically, instead of thinking of yourself as one thing, you think of yourself as multiple different parts and pasts. Each is alive and has its own feelings. You are their attentive, caring, and compassionate leader. And you regularly acknowledge their presence, their feelings, and talk with them. 

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Visa gets it and highlights how powerful this is to increase baseline happiness: 

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After trying it out, I agree that this practice is very powerful for a few reasons.

  1. It gets you to regularly and systematically check in with yourself. Meditation practices like body scans do something similar. This leads to more presence, self-awareness, and resolution of internal conflicts. 
  2. The conversation style and humanization are more engaging. fun, and compassionate, compared to meditation practices.
  3. You show love, compassion, and care to all your parts and your pasts, which helps you heal and feel better. 
  4. I think the attention, love, and compassion to different parts and pasts of you translates to compassion and care towards other people, beings, and things. It takes you towards the high state of "awakening" where ego dissolves and you become everything.
  5. Conscious and deliberate self-talk takes time away from subconscious self-talk, which is usually less uplifting or beneficial. 
  6. Being conscious more often is the same as being present more often, which is effective for clarity and happiness. 

Such a lovely and insightful exchange on the Internet! 


Notes: 

[1] I'm learning that this is similar to a therapy approach - Internal Family Systems or IFS

[2] Naming and humanizing pets and things have a similar effect. Nameless, faceless people or things get less of our attention and compassion. 

I read only one book in a year and it was great

It's the start of a new year - a wonderful and optimistic time where we start off with a clean slate, lots of hope, goals, and resolutions. The general practice is to set lofty goals to read 25 books, pursue 3 hobbies, travel to 5 places, etc. My story below might make you consider an alternate approach of aiming to do less. 


I think I read only one book in 2019. It wasn't even a big book. It was ~100 pages on the Buddhist Eightfold path. 

The book had 8 key chapters and each chapter had 4 activities. I was reading this as a part of the program organized by Insights Meditation center. We read one chapter a month, then met for a group session, and practiced one activity per week, before moving to the next chapter. 

The group sessions were usually 1-2 hours long. The experts leading the program would give an hour talk explaining the summary and nuances of the topic covered in the chapter. We'd break out into small groups a few times to share our opinions and experiences on some pertinent questions. There were a couple of  Q&A segments. 

Every session always revealed a lot more depth than what I gathered from my reading of the chapter, offered real-world examples and practical tips, and resolved any lingering questions or doubts that I had. They made me understand more, think more, and be even more rigorous in exploring the next chapters. 

The weekly homework activities were hard to do consistently. But the half I did, helped me integrate the theory into my daily life and understand them even better. 

It's been 2 years and I still remember, practice, and benefit from many of the topics in the book. I continue to brush up on the chapters and practices every few months (Some people in the class were repeating for the 2nd or 3rd year). I can't say that for most books I have read quickly or express courses that I have completed in a week or month.  

Reading -> Insight -> Practice -> Insight -> Repetition -> Integration

Think of how you studied books and courses when you were in school or college. You had a teacher explain and walk through every chapter, you had multiple class discussions, projects and problem sets to practice the theory, chapter, and final tests as a forcing function to study and practice and to assess yourself and expose gaps. It takes a lot of exploration to understand a topic. 

It takes regular and deliberate practice to apply and integrate them into your life. It takes a lot of repetition for them to stick.  

But suddenly when we graduate from school, we expect that our brains can do magic. We read multiple books, 10-minute books summaries, tweets, watch quick Youtube videos, complete quick courses, pursue multiple different hobbies and goals. We go through life, relationships, activities, books, and jobs very quickly, shallowly, narrowly. Then we expect to master multiple topics and transform ourselves in different ways, very quickly and without as much effort. How we wish! How can that even work! We just end up setting ourselves up to be busy, anxious, guilty, and less effective.

Lex Fridman, a popular scientist and podcaster, lays out this framework for learning any new skill
  • Foundations - 2 hours of daily practice for 1 year
  • Expertise - 1 hour of daily practice for 5 years. Set a minimum time every day. 
  • Second nature - After 5 years, you can take time off and still return to it easily. 
I'd propose that you experience a lot more joy, success, and less stress when you do a few things, slowly, deliberately, and deeply. Things flourish when you invest time, effort, and focus. 

Notes

[1] I do think there is value, serendipity, and joy in exploration and dipping your feet quickly in multiple different things. But they are unlikely to result in deep mastery or a transformation. 

[2] Fiction books are somewhat different from non-fiction. They are entertainment and you can read them more quickly. But even fiction books and movies can be savored more if read and enjoyed slowly. 

[3] Multiple and quick iterations within the same topic or activity can be good. They help you go deeper and offer a quicker and more fun feedback loop to help you learn better. You may have heard about the study on how students who were tasked with making as many pots as possible made better pots than students who were tasked with making one perfect pot. 


Inner work

December is the reflective time of the year. During December 2020, I spent 3 days in this beautiful cabin, scribbling down a lot of thoughts - old and new - that eventually became this post. During breaks, I indulged in short walks and drives around the beautiful Olympic National Park, studied a Buddhist book on the Eightfold path and the Almanac of Naval Ravikant. I have hugely benefited from this "inner work" that's helped me understand my existence and what I want to do with it. That elaborate exercise, weekly check-ins, and the resulting clarity have kept me grounded and led me to make some bold and positive changes over this year. 

Inner work sounds like a suspect Indian guru term, but I think it’s quite apt. It is "work" because it takes systematic effort and the subject of the work is largely your mind. 

Beliefs, habits, needs, environment, triggers -> Thoughts and actions -> Feelings and outcomes. 

We have all developed thought patterns, beliefs, and other underlying conditions, mostly unconsciously,  throughout our lives. If we want to understand and fix what we do and how we feel, we need to dig deeper to understand the inner layers. Naval Ravikant refers to this as running your brain in a "debug" mode, a software development practice to execute your program line by line and observe the changes.

Inner work takes multiple and regular long blocks of free time and solitude. It takes deliberate practice, curiosity, a clear mind, an understanding of general psychology, and sometimes guidance. As with most things, the initial answers are often not right or interesting. You have to keep pressure testing them and peeling the onion to get to the core beliefs. Meditation, journaling, blogging, discussing, reading about different perspectives, therapy, and guided psychedelics are some techniques that can help with this work. Inner work is not one and done. Layers of dust always form again and you have to regularly tidy up.  

Once you become familiar with your underlying beliefs, you can try to change them or live them fully. But that is a whole other process that requires ongoing reflection, drive, and regular, small, and progressive steps. 

I highly recommend this life-changing practice. 

Nurturing passions

Passions are activities that bring us joy and can be sustained over a long time. We feel joyful doing these activities because they get us into a "flow state" or "in the zone", where you are fully absorbed, chugging away almost effortlessly. You get there when you achieve a balance between the level of challenge and ability that lets you perform without interruptions and produce desirable results, which in turn motivate you and provide you resources to do more of the activity and improve your ability. 

People who have and pursue passions live more fulfilled, exciting, and joyful lives, which is why it's worthwhile to nurture a few different passions. I say nurture and not just "find" because we don't develop passions by default - we aren't born with them and we don't simply find them. I say nurture a few passions and not just one because it's good to diversify for variety and just in case you lose the ability or interest to pursue some passions. 

There are two main requirements for developing a passion. The first is picking an activity that has the potential to become a passion. And the second is getting over the beginner's hump. 

Picking an activity is important because not all activities have the same potential to become passions. Some activities may have a low flow state as they need a large team, coordination, or a lot of interruptions. Some activities may not have higher states of challenge or rewards. Some activities are more suitable for your physical and mental aptitude, environment, resources, and preferences. Creating (art, music, programming, writing, etc.) and sports seem like the most common domains of flow-full activities.

When you start out on a new activity, you are challenged by the beginner's hump. Your ability is low - your activity is constantly interrupted by needing to look up instructions, get help, tune your tools, make corrections, etc. The substance and quality of your results are also not inspiring enough to keep you going. You may hit similar plateaus and humps at later stages. Deep curiosity or desire, perseverance, good coaches, and peers can help you get over these humps. 

When you find an activity that has passion potential and get over the beginner's hump, congratulations - you have given yourself a wonderful gift of a lifetime of joyful flow states!

Human Body is like a Company

It struck me today that there are many similarities between a human body and a company. Similarities and metaphors are useful because you can extrapolate the understanding of one system, usually a simpler or more understood one, to another. 

The mind (or conscious brain) is like the CEO and executive team. The brain is like middle management. The organs are like various departments. 

The mind, like the CEO, makes infrequent (still multiple times an hour) but consequential judgment decisions, the brain makes more frequent but more habitual calls, and the organs, are like various departments, do routine functions with occasional fire fighting. The vascular and nervous systems help distribute messages and resources. 

The mind, like a CEO, is important but not all-powerful. The mind doesn't have visibility or direct control over the organs (like how much insulin the pancreas is secreting). It largely relies on the brain and organs to function independently and reliably on a day-to-day basis.  Without clarity and regular examinations, the mind may not discover problems until it's too late. The brain, like the middle management, needs coaching and rewards from the mind to establish good routines. The organs rely on the mind and brain to solve larger problems like poor environment, stress, or nutrition, and to keep them coordinated, safe, and well-nourished. Problems in one area usually spill over to problems in other areas, causing a vicious cycle of decline. 

Just like a company needs healthy win-win relationships with an ecosystem of customers, partners, and investors, the body needs a nourishing environment and relationships. 

A healthy body, like a healthy company, is where the mind, brain, and organs are all healthy and working well together and with their environments. 


Start with Why, Then What, Then How

This is one piece of wisdom that's nearly universally relevant for everything we do - personal or professional - but is so often forgotten and worth repeating often. 

Start with Why

What's the goal or problem? Why does it matter? Is it actually important?

This is the foundational step that determines the success of anything we do but is so often missed or glanced over. We get into execution details before understanding why; we get swayed by what others are saying or doing; we continue doing things out of habit, even though they are ineffective or irrelevant. Projects often become chaotic, fail or lose steam during execution because the why isn't clear or important

It's very important to clearly understand, believe in, and align on with stakeholders. One of Amazon's core principles is to "Work Backwards"; i.e. define success and even write up the future press release, and then work backward from that. Clarity on why and where you are going gives you clarity, helps you make decisions through the project, energizes and aligns the team. 

If it's a personal decision, think about what matters to you in life and what kind of life you want. If it's a business decision, think about what's really important to the company and customers now and in the long term. 

Then What

What needs to happen to achieve the outcome? What are the checkboxes and levers to fulfill? What's the 20% that will lead to 80% of outcomes?

This step requires some thoughtful research and prioritization - first deconstruct the problem to deeply understand all the things that matter and then select the ones that matter the most. 

Then How

What's the best way to get to the "whats"? What are the different approaches and pros/cons of each? What is the roadmap, milestones, timelines, owners? How do we keep track and stay in sync?

Oftentimes, alternatives aren't explored, plans aren't detailed enough, or the process isn't well thought out. 

3 crystal balls

Imagine if someone gave you 3 crystal balls and said your life depends on them. If they get dirty or cracked, your life suffers. If they break, your life ends. If they are spotless and well kept, your life will be a joy. 

Now imagine how much you'd care for them. You'd keep them in a safe place, polish and shine them, examine them every day for any damage, and never let anything or anyone harm them. 

It makes life simple, doesn't it? Just take care of 3 crystal balls and all is good! 

I'm now going to give you those 3 crystal balls that determine the quality of your life. 

I can hear some of you groan, "Ah not this mind body spirit hocus pocus again!" or "I already knew that. My grandma told me this." To you all, I say, most of the precious life wisdom is actually simple and know for ages (see Lindy effect). We know them, but we simply don't follow them and chase after the latest trend. Repetition and clarity don't spoil the prayer. So let's dive into why and how we take care of these 3 crystal balls. 

Crystal Ball 1 - Mind

What you call "you" in your mind and what you call life or "reality" is all perceived and created in the mind. Every experience you have is through your mind; therefore the quality of your mind shapes the quality of your life. Think back to when you were sleep-deprived, stressed, or depressed. I'm guessing you didn't have a good life experience during those times. And if you aren't fully present, are you even alive in those moments? 

Crystal Ball 2 - Body

Our mind is inextricably attached to our body. There are nerve signals, hormones, blood, nutrients, and all sort of other things that are constantly exchanged between the mind and the body. Think of the times you were sick, in pain, or exhausted. The health of your body plays a huge role in the quality of your life experience. 

Crystal Ball 3 - Spirit

Spirit is a fluffy term. I define Spirit as what makes life worth living and what makes it worth taking care of the other crystal balls. It's the excitement, love, joy, and purpose that you feel. Think of the times when you felt directionless, demotivated, bored, or stuck. 

These crystals are tightly related and connected!

Your clarity of mind, peace, and joy determines how you take care of your body and fuel your spirits. Your body's health and energy influences your mind and spirit. Your spirit gives you the motivation for a better mind and body. 

Each one improves the other two. But they can also drag each other down in a vicious cycle and you feel like you are in a rut. If that happens, the ball to start is with your body - just start moving every day and the rest will follow. 

Caring for the crystal balls

There's a lot that has been discovered and shared about taking care of these crystal balls. My main advice is to keep it really simple and practicing them regularly. Here are some simple crystal ball care techniques that work well for me: 

  • Attitude: Deep understanding and regular affirmation of the inherent meaninglessness of life and what really matters to you; integrity between what you believe, think, and do; curiosity, optimism, excitement, playfulness; growth mindset. Catching and avoiding stress, judgment, negative talk or thought, or obsession.
  • Routines: Good sleep, exercise, alone thinking time or therapy, time in nature, self-care routines, pleasures and hobbies, vacations, taking care of chores. 
  • Activity: Doing things I enjoy and am excited about, challenging and rewarding pursuits, learning, not overcommitting, being effective in planning and doing stuff. 
  • Community: Company of supportive and joyful well-wishers; caring for others and helping. 
I have written about these in more detail in my other post "Mostly peaceful, often joyful, sometimes upset".

Some insights on team work and decision-making from a game of Codenames

I was playing a few games of Codenames with some colleagues. For those who aren't familiar, Codenames is a game where the "spymaster" can give one clue word that can help their "operatives" guess a bunch of team words (say, blue) while avoiding a bunch of opponent team's words (say, red). It's a wonderful team game that is fun and strategic. 

I was the spymaster in one of the games, meaning I could see all the team words and the opponent team's words and I had to give clues to my team of 5 to make them guess my team's words. It gave me a unique vantage point to observe team discussions, dynamics, and decision-making while knowing the right answer. 

I said "Greece" to hint at "Atlantis" and "State" (not the best clue!). I felt good when a teammate immediately suggested Atlantis and State to the rest of the team. But another teammate more strongly proposed "War" and that Greece is a country and not a state. There was some discussion, then ultimately a vote, War was confidently chosen, and we lost the game. 

1.  Quality of decision-making is separate from the quality of the outcome. You may get an answer right, but only because you lucked out with the wrong process, and vice-versa. Getting it wrong upfront helps as it forces us to examine the quality of decision-making. 

2. Acknowledge that many decisions, by default, are likely to be wrong. Even more true for group decisions as they are subject to group-think and several other biases and flaws. You have to deliberately be rational and rely on logic and data. Think critically and double-check the rationale before pulling the trigger. 

3. Don't get tied to the options you proposed.  The goal is to get to the best option, not your option. Pay attention to what your teammates say, especially the ones who are thoughtful but gentle as their opinions usually get drowned otherwise. 

4. You won't get it right always, but if you optimize for learning and adapting both your decision-making process and knowledge of the domain, you'll get better over time. Codenames is a "kind learning environment", meaning there's an immediate feedback loop that can evaluate the quality of the decisions and the players, and then improve. But most actual business work, by default, is not. Unless you set up experiments or try different hypotheses, you may never learn. 

5. Think several steps ahead, and maybe work backward from the end. As a spymaster, you want to pair the hard to pair words upfront when there are lot more options. You may want to wait on the ambiguous words until the end, as they may become easier when more words are cleared.  

6. Consider all the factors, or as President Bartlet says is West Wing, "Look at the entire board". As a spymaster, you may give a clue that seems right to you, but your teammates may have a different perspective, or there may be an opponent team word that matches the clue better. 

PSA: Social media does NOT represent reality

The majority of us get our news and along with it, our world view, morality, opinions, and daily furies, from scrolling the social feeds across Twitter, Youtube, Facebook, Instagram, Tiktok, Google, and others. Given the amount of exposure, we think media reflects reality. I'm convinced that is absolutely not true. 

There were a couple of recent stories that made me realize how lopsided and low-quality social media is. 

Recently, Eric Adams got nominated for mayor of New York City. If you are on Twitter, you may have not even heard of him because of his nearly absent social media presence and measly sub-100K following. You'd have assumed that Andrew Yang, who ended up fourth in the election with just a fraction of the votes, is going to be the obvious nominee because of the #yanggang fame with 2M fervent followers. 

Another recent study revealed that just 12 people were responsible for the majority of COVID-19 vaccine-related misinformation!

If you are looking to get a balanced and complete picture of the world, social media is not where you will get it. This happens for several reasons, including: 

1. Not all people's views are expressed on social media. Only a portion of the world is on social media and in most user-generated content platforms, <10% of active users actually post content. Most are passive consumers. Some people are overexpressed as they use armies of bots, skilled agencies, paid promotions, or networks to spread their views. 

2. Not all views are equally amplified on social media. There's usually a steep power-law distribution where the top few % of viewed posts get most of the views and there's a long tail of posts that are hardly seen. Social media companies determine what gets amplified with algorithms that optimize for engagement or time spent, as they contribute most with ad revenue and customer retention. 

People and views that are extreme - enraging, shocking, untruthful, and push our buttons (like "Did we really land on the moon?") get more engagement and therefore get prioritized by the algorithms. 

3. Every single one of us has different social feeds and social media realities. Our feed is personalized to show us the posts that engage us the most - usually the ones that pander to our biases. Someone who's conservative will see a news article about how guns are our rights and someone who's liberal will see an article about why guns are causing deaths. We are put in our own bubbles, with different realities, that appeal most to us. 

So what's a better way to stay informed? 

I'm still figuring it out, but here are a couple of steps that can help. 

  • Don't get riled up and amplify nonsense! Pause, think. 
  • Assume anything is biased or wrong unless proven otherwise. Especially things that feel right to you as you may be falling for confirmation bias. Do your own research on all sides and perspectives. Most things aren't as simple as what the 140 character post of fury makes it seem like.  

  • Be deliberate about choosing the quality of your information. Seek diversity of opinions. Rely on people and media that are less reliant on daily engagement and churn, more tested, and more thoughtful. Ruthlessly unfollow purveyors of outrage. 

The Center of Humane Technology has plenty of other helpful tips

3 types of product improvements

The main role of a product manager to identify and prioritize product investments within your area that'd have the most impact on the overall business goals (aka roadmap). 

Usually, you don't make just one investment. You make a portfolio of bets. You can place bets across multiple core pillars or themes as I have suggested in a previous post on product strategy

It's also helpful to assess your portfolio mix across the type of product improvements: 

1. Ah, finally improvements (bugs, annoyances) 

These are fixes for obvious annoyances or broken parts of the experience. Users know it and product teams usually know it. These experiences can cause casual users to churn immediately and fans to churn eventually. 

Regularly identifying and fixing these before they snowball is a good defense and good for building trust, pride, and quality (reduce broken windows!). 

2. Yeah, that's better improvements (iterative improvements)

Products aren't perfect out of the gate (and if it's perfect, you probably launched too late :)). You need to iterate and keep improving them over time. Initially, these iterations will produce a lot of big wins. But eventually, the yields decline and that's a sign to invest elsewhere. 

3. Oh Wow! improvements (big bets) 


These are step-level changes - completely new products or experiences like when Apple launched the iPhone, or significant improvements to an existing experience like when Google launched instant autocomplete search suggestions

As you can imagine, these are the trickiest kind of investments. They are high-risk and high investment bets. But they are also essential (nothing ventured, nothing gained). As Jeff Bezos puts it, "If the size of your failures isn't growing, you're not going to be inventing at a size that can actually move the needle." 

Depending on the size of your team, you should have one or more big bets brewing at any point in time. But be careful not to spread yourself too thin or rushing in before thoughtful strategizing and validation. 

10 part Mad lib to get crisp on a product or feature idea

Often times products and features are doomed to fail even before you start working on them because the customer, problem, their evaluation criteria, usefulness and usability of the solution, go-to-market and customer acquisition mechanisms, and business model are not understood or well defined. 

This mad lib forces you to research, articulate and iterate on all of those questions before you start implementation. 
  1. People like [specific segments, demographics] 
  2. Who are faced with [specific problems]  
  3. and care about [key criteria]
  4. Will use [solution] 
  5. To do [steps to use solution] 
  6. and it would help them [impact on problem and satisfaction]. 
  7. They'd discover this solution through [acquisition channels] 
  8. And they'd use it whenever [need]
  9. Which happens once every [need frequency] 
  10. And they'd pay [price, payment or revenue model]
As the old adage goes, if you had 1 hour to solve a problem, then spend 40 mins thinking about the problem and 20 mins iterating on various solutions. 

Lessons from death

I recently had to face some unexpected illnesses and deaths in my family. 

Sickness and death are powerful reminders of the impermanence, fragility, and mystery of life - about how little time we all have, how little control we have, how we are a small transient part of a grand timeless machinery, and how little we know. 

They are also powerful reminders of the colorfulness and meaning in every individual life, regardless of how transient or small it is in the grand scheme. 

We fondly remember the departed's endearing and unique traits. We recall and cherish their remarkable or amusing stories. We feel grateful for their kindness, love, and joy. We celebrate their path and accomplishments. We learn from their wisdom and missteps. We mourn missed interactions, their unfulfilled dreams, the void of their absence, and for those who are close to them. 

Death teaches us what we value, gives us the urgency to prioritize meaningful pursuits and interactions, and to live free in our short lives.