A long December and there’s reason to believe
Maybe this year will be better than the last.
Well, things certainly went a little sideways this year, didn’t they? I’m not going to do one of those “these are challenging times” newsletters because I’m sure you have enough of those in your inbox already. I will just say this one thing. I stopped writing in 2020. I tried a few times, with limited success, but I just couldn’t find the brain space for it with so much of my life force taken up by just… surviving. Work, kids, house, relationships—it’s just all too much.
But now we’re at the end of the year and I’m fired up. I’m more than ready to put 2020 behind us. I’m anxious to get 2021 going at full speed. I’m excited to learn and write again, to be in this community with you all, and to do the work of our lives with the team at Wildbit.
So, with that, a small bit of housekeeping on the focus of the newsletter going forward. I want to write about things that get me excited, so expect three primary topics:
Reflections and resources for product managers and other technology workers.
Interesting technology and internet culture things I come across and feel are worth sharing.
Music recommendation to keep you going strong throughout your week. Music was my saving grace in 2020, and one of the things I’m most passionate about, so I have to include it as an official topic here moving forward. The selections will be diverse but thoughtful, and hopefully, stretch your ears (in a good way) a little bit.
And with that, all that’s left is to echo the words of the great Keanu Reeves:
Let’s do this thing.
I am about 3/4 of the way through Marty Cagan’s new book and it is really kicking my butt (in the best possible way). In fact, I might even go so far as to credit the start of the book for shocking me out of my 2020 stupor and back into my passion for learning and writing. At the core of the book is this belief:
In strong product companies, teams are given problems to solve, rather than features to build, and most important, they are empowered to solve those problems in the best way they see fit. And they are then held accountable to the results.
This is not in itself an earth-shattering revelation, but the way Marty frames it has been incredibly helpful to me. The rest of the book essentially unpacks that belief. How do you decide which problems are worth pursuing? How do you empower a product team to solve these problems? What does it mean to be accountable for results?
I highly recommend this as a way to kick off your new year, no matter what your role is. The insights here apply not only to product managers but to product designers and engineers as well.
This podcast by Martina Lauchengco (and accompanying article by Claire Walker) is really insightful and helpful. If you’ve ever struggled to define the role of product marketing and what it’s about, this one is for you.
I like to think of product marketing as helping connect the market to your product – that’s a little upside down from how most people think about it, which is that you build a product, and then you take it to market. The starting point is always the market lens because the landscape of modern product marketing is so crowded, with many more companies doing similar or overlapping things. You need to start by having market intelligence that you understand deeply, so that you can find the wedge for your product and where it fits and then do all the things (strategically and tactically) in order to win.
The practical advice here is pure gold.
This HBR article by Joel M. Podolny and Morten T. Hansen made the rounds a few weeks ago, but if you haven’t read it it’s well worth your time.
Apple relies on a structure that centers on functional expertise. Its fundamental belief is that those with the most expertise and experience in a domain should have decision rights for that domain. This is based on two views: First, Apple competes in markets where the rates of technological change and disruption are high, so it must rely on the judgment and intuition of people with deep knowledge of the technologies responsible for disruption. Long before it can get market feedback and solid market forecasts, the company must make bets about which technologies and designs are likely to succeed in smartphones, computers, and so on. Relying on technical experts rather than general managers increases the odds that those bets will pay off.
The article goes on to explain the three key leadership characteristics managers must possess to be effective at Apple: (1) deep expertise that allows them to meaningfully engage in all the work being done within their individual functions; (2) immersion in the details of those functions; and (3) a willingness to collaboratively debate other functions during collective decision-making.
Listen to this
One of the bands that got me through this year is Khruangbin. This is one of those bands where you are either completely obsessed or you can’t stand it. The Khru, as the fans are called, is probably one of the most rabid fan bases in existence, and I can’t help it, I am one of them. They are a 3-piece out of Texas that blends global music influences such as classic soul, dub, and psychedelia. Their name means “airplane” in Thai, and there are some strong Thai funk influences as well.
I recently added these two 7” records to my collection—I mean, just look at the Christmas cover with the masks and the Charlie Brown tree. How can you not love this band?
Every album is an understated masterpiece, but I recommend starting with Con Todo El Mundo. It is the most representative of their sound, and just altogether perfect.
How and when to put this on
My brother recently made a good point that I need to set some context with my recommendations. I would send him something and then he’d put it on while working and it would just, well, not be particularly conducive to working (for example). So I want to make sure I always set you up for success with these recommendations!
So when should you listen to this album? Preferably on Sunday afternoon, or after dinner following a long day when things are winding down and you maybe have a beverage of choice nearby that you’re slowly sipping. This is “comedown” music—happy by relaxing.
I think I’m going to stop there. It’s probably already surprising to suddenly see a new issue in your inbox, so I don’t want to overstay my welcome. I just want to end with some feelings and mention that I really appreciate you. Y’all have not only stayed subscribers throughout my silences and detours, but many of you have even started your subscriptions despite the long silence. You—yep, you—have played no small part in getting me out of my 2020 funk. I’m not all the way out of it yet, but who is? I’ll take the small win.
Have a lovely final week of 2020, friends. Let’s do some fun things in 2021, ok?