Elezea Newsletter — Issue 2019.24
A weekly newsletter to help you create better products, and understand the broader impact of technology on our work and our lives.
Happy Wednesday to you! We’re a few weeks into the new format for the newsletter now, and I hope you’re enjoying it so far. If you have any feedback or suggestions to share, please let me know. You can reply to any issue, all responses come straight to my inbox.
I also wanted to mention that my interview on The Product Experience podcast was published this morning. I listen to this podcast every week, so it was such a treat to be on the show. We discuss my recent article on “crazy-busy” product managers, and how to bring a bit more calmness and thoughtfulness to the PM role. Please have a listen, I’d love to hear your thoughts.
Have a wonderful week!
Featured product management articles
Jonas Downey argues that nobody really owns anything in a product made by a team. I agree with both his argument, and with how difficult it can be for product managers to make this shift. He gives some advice on how to get used to the idea:
The trick is to change how you evaluate forward progress: the long-term survival of your own contributions is irrelevant. The important thing is that the product is evolving into the best version your team can create together.
The more you appreciate the power of the group over the individual, the sooner you’ll become a more effective collaborator. You’ll be more willing to hear and absorb others’ viewpoints. You’ll be more eager to seek out everyone’s best ideas, instead of digging in and defending your own. And you’ll be able to celebrate other people’s achievements with authenticity instead of territorial resentment.
This is something I tried to articulate last year in a post called The humble product manager:
But equally important — and this is why humility is so important — they need to be open to the possibility that some of their decisions might be wrong. They should hang on to a measure of self-doubt every time they present a new solution to the team or the world. Admitting that someone else’s ideas are better than your own, and making changes based on good critique do wonders to improve products — and build trust within the team.
I like Jase Clamp’s depiction of the complementary forces of empathy and optimism in this article:
This process of synthesis we call empathy. We all know that is what is needed to begin the job of product. But if it stopped there, we’d just be counselors, sitting with people, understanding their pain, and journeying with them.
We harness an opposing force that provides balance — it’s our ability, while reaching into the present to understand problems, to also reach into the future and feel what could be. As product people we often don’t know the exact shape a solution will take, but we have to believe that there is one and we’ll keep striving until we find it — which is an essential sense of optimism.
Thales S. Teixeira distills years of research on how companies are disrupted in this HBR article:
For eight years I’ve visited leading companies in more than 20 industries around the world that claimed to be in the process of being disrupted. Each time, I’d ask the executives of these incumbent companies the same question: “What is disrupting your business?” No matter who I talked to, I would always get one of two answers: “Technology X is disrupting our business” or “Startup Y is disrupting our business.” But my latest research and analysis reveals flaws in that thinking. It is customers who are driving the disruption.
He goes on to explain why disruption is a customer-driven phenomenon, and how incumbents should respond.
Further product reading
This is an excellent talk by Marty Cagan on the most common problems that modern product teams encounter, and how to deal with them.
If you’re familiar with Teresa Torres’s Opportunity Solution Tree you’ll probably find this interview about real-world usage useful as well.
As people consider whether to use the new “creepy” technologies, they do a type of cost-benefit analysis weighing the loss of privacy against the benefits they will receive in return.
Quote of the week
The question we need to ask is not whether our data is safe, but why there is suddenly so much of it that needs protecting. The problem with the dragon [who protects his hoard of gold], after all, is not its stockpile stewardship, but its appetite.
— Maciej Cegłowski, The New Wilderness.
Work better together: resources and tools
John Gruber’s hot take aside, this is a pretty interesting look at Dropbox’s all-new version, which adds full-blown Windows and Mac apps, integrations with other workplace tools, and more.
The team at Matter developed this framework to enable teams to disagree with decisions in an equitable and productive way.
Resilient teams resolve challenges as effectively as possible. They have a system to maintain team health and resources. They can recover from setbacks quickly, and they display the ability to handle future challenges together. This is a good framework for evaluating and growing team resilience.
Tip No. 1 is to make sure there’s a door that locks. Which reminds me of the least successful product I ever launched.
Rooster is a Chrome extension that keeps you informed about your browsing stats in your New Tab, and notifies you when you lose focus by visiting websites that are not productive.
A curated list of the best analog and digital toolboxes and methods from companies, institutions, and thinkers. Includes things like Microsoft’s Inclusive Design Kit and The Atlassian Team Playbook.
Technology news and reflections
Personal Virtual Reality is here
I’m still trying to process Aaron Z. Lewis’s essay You can handle the post-truth: a pocket guide to the surreal internet. If you’re at all interested in the future of the social internet, this one is a must-read.
There’s one part in particular that I can’t stop thinking about. Aaron describes how in the coming years, the number of dead people on Facebook will increase significantly (see How Facebook Is Designing for an Incoming Avalanche of Dead Users). But then things take a turn…
But here’s where things get surreal: people are starting to think of internet death as a sort of digital reincarnation. They imagine themselves becoming ghost-like after they pass on. Several companies are trying to develop AI chatbots that allow people to talk with the dead. These bots are trained on a corpus of the deceased person’s communication history — emails, text messages, social media posts, etc. In the future, AI chatbots could merge with hyper-realistic VR avatars to create believable simulations of people that stick around after their physical death.
This immediately made me think of John Scalzi’s idea of the “Memory Room” from his excellent sci-fi novel The Collapsing Empire:
“I sense we have carried this specific conversation to an end,” Jiyi said. “May I assist you otherwise?” “Yes,” Cardenia said. “I would like to speak to my father.” Jiyi nodded and faded out. As it did so, another form coalesced, in the center of the room. It was Cardenia’s father, Batrin, lately Emperox Attavio VI. He appeared, looked toward his daughter, smiled, and walked over to her. The Memory Room was established by the Prophet-Emperox Rachela I not long after the foundation of the Interdependency, and her ascendance as its first emperox […]
Within the Memory Room were the thoughts and memories of every emperox of the Interdependency, dating back to the very first, the Prophet-Emperox Rachela I herself. If Cardenia wanted, she could ask any one of her predecessors any question, about them, about their reign, about their time. They would answer from memory, from the thoughts and recordings and the computer modeling of who they were, girded on decades of every single thing about their internal lives recorded for this very room.
It is one of the many reasons I love science fiction so much — it doesn’t just imagine the future, it precedes it. I was also reminded that the Black Mirror episode Be Right Back is about the same thing — a technology that allows people to communicate with an artificial intelligence imitating their deceased loved ones.
It’s worth noting that this isn’t some weird thing that might happen in the future. It’s already happening. See This Company Is Betting the Future Is Personal AI Avatars, So It Made Me One:
“I thought—what if my kids had my PAI (personal artificial intelligence) back home?” Jain says. That way, his kids could interact with an avatar that looked, sounded, and behaved like their father while he was away for days or weeks at a time.
Further technology reading
A 20-year-old college student used Snapchat’s gender swap filter to catch a police officer looking to hook up with an underage teen girl. See also Snapchat’s Gender-Swap and Baby Filters Doubled Downloads of the App.
The lyrics site used two types of apostrophes that, when converted to dots and dashes, spelled out “Red Handed”. Google sort-of responded to the allegations.
Personalized hair masks, facial serums, and vitamin cocktails are no longer reserved for the wealthy, thanks to technology—and data collection.
Why do we quantify our leisure reading?
Random things I like
📺 It’s hard to believe now, but television used to not be a 24/7/365 thing. I remember test patterns like these vividly from my childhood.
👯♀️ “Poptimism” is the belief that enjoying Ariana Grande, Rihanna, and Carly Rae Jepsen should not be characterized as a guilty pleasure, but simply a pleasure. I’m ok with that.
😇 Inside Facebook “blessings groups,” which are dedicated solely to handling cases of small but pressing monetary needs.
⭐️ The joys of reading TripAdvisor’s one-star reviews (Sydney Opera House, one star – “Nothing special, looks better on TV”).
🗺 What Makes a Map Good? They distort what they depict and leave out tons of possible information.
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