Elezea Newsletter — Issue 2019.32
A weekly newsletter to help you create better products, and understand the broader impact of technology on our work and our lives.
This weekend we took the train up to Seattle for my wife’s birthday. It was my first time there, and we definitely need to go back to explore more, but for now I’m going to say that the highlight for me was our visit to the Museum of Pop Culture. There is just so much to love about this place, and it does what museums do at their best: educate you about things you didn’t even know you were interested in.
For example, I’m not a huge Nirvana fan, but the Taking Punk to the Masses exhibit (“The world's most extensive exhibition of memorabilia celebrating the music and history of Seattle rock luminaries, Nirvana.”) gave me a renewed appreciation for their story, and the role the Pacific Northwest played in the grunge movement.
Another highlight for me was the Infinite Worlds of Science Fiction. Aliens, Terminators, Hoverboards, Leeloo costumes, oh my!
If you’re ever in Seattle, please put this place on your list. You won’t be disappointed.
Have a good week!
Featured product development articles
Sachin Rekhi reviews April Dunford’s book Obviously Awesome: How to Nail Product Positioning so Customers Get It, Buy It, Love It:
While 2000’s Differentiate or Die spoke at length on why positioning is important, it never really went into detail on how to actually go about developing your product's positioning. The traditional approach is to develop a positioning statement. While useful as an output to your positioning process, it really doesn't describe the process one could use to come up with such a positioning statement. That's why I was excited to read April Dunford's new book entitled Obviously Awesome, which is an in-depth tactical guide on how to go about actually developing your product's positioning.
The reality when it comes to positioning is that most companies end up with default positioning. This is simply leveraging the positioning that the original folks who came up with the product concept thought about when they conceptualized the product offering. But what's important is to be deliberate about your product's positioning because a great product could end up failing due to poor positioning alone.
He also discusses April’s advice to replace a “positioning statement” with a deeper 5-part positioning framework which defines the following for your product. This is a really good summary of the book.
This post by Paul Ford is a great plea for the importance of user research, but I think he also inadvertently came up with an excellent definition for product management:
You might think our job is to build software but just as often it’s to help you avoid building the wrong software. And when you build, build carrots.
Because, as he says earlier in the post:
Carrots work. Sticks don’t. Computers can’t make people do things. They have to want to do things.
Matt LeMay’s post on how to build safety into team communication might not immediately seem that relevant to product management, but it is an excellent reminder for all of us:
Now let’s talk about the product managers who are willing to take on the individual risk that comes with creating psychological safety for their teams. These product leaders often don’t have the opportunity to step into those big “visionary” roles – not because they lack vision, but because they are so busy doing the emotional labor of cleaning up after the other product leaders who are making those big, lofty promises. These are the product leaders who earn the trust and respect of their teams by helping leadership understand the real-world trade-offs that go into actually delivering products, even when leadership doesn’t want to hear about it. And here’s the thing: over time, they actually train company leadership to be better! They sharpen their organization’s focus by saying, “You can have this OR you can have that. Which is more important given our goals and constraints?” These product leaders deliver so much value to the companies they work for, and the truth is, they don’t always get rewarded for it.
Over the years I have become more and more convinced that team safety is the most important job a product manager has.
Work better together: resources and tools
Mike Davidson has a really interesting and in-depth look at his first year of working remotely at InVision. “In terms of being super-productive in remote environments, the biggest lever is to work as asynchronously as possible. Carve off large chunks of work that you can do on your own without having to check in every hour or even every day.”
The distributed team structure is known to offer many benefits for a company and its employees; however, this sort of work model also comes with its own unique set of obstacles. In this article Randy Tolentino discusses how remote soft-skills can help with the challenge of building authentic connections with distributed co-workers.
A really nice app to help you remember the books you read, and what you learned from it.
A Mac menu bar app to quickly access you most important and frequently used files.
Bookmarked! Easily find and copy emoji and special characters to your clipboard.
Technology news and reflections
Anna Wiener’s excellent article on what it takes to moderate Hacker News also includes some pretty spot-on descriptions of what the site has turned into:
The site’s now characteristic tone of performative erudition—hyperrational, dispassionate, contrarian, authoritative—often masks a deeper recklessness. Ill-advised citations proliferate; thought experiments abound; humane arguments are dismissed as emotional or irrational. Logic, applied narrowly, is used to justify broad moral positions. The most admired arguments are made with data, but the origins, veracity, and malleability of those data tend to be ancillary concerns.
I honestly didn’t expect LinkedIn to come back from “Hi, I’d like to add you to my professional network on LinkedIn” and become a beloved place again. We’re that desperate for non-toxic online spaces, I guess.
And perhaps even more importantly, LinkedIn is not, in the popular imagination, a force for radicalization, a threat to democracy, a haven for predators, an environment that encourages mob behavior, or even a meeting place for pot stirrers.
The amount of stupid, useless content that gets pushed around the internet every day is truly staggering.
The roughly 100 million phishing emails Google blocks every day fall into three main categories: highly targeted but low-volume spear phishing aimed at distinct individuals, “boutique phishing” that targets only a few dozen people, and automated bulk phishing directed at thousands or hundreds of thousands of people.
Ordinary Americans are using armies of phones to generate cash to buy food, diapers, and beer through ad fraud:
I made a small "phone farm," able to fabricate engagement with advertisements and programs from companies like Netflix, as well as video game trailers, celebrity gossip shows, and sports too. No one was really watching the trailers, but Netflix didn't need to know that. The goal was to passively run these phones 24/7, with each collecting a fraction of a penny for each ad they "watched."
Random things I like
👶 Parents who choose not to post photos of their kids on social media struggle when Facebook-happy older relatives break the rules.
🌻 Instagram “tag cleaners” drown out gore, harassment, and more by flooding a user’s tagged photos with pleasant images. It’s benevolent spam.
🧙♂️ Here are 12 of the best fantasy books everyone should read.
🦟 Mosquitoes are our apex predator, the deadliest hunters of human beings on the planet. And they’re coming for us.
💀 By gamifying memorials, FindAGrave.com became a Wild West for chronicling the dead.
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