Achievement Unlocked

We’re coming up on International Women’s Day and this is neither our first nor our last post on one of the most famous female CEOs in the world, let alone tech.

As we’re heading into the 20th anniversary of Yahoo!, I thought I’d share this great walkthrough of the history of the company and particularly the impact that Mayer has had since her arrival.

There is a significant discussion of how she pivoted the company from a media focus to a tech focus, started once again recruiting really exceptional engineering talent (going from 50 to 550 mobile engineers), and switching focus – “And for us, mobile, video, native and social—I use the shorthand MaVeNS—is the future.”

One of the things I liked most about this article is that Mayer is typically presented in a bullying light in the media, but this article points out how cool it is that she can school her own engineers.

“What I’m really proud about is building ourselves a future,” she says. “If you had told me two years ago we would basically have done this, I would have pinched myself. Does that mean that transformation is done? No. Does that mean we have successfully completed step one? That’s been great.”

Read on and enjoy!

The science of solution aversion

Have you ever heard a quick ‘no’ to a pet project of yours? Maybe, ‘That just won’t work, we’ve tried that before’ or ‘We don’t have time for that this quarter.’

From our friends at Irrational Labs we get a rundown on recent research from Duke University into politician reactions to potential climate change policies.

This work introduces us to a concept known as solution aversion, such that the way a solution is pitched or presented has a dramatic impact on whether your audience believes that a problem exists at all.

In other words, if you start by pitching a solution that challenges previously held beliefs you’ll get more of a fight on whether there is anything worth solving in the first place!

Some suggestions from the article on how to fight this:
Agree on the problem first without discussing any specific solutions
Analyze your audience – what do they believe, how do they normally look at problems like this (don’t know? Ask!)
Present diverse solutions and get feedback

I know that I have faced this before where you’re too eager to get someone to agree with your approach rather than starting incrementally in getting that other party to agree that it’s something worth solving. Once you have that, you can take the next step toward fixing it.

What if we cared for our emotional health as often as our physical health?

Late Q1 is the time of year when fatigue first sets in. The holidays are long over, the weather is (depending on your location) still rough, and the first hurdles facing your well-laid 2015 plans are starting to rear their ugly heads.

So, what now? Guy Winch gives a great talk about the fact that we owe ourselves to treat our emotional injuries as swiftly and with the same professional and personal dedication as our physical injuries.

How does this relate to our world? Well, I took a couple of key takeaways from this that I think can universally be applied to PM stress:

-Practice better self-talk: don’t pile on when you’re already feeling stressed or down
-Know thyself: don’t keep pushing when you know you’re not in the right mindset to be productive or helpful
-Treat yourself like a good friend would: think about what they would say after that miss, disappointment or failure
-All about context: you could be surrounded by a million people and be lonely and you could have a million successes and feel discouraged; show yourself and others the respect that feeling bad is in the eye of the beholder

As a buddy once said, “it’s simply not possible to kill it every day.”

Spend 15min. and give yourself a little more credit, especially before Q2 planning starts.

Any takeaways that have particularly worked for you?

Ideate romantically, create pragmatically

A very well-written collection of tips from engineer turned designer, which is as much a treatise on good product development practices as it is tactical advice to make such a career transition.

PJ describes the future role of designers to be described better as a design technologist role, which I think isn’t a far cry from Product Manager in form and function.

There are a bunch of good tips, but two in particular I wanted to call out that have very little to do with a career transition but are in fact just excellent reminders for us as PMs, or humans, really.

Design everything you do: “The obvious areas are how you dress and how your house/apartment/room is organized. I would suggest not stopping there. Your emails should be written/composed clearly and beautifully. Your conversations with individuals should be designed through how you listen, how you maintain eye contact, how you respond (both spoken and unspoken).”

-I love this because it reminds me to bring the same purpose to the rest of my life and interactions as I do to work.

Ideate romantically, create pragmatically: “Our ideas should be bigger than reality, but our execution should be married to it. This allows us to see the grand future of a product while ensuring that it can exist to have any future at all.”

-All too often we get wrapped between both sides of this coin; having to execute tomorrow while also being reminded that we owe someone a grand vision of where we’re going. It’s hard to get that balance right and sometimes to get to that grand vision we need to live in that juicy middle of trying to execute such that it will someday have a future.

Sharing is Caring?

Many of you might have seen this already, but a few folks passed along this interesting analysis of perceived changes in Apple’s commitment to their customers.

While the author of the original blog post wrote a retraction (or sorts), he claimed that Apple had ‘lost the functional high ground’. Now, whether or not you think Apple products have gotten better or worse over the years as they too, like us, continue to diversify at high speed, this particular article helps bring home the real message:

“People equate product quality with how much a company cares. Your product communicates how much you care.

When people use your product, how much do they know you care? And what can you do this quarter to show them?

PRD writing (alternatively titled ‘Shitty First Drafts’)

What is your writing process like? Perhaps our jobs feel the most mundane when we’re in the ‘doc and a mock’ production phase, knocking out a requirements writeup, the classic one-pager, or a full-on PRD for a major project.

But, how do you get started on that task, particularly when they’re either difficult, the scope is large, or imposing in some way?

Author Anne Lamott, in her book Bird by Bird about the process of writing, says that the key is to write a “Shitty First Draft“, where you just get stuff on the page and worry about the next draft later.

As she says, “*The first draft is the child’s draft*, where you let it all pour out and then let it romp all over the place, knowing that no one is going to see it and that you can shape it later. You just let this childlike part of you channel whatever voices and visions come through and onto the page.”

She goes on to describe the first draft as the down draft, getting things down on paper, the second is the up draft for fixing it up, and the third is the dental draft where you check every tooth to see if it’s loose.

For me, I’ve never really done it this way. I’ve had to box myself into finding an uninterrupted block of time (not on the shuttle!), getting the right section headings, putting in a table of contents, and myriad other ways to not get started. I think it’s time I made a change.

What works for you?

No Chris Pratt or Jennifer Lawrence, but at least it’s shorter

This movie, Objectified, was created quite a few years ago at this point (especially in our industry), but it’s a great introduction to the process and leading thinking behind industrial design.

It canvasses a large, and often eccentric, collection of products and designers for their thoughts and experiences in reshaping new products for the consumer market.

One of the most fascinating intros was of Dunne & Raby, two London-based designers who use design as a catalyst for discussion and debate about important social issues, such as how humans interact with robots, etc. (www.dunneandraby.co.uk/content/projects)

A consistent theme throughout the movie is that you can see elements of the designer in the product that is created, so the next best question is, how do you want to be seen after your next launch?

Good storytelling: There’s no such thing as dumbing it down

It only takes a handful of unproductive meetings or challenging [Exec/PRD/Design] reviews to remind yourself that being a good storyteller, and practicing that art, is a big part of the job.

I’ve been doing some research on this topic recently, much of which prompted by our recent post on presenting, and after reading a bunch of articles, books, and comments on the subject (including Made it Stick, which we’ve posted about in the past), there’s a few key takeaways that I wanted to share beyond the obvious ones we hear all the time:

Use weekend language: for better or worse we become better storytellers on the weekend, avoiding unnecessarily complex or business-y language, treating your audience with the right familiarity, and letting your enthusiasm shine through

Keep it simple: I read a great analysis of how often the phrase ‘dumbing it down’ is overused. As the author says, “There’s nothing dumb about communicating in a way that everyone and anyone can understand”. A big part of the PM role is to be able to take complex subject matter and make it your own, make it relatable, and use only the complexity that is necessary for the subject matter and the audience

Comfort with silence: Don’t bulldoze over the moments, which can feel awkward, where your audience can digest or engage with your most important messages. Don’t be afraid to pause, nobody’s gonna pass out.

Also, it doesn’t hurt to practice. Steve Jobs reportedly would spend 2 days at the Moscone Center in SF practicing in advance of his 45min. speech for Apple events.

Who’s got other go-to tricks to share?

Driving customer adoption

Have you ever led a customer migration from one platform to another? Anyway, I was thinking about the problem of customer adoption today, particularly of a somewhat controversial feature, and someone mentioned the concept of a ‘carrot or a stick’ when it comes to encouraging behavior.

eMoneyPool is a startup that essentially works like a 1st world, digital, microfinance scheme. Interestingly, they were left with many incomplete pools because users were simply creating their own, leaving many unfinished.

So, what did they do? They reduced the fees on a sliding scale and used a positive frame (‘the service charge is lower with the option we want you to take’ vs. the service charge is higher with the option we don’t want you to take.)

What other ways have you guys used to influence customer behavior, particularly during migration?

Monkeys, soccer, and rats..oh my!

Last summer, during the World Cup, we posted about the use of brain-machine interfaces during the opening ceremony. This fascinating technology was used to allow a paralyzed Brazilian boy to perform the initial kick of the tournament.

The brains behind that effort and at the forefront of this technology is back in this video with a great high-level overview of how brain-machine interfaces work by encoding the neural brainstorms that exist no matter the loss of motor control and, remarkably, the feedback mechanism that allows him to actually feel the action being performed.

What’s he working on now? How about brain-to-brain communication between two animals?!! Yeah, fur realz.