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.

Your new weekly workout

When we talk about bringing more focus to making beautiful, simple experiences in our products, we could all use a little training (except for Product[X]’s beloved designer-members who already ensure we put something worth looking at in front of users).

As I mentioned around last year, whether your team is wonderfully endowed with a UX team or not, being able to speak fluently about design in the same way that most PMs today value their ability to speak well about MapReduces with engineers is critical.

HackDesign provides curated tips on design each week and also has a full-on self-service set of design resources and courses you can complete. Check it out and see if it’s useful. And, of course, share your favorites.

Prime-al urges

You’ve heard the argument before. ‘This company is doing too many things.’ But think about Amazon, recent purchasers of Twitch (the video game streaming site), producing its own TV shows with legitimate pieces of hollywood, and even padding bottoms everywhere with an eco-friendly line of diapers.

This article about Bezos and the debacle with the Fire phone (“Jeff’s baby”, according to insiders) suggests that this might be an element of the story, but that there were other factors from cradle-to-grave on this project that made it doomed to fail.

One quote was particularly telling: “‘In essence, we were not building the phone for the customer, we were building it for Jeff’…With Bezos managing every critical decision, teams began second-guessing themselves trying to anticipate how he would react.”

Have you ever been on a project like this? Where the exec or your manager was more involved or believed more strongly in the product vision than you did? How did you handle it?

Also discussed at length is whether a company built on efficiency, built on delivering a high-quality, though mundane, service could compete on the level with ‘cool’ hardware providers, like Apple. Did Amazon overstep its bounds in trying to be too premium?

Other gems from this article: Bezos forces all of his PMs to start their projects with a fake press release as well. And there intention was to make dynamic perspective, namely a 3-d screen on a smartphone, their killer feature.

This route smells the best

Shortest route. Avoid highways. Avoid tolls. These are our controls on mapping apps. Bred of an Amazon-like mindset focused on efficiency. But what if we hadmapping applications that sent us on the prettiest route, or the one that smelled the best, or even the one that evoked the most important memories you’ve had from your own life?

Researchers at Yahoo have been working to solve this exact problem. They’ve used tons of volunteer hours to crowdsource aesthetic qualities and their relative importance by asking users to choose between two settings they might see on two different routes.They’ve used this data to train an algorithm to factor ‘happiness’ into their route selections.

What’s next for this team? Bringing an even more personal experience that not only takes advantage of other sensory data of the route, but even personal experiences or preferences you’ve had in that city (passing the bar where you met your wife or husband? their route might take you by there if it were close, etc.)

So, long story short, take a different route home from work today…

“Self-driving cars don’t run red lights”

When the CA bill essentially legalized self-driving cards, Sergey joined the Governor onstage for the bill-signing ceremony. The very first question from the audience was “Who is responsible for the ticket when the self-driving car runs a red light?”

With characteristic wit, Sergey stepped calmly in front of the Governor (who was clearly struggling with the question) to say: “Self-driving cars don’t run red lights.” Everybody laughed.

And, in general, he’s right. Self-driving cars, well-coded robots in general will do better than humans (sorry Terminator fans!)….but, not always.

Recently, as part of an art project debuting in Zurich, entitled The Darknet: From Memes to Onionland”, the Random Darknet Shopper will be unveiled. This bot, created by a couple of artists-engineers, was given $100 in bitcoin and told to make a purchase a day from the Deep Web.

What did it buy? 10 ecstasy pills and a very legitimate fake Hungarian passport.

So, what are the implications of this? Are the artists responsible since they executed the code? Did theyknowingly or willingly subvert the law or was it better described as recklessness? All of which has profound implications for who’s at fault.

This comes back to the age-old question of how policy catches up with technology. I think all those who work in technology can do a better job of helping policymakers wrestle with these tradeoffs rather than throwing up their hands and saying ‘good luck.’

Don’t make that face at me

Given the passing of Stuart Scott yesterday (and if you grew up interested in American sports at all you grew up watching him), we’re talking about the intersection of sports and science again today.

The NBA’s Milwaukee Bucks hired a facial coding expert to help them draft wisely this past year. The team had the 2nd overall pick and selected Jabari Parker from Duke.

Also the subject of a short-lived drama series on FOX known as Lie to Me, the art and science of facial coding involves mapping the facial expressions created by humans and their 43 different facial muscles to ascertain everything from truth-telling to emotional maturity.

In this short video, Dan Hill talks about what he looks for on behalf of the Bucks that will suggest to him whether that player will have a successful career; looking for clues that will betray his work ethic, his approach to listening and learning, and even the expected impact of anxiety.

So, how does this relate to us? Well, if nothing else, it should remind us to be more observant of the body language of our peers, colleagues, customers, and anyone with whom we have a relationship. As the expert in this video notes, even the unsighted emote in the same way and a lot can be learned by simply paying better attention.


A light one today since all are recovering from 2014 and New Years Eve this weekend. On Austrian radio today (yes, Austrian radio), I came across a campaign being run by the New York Public Library which is reminding everyone in a very creative way that “[They] were Google before Google“.

In cleaning out some offices, they found an old box of bizarre reference questions asked by people who didn’t have a fancy search engine to satisfy their querying needs. In fact, part of the mid-century job description for New York City librarians was to ‘slake the myriad curiosities of the public’.

So, what did they find? A few of the best were captured in the article attached here. Among them:
-“Do you have the Oxford Ornithology of American Lit?” (hope they like birds!)
-“Why do 18th century paintings have so many squirrels in them?”
-“I just saw a mouse in my kitchen. Is DDT good for ’em?”

(and many, many more)…

A final quote from the NYPL on their finding:
“In a world pre-Google, librarians weren’t just Wikipedia, they were people’s Craiglist, Pinterest, Etsy, and Instagram all rolled into one. “Is this the place where I ask questions I can’t get answers to?” – Phone question, September 13, 1947”

Choose-your-own-MUSIC Video-adventure

Remember those choose-your-own-adventure books back in middle school? Well, Interlude, an Israeli, VC-backed video site (founded by a rockstar and former host of Israeli Idol), has created the technology for achoose-your-own-adventure music video! Recently, they’ve partnered with increasingly famous stars, ad behemoth WPP, and Warner to bring this video experience to the mainstream.

Rather than me explain to much about how it works, I encourage you to just go try it out (the Bob Dylan or Wiz Khalifa versions are both cool), but suffice it to say you can interact with the video and the action will change based on your choices. For instance, want Wiz to crash a wedding or hit the bar, click the photo on his iPhone and decide for him!

As the founder of Interlude mentions in a recent NYTimes article, “90 percent of Interlude’s music video viewers make choices while watching,” which caters to a new kind of active viewer and places for brands to insert themselves in content rather than trying to approach a user that passively watches a pre-roll ad.

Will this have implications for YouTube as the video space continues to heat up?