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?

Still having trouble getting a commit on that project?

We’ve shared negotiation resources many times before here, including specifically from Prof. Stuart Diamond. In that vein, I wanted to share a quick-hit playlist of advice on specific scenarios from the man himself.

Specifically, you’ll find advice for finding the right decision maker, dealing with the unreliable, and taking the emotion out of charged discussion.

I’ve attached the one I’ve found most useful which is a <2min. discussion of how to navigate muddy waters when you’re looking to get someone on your side. I think about this a lot, especially now that I’m on a new team, since being incremental is key for both developing credibility and asking for support when you have no history with the other stakeholders.

Strike 3 and you’re impact averse

Hello to those still in the office! Two Stanford GSB researchers analyzed ball-and-strike decisions (1M+ calls!) from Major League Baseball umpires to determine how their decisions were affected by various factors, most notably the impact that any one decision would have on the current expected outcome of the game.

What did they find? They found, generally, that umpires are impact averse, namely they err on the side of making decisions that preserve the status quo, in this case the existing expected outcome of the game.

What this means is that if a calling a strike in a pivotal moment will have an effect proportionally less than that of calling a ball, an umpire is significantly more likely to do so, and vice versa – the researchers describe this as umpires being willing to “shrink or expand the strike zone as a function of the disparity in the consequences of their options, ball or strike.” Turns out that this bias was also stronger for breaking pitches (i.e. curveballs), then they were for straight pitches (i.e. fastballs).

Perhaps most interestingly, the impact aversion phenomenon can up to 4x stronger for nationally-televised games vs. those that are televised locally.

So, what does this mean for us when it comes to decision-making processes? Well, our friends at Irrational Labs ( suggest that we need to make sure that we don’t play it too safe when there is time pressure or external pressure. So, if you have a deadline, make sure that deadline is real and not imposed. And, as a company, we need to continue to encourage each other and our teams to take risks even when the stakes are high.

Can you guys think of times when you’ve fallen into the impact aversion trap? Even though we talk about our launch and iterate culture, I know that I’m susceptible to playing it safe when the risks seem high sometimes.

The Demo Days to end all Demo Days

Not much introduction needed here if you’ve heard of the _Ig_Nobel awards. The founder of the awards recaps the hilarious research that he has come across (Bra + Gas Mask?!).

What I enjoyed most, though, was the complete lack of self-consciousness shared by the recipients. Reminded me to take things (and definitely myself) a little less seriously.

With demo days season wrapping up as well, I can only hope we came up with ideas so compelling…