‘Tis the season of giving and giving some thought..

This article presents a topic that should be close to all of our hearts, namely the role technology has played in creating the increasingly unequal world in which we live. Don’t worry – it’s not a diatribe against the ethos of Silicon Valley or even of technology in general. Rather, it’s a careful study of the status quo (how unequal is the world anyway?) and a review of the leading thinking on the subject (what’s the cause and what do we do about it?).

At its core, the article presents the competing theories of two thinkers on the subject, Thomas Piketty, author of Capital in the 21st Century, and Erik Brynjolfsson, author of The Second Machine Age. Piketty claims that the cause is that the increasing concentration of wealth (often inherited) is being pitted against the growth of incomes. When the growth of incomes is lower, we begin to regress to a society where your position and opportunities are governed more by inherited wealth than merit. On the other hand, Brynjolfsson claims that it’s technology’s hand in automating jobs that required humans in the past, creating a barbell-shaped labor market.

Lowering the barrier to action (aka Fix-it for Cities)

We wrote a while back about the increasing power of cities vis a vis nations and there have been many successes on that front (among them, that groups of cities are tackling civic issues and global issues, like climate change, even when national governments can’t agree).

I came across an interesting service that allows you to report any ‘non-emergency’ issue for your city – think of it as a Q4 Fix-it for a city! Unsurprisingly, San Francisco was the 2nd-leading city in terms of issues resolved this way.

I’m sure many of your teams are doing their own fix-its for your product areas over this week or next. Why do fix-its work? One reason is that you lower the barrier to action by encouraging people to find, file, and address issues that they may not have gotten around to in the past or considered important enough to divert resources to. (just like that pothole on your street).

How do your teams handle fix-its? Competitions, incentives?


Word of the day: Aerotropolis

As I move my life from one city to another today, I got to thinking about the future of cities in general (as well as the nightmare of getting to/from airports today). In reading about the topic, I came across the concept of an Aerotropolis, or rather the phenomenon of a city with an airport at its core, rather than a traditional urban center.

With cities like Seoul and Dubai in mind, recent authors on the subject have mused that “geography matters, but technology [as in the advance of air travel, etc.] can also determine what’s a good geography.”

The result of that has been a move from cities that need airports and therefore build them on the periphery to new airport-centric cities that develop urban cores around those runways (i.e. Songdo in Korea, Zuidas in Amsterdam, Ekurhuleni in South Africa).

Additionally, a friend of mine recently wrote a piece about the future centers of power won’t be the presidents and leaders of countries, but the mayors and leaders of cities – roles that will only grow in importance with the urbanization of the world.

So, what does the future of cities look like to you?

Want more?

Sounds(?) like teen spirit

A writer from New Scientist, named Frank Swain, worked with a sound artist to hack his own hearing aids to pick up the sounds of Wi-Fi signals.

In so doing, he was able to hear the different melodies of various wireless networks that would otherwise be unheard. The sounds he hears actually change based on the number and density of networks in the area and which side of you it’s actually on.

Perhaps the weirdest part is the melody you can hear in the different networks. As described in the accompanying analysis: “This is the network ID being translated to musical notes. Each letter and number elicits a different note, so while the mass of British Telecom routers might begin with the same pitch, the melodies will quickly change as the individual router numbers emerge.”

It got me thinking about the advent of advanced mobile technologies and wearables as a whole new landscape for artists and fringe science to think about how we contribute (and hear) our new, distinctly-human-created environments.

It’s (code)freeze-ing in here

It’s almost Thanksgiving in the U.S., which typically means a few things. Among them, terrible travel experiences, tryptophan, and football. It also means code freeze is right around the corner! For many of you, this will happen in the first week or two weeks of December.

So, what does that mean for the rest of the month? 10am arrivals in the morning, finally making those workouts or yoga classes at lunchtime, or one or more happy hours that can actually happen, well, during happy hour? Yes, all of those things.

But, I’d also like to propose a few other things you can do during code freeze that’ll make you a happier, healthier, and more productive in the new year. And, of course, I’m expecting everyone to have some items to share as well.

1. Learn a new skill
-Code freeze is an awesome time to ramp up your skills and tackle some of the things you haven’t had time to do in the past. Take a class online or at a local university, hit up a few gLearn classes on your skills. Even mess around on Codeacademy or others.
2. Learn from less time-strapped engineers
-Need a deep-dive on an aspect of your system that you don’t understand well enough? Now’s the time to ask your engineer for that couple of hours for the walkthrough.
3. Help your engineer with their pet projects
-In addition to demo days, December also brings an opportunity for your own eng teams to experiment a little. Ask them how you can help!
4. Read up
-This is also a great time to not only read your backlog of PRDs and design docs, but also read that competitive research from the business intelligence teams, the customer feedback from our survey teams and UX researchers, the industry news from the blogs that are clogging up your tabs or inbox. Be the guy or girl who’s up on what’s going on when January hits.
5. Build some relationships
-Your new mOKR (monthly OKR): Don’t eat alone in December!
6. It’s ok to thaw out during freeze
-We all work really hard and will continue to do so, but at least take a little less of that stress home. Or, you know what, at least say an annual goodbye to days longer than 10 hours. Those Charlie Brown Christmas specials will not watch themselves. Ramp down a little – you’ll need it for a busy 2015.

Notice how I didn’t say brainstorm for 2015 on this list??

Um, I’ll think about it

I thought I would write about the Power of Saying ‘No’ today. Not an easy thing for hard-charging, always-on and always on-line Product Managers, no easier for the Type-A person in general.

This comes out all the time, right? ‘No’ to a project, an FR, a meeting, a consult, an email even. Maybe even ‘no’ to a commitment you otherwise might have wanted to say ‘yes’ to, but don’t have the time.

If you’re like me, you struggle with it. The only time I ever seem to steel myself to actually say ‘no’ is when I’m protecting my eng team and even then I’d prefer to avoid the feeling I can get letting someone down. So, in that vein, I went searching for good advice on how to practice to get better at saying ‘no’.

Some practical tips that I found:
-Replace your automatic ‘yes’ with “I’ll think about it” (this allows you to keep listening and maintain that empathy and attention to the asker while also giving you a softer out and it places you closer to saying no than a typical quick ‘yes’ would)
-Refer to your commitment to others (this is I think the only one I get right, I can make a better case for ‘no’ when I feel like I’m protecting others from pain)
-Realize that you’re playing a long game (with most people you interact with, one ‘no’ won’t be the only time you respond to them; make it up some other way, especially if you can surprise them with something of unequal value later – i.e. high value for them, low effort for you)
-Practice (I’ll get better at it someday)

Who else has tips??

P.S. A lot of the inspiration for this came from HERE.

An Every(wo)man’s Challenge

I’ve spent the better part of the last two weeks preparing a deck for an upcoming exec review (read: I’ve written 47 very different decks over the past two weeks). This has been a particularly challenging experience because of how recently I moved over to this team. But it’s also been hard for two additional reasons that I think all PMs run into at some point or another.

1. Is everyone aligned on the story?
-This is obviously important for a whole bunch of reasons, not withstanding that even without consensus you need buy in and commitment. However, I’ll go further and say it’s also important because different people tell the same story in different ways. How do you align people on not only the vision for the product but also the story, the way in which you share that vision?

2. How do you concisely show execs how much your team has done?
A subtle challenge for any PM, you need to represent your team and that’s often hard in controversial settings or in front of time-strapped, anxious execs. I think this is especially hard on projects that are anything but smooth. If you’ve tried a few avenues and failed, how do you balance the need to stay on message with the desire to show the journey that it took to get there.

Unlike most of my posts, I don’t have a message here, but I’m curious to hear how others have tackled these problems and what process you go through as you, in some ways, find yourself ‘managing up’ on these unwieldy projects? Also, what other big challenges do you find yourself grappling with in these settings?

If you want to be an opinion leader, self-censorship is part of your job

In the NYC last week, I went to a roundtable discussion with the author of Now I Know Who My Comrades Are, Emily Parker, a former State Dept. official and journalist. I was impressed by the depth of her first-hand research in these countries, China, Cuba, and Russia, that she considers the next frontier in the battle of Netizen vs. Authoritarianism.

The book itself is a very readable tableau of the stories of key dissidents and activities in each country and more interestingly, a model of how these activists are pressing toward the same goal, but against a different fundamental challenge in each country:

-China: Isolation
-Cuba: Fear
-Russia: Apathy

Of all the books that I’ve read on the conditions that led to the Arab Spring, this was one of the most interesting treatises on the role technology can play in revolution.

Oh, and a word about the title of today’s post, one of the more compelling anecdotes from the China chapter is that internet pioneers and activists within China have a very nuanced understanding of what they can get away with such that self-censorship is a very real part of how to walk the fine line between safe activism and prison.

Gone are the days when people could spell C-A-N-T-A-L-O-U-P-E

Watch this albeit very campy 4min. video of Amazon’s new foray into the digital household, Echo, a cylindrical home/personal assistant.

Other than also being significantly taller than its disembodied Apple counterpart, Siri, you also need to apply to get one. It does all the usual things, plays music, organizes lists/tasks, and answers basic questions.

You’ve got to hand it to Amazon, they are not afraid to jump into any ring. Are you ready for this world where talking to your family is mediated by a robot?

You can’t succeed coming to the potluck with only a fork

I had a convo with a PM friend in the NYC last week where I remarked that (it feels like) 50% of my job is connecting somebody to someone else. As in, “Oh, that’s what you’re trying to do? You should talk to X, Y, Z as they would be helpful/are thinking about the same thing/have concerns about it, etc.

I started to question what that meant about my contribution – what does that actually achieve? But then my colleague said exactly the same thing and we found ourselves without even trying essentially doing that for each other. I told him what I was working on and a typical reply was “I’ve worked with her before, let me make an intro”, and a million others like this.

Then I came across the video below, which helped me put a name to what this work actually entails and why it’s useful.

Kare Anderson, a former journalist, talks about the importance of being an opportunity maker, someone who actively seeks out people who have different experiences than themselves and tries to find meaningful connections where others wouldn’t bother.

She writes about connecting a Hollywood actress to an ex-con who both have interests in public art. Sure, a random example, but I think about how many informal conversations lead to shared projects (both right away or way in the future), a cool 20% idea, or a long-time friend-colleague (freague?).

Anyway, the reason why I thought this was useful to write about is that the incredibly demanding, fast-paced PM life often makes me want to cut out meetings or other distractions from what has to get done today. But don’t sleep on the concept of meeting others who you think have nothing to do with your work or your expertise…you’ll probably learn something and it might even be better than that.