On the philosophical importance of Science Fiction

On the philosophical importance of Science Fiction

Science Fiction can be seen as an exploration of existing or future problems we are confronting with. There are two types of SF novels that I like. The first kind, practiced by Frank Herbert or George Orwell for example, uses alien, fictional environments as scenes that exacerbate current social issues. Their books serve as fictional laboratories that blow all humans convention out of the water thus allowing them to take current philosophical trends to the extreme.  Herbert, for example, does this with religion and cult-building as Dune, his famous sand planet, offers him the perfect environment to isolate the issue for literary exploration ...

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How do we protect ourselves against fake news?

How do we protect ourselves against fake news?

My dad, a high-school history teacher, discovered "fake news" in early 2000s. He was always a big believer in self-study and gave his students assignments to encourage this behaviour. The assignment that sparked his observation asked the students to come up with a general characterisation of Mao's regime. He gave this assignment prior to any actual teaching about the period, expecting his pupils to research the period using the Internet. Most of the papers were exactly what you would expect, reproducing the main accepted narrative of communism gone wrong, persecution and death. As with these home-works originality was never a strong mark, a lot of the papers being copy-pasted from various websites. 

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Why do things catch on and become viral?

Why do things catch on and become viral?

I was always curious about the way people make decisions as this could have a huge impact on the products I may be building or the content that I put out. In the past I read all the typical popular books claiming to offer a scientific deconstruction of human behaviour. "Contagious" by Jonah Berger, a Wharton professor of marketing, is my most recent read in this field of behavioral economics. Jonah's book is focusing on virality and promises to offer a theory of virality and to answer the million dollar question: "Why do things catch on?".

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A non-alarmist view of the A.I.pocalipse

A non-alarmist view of the A.I.pocalipse

AI is without a doubt the trendiest economic scare of the day. Technology pundits love to put forward apocalyptic scenarios about the impending takeover of the robots overlords. But very few question these dire prophecies, which is quite mind-boggling, considering that the AI alarmists are making some fundamental-logic mistakes that I think it's important to discuss. The topic of this first chapter is a deep dive into the concept of value, and it's (rather) miss-use in the media. 

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5 (rather unusual) Product Book Recommendations

The How to Web crew asked me to recommend 5 product books that would help novices step up their product skills. My proposals are captured  in the video below:

If you prefer text and links here there are:

1. Inspired by Marty Cagan

I started with a classic product book. Inspired is one of those books that I would expect all product managers to read. Cagan is a one of the most respected product guys, mainly because he was managing products (at companies like HP and ebay) well before product management became a thing. Read this book if you are thinking to get a job in this field and want to start with core concepts, like the difference between product and project management. 

 

2. Value Proposition Design by the Strategyzer Group

This is the sequel to the famous "Business Model Generation". It is a very colourful  book with more pictures than words. But it provides a system that would help a product owner to identify the needs of the customers and to build a product that would satisfy these needs.  Pretty basic but some of the topics are quite deep and the book offers a good list of checkboxes for any product manager to follow. Did I mention it has pretty pictures? Yeah ... if you consider getting the Kindle version I would advise against it. 

3. The Cucumber Book by Matt Wynne

This is development book focused on writing automated tests in Rails. From this point of view, 80% of the book can be ignored by a product focused reader. However, the first part was transformative for me as it forced me to describe product functionality in terms of user behaviour not by its interface. It will not get you to the level of describing the jobs of the product, but it is definitely a step in that direction. 

 

4. Creativity Inc by Ed Catmull

This is not your typical product management book, but Creativity Inc is a remarkable book non-the-less. It deals with the culture that enables a company like Pixar to make hit after hit. If you worked in bringing products to market then you should now how complicated it is to get the number of slam-dunks that Pixar got. This book is giving you the recipe for the secret sauce. It may not work for your company or you may not be in a position to dramatically influence the culture but at least you will know what it takes to get to that level. 

 

5. Masters of Doom by David Kushner

Now this is a weird recommendation. Before you close the tab give me some time to explain. Yes, this is the book about the making of Doom, that game where you run around with a gun and shoot monsters. But that game revolutionised gaming and it is one of the most successful products in the history of software. The book explores the the dynamic of the team in great detail thus giving you backstage access to the creation of the game. It's an entertaining book that should get you pumped and ready to go. 


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The Problem with Strategic Initiatives

Most strategic initiatives are trying to solve (perceived) company problems. And that’s the problem right here. Company problems (usually fueled by paranoia) are NOT customer problems. This lack of alignment is the fundamental strategical error that leads to all sort of tactical blunders. The root cause is the fear of missing out. It is caused or accentuated by managers leading by looking in the rear mirror and getting freaked out by competitors moves or new tech trends.

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The Product Manager: Between the Vitruvian Man & the Manbearpig

The Product Manager: Between the Vitruvian Man & the Manbearpig

These popular “definitions” of Product Management can make us (product managers) feel nothing less than incarnations of the Vitruvian man. In a business world full of Dilbert characters we are nothing less than a representation of the perfect, well balanced biz man. Heck, we are like Linus Torvalds, Steve Jobs and Jeff Bezos combined.  We rock! 

In the real world however, things could not be further from the Messiah-Like figure all these articles can led us to believe. 

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Not all notes are created equal: What are the jobs of our note-taking apps?

The quest for the perfect note-taking application: A never-ending saga full of excitement over the new shiny app followed by disappointment when the new-found love fails to meet a need I just realized I have to solve. I really tried them all. But they all ended up sucking in one way or the other. But as I putting down some of my thoughts around jobs-to-be-done, I realized that note taking is in fact a solution to a multitude of problems. There are many cases when taking some notes is the the answer, but understanding the question can help one in choosing between one approach and the other. 

That led me to thinking about my own set of jobs for note-taking. This is not meant to be a guide on note taking, but as a personal example on how a simple tool (in this case notes) can serve a lot of jobs. Here we go: 

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Product manager’s guide to impulse buying

Most of the time we buy products we do it based on their appeal. We rarely ask about how good do they fit our daily lives. 

The marketers behind most products wanna sell to you the idea of a better you. Buy these Nike shoes and you will be fit. Buy Microsoft Office and your productivity will soar. We seem to believe that our lack of fitness or productivity comes from a lack of better tools. 

People building products may know about the jobs-to-be-done framework. In a nutshell the theory is people are deploying your products to get certain jobs done. This framework can easily be applied to making smarter purchases. 

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How to Grok Everything You Read

New year, new resolutions. And a very popular and recurring item on everyone's list is the desire to read more in the new year. Reading more books, not Facebook statuses.  I now find it a bit peculiar how most people focus on quantity when it comes to reading. And to quote from Napoleon (while completely butchering the context), "quantity has a quality of its own". But I am yet to find someone who wants to increase the quality of the book reading.  Quality in this context can be a complicated topic, but let's try to narrowing down by focusing on memorization andunderstanding.

Let me start by asking you "Do you know the books you read last year?". If you are like most people, this question alone will trip you into opening your Kindle, Audible, thinking about the paper books you have on the nightstand etc.  What if we were to step it up a notch and I would ask you to summarize the main ideas from one of them. I did that a few times with some close ones and all I got back was blabbing. Ask about a book from 3 years ago and very few people can recall reading the book in the first place, let alone the content that they remember. We want to read more but even if we do, we seem to forget most of it anyway. Why bother then?

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What is strategy, and why should you care?

What is strategy, and why should you care?

Strategy. The adjective you use to make everything sound like it was based on serious research. You know, unlike the rest of the stuff that you come up without working them neurons. Let's take "directions" for example. By itself is a rather void  and boring word. Put strategy before it ….. and boom …. You get "strategic directions". Such a more inquiry-free language. It works with a lot of words: goals, plans, objectives, initiatives, organization etc. Pretty much anything. It's magic. Just like bacon. Makes everything better. 

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Why Setting Priorities is Hard

Why Setting Priorities is Hard

We all deal with priorities and goal setting in our personal or professional life. And I recently realized that if you have problems  in picking and sticking with a list of priorities you don't have a priorities or a goal-setting problem. Most probably you have a strategy problem. Strategy details how a team will use the power available to the them to exercise control over sets of circumstances to achieve certain objectives.  Once that is decided the priorities become pretty clear.

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Hacking your way to becoming a learning machine

Hacking your way to becoming a learning machine

You probably heard Warren Buffett reads 500 pages/day but you thought it does not apply to you. Especially if you are not an investor. That's what I did. "He must be reading lots of reports and studies …. That's his job!" But I noticed that a lot of other people are also reading like crazy. Bill Gates is an avid reader. Heck, even Zuck is doing it. Almost all the people that I admire are learning machines. There must be something there.

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Why Evernote kept failing me and what I did about it

Why Evernote kept failing me and what I did about it

If Evernote feels like a drag to use, but you can't explain why (especially when everyone around you is raving about it) it might be because you have a different goal for note-taking. You might be using the wrong tool for the job.

Evernote wants to act like your second brain. But storage of data has no intrinsic value by itself. Even saving itself is devoid of any goal. In my case the secondary brain is a wonderful analogy but my main interest is in saving information in my primary brain.  I want to remember the things I am saving, not burry them in a database. My goal, in that sense, is to record and organize the information I collect so I can create my own repository of knowledge. That is what I am going after and note-taking is just a tool, not a goal in itself.

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Forget the TODO list! There is a better way of becoming more productive

Forget the TODO list! There is a better way of becoming more productive

How good are you at task management? Not so good eh! Have you tried the latest iPhone app? Some people claim it to be two times better than the app you used last month.  How about keeping your task on a paper? I heard that Tim Ferris swears by that method. Still nothing? Listen, it may be the process … have you heard of GTD? It's based on this book by David Allen. Still no improvement?

That was my life since I started my quest to increase my productivity. I used pen and paper. Many, many apps. Nothing worked. Until now ...

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Understanding Product Debt: How to avoid the mistake all product people make

Understanding Product Debt: How to avoid the mistake all product people make

Thanks to Ward Cunningham, the metaphor technical debt is quite a well-understood concept. It means you are borrowing  time by writing messy code, not worrying about scaling, documentation or other items required for a quality release. You go quick and dirty to release early but all that bad code will incur debt. And there will be a time when you need to pay that debt back - with interest.

I think the parallel with the product design world is a welcome addition. I frequently find myself using the term product debt but I also get the sense that very few people know what I am talking about. Like technical debt, product debt is inquired when you make short term product decision with an expensive long term consequence.

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Face2face Customers Interviews

Face2face Customers Interviews

Over the years, I had numerous calls with clients or potential customers over Skype. I went with a remote solution mostly because of distance. That was important as most of the people I wanted to talk to were not nearby. Heck, they were not even in the same country as me. Skype  was simple, it saved me time and money. 

I am starting to appreciate real-life customer interviews. I am doing them more and more and I believe the level of insight you can gain from a face2face discussion is fundamentally better. Why is that? 

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What a Turkish Merchant taught Me about Sales and Marketing

In 2011, Adelina and I decided to have our first real vacation as a couple. We picked Turkey as our destination, and after 5 days in Istanbul we landed in Bodrum, on the shores of the Mediterranean sea. But unlike in Istanbul, where we were staying in an amazing hotel with a stunning view and we had an infinite variety of things to do, Bodrum seemed like a crowded place with nothing to do. There wasn't a beach and our hotel sucked. Ohhh .... and we were staying there for a full week.

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3 Things I Came to Understand about Strategy

3 Things I Came to Understand about Strategy

How come we always make a strategy and then something else happens?  Would we better off without any strategy since nothing we do seems to work? What is a strategy after-all?  - All questions I was asking myself during sleepless nights or during discussions with my colleagues. I knew the difference between strategy and tactic but somehow this "strategy" concept was one that I didn't fully use. Clearly I didn’t understand it completely.

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