Armchair Strategising, Marx and Entrepreneurship

Armchair Strategising, Marx and Entrepreneurship

Marx reminds me of something that I call “armchair strategising”: felling in love with my own thoughts and  starting to believe that my grand theory of the world is somehow an accurate representation of it. Rather than the distorted, myopic interpretation that it really is.  

Like Marx, there is a large group of workers who are very susceptible to be caught in this narrative fallacy. I am part of this group: Entrepreneurs, product managers, executives. Knowledge workers in general, people working with abstract concepts and shipping equally abstract outputs: plans, strategies, models etc. Like Marx the theories we put forward are not just a hedonistic compressions that we use to entertain ourselves during otherwise boring cocktail parties. Our beliefs are tools in our daily work. 

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Jobs suck. What's to be done?

Jobs suck. What's to be done?

Go to school. Prove your worth by getting your diploma. Find a job. Work hard. Don’t break the rules. Cash in your pay-check every month. Enjoy your life after work. The end. 

This is the life pattern most of us grew up with and one that still reverberates strongly today as most of the social institutions are set up for this modus operandi. But lots of us can fell the wind of change. We may not be fully capable to put it into words but “times they are a changing”. It is something I have been thinking for a while. I think your Spider senses are tingling too.

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Coding is NOT it

Coding is NOT it

It’s quite fashionable for most of the tech elites to preach coding as a required skill for all kids. Tim Cook, Bill Gates, Mark Zuckerberg … all seem to think that the solution to the economic problems faced by million of disenfranchised workers can be solved by turning more people into coders. Thus they are pushing for coding to become part of the common curriculum for to everyone going through the public educational system. However I think Tim Cook (like most of his peers) is short sighted and that his predecessor had much better grip on human value than him ...

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We are Flat Wrong About Learning

We are Flat Wrong About Learning

What if most of our instincts about learning are misplaced, incomplete, or flat wrong? This is how Benedict Carey, a science reporter for the New York Times, starts his book, simply called “How We Learn”. And he does a brilliant job proving that our thinking about learning is rooted more in superstition than in science. And boy this book is filled with science. It is extremely evident that the author is a science nerd because this book is 95% filled with studies and experiments on lots and lots of topics related to the learning: memorisation, forgetting, associations, perceptions etc.

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Were you born a hero or are you training to become one?

Were you born a hero or are you training to become one?

Are heroes born or made? The answer is surely both and neither, but I think it’s useful to consider the dynamics here for a minute. We tend to save these questions for the late night drinking party when the wine bubbles up our silliest questions. Frivolous or not, the answers to questions like this can put a light on some of our subconscious biases and beliefs that shape our day-to-day activity. Let's take a incursion into this topic: from ancient Greek philosophers to our 2 favourite super-heroes. 

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3 Body Trilogy - a new SF Classic

3 Body Trilogy -  a new SF Classic

If you are a SF fan than you probably heard of the “3 Body” books series. Liu Cixin’s books have brought Chinese SF into the limelight winning numerous awards and critical acclaim (the former US president being amongst the fans). I enjoyed these books tremendously and this review serves as a way for me to bring fwd some of the items that sticked with me. 

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A non-alarmist perspective of the A.I.pocalypse - Part 2

A non-alarmist perspective of the A.I.pocalypse - Part 2

Let’s continue the series on why the A.I. takeover are overblown. This time I would like to talk about our static worldview and our over-reliance on prediction. Peter Thiel defines definite and indefinite optimists and pessimists in his book, “Zero to One”. He remarks that people who look at the future as slightly-altered continuation of today will tend to focus on conservation of status-quo sprinkled with interventions when some random event disturbs the emotional tranquility of the society ... 

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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.pocalypse - Part 1

A non-alarmist view of the A.I.pocalypse - Part 1

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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