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.Read More
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.Read More
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.Read More
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.Read More
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 ...Read More
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.Read More
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?Read More
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.Read More
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.Read More
Leaving the click-bait title aside this will be an article about writing good specs
This year I learned something that I kinda guessed already: The biggest benefit of keeping a journal is not archiving your experiences. Very few people take the time to read what they wrote 5 years ago. The biggest benefit is in the writing process alone. Writing helps you clarify your thoughts and feelings. According to science: writing accesses your left brain, the analytical and rational, so your right side is free to create, brainstorm or mix ideas.
Journaling and writing specs have a lot in common. The benefits for me are strikingly similar.Read More
I got a new computer a few months ago. Yet another device adding to the already long list of gadgets: I have 2 laptops, an iPad, a Windows Phone, an Apple TV, Xbox One, smart TVs etc....
As I was moving all my files, reconfiguring everything I got really frustrated. It's 2014 for God's sake. And I was doing it the way I did it when I was on Windows XP. I thought by now everything should be in the cloud and I should be able to access all my content from all these devices. And like a good product guy I started with ....Read More
Why isn't Bucharest more like Silicon Valley? It's a loaded question that I get asked under many forms. The reality is I don't have an answer. And I don't think there is a simple one. There are many contributing factors but there is one I that I think Romania (and Europe in general) misses the most: product people.Read More
If you were not born in Romania you will probably have no idea who Stefan the Great is. And I think that is one of the reasons Romanians (and you can extend the argument to the region) are poor innovators.
Romanians consider him one of the greatest (if not the greatest) Prince there was in the history of the country. He is on the cover of textbooks and his name is heard among the first when politicians talk about smart leadership. He fought the Turks for about 50 years but when he won he did it by burning the entire country, thus starving the Turkish soldiers and forcing them to retreat. And after 50 years of opposing the Ottoman Empire he gave up and made peace with the Sultan, at the cost of an expensive annual tribute.Read More
It took me a lot of time to get Pinterest. I understand how picture sharing works and was a big supporter of Flickr back in the day. But why is Pinterest so successful? I read tons of articles about the phenomenal growth, the initial struggle of Ben Silbermann, aka the founder, but most importantly I noticed how Adelina, my Facebook addicted girl, was using Pinterest every single day.
Today I want to explore what makes Pinterest such a successful product.
As I am writing this I feel I am wasting time. I had the same feeling a day ago. I was writing another long email (you could call it a memo but I hate the term) to the whole uberVU team. It was a long, deep and (I hope) clear email about how I look at things and why we are doing something instead of something else.
In that couple of hours I could have spec'ed a new feature, look over some metrics or have a client interview . You know ... the stuff we usually associate with work. But instead I spent all that precious time writing an email.
But looking back it is probably the most important accomplishment of the day.Read More
This is the first sentence of the memo that every Microsoft employee found in their inbox a few weeks ago. Its purpose: to announce one of the most significant company reorgs in history. Put yourself in their shoes. Would the strategy that Steve Ballmer talks about be clear to you? I doubt it. It reads like "we will build everything for everybody".
The rest of the memo is a mixed bag of some well-communicated ideas but many business-sounding ambiguities. By the time the Microsoft employee got to the end, he must of been really eager to see what he should focus on. Let's see:
Translation: We will focus on consumers. And businesses. And developers who make software for consumers. And for business. And we will make that a priority.
How can EVERYTHING be a focus and a priority?
In recent months I started to appreciate clarity a lot. I think it must be one of the most overlooked qualities. Why?
Clarity forces you to dig deeper
You can not communicate something clearly if you don't understand it in the first place. And in order to understand something clearly you need to ask a lot of questions and accept the reality you may find. Achieving clarity is, in a way, an exercise in sincerity.
The problem with truth is it makes some people uncomfortable. This explains why vague statements show up to save the day. Think about the business people or politicians who can answer any question, even if they have no idea what they are talking about. Ambiguity saves face.
There comes a point in the life of a business when communication becomes a key issue. At uberVU I felt it many, many times. I am writing specs for a feature and something else gets built. I am trying to make the team aware of something, and weeks later I realize they understood something else. The bigger the team the bigger the problem.
It's a problem I see more and more since I became aware of it. It's everywhere. Like a plague. And the way the problem usually gets solved is by:
- Adding more layers of management:"Let's put more people in charge ..."
- Creating more systems: "More meetings ... more software etc."
This approach however is treating the symptoms not the cause. The cause in most cases is lack of clarity. My lack of clarity. Or yours. If we would all communicate more clearly, then maybe we wouldn't need to add layers of management and additional complexity.
Growing as team where there is no clarity is painful.
You can communicate clearly using any medium. I for one start with writing. Writing forces you to think. Opening your mouth is easy and you can get carried away. When you try to communicate something write it first. You don't need to send it to anyone. Write it for yourself at first. It helps you clear your thoughts.
Showing is also way better than talking. As a product guy it was how I used to communicate my ideas. But in the absence of a clear explanation of what the image represents, a comprehensive description of the problems you are trying to solve, or an accurate and detailed representation of how it will work, visuals can be more confusing.
The ingredients of clarity
Let me be very very clear on what I mean by clarity. I don't want you to have the wrong definition of the word. Let's go through the attributes of clarity:
I am sure you use words like: intuitive, fast, or (to go back to MSFT memo) "extraordinary experiences". You can bet that these words mean different things to you than the people you are trying to communicate with.
"It is also clear to me and our leadership that we must do an extraordinary job to succeed in this modern world." This phrase is filled with nice fancy words that can be easily skipped over as Blah-Blah-Blah. What I think Balmer is trying to say is: "Our competitors are better organized than us and to compete we need to change how we work too." He only sugarcoated it "a bit". But when you sugarcoat something you risk making it un-discernible. Better to be open.
I don't think clarity necessarily means short. You cannot always go with the "Too Long; Didn't Read" (TL;DR) version and maintain the level of understanding you need.
"Our vision is to provide amazing services" is the sort of language that does more harm than good. Visions and other hallucinations rarely help anyone to actually do something about the problem.
That's it. Get clarity of thought and make the world a better place. Clear enough!
Most people think entrepreneurs are big visionaries. But Sara Sarasvathy, a professor at University of Virginia, found that in fact entrepreneurs are acting like amateur time-pressed cooks, checking what is in the fridge first and then deciding what they can cook for dinner. They were clearly not 5 star chefs who dreamt the perfect recipe and spent a lot of time hunting for the perfect ingredients.Read More