Category Archives: Signal

Fascinating interview on creation with George R.R. Martin

I read a fair bit of fiction, but had never been particularly drawn to “fantasy” as a genre. Then (like others) I read the Game of Thrones / Song of Ice and Fire series as it came into popular consciousness.

It is one awesome body of work. The world building, character development and plotting is as good as anything I’ve read, and I tore through the entire series in a few weeks. Perhaps more specifically, it’s impressive when that standard can be sustained over such a distance – in both pages and years.

I find those characteristics impressive – repeatedly makes you wonder how one person sits down and goes about creating some epic shit like that. From this interview, probably like like any other significant or creative work – one step at a time and partially a remix.

Ideas are cheap. I have more ideas now than I could ever write up. To my mind, it’s the execution that is all-important. I’m proud of my work, but I don’t know if I’d ever claim it’s enormously original. You look at Shakespeare, who borrowed all of his plots. In A Song of Ice and Fire, I take stuff from the Wars of the Roses and other fantasy things, and all these things work around in my head and somehow they jell into what I hope is uniquely my own. But I don’t know where it comes from, yet it comes – it’s always come. If I was a religious guy, I’d say it’s a gift from God, but I’m not, so I can’t say that.

Read more:

Provocative counterpoint

It’s a tech-industry thing: ‘We think we can do it better.’…”The tech guys—it’s always better if you just get out of my way and give me what I want. It’s always future-perfect.” He went on, “Their whole thing is ‘Let’s take somebody’s face and innovate on it. There’s an old lady—we don’t know we’re innovating unless she’s screaming.’ A lot of it is thoughtless innovation.

George Packer – Cheap Words – Is Amazon Bad for Books? – The New Yorker

Intersections / Exaptation: Silo Busting

I don’t think you are right. Almost always great new ideas don’t emerge from within a single person or function, but at the intersection of functions or people that have never met before. And most universities are organised so you don’t have those intersections. They are siloed. Universities think people come up with great ideas by closing the door. The academic tenure process, where you have to publish to journals which are very narrow, stands in the way of great research.

 Clayton Christensen

Business model / systems view on solving customer problems.

Marty Cagan is one of the leading thinkers in product leadership and I’ve learned a great deal from his knowledge and experience. His latest post puts his Opportunity Assessments, Alex Osterwalder’s Business Model Canvas and Ash Maurya’s Lean Canvas in context.

While I agree with what he says for the most part, I take some exception to this statement:

In the case of an existing product, the majority of a Canvas is irrelevant.  You already have a distribution model.  You already have a monetization strategy.  There is already a well-defined cost structure.  You are simply trying to create more value in your solution.

It’s splitting hairs somewhat on word choice, but I would say that thinking about your product’s business model as a whole is far from irrelevant, whether for an existing product or new. Knowing what Cagan has written, I know he doesn’t dispute this, so not trying to make a straw man argument here based on one word. But do wish to comment as this is a firm product leadership belief of mine.

One of the most useful outcomes of taking a business model approach / systems view in startup and product management is that each business model area is then properly seen as an opportunity to serve the customer better.

It’s a useful antidote to myopic thinking on product – kind of like product teams that push out releases with no concern for how to get it to customers or help them understand how to use it to solve their problems. It may be beyond a particular functional area’s interest, but someone has to think about it to ensure market success. Product and startup leadership being a horizontal function, I think it is the job of product leaders to own their business models as a whole – not just the product. This systems level approach is what we advocate to new startup founders / product leaders in the Laurier Launchpad Program.

Put another way, a customer’s interaction with your business and product extends past the product itself – beyond Osterwalder’s Value Proposition cell, Maurya’s Solution cell or the Opportunity part of Cagan’s framework. Each of these tools are valuable and in my view product management adjuncts to user stories in Agile Engineering. They’re relevant as practically usable, lightweight methods to think about the things you should in a way that can be rapidly improved upon. Rather than the heavyweight, slow to change prior methods that no one uses / reads anyways, like business plans or detailed designs.

Another way I find useful to think about the customer lifecycle is Steve Blank’s “Get-Keep-Grow” simplification of Osterwalder’s “Customer Relationships” canvas cell, or a widened version of your standard sales funnel. Each touch point the customer has with your business (in other words, each part of the business model) is an opportunity to solve a customer problem or do something remarkably different from competitors.

For example, I think one of the most valuable aspects of cloud / SaaS solutions to customers is decreasing the time it takes for the customer to “get” a solution compared to older enterprise / on premise deployment approaches. Customers tell me it’s a dream in comparison to wake up, log into the product and find new solutions and fixes ready to go, or to be able to get their problems solved in the first place without the usual red tape and legwork involved in on-premise deployments.

That all said, being able to solve customer problems across the business model depends on how much power you actually have. I’m fortunate in my position to have that kind of control, but in other situations, areas of the business model may simply be out reach for a product manager. In those situations you can only make recommendations on business model changes or try to lead/engineer those changes politically.

For this reason, I think the claim of product management being the “CEO of the product” is only really true when manifested in organizational authority, and that’s really the only way a product leader can make the biggest dent on the market success of their products. Otherwise it’s just a case of having responsibility for market success but not full power to do anything about it.


Feedly: Doing it right – serving market needs and user-centric interaction design.

Digging what Feedly has been doing to fill the vacuum (soon to be) created by Google Reader getting a bullet to the head.

Like 3,000,000 other Reader users, I gave Feedly a go initially when the news was announced. Didn’t like it at first – didn’t want a whiz bang visual presentation of information for every type of feed – no thanks Flipboard. Some of the interaction design just didn’t make intuitive sense to me. I’d find myself applying an interaction design pattern that worked in one place but not another. Consistency matters for accessibility and ease of use.

Since then, the Feedly team seems to be updating the product on a continuous development basis. The gut responses to these changes is “Hell Yeah”. I’m using it as my primary Reader replacement across platforms (Web, Android, iOS).

Another important consideration in interaction design – users don’t necessarily go through a spreadsheet based blow-by-blow comparison in making decisions to adopt or not. Continuous development is such a beautiful model of product delivery compared to traditional release cycles or enterprise software – user wakes up, good morning here are all the improvements and fixes you’ve been waiting for. Have joked with colleagues before that this is the dream for a product leader.

This is a great example of a product team stepping up to fill an unmet market need and designing solutions with end user goals in mind.

Firstly, Feedly started to incorporate the mental models and interaction design patterns Google Reader users have been using for 8 years – keyboard shortcuts, condensed headline presentations, etc. Reduces cognitive switching costs from one solution to another. Equalize/neutralize first in competitive strategy.

Secondly, they’ve gone beyond that equalization to think of how users are consuming content and improve upon even what was in Google Reader. Love the big “Mark as Read” button when you reach the end of a list of feeds, automatically switching to the next unread category and how category view settings are retained. Why should I have to do any of that manually when I do this every time I use the solution? This is good interaction design – thinking of user goals and anticipating what they would want without them even asking. Alan Cooper would be proud – good software has the personality of a smart, helpful and considerate person.

Thirdly, it seems they’re responding to the criticism that Google Reader was killed because it missed the social overlay that Twitter, Facebook, etc. provided on sharing content. It seems you can integrate feeds from these accounts to get “one stream” around content and buzz, and I’ve noticed the RSS articles indicate sharing activity – a feature that many Google Reader users hated to lose when the GOOG decided Google Plus is what people should use. This is great. I don’t want to go to 5 places no matter how much any one of them want to be the only place I get information.

As a product geek/leader, I have to call out praise to the Feedly team for stepping up to solve unmet market needs and continuously improving upon what is already looking to be a solid alternative to what was lost. There are rumblings around premium / paid versions of the service and I think I’ll be all too happy to give them my money for something I use all the time.

3,000,000 users earned from Google Reader in 2 weeks. I agree with some of the residual resentment kicking around – why should people start using a new product from a company if it might just be killed off in future in spite of usage?

One of the ideas from the Lean Startup camp is around engineering stickiness and retention in products through users creating personal content that keeps ’em coming back. Why would people invest in building up personal content and coming back to a solution if they can’t trust it will be there in the future regardless of use? I use(d) Reader every hour every day I’m awake. I share content that others find valuable. I’m proudly one of the hubs/connectors that enjoys sharing things might help or be interest of others.

Product leadership takeaway: Product level decisions can have portfolio / company level implications. Think about the job customers / users are hiring you to do and you’ll ensure they don’t fire you for someone who does it better. And try not to fire customers if they’re using your stuff a lot – of course, business cases rules and smart product teams / the market will step up if a meaningful vacuum is created.

Rev. Lovejoy: No Homer, God didn’t burn your house down, but he was working in the hearts of your friends be they Christian, Jew, or… miscellaneous.

Apu: Hindu. There are 700,000,000 of us.

Rev. Lovejoy: Aww, that’s super.