Joe Queenan: My 6,128 Favorite Books –

Lovely bit of writing on reading from Joe Queenan that hits home:

A case can be made that people who read a preposterous number of books are not playing with a full deck. I prefer to think of us as dissatisfied customers. If you have read 6,000 books in your lifetime, or even 600, it’s probably because at some level you find “reality” a bit of a disappointment.

I’ve never squandered an opportunity to read. There are only 24 hours in the day, seven of which are spent sleeping, and in my view at least four of the remaining 17 must be devoted to reading. A friend once told me that the real message Bram Stoker sought to convey in “Dracula” is that a human being needs to live hundreds and hundreds of years to get all his reading done; that Count Dracula, basically nothing more than a misunderstood bookworm, was draining blood from the necks of 10,000 hapless virgins not because he was the apotheosis of pure evil but because it was the only way he could live long enough to polish off his extensive reading list.

via Joe Queenan: My 6,128 Favorite Books –

Financiers Still Aren’t Rocket Scientists

Provocative post from Chad Orzel over at Science Blogs – on a similar wavelength to the perception of authority and analytic rigor in popular science:

You would think that the 2008 economic meltdown, in which the financial industry broke the entire world when they were blindsided by the fact that housing prices can go down as well as up, might have cut into the idea of Wall Street bankers as geniuses, but evidently not. The weird idea that the titans of investment banking are the smartest people on the planet continues to persist, even among people who ought to know better– another thing that bugged me about Chris Hayes’s Twilight of the Elites was the way he uncritically accepted the line that Wall Street was the very peak of the meritocracy. It’s not hard to see where it originates– Wall Street types can’t go twenty minutes without telling everybody how smart they are– but it’s hard to see why so many people accept such blatant propaganda without question.

Look, Romney was an investment banker and corporate raider at Bain Capital. This is admittedly vastly more quantitative work than, say, being a journalist, but it doesn’t make him a “numbers guy.” The work that they do relies almost as much on luck and personal connections as it does on math– they’re closer to being professional gamblers than mathematical scientists. This is especially true of Bain and Romney, as was documented earlier this year– Bain made some bad bets before Romney got there, and was deep in the hole, and he got them out in large part by exploiting government connections and a sort of hostage-taking brinksmanship, creating a situation in which their well-deserved bankruptcy would’ve created a nightmare for the people they owed money, which bought them enough time for some other bets to pay off.

Romney has no shortage of nerve, and while he creeps me out, he has the sort of faux charm that works well in the finance community. But he’s not a “numbers guy” in any sense that looks meaningful from over here in the land of science. He can do the math needed to add up his personal fortune, but the game that he made his money playing isn’t a rigorously mathematical one– people get rich in finance as much by playing hunches and cutting sharp deals as by crunching numbers. There are people who make their way in that business by taking a rigorously data-driven approach to investing– one of the many things I need to write up for the blog at some point is a review of a forthcoming book called The Physics of Wall Street– but they’re nowhere near a majority of the industry, and Romney’s not one of them.

Financiers Still Aren’t Rocket Scientists – Uncertain Principles.

KERS Hybrid for High-Performance Scion FR-S in Development

KERS Hybrid for High-Performance Scion FR-S in Development – WOT on Motor Trend.

I love this. The Porsche 918 Spyder is a design / engineering marvel and I think the future of performance vehicles – producing numbers you’d expect from something that burns dead dinosaurs by the superfreighter but with a neat-o hybrid powerplant that does 70+ MPG. The FR-S / BRZ is already a great design executed as a punch-above-its-weight-class driver’s car – so an iteration that builds upon that with more muscle and efficiency pushes my product geek / car guy buttons. I would love to buy the engineers behind it a beer for nailing such a great design.


Mary Meeker: Mid-Year Internet Trends Report

Pretty fascinating:

  • As of Q1 2012, Android is powering more internet enabled devices than Windows. Post PC indeed.
  • There will be 5 billion mobile phone users by the end of 2012, but 4 billion of that will cheap feature phones / 1 billion smartphones. 
Somewhat less interesting:
  • Android adoption is 6x faster than iPhone, up from 4x in May.
  • iPad adoption is 5x faster than iPhone, up from 3x in May.

Mary Meeker Gives Mid-Year Internet Trends Report: Android Adoption Ramping Up 6X Faster Than iPhone | TechCrunch.

MIT Technology Review’s 35 Innovators Under 35 2012

Innovators Under 35 2012 – MIT Technology Review.

Common themes:

  • Having the brains to get into elite academic / commercial organizations (recall Paul Kedrosky observing some years back the pattern of PhD drop outs as a good indicator of founder success)
  • Having the ability to actually make what they have in mind (Pinterest guy by proxy)
  • Having a bigger vision around an unmet market need driving efforts
  • Not waiting to ask for permission to do the above and make a dent in the universe


Growth Hackers: new beast or old news with new tools?

This term/role has been catching buzz lately. There was a recent conference and many tweets / posts around the concept that Sean Ellis first wrote about back in 2010.

I’m not yet decided if it’s a new specialization / next level product management or just a rose by any other name. Initial reaction to it somewhat similar to that of “social media expert” – new tools and approaches applied to an established function/need. Like being an “email expert” would have been in 1993. At first an uncommon and loosely understood niche to differentiate on, but then becoming as familiar as any other technological change.

Data driven marketing + engineering growth on metrics is not a new idea. It may be a function more relevant/necessary if the team is otherwise code-centric and heads down on building product, as opposed to thinking about an innovative and scalable business model around that product or how it succeeds in market. In other words, what a complete product leader does.


You know what, after giving it more thought – if the growth hacker concept means combining engineering resources with a focus on market growth, whether in a specific role or how the organization is structured, then more power to the idea. A lot of product problems can be eliminated by making sure the two are integrated in resources. Would help to eliminate the disconnect between what’s built and what effects are observed in the marketplace, or the political exercise of trying to lead without authority on market driven changes instead of actually having authority over the necessary technical resources.

What it actually does vs. what you say about it.

Jonah Lehrer Wasn’t the Only Journalist Shaping His Conclusions — New York Magazine.

He was scrambling up the slippery slope to the TED-talk elite: authors and scientists for whom the book or the experiment is just part of a multimedia branding strategy. He was on a conveyor belt of blog posts, features, lectures, and inspirational books, serving an entrepreneurial public hungry for futurist fables, easy fixes, and scientific marvels in a world that often feels tangled, stagnant, and frustratingly familiar. He was less interested in wisdom than in seeming convincingly wise.   The remarkable thing about that transformation is that it wasn’t all that unusual. In his short, spectacular career, Lehrer had two advocate-editors who quickly became his exilers.

The first, Wired editor Chris Anderson, has himself been caught plagiarizing twice, the second time in an uncorrected proof. The often-absentee editor of a futurist magazine that may be the house journal of the lecture circuit, Anderson makes his living precisely as Lehrer did—snipping and tailoring anecdotal factoids into ready-to-wear tech-friendly conclusions.

The second, David Remnick, has invested resources in The New Yorker’s own highbrow talk series, The New Yorker Festival, in which staff writers function as boldfaced brand experts in everything from economics to medicine to creativity. The tone of those talks mixes the smooth technospeak of the Aspen Ideas Festival—co-hosted by rival magazine The Atlantic—with the campfire spirit of first-person storyteller confab the Moth. It was at the Moth that The New Yorker’s biggest brand, The Tipping Point author Malcolm Gladwell, got into hot water in 2005 by telling a story about games he played in the pages of the Washington Post that turned out to be almost entirely untrue. In print, Gladwell is often knocked for reducing social science to easy epiphanies and is occasionally called out for ignoring evidence that contradicts his cozy theories—most recently over a piece this past September on Jerry Sandusky. Yet he also serves as a pioneer in the industry of big-idea books—like those by his New Yorker colleague James Surowiecki, the “Freakonomics” guys, Dan Ariely, and others. Theirs is a mixed legacy, bringing new esoteric research to a lay audience but sacrificing a great deal of thorny complexity in the process.

Saying you’d never make the same mistakes as someone currently in the process of flaming out smacks a bit opportunistic pile-on to me. Self-aggrandizing at the expense of another. The marginally more intellectual cousin to “oh-no-they-didn’t” comments on TMZ over the latest celebrity implosion.

That said, this event hits on issues of conscientiousness and truth, relevant to both product management and thinking in general.

One aspect to this story is the Paris Hilton strategy in social media and marketing to establish brand recognition and thought leadership. Talk enough about the things you want to be recognized for, with sufficient verve, and you too can be recognized as an expert by virtue of mass effect. Most of the time people have too many demands on their attention to go deeply into the things you say and expert status can be conferred merely by association and recency.

Joey Roth’s poster nails the relationship to keep in mind about this.

Sometimes people want to be right / recognized more than they want to put in the work for those ends. A good BS test on authority / thinking is the balance between roll up your sleeves work and talk. Is there an even balance between rhetorical skills and ego-driven image engineering and objective fact / truth? I have a reflexive preference for people who favour work to speak for itself vs. self promotion, airtime spent on facts/issues/solutions rather than themselves. Street cred doesn’t come automatically this way, but when it does, it’s deserved.

How this relates to product is in the balance between what something/someone says about a solution and what it actually does. It’s in part why I don’t really believe in outbound marketing. There are many examples in the consumer space where you can create desires based on perceptions that overreach reality or create a need where one didn’t exist before. That may make a sale but the truth of the solution presents itself in use. Building a great product means delivering on promises made. I’d aim to have the facts of a product or solution speak for themselves as well as Steve Jobs level messaging about it. Not one without the other. If the underlying truth is there in the product on how it genuinely solves a valuable problem, marketing messaging about it doesn’t get more complicated than speaking that truth.

This relates to the story-study-lesson model criticized in the article of authors whose product is pop-sci authority. People are drawn to that model because it helps them identify with a problem, understand better tools to solve it and thus feel greater mastery over their world. In other words, this is a shortcut to the emotional correlates of a effective solution, and what’s said is more focused on producing those feel good results rather than actually delivering them in the solution. Consumers have doubts about solution providers because of having trust burned this way. Shortcuts to the promised land.

I have the highest respect for academic / scientific rigor in analyses, but it doesn’t always have the speed or emotional resonance to win every argument or product/business decision. Which is why there tends to be groaning at the prospect of really thinking something through. While bias should be towards action, there needs to be conscious discipline in product thinking whether “fast” and “cheap” are being picked too often over “good.” I think that’s no small part of the player hate from journalists or academia in these charlatan outings or for typical business thinking. Those trained to exert discipline over what they say and to favour truth – it’s easy to see where the contempt comes from when someone is rewarded when they can rock a room but don’t have the same concern for conscientiousness.

No one would argue that plagiarism is right, whether it’s fabricating facts in this case or ripping off ideas. It’s plain and simple dishonesty. Whether that’s upheld in practice depends both on personal character and surrounding systems. In this specific case, systemic factors rewarded or at least did not punish these unacceptable shortcuts. The same risk exists in systems around product. If audiences – whether internal or external – routinely reward cutting corners in thinking and analyses, there will be a bill to pay for it later.

Stand up for discipline in thinking as a product leader because it goes into what you make. Business needs to rapidly respond to demands but not to the point where validity is compromised. It is a characteristic of mediocrity where what is good/true takes a back seat to other considerations like fast and cheap. If you want to make products that kick ass and don’t just suck less, examine the quality of thinking that goes into what you make and not just what you say about it.

Building things to Clarke's Third Law.