When America was ‘great,’ according to data

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Asides

The good old days when America was “great” aren’t the 1950s. They’re whatever decade you were 11, your parents knew the correct answer to any question, and you’d never heard of war crimes tribunals, microplastics or improvised explosive devices. Or when you were 15 and athletes and musicians still played hard and hadn’t sold out.

Source: When America was ‘great,’ according to data

Lots of interesting stats and charts in the article. It pairs well with Max Kiener’s Why Time Flies and Tim Urban’s The Tail End. The main takeaway: don’t yearn for years past, but make the most of the here and now. The feeling that time accelerates is normal and a reminder that we only have so much left.

Clarity

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Opinion

Productivity isn’t the challenge; it’s a red herring. The true unlock is in clarity. Without it, we are just checking off tasks – busywork. Real productivity comes from clear view on where you want to go which will drive focus. It’s not about long lists. It’s about meaningful work.

Ignore the siren call of social media; it’s a trap that drains energy and blurs your focus. Strive instead for those days where you are so engrossed in your task that time stands still and flies at the same time. Those are your best days. And they need clarity on what is meaningful and makes a difference.

Rituals of modern product teams

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Leadership

In case your podcast queue is running low, I highly recommend queuing up this presentation from Figma’s Config 2023 conference: Rituals of modern product teams – Yuhki Yamashita, Shishir Mehrotra (Config 2023) – YouTube

The basic premise is that effective teams have established a number of rituals over time, and Yamashita and Mehrotra give a quick rundown of some of those rituals (screenshot below). I am fascinated by the organizing framework they use to categorize those rituals: Cadence, Catalyst, Context. Teams should make sure they have the right mix within their meetings (or updates – not everything has to be a meeting) and not confuse one with the others.

Anyway, I highly recommend listening to (or watching) that talk.  

The Impulse Cooktop

Asides

It is a rare feat for a stove top to be exciting, but this just sounds remarkable:

And then you learn that the stove has a battery in it, which means that unlike most other induction stoves, it can plug into a standard 120-volt outlet. You don’t have to get a pricy circuit upgrade, or an even pricier electrical panel upgrade, to install it.

Plus, the battery delivers enough power to boil a liter of water in 40 seconds. And you can still cook if the power goes out. And its eligible for a 30% tax credit.

And then, your brain explodes when you learn the battery is a smart energy storage device that can charge up when power is cheap in the morning so that you save money when you use it in the evening, when power prices are highest. You can also participate in programs that will pay you to dispatch power from your stove to the grid when demand is high.

Impulse Labs’ Sam D’Amico Explains How He Built a Mind-Blowing Stove – Heatmap News

I know, this is a completely random post, but I was just flabbergasted by this. This sounds amazing. Even the name is fun.

Adam Grant in conversation with Jennifer Garner

Asides

What a joy- and insightful way to spend an hour:

Garner was not meant to be the original interviewer and only filled in on the day. But this turned out to be a refreshing blessing in disguise. The conversation focused less on the book and more on personal experiences and challenges in the context of the book.

To be honest I was not a big fan of Adam Grant, but have just added his books to my list of new year’s resolutions. Maybe I should start with Think Again.

The conversation is also available as a traditional podcast on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, Pocket Casts, or wherever you listen to your podcasts.

The metric is not the goal

Asides / OKRs

Great articulation by Mike Davidson in his reflection of being one year at Microsoft:

Our north star is at least pretty pure — Daily Active Users — and that metric is usually a good indicator that you’ve made something people like, but doctrinaire allegiance to almost any singular metric can quickly make people forget why we are in this profession to begin with: to improve lives. Or to put it squarely in Microsoft parlance again: to help every person and organization on the planet achieve more.

If you ever find yourself asking the question “how can we increase Daily Active Users?” instead of “how can we make our product better for people?”, you’ve already lost. Metrics are trailing indicators of qualitative improvements or degradations you’ve made for your customers… they are not the point of the work.

One year at Microsoft » Mike Industries

It’s a great reminder that a KPI is an indicator of value (it says it right on the tin), not the value itself. In large companies, we have created sophisticated systems that drive those indicators that it’s sometimes easy to confuse them. If you work at Microsoft, the easiest way to drive monthly active users is to pre-pin your app on the Windows task bar. Which is when the metric stops being an indicator of customer value. Or as Goodhart’s law states it:

“When a measure becomes a target, it ceases to be a good measure”

Goodhart’s law – Wikipedia

Coming up with good metrics and keeping them fresh (speak: preventing them from being gamed) continues to be hard.

Hat tip to Isaac for pointing me to Mike’s post.

The art of noticing 

Tips and Tricks

There is a rich curriculum of life advice compilations out there. From the classics like Life’s Litte Instruction Book, Kevin Kelly’s 103 Bits of Advice I Wish I Had Known which turned into a book, to 100 Tips for a better life. They are often fascinating reads. But they are also often more entertaining than driving actual change.

Yet, they do become educational once you have the experience that brings the wisdom home. “The large print giveth and the small print taketh away” is only relevant once you sign a contract or buy a product to then get disappointed by the fine print. Having those experience matters with those lists, because then they help us notice things, patterns and behaviors and rethink them.  

A while back Tony Fadell gave a TED talk about the secret of design being noticing. His thesis is that great design notices even small annoyances that add up over time. One of his examples was the little sticker on supermarket apples. It’s there to promote the brand. But for most people that sticker is a minor annoyance in a series of many throughout their day.   

The lists of life advice do help us notice things. They spell out what we know, but don’t have the words for yet. They make the implicit explicit and help us put words to feelings. As such it makes sense to read and re-read those lists every now and then. I’ve made thousands of new mistakes since I first read Life’s Litte Instruction Book back at university. Many of those lessons make sense in a way they did not back then.

In that spirit: find a good list or book and put a reminder into your phone to re-read them every few of years. It’s a good cheat code to get better at noticing.   

Amazon warehouse tour

Asides

Amazon warehouses have always been fascinating to me. The sheer scale and thought that goes into the logistics is just mind bending. I remember looking in 2012 at the market for pneumatic tube systems and we discovered a company called Kiva Systems which produced little robots that automate warehouse logistics tasks. Instead of using them as a hardware provider, Amazon bought the whole company for the sole purpose of powering their own warehouses. I guess, when you are big enough it does make sense to buy the whole cow to drink some milk.

I’ve always been fascinated by photos giving an inside peek into Amazon warehouses. Today I discovered that Amazon gives virtual tours and video walkthroughs of their warehouses. Infinitely fascinating. Every video is a little documentary.

Getting things done

Leadership

More than twenty years ago a book came out by David Allen called Getting Things Done. For a while it garnered quite a cult following and it resonated with me as well. The framework was accessible as it had lots of helpful. tactical advice that was easy to implement, but it also had a lot of depth. Similar to the old PacMan arcade game: “A minute to learn, a lifetime to master”.

Recently it re-entered my consciousness as the Get Things Done concept popped up twice in short succession, both times taking it literally and turning it into meaningful career advice. First, Andrew Bozworth wrote about it on his blog:

Too often I see someone who is responsible for accomplishing an important goal doing the best they can in the face of immense odds. It may sound counterintuitive, but the mandate of such a job is not to “do the best you can.” It is to get it done. And if the way to get it done is to ask for help, then that’s what you should do.

Boz.com – Get It Done

Then President Obama put it in similar terms:

I’ve seen at every level people who are very good at describing problems, people who are very sophisticated in explaining why something went wrong or why something can’t get fixed, but what I’m always looking for is, no matter how small the problem or how big it is, somebody who says, ‘Let me take care of that.’ If you project an attitude of, whatever it is that’s needed, I can handle it and I can do it, then whoever is running that organization will notice. I promise.

Barack Obama’s career advice

Both times, the concept is so simple, that I feel a bit awkward turning those three words into paragraphs. Similar to PacMan this is easy to learn, but will be meaningful on every level throughout your career: Move something that is not “done” yet and get it into a state that is considered as done. No matter how small or big this is.

Over the course of your career, the “Things” part will likely increase in scope as you gain more expertise and competence. And the tactics you have to employ to get them to “Done” will be likely change from individual contribution to some form of influencing. But the basic will always be the same:

  • Define what “done” looks like
  • Identify a path from “here” to “done”
  • Take ownership to make sure that we get to “done”

There you have it. Decades worth of career advice applicable to all levels and stages in your career, captured in three words: Get Things Done.

Excellence is a habit, but so is failure – Andreas Kling – I like computers!

Asides

I’m a big fan of routines and habits. While they are not a guarantee for outcomes, they do increase the odds and move you closer to where you want to be. This is an interesting reflection by Alexander Kling on habits being a two-way street:

We often hear that making small incremental improvements every day can lead to great things. This popular piece of advice rings true, and it’s a powerful reminder to keep pushing ourselves forward.

But there’s another side to this story that we don’t discuss as often: how incremental neglect and small missteps can accumulate and lead to negative outcomes. Recognizing and addressing these patterns of neglect early can make a significant difference in preventing larger problems down the road.

— Read on awesomekling.github.io/Excellence-is-a-habit-but-so-is-failure/