God Did the World a Favor by Destroying Twitter


By far the best paragraph that I read this week came from Paul Ford:

How will these smaller groups of happier people be monetized? This is a tough question for the billionaires. Happy people, the kind who eat sandwiches together, are boring. They don’t buy much. Their smartphones are six versions behind and have badly cracked screens. They fix bicycles, then they talk about fixing bicycles, then they show their friend, who just came over for no reason, how they fixed their bicycle, and their friend says, “Wow, good job,” and they make tea. That doesn’t seem like enough to build a town square on.

God Did the World a Favor by Destroying Twitter

I’m off going to the library to get a book about bicycle repair.

The OKR Operator’s Manual

OKRs / Tips and Tricks

I’ve recently come across the Operator’s Manual, a post by Ian McAllister. It’s a compilation of tips for communicating data, dates and deliverables. Basically, how to live up to “be bright, be brief, be gone”. 

Taking inspiration from that post, below are some tips that I frequently share when it comes to OKRs. My standard line is “OKRs are deceptively simple, but tricky to get right” or as I just recently heard from Isaac “a minute to learn, a lifetime to master.” Below is an overview of some of the tricky aspects. None of them are rocket science, but each represents a hard-earned lesson:

Introducing OKRs

Articulate the “why” for OKRs: The original sin is starting the conversation with “I think we should do OKRs” without specifying what you want to improve with them. OKRs can help with many things such as increasing transparency, aligning teams on clear goals and targets, surfacing disconnects between teams early, bringing strategy closer to execution, improving focus, … Pick one or two challenges upfront and be clear on how OKRs shall help. Unless you create clarity for what you optimize for, OKRs are easily dismissed as another management fad.

OKRs are not an extra thing: OKRs are set to fail when they are handled separately to the rest of the product management process. Instead, they should be tightly integrated into how teams work and manage their products. Product decisions and feature prioritization should be grounded in their alignment to the Objectives and their ability to move Key Results.

Keep it simple: It can be tempting to design OKRs from the get-go for an entire organization all at once with multiple levels. That becomes overwhelming quickly. It helps to pick one leader and design a single set of 1-2 Objectives with 2-4 Key Results each for their area of responsibility. Think of it as a cheat sheet that they would use for the 1:1s with their boss. Don’t overthink it and avoid the temptation to put too much detail into too many Objectives and Key Results. Start with 1-2 Objectives with 2-4 Key Results and take it from there.

OKRs are not individual performance management: OKRs can be an input for an individual performance review conversation. But they should be one of many inputs. As somebody once told me: “I’m not going to force myself to promote jerks just because they deliver on their OKRs.”

Selecting Key Results

Outcomes over outputs: When defining Key Results, if at all possible, avoid output-Key Results. Outputs are basically tasks that need to get done (Launch feature X, reach milestone Y, revamp marketing website, …). They are tactics to get to an outcome, but they are the outcome itself. Walk the extra mile and identify what the benefit is that you want to achieve with a specific feature or activity (increase in user engagement, more leads, better customer conversions, …) and use that as your Key Result. Techniques like the five whys help. That discussion can become quite esoteric (“Why do we exist? What is our purpose?”), but that is only temporary and typically an indication that the team is on the right track to better and more refined OKRs. Rick wrote a good post about this: Binary: Good for code, bad for OKRs

Fewer but better OKRs: Every single time I’ve introduced OKRs we ended up with more than the recommended 3-4 Key Results. I’ve come to accept this as a necessary rite of passage, because after a few OKR review meetings the team realizes that the conversation always centers around 2-3 Key Results that really matter. Once you come to that realization, go ahead and deprecate the other Key Results. They are typically the ones that turn out to be green/on track while nobody feels good about the overall progress.

Be an OKR pragmatist, not an OKR dogmatist: There are lots of different flavors and nuances with OKR implementations. John Doerr had “output” Key Results in his examples and even within the almighty Google not everything is as clear cut as it looks from the outside. Try to understand the underlying concepts behind OKRs, but also feel free to break the rules when they hurt you. In the same way as database normalization comes with clear drawbacks the further you progress, there is value in not being too dogmatic about OKRs. Know the rules well, so you can break them effectively. (Hat tip to Isaac for the punchy headline)

Don’t start with an OKR tool: When introducing OKRs, the first step is to understand the methodology and create a rhythm around setting, reviewing and scoring OKRs. You can do that with a shared document to set, track and review OKRs in a smaller team or one specific level in the org hierarchy. A tool will distract at the beginning and easily derail the effort. Once you roll OKRs out across multiple teams and organizational hierarchies, a tool can help manage the complexity. But start small and simple first, build the muscle and then move to a tool. I wrote more on that here.

Reviewing progress

Commentary over number: Knowing where a metric stands is important, but understanding what drives that metric and what the implications are is by far more important. I recommend addressing three aspects in the commentary:

  • Data (what): What does the data say, is it going up or down, by how much
  • Insight (so what): What does it mean, is this good or bad, what are the causes for this behavior, what can we learn from this, have we identified new risks to our plan, …
  • Action (now what): What should we do about it, do we need to adjust our plans, …

Once you get to a spot where the commentary is consistently good in OKR reviews, OKRs become this amazing learning tool that accelerates how quickly a team understands its customers and its product.

Embrace the red: Encourage Key Result owners to give a fair and balanced assessment of the status of their KR. Being “red” is not necessarily bad – pretending not to be is. Once a team “embraces the red” OKRs shift from a performance management tool to a learning device that facilitates highly impactful conversations about what teams learn as they build, launch and operate products. I wrote more on that here: Embrace the Red.

No watermelons: Avoid the temptation to declare a Key Result as “on track” when it is actually “at risk”, i.e. the watermelon (“outside green, but when you look inside it’s red”). If it’s at risk, declare it early, which brings us to …

No surprises: Leave it all on the table and make sure that you create maximum transparency when reporting your Key Results. I’ve seen too many rationales that assume a hockey stick growth curve only to be surprised in the last OKR review of the quarter or semester. Hope is a bad strategy. One way to address this issue is to track the confidence level for each Key Result as part of the review conversation: each Key Result starts at 50% by default, i.e. a 50-50 chance to hit the goal. As you progress through a quarter you will learn more and the confidence will move up or down and allows a team to communicate confidence even if a Key Result is backloaded. It creates an embedded feedback loop in case confidence levels swing hard towards in the last weeks of a quarter: What could we have anticipated earlier or better mitigated risk? Christina Wodtke has more on that in her book Radical Focus.

Final Words

Every OKR implementation is different and the above are just a few of the lessons that I learned over the years. I’m sure I’ll be able to add more over time. By the way, most people know Measure What Matters by John Doerr, which is a great intro into OKRs. Once you understand those basics, I highly recommend The OKRs Field Book by Ben Lamorte. Lots of hands-on advice in there on how to get started and what kinds of pitfalls to avoid. 

Big “Thank you” to Isaac for his generous contributions to this post. He’s also been the one who got me back on the OKR bandwagon.

Photo by Ryan Graybill on Unsplash

Embrace the red


One of the biggest success factors for OKRs is culture. A healthy team culture of trust is fertile ground for successful OKR implementations. One of the core principles is to “embrace the red” in OKR reviews.

It’s important to celebrate what teams are doing well. At the same time, learning and growth happens in areas that are blocked or need attention. As teams create new categories, targeting new audiences and inventing new products, there will always be aspects that need to improve, i.e. show up red on the OKR scorecard. The red key results are the opportunity to improve the eventual outcome as soon as possible.

It is easy to slip into a mentality that suggests anything in red is negative – and uncomfortable to address. Focusing on red key results will generate the fastest growth. It opens up the path to improvement, growth and scale.

Once you “embrace the red” OKRs shift from a performance management tool to a learning device that facilitates impactful conversations about what teams learn as they build, launch and operate products.

Image: Engine start button on Unsplash

My new blogging machine

Technology / Tips and Tricks

A few months ago I tried out ChromeFlex. This is a version of ChromeOS that’s easy to install on traditional laptops. I had an old Surface Pro 3 machine which was collecting dust. It just waited for me to carry it to electronics recycling. As it turns out, ChromeFlex gave it another lease on life. The installation was easy. You create a bootable USB drive via a Chrome browser extension. Then you can choose whether you want to just try (boot from USB drive) or go all in(wipe machine and install ChromeOS for good).

The whole process took less than 30 minutes. Booting from pressing the on/off button to entering your Google ID to enter the machine takes 20 seconds. And then you are ready to go. The gist of ChromeOS is that everything runs in a browser. My nearly nine year old Surface Pro can watch YouTube, I can use the web version of WhatsApp, of course manage my email, run Microsoft Office in the browser (even inking in OneNote works without problems), … and last, but not least, write blog posts without problems. I have a dozen browser tabs open without any performance issues. There are some UI glitches on YouTube, but nothing that makes YouTube unusable.

The wonderful thing about this approach are the limitations. There is not an unlimited amount of apps and configurations, and one has to get a bit creative on how to get things done. For example: How do I get images from my phone into my blog, while converting from Apple’s HEIC image format to JPEG. It took me a while, but now I know that …

  • selecting the relevant photos on my phone, …
  • uploading them to Google Photos to then …
  • download as JPEG and …
  • upload into the WordPress Media Library

does the trick. Sounds complicated? It is. But WordPress is partially at fault, because I have not managed to understand how I could upload photos from my phone to my self-hosted WordPress instance. Somewhere between my phone, my host and my WordPress installation the system breaks. The workflow above is cumbersome, but it works. And it works on my new/ old machine. Because it is so limited, it takes out the complexity that comes with having degrees of freedom. Besides, creativity thrives under constraints. And ChromeOS has just the right amount of constraints while getting the basics (i.e. speed, speed, speed) right.

Long story, short: If you have an old machine lying around, give ChromeOS Flex a shot. It is a lot less complicated than installing a Linux distro … although, ChromeOS is based on Linux itself.

A love letter to my website


“Not long ago, the web was still the future. It was a big deal for companies to have their own site, much less individuals. Technology evolved. We picked up a few HTML and CSS tricks, discovered the wonders of Flash. We started spinning up our own sites, complete with guest books and visitors counters.

[…]Having my own website says I care about what I do beyond clocking in and out and cashing a paycheck.

[..] In those days, our website was our home. An extension of ourselves. Every day we visited our page, tweaked it a bit here, adjusted something there, stood back and admired it. Our site was a little corner of the internet we could own.”

A love letter to my website – DESK Magazine via Instapaper

Managing Your Career Without a Manager

Asides / Leadership

Interesting post by Saswati Saha Mitra about how to take charge of your career in the absence of a manager/ leader to provide you with direction. Interestingly, the categories she lays out are also good ones to use as a manager to provide guidance to your team:

  • Craft: It was clearly vital to continue expanding my hands-on knowledge of how to do research and communicate its impact. With so many new tools and ideas emerging in our field all the time, I needed to dedicate some time to keeping up with them.
  • Connections: I also wanted to deepen the relationships I was making within WhatsApp and Meta, and to build a strong peer group that could help me learn how to do my job better.
  • Stretch opportunities: These are side projects that might fall outside of my daily remit, but would advance my growth by pushing me to explore new and interesting areas.
  • Organizational intelligence: I wanted to continue deepening my understanding of how Meta works and makes critical decisions.
Managing Your Career Without a Manager | by Saswati Saha Mitra | Meta Research | Medium

The days stack up


Austin Kleon is reflecting on 15 years of blogging and why he is still excited about it. It’s concise and insightful. His three main points:

  1. To leave a trace
  2. To figure out what I have to say. 
  3. Because I like it.
15 years of blogging (and 3 reasons I keep going)

It’s a short read worth its time. It also contains great quote from Marc Weidenbaum on using writing to figure things out:

Don’t leave writing to writers. Don’t delegate your area of interest and knowledge to people with stronger rhetorical resources. You’ll find your voice as you make your way. There is, however, one thing to learn from writers that non-writers don’t always understand. Most writers don’t write to express what they think. They write to figure out what they think. Writing is a process of discovery. Blogging is an essential tool toward meditating over an extended period of time on a subject you consider to be important.

Bring Out Your Blogs

I don’t write a lot on this blog. Not nearly as much as I’d like to. But over the years there are now 60ish little artifacts that I found interesting to either collect links to or write up myself. It’s a nice little scrapbook that continues to grow over time.

Why We Long For the Most Difficult Days of Parenthood


Great perspective in The Atlantic about parenting young children by Stephanie H. Murray.

The sociologist Daniel Gilbert once likened a day spent caring for a 3-year-old to a baseball game that remains scoreless until the bottom of the ninth. Fans remember the thrilling moments of the game-winning home run and not much else. […] Hindsight allows us to put suffering into context and recognize the purpose it served in our lives. Hohlbaum likened it to laying bricks in a road: Only after we find out where the path leads are we able to see the purpose each brick served in getting us there. People with grown children have a deeper appreciation for the initial years of parenthood, because they are observing it from a perspective that only time can grant.

There’s no sense in trying to cherish every moment of early parenting as it happens, Graham told me. Too much is going on, and much of it isn’t enjoyable. But keep an eye out for the precious moments amid the tumult and chaos, she said. Do what you can to imprint them in your memory—write them down, or share them with friends. Collect them like gems, so that when your arms are finally free and your eyes are a little clearer, you can turn them over in your hand.


I have a little side blog that is not indexed by Google and that only a handful of people know the URL of. I use it to write letters to my children and select out of the myriad of photos that I’ve taken of them, select the ones that are special. While I haven’t written much in it recently, the above is a great wake up call to spend more time capturing those moments for later.