Feeling Energized to Write, Product Quality and Humility, and Aligning Your Work With Your Values
This was originally published on my Substack — Product/Michael Fit.
Hello, hello, welcome to the most anticipated event of the week: Volume 2 of Product/Michael Fit! If you missed volume 1 from last week, check it out here (Writing Like a PM, The WWW MVP, and Tech is Dangerous) For this volume, my “week of interesting content” was really just packed into the weekend. Why? Well, 1) Our every 4 years experience of the United States’ paint by number game (and “breaking news” alerts with zero substance), and 2) Turns out that working in consumer experience for an ecommerce company during the holidays demands a lot of attention. But, I have three pieces this week that I was able to go pretty deep on (all podcasts 🤷♀️). I think that they’re super insightful (I’m glad that I have my own notes), and I hope that they’ll resonate with you as well. So.. away we go!
Send me more cool things on Twitter @MSilb7, and follow if you’re interested in more!
Feeling Energized to Write
I have no idea how I discovered or when I subscribed to the Talk Therapy Podcast, but it’s entered my “serious listening” podcast playlist. I need to sit down, take it all in, and be ready to write down notes. In the most recent episode that I listened to, Nathan Baschez and Dan Shipper talk about what they’re learning about writing for business readers. They introduce topics like merism (using two opposites to talk about the whole), and setting “establishing shots” in your writing to set the scene before you dive in. This podcast became must listen for me, because hearing them talk makes me feel so energized to go write, publish, try new things, and to keep pushing to learn, refine, and get better (like this).
For more content, Nathan and Dan run The Everything Bundle on Substack.
Product Quality and Humility
I feel like 99% of the content that I’ve come across when trying to learn more about product management was either created by Intercom, or references Intercom in some way. I listened to the first episode of their podcast this week, where Intercom co-founder Des Traynor and head of product Paul Adams talk about product quality, shipping product, and the humility required to be a good Product Manager.
One of their key points is to think of product quality as a “zone” that you should stay within, rather than a “bar” with a binary pass/fail result. This zone may shift depending on the circumstance For example, your core customer-facing product lives in a different quality zone than your reset password screen (although both are important). This also had me thinking about how much of product quality is actually a prioritization decision.
I also appreciated their take on shipping product. In the episode, they shared a value called “ship to learn.” Where shipping your product is just the beginning (or your opening statement to the market). Then, the real work sets in, where you have to listen to your customers, respond to bugs, and rapidly iterate. They shared a story that Basecamp would actually make their employees go home early leading up to launch, so that they were energized for the “post-launch” workload.
This tied together with another point, which I took as approaching your PM role with appropriate humility. One of the hosts’ point-of-view was to assume that you’re always going to be 25–30% wrong when you ship a product, but then you work from there to whittle your “percent wrong” down. You can’t live in your own world where you think you’re always right. As a PM, you must be open to learning, and the first step to doing that is to admit that you don’t know something.
I’ll end my takeaways from this podcast episode with what I thought was the most fun part: random examples. In the shipping conversation, the two hosts brought up the idea of “outcome vs output.” How do you know if your product is doing what you wanted it to do or not? Their take was that usage shouldn’t be your only measure, since it’s easy to get people to use something. The examples: When Diet Coke with Lime came out, a lot of people bought it, which sounds great on the surface. But, in reality, all that really did was take share away from Diet Coke rather than attract new customers. The second example focused on Slack (workplace communication). When someone congratulates you, you may receive 25 reactions (like👍 or 🔥), but is that actually a better experience than a few thoughtful responses? They brought this point home by referencing an Andy Grove idea (former CEO of Intel): For any metric, you need a counter-metric that you don’t want to sacrifice.
Aligning Your Work With Your Values
I read Jerry Colonna’s book, Reboot, when I was going through a rough career patch a few months ago, and it was so influential for me, helping me learn about “radical self-inquiry” (I’ll include my notes in a future volume). This is probably only about the second or third episode of his podcast that I’ve listened to, but it’s already having a similar effect. In this episode, Jerry talks to Chris Savage and Brendan Schwartz of Wistia about decision making, purpose, and their own decision to buy out their investors when they realized that their company’s future was slipping away from them.
In this episode, Jerry, Chris, and Brendan had a long discussion about decision making. I didn’t expect that from the episode title, but I learned how much it actually fit. The core idea was that good decisions can go bad, and bad decisions can go good. The outcome of your decisions is likely always going to be out of your control, but what you can control is how you came to that decision. Imagine yourself looking back a year from now: Do you have pride in how you made your decision, did you do it in a way that’s true to yourself? One quote (which I don’t have verbatim) was: If you follow your instincts and are wrong, that’s ok. But, if you don’t and you’re wrong, that’s brutal. That’s what keeps you up at night.
Another point was that it’s easy to conflate purpose with outcome. Jerry says that your purpose shouldn’t just be making a financial return. Your purpose when building a company, should be that it reflects your values. This reminded me of a theme from Atomic Habits by James Clear (another summary I need to write-up), than whatever identity you set for yourself should be connected with your purpose. And that we’ll be most happy if our work is fulfilling that purpose. So, then my very deep thought, (which I don’t have sorted out yet) is what is my own purpose? What do I want to be doing? 🤷♀️
I’ll close with the most wholesome point that Jerry made: Rather than financial return of investment, he places value on “Joy of investment.” Maybe seeking this out is how we can align our work with our values.
My Favorite Tweets of the Week
(or tweets that I just found this week)
I said that I’d have some sports. It was a HUGE weekend with the Gators beating Georgia, and Tua winning his second game with the Dolphins. He’s Tua and 0.