I have struggled lately to write anything other than incomplete idea dumps into text files. As a result I am going to try re-committing to this email and expand upon my notes here instead of trying to make full fledged blog posts initially. Today’s piece is the result of my observation that we view products as static points in time instead as dynamic, evolving organisms.
If you missed it, I wrote about why bad businesses succeed in my latest essay. I’d love to get your thoughts on it.
I was in New York a couple weeks ago working with a couple of founders to both sketch out their idea and beat it up. It’s one of my favourite parts of work, as it feels very much like building your own thing. I do my best to get in the co-founder mindset instead of a third-party. During this process it is common to use other apps as inspiration or reference points to convey ideas.
The downside of using other products as a comparison is you’re looking at Instagram after 9 years, not Instagram at launch, which is typically where you are in the process. This makes it hard to understand how a product has evolved, the decisions they’ve made, where their current complexity comes from, etc.
In an ironic twist of fate, we were using the Following Tab as a reference point and Instagram announced the next day that they were discontinuing the feature.
Products are best considered as systems that evolve over time; the comparisons we make should take this evolution into account. A couple of things to consider:
When looking at proxies in our process, people want to start at the end. This makes it hard to convince founders and clients of the necessity of product focus and embracing complexity that emerges over time.
I read 80/20 Running a few years ago and found the premise interesting. This is not about the Pareto Principle, but about alternating between dedicated intense work time and building your miles time, not the in-between state. The principle is that you should spend 80% of your training time putting in the miles slowly (very low effort), and 20% of your time training at race speed (essentially max speed). This split is different than what most people do, training 100% of the time at ~70% speed. This causes burnout as you don’t get the value of either end of the spectrum, while tiring out faster.
Where might the 80/20 breakdown in knowledge work apply?
In the past few weeks since the last time I sent this email I haven’t read that many different links online. Or perhaps none were memorable. Instead I’ll recommend a few books I’ve been enjoying: two that I’ve finished and one on-the-go.
Written 18 years ago, this book covers Highly Resilient Organizations and the aspects that make them unique. I’m only about halfway through but have been enjoying it quite a bit. It touches on the notion of mindfulness in work, before the recent mindfulness movement. To be mindful you must evaluate information/each event free from expectation. How might this lead to crisis?
I have long been a fan of Jia’s writing (mostly via Twitter) so getting a chance to read her book was fun. The book is a collection of essays about growing up in the age of the Internet, how culture has evolved, and the weird expectations society has placed on people—particularly women.
This book should be required reading for people trying to build businesses on the Internet. He covers the natural business model for Internet businesses, the platform model, and how to think about building one.
That’s all for this time. Have anything on your mind? Feedback on the latest post? Just reply to this email, I would love to hear from you and I read every response.