Adding/Creating Value

Reading “Rational Optimism”, Great book if you have not, do. one theme is that individuals engaged in tech will solve problems not outside regulators.

A great section speaks of how Innovation in products as well as technology that helps those products become accessible to more through lower costs or percentage of earnings. This is the result of not investing in monetary assets but investing monetary assets in products that save people time.

Then that time is invested back into the system and the multipliers kick in! It seems though that a larger percentage of that value created is in entertainment not products, Hamburgers and Haircuts! value to see a concert adds more value than time used to do a marathon Television day!

In my humble opinion our culture is less one of learning or building than it has become about the third screen passive engagement. No I have not become that “GET OFF MY LAWN” old man. And no things were not better in the old days, but I do see a trend toward having learned and being an expert than learning and being a student.

We talk so much of experiments in product development but what is an experiment? Many times the exercise seems more to prove than to explore at and after the MVP stage. Bias is taking that third screen approach to your testing. Ask yourself what is the value you are creating and how downstream will it create time or lower costs. If we truly want to do something create for the world then we should think about quantifying that downstream value as well as what we do with the value we extract for the value we have created.  

It’s all about the work!

My favorite book is “The Fountainhead” by Ayn Rand. In the book the primary character is Howard Roark, an innovative and gifted architect punished by the silly media critics for his greatness. Those who can’t do judge greatness in a manner that reduces them.

In the closing scene of his trial his speech is magnificent as can only be written by Ayn Rand. The focus of his argument is that your life is about your work and what you do with your efforts. Passion, hard work, commitment to principles and ideas overcome the garbage that comes.

As product managers, and designers we are like Howard, we gather data and execute with a balance of art, data and gut. As with anything that is in the creative and functional arena Product Management is a skillset that take enormous amounts of practice.

Book learning is important and all product manager are aggressive consumers of information and ideas. However like playing music or building skyscrapers nothing is learned without doing! No two products have the same product lifecycle, they always need to be viewed as they are in the market cross tabbed against their development challenges.

This is one reason why PMs work in frameworks and take time to “get up to speed” in any new role. It is all about the work, what you do and how you build!

Quality is the only choice we have in execution of our daily work. Each of us defines our qualities and how we execute on them.

80/20 RULE, Embracing Failure

Many times I have stated we learn through failure. Sounds cliché but it is true in so many applications in life. We have ideas and test them, these hypothesis succeed and break giving us data to build the next hypothesis.

A_B testing shows us which is better but not if it is the best so we test again. Often I tell the story of the US and Russia space race in building rocket engines. The Russian approach was build and break then repeat after analysis. In the US we used computer modeling rather than build and break. The US produced a highly capable efficient engine, Russia built a work horse that we still use today.

The lesson is that if we break our models we rebuild stronger. It is human nature to back off when reaching a goal then focus on efficiency over more power. I have had many failure start-ups and a few successes. Product tests and learnings show us direction but not how to scale. Early exit is a very smart safe path that I have taken and feel with no data that I have left upside on the table.

Recently I launched a service and found that the core was good but needed a communications layer that my team was unable to deliver effectively from a skills, core, and time/money perspective. The answer was sell my learnings to a competitor who can do both elements. My heart is low as I would have enjoyed turning what I knew into a new strong company but the math did not work for the market or finances.

The task now is to embrace the failure on my part/dream/idea and now embrace the consulting that will see the core concept emerge in a manner I did not expect but honors the core concept.

Ideas are not fixed, they flow through us and 80% of them are not so great but 20% are great. We fear that if we do not execute on the ones that seem to have greatness potential we loose our one ticket to greatness.

The truth is we need to keep failing then pulling ourselves up again, that is how we get stronger in spirit like the Russian rocket engine. Retrospectives are how we get smarter like the US engine. Shuttering a start-up is harder than starting one. One makes choices, then others see only a small part and judge then we look back in retrospective again and wonder did I make the right choice. It is our nature to look back through a long glass and question but we must embrace our choices.

Like other areas we all do the best we can with our current skills, our current knowledge the current environmentals’ and current market. Now to start building another 80 failures!

 

Curious or Commanding – What type do you hire?

What is your Leadership and Marketing style? A core skill of all product managers is curiosity. When hiring or evaluating a team curiosity lives on two levels, first is the individual and second is cultural. Founders have enormous passion and vision but often fail miserably to share or communicate to others what they see. I worked briefly with Steve Jobs and saw in him what some say was him being a jerk but in my understanding it was a visionary man who lacked the vocabulary to communicate or pin down what he saw as wrong.

It may seem commanding thereby sucking the innovation out of a team when a leader is lacking the verbal tools to communicate. We have all heard the term “I can’t tell you but I know when I see it”. To some measure this is a cop out for someone who has not pushed themselves to learn to communicate in terms or be definitive.

The old product idiom that customers talk in terms of solutions not problems is true throughout our culture. Problems are painful, talking to them is considered a sign of failure. The leader is one who openly has the courage of character to walk through the problem definition and explore ideas in the divergent phase then take the risks to select ideas in the convergent stage that may in fact be poor choices.

This is part of the reason that hiring outside Product executives is so hard. The interview process is one of Q&A not idea exploration. To overcome this many teams work on use cases with staff hires so they can witness thought behavior in action. This is not even close to standard practice in the executive or portfolio level hiring process.

Clearly in smaller companies the founder still in the leaders chair often gets into debates with outside experts. I can’t tell you how many times I hear “they just don’t understand us” from founders! Portfolio level execs that come in with deep multi industry experience work in terms of models at the top level, they explore and need to get context before offering solutions, not what founders hitting a wall of change want!

To be a founder or start-up you risk everything so ego is required, and frankly a lot of it! So don’t get me wrong I love founders’ energy but at some point like a parent with a child one needs to let go! Allow that product to live so it can have a “Life Cycle”. Doing this is not easy emotionally and if you have not developed new vocabulary and behavioral skills you will destroy the curiosity of others, create a culture of “do – don’t think” and limit your dreams.

The first trigger in emerging companies is hiring in executive talent. This can be positive layering if you do two things: first is demonstrate that you seek experts in areas, listen to them and celebrate their value. Second is bring up your existing teams through training or coaching to the point you have a culture of outsider support, no “not built here” thinking.

Trickle down Investing

No intent to be political, however I have been building and turning around companies for almost 3 decades. Most of my connections to work have come from investors and have learned quite a bit about them. Currently With a group of business leaders are building a model that helps Family Office funds seek and work with emerging companies with complete product ready for market.

Last week a local “progressive” minded friend was pontificating about the evil “trickle down” economic failure.

Q: Hmm, I said so what would you prefer?

A: Government investment!

Q; So what is the difference between the Government “Investing” and Investors in charge of their own money

A: The Government choices better and focus on all benefitting rather than a few

Q: So Google, Microsoft, Oracle, Ford… only benefit a few?

A: Well… those are only a few, most rip off the middle class

Q: why would a company rip off the largest segment of customers?

Friend turning to Got you Question: What would you rather be done?

Me: Allow individuals and companies to invest, Help small business people learn and grow with their help, share their learnings, share their ideas, teach others and grow an army of new business leaders, Do what they do best turn capital in to new capital!

 

Yes friends we all need others, each learning from other, each building on the work of others, Innovation comes from team work and data. This does not validate collective action this supports hard work, risk, teams of experts, there are many things I cannot do and pay others to do. This is Barter and trade and capitalism. It started when the first two farmers decided to raise different crops then trade!

 

Money flows down, those who built wealth have a passion for the most part to help and continue building it. Yes they actually risk hard earned capital on others. Risk is the driver of good decisions, Other people’s money is not as valuable. This goes to those who live Round to Round in the start-up community.

Strat-ups need to treat investors’ money like it was their own, guess what it is. You can’t jump from start-up to start-up. This is a problem with investors that only invest with a few people as managers, after a while they are working a formula not a passion grown from their experiences. Yes it does take skills to grow that many founders’ lack, but founders have passion that managers lack.

 

Thanks to both the founders and managers, but praise to the investors who risk and help nothing can happen without you. Please stick around and don’t go Gault!

Be here now!

Years ago I worked at a large wireless carrier and one of their management development programs for the year centered on a key phrase, “Be Here Now”.

We were seeking leaders who had the natural ability to be present in any situation.

At that time Mobile phones were just beginning to be persistent in any business environment and folks struggled not to answer all calls. Yes they checked their phone rather than focus on customer or co-worker conversations. The result is we found we were missing details that were shared but not noted in any manner. How to tick of a customer is not listen.

Today you can walk through a restaurant as see business and social groups where at least one person is checking their smart phone or carrying on a separate interaction than the one they are physically involved in.

This has gotten through a pain cycle and more people are waking up to the power of “Being here now!”  Yesterday was the first time a person wearing Google glasses engaged me in a conversation while wearing the glasses. I asked him to take them off while we spoke, he was shocked. I explained that I was having two issues: first was my time is important to me and if not to him then he should move on, Second was that I was not sure what was begin recorded by the glasses and would like to know if the conversation was “On the record?”

I am an admitted tech geek, device lover, early innovative adaptor, no one will argue that! This was the most intrusive feeling I have ever felt.

Team and Culture

Hats off to the Red Sox for their win this year, which is hard for me to pronounce as a diehard Yankees fan! Yesterday we had a great sports discussion across a diverse group of men. A few were talking about pitching around Big Poppy for the Cards to get one more win. NO! You win fighting the battle of reality not the fight you would want.

Now there are two lessons in this series that parallel the life of a company, First is win in the market as there, don’t ignore realities or data. If you have a market to product fit and it is better than the competition great, if you are a number two then be a great number two.

The second lesson is about team, The Red Sox have the “It” factor right now. That comes often from challenge and overcoming great odds. Watching them early this playoff season in the dugout you saw the support and interest in each other’s performance.

There is a great company I worked with for a sort time this past year, great folks and great position in the market. They are failing because there are artificial walls in their organization structure. Even more so their failure is coming from a lack of need, passion, never starving or over coming.

Just too much cash, too little internal pain, too great an early position that created arrogance. Success early is often deadly as we see over time where the first into a market plants a flag in what they think was the top of the mountain and move into cruse mode. Think of those that were first in a market and now do not exist of never evolved and are rooting on the sidelines

Leaders and managers do much to keep this going and help create the ‘it” for teams and companies but the truth is the challenge definition be that competition or market generated is key. Have a mission and keep it, live it and keep it alive!

Cultural Communications Breakdown

At the risk of being called “Old school” I am putting forth this RANT. I remember this course called communication arts in high school and in university but wondering if it is still being taught. Any blog is filled with posters who correct spelling and some correct grammar. I am not a zealot on either however there are standards that need to be met in any society that collide at the point of communication and understanding.

Today our politicians and media bully harass some who think differently then hoist on a pedestal anyone who endorses them regardless of quality if they support a position. This is not communication it is ossification. Bullies harass others, name call and attack. We used to say the squeaky wheel get the grease. Today it is the victim, the bully, the idea less.

I have taken general terms here and I am sure both sides are saying “yea that is them”.  The ignorance of personal behavior is appalling. It takes character to do two things in life, business and communication that seem sadly missing.

  1. Look in the mirror and address your behavior then change it
  2. Respect another’s right to have a different idea, belief, experience and for that to have potential to be correct, yes courage to be wrong yourself!

These are in rare supply today and missing from public and business communications. Our culture needs help focusing on the future state not the past not the indignation we feel or another does. There is no place in a vibrant and positive world for victims, we reap what we sow and it is time to do some sowing. The universe takes care of rewarding actions, it is my belief that we are stuck and struggling because our culture is stuck and whiney.

Let’s change today start with yourself and shut up if you can’t play nice. Get over your wounds and move forward. There is no way to grow without getting hurt.

Communication does not Add Value

Another UGHHHH! Moment. Your communication is critical but it does not add value! As a follow-up for the last post value needs to be clear, your market needs to just get it. If you have to explain it or resell it or repackage it guess what?

It does not exist! Value is what you create when you create products. If there are no features of the product that drive the market to change than you need to change. There is not a design flaw or market product mix failure that can be sold through m0ore better communication.

Thank you

I now return you to your redesign!

Choosing words

We have many conversations and create all kinds of documents each day. These both range from critical to the more casual but product managers and marketers need to be aware that others may not understand the context of each. We work in a profession that applies more weight to words than others do in general.

Causal conversations internally often are not completely casual as we drive ideas and work cross functionally. We are always learning about activity of influencers and execution of workflow. Yes there is a level of constant interviewing in most of our internal conversations.

When we have serious conversations we often expect the others to be understanding the level we are engaged at it is important to set that premise. This is a concept, this represents the direction chosen, speak now or forever hold your piece! “What if” and “How do we” are phrases I use often when talking about concept, then switching “to the plan is” or “this will be” when moving to agreed and active elements.

So there is the rub, the power of words and specificity in our culture is softening that many do not pick up on those contextual definers. How much do we have to define the moment in non-descript terms? Personally I love the power that words have and choose them in almost all situations often to the displeasure of my wife. When you use words with intent I believe it shows, often getting noticed. Those who fish with words only and have agendas that are not open don’t get that.

The downside is often when conversation slide to the soft or BS level Product folks will disengage. Again an extreme that does not serve. Set the premise of conversations, mail and documents You may find it a powerful habit!

Public words seem very Orwellian these days with attempts to change words. This to me is expensive and just wrong. How much does it cost to turn your name into a verb? The answer is you don’t! Like a tornado in Geoffrey Moore’s books it just happens and the best you can do is, be aware and ride it. Don’t work to change, work the change it is much more productive.

The classic case here is always Google being a verb. What did they do to support it? Simply put they kept it simple and still to this day you land on their page and they do one thing. You always start from a search and they collect on that promise every time you pass GO! Reinforcing that one thing they do. This never worked for Yahoo because they wanted to be a portal with a large offering. I just ask who is the portal to the internet Yahoo or Google. Simple works and always will.