#55 Product sense, Reframing, User disengagement
Learning from Marc Andreessen, Ryan Holiday, Josh Spector & more
I had a very engaged last week. I got into a new rabbit-hole and loved every moment of it. The joy of discovering new things is unparalleled. I plan to spend this week crystallising my thoughts & write my ‘thesis’ on my discovery. I’m so looking forward to that.
On the personal front, it was an amazing week as well. Shreya and I completed 11 years of togetherness as a married couple. What a ride it has been! This weekend, we had some great “we time” thanks to a very kind cousin who agreed to babysit the kids. Thank you Aadish.
In the mix of all these, I got limited time to find the most suitable opening for today’s newsletter. And so I don’t have anything great to share except this quote from someone smart - “Every myth and legend exists to educate and inspire.”
And with that, let’s move to the interesting reads for today.
1. Product sense
Jules Walter defines “product sense” in the following way:
Product sense is the skill of consistently being able to craft products (or make changes to existing products) that have the intended impact on their users. Product sense relies on (1) empathy to discover meaningful user needs and (2) creativity to come up with solutions that effectively address those needs.
His guest post on Lenny's newsletter shares 4 key practices on how to improve on these two fronts - building empathy & improving creativity.
He also shares some ideas on how to tell if you’re getting better at product sense.
If you've any interest in product management, I highly recommend reading this post. It shares simple and actionable inputs and has a bunch of examples to drive the point easily.
2. Solving the right problem
In the post above, Jules Walter mentions the “slow elevator problem” from Thomas Wedell-Wedellsborg’s HBR article titled “Are You Solving the Right Problems?”
It’s a really apt example and can be used to broaden the thinking horizon in the product building.
Here’s the core premise of Wedellsborg’s article:
Spurred by a penchant for action, managers tend to switch quickly into solution mode without checking whether they really understand the problem. We’re not great at diagnosing problems. The current set of diagnostic tools are either too difficult to use or they find themselves digging deeper into the problem they’ve already defined rather than arriving at another diagnosis.
He further proposes..
Identifying a different aspect of the problem can sometimes deliver radical improvements—and even spark solutions to problems that have seemed intractable for decades.
Finally, he goes on to share 7 practices for effective reframing. If you’ve the luxury of time, you can apply them together. Or you can use them ad-hoc depending on the context. Highly useful and actionable. Here’s the list for a quick reference:
1. Establish legitimacy
2. Bring outsiders into the discussion
3. Get people’s definitions in writing
4. Ask what’s missing
5. Consider multiple categories
6. Analyze positive exceptions
7. Question the objective
3. User disengagement
Kailash Nadh is Zerodha’s CTO and a passionate champion of user experience. In this post, he talks of “user disengagement.” Here’s how he describes it.
In hindsight, the business practices and end-user software that we have developed at Zerodha over the last decade, employ a philosophy that I would like to call user disengagement. At its core are two tenets:
Only do what is truly useful and meaningful to end users.
Don’t do unto others, what you don’t want done unto you.
In this philosophy, the term engagement has little to no relevance. Business and product decisions are based on utility for the end user with common sense trade-offs for the business to be sustainable, and never on arbitrary “engagement”, “growth”, or valuation metrics. In some contexts, utility can be quantified and measured, while in others, it is qualitative. In the end, such decisions have to have the right balance between domain expertise and intuition based on experience, objective decision making, and user needs and wants (which can be mutually exclusive often).
A food for thought for all product builders and customer experience thinkers (i.e. all of us).
4. Your idea audience
If you’re a creator, you will often think of your audience. That’s the group that will provide you maximum returns of your effort - monetary or non-monetary. In a recent post, Josh Spector shared “5 ways to identify your ideal audience”. I could relate to the first one the most. Here it goes:
1. Your Ideal Audience Is A Previous Version Of You
The things you create are informed by the experiences you’ve had.
Whether you aim to teach people something, solve their problems, or simply entertain them, your ability to do so is rooted in your own experience with similar situations.
Your ideal audience is often the person you used to be.
To identify who your ideal audience may be, consider what your life was like in the recent (or not-so-recent) past and the challenges you faced that inspired your recent creations.
Once you identify where you were at in your life then, you can go find people who are in a similar place now and feel confident your work will resonate with them.
What do you think?
5. Little stories for massive impact
I’ve not read Ryan Holiday’s books. I don’t know if I will do it anytime soon.
This short post titled “18 Little Stories That Will Have Massive Impact On Your Life” is a good short take away from his works. I had read the stories from Bezos and Seinfeld earlier and they are still stuck with me. So the whole premise of the post works well.
6. The only thing that matters
We have to thank Anand for today’s “Reader's (web) world view”. He is not exactly a reader of this newsletter (not that I know of), but has been a great guide in my journey. He is a good thinker. My discussions with him on all things product, people & process have been very useful. Here I share something that he had shared with me a few weeks back. I guess, both of us have revisited it multiple times since then.
Let’s get to this legendary post from Marc Andreessen titled “The only thing that matters”
Here’re two key snippets from the article to summarize the premise and recommendation.
And so you start to wonder—what correlates the most to success—team, product, or market? Or, more bluntly, what causes success? And, for those of us who are students of startup failure—what’s most dangerous: a bad team, a weak product, or a poor market?
In honor of Andy Rachleff, formerly of Benchmark Capital, who crystallized this formulation for me, let me present Rachleff’s Law of Startup Success:
The #1 company-killer is lack of market.
Andy puts it this way:
When a great team meets a lousy market, market wins.
When a lousy team meets a great market, market wins.
When a great team meets a great market, something special happens.
I highly urge you to read it in full and revisit it. Very useful if you’re building something.
7. Everything else
Some random goodness from the internet:
Instagram: Seth (@seth_globepainter) is a French street artist who usually paints giant murals of playing children on walls of buildings. Stunning work!
Twitter: “Saying No” is hard to do “quickly + kindly + clearly”. A good thread capturing 16 useful tips on how to do it effectively.
Web: “Spite buildings” are constructions specifically intended to irritate or protest. Check out this picture story to know of some of the most fascinating ones. Har ghar kuch kahta hai, you see ;)
Web: A visual essay about the famous figures who represent today’s currencies around the world
Before we sign off, here’s an interesting thought on idea exchanges.
I’m looking to start a new experiment and create a Whatsapp group for just 6-10 folks for discussing novel ideas & exploring our curiosity. Anyone up to join me there? Ping me, will add you and get started.
That's all for this week, folks!
If you enjoyed this post, show your love by commenting and liking it. I write this newsletter to share what I learnt from others. If you learnt something from this today, why not share it with a couple of your friends to continue this chain?
Love the problem reframing bit! Rory Sutherland speaks eloquently about the same thing in his book Alchemy and in his TED talks. He's an ad man and his whole premise is to solve problems not logically but psycho-logically. Just goes to show how unified foundational frameworks are.
Also, Marc Andressen's take on the market as the most important is telling. As a creator (not a business owner), it's something I keep thinking about.
Would love to be a part of the WhatsApp group, Pritesh.