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#99 Good plumbing and platforms go a long way.
Ideas in product thinking, storytelling, building taste & making friends.
In “Notes on Taste”, Brie Wolfson shared a bunch of ideas that can help ‘define’ taste. She gives many different interpretations without becoming prescriptive to claim one true definition.
Below are two of my favourite snippets from the post. These may not define what taste is, but can take us closer to ‘building’ taste.
Though taste may appear effortless, you can’t have taste by mistake. It requires intention, focus, and care. Taste is a commitment to a state of attention. It’s a process of peeling back layer after layer, turning over rock after rock.
Another framing for this is “turpentine.” It comes from Picasso remarking that “when art critics get together they talk about Form and Structure and Meaning. When artists get together they talk about where you can buy cheap turpentine.” Taste rests on turpentine.
What are you doing to develop your taste?
I’ve a great set of recommendations today. Don’t wait up, and let’s jump straight into those.
1. Optimising for feelings
Lenny’s podcast episode with Josh Miller has become my favourite episode on his podcast. Josh is CEO of The Browser Company that launched the fast growing Arc browser.
Some key highlights from the episode:
D5D7 metric: While Josh talks of their focus on optimizing for feeling, this one metric does a decent job in describing the state of affairs in engagement & retention. The way they use it to define their growth trajectory is a very unique approach to measure growth.
Heartfelt intensity: If you have a team that has heartfelt intensity and is there for a purpose and something to prove, you give them a very exciting, ambitious prompt and get out of their way and they will do remarkable work. This is a great articulation for the ‘drive’ or ‘passion’ that you want to surround yourself with.
Josh spends a fair amount of time talking about their values and how they arrived to those. Their articulation through the blog post is the most amazing storytelling efforts I’ve seen for org values. Here’s a snippet from the podcast:
So we wrote an essay called "Notes on Road Trips" that use this semi-biographical, but mostly fictional, story about a person and their father taking a road trip when they're a teenager, to tell the story of how we do things at The Browser Company.
You’ve to read this essay - “Notes on Road Trips” to experience its magic. For once, I felt the org values are actual living & breathing artefacts that are natural part of someone’s life. Simply brilliant!
There are more gems around attracting talent, giving them challenges worth solving and keeping the bar high on user experience.
A highly inspiring set of ideas in one place. It’s worth every minute you invest in listening to the podcast.
2. Product Enablement Principles
In “Product Enablement Principles”, John Cutler talks of his own principles when it comes to operations, enablement, and generally helping others. Think of these as core ingredients of your way of working as a team.
Some of my favourite ones:
Principles before process. Why before way. Any process will eventually break (especially if you are successful). Any tactic will change. Start with principles, and you'll discover the right approach for the current challenge. This isn't meant to diminish process (see below), just noting that principles establish a strong foundation.
Use safe-to-fail experiments: Consider 2nd and 3rd order effects. Consider risks. Assume things will fail. You deal with people's identities, careers, livelihoods, and well-being. Pick the safest experiments with the highest probability of yielding insights and progress. When in doubt, work to make what is happening now more visible ("Start with what you do now"). Don't get overly attached to the How.
Good plumbing and platforms go a long way: When experiments have reached a stable place, consider the importance of good plumbing. You have to make it easy to do the right thing. At first, people will manually do stuff (you have the early adopters). But later on, you need to nurture the systems and tools that will enable everyone.
3. Levels in Influencer relation
Influencers are everywhere - from nano-influencers on Instagram to rockstars on Youtube. They are an inherent part of marketing plans for most consumer products.
However, not all influencers are created equal - especially if you want to see how well they can help your brand grow. I’m not talking about the budgets & reach equation, but their fitment.
Taylor Lagace’s twitter thread does a great job in simplifying this. Here’s a quick snapshot of the framework he proposes:
(Credit: @TaylorLagace’s post)
If you’re exploring working with influencers, I highly recommend going through the thread.
(via Marketing Dojo by Garima)
4. 50 Conversations in Bangalore & Chennai
Derek Sivers was recently in India. He traveled to Chennai & Bangalore in a span of a week in Feb’23. He did it to “meet new friends.” Through the course of these 7 days, he scheduled 50 one-hour conversations with 50 people (some of them he knew from earlier, some seemed to be new connections).
Hear more from him on his experience - “It was one of the most intense and fascinating (and heart-warming and educational) things I’ve ever done in my life… My conversations there were some of the best I’ve ever had, immediately open-hearted, honest, and intellectual.”
I went through his summary of these conversations, and they were fascinating. Each of the people he met had a story to share. Such a diverse set of friends, I must say. I can imagine a book covering these 50 conversations and describing the India of today from the eyes of Derek Sivers.
Are you listening, Derek?
5. Say/Do Gap
The narrative that operates at action time is the real one, with all the distractions and negativity that can get in the way of a purchase. The narrative at research time is a fantasy narrative where everything is just right.
Above snippet gives a highly plausible reason for the Say/Do gap. This gap is real and causes all marketiers a lot of hassle. There are no sure shot answers, but the author has some really good recommendations to be aware of this gap & how to reduce it.
6. Plea against SOPs
Last week, I wrote a short post and shared it with some of my colleagues. We’re in the middle of a launch and it felt appropriate to remind everyone that SOPs can become a dangerous tool, and no one may realize it until it's too late.
Here’s where I stand on this topic:
A new idea needs its own journey that is built on trial & error. There is romance in the journey of getting from “not knowing how to do it” to “having a sure shot way to do it”. It’s filled with surprises and learning. Without those, SOPs are mere imposition of our limited knowledge on that notion.
If you are keen to read more, you can check out the complete post here.
7. Everything else
Some random goodness from the internet:
Holograms - another take on the mystery around Netaji Subhash Chandra Bose’s death. The facts may not be very different, but the storytelling is top notch.
Peter Mitchell’s Scarecrows - one simple thing, so many variants, all scary. (via Dense Discovery)
India’s MrBeast? Rest of World coverage of our most popular stunt philanthropist.
Do Nothing! (via One Daily Nugget)
Story of how Bandhan was founded. (via Twitter)
Last of the oral storytellers in Tanzania. Another Paperclip special. (via Twitter)
Title of today’s post was taken from John Cutler’s post.
Before we sign off, here’s a short dose of nostalgia thanks to our friends at Mad Over Marketing.
That's all for this week, folks!
I hope I've earned the privilege of your time.
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