Weekly Digest

This is a list of some of the articles I read, and videos I watched this week, along with a few cherry picked quotes. In no particular order:

Lead, Follow or Get the Fuck Out of the Way

Leadership is about not worrying about how people will think about you for hard calls. It is about being willing to be wrong.

If an organization and its people won’t align themselves with the direction from the top you will also end up with mediocrity. Only aligned orgs excel.

Throughout life I’ve realized that many people are back benchers. “That will never work” is their motto. They like to criticize but they don’t have strong ideas of their own. They “know” what’s wrong but they never do anything about it. They never lead. Yet they don’t follow.

Bots won’t replace apps. Better apps will replace apps.

This recent “bot-mania” is at the confluence of two separate trends. One is agent AIs steadily getting better, as evidenced by Siri and Alexa being things people actually use rather than gimmicks. The other is that the the US somehow still hasn’t got a dominant messaging app and Silicon Valley is trying to learn from the success of Asian messenger apps.

This notion of a bot handling the above sorts of tasks is a curious kind of skeumorphism. Conversational UI, too, has applied an analog metaphor to a digital task and brought along details that, in this form, no longer serve any purpose. Things like the small pleasantries in the above exchange like “please” and “thank you”, to asking for various pizza-related choices sequentially and separately (rather than all at once). These vestiges of human conversation no longer provide utility (if anything, they impede the task). I am no more really holding a conversation than my contact book app really is a l’il Rolodex. At the end, a single call to some ordering interface will be made.

[WeChat] added countless features to its APIs — and yet those that actually succeeded in bringing value to users were the ones that peeled back conventions of “conversational” UI. Most instructively, these successes were borne out of watching how users and brands actually used the app and seeking to optimize those cases.

Though some apps indeed are mini-desktop apps that make full use of the supercomputer I carry in my pocket, well over half fall into another category. These apps are just a vessel for a steady stream of news, notifications, messages, and other timely info ultimately residing in a backend service somewhere. They don’t really do much on their own. It’s much like how a tortilla chip’s main value is not so much in its appeal as a chip but as a cheese and chili delivery mechanism.

The first rule of pricing is: you do not talk about pricing

Prices are a shortcut to our most sensitive emotional responses.

When Turing Pharmaceutical raised the price of Daraprim from $13.50 to $750, they could have seen a 98.1% drop in sales — and still made more money.

When The Times introduced a paywall, the number of people looking at their digital service dropped by 98.7% (from 22m to around 300,000), yet the switch was a huge financial success.

People can’t tell you what they think about pricing, because they don’t think about pricing. They feel it.

Creating Digital Products & Services at The Guardian

Everyone on your team will have a varied background – maybe a few of your UX specialists used to be developers, for example. Respecting each other’s crafts means that you have to acknowledge that your developers are the best people to do code reviews and deployments, or that your designers are the right people to make decisions about product UI and UX.

Don’t undermine each other – talk to your colleagues and have them contribute. Create a great team.

How Uber conquered London

For Howard, in London, setting up Uber meant finding the right kind of cars. He worked his way through yell.com, ringing up high-end chauffeur companies and trying to persuade drivers to accept jobs from an app they had never heard of.

He made them a special introductory offer: they would be paid £25 an hour to work on the Uber platform whether they got any jobs or not.

By the autumn, he had around 100 drivers on his books and an “allowable burn” of £50,000 a week to recruit drivers to the platform. “I was often told, ‘Burn more’,” he told me.

Hansom cabs, small, swift horse-drawn two-wheelers that had been ubiquitous in the capital since the 1830s, virtually disappeared. By 1927, there were just 12 left in London, curios from a recently vanished past.

Launching Mission Control Day (part 1)

Dubbed Mission Control Day (MCD), the motto was to “operationalize everything”; imagining how work could be done more efficiently, especially as we grow (and fast) as a company.

After the big day, groups developed quick plans for how to implement changes, tracked the work on shared Trello boards, and set out to implement those changes in the days and weeks that followed.

One on One

The key to a good one-on-one meeting is the understanding that it is the employee’s meeting rather than the manager’s meeting. This is the free-form meeting for all the pressing issues, brilliant ideas and chronic frustrations that do not fit neatly into status reports, email and other less personal and intimate mechanisms.

If we could improve in any way, how would we do it?

How One Jira Ticket Made My Employer $1MM/Month: 7 Metrics that Actually Matter

The top 20% of the tickets account for 80% of the company success. Tickets are not created equal, but we treat them like they are.

Why Uber Won

There are three ways for marketplaces to buy scale: they can buy growth, speed and/or liquidity. For some (not all), it was a smart strategic move. And for Uber, money enabled them to win.

A founder’s job isn’t growth at all costs — growth is the byproduct of an amazing user experience.

For marketplaces, speed provides a strong competitive advantage — it’s not about being first to market, but rather first to liquidity.

I’ve often repeated the central goal of marketplaces. It’s something of a mantra for me: liquidity isn’t the most important thing… it’s the only thing.

So what did Uber do with all its money? The strategy wasn’t buying growth, speed or liquidity. Uber’s strategy was to buy all-of-the-above.

The Real Story of How Amazon Built the Echo

Amazon created Lab126 in 2004 to build the Kindle e-reader. The lab’s name is a reference to the alphabet, with 1 representing the letter A and 26 representing Z. People in the lab sometimes refer to the Kindle as Project A. Project B was the Fire Phone. Work on the Echo—Project D—began in 2011.

Even as these fundamental changes went on, the lab’s leadership was convinced the speaker was almost ready. For three consecutive years, the product was expected to ship within six months. The $50 target price seemed more and more far-fetched.

If we had a Roadmap . . .

Our team doesn’t have a list of features with exact dates for release. We don’t know what’s going to be released on Tuesday, August 23.

A product roadmap is a promise that customers will get something on a specific date.

Our team doesn’t like making promises we can’t keep. We don’t like setting expectations and then letting people down.

Our team has a general idea of what’s coming in the next month or so. After that, we gather the response of what we released and go from there.

Jazz improvisation as a model for radical collaboration




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