Issue 27: Don’t just look for problems to solve, why navigation apps make traffic worse, how warehouses for personal junk became a huge industry

We also go deep on the African philosophy of Ubuntu

My kids have been fighting a lot recently. A few nights ago, in a fit of desperation, I gathered everyone around the dinner table and gave them a speech about Ubuntu (the African philosophy, not the operating system). I think they got it (I mean, I took a very long time with this), and now whenever I year them fighting I just shout “UBUNTU!” into the void and hope it works. So far the result is eyerolls and some reduced fighting, so I’m calling it a mild success.

Anyway, as a result, I’ve been thinking about Ubuntu a lot this week. If you’re not familiar, a loose translation of this philosophy would be “I am because we are.” It is an acknowledgment that we are not islands, that who we are affects the people around us, and every interaction we have with them affects us as well. Another definition I like is “A person is only a person through other people.” 

Michael Onyebuchi Eze beautifully describes the concept as follows in the book Intellectual History in Contemporary South Africa

‘A person is a person through other people’ strikes an affirmation of one’s humanity through recognition of an ‘other’ in his or her uniqueness and difference. It is a demand for a creative intersubjective formation in which the ‘other’ becomes a mirror (but only a mirror) for my subjectivity. This idealism suggests to us that humanity is not embedded in my person solely as an individual; my humanity is co-substantively bestowed upon the other and me. Humanity is a quality we owe to each other. We create each other and need to sustain this otherness creation. And if we belong to each other, we participate in our creations: we are because you are, and since you are, definitely I am. The ‘I am’ is not a rigid subject, but a dynamic self-constitution dependent on this otherness creation of relation and distance.

I love this so much. Here’s a thought experiment: What would happen if we followed the Ubuntu philosophy everywhere we go and interact with people? Our work, discussions with customers, even (gasp!) our interactions on the internet. No really, don’t move on. Think about it for a little bit. How would your interactions with the people around you change if you acknowledged the fact that you are because they are?


🎵 Here’s a thing I learned this week. A Christian rock band hid a C64 program on a vinyl album in 1984:

They hid the program in the runout groove, which also has “C-64” and other things etched on it. And sure enough, 8-Bit Show and Tell managed to record the analog audio of that program, transfer it to a magnetic cassette, and load-asterisk that sucker. It’s just a simple BASIC program, containing quotes from Albert Einstein and Jesus Christ. 

A Reddit thread on the topic also let me to this release by Pete Shelley, from 1983:

Track B6 is a computer program for the Sinclair ZX Spectrum which printed lyrics in time with the music and displayed graphics. 

I confess I didn’t listen to either of the albums. I’m afraid I might not like them, and I’d rather just be in awe about their mid-80s genius.


Reading list

Stacking the Bricks: The Pizza Crust Problem, or...the Wrong Way to Find a SaaS Idea →

I love this post from Amy Hoy, where she challenges the conventional wisdom that we should look for “problems” to solve with the products we make:

You need to deeply understand not just a problem, but the people who have it. Because there are infinite ways for a fledgling business to fail, but there’s only one way to succeed: Make enough sales to cover costs. […] If your costs exceed your revenue long enough, you fail. That means that the most important question for any new potential product is: “Will people buy it in sufficient quantities for profit?” The What? doesn’t matter, really. The most crucial ingredients are Who? and How Much?

How do you Introduce Product Management Into a Business? →

Some good advice here on being the first product manager in a company:

Nothing speaks of the value of user-centred thinking like presenting findings from the existing user base after just a few days. Whether it’s unearthing previously unidentified frustrations with the software, or presenting a well-structured analysis of the target audience or market, creating some rapid and valid insights can quickly build credibility for your product role.

Navigation Apps Changed the Politics of Traffic →

This is a fascinating look at how navigations apps are actually making traffic worse in many cities.

But Waze is a business, not a government agency. The goal is to be an indispensable service for its customers, and to profit from that. And it isn’t clear that those objectives align with a solution for urban congestion as a whole. This gets to the heart of the problem with any navigation app—or, for that matter, any traffic fix that prioritizes the needs of independent drivers over what’s best for the broader system. Managing traffic requires us to work together. Apps tap into our selfish desires.

What would happen if Facebook were turned off? →

The results of a 2018 study where participants were asked to deactivate their Facebook profiles for four weeks are… interesting:

Those booted off enjoyed an additional hour of free time on average. They tended not to redistribute their liberated minutes to other websites and social networks, but chose instead to watch more television and spend time with friends and family. They consumed much less news, and were thus less aware of events but also less polarised in their views about them than those still on the network. Leaving Facebook boosted self-reported happiness and reduced feelings of depression and anxiety.

Managing Your Friendships, With Software →

A slew of new start-ups want to help people manage their relationships the way they would sales leads.

There's Dex, "a tool to turn acquaintances into allies." Clay, "an extension of your brain, purposefully built to help you remember people." "Forgetting personal details?" Hippo "helps you stay attentive [and] keep track of friends, family and colleagues you care for," for just $1.49 a month. Plum Contacts sends reminders to message your friends, and rewards you with cartoon berries that "indicate how strong your relationship is." "Build the relationships you always wish you had," the UpHabit sitepromises.


Random things I like

📡 The Lasers of Discontent is an amazing photo essay with images from unrest in Chile, Hong Kong, and Iraq, where demonstrators use laser pointers as tools of defiance.

🏬 Of the many things that I found really strange when I moved to the US, “self-storage” is very close to the top of the list. Self-storage: How warehouses for personal junk became a $38 billion industry.

🚲 I love this story about a Dutch bike company that dramatically reduced shipping damage on their bikes by putting a picture of a flat-screen TV on the box.

❄️ Winter is coming here in the Pacific Northwest. I never really understood why people make such a big deal out of it until I lived through one. Here’s how to survive these cold, dark days.


What is this?

Elezea is a newsletter with links, resources, and commentary to help you create better products, work better together, and understand the broader impact of technology on our work and our lives. It’s written by Rian van der Merwe, who is a product manager, author, speaker, and person who would be very grateful if you shared the newsletter’s sign-up page with people you like.

Issue 26: Product management for modest growth, steel men vs. straw men, how Dream Market got taken down

Also, CHVRCHES made a song for a video game and it’s really good.

Resources to create better products

Should you product manage for rocket-ship growth or modest growth? →

I appreciate this counter-cultural viewpoint from the folks at Feature Upvote, on avoiding the need to “grow at any cost”:

For us, we realised success means running a growing company (profitable with customers in 30+ countries) that we enjoy working for but doesn’t dominate our lives. We want to have time for friends, families and fun, and to make sure work doesn’t negatively impact how we feel while at work or elsewhere.

This is very similar to our approach at Wildbit. See, for example, our 4-day work-week experiment.

Don't Let the Backlog Drive Your Product →

Speaking of counter-cultural, I always enjoy when the Postlight team writes about product management:

Backlog-driven products are everywhere. They’re confounding and frustrating. Stepping back from the backlog is true product advocacy. This will feel like friction between product leaders and stakeholders. It’s just the process. It’s how you get to great product. You have to wade through all that pushback and debate to get to something great. And in the end that’s what everyone is after: Great product.

How to Make Product Decisions With Transparency and Trust →

Some very helpful, practical tips here from Ellen Gottesdiener. For example, on defining “decision rules”:

A decision rule is a mechanism to reach closure. It tells participants in the decision-making process when a decision has been made, something many product teams are not explicit about. When a decision rule is not explicitly defined, there is often too much discussion and debate. People are left unsure when and if a decision has been reached and what the decision is. They delay taking action and often act without commitment. The team loses energy and valuable time.


Resources to work better together

The soul of the steel man →

Robin Sloan’s newsletter is always a delight, but this week I can’t stop thinking about the concept of the “steel man” as the opposite of a “straw man” argument:

The opposite is the “steel man.” That’s when you articulate the absolute strongest version of your opponent’s position—potentially even stronger than the one they presented. One of the key characteristics of a steel man is that it must satisfy your opponent. Upon hearing your version of their position, they must say: “Well… yes. That’s it exactly!”

Google's .New Shortcuts Are Now for Everyone →

This is neat:

Want to start a new Spotify playlist? That’s playlist.new. List a widget on eBay? Try sell.new. Github repository? Welcome to repo.new. And in a lightly recursive touch, you can make new shortened links with Bitly at the very short new link link.new.

GitBook

This looks really interesting. “GitBook is a modern documentation platform where teams can document everything from products to internal knowledge-bases and APIs.”


Technology news

Stealing Amazon Packages in the Age of Nextdoor →

When a longtime resident started stealing her neighbors’ Amazon packages, she entered a vortex of smart cameras, Nextdoor rants, and cellphone surveillance. This story starts off as one thing, and quickly morphs into a much larger critique of Silicon Valley life:

So, Fairley told me two years later, sitting in an orange sweatsuit in a county-jail interview room, that was the real acceleration of the epic feud of Fairley v. Neighbors of Potrero Hill, a vortex of smart-cam clips, Nextdoor rants, and cellphone surveillance that would tug at the complexities of race and class relations in a liberal, gentrifying city. The clash would also expose a fraught debate about who is responsible, and who is to blame, for the city’s increasingly unlivable conditions. As Fairley says, “It just got bigger and bigger and bigger.”

👉 See also Are neighborhood watch apps making us safer?

‘Nearly All’ Counter-Strike Microtransactions Are Being Used for Money Laundering →

Amazing.

Counter-Strike: Global Offensive players will no longer be able to trade container keys between accounts because the trade was part of a massive worldwide fraud network. 

What Would Happen If the Internet Went Down ... Forever?

How long could society carry on without the internet? However implausible, it’s nonetheless a scenario that futurists, economists, and IT workers spend considerable time contemplating.

I tracked everything my baby did until nothing made sense any more →

James Temperton answers the important questions, like “Has a baby really pooped at all if it can’t be viewed as part of a Poop Frequency Trend Chart going back three months?”

Case in point: farts. Shortly after our child was born, we spent weeks worrying about abnormal air quality in our bedroom. We had been tipped off to the presence of concerning-sounding volatile organic compounds by a small, rabbit-like creature that lurks in the corner: our feature-packed Arlo Baby. Unlike most baby monitors that merely provide an audio and or video feed of your baby sleeping, the Arlo Baby can also monitor temperature, humidity and even detect levels of methane, hydrogen, carbon monoxide and ethanol in the air.

Turns Out™ their baby was just really really gassy 🤷‍♂️


Random things I like

🎸 YES to all of this. “The best way to support musicians you care about is to buy their albums on CD or digitally from Bandcamp, go to their concerts, buy their merchandise, join their fan clubs, follow them on Instagram, subscribe to their Patreons, and so on.”

😂 How did feeling good become a matter of relentless, competitive work, a never-to-be-attained goal which makes us miserable?

🤖 The rise of microchipping: are we ready for technology to get under the skin?

🕵️‍♂️ If you’re really diligent, you can now get access to your secret consumer score.

👮‍♀️ A really interesting overview of how Dream Market (a dark web drug marketplace) got taken down.


Final thoughts

📖 I started reading Wanderers and I’m really enjoying it:

Shana wakes up one morning to discover her little sister in the grip of a strange malady. She appears to be sleepwalking. She cannot talk and cannot be woken up. And she is heading with inexorable determination to a destination that only she knows. But Shana and her sister are not alone. Soon they are joined by a flock of sleepwalkers from across America, on the same mysterious journey. And like Shana, there are other “shepherds” who follow the flock to protect their friends and family on the long dark road ahead.

🎵 CHVRCHES has a new song called Death Stranding and it’s amazing. It’s fascinating to me how video game soundtracks are starting to get the same treatment as movie soundtracks. As games become more immersive, it seems natural to spend more time on the music as well. I guess this why you can now buy things like The Music of Red Dead Redemption 2 on vinyl.

🐦 Shout-out, parents.


Wait, what is this?

Elezea is a newsletter with links, resources, and commentary to help you create better products, work better together, and understand the broader impact of technology on our work and our lives. It’s written by Rian van der Merwe, who is a product manager, author, speaker, and person who would be very grateful if you shared the newsletter’s sign-up page with people you like.

Issue 25: That one time you failed, how Google motivates employees, a trip down Napster memory lane

And say hello to “Anne”, the Reddit moderator we don’t deserve, but so desperately need in our lives.

Resources to create better products

Minimize the Gap Between Maker and User →

A good talk about how creating great products requires us to reduce the gap between makers and users.

Reducing the gap means limiting handoffs, using lots of different data sources, building empowered autonomous teams, committing to radical transparency, and focusing on curiosity rather than pride

Knowledge Management for Product Dev Teams →

How do you ensure that your development team has access to any and all data and information they may need?

This is where knowledge management comes in. In this article, we’re going to discuss how a solid approach to knowledge management can help your product development teams consistently produce to the best of their ability—leading to massive returns for your company.

Product Manager Interview: The Failure Question →

A good framework for answering the dreaded “tell me about a time you failed…” interview question.


Resources to work better together

RemoteHQ →

This looks really interesting. “Work together in ways that go beyond video chat. Co-browse and co-edit any web app, share files, take notes, whiteboard, screen share, video chat, and more. All in a single browser tab.”

Digamo: Your 1:1 Organizer →

A personal, private organizer for all your 1:1 meetings.

The Leader as Coach →

Good article by Herminia Ibarra and Anne Scoular for HBR.

The coaching we’re talking about—the kind that creates a true learning organization—is ongoing and executed by those inside the organization. It’s work that all managers should engage in with all their people all the time, in ways that help define the organization’s culture and advance its mission. An effective manager-as-coach asks questions instead of providing answers, supports employees instead of judging them, and facilitates their development instead of dictating what has to be done.

How Naveen Keeps Track →

I love reading about other peoples’ processes to get things done. In this article the co-founder of Foursquare explains the systems he uses to start companies, remember what he reads, and prioritize his time.

This is how Google motivates its employees →

Take with a grain of salt I guess, but some interesting research findings here.

“There are commonalities across extreme teams, but the culture of each is unique,” says Shaw. “Google has created a culture that supports teams. You can try to apply what works for others and there are lessons to be learned, but there are a broader set of factors to consider.”


Technology news

How Reddit's R/Relationships Subreddit Is Moderated →

This is an amazing interview with “Anne”, the 58-year old hero we don’t deserve, but so desperately need.

She’s been leading the moderation team for r/relationships for close to a decade—long before mainstream publications started running roundups of the subreddit’s worst stories—and if you ask her, it’s not even that hard to maintain civil discourse and community. The big secret? Just delete stuff. “We maintain the community by removing as much stuff as we remove,” she told me flatly in a phone call, stating what should be obvious to me.

In Praise of Ugly and Conspicuous Security Cameras →

How “beautiful design” is making us less safe…

Research conducted in the US and UK shows that the presence of surveillance cameras in urban settings caused a significant decrease in property crimes on the streets and in subway stations, and a decrease of 50 percent in parking lots. But for that deterrence to work, criminals need to recognize the device, and the device needs to convey authority. As a research report by Arizona State University’s Center for Problem-Oriented Policing states, only an obviously visible security camera has the desired demotivating effect: “For this crime-prevention process to succeed, the offender must be aware of the cameras’ presence.” So the more attractive and inconspicuous security cameras are, the less likely they are to impress intruders.

Everything is Amazing, But Nothing is Ours →

An excellent essay by Alex Danco about what we’re losing now that everything is moving from “files” to “services”:

The constraints of mobile, plus a new generation of users that’ve never really known life without the internet, meant the benefits of skeuomorphism were no longer worth the cost. Ditching it as a philosophy, both in design and in function, freed us to go out and reinvent everything as a service. Abstract everything away into databases, links and logic, and provide it as a consumer service with all the topology and complexity hidden out of sight. 

How the music industry shifted from Napster to Spotify →

This is wonderful trip down Napster memory lane:

The service only existed as a peer-to-peer file sharing service from June 1999 to July 2001, but it caught on like wildfire. The internet was far less commonly used in 2000, but at its zenith, Napster still had about 70 million users globally (by comparison, Spotify has about 220 million today, after 13 years in operation). Napster gave users access to more than 4 million songs; at some universities, traffic from Napster accounted for about half the total bandwidth. Downloaded files from Napster sometimes brought computer viruses with them, but many, like myself, were willing to take on the risk.

 The Toxic Bubble of Technical Debt Threatening America →

Technical debt comes for our infrastructure…

A kind of toxic debt is embedded in much of the infrastructure that America built during the 20th century. For decades, corporate executives, as well as city, county, state, and federal officials, not to mention voters, have decided against doing the routine maintenance and deeper upgrades to ensure that electrical systems, roads, bridges, dams, and other infrastructure can function properly under a range of conditions. Kicking the can down the road like this is often seen as the profit-maximizing or politically expedient option. But it’s really borrowing against the future, without putting that debt on the books.


Random things I like

🗺 Digital maps might be more practical in the 21st century, but the long tradition of cartography is magical

🎲 These three “programming” board games look awesome. I would also add Mechs vs. Minions to this list.

🍿 Oh this reminds me: time to watch Heat again. De Niro and Pacino Have Always Connected. Just Rarely Onscreen.

💽 The US nuclear forces’ Dr. Strangelove-era messaging system finally got rid of its floppy disks.

🛴 A fascinating look at “Juicers” — the people who round up and recharge lime scooters.


Final thoughts

🎵 A couple of weeks ago I mentioned the 25th anniversary re-issue of R.E.M.’s Monster, and how it’s fun to listen to it again even though it was never my favorite R.E.M. album (that will always be Automatic For The People). And then I came across an article that taught me so many things I didn’t know about the controversy surrounding the album. According to How R.E.M.’s ‘Monster’ Signaled The End Of Alternative Rock the album was a lot of things, but “universally loved” is not one of them. My favorite part is this:

Many regard Monster as the end of R.E.M.’s golden era. The distinctive red-orange cover itself became a kind of in-joke, as it became a fixture at used-CD stores from coast to coast, back when used-CD stores were still a thing.

Ok, hands up if you picked this up at a used-CD store at some point in your life 🤚.

But beyond that, this also reminded me again how different music listening was before the internet. We didn’t have constant updates about a band and their inner workings, we didn’t have review sites to tell us immediately what to think. We just listened and made up our own minds. There is something I miss about that bubble, about not feeling pulled in a certain direction because “professionals” said so. How many of you are hiding your love for Coldplay because it’s not a band you’re supposed to like anymore? (Ok, that one might actually legitimately be just me)

All of that said, I will admit that one of the only good things about being in my 40s right now is that all my favorite albums are getting anniversary re-issues. Another case in point: Live’s Throwing Copper.

🐦 It’s good to finally get this cleared up:

Issue 24: Traits of great product managers, remote work survey results, the age of pseudo-profound nonsense

And welcome back, Jimmy Eat World. We missed you.

Resources to create better products

What Makes a Great Product Manager? →

Andre Theus, VP of Marketing at ProductPlan, discusses the most important characteristics of a product manager:

But if we had to distill what it takes to be a great product manager into a single concept, a single theme, it would be balance. Product management is the organizational equivalent of walking a tight rope every day — and if your skills or focus are overdeveloped in one area and underdeveloped in another, you risk setbacks for both your product and your career.

Many moons ago I argued that “fairness” is a PM’s most important characteristic, and while I still believe that, “balance” is definitely a good one too. 

The 4 Habits of Highly Effective Product Managers →

Related to the first article, and with the obvious joke out of the way, I found this article really useful. I’m especially a big fan of “Empower the team to make progress in ambiguity”:

The best Product Managers are able to clearly articulate the vision and direction for the product or feature, so that the designers and engineers alongside them are empowered with that knowledge to make good choices every day that fill in the gaps in the requirements. You could spend the time to answer each and every question that crops up, but it’s far more efficient to enable the team to make smart decisions by pointing them in the right direction.

Don’t Serve Burnt Pizza (And Other Lessons in Building Minimum Lovable Products) →

Another great interview on First Round, this time with Jiaona “JZ” Zhang, Director of Product at WeWork.

“Say you’re trying to test whether people like pizza. If you serve them burnt pizza, you’re not getting feedback on whether they like pizza. You only know that they don’t like burnt pizza. Similarly, when you’re only relying on the MVP, the fastest and cheapest functional prototype, you risk not actually testing your product, but rather a poor or flawed version of it.”

She shares some great, practical advice on how to get better at creating “lovable” products.


Resources to work better together

How remote work is quietly remaking our lives →

A nice overview of the ups and downs of remote work from Rani Molla at Vox. It’s based on data from Buffer’s “State Of Remote Work 2019” survey.

The societal impact of remote work is, we're finally starting to see what was promised in the first internet boom: more flexibility in where we live. After years of growth following the recession, America's three biggest metro areas are now shrinking. Part of the reason is that Americans, particularly millennials, are “moving toward sun and some semblance of affordability,” Derek Thompson wrote in the Atlantic. Those areas include smaller, secondary cities, as well as rural areas.

Be Humble, and Proudly, Psychologists Say →

Humility is not the boldest of personality traits, but it’s an important one, studies find. And it’s hard to fake.

In the new review paper, Dr. Van Tongeren and his colleagues proposed several explanations for why humility, intellectual or otherwise, is such a valuable facet of personality. A humble disposition can be critical to sustaining a committed relationship. It may also nourish mental health more broadly, providing a psychological resource to shake off grudges, suffer fools patiently and forgive oneself.

We have the tools and technology to work less and live better →

A fascinating deep-dive from Toby Phillips for Aeon:

So if today’s advanced economies have reached (or even exceeded) the point of productivity that Keynes predicted, why are 30- to 40-hour weeks still standard in the workplace? And why doesn’t it feel like much has changed?

Spoiler answer: “humans have an insatiable appetite for more”.


Technology news

‘It’s my escape.’ How video games help people cope with disabilities. →

This is a great story about some of the ways people with disabilities find friendship and inspire others in video games. 

“The trappings, the scary parts of disability, don’t define and don’t have to define you in video games, and that’s really breathtaking,” Barlet said.

I tried to hack my insomnia with technology. Here’s what worked. →

Charlotte Jee tried a bunch of different fancy trackers, headbands, and other products in the “sleep-tech industry” to cure her insomnia. Nothing worked, until she turned to cognitive behavioral therapy apps.

An avatar with a soothing Scottish accent guided me through six weekly sessions on my phone or laptop. Its professorial, firm, reassuring manner made me instantly feel in good (virtual) hands. In essence, it’s a combination of questionnaires, advice, feedback, and self-reflection. Like any CBT, it’s about challenging negative thoughts and beliefs (the downward spiral of stress, frustration, and fear will be familiar to any insomniac). Sleepio helped stop the onset of this negative cycle of emotions remarkably effectively. 

How A Massive Facebook Scam Siphoned Millions Of Dollars From Unsuspecting Boomers →

An entire company built to scam people. And it all worked — until an attempted merger fell apart.

You don’t know Ads Inc., but you may have seen one of its ads on Facebook: a tabloid-style image that claims a celebrity has been caught saying or doing something scandalous that puts their career or life in jeopardy. The ad leads to a webpage that mimics a media brand such as TMZ, Fox News, or People magazine. But it’s all fake: the “news” article, the website, and the additional claim that this star has, for example, discovered an amazing new skin cream that you can try for a small fee. The fake celebrity scandal hinted at in the ad is the hook that gets people to click so they can be pitched on what appears to be a no-risk, product trial for a small shipping fee, such as $4.99. Within a week or two of making that payment, another, much higher, charge appears on customers’ credit cards — because they have been enrolled in an expensive monthly subscription.

What does 'living fully' mean? Welcome to the age of pseudo-profound nonsense →

Argh these “quote photos” all over Instagram drive me up a wall too. Empty sayings like “start visualizing what you want, then say no to anything that isn’t it,” and “Buy the plane ticket, quit the job, plan the trip, wander into the unknown, open your heart, take the leap” are what I would call “true enough”. You can’t really disagree with any of it, but they are also not helpful in any concrete, measurable way.

Dr Erin Vogel, a social psychologist who explores the influence technology has on our lives and wellbeing, says: “Social media seems to define ‘living fully’ as being adventurous, spontaneous and extroverted. For people who are fulfilled by a quieter life, social media seems to tell them that they’re living life the wrong way.”

She explains what most social media users know to be true: when using social media, users often compare their lives with others’. In reality, even your most adventurous friend probably has some lackluster experiences or boring evenings spent watching Netflix.

Teens find circumventing Apple’s parental controls is child’s play →

Apple’s Screen Time is meant to give users a way to control their kids’ devices, but kids are sharing exploitable bugs and workarounds on Reddit and YouTube.

On Reddit and YouTube, kids are sharing tips and tricks that allow them to circumvent Screen Time. They download special software that can exploit Apple security flaws, disabling Screen Time or cracking their parents’ passwords. They search for bugs that make it easy to keep using their phones, unbeknown to parents, such as changing the time to trick the system or using iMessage to watch YouTube videos.


Random things I like

📷 Check out the winners of the 2019 Microphotography Competition.

👩‍⚕️ Videos of chiropractors getting their backs and necks cracked are racking up millions of views on YouTube.

🎸 On the meaninglessness of music charts: “The more charts there are, the less meaning they hold. The less meaning they hold, the harder it is to use them for their specific purpose: measuring one artist’s success relative to another.”

😂 Here are the 20 defining comedy sketches of the past 20 years, from Rick James to ‘Lazy Sunday’.

⚽️ As someone who is often referred to as “Ryan Vanderwhatever”, this article on how not to mangle African sports stars’ names is near and dear to my heart.


Final thoughts

🎵 Jimmy Eat World is back with their best album since “Futures”, but I actually want to talk to you about Coldplay, because that’s who I’ve been thinking about a lot this week. WAIT. Before you unsubscribe, hear me out ok? 

Coldplay has a new album coming out in November, and they just released two songs from it, including Arabesque. The song features the Nigerian musician Femi Kuti and his band. If that name doesn’t ring a bell, here’s some history. Femi is the eldest son of the absolutely legendary pioneer of Afrobeat music, Fela Kuti, and a grandchild of women’s rights activist Funmilayo Ransome Kuti. Like his father, Femi has been extremely active in social and political causes throughout his career.

Now, as for the song itself... I’m pretty sure most people will hate this. But good for Coldplay for going there, and going all the way. This is not watered down Afrobeat jazz, it’s the real thing. Do yourself a favor: throw out any preconceived ideas you have about Coldplay, Afrobeat, and jazz, and just.... enjoy it.

🐦 Hard relate:


Wait, what is this?

Elezea is a newsletter with links, resources, and commentary to help you create better products, work better together, and understand the broader impact of technology on our work and our lives. It’s written by Rian van der Merwe, who is a product manager, author, speaker, and person who would be very grateful if you shared the newsletter’s sign-up page with people you like.

Issue 23: Product-user fit, a guide to asynchronous communication, how TV sets changed our homes

Also, happy anniversary, Balloon Boy!

Resources to create better products

Product-User Fit Comes Before Product-Market Fit →

A good distinction here. When startups claim product-market fit, instead they’re often a step before that: product-user fit. You’ve built the right product for a particular user, but you haven’t figured out the greater market opportunity yet:

Product-user fit is an important step in the journey to product-market fit, in which nailing the product to win over the right user is essential. The path from product-user fit to product-market fit is all about answering a few core questions: Who really wants this today? How many of those people are out in the wild? What else would it take in the product to turn non-users into users of our solution? What macro story must play out in the market to substantially shock market-wide demand?

Peter Lauten and David Ulevitch go on to give some advice on how to bridge that gap effectively.

Creating your Personal Product Philosophy →

I like the idea of defining — even if it’s just for yourself — your own approach to product work. 

The Personal Product Philosophy is the attitude and principles that guide how you approach Product Management. They remain valid regardless of the company, situation, or team you’re in. A Personal Product Philosophy is essential because it codifies your approach to Product Management and directs the action you take.

Rediscover the Forgotten Art of Product Strategy →

Some fairly standard advice in this strategy article, but this paragraph stood out for me. I really like the idea of “making the problem bigger” (or, phrasing it differently, understanding the whole context before jumping to a solution):

I once had the honour to talk to former astronaut Ed Lu – he’s been on two space-shuttle flights and spent several months on the International Space Station. He told me that when a NASA team is confronted with a difficult problem they don’t try and make the problem smaller (which is what a lot of optimisation optimist teams do). Instead, they make the problem bigger. This means that the teams can come up with the most imaginative and impactful solutions.


Resources to work better together

Asynchronous Communication: The Real Reason Remote Workers Are More Productive →

I know I link to the Doist blog almost ever week, but their stuff is so good:

While I think remote work is the future, I believe that asynchronous communication is an even more important factor in team productivity, whether your team is remote or not.

They discuss the problems with real-time-all-the-time communication, the benefits of a more asynchronous workplace, and how to build an async culture inside your team.

Designing accessible color systems →

A great resource from the Stripe team:

With the existing tools we found, it was hard to create a color system that allowed us to pick great colors while ensuring accessibility. We decided to create a new tool that uses perceptual color models to give real-time feedback about accessibility. This enabled us to quickly create a color scheme that met our needs, and gave us something we could iterate on in the future.

Loom →

Capture your screen, record your front-facing camera, and narrate it all at once, then instantly share with a simple link. No switching apps or upload required.

Focused and Diffuse: Two Modes of Thinking →

Our brains employ two modes of thinking to tackle any large task: focused and diffuse. Both are equally valuable but serve very different purposes. To do your best work, you need to master both.

When our minds are free to wander, we shift into a diffuse mode of thinking. This is sometimes referred to as our natural mode of thinking, or the daydream mode; it’s when we form connections and subconsciously mull over problems. Although diffuse thinking comes in the guise of a break from focus, our minds are still working. Often, it’s only after we switch away from this mode that we realize our brains were indeed working for us.

7 things to consider when using a performance improvement plan (PIP) →

Some really good common sense advice here from Claire Lew.


Technology news

Student tracking, secret scores: How college admissions offices rank prospects before they apply →

Before many schools even look at an application, they comb through prospective students’ personal data, such as web-browsing habits and financial history:

The software sent an alert to the school’s assistant director of admissions containing the student’s name, contact information and details about her life and activities on the site […] The admissions officer also received a link to a private profile of the student, listing all 27 pages she had viewed on the school’s website and how long she spent on each one. A map on this page showed her geographical location, and an “affinity index” estimated her level of interest in attending the school. Her score of 91 out of 100 predicted she was highly likely to accept an admission offer from UW-Stout, the records showed.

This… Nope. I can’t.

👉 Also see The Delicate Ethics of Using Facial Recognition in Schools, and In China, you can no longer buy a smartphone without a face scan.

How Pinterest Built One of Silicon Valley’s Most Successful Algorithms →

A very interesting look inside Pinterest’s powerful recommendations tool — and its efforts to avoid the scandals facing its rivals:

On Tuesday, the company will roll out a feature designed to address perhaps its algorithm’s most visible flaw: its tendency to draw the wrong conclusions from users’ past behavior, and pollute their feeds with stuff they don’t want to see anymore — like wedding dresses for a user who broke off her engagement, or nursery decor for a user who suffered a miscarriage. The feature, which Pinterest is calling the Home Feed Tuner, will let users review and manually edit their activity history and interests, essentially telling the algorithm what to remember and what to forget.

(via Vicki)

How the television transformed our homes →

This is a really interesting article on how TV’s entry into our living spaces began a nationwide conversation about where the sets should go and how they should look. 

The history of television’s place in domestic interiors fits into a much larger story about the look of technology in the home. Are pieces of consumer technology machines, furniture, or something else? In the second half of the 19th century, when the Singer Corporation began developing the sewing machine as a consumer product, it found that models that looked too industrial—that is, too much like factory equipment—failed to spark shoppers’ desire. Singer added decorative touches that gave sewing machines the look of Victorian furniture, with gold decoration on the device itself, and a dainty, carved stand for the cast-iron treadle that powered it. In order to be appealing to consumers, the machine needed to be disguised.

When we moved into our home about 5 years ago, we made a deliberate decision to banish the TV to the basement, and make our music system the center of our living room tech. I feel like this had a massive (positive) effect on how we spend time as a family. Our technologies have a way bigger effect on the “real world” than we sometimes give them credit for.

The Millennial Urban Lifestyle Is About to Get More Expensive →

Stupid article title, but this paragraph is 🔥🔥🔥:

If you wake up on a Casper mattress, work out with a Peloton before breakfast, Uber to your desk at a WeWork, order DoorDash for lunch, take a Lyft home, and get dinner through Postmates, you’ve interacted with seven companies that will collectively lose nearly $14 billion this year. If you use Lime scooters to bop around the city, download Wag to walk your dog, and sign up for Blue Apron to make a meal, that’s three more brands that have never recorded a dime in earnings, or have seen their valuations fall by more than 50 percent.

A Decade of Music Is Lost on Your iPod. These Are The Deleted Years. Now Let Us Praise Them. →

I never thought about it this way before, but we don’t have any artifacts to remind us of what we listened to from the day the iTunes store launched until the rise of Rdio and Spotify: 

But if you ask me to name my favorite songs from 2007, I might need to use a lifeline. The music of the mid-aughts to early-teens is largely gone, lost down a new-millennium memory hole. There is a moment that whizzed right past us with no cassettes, discs, or Shazam queries through which to remember it. These are the Deleted Years, and we need to start honoring this period, right now, before we forget it forever.

I could get behind the idea of a bunch of Deleted Years compilations, covering the music we all loved between 2003 and 2012.


Random things I like

🎈 Ten years ago, a dumb viral hoax heralded an age of internet clownery. I miss “balloon boy”.

👩‍💻 Apollo 11, the JPEG, the first pop-up ad, and 33 other lines of code that changed everything.

🔮 Facebook ads touting “free” products are actually fake review programs commissioned by Amazon sellers.

🏖 Our unpredictable and overburdened schedules are taking a dire toll on how we spend our free time. In short, since schedules are so all over the place, we have less shared time off, so we end up spending more of our leisure time alone.

🧐 Have you ever wondered how monocles became such a universal joke?


Final thoughts

🎵 The new Jimmy Eat World album is out, and I like it more than anything they’ve done since 2004’s Futures. In trying to figure out how old the lead singer is (43, by the way!), I came across the origin story of their name, which I didn’t know before:

The band’s name came from a crayon drawing made after an incident between Linton’s younger brothers, Jim and Ed Linton, who fought frequently. Jim usually won, but Ed sought revenge by drawing a picture of Jim shoving the Earth into his mouth; the picture bore the caption “Jimmy eat world”.

So basically, they are all of us.

🐦 I’m pretty upset that I didn’t think of this joke first.


Wait, what is this?

Elezea is a newsletter with links, resources, and commentary to help you create better products, work better together, and understand the broader impact of technology on our work and our lives. It’s written by Rian van der Merwe, who is a product manager, author, speaker, and person who would be very grateful if you shared the newsletter’s sign-up page with people you like.

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