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.