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:


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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.