Friday, February 03, 2006

Thoughts on Great Products, Productivity

I thought I'd highlight some excellent posts I've read recently about two of my favorite topics: The art of making things usable and the challenge of getting yourself to work.

Great Products

Google set the bar in saying: "Focus on the user and all else will follow." Kathy Sierra reframes this: Make the user think: "I Rock!":
Most importantly, keep asking yourself, "How can I help my users kick ass?" And to answer that, you'll have to know the context in which users interact with your product or service. Chances are, whatever you provide is NOT their ultimate goal. It's just a tool to get to something that is meaningful.
David Beisel at Genuine VC offers similar advice:
Communicate benefits, not features. This difference is a subtle, but important distinction. While techies will appreciate a laundry-list of acronym features of the service, when trying to leap from “digerati-facing” services to consumer facing ones, it’s important to communicate the why of the service you’re offering, not the what. Consumers want to know what’s in it for them when making the decision whether or not to explore further.
William Grosso wonders whether we're innovating deeply enough:
When I look at the valley, I see a lot of innovation. But it’s surface innovation instead of deep innovation. To dramatically overstate the case: we’re focusing on building better event calendars and better blog aggregators. And on bringing the same functionality, slightly tailored, to all the nooks and crannies of the long tail.
There have always been me-too companies tackling today's challenges rather than tomorrow's. My guess is the next 'big thing' will, as always, hardly be noticeable at first. Before Google, everyone believed that search is done. Similarly, I don't believe that VisiCalc was seen as the greatest thing since slice bread on the day it came out.

[As a side note, the last article also has some great thoughts about why outsourcing development is not a good idea for a start-up.]


How do you get yourself to stop scanning Reddit and start working? Joel Spolsky's classic "Fire and Motion" has always been a favorite of mine. Almost by accident, in an article on "How to do What You Love", Paul Graham now offers some advice.
Another test you can use is: always produce. For example, if you have a day job you don't take seriously because you plan to be a novelist, are you producing? Are you writing pages of fiction, however bad? As long as you're producing, you'll know you're not merely using the hazy vision of the grand novel you plan to write one day as an opiate. The view of it will be obstructed by the all too palpably flawed one you're actually writing.
I think the "always produce" goal set here has wide applicability. It's much easier to work if you don't feel like you have to create high-quality, genius output all the time. An idea I've noticed myself promoting a lot recently is that of the "permission to suck", which I, after some searching, tracked back to an article by Bruce DeBoer:
Want a technique? Try this: do. Find your passion for doing, and then climb on for the ride. Passion gives you courage to suck. Ever hear, "there's no such thing as a bad question"? Of course you have. Yet, there are humiliating ones. A passionate question gets asked no matter how humiliating. It can't, not be asked, just like creative talent can't not do. Blocked? Plunge forth with ghastly ideas, dreadful songs, appalling paintings or unspeakable prose. Give yourself permission to suck. I'd be surprised if the great didn't find its way out of that pitiful pile of poor.
But how do you establish productivity in organizations? Guy Kawasaki says it's all about the culture:
Establish a culture of execution. Execution is not an event -- a onetime push towards achieving goals. Rather it is a way of life, and this way of life (execution versus non-execution) is set in the early days of the organization. The best way to establish this culture is for the founders, particularly the CEO, to set an example of filling goals, responding to customers, and heeding and measuring employees. This obsession should go right down to the level of the CEO answering emails and responding to phone calls.

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