Random ruminations as I figure out and deal with life, grad school, being an engineer and a product manger; learn more about technology, marketing, economics, news, writing short stories and other stuff that distracts me from doing whatever I'm supposed to be doing....
Is your business/product helping people waste or save time?
Most products/services either
save you time
help you kill it
Its been a way I've amused myself and thought it was pretty obivous. But someone got a kick out of it when I explained it to them a couple of days ago, so here goes...
The argument is broad enough so that with some mental and verbal gymnastics it can be made to apply to anything. Think about it: almost any product or business you use either helps you do things more efficiently or helps you kill time.
Cars: save you time
TV: helps you kill it
Google: saves you time
YouTube: helps you kill it
In essence, you're job is one of these things: its that simple: you're saving people time or helping them kill it (which is just as important, because life is hard!:))
Of course, its no fun unless you unnecessarily complicate the thought experiment!
Everything that helps you save time can be used to help you waste it
Cars: save you time, except when you're driving to the movies to waste it
Google: saves you time, except when you're searching for YouTube videos
Similarly things that can generally used to waste time can be used to help you save it
TV: helps you kill time, except when you're watching the educational show that teaches you something quickly.
YouTube: helps you kill time, expcept when you use it to communicate or learn something that's just easier via video
The job of designers, engineers and managers involves helping you either get more efficient (faster cars, navigation in em, better search results etc.) or waste time more efficiently (think about every new feature on YouTube or record/save/remind feature on TV) etc. etc.
Can you apply this to anything you're working on? Before you waste too much time on thinking this through, I know its a silly argument, but I still enjoy it so there...:)
I've been really enjoying the Freakonomics podcast of late. This episode and the lesson we should take a away from it, was a stark reminder of one of the most important things we should be doing - but often don't - in building products or making any decisions: measuring the impact of absolutely everything we do, including the things that seem obviously good.
I recommend listening to the podcast if you have the time, but here's the summary. Stephen Dubner describes the Cambridge Sommerville Youth Study. The impact of social intervention programs in general is hard to measure and so they seldom are. This was the first attempt at measuring the impact over a long period of time.
It's a great story and there are a few good take-aways, but here's the main one: troubled or at-risk youth that received mentoring (good mentoring!) had worse life outcomes across every dimension than the kids that were left alone. Despite the recipients saying that the mentoring was incredibl…
Every once in a while, I'm reminded that humans can be completely lacking in humanity.
My wife had the following experience yesterday on her ride back home. She got on the train and found a seat. The train was unusually crowded and it looked a lot of people had to stand for a long ride. An elderly Asian gentleman carrying a few things in both hands, was looking for spot, started to complain smilingly about the train being so full and stood in the aisle at the back of the carriage some seats away from her.
She expected someone closer to gentleman in the aisle (lots of younger people on the train) to give him their seat.
No one did.
The train started, and it was clear the man was having a lot of trouble standing up. Then at the next stop there was actually an announcement saying the train was full so please give up your seats to people who needed them.
Still nobody moved.
My wife got up walked to the end of the train and asked the gentleman to go over to her seat. She still couldn…
One of the things I've really enjoyed doing over the last year is teaching and presenting on the work I do more. I do it mostly because I enjoy doing it, but once in a while you hear back about the impact it had and feel better about the fact that you're taking the time to do it.
Last year, I conducted a workshop on Product Management (write up about it here). Within the last week, 2 people got in touch to tell me how that workshop actually helped them - one who used it to have a better summer internship and the other on how it helped him interview better and get a job offer because of it. 3 others also got in touch over the last month to ask about the materials since they're conducting trainings of their own.
The materials themselves aren't perfect (my slides are really meant for presenting and not great reading material in themselves), but I figured if it might actually still help some folks - either to prep themselves or conduct these kinds of workshops.