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....
So we're all to be "CEOs" at "startups", I suppose?
Warning: I was in bit of a ranting mood as I boarded a late-evening bus back to NYC when I started this post, but didn't get around to finishing it much later, so the tone may change a bit. :)
There's an interesting interview with Mark Pincus., well.. there's an interview with Mark Pincus, in the NYTimes.
Now Zynga is extremely successful right now, and Mark Pincus seems like a pretty smart guy. I was at a conference where Pincus was on a panel and he was by far the most interesting and opinionated person there, and clearly pretty sharp.
But I have a problem with this article. I find the "everyone is a CEO" terminology annoying and condescending. Why on earth do people feel like they need to be told to be the CEOs of something to do their job well? The real problem I have with this: its seldom true. I appreciate the power of the words to inspire and the empowerment that people feel when you tell them this. For example, you're probably a lot more likely to think outside the box and take responsibility if you're told you're the "CEO of solving problem X" than if you're told to go "solve problem X." The problem is: you're likely to get more annoyed when you're told they can't do what you're suggesting because someone else changed their mind or until you have a couple of presentations or until the budget is approved next month or .... you get the idea.
This annoys me almost as much it does when people tell me they work at a "startup" which has been around 15 years and been profitable for most of it. You're not at a start-up son, you work for a small company and you should be proud of that.
Like I said there's power in words and imagery though; and employees can be much more effective when they truly believe they're CEOs or at a startup. The challenge though, is that those who confer the "CEO" and "startup" titles rarely believe it, and even more rarely empower people enough so that it rings true on a sustainable basis for them.
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.