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June 2009

Twitter Gets a Reason to Exist

I was hearing/reading about Iranians using Twitter to spread the word about protests they were organizing, in reaction to the recent election and allegations of vote-counting fraud.  Here's one example news story.  The Iranian government had had some success closing down sites such as Facebook, but the distributed nature of Twitter (lots of people posting "tweets") apparently made it much more difficult to control.

This reminded of me of the Tiananmen Square protests in China 20 years ago.  The government sought to control access to the media then (as it does today) in order to maintain control over information about the protest.  But apparently one of the technologies used to get information out of the country was something relatively new at the time--the fax machine.  People would fax updates to friends outside of China, who would spread the word among expatriate Chinese, and in some cases forward information back into the country.

It's great to see technology serve the interests of democracy movements!  Now if Twitter can just turn this into a plan for "monetizing its asset"...

Chickens Update

I posted a photo earlier showing our new chickens, Milk Chocolate and Dark Chocolate.  Actually, all our chickens pretty quickly get names like "Big Girl" or "New Girl" so don't expect the naming silliness to last much longer.

At any rate, they've grown by leaps and bounds and have now joined the aforementioned Girls.


The new Girls are on the left.  They're separated by a fence so that everyone can get used to one another before we try mixing them.  It took them the better part of a day to get up the courage to leave their cage and wander outside.  Of course, the free veggies helped!


Managing to a Successful Shot

I learned a while ago that knowing how to do something isn't the same as knowing how to teach someone to do that thing.  How many times have you seen an athlete struggle to explain a skill to someone else?  Shooting a basketball seems like a simple act until you try to explain it to someone.

I'm often reminded of this truth when I work with others to get things done.  Despite the fact that I'm working with talented people, it's not enough to say "do this" and expect to get the result I want.  I can say, "show me the value proposition for this product" and have a clear picture of what kind of information I should receive.  But the person receiving this request may not have such a clear picture, or perhaps has an equally clear--but distinctly different--picture.  So the "value proposition" comes back to me, and it's not what I had in mind.  Doh!

Here's one example from a recent sales training call.  I had asked one of my managers to pull together training materials for our sales team on a new product.  It needed to answer questions such as:

  • what is it?
  • what are the components that make up the product?
  • how do the components fit together?
  • how do I configure it?
  • how do I order it?

I had pulled together  a presentation that attempted to show in simple pictures how the system came together, but the manager had other ideas, preferring to put together a Word document that described the system one part at a time.  As we were on the call the sales team started asking for a picture, saying they didn't have a good idea of how the whole system came together and where the decisions were needed that determined specific configurations of the product.  

Fortunately, this was just the first sales training call, so we were able to supply the presentation later and address the sales team's needs.  And the component-by-component view was still useful.  It was just easier to digest once people had a picture of how the entire product came together.

This situation reinforced the old saying, "you can't expect what you don't inspect".  If you're asking for a particular outcome, be sure the person understands what constitutes achievement of that outcome.  And use the opportunity to "inspect" the results to create a learning situation.  Had we reviewed the sales training materials before our call, the manager and I could have identified the need for a big-picture document to go with the detailed one and saved ourselves some extra work.

So anytime I get revved up and start tossing out directives for work to be done, I try to step back and remember that it took me a while to learn how to shoot a basketball.

Two Management Gems

These from Adriaan Theron, a fellow Product Management type who is now working as a recruiter.

  • "Building a product is easy, building a company is hard".  I couldn't agree more.  As hard as it is to build a successful product (and it is hard), building a company means putting all that other stuff in place so that the product can be successful.  And it means creating the organization and culture that will allow future products to be built and launched.  Lots of companies are started in order to take someone's great idea and turn it into a winning product or service.  Some (perhaps most) of those companies fail to figure out how to turn that great product or service idea into something that everyone wants, is available everywhere, works first time every time, and so on.  Others succeed once, but then stumble.  There's a point where the company becomes more than Engineering and Marketing.  Successful companies build a foundation by bringing people in who have already solved problems the emerging company is only beginning to see.
  • "There are four D's to every product:  Define, Design, Deliver, Deploy.  Most companies focus on Defining and Designing, and neglect Delivering and Deploying."   Anyone who has worked at a startup knows the craziness associated with getting the first product out the door; at times it feels like the clown act at the circus.  Successful companies realize that the methods used to ship the first product won't scale, and put an emphasis on creating methods for delivery and deployment that are both repeatable and scalable. If your methods are repeatable you can bring in new people and train them to do the job... which means you can grow.  If your methods are scalable, you can ship a hundred units with not much more work than it took to ship ten... which means you can be profitable.


Food for thought!