Paying attention is a superpower
How observation helps with everything from product intuition to building culture to risk aptitude + links from this week
Today at a glance:
Paying attention is a superpower. A common thread through multiple disciplines from art to stand-up comedy to poker
How paying attention helps (1) develop product intuition, (2) build culture, (3) make you smarter at taking risks, (4) build design sense and more concrete examples
Links from this week that you might enjoy
Paying attention is a superpower
Observation is one of these common principles that threads through multiple disciplines.
In art we are studying the scene. What ends up on the canvas is our POV of the scene. Whether it is precise or abstract - the best artists will study the scene and get fully immersed. Dylan is a pencil artist (not a photo below) who shares his hyper-realist work on TikTok.
A large % of stand-up comedy is observation. Yes delivery matters, but so much of the routine is story-telling of everyday experiences, right? Comedians pay attention to the mundane and jot down stuff that happened to them. Comedians tell stories. They are dialed into the real world for us. We feel connected to their stories because they often remind us of the nuances of our own lives.
Poker is no different. If you are checked out at the poker table - you are not playing your A-game. If you are not collecting information at every hand (not just the hands you are in) you are giving up a % of your edge.
How does all of this apply to building? Will give concrete examples below.
How does paying attention help build great products/companies
Observe. Pay attention. Seek out the truth. And then act on this information. This includes working hard to try and change your mind based on new info.
Hard truth is that many PMs are glorified project managers. They spend hours optimizing some % of a UX on a product that already has strong PMF. They do not do the hard things and are not strong independent thinkers. So what?
Developing product intuition by paying attention:
Use your product. A lot. And use it the same way that your users would. Many people sit on gigabit WIFI and 60hz monitors messing with their web-apps. What about an Android phone and a data plan?
Spend time with users and pay attention to what they are saying. Watch them use the product on zoom or ask them to send you a video. Offer them something in return (many ideas). Do this 100s of times. Best PMs/founders never stop talking to users and never stop doing support
Watch people. We learn a lot more from watching than from listening or from reading emails
Pay attention to what is happening around you. Competitor features and feature requests, idea boards, trends. Be informed about your space
TLDR: there is no substitute to spending time with the user
Coming up with product ideas by observing the real world (not our fantasy):
Observe the real world. What are the big tailwinds today? Building with tailwinds and in a large market puts you in a powerful position.
What are the problems that need to be solved? People want a few things from products. They want to save time, save/earn $, fall in love, have fun. Is there more? Does our product help?
Getting better at taking risks by paying attention to each bet:
Make bets. Product bets - you learn by doing. Financial bets. Habit bets. Try stuff
Play poker for real $. Am biased but poker is a great teacher!
And watch how you react to risk. You will notice how your assessment of risk will improve and change from each bet. With each experiment you will get smarter.
TLDR: Put yourself in situations where you are exposed to risk and there are consequences. Then think deeply about risk and about each bet (do not be along for the ride)
Developing intuition on shipping/execution
Pay attention to what is the core function of the product. Ship that or less
Pay attention to whether you have a clear idea of what is success. Few things are worse than an inconclusive bet
Pay attention to the size of the team
What would happen if we add: (1) more people to the project or (2) more features? It will probably suck. A good product is built by as few minds as possible.
And features? All features are surface areas for bugs and UX complexity. Over long-enough time horizon regressions will equal # of fixed bugs
Think about each experience - pay attention to what went right and what went wrong and why
Observation and developing design sense:
What is good design? What would make this design better? Paying attention to the world around us and to what our user needs will help build better products
Some of the best designs are invisible. Precognitive. What about ours?
If you want people to use something - make it bold. 80%+ of people will pick the simplest/boldest option. Think deeply about what action you want the user to take on each screen and why.
Paying attention to build relationships with people on the team:
Best leaders care deeply about the people and show up all the time (not just in scheduled 1v1). They are human. They avoid management speak
Do I know team dynamics? Do I understand what brings each person on the team joy? How they work? When they are in flow? What is going on in their personal lives that might be impacting work? How I can help make their day 1% better?
Get smarter about your business by paying attention to your P&L:
This will become a larger topic for founders in the high-interest environment
It is important to obsess over the P&L and company metrics
Specifically, I would dig through the #s myself. Do not delegate this. And cultivate the same habit in the rest of the team
Pay attention to kinks in the curve for all #s and drivers for all key metrics. Why did the #s go up or down? What is really going on? Figure out the answers. Do not sugar-coat and then share in the open what you found. Encourage debate.
Do not wait for arbitrary points in time (ex. investor update or end of year). Have a pulse on your #s and the truth behind the #s by paying attention to the metrics daily
Paying attention to what information we consume:
If I am scrolling through the feed or reading mass media - I am being fed information. Yes curated. Yes reputable. Yes not all noise, but when I am online passively I am along for the ride and I am consuming what other people want me to consume. I am not saying that all of it is bad or that I don’t read it (i do)
My point is that it is important to pay attention to information flows and the ultimate motivations of those who are feeding us this information. And then. - to take control.
For example: figure out a topic you want to get smart on and go deep on that topic on your own until you get what you want. Another strategy is to figure out what the smartest people in your circle are consuming/doing.
Paying attention is a superpower.