What if we don't try to sell?

What if we don't try to sell? What if every interaction we have with someone, our interest is to create value but not push our agenda?

It's hard. There is always something we need. People using our product or service, doing us favors, a job, a vote of approval, money, a break, etc. If every party involved is trying to push their agenda, it makes for an exhausting and rather useless interaction.

I get emails from random people telling me how their service will solve a problem they perceive I have. I respond to them once in a while telling them that is not a problem, but they are not listening. 

If we don't try to sell, we can listen better. Maybe, there is something we can do to truly create value for someone. It is also possible that where we create value is somewhere other than what we are trying to sell. But, that chance is lost when we are focussed on pushing our agenda.

Evolving LinkedIn as a true connection platform

Here are some more ideas on how LinkedIn should evolve. This probably is true for any platform that attempts to create value by bringing people together.

  • First metric that needs to be extracted is a first order mapping on what people are thinking when they are using the platform and how that translates to a series of actions. I am not talking about product personas, but a series of intents for those personas and how they go about achieving those intents with or without the aid of the platform.
  • Time to achieve my intent. The only way to get here is to narrow the focus and create an ideal experience for one user. When you have millions of users, finding that one ideal user is hard. How do you even find that person, whose experience if done right will change the story of the entire platform? But these people exist. AirBnB did an interesting thing when they asked what is the next version of their platform. They looked at Hollywood movies and tried to recreate an experience similar to what we see in movies for one of their users. Who is that user? Even if that matters very little, what is that ideal movie like experience. An ideal movie experience for linkedIn might be one of the following or something else.
    • I want to lead an entrepreneur through an entire experience of connecting with people, interviewing and raising capital.
    • I want to connect a community builder organically around finding the right people to network and building a community that truly cares about a cause.
    • I want to empower an inventor with the right resources and people to connect to, and provide tools to ship the invention.
    • I want to empower an employee to grow in her career by providing a curated learning opportunity that is customized and personal.
  • Creating custom dream like experiences take a narrow focus. From a wide (lets focus on our millions of users) perspective, we need to narrow this to one user and work with them for weeks to find the ideal dreamlike experience, and then widen the focus to identify things that we can do for everyone.

What is this dream experience for a LinkedIn user? It is a platform that can truly empower today's workforce and create tomorrow's workplace, which is going to be vastly different than what we know today.

I cannot think of a more relevant platform today that is doing a lot of irrelevant things without focussing on how tomorrow's workplace will look like. I really wish they dig deep and reinvent. We care about this and that is why we show up here everyday. Me, and millions others.

Please pick yourself up.

 

Community of product managers?

Following up from my previous post about LinkedIn Delta, I am thinking of an open source, let's make the world better model of product management. What if there is an open community of product managers, who work on product ideas for a big ideas? Ideally, you want this group to be focussed on big hairy problems (wicked problems, etc) but nothing stops the group from focussing on products that they love already and motivated to improve.

The premise is that we use a product because we find value in it.  And, we know what will make the product better. And, we can talk to our friends and people we know, who use the product to validate if our hypothesis is right. This is classic product work anyway. But the change is that we will apply our product thinking to the products we use even if we are not directly responsible to make that product better. It is 'acting like an owner' approach to the products we use. 

It is similar to open source in software, where a tribe comes together to solve a software problem. But unlike software, there is very little structure and the outcome is not tangible. And, this will be a thought exercise to begin with. But, I feel that a path will emerge out of all that thinking to either improve an existing product or create an altogether new product.

The reward model is tricky. In software open source, the reward is usually a sense of gratification, connection with community, shipping code, etc. In a product design open source model, I don't know what can be a tangible gratification. But unless we experiment with this model, we won't know.

 

The LinkedIn Delta

I love what LinkedIn stands for but I hate how they go about doing it. If I was a product person at LinkedIn, I would do the following -

1. Redesign the feed home page, to optimize discovery. I don't know if there is a strong science behind the recommended news and follow items, but it is not working. Not for me, and not for a lot of people I know. I want to see 'connection possibilities.' Connection possibility should be based on identifying people who are working on similar missions in their life. Somebody who cares about education, should be able to find similar people who care about it. 

What we are doing here is allowing each other to find the tribe they should be part of. And, facilitate a possibility of connecting with the right people based on topic and not just mutual connections.

2. LinkedIn connection model is (still) based on mutual connections. People abuse that a lot. There are random connection requests all the time and people don't know half of their connections. They are stale. It is too much work to keep that list clean. This is because the connection model is based on an agenda - of selling something today or in future. 

What if LinkedIn was a platform to collaborate and solve some real problems in the world? What if LinkedIn was a platform that built a diverse team of people with different backgrounds and skills needed to solve global problems? 

3. Some of the things the platform does are quite rudimentary and it feels to me that the people who designed it don't love their product enough.

The notifications are silly at times. Why congratulate someone for 'Current unemployed and looking for an opportunity' because they changed their status? These are simple table stakes for a serious platform.

4. I understand that money might be somewhere else. The paid platform for professionals and recruiters has more bells and whistles. I was a paid member for a while, but the benefits were not in terms of better insights, but rather around less restrictions (search capabilities, Inmail credits, etc). I didn't find a lot of value in it. 

5. Another of 'I don't understand my users and my product well' scenario is that the side panel of influencers rarely changes. Even after you follow the recommended influencers. It just sits there with a check mark. What a waste of real estate and an opportunity. Again, table stakes.

The core group of users use the platform to stay in touch with the industry. They want to connect with people who share not only similar interests but is able to offer intellectual growth. They want to connect with people who they can rally together with to solve a problem that they care about. The world can be a better place this way and LinkedIn has the chops to do it, but it is sad to see that they take an easy route to maintain the status quo.

I want to see this. I believe in the leadership and I know few excellent people there. But some gutsy experiments today will take LinkedIn to the next level. 

First scale issue

While my job is always around dealing with scale issues, I have never encountered that with my personal projects, until today.

My website went down and that makes me happy. Ironic, but true. First, I thought I had messed something up (highly likely). But it turns out that the traffic took it down and my cheap servers didn't like the load they were seeing. First scaling problem. Yeah!

It is a great feeling to build something that people find useful. But it is only a beginning. The challenge is to continue building things that people love. And, shipping and iterating. Now, my mind is flooded with ideas on how to optimize the HBR project to handle more concurrency and load and I can spend time on it because it is real now.

 

Combining product mindset and engineering mindset

A product mindset asks why. An engineering mindset asks how.

'Why' should always come first followed by 'How', followed by 'Why' again. How much time do we spend on each of these buckets determines how robust and relevant our product is going to be.

Too often, we focus on the why without too much understanding on how, and we come up with a  product that is hard to implement. On the other side, if we spend too much time on the how, we fail to implement something that can provide feedback on the why.

Personally as a rule of thumb, I love to spend a week on why, looking at data and putting together quickly testable user flows and designs, and then spend few weeks on how. The aim is not to build the best product, but to validate our hypothesis. Then, come back to the why.

Combining product and engineering mindset is the key to building something that is robust and reliable.

Brick makers

Higher level abstractions are what makes technology mainstream. Commoditizing anything requires an out of box experience where users don't have to deal with complexity, and things just work.

Computer programming existed in some form or the other from 1842, when Ada Lovelace, worked on the first mechanical general purpose computer, writing the first algorithm. But it was not until one hundred years later, when IBM released Fortran, that computer programming picked up. It hid complexities and offered a simple interface to work with. And, the trend still continues.

Very few people want to tinker. And a subset of the few are able to commoditize what they tinker, creating simple interfaces fronting powerful building blocks that the world is excited to build on. These are the brick makers, who shape the foundation.

The world is built on these bricks. And, people who build things out of these bricks are the early adopters who make technology mainstream.

If you are a tinkerer, ask yourself, do you have a potential brick in your hand that could shape tomorrow in interesting way? 

 

Earn my attention

Don’t threaten my attention, earn it.

When you want my attention, you cannot threaten to get it. You need to earn it. If you are a vendor selling your product or a company selling your services, you are going to find yourself in my spam folder by trying to shame me into responding to your emails. 

What efforts have you put to show that your service or product is indispensable to me? If you think I cannot live without your product, show me. Just don’t send me emails with the subject lines “3rd attempt to connect.”  Because honestly, I am neither obligated nor willing to respond to any attempts of emotional manipulation.

 

Intangibles

Occasionally you have to make product decisions that offer intangible values. Creating customer joy, surprises and Easter eggs, offering pleasant experiences and memorable journeys, are few of those.

Your product has to break the script time to time. Every time you break the script, you have a chance to create a memorable experience. This takes a lot of work. Using data to identify opportunities to break the script, is not something a lot of companies want to spend time on, because it does not offer tangible value. When I can use data to figure out where to best place my ad, why would I randomly provide an experience of an ad-free page? 

Intangibles are the reason people fall in love with a product. The fact that the product not just does what they expect of it but also does something surprising and personal creates a great feeling, which can be sticky. 

We are all used to stereotyping things, and a product that cannot break stereotypes from time to time is hard to fall in love with. 

Project missing deadlines? Do a pre-mortem.

Project missing deadlines? Do a pre-mortem.

The basic idea of premortem is this. When you start a major project, you essentially indulge all the key leaders in a thought exercise centered around a futuristic scenario of your project failing. You start with the premise that the project is a major failure and have everyone write a reason for why that happened.

Anticipation

Anticipation

Are we able to anticipate not only where the customer is today, but where they are going to be in the next two years? Are we able to anticipate what the business needs are one year from now? Are we able to anticipate whether the technology choices we are making today will position us to innovate better than competition?