Three types of wanting

If you’re building a product, it better be something that people want. That much is obvious. But it turns out that this concept of “wanting” is enormously complex — and there are lots of ways to misunderstand it. Here are three types of “want”.

Type 1 wanting: the passions

The first kind of desire is the kind that’s more of the body than the mind. It’s more System 1 than System 2. It’s a type of desire that’s not based in instrumental reasoning — “I want X because it’ll help me get Y.” This type of wanting is direct and visceral. You feel it when you’re hungry and you see and smell delicious food. You feel it when you’re engrossed in a novel and you can’t stop reading. You feel it when you’re madly in love in a new relationship.

For those who make products, this is a type of wanting to be cultivated. People aren’t born with passion for your product.

Type 2 wanting: the rational mind

The second type of desire is that of the rational mind. It’s instrumental: Bob wants to get a summer job so that he can buy a car. Bob might not have much passion about the idea of getting a job, but nonetheless he wants to do it for instrumental reasons.

When there’s dissonance between type 1 and type 2 wanting, we have a very interesting human phenomenon that philosophers call akrasia, or ‘weakness of will’. People don’t always do what they think is good for them. And sometimes they do what they think is bad for them. For example: George thinks he should stop watching TV, but it feels so good that he keeps doing it. Or: Jerry thinks that he should eat a salad, but instead he easts Kenny Rogers chicken because it feels so desirable.

Akrasia is especially relevant to product makers in health, wellness, and education. You’re building something that’s supposed to provide your user with some benefit — just the way exercise is supposed to provide benefit. But just like we often don’t exercise when we know we should, we won’t necessarily use a product just because it’s good for us. We need Type 1 wanting as well.

Type 3 wanting: the one who knows better

“You don’t want to do that.”

“I don’t think you want that.”

What do we mean when we say things like this? We’re not talking about type 1 or type 2 wanting. You know better than me what you want in those senses.

We’re talking about a third sense of wanting: what you should want. It’s what you would want if you knew more. You currently want to open door number 3, but if you knew what was behind the doors, you wouldn’t want it.

Product makers sometimes mess this up when they have a theory about the way the world should be, and they expect that all their users will want the world to be that way too. But if the user doesn’t share the theory, then they probably won’t share the picture of a better world.

Humans are best off when there’s consonance between the three types of wanting. Eg, when it comes to eating sand, I:

  • Type 1 don’t want it
  • Type 2 don’t want it
  • Type 3 (I’m pretty sure) don’t want it

And we run into trouble when there’s dissonance between the three.

The best products are those for which there’s consonance (in the positive direction) between the three types of wanting. When I bought my first pair of AirPods, here’s how it looked:

  • Type 1: Those things are sexy; I want them
  • Type 2: I think it’ll be worth it go go wireless even though they’re expensive
  • Type 3: Two years later I think that was one of the best purchases I ever made.

When to kill your product

Product axiom: you should maximize your chances of getting lucky.

Corollary: you should minimize the time you’re spending on branches that aren’t going to work.

How do you do that? You kill branches that aren’t going to work.

How do you know when a branch is not going to work?

Right. That’s a good question to dig in to.

To start with, need to have three structural pieces in place. You need to know:

  1. What kind of success am I going for? This is your end-of-the-line goal. Not your theory about a means to a goal. Eg: build a best-selling mobile game.
  2. How much success do you need? What’s the bar? Eg: top 10 in US App Store.
  3. What indicators are you looking for at this stage that would tell you if you’re on the right track or not? Eg: by June 1, 45% D1 retention in Canada.

If you don’t have these three pieces in place, and you’re deciding whether to continue or kill your product, you’ve got nothing to go on but gut. Gut alone isn’t a good way to steer a product.

If you have these three things in place, then you can apply your gut and your brain, and the guts and brains of all your teammates.

Killing a product isn’t easy. It’s your baby. Or if not your baby, it’s probably somebody‘s baby. So be kind with people’s emotions.

For more, see Supercell’s Jonathan Dower at GDC 2016.

Product strategy: understanding chain-link logic

This work-in-progress post is part of a set on the topic of mission, vision, and strategy.

“A system has chain-link logic,” says Richard Rumelt in Good Strategy, Bad Strategy, “when its performance is limited by its weakest subunit, or link.” Rumelt’s example: the space shuttle Challenger‘s performance was limited by the rubber o-rings that sealed the joints between sections of its fuel tank. When the o-rings failed, the rocket exploded. Improvements to other parts of the system, such as the boosters or avionics, wouldn’t have made much difference unless the o-ring problem was fixed.

Other examples of systems whose performance is limited to that of their weakest link:

  • An assembly line can move no faster than the slowest step on the assembly line
  • A project can be completed in no less time than it takes to complete the “long pole
  • A literal chain is only as strong as its literal weakest link

Not all systems have their performance limited to that of their weakest link. Some systems have performance limited to that of the strongest component. An example would be humanity’s current effort to develop a vaccine for the virus behind Covid-19 — only one lab need accomplish the goal.

And some systems have performance limited by the combined contributions of many components. For example, consider the cables suspending the Golden Gate Bridge:

There are many cables. The amount of weight that the cables can suspend (assuming the towers don’t fail) is limited by the combined performance of all the cables.

Examples of strongest-contributor systems:

In chain-link systems, the way to improve performance is to identify the weakest link and to improve its performance or to reduce reliance on it. This is straightforward.

The tricky thing is when multiple components are below the desired performance bar. In that case, fixing one component won’t be enough to right the ship. It might not even make a noticeable difference. The system can then get stuck in a low-performance state.

Rumelt gives an example. Marco Tinelli is the GM of a machine company near Milan. Over lunch, Tinelli told Rubio the story of his company.

When my uncle passed away, the responsibility for the company passed to me. Things were not good. The quality of the machines had declined, especially compared with our best competitors. Costs were too high and the sales personnel were not technically sophisticated. To sell a sophisticated machine with microprocessor controls takes a sophisticated salesperson. If we didn’t change, we would slowly go out of business. But it seemed as if everything had to change. Where to start?

As he spoke, I realized that Marco Tinelli’s diagnosis was that his machinery company had chain-link logic and that it was stuck. Any payoff from better-quality machines was diluted because the sales force could not accurately represent their qualities and performance. A better sales force, by itself, would have added little value without better machines. And improvements in quality and sales would not save the firm unless costs were reduced.

To fix the problem, Tinelli had to see it clearly. He had to identify the three performance-limiting factors (quality, cost, and sales) and improve them all, knowing that overall company performance might not improve until all three are fixed.

Four criteria for a good vision

A vision can ignite and align an organization. Here are four criteria by which to evaluate a vision statement:

  1. Does it inspire? A good vision activates people. It’s something that, on Day 1 and Day 1000, can be called into mind to generate motivation to continue.
  2. Does it guide? A good vision has a perspective. On key decisions, a people turn to the vision and say “which option better satisfies the vision?” As a corollary, a good vision aligns: if everyone in an org is turning to the same vision to guide their decisions, they’ll be making decisions that are aligned with one another.
  3. Is it used? A good vision doesn’t go in one ear and out the other. Employees don’t need to look up the vision statement to remember what it is. A good vision is remembered and used.
  4. Is it accurate? A good vision, when accomplished, leaves you happy. A bad vision, when accomplished, makes you wish you’d aimed somewhere else.

Ken Blanchard’s personal vision framework

Ken Blanchard is a big believer in the power of the vision to activate and align members of an organization. He also believes that vision is important for individuals in their personal lives. In this video (which is a bit heavy on the Christian) he offers a framework for developing a personal vision. He says:

What is your own personal vision? Who do you want to really be in the world?

There are three parts of a compelling vision.

  1. Purpose. What is your purpose in life? If you were a business, what business would you be in? Three aspects to this:
    1. Come up with two to three nouns that describe aspects that are unique to you. Strengths of yours. Eg, for Ken, it’s: Teacher and Example.
    2. Come up with two to three verbs that say how you like to influence other people. Eg, for Ken, it’s: Help and Motivate.
    3. Come up with a statement that describes what you’re gonna do in the world. Eg, for Ken, it’s: “I want to be a loving teacher and example of simple truths that helps and motivates others to awaken to the presence of God in our lives.”
  2. Legacy. What is your picture of the future? What will happen if you live according to your purpose? How will people describe you? Exercise: write your own obituary. Story: Alfred Nobel had a brother who died, but the newspaper got it wrong and thought Alfred wrong, so he got to read his own obituary. They described him as a merchant of death. He was devastated. So he set out to change his obituary. What’s the opposite of death? Peace.
  3. Values. What are the values that are going to guide your journey? Come up with values in these three categories:
    1. Spiritual. Eg, for Ken: Peace.
    2. Relationship. Eg, for Ken: Love and Integrity.
    3. Self. What are you doing for yourself. Eg, for Ken: Learning.

Ken Blanchard on why vision matters and how to deploy it in an organization

Ken Blanchard, author of the classic management book The One-Minute Manager, had a few things to say on episode 11 of Dennis Miller’s Storybrand podcast about creating and propagating the vision.

Why does vision matter?

The first thing is that all leadership is about going somewhere. So you’ve got to really be clear with people where you want them to go.

what happens is if nobody knows what the vision and direction and goals are, then they have nothing to serve but themselves.

For example, take Walt Disney. He got this even before anybody else did. What business is it? He said, we’re in the happiness business.

The picture of the future that he had is that every guest leaving the park would have the same smile on their face leaving the park as when they entered 6, 8, 10, 12 hours ago. If we’re in the happiness business we want to keep them smiling. So then they have four values, that everybody knows. Number one, safety. Because Walt said if people get carried out of here in a stretcher, they’re not going to have the same smile on their face leaving the park as when they entered. And then the second value is really service. Which is how do we take care of your needs and all that. The third value is the show, which is you’re either onstage or offstage. If you’re onstage you’re playing Mickey Mouse or ticket taker and they have a description about what that job is all about. And then the last value interestingly is efficiency. R,unning a profitable, well run organization. Well why is that number four? Well it’s four because you don’t want somebody trying to save money by at the compromise of safety and all that kind of thing.

One of his mentors recommended a book:

And the book was a miracle at Philadelphia. And he said, the reason I want you to read it, is because here you had all these ego maniacs, you know, Benjamin Franklin, John Adams, John Quincy Adams, George Washington and all. But they had a vision for the country. They wanted those 13 states to be united. So because they had a vision. They took their egos and pushed them aside to work together.

The first thing is you need to be able to articulate your vision. How do you do that?

The two didn’t talk much about this in the discussion, but Blanchard did talk about how he refreshes vision when it needs updating.

Well, you know, one of the things I think that we don’t take enough time is alone time.

stop the train and get off.

have some time to think and walk and all, where it’s not just 10 minutes. But say, you know, where are we now? Where do we want to go?

Then you need to get buy-in. How do you do that?

Well, what I always say is that the initial draft of vision and a set of goals ought to come from the top of the hierarchy. But then rather than sort of laying it on people, say, “here’s our first draft.” What I’d like to do is set up focus groups around the organization and say, “How do you feel about this? What’s missing? Is there anything you want to wordsmith” and all and get their feedback.

And you take that, and then you go to them and say okay, here’s the second draft, based on your feedback. How is this? Til you get to the point that they say, Boy, I’m ready to go on that. But so many people don’t want to take that time. They want to come up with something and then just jam it on everybody.

And then you have to repeat it.

I had lunch one time with Max Dupree, who is legendary chairman of Herman Miller, he wrote a wonderful book about organizations and culture and all that kind of thing. And I said, What’s your job as chairman of this great company? And he said Ken I have to be like a third grade teacher. I said, what do you mean? He said, I have to say the vision and values over and over and over again, till people get it right, right, right.

Do you like LinkedIn’s endorsements feature?

I’m preparing for product management interviews. I’ll publish some of my case practice here on the blog.

The following is based on a practice question given by Lewis Lin in his book Decode and Conquer.

For this exercise, let’s assume that:
— I’m applying for a senior-level (equivalent to Google’s L6) product management role at a growth-stage startup like Snowflake.
— This is a first-round interview taking place over the phone without video.
— The interviewer is a UX designer. Random gender generator says it’s a “she”.

Interviewer: Now I’d like to give you a case and hear how you work through it.

Me: Sounds good — let’s do it.

What I’m thinking: I have two goals at the outset of any case.

First, I want to understand what type of question I’m getting. Most questions that show up in PM interviews can be classified as one of a small number of types. As soon as I know which type I’m dealing with, I’ll know a lot about how to approach it.

Second, I want to understand the context in which the question is arising. Who am I? Who are you? What’s happened to give rise to this question? If the context is undefined, the problem will be hard to grapple with. If the scenario is clear, I’ll be able to use my actual experience to ground my decisions.

As I listen to the question, this is what I’ll be thinking about.

Interviewer: This is a design critique question. It’s meant to give you a chance to show how you think about design and giving feedback. The question is: what do you think of LinkedIn’s endorsement feature?

What I’m thinking: What’s the question type? She said “design critique”, which is a term of art for designers — it’s a conversation in which a designer presents work in order to receive feedback for the purpose of improving the work. It’s also a common type of question for product managers. I’m pretty sure that’s what this is, but I’ll want to double-check.

What’s the scenario? She didn’t give much context, but knowing that it’s a design critique gives me enough to assume and confirm: rather than asking open-ended questions to get information, I’m going to invent a scenario and ask her if we can assume that that’s what’s going on. This tactic has two benefits: first, it’s fast and efficient. Second, it decreases the chance we’ll wind up in an area that’s unfamiliar to me.

Me: Great. Let me see if I understand the question. You said “design critique”, so I’m assuming that this is a feature someone on the team is working on. I’m imagining that we both work at LinkedIn — let’s say you’re a designer and I’m a PM. And you’re asking me for informal feedback on a feature that you’re working on. Is that a fair assumption?

Interviewer: Sure, let’s go with that.

What I’m thinking: Now that I know what kind of question I’m dealing with, I want to make sure I understand the feature we’re talking about. Even though I’m pretty sure I know what she means by “LinkedIn’s endorsement feature”, I’ll double check. This might turn up some useful information, and if I’ve made the wrong assumption, it could save me from a major confusion.

Me: Great. And let me check whether I understand the feature that we’re talking about. Is this the feature that lives on someone’s profile page and says things like “SEO — 18 people have endorsed Matt for this skill”?

Interviewer: Exactly — that’s the one.

What I’m thinking: Now I have all of the context I need to start answering the question. If I’m not immediately sure where to go next, this would be a good time to ask for a moment to think.

Me: Got it. And the question is: let’s do a design critique on that feature. Do you mind if I take a minute or so to gather my thoughts?

Interviewer: Absolutely — go ahead.

What I’m thinking: So how am I going to approach this? Since we’re dealing with a design problem, I’ll want to make sense of who it’s for and what their needs are. For that, I’ll use the SSUN framework. And since I’m giving feedback on an existing solution, I’ll use the Design Scorecard method to structure my critique. That’s going to be my approach: SSUN and Design Scorecard.

Me: Okay. That’s a huge feature — very central to the product. I’d like to do two things. First, since it’s such a central feature, I’d like to walk through an exercise to get a clear user and use case in mind. Then, I’d propose we make a scorecard with two or three design goals and see how it does against those goals. How does that sound?

Interviewer: Sounds good.

What I’m thinking: I’ll work through the SSUN framework starting with Stakeholders. For each section I’ll first brainstorm a number of options, and then I’ll select one. To keep things moving and to stay attuned to the interviewer, I’ll use the ‘assume and confirm’ tactic at each step.

Me: Okay. To make sense of users and needs, I like to use a framework called SSUN — it stands for Stakeholders, Segments, Use cases, and Needs.

Starting with Stakeholders, let’s brainstorm a few. We’ve got:

  • Users
  • LinkedIn people — employees on various teams, executives, board, etc
  • Other parties on the platform like advertisers

We could brainstorm more, but those seem like the big ones.

As far as which one to focus on here, we’re probably most interested in the users, so I’m going to set aside the others for now, and just focus in on the users. Does that sound good?

Interviewer: Yeah, that sounds good.

Me: Okay. Then on to Segments. Within the user stakeholder group, we can sub-divide into a few segments.

LinkedIn is a career marketplace, so the main user segments are going to be:

  • People who are trying to show off their skills, and
  • People who are trying to find people that have certain skills.

Let’s for now call them “job-seekers” and “employers”.

We could brainstorm more segments, but I think these are the main ones.

Between these, my first thought is that we should focus on the employer side. The reason is that if employers trust and use endorsements, then job-seekers have a strong reason to get and to give endorsements. But if employers are ignoring the feature, then job-seekers are probably going to ignore it too. So in that sense, employers are the linchpin.

Does that sound okay?

Interviewer: Yep, that sounds good.

Me: Great. So next is use cases.

Let’s brainstorm a couple. As an employer, I’ve personally used LinkedIn in two ways:

  • One is to search for people.
  • The other is to evaluate a candidate who’s applied.

Let’s call those “outbound” and “inbound”.

There are definitely more use cases that we could brainstorm, but those are big ones. Let’s go with those two for now.

Of those, the one that seems most important here is the one where the employer is trying to evaluate an inbound candidate.

Shall we focus on that one?

Interviewer: Why does that one seem most important?

Me: Well, I think that one gives us the cleanest view of the need we talked about a minute ago. We identified this relationship where if the employer trusts the feature and uses it, then job-seekers will too. The inbound use case will put that trust front and center. The outbound case would touch on that, but it would also bring in additional things related to the mechanics of search.

Interviewer: Makes sense. Let’s go with that.

Me: Great. Then, the last thing is needs. What goals does the user have in this situation? Let’s brainstorm.

  • The first thing that comes to mind is something like accuracy of the signal, or trust. Basically, if I’m the employer, I want to know if this candidate is going to be successful in this role. I’m looking for information I can rely on.
  • Another thing is speed. I’m looking at lots of candidates, so the faster I can get a signal, the better.

Again we could brainstorm more needs but that feels good for now.

I think the one we want to focus on here is the first one: credibility of the signal. As we said earlier, that one feels like the linchpin.

Does that sound good?

Interviewer: Yeah, that makes sense.

What I’m thinking: Now I want to package all that work up with a neat user story. That’ll help us to remember what we’re working with in the next stage.

Me: Great. So if we put all of that into a user story, we have something like, “As an employer evaluating a candidate for a role, I want credible signals about this person’s skills.”

We could obviously go down different branches of that tree to make stories for the other segments et cetera. But for now let’s just focus on that one.

What I’m thinking: Now I’ve completed the SSUN framework, so I have a clear idea of who we’re designing for and what their problem is. My next goal is to set up the context for a good, disambiguated conversation about design — one that might result in useful feedback, and that will give us lots of footholds for a well-structured discussion.

Me: With that user story in mind, let’s talk about what’s working and not working for this feature.

I’d propose we start by making a scorecard. It’s hard to talk about whether something is successful if you haven’t said what the goals are.

Sound good?

Interviewer: Sure, sounds good.

Me: So to make a scorecard, let’s agree on 2-3 design criteria, and then for each criterion we’ll give three responses:

  • A 1-5 rating (basically a Likert scale rating. This gives us an apples-to-apples comparable.)
  • One or two things that are working well.
  • And one or two things that aren’t working well.

We can pick any design goals we want, but I’ve found it useful to say that good design is useful, easy, and honest. How do those three sound?

Interviewer: Sure, sounds good.

Me: Great. If this was real life I’d suggest that we both make a scorecard and fill it out, and then discuss. But since I’m in the hot seat here I’ll just do one and talk aloud as I go.

Interviewer: Sounds good.

Me: Okay.

Is it useful. I’d give it a 2 out of 5 on this. What’s working well is that it’s super easy to use. What’s not working well is that I don’t trust the information — I think it’s too easy to game.

Next, is it easy. On this one I’d give it a 5 out of 5. What’s working well is that it’s structured and consistent — it’s really easy to pick up at a glance. If I had to stretch and name something that’s not working well, maybe I’d point out that it still requires me to make some kind of inference to figure out how much of an expert it’s saying this person is. What does it mean that 12 people endorsed him for that skill?

Last, is it honest. On this one I’d give it a 2 out of 5. This goes back to what we said before. What’s working well is that it leaves the endorsement up to real people — so it’s as honest as those people are. What’s not working as well is that it projects a level of confidence about these endorsements that I’m not sure is warranted. There’s too much incentive, for too little cost, to game the system.

So it looks like that’s a 9 out of 15. Overall I think this feature has a lot of potential — but the trust issue is the main holdup for me right now.

Interviewer: Awesome! Thanks. Now let’s move on to…