Prepare to pare: Why you should do fewer things better with your product


“The urge to destroy is also a creative urge.” ― Pablo Picasso

Less is more, and all that, and it’s hitting the app world. 

A mobile app or website that serves all your traditional content to a general audience is a fine first step, but only a first step

Quixotic companies (Facebook, Foursquare, and Google), are learning that their communities often demand less, or something altogether different.

Facebook launched Places for checkins, but location-tagged photos and status updates have proven more popular. Foursquare discovered that members wanted to use it for Yelp-style discovery of local places rather than sharing where they are. 

The “great unbundling" is upon us. Prepare to pare.

McKinsey Interviews Eric Ries

And I agree.

Companies are all too aware of the disruptive power of technology. In this video interview, the author of The Lean Startup argues that the competitive reaction of many organizations remains fatally flawed. more

What is community?


For some reason, I can’t leave the topic of in-real-life social networks alone. Work communities, local business as a cultural locus point, and loose tie investor groups are just a few.

Our communities can be local, professional, commercial, or anything really, and they undergird who we are and how we do what we do. It’s the connections that count, baby!

Naturally, I was drawn to the four foundations of community, which coalesced in a landmark article published David McMillan and David Chavis in 1986. Here they are in brief (though I recommend a deeper reading):

1) Membership

2) Influence

3) Integration and fulfilment of needs

4) Shared emotional connections

And for some people, it’s caffeination too. 

Pic: Formerly the fabulous Forty Weight Coffee shop 

When was the last time you reviewed your credit report?

I recognize that credit scores are a dubious measure of financial viability because they encourage people to carry debt, but they remain a necessary evil until Bitcoin upends our current financial system. 

The controller at my new co (a personal financial management software company) had this smart recommendation about staying on top of your credit score: 

  • We all know we are entitled to a free credit report every 12 months from each of the three credit reporting agencies: Experian, Equifax, and Transunion.

  • The trick is to order one every four months on a rolling basis so that you’re monitoring at least three times per year.  

  • Because spouse information is normally reported on both credit reports, you can review more often with the following married persons schedule. This allows you to review every two months for possible errors and/or identity theft. 

  • You can order from all 3 agencies online at

How to be a more human company online

Pretty soon we’ll all lose our jobs to robots — and they’ll not only be smarter and more productive, but have stronger moral underpinnings than humans, à la Isaac Asimov (rambling essay on the topic: here).

Anyway, in the context of now and social media, we ourselves have become too robotic, less human. 

Our digital strategies tend to focus on broadcasting commercial messages and advertising, while the social media platforms and apps we strive to create are centered on developing and improving relationships. Time to get realigned. 

Consider adopting these three aims for your app/platform:

1) reduce costs/increase customers’ willingness to pay (by showing value),

2) help people establish or strengthen relationships,

3) generate a value-proposition wherein the customer does work on the firm’s behalf (to the benefit of both). 


Source: “Social Strategies that Work”, HBR

4) Finally, develop a method of communication that is sustained and meaningful in people’s lives. Here’s how some big brands did it:


Source: “Use of Social Media by Companies to Reach their Customers”, SIES Journal of Management, March 2012

Habit shared by St. Vincent, Einstein & Obama


"Get back to your stare. I care, but I don’t care." - St. VincentYeah. 

Petra Collins’s gorgeous snaps of St. Vincent (my style icon!) for New York Mag reveal her simple gray/black/wool/leather understated cool, and there’s so much more to love.

For example: she rocked 930 Club. On a Sunday.

Also, for example: her style icon is Albert Einstein: “When he was working on any project, he would have a uniform so he could conserve his brain energy. I do the same thing on tour.”

Einstein/St. Vincent, you are not alone; Obama does this to reduce decision overload too.

Turns out that cutting down on the number of small but strenuous decisions in your day to day makes you better at deciding/doing more important things. Like creating this, if you’re St. Vincent. 

Good process > analysis

An honest approach, considering all viewpoints and analysis, and keeping a decision journal, lead to better decision outcomes. 

"Whenever you’re making a consequential decision either individually or as part of a group you take a moment and write down:

  1. The situation or context;
  2. The problem statement or frame;
  3. The variables that govern the situation;
  4. The complications or complexity as you see it;
  5. Alternatives that were seriously considered and why they were not chosen; (think: the work required to have an opinion).
  6. A paragraph explaining the range of outcomes
  7. A paragraph explaining what you expect to happen and, importantly, the reasoning and actual probabilities you assign to each. (The degree of confidence matters, a lot.)
  8. Time of day the decision was made and how you feel physically and mentally (if you’re tired, for example, write it down.)”

Image: A Mandelbrot set. 

Designed by Apple - Intention

JAR and I made the Viewpoint of Billions stream! #Famous(OrSomething)

The Google glassware unlocks the narrative beneath the art. I saw three clips: Truman Capote talking about Studio 54 (weird), FDR’s Pearl Harbor speech to Congress (poignant), and the original Brickles game (fitting — it’s my fav). 

Everyone’s an editor, and you can too

My grandmother was a great sender of clippings (a proto-email newsletter of sorts, for which she was editor and curator).

Personalized news sharing is a social necessity, and it’s also an excellent way to create gravitas for your organization (and yourself). The newsletter, in all its various digital manifestations, is on the rise.

The challenge for the new editorial class is to be good enough to read. We may be experts of our various domains, but it takes a bit more to be trusted, relevant,  and useful.

The best newsletters have a certain je ne sais quoi, which I’ve tried to parse. Here goes…:

1) Figure out when people want to receive your messages. Let’s assume people read their email more or less first thing in the morning, and get on with their lives. Aim for a quick-hit list and highlight why it’s important to them/their world. Quartz does this very well.

2) Consider finding news that people may have missed and help them make connections that they might not have made on their own. In other words: be smart and interesting. WonkPMAPI’s Need to Know newsletter, and Dispatches from the Future of Museums do this very well.  

3) Don’t ask people to click, they really don’t want to have to. Tell them what they need to know in the email, and let them click if they want to dive deeper — if they are really really interested. Focus on your “open” metrics, in other words. Think: Wonkblog.

4) Beautiful (or simple) interfaces create trust and loyalty. The goal should be information that is easily digested. Think like Google.

5) Offer a consistent, coherent, and cogent editorial voice. Today in Tabs and The manage to do this and make me snort latte out my nose.  

6) Use bright, lively writing. That’s what a book on my shelf tells me, anyway. If you struggle to be clever, just read more good writing and borrow liberally … everything is a remix, anyway.

7) Finally, learn what works. Mix it up and pay attention to what drives opens/gets clicked on.

This post is not quite over yet:

There are, of course, many other elements to consider:

  • Index list of stories that lets readers to click to items they want
  • Indicate for readers the time to read (and keep to under 4 min)
  • Stick with four or fewer elements for each section (and limit sections to three)
  • Provide easy share functionality
  • Enable readers to submit stories and ideas

Employee networks as competitive advantage

In order to fully realize their employees’ value, successful companies need to find creative ways to tap their networks (both online and offline / at work and outside of work).

WSJ: “Armed with reams of new data, companies including giants Procter & Gamble Co. andCisco Systems Inc. are seeking out ‘influencers,’ or those among their employees who are particularly well-connected and trusted by their peers.

Once found, the firms are harnessing these workers’ clout to come up with new products, get workers on board with big changes like mergers, or spread information throughout the organization.”

Pic: my pals at StreetWise Partners.

Big data: Dangerous

Cheapy social media analytics hacks


Bummer news from the twittersphere: “We’ve found effectively no correlation between social shares and people actually reading.”

Thanks, Chartbeat, for that lead balloon.

If most people aren’t reading, then how do we find the value in the medium as an organization?

We should watch what Influentials (defined below) do and say to separate signal from noise. Below are some tools and tips for doing this.

Influentials: Individuals who drive online conversations in important ways — by introducing a new viewpoint, or by surfacing a new fact, facet, and idea. If a name keeps coming up across your searches, you’ve got yourself an Influential. The key thing to keep in mind is that these people may not have thousands of followers. Their klout score may suck. 

Here are some tools for finding/following/analyzing Influentials:

Purpose: Monitor the general activity around the keywords.

Purpose: Get top posts and impressions (one way to find Influentials).

Purpose: Download a user’s followers (to start following the trail to Influentials).

Purpose: Learn who follows whom.

Tip: For things like #climate, there’s too much activity and most tools like Trakur will only give you about 2,000 posts, so you need to do double duty. Run the query on Tweet Archivist to get the twitter volume, and then a run a second query on Trackur excluding Twitter so you can get the activity from the rest of the social web.

Purpose: To measure/monitor Influentials engagement around a topic/issue.
How: Say you want to count the number of mentions of “tax” for real-life tax policy expert Lauren French (a real-deal expert), put in a query “tax from:laurennfrench since:2013-06-26.” It might be zero, or it might be 100; you can then pull these mentions out and search for the mentions of the individual keywords, or you can use the charts on the left that shows when she’s posted, (i.e 8 posts on 6/21, 9 posts on 6/22, etc.).  Run a second query “from:laurennfrench since:2013-06-26” to get her total activity to compare it to the keyword activity.  

Image: Fail Whale 

Our Companies, Our Selves: What we mean when we talk about creating a learning org


"The game has changed… you’re either building a software company, or you’re losing to someone who is… you’re either building a learning organization or losing to someone who is." — Andrew Shafer (Little Idea) 

Andrew Shafer’s low-ego approach under-asserts the power of his “little idea,” as he calls it, about how companies survive and win: 

Research shows that learning organizations have advantages in productivity and quality and in attracting and retaining the best people, yet most organizations are reluctant to truly invest here. Why?

Two forces coalesce to create one big barrier to change. Shafer blames the mashup as “Pareto Inefficient-Nash Equilibrium" to explain that while it’s possible to make people better off, nobody will change their strategy unless the game changes.

But the game has changed. 


"An organization’s culture is not some nectar to attract the best butterflies, it’s doctrine and values — Stowe Boyd @stoweboyd

Values and culture are used interchangeably, but whatever we call our organization’s DNA know that it is determinant of who/what we are and will become. 

In William Schneider’s conception, there are four main culture types. These determine if the people in the org are coached or cultivated by managers, or if the organization is learning or lagging.

Most of us, eager and educated, do professionally whatever we can for the companies who employed us, at the level that we are empowered to do so.

The question for individuals, founders, and managers at established companies is: how do we begin to recognize the greater organization’s operating system ((O)OS?) and its constraints and enabling features, and use this to cultivate learning?


"The real company values, as opposed to the nice-sounding values, are shown by who gets rewarded, promoted, or let go." — Patty McCord (Netflix)

If success and failure are highly correlated with the degrees of organizational learning, we need to change 1) how we communicate and 2) what we do.

Here’s why:

1) Conway’s Law describes how organizations that design systems tend to replicate the communication structures inherent in the organization. 

It follows that we have to put as much effort into designing our organization’s communications as we do designing our software.

2) There are seven dimensions of organizational learning: continuous learning, inquiry and dialogue, team learning, empowerment, embedded system, system connection, and strategic leadership.

This list implies an upending in current practices at most companies I’ve worked with.

So, what would lit look like? It might look like this: perfect democracy, absolute transparency; Accounting sharing numbers across the organization; everyone selling and managing relationships with customers; adoption of reverse business case where people ask why not — not just why.

It also might look like opening a dialogue with employees about job satisfaction, improving communications, setting goals, measuring gap-to-goal, and creating a strategic plan.

Getting started now is the most important step.

Photo cred: borrowed from singer songwriter (and good friend) Rosa Pullman of The Lovers