The Curious Leader

Continuing on the topic of curiosity, HBR has a recent post worth sharing, “Why Curious People Are Destined for the C-Suite”.

The article brings up a great point about the challenge of being a leader and remaining curious. When you are in a leadership position, it can become dangerous if you believe you are suppose to have all the answers. It can lead you to make false assumptions and avoid exploring potential issues.

From the HBR article,

In many cases, managers and top executives have risen through the ranks by providing fixes and solutions, not by asking questions. And once they’ve attained a position of leadership, they may feel the need to project confident expertise. To acknowledge uncertainty by wondering aloud and asking deep questions carries a risk: the leader may be perceived as lacking knowledge.

Leaders need to ask questions and be diligent about searching for new information that can help decode where the business needs to go in the future.

Another great point from the article was on the topic of getting out of the building. While often used in the context of visiting customers, the authors stress the importance of getting exposed to new thoughts and information. New inputs increase the number of opportunities to ask questions and discover new insights. From the post,

Leslie notes that curiosity seems to bubble up when we are exposed to new information and then find ourselves wanting to know more. Hence, the would-be curious leader should endeavor to get “out of the bubble” when possible; to seek out new influences, ideas, and experiences that may fire up the desire to learn more and dig deeper.

Read the rest on HBR at,


You are Blind to Change

In his book, Only the Paranoid Survive, Andrew Grove writes, “The lesson is, we all need to expose ourselves to the winds of change”.

What he was referring to how easy it is to get comfortable. How easy it is to get complacent. How easy it is to miss that someone is eating your lunch.

Max Bazerman researched this topic in his the book, The Power of Noticing: What the Best Leaders SeeMax explains,

Research on change blindness documents the striking degree to which we fail to notice information in our environment. Unfortunately some of the information we miss is important, even critical. And much of this failure occurs not with physical information that we should be able to see with our eyes but with changes in economic conditions, changes in unemployment rates, changes in medical conditions, and so forth. Even people in society who are charged with noticing often fail to do so…….One important hint from Simons and Chabris’s research is that we are particularly unlikely to notice a change when it occurs gradually.

In other words, we’re particularly blind to the slippery slope.

Sometimes you do have to sweat the small things because those small things, add up to major changes.


About Products: A Few Things I Think I Think – Part 3

Continuing on the theme, here are few more articles and books that I have spent some time thinking on. Hope some are useful for you.

  1. Be like Charlie Munger. Sue Decker writes, “He says he has constantly seen people rise who are not the smartest but who are learning machines. They go to bed every night a little wiser than they were when they got up”.
  2. You may have caught the article where Bill Gates and Warren Buffett discuss the best business book they have ever read, Business Adventures, and then realize it was published in 1969. I can attest that the examples in it are very dated but some of the stories are priceless. Learning about the failed launch of the Ford Edsel and the invention of xerography are worth the small price of admission.
  3. Additionally, would recommend The Everything Store: Jeff Bezos and the Age of Amazon and Hatching Twitter: A True Story of Money, Power, Friendship, and Betrayal. Lots to learn about building products and companies and overcoming the many obstacles in the way (some self inflicted). On Bezos, “He reaffirmed his commitment to building a lasting company, learning from his mistakes, and developing a brand associated not with books or media but with the “abstract concept of starting with the customer and working backward”.  
  4. Having trouble with your engineering team? It may be you, not them.
  5. When it comes to prioritizing features, you need to not only understand the customer benefits but also the complexity involved – there is always a cost.  “When you create an interaction for a product, you have to design more than what it looks like. You even have to design more than what happens during the interaction. You have to design what happens after the initial user interaction. And then you have to keep going.”
  6. If life is like soccer,is a product manager a goalie, a forward, or the one selling peanuts in the stands?  From the article, Baseball or Soccer?, “Once we acknowledge that, in life, we are playing soccer, not baseball, a few things become clear. First, awareness of the landscape of reality is the highest form of wisdom. It’s not raw computational power that matters most; it’s having a sensitive attunement to the widest environment, feeling where the flow of events is going. Genius is in practice perceiving more than the conscious reasoning.”
  7. If you try to be more than one thing, you are going to have issues – Why multi-claim positioning statements don’t work.
  8. Read How Great Leaders Think: The Art of Reframing. It will help you be a better thinker when it comes to looking at problems from multiple angles and help you avoid missed opportunities. From the book, “Framing involves matching mental maps to situations. Reframing involves shifting frames when circumstances change. But reframing also requires another skill—the ability to break frames“.
  9. Ask your customers why? Don’t ask your customer why to the point of being unproductive. “Often, there isn’t just one root answer and even if there is, it may not be all that valuable on its own.”
  10. a16z’s podcasts are phenomenal. There hasn’t been one that I have listened to without walking away learning something new or with an idea to go chase. Check out Everything You Need to Know About Amazon and Ben and Marc Explain (Practically) Everything for starters.
  11. If you are debating adding a new feature to your product, can you answer questions such as, will everyone benefit from it? Read a classic post from the awesome Intercom blog on when to add features to your product roadmap and when to gently say no, “Rarely say Yes to a Feature Request“.
  12. I recently had the chance to interview Robert Hoekman Jr on designing successful products. Robert had some amazing thoughts to share on the topic and it is worth reading everything he has created. One of my favorite articles, Want To Create A Great Product? First, Forget “User Friendliness”. Also, check out his latest book, The Tao of User Experience.
  13. “There are no superior products. There are only superior perceptions in consumers’ minds”, from Having a Better Brand Is Better Than Having a Better Product.
  14. Do you have you have to display a lot of information in your product (aka a dashboard)? Check out these dashboards laws for advice on how to actually make it useful for your users: “If you don’t know what to take away from your dashboard, your users won’t“.
  15. Think about this profound insight:

Bonus content –  if you have not heard about the Hardcore History Podcast I would highly recommend listening. I just finished the three part series on the Wrath of the Khans and it is amazingly good.

The Rise of the Social Business Software Buyer

Picture this.

Your wife tells you that you need to find a better hotel for the next vacation. You jump on Google and zoom in on a few based on location, star rating, price and user reviews. At this point you are probably surfing on Trip Advisor, Kayak or Expedia. As for your next step, you will most likely visit the sites of the one or two hotels that you’ve selected to check all the amenities and whether you can get an even better deal.

Now picture this.

Your boss tells you that you need to find a better software. You jump on Google and zoom in on a few based on your use case and (if you are lucky) price. At this point you are probably surfing on the vendors’ sites skimming through all the marketing hype. As for your next step, you will most likely engage with a bunch of sales reps and start the lengthy process of comparing features, requesting each vendor to speak with one of their reference that fits (if you are lucky) your profile and negotiating best deal.

You get the picture.

Business software buyers should deserve the same information transparency and access to independent user reviews as do consumer buyers. And they will. Brian Solis and Jeremiah Owyang have laid the ground for this revolution in their insightful Social business and Collaborative Economy research. In fact the shift is happening right now and as a marketer you need to pay strong attention. Your world is about to change. How you will influence early on your buyers through voice of your customers will be as much if not more important than what you do on your site. As a sales rep, you also need to pay strong attention. Your buyers will know more about your software than you do when they reach out. How you establish early on a trusted relationship with them will be key to securing the deal.

Joining the revolution.

Today I am pleased to announce that I have decided to join TrustRadius, a quality “Yelp” site for Business Software powered by in-depth, structured and vetted crowd sourced user reviews and discussions. As a product marketer (and former software vendor), I see TrustRadius as a game changer in the way business software buyers will identify, compare, collaborate and select software in the future. In fact if you are in the market for social media, marketing automation or Business Intelligence tool, give it a go today and check the following overview video. Then seat back and think about how this is going to change your sales and marketing world, or better, read this very insightful article on the consumerization of B2B buying behavior by Tony Zambito.

You have a choice to make.

Watch this revolution happening and do nothing about it OR embrace it and adjust your marketing strategy and sales initiatives around your customers’ buying journey. I am definitively planning to blog more about the rise of the social business buyer and the broader implications on the world of software marketing, business technology research and analysis. In the meantime, how do you plan to adjust?

Leave a comment or send me a note at I would love to hear your thoughts on TrustRadius and/or broader impact on your sales and marketing world.



Continuing on the theme, here are few more things that I have been thinking about as of late. Hope some are useful for you.

  1. This is very sound advice and could easily support a full book on the subject – Beware of chicken and egg products. Make sure your product provides immediate utility.
  2. This is a lot harder than it sounds – When you’re faced with a feature that only 8% of your user base are using, you have to make a call: Kill it or Keep it.
  3. I am a big fan of the power of a story and the importance of baking it in. Looks like there is now some positive research on advantages of focusing on your story.
  4. If you are faced with a choice between cheaper or better, the answer can now be empirically quantified: make it better.
  5. What do your users want to be “badass” at? Watch this video from Kathy Sierra to help figure it out.
  6. Don’t underestimate first impressions. The First 5 Minutes (REALLY) Matter.
  7. When it comes to marketing, it isn’t all about conversions. Well, it really is all about conversions but your entire marketing strategy can’t be about hoping to show up at that right moment before purchase. You need to spend more time thinking about the Think and See consideration stages.
  8. Customers hire products to get a job done. If you want to get more customers, you can  make your product better at the job it currently does. Otherwise, you need to start focusing your product on a new job.
  9. Call me biased, I am a product guy after all, but this is truth – Product comes first. If people love your product, the tiniest announcements will get attention. If people don’t love your product, no amount of marketing effort will help.
  10. Getting to simple is not an easy path. If you are looking to get there, start by looking at authentic design. What’s authentic design? Authentic design is about doing away with features that are included only to make a product appear familiar or desirable but that otherwise serve no purpose. Authentic design is about representing function in its most optimal form, about having a conviction in elegance through efficiency.

Decisions, Decisions, Decisions

When it comes to building a product, you are always making decisions.

  • What are you building now?
  • What are you building next?
  • What are you not going to build?

There is no secret way to make to make it easier but there are some techniques that can help.

The most important thing to realize is that when you are gathering data, you are completely bias. You are going to look for data to help support your cause whether you realize it or not. Even when you run into data that points to a contrary decision, you are more than likely to ignore it.

From the book Decisive by Chip and Dan Heath,

Researchers have found this result again and again. When people have the opportunity to collect information from the world, they are more likely to select information that supports their preexisting attitudes, beliefs, and actions.

and to support the point,

In reviewing more than 91 studies of over 8,000 participants, the researchers concluded that we are more than twice as likely to favor confirming information than disconfirming information. (So, scientifically speaking, you’d probably read twice as many four-star reviews as two-star reviews.

Your best bet is to realize that this is human nature and to look for ways to counter it. The Heath brothers have put together several techniques to help – widening your options, reality testing, attaining distance, and preparing to be wrong, You can find a nice summary here (email reg required).

About Products – A Few Things I Think I Think

Inspired by David Lee’s post, I put together a list of current topics that I have found thought provoking. Hopefully, you will find some of them useful too.

  1. I think Clay Christensen’s Milkshake Marketing should be required watching. 
  2. If you are focusing on a SMB SaaS product, read Tomasz Tunguz’s article on the subject. When it comes to a successful SMB offering Tom is spot on when he writes, “The most successful SMB SaaS products typically offer a 2 step value proposition: an initial value proposition to the end user and a longer term value proposition to a manager/decision maker.”
  3. If you have not read the book, Positioning: The Battle for Your Mind, stop right now and go get it.
  4. At some point when building a new company, you have to move from building a product to acquiring customers. Seth Levine writes about the importance of focus during this stage. Seth says, “The important shift here isn’t the shift in hiring more sales people or more marketing people, it’s the shift to recognizing the most important thing is to get more customers. If the whole organization is thinking about this, including engineers, I bet you would come up with a variety of ideas and priorities to meet this. And instead of just the sales guys thinking about sales, you involve the whole team.”
  5. If I had a nickel for every book that was published in the last year about innovation, I would have a lot of nickels. HBR has a good article explaining why more organizations can’t seem to find a way to change – “Companies pay amazing amounts of money to get answers from consultants with overdeveloped confidence in their own intuition. Managers rely on focus groups—a dozen people riffing on something they know little about—to set strategies. And yet, companies won’t experiment to find evidence of the right way forward. “
  6. I think it is worth paying attention to how you can Engineer Serendipity. You never know what you are going to get.
  7. If you are working on a freemium product, learning about your customers is hard. There is a big difference between all the feedback you are going to get from the free users on your site and the select few that are willing to pay you money.
  8. How many times have you heard, “Make it simple”? Probably not enough. David Lieb writes about minimizing cognitive overhead and how if you want to make things simple, sometimes you need to make your users do more – “Minimizing cognitive overhead is imperative when designing for the mass market. Why? Because most people haven’t developed the pattern matching machinery in their brains to quickly convert what they see in your product (app design, messaging, what they heard from friends, etc.) into meaning and purpose.”
  9. Want more engagement? Create a movement – “In a digital and social age, pipes are less important. People are the channel. You don’t own or rent them. You can’t control them. You can only serve and support them.”
  10. Just when you think you have found every useful site there is on the net, you run into a couple of more worth checking out – 100 Websites You Should Know and Use.

Finally, I  put together some thoughts on developing new products and the challenge of trying to tackle two markets at the same time. If you want to check it out, it is on the On Product Management blog.

Dear Product Managers, You Can’t Have it All



I love this cartoon from Hugh MacLeod (GapingVoid). It is so simple but at the same time, so powerful.

There are lots of ways you could interpret this message but I have been thinking about it in the context of product development.

More often than not, you don’t have the time or resources to tackle everything. This means as a product manager, you have to make some tough choices of what not to do.

Great products (and companies) intentionally leave out features that some customers find unacceptable. While this means that some customers won’t buy their product, it means they can focus more on the ones that will.

I also ran across another example that I think really highlights the point of intentionally making decisions not to do something. Doc Searls’s new book, the Intention Economy, has a great overview on the grocery chain Trader Joe’s (a company that has been historically very private about its operating strategy).

Here are some of the things that Trader Joe’s says no to:

  • No ads, sales, loyalty cards, etc. No gimmicks.
  • No trade shows. They don’t chase the latest fashions.
  • No muscling suppliers. Instead they partner to offer the best product at the best price.

Most importantly they say no to selling a lot of products. They don’t try and sell every type of food item. They don’t sell electronics. They don’t sell toys. They just focus on selling “innovative, hard-to-find, great-tasting foods.

Trader Joe’s have consciously made the decision to try to not sell everything under the sun. This allows them focus on adding “unconventional and interesting” products that keep customers delighted and coming back for more.

Stick with Hugh’s advice and pick your sliver well, my friend and your customers will reward you.


Cartoon Credit:  GapingVoid

The Process of Finding Breakaway Ideas

the idea hunter If your goal is to come up with something new, be it for an existing product or a new to the world innovation, you are going to need a list of ideas to work with. The question is, how does one come with an idea in the first place?

According to the the book, The Idea Hunter, if you are waiting for a time to start looking for ideas, you are too late.

 “BREAKAWAY IDEAS COME TO those who are in the habit of looking for them” – The Idea Hunter

While this sounds like a simple approach, the challenge is in the implementation. Just because you are blocking time on your calendar to “brainstorm” doesn’t mean ideas will be waiting for you to show up.

Finding new ideas begins with the discipline of intentionally looking for ideas all the time. We are often so busy running from meeting to meeting and project to project that we miss opportunities to digest information that could produce the next big idea.

To hep prepare you for becoming an idea hunter, the books covers 4 principles that will help improve your ability to find ideas  – Interested, Diverse, Exercised, and Agile. Additionally, the book continues on with some techniques on how to make sure you get the most out of the ideas you find through prioritization and implementation.

“Albert Einstein once made the disarming comment, “I have no special talents. I am only passionately curious.” – The Idea Hunter

Overall, I would say the book was a good read and left you thinking more about how to make idea hunting part of your daily routine. I also like how there was a focus on what comes next after finding that next great idea.

Remember – ideas without execution are hobbies!

Check it out!

8 Reasons to Like Likeonomics

I like Likeonomics and I think you will too. What is Likeonomics?

Likeonomics is a book by Rohit Bhargava about being likeable and everything that goes into it (Rohit also wrote the book Personality Not Included which I would highly recommend).

Likeonomics is based on the simple idea that, “People buy from people they like”. I wasn’t kidding when I said it was a simple idea.

In the book, Rohit breaks down what goes into being likable – truth, relevance, unselfishness, simplicity and timing. The idea being that if you can understand what makes a company more likable than others, you can try to apply to your situation.

Along with the framework, there a lot of great Likeonomics stories so you can see the concept in action. This makes for a fast, fun, and informative read that will leave you with plenty to think about when it comes to addressing the Likability-Gap” with your product and company.

To give you an idea of what Likeonomics is all about, here are my favorite 8 quotes from the book:

  • Marketing has played a central role in creating a culture where people are afraid to trust the media around them.
  • The American poet and activist Audre Lorde is credited with the famous saying: “There are no new ideas. There are only new ways of making them felt.”
  • In the long term, the only thing that can help the most successful organizations and people differentiate is based on their human elements, as well as what they sell or what they say.
  • The Likeability Gap describes the difference between what people do because they have to, and what they do because they want to. In a world where just having a good product or service isn’t enough, the likeability gap explains success and failure.
  • In order to be believable, the most successful people and organizations always find a way to share their truth, and then build on it.
  • …finding the right truth is hard. The truth can be buried. It can feel wrong to share.
  • It is impossible to care about everything. Things like irrelevant products and over-the-top sales people are easy to tune out. That is a choice many of us make on an hourly basis without thought.
  • The important thing to remember is just because a topic is relevant for someone doesn’t mean that you automatically have relevance to that topic.

Image Credit:  rohitbhargava