I talked with a product manager today about building products that push the envelope. This got me thinking about how frequently big changes come to products. Often times it’s once every year or couple of years. 

In between these big product changes, PMs usually will be working on a mix of bug fixes, improvements to existing features, and smaller scale features. During this time PMs can feel like what they’re working on is small, incremental, and for that matter inconsequential. They’re just making another obvious step in another obvious direction. 

But usually it’s the small steps that actually enable those big leaps. Without the underlying structure, or continuous improvements that increases the ability and quality of a product, the product wouldn’t be able to take big leaps. Or it would take three to five years to take big leaps.

While big changes can seem fun and sexy they also often bring instability and incompleteness. It’s the small steps that makes it possible for big product changes to both happen and succeed.

Today we added a new hire to the Shapeways product team. Greg, a long-time Shapeways employee is transitioning from his role at the LIC factory to become a product manager. While he “technically” isn’t a new hire to Shapeways, he’s new to the product team. 

I’m always excited when there’s a new hire. This means that the new hire and I get to go through how things are done. Training is always seen as most beneficial for the new hire but I think that training is far more valuable for the person doing the training. 

A new hire has a fresh perspective. They want to understand why things are done the way they are. They’re curious. So they ask some of the more obvious questions that we not might be facing. Or, they have new ideas of how things could be improved. This is a great time to reevaluate how things get done.  

It’s not very often that you get to get an objective, fresh perspective on how things are done. So when you do get a new hire I would recommend encouraging them to question and challenge how things are done during the training process. It won’t be long before they’ll get used to the way things are. 

I didn’t post anything yesterday so I’m making up for it with a short morning post.

I fell down twice off my bike this morning on my way to train. I ended up going on and started my session. Half way through, I rode to my coach Mike and called it quits for the day. I felt tired and unfocused, nothing felt right. Which is why I fell twice before I even got to my training session. 

Many of the sayings about falling down are about how it teaches you how to get back up, or is related to perseverance, will power, and dedication.

I agree with all of those lessons and have experienced them a few times. But, falling down is also a great reminder - both in business and personal life - that sometimes you need to take a break.

I came across a great post by Anil Dash on my Twitter feed today. In fact it’s very appropriate that I found out about it through my Twitter feed. Personally, I think that it’s a must read. You can read it here.

This post is timely - especially since I just finished reading The Circle and I’ve also been thinking about transparency. Anil does an amazing job of describing “public” - which isn’t an easy thing to do, but Anil excels at it. 

Public is not just what can be viewed by others, but a fragile set of social conventions about what behaviors are acceptable and appropriate.

Public is a difficult topic. As people who build technology that changes what public means and as public defenders ourselves we have to do our best to learn more about what public really means. 

I first used an iPhone when I was still a teenager. Today, I see kids, infants event using iPads and iPhones intuitively. This got me thinking about what are the possibilities of the technology long tail? 

What does long-term care look like once most people who need log-term care can operate an smart device without much effort? 

I remember seeing advertisements for “I’ve fallen and I can’t get up” devices that would hook up to your phone line and dial a family member or emergency services. I have a hard time believing that smart devices will simply adopt this same approach and we’ll have applications that do the same thing.  

Once most people have access to connected smart devices and - more importantly - know how to operate smart devices you can change things. Long-term care is just one of the many areas that technology’s long tail will help improve, or disrupt. We’re already starting to see a few services like this pop-up, but I think we’ll see a ton more in the next decade or two. 

The other day I tweeted about spreadsheets and applications. 

I’ve built so many things using a spreadsheet. For example, I’ve built a to-do list, budget manager, database, CMS, and probably a few more things. In some ways, a spreadsheet is my favorite minimum viable product. It’s what lets me see how to organize the problem, and lets me take a sneak peek as to how I’m going to architect a solution and what challenges I might face along the way. 

But I don’t continuously use a spreadsheet for those very specific use cases. I use dedicated applications. The reason being that they provide an objective and complete experience that a spreadsheet can’t give. 

A product manager’s role is to solve problems. So you’d think that most PMs hear about people’s problems. That’s somewhat true. The other part is that they more often hear about people’s solutions. 

This usually takes the form of “I just need…” and “I’d like to request we build…”. A product manager doesn’t have to be one providing the solution, but they need to be the one making sure that the suggested solution is not only solving the problem at hand but that it’s right for the product, customers, and the business. 

If you’re telling your PM what you need you might have a bad PM but more than likely you’re wasting their services - and also pissing them off. 

Most solutions that are requested are bandaids to bigger challenges. I just need you to display this information in this dialog seems like an innocent enough solution. But when you learn that the information that’s being displayed is using to derive actions, you have to wonder - why not have the software suggest the action rather than leave it up to human interpretation and error. 

Another challenge is that when partners are suggesting solutions they often become more invested in their solution rather than solving the problem. This isn’t good. The person who suggested the solution now usually becomes defensive about their solution and makes it difficult for the team to move forward.

People should be invested in the problem, not the solution. This way they care about solving the problem in the best way possible, not through a specific solution. 

It seems that lately the internet of things (IoT) is everywhere. Every other day I seem to hear about a new IoT product or Kickstarter project that is going to help our lives - usually in the form of a smart home application.  

I like the internet of things, don’t get me wrong. But I also think we all want very different things from it. There will be common problems that need to be solved (e.g. Nest solving the temperature control problem) but I think other problems will require bespoke solutions.

Not everyone is going to feel comfortable buying an Arduino, hooking it up with some shields, and building a web interface to create an IoT device for themselves. But littleBits is changing that with their newly launched device cloudBit. Their tagline “Snap the internet to anything” is extremely appropriate. 

Not only has littleBits made it easy to make an internet of things device, it’s making it possible to turn dumb devices into smart devices. This means that you don’t have to purchase a new device to replace your fully functioning existing device (e.g. air conditioner, coffee maker, etc…) Granted, littleBits still has some work to do to facilitate this use case across many devices - but I’m sure in time they’ll get there. 

Providing access to technology is great, but making that technology accessible is even better, and that’s what littleBits is doing. They’ve made building electronics as easy as building a Lego set, and now they’re making it easy for us to build devices that can be connected to the internet. 

I only have a few pages left in The Circle. It’s not a literary masterpiece but it’s entertaining and thought provoking. One topic specifically that it has me thinking about is transparency. 

Technology has made it easier for us to lead transparent lives. We can see snippets of each of our lives on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Google, and so on. And if you want to remember your past you can use Timehop to aggregate all those services and re-live your past. 

The argument that’s made in The Circle is that when you’re being watched and you know it you become a better person. 

But how does this transparency affect how we think or what we do? Does it eventually change who we are? Maybe that’s why anonymous apps have gained so much traction. Because in a world of transparency you can’t actually be yourself.

Maybe transparency is about becoming so much like the norm that no one is different. We’re transparent because in the end, there’s really not much to look at. 

I started talking about The Circle today in our product chat room at Shapeways. This got us talking about different books and Jay (a PM at Shapeways) was interested in one of the books that was mentioned. He casually mentioned that he’d pick it up at the library. 

It’s been a long while since I’ve been to the library. But I do remember going to the library during middle school and part of high school with my mom to pick out new books to read. Yes, I was that cool. 

I would get through a book every two weeks, often even a book every week. There wasn’t an endless supply of best sellers. There were only a few copies of each, and if you didn’t get to them soon you’d be waiting a while to read them. The physical aspect of the books and the constraints that were put in place because of their physical presence made me read more.

Today all of the books I read are digital. I read them on my iPhone, purchase them on my iPhone, and haven’t visited a library in a very long time. I also don’t read a book every week, two weeks, or every month. Sure, my life now is very different than my life as an adolescent. But I can’t help to think that there’s something to be said about the limitations and benefits of old tech.