Always Be Shipping!

DALL·E artwork

ABC – “Always Be Closing”. This is a famous line in a movie called Glengarry Glen Ross {1992}. Alec Baldwin plays the role of an aggressive salesman sent from head office to motivate a group of struggling real estate agents. He kept repeating this line as an inspirational mantra: ABC – “Always Be Closing”

Always Be Closing Alec Baldwin GIF - Find & Share on GIPHY

A better mantra however for creatives is ABS“Always Be Shipping”.

You put in the work to produce a creative output you deem satisfactory and then ship it by sharing it with the world. It’s up to the world to decide how it responds to your work. 

Your job is to do the work and ship it but the audience’s reaction is out of your control. So seek to manage the only controllable thing – the creation and shipping of your work. Do that and move on to the next piece of creative work.

As Susan Kare, designer of the original Mac interface, said, “You can’t really decide to paint a masterpiece. You just have to think hard, work hard, and try to make a painting that you care about. Then, if you’re lucky, your work will find an audience for whom it’s meaningful.” {via The Practice by Seth Godin}

I like the end of Kare’s quote. “if you’re lucky, your work will find an audience for whom it’s meaningful” However, even without luck, you will still have the opportunity to develop your creative muscles through continuous shipping.

Finishing and shipping your work is a good habit to develop. Produce enough good content over time, and eventually, something will resonate with your audience.

What might be hindering you from completing and shipping your creative work? What are you doing to overcome such obstacles?

 Please provide your responses in the comments box below. 

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Navigating the Impact of Generative AI

Generative AI has dominated the 2023 news cycle. The pace of new AI products hitting the market has been nothing short of staggering. While there’s a lot of excitement around how these tools can boost productivity, there are also concerns that these tools may destroy certain white-collar jobs and exploit artists by training on their content available on the internet.

One of the most prominent AI models in this space is OpenAI’s ChatGPT, which I’ve used frequently for work. It’s been a game-changer for generating complex Google Sheets formulas and SQL queries. Before I started using ChatGPT for these tasks, I often had to turn to skilled colleagues and/or trawl through Stack Overflow forums, which was time-consuming and frustrating. I’m still experimenting with ChatGPT to see what other relevant use cases I can uncover.

While some recent tech hypes like crypto and the metaverse have come and crashed, I believe that AI is here to stay and will have a long-lasting impact on society. Most people who use AI tools regularly can find ways to make them useful for their current needs or immediate future plans. By contrast, crypto and the metaverse were too abstract for many people to grasp hence the reason for a lack of mainstream interest.

However, there’s also reason to be wary of the risks associated with the AI revolution. If AI developers are reckless with how they release these tools into the world, powerful AI models trained on biased data sets could have negative consequences and influence decision-making in harmful ways.

As someone who’s both optimistic and cautious about the impact of AI, I believe that we still have two advantages over current AI tools that will remain relevant in the foreseeable future: creativity and curiosity.

While generative AI tools can produce impressive outputs, they still need to be prompted and can only create based on what they’ve been trained on. They’re good at remixing and creating variations, but they can also be convincingly wrong or even deceptive, which the AI community refers to as hallucinations. Similarly, while AI tools excel at analysis, synthesis, and answering questions, they lack the curiosity that’s so essential to human inquiry and discovery.

Ultimately, I believe that human creativity and curiosity will continue to give us a temporary advantage over AI tools. However, as these AI models become increasingly powerful, they’ll inevitably begin to chip away at those advantages. Rather than resisting this change, I think it’s best to embrace it and explore ways to use these tools to augment our skills and abilities.

I am curious to hear how you are currently using AI or how you see us best using these tools to augment our skills. Please share in the comments below.

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Validating Risky Assumptions

Assumptions are beliefs or ideas that we take for granted without sufficient evidence. They can be conscious or unconscious and are usually based on personal biases, past experiences, or incomplete information. Assumptions have a tendency to masquerade as facts and can significantly impact user experience. When product teams make assumptions about their users, they risk creating a product that doesn’t meet their users’ needs. Unverified risky assumptions can lead to poor product decisions, missed opportunities, and wasted resources.

I watched the movie Under Siege 2 in 1996, a forgettable 90s action flick starring Steven Seagal. The only highlight of this movie was a quote repeatedly uttered by the villain: “Assumption is the mother of all fuck-ups.” A revised version of this quote applies to product teams: “The unvalidated risky assumption is the mother of all fuck-ups.”

Product teams can’t test or may not have the time in a fast product build cycle to test all their assumptions. This is why it’s important to capture, identify, prioritize, and test the riskiest assumptions. There are several techniques for identifying assumptions, such as assumption mapping and hypothesis development.

(1) Assumption mapping is a process of visually representing assumptions and assessing their level of risk.

(2) Hypothesis development involves creating testable statements that can be used to validate or disprove assumptions.

While most assumptions are harmless, some can sabotage product development if left unverified.

Product teams should always ask themselves these two questions:

  • What untested/unverified assumptions are we making?
  • Are they justified?

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Maximizing Creativity and Productivity with the 4Cs Process

I use a four-step interrelated process for my creativity and productivity called the 4Cs. Although I am strong in the first two components of Consumption and Curation using certain digital tools, I still need to improve on the latter two to consistently deliver creative outputs.

Consumption involves the intake of multimedia content, including reading books and articles, watching videos, and listening to podcasts. I use several iOS apps for digital consumption, such as Podcast, Kindle, Libby, Reader and YouTube.

Curation is where I strategically select and identify what resonated with me from the diverse information consumed. These are the highlights from books and articles, as well as quotes and stories from podcasts and videos. The tool that I use to make this process easier, especially for digital text consumption is Readwise.

Contemplation involves reflecting on the curated ideas more deeply to understand why they resonated initially and how they connect to other diverse topics of interest. This is where I reverse engineer and remix the curated ideas to figure out their significance. Unfortunately, this is my weakest stage, as it’s much easier to consume than to contemplate. But without adequate contemplation, the quality and quantity of creative outputs are diminished.

Make a habit of reflection cos without reflection we do not learn, we are just busy. It is how we become aware of our patterns, interactions and habits.

David Klob

Creation involves transforming the curated insights and highlights into new ideas and sharing them with others. My primary outlet for creative output is this website and my 2023 blogging goal is two posts per month.

In conclusion, it’s easy for contemplation and creation to feel like an afterthought. That’s why I’m making a conscious effort this year to be more deliberate about contemplating and establishing a routine for publishing and sharing my creative output.

I’d love to hear about the tools you use for one or more of these stages in the comments.

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Talking to Users: Key Takeaways from Gustaf Alströmer

Gustaf Alströmer, a group partner at Y Combinator, created a YouTube video entitled “How To Talk To Users,” which provides insights into conversing with users from an entrepreneur’s perspective. However, his interview tips and questions {see above} are still applicable to user researchers. As a user researcher, talking to users is a vital part of the job, and it’s essential to have an in-depth understanding of their motivations and frustrations. Alströmer’s video is 17 minutes and 30 seconds long, and it’s worth watching.

During a user interview, it’s essential to ask open-ended follow-up questions such as “What do you mean by that?” “Can you tell me more about that?,” and “Why is that important to you?” Additionally, note-taking is crucial, even if you are recording the conversation. It’s beneficial to observe users in their natural context when using your product or your competitors’ products to gain insights into their frustrations and delights. Lastly, encourage users to provide specific and concrete examples and focus on their problems rather than pitching solutions.

In conclusion, Alströmer’s interview tips are valuable to user researchers. Regularly talking to users, asking open-ended questions, observing users in their natural context, encouraging specific examples, and focusing on user problems are crucial when conducting interviews.

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User Pain Points versus User Problems

User pain points and user problems are two terms that are often used interchangeably in UX, but there is actually a distinction between them. Knowing the difference will help us build better products for our users. To better understand the difference, consider a medical analogy.

Imagine a patient who complains of migraines to her doctor. The doctor prescribes painkillers, which provide temporary relief. However, the patient’s underlying condition is short-sightedness, so the painkillers only address the symptoms and not the root cause. In this case, prescription glasses are the long-term solution, but only a proper understanding of the patient’s history and context can reveal the actual problem and solution.

In this analogy, the user’s pain point can be thought of as a symptom, while the user’s problem is the underlying condition. A pain point is just a symptom of a problem, not the problem itself. Product teams often mistake addressing the pain point for addressing the problem. This can lead to short-term relief for users, but it won’t solve the underlying problem. As a result, users become dissatisfied over time, and product teams waste time and effort building the wrong solution due to a misunderstanding of the user problem.

Product teams can apply user research methods to ask diagnostic questions and test hypotheses. This will help to differentiate between user pain points and user problems. It’s a time-consuming process, but it’s important to dig beyond the pain point to get to the actual problem. Product teams need to balance this with the demands of users who want instant relief and businesses that want quick solutions.

I would love your thoughts on this differentiation. Do you feel it applies to your industry or context? Please use the comment box below and let’s have a conversation.

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Spending Time in User Problem Spaces

Albert Einstein is famously attributed with the quote, “If I had an hour to solve a problem, I’d spend 55 minutes thinking about the problem and 5 minutes thinking about solutions.” This advice is particularly relevant to product teams, who often jump straight into solving user problems without taking time to truly understand the problem space.

While businesses live in the solution space, users live in the problem space. Without immersing themselves in the problem space, product teams are at risk of building ineffective solutions. They must take the time to comprehend, define and prioritize the right user problems to solve.

Users and product teams have different motivations. Users are focused on resolving their problems, while product teams should be focused on understanding them. However, users often describe their problems in terms of the solutions they want. Rushing to build these solutions without proper unpacking can lead to ineffective solutions. Product teams need to bring users back into the problem space despite user reluctance in order to gain a deep understanding of the problem.

Uri Levine, co-founder of Waze, said it best: “Fall in love with the problem, not the solution, and the rest will follow.” The product team’s ultimate goal is to build products that solve meaningful user problems. If a product doesn’t solve meaningful problems, users won’t engage with it. The quality of a product solution is only as good as the product team’s understanding of the problem. Therefore, product teams should be comfortable spending a significant amount of their time in the problem space to ensure they build effective solutions.

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The Ideas Thief

Pep Guardiola’s modesty will only allow him to embrace the label of an ‘ideas thief’. His teams have played some of the most thrilling and dominating football in recent years.

Guardiola is a coach who stood on the shoulders of his heroes and transcended them.

Austin Kleon in his book, Steal like an Artist, said

“Merely imitating your heroes is not flattering them. Transforming their work into something of your own is how you flatter them. Adding something to the world that only you can add.”

Guardiola evolved from an ideas thief to a creative genius by becoming the sum of his influences. He didn’t steal the ideas of his influences but stole the thinking behind their ideas.

The desire was not to become a clone of his heroes but he rather wanted to ‘see’ and ‘think’ like them.

His heroes’ ideas grounded in understanding filtered through his imagination produced his distinctive coaching style. This is a secret of Guardiola’s coaching success.

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Question to Story

There are two key skills I am keen to improve as a user researcher – questioning and listening. I will focus on the latter in a future post.

My job involves asking a lot of questions of internal stakeholders and research participants. Anybody can ask questions. The true skill is the ability to ask the right questions that generate insights.

This is why the quote above resonates with me, especially when interviewing research participants. I don’t always facilitate the transition from question-to-answer to a question-to-story in all my interviews. This is usually because  I am trying to extract as much information from an interview due to time constraints. Most of my interviews with time-poor teachers tend to occur during school hours.

The transition between the two phases {Q-A to Q-S} requires using well-timed follow-ups and the willingness to embrace the pregnant pause. This embrace requires the interviewer to handle the uncomfortableness of silence after the participant’s answer.

The interviewer’s instinct is to rush to the next question after getting an answer. Participants should be given just enough time to fill the silence. They will let you if they have nothing to say.  People speak in paragraphs according to Portigal and they want your permission to go on to the next paragraph. The interviewer’s silence permits them the freedom to do this.

Most people are not skilled storytellers and their stories will usually be unpolished. But there are nuggets in those unpolished stories.  Like Portigal said the richest insights are in stories, not answers.


Make Stuff You Love

My 2023 goal is to make and share what I love on this site and I hope it resonates with you. I will be publishing more posts this year compared to previous years. Make sure to subscribe below to get post notifications when I publish something new.

The format for most of my 2023 posts is an interesting quote as the inspiration for a commentary. The selected quotes will cover different themes of interest.

I am doing some creative projects this year and will keep you posted as they unfold.

Happy New Year!!!

Thanks for stopping by

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