My notes on the Plural Site Meetup with Richard Banfield, Martin Erikssen, and Nate Walkingshaw.

I walked into the building and asked someone where the Meetup was.  He told me he was headed there, and we introduced ourselves as I followed him.  Turns out it was Richard Banfield.  Nate Walkingshaw is talking right now about how he serendipitously met Richard at the Mind the Product conference in San Francisco.  They met, had a mind-meld, and that led to Nate meeting Martin.

I kinda feel like I'm mind-melding with these dudes right now!

Fast forward a year: Walkinshaw is having lunch in London and runs into Martin.  They continue the discussion, and the rest is history.  They are now about to finish a book they wrote together for O'Reilly Media (this is Banfield's 3rd book with O'Reilly.  His first two are here and here.

  1. Richard Banfield:
    1. Standing like Wonder Woman for 2 minutes spikes your testosterone.
    2. People don't care about what your product does, they care about what they can do with your product.  (I'll go one further: they don't give two shits about what they can do with your product.  They care about what your product can do for them.)
    3. How do we design for an ambiguous future?
      1. (I'll add a piece of art I developed that illustrates the rate of exponential change in technology: https://vimeo.com/201614898)
    4. "the things I'd be working with haven't been invented yet."  10-year-old son recognizing that most of what he works on hasn't been invented yet.  We all have the same problem now.  Designing for a future where the things that we're going to be working on haven't been created yet.  iPhone didn't exist 10 years ago, for perspective.  Consider what it would have been like to think about mobile development before the iPhone, but knowing that the iPhone was about to ship.  This is the game we're all in now.
    5. Is there anything we know about the future of products?
      1. Wrong question.  Right question: what do we know about humans that isn't going to change much?
        1. (I'll note that in Peter Diamandis' recent A360 seminar, Tony Robbins shared that there are a few things about humans that aren't going to change much over the next decade:
          1. The fear of not being enough
          2. The fear of not being love because we're not enough
          3. A need for security and certainty
          4. A need for diversity and fun
          5. A need for connection and love
          6. A few others I can't remember)
    6. Current perspective: We build stuff in anticipation of the future.
    7. New perspective: Start with human biology and let that guide the product story.
    8. Story:
      1. When he was 20 he wanted to be a marine biologist (me too).
      2. Dream 1: 
      3. Dream 2: 
      4. Marine Biology really looks like working in a lab, grunt work.  
      5. Disenchanted, but he learned that biology was exquisite.  Bio-mimicry.  Biology is an exquisite designer.
    9. Biology:
      1. Loves constraints.  Works within them.
      2. Loves beauty.  "I don't really think about beauty when I'm designing, but when I'm done if it isn't beautiful I've failed with my design."
      3. Loves Adaptability.  Constantly trying out new things.
      4. Loves Harmony.  Balance, homeostasis
      5. Loves a good user test.  Biology is a ruthless, massive, parallel experimenter.
      6. Cycles of near wins that lead to more attempts.  If we're constantly going through that cycle and never finish it, we're doing our work properly.  (brilliant words)
      7. Is never done.  Always evolving.
      8. Evolutionary Trees:
        1. Looks less like slow, even, smooth.  More like bands of horror and death that precede elegance.  Between those bands nothing really changes because nothing needs to change.  But when absolute turmoil is happening, the need for change grows.  Adaptation happens under stress.
        2. That isn't the pic he showed, but it was like that.
        3. In product environments, adaptation happens in response to feedback.
        4. Don't wait for environmental stress.  Go create it yourself.  De-habituation.  If we expose ourselves to customer feedback and to the people who inform the stakeholders around us, we start to get used to it.
        5. Biology lesson:  innovation happens when you foster an environment of adaptation.
    10. Why do we have the need for large brains?
      1. We have brains because we move.  We move so much that we influence the world around you.  We have manipulated the world around us so that it adapts to us.
      2. "Movement is the only thing you have to effect the world around you." Daniel Wolpert.
    11. Sea Squirt eats its own brain.  I don't recall why he showed this, but interesting pic.
    12. When we have the biology of movement and mobility, it tells us a story about who we are as biological beings but also our future.
    13. We are mobile, but technology is not mobile.  Technology is following us.
      1. With respect, I'll disagree here.  Technology now has a life (and consciousness) of its own.  See Kevin Kelly's What Technology Wants and Jerry Kaplan's Human's Need Not Apply.
    14. Beware the features that force you out of your natural state.
      1. We invent a new tech, big and clunky, then it gets smaller and smaller.  It needs to be smaller so that we can carry it around with us.
      2. Whatever kind of modality you're working on, it's moving towards more mobility.  Convergence with humans.
      3. Mobile is our default state.  We are mobile.
        1. I remember when I got my first Palm Treo.  Having word processing, spreadsheets, and email (this was before SMS texting was commonplace) all in my pocket made my work as a CEO so much easier)
    15. Design can learn from biology that we aren't changing that fast.
      1. The shape of our hands aren't going to change in the next 100-150 years.
        1. Again, I respectfully disagree.  Technological miniaturization is a well-established trend that is headed to smaller-than-blood cells.  Within the next 10 years we'll be modifying our bodies in ways we can't presently imagine.  See transhumanism and H+.
    16. He ascribes Google Glass failure to weirdness.
      1. Needs to feel normal and attractive to one another.
      2. Guy in London inserting RFID chips into his body.  Feels weird now, but 10-year-olds get it.  They want bionic stuff.
    17. Artists who design our future selves in pictures are trying to keep us looking normal and attractive.
      1. Attraction matters.
    18. Live video, echo, google home, speech recognition, AR, VR ... all extensions of our humanness.
      1. It makes those senses much better.
    19.  We love heroes.  We especially love human heroes, both from a psychological/physical perspective.  Are you extending their senses?  Are you turning their senses into super senses?  This stuff gets embraced.
    20. Biology lesson:
      1. The best products extend our biological powers
    21. Always on, but not always on the same device.
      1. Guardian digital content accessed by day of week:
      2. "We are not seeing a substantial effect.  People reading across multiple devices increase their consumption."
        1. Note from me: We are becoming a digital species that is transcending its biology.
      3. All of the different situations that someone encounters during a particular day need to be considered in your persona development as well.
        1. Spend time with customers, ride along with them, see where they go.  Lots of this is very influenced by the thinking of how to design a mobile device.  Very mobile centric.
          1. I'll add that this effort needs to be strategically focused or it will just lead to extra expense without the assurance that you are innovating sustainably (and by sustainably I mean your product is generating enough income to meet both the company's and the product's needs for continued innovation).
      4. Navigation isn't the same for all apps.  There is no one solution.  You will only know the solution when you hang out with your customers and users and see how they are using it in their environments.
      5. Biology Lesson:
        1. Experiences become specialized over time (even when they look the same).
    22. Let's talk about drugs:
      1. STRAVA.  App to track activity.  Originally designed for cyclists.
      2. Idea is to turn it on and it will use your location and heart-rate monitor to describe your workout.  Plays to several key chemicals that affect how we feel:
        1. Dopamine: Released during task-based interactions.  Instant and fleeting.
          1. Notifications are dopamine fixes, highly addictive.  Snapchat is all dopamine all the time.
          2. If you want people to become addicted to your app, you need to give them notifications for dopamine hits.
        2. Oxytocin: The "love drug" you feel in a relationship.
          1. Find friends, connect with people, feel like part of a community.
          2. We live and die by oxytocin.  When we want to punish people, we put them in solitary.  You're either in the circle or out of the circle.
          3. What are you doing to help them feel like they are a part of this thing?
          4. Someone cares, someone notices.  Messages--or high value communications--are the real hit.
        3. Serotonin: Feeling pride while working towards and mastering goals.
          1. If you don't give them Serotonin "I am achieving my goal" they will go find it elsewhere.  Show progress, visualizations that create encouragement.  "I'm winning!"
          2. Reminds me of Dan Sullivan's ideas on positive focus.
        4. Endorphins: Feel during physical activity and achievement
      3. Chemistry drives emotions.  Emotions drive behavior.
        1. We are all emotion.  If you're designing stuff that's just rational, you won't get very far.
      4. People use your product because it makes them feel something.  They wanna get high.
        1. So are we the new dope dealers?
      5. We are emotional first, logical second.

Questions:

  1.  Didn't catch the question:
    1. Whether we like it or not, we are social.
    2. Those interactions between humans don't change because you label them human or enterprise or business.  They are all still human interactions.
  2. We can't have the whole company go out and immerse themselves in the user's lives with them:
    1. Note from me: Hmm.  We did 3500 qualitative interviews w customers at Infusionsoft and learned a ton, and at Intuit every employee was expected to do one "Follow Me Home" per quarter to a customer's site where they were just to observe.  (Follow Me Homes are from Intuit's origin when Scott Cook would stand in supermarkets, watch people manage their check books, and then ask them if he could follow them home to see how they manage their finances).
  3. How do you measure feelings and whether it's working better for the user?
    1. Qualitative testing.  Quantitative testing is about finding data to support a pattern.  Qualitative testing is about observing people in their authentic environments.  Focus groups remove all of the quality in qualitative.  It's a lab.  It doesn't contain the truth.  (but labs often reveal truths by providing superior isolation of concern; the irony is that this preso started w a discussion of how biology, which he discovered in a boring, controlled, lab-like environment, revealed biology's design skills to him).
  4. Group QA:
    1. Richard is the CEO of Fresh Tilled Soil.  Design agency based in Boston.
    2. Martin founded Product Tank.  99 cities, 50,000 professionals.  Year later he created Mind the Product.  Largest community for PMs and Designers.
    3. Nate.  Started as ENT making $7/hr.  Loved patient care.  Loves humans.  Nate is chief experience officer at Pluralsight today.
  5. What's the best product out there and why?
    1. Martin: It's all about context.  Once you get past Maslow's hierarchy, it's all about context.  Great is relative to context (or benefits).
      1. What about your context?
        1. Martin: Facebook is amazing.  I can stay friends with so many people in so many places.  Very active Facebook user.
        2. Nate: Tesla, from the OS to the vehicle, the mapping of every single street in the world is profound, because now that thing operates as a platform for every single vehicle in the fleet.  Flying vehicles and delivery drones, residential deliveries (which is going to require mapping everything on earth from inches off  the ground to tens of thousands of feet).  Flying cars.
        3. Richard: Genomics is the most exciting thing in product right now, that you can map directly to the genome and figure out what is creating diseases or death.  Genetic switches that can improve lives, most exciting thing.  CRISPR. Biology-tweakers.
  6. What did you learn early on that helped you get to where you are?
    1. Martin: I'm a better leader than a manager.  VP of product for a startup, did all the right stuff (research, follow the data, design the solution, all by the team).  I had nothing to do with the product that came out of it and yet--because I led them--I had everything to do with it.
    2. Nate: I'm still learning, have a learner's mindset.  Being taught every single day.  I work with some of the brightest people on the planet.
    3. Richard: My middle-class background was so small in the context of so many other people having so many other experiences.
  7. What's your favorite mistake?
    1. Nate: the mistake that put me where I am is when I started pyramid (track system) in 2004, I designed a product for me not we (as soon as you get out of your context you realize everyone else thinks differently about their experience).  1998-2002 the VC scene wasn't the bee's knees.  Did $25-100K rounds with people who trusted me.  And I knew the origin story to each dollar.  Deep emotional connection to all of it.  I learned the hardest lesson I could have possibly learned: I built, didn't test, launched, and failed.  3/4 of my folks couldn't pay me back.  The pivot: PM, design, UX matters so much because I extracted 2 lbs of flesh in that loss.  Made me a more effective leader/teacher.  Nate is putting everything on the line.  "I think I'm going to get fired next week."
    2. Richard: Too many to remember, probably 20.  My mistake was thinking that my partners and execs would always do what I wanted them to do because I was the founder.  I was very naive.  Bit of a coup in the sense that what they believed and what I believed was not aligned.  Had to sell my shares back and that led to the sale to WPP.  Never had a very big business before then, but at this point we had offices all over and I felt like a failure.  Will never recover.  Bitching to my girl: "What are people going to say?"  She says "They're probably wondering what you're going to do next."  And here he is.
    3. Martin:  Key is learning from mistakes.  I hate all the mistakes I've ever made, but I've made a lot.  Success is probably the worst predictor of future success.  If you're successful, you think that everything is right.
    4. Nate: I think product mgmt/ux/engineering is going through a huge awakening.  When you build your market on top of product/market fit (focusing on the outcome) ... then what?  Agile manifesto, are we in a post-agile era (are we output driven vs. outcome driven? Interesting concept Nate introduces here, more below).  You're starting to see more PMs and UX and developers show up in executive management.  Having a huge influence on the psychology of what is happening the most.  Board of Directors are talking about design thinking.
    5. Richard:  Call out your bosses, keep it data driven, speak truth to power.
    6. If you're a leader out there, you need to give the rest of the team a chance to open up and share their struggles.

More Q&A answers

I asked how they focus the effort on users that are likely to generate a return to innovation so it can be sustained.

  1. Nate:  "There's A LOT packed into that question."  The first thing you have to know is who you're building for.  You have to figure out unit economics first.  Who values the most, who stays the longest, who has the highest likelihood to buy, and you have to get to that first before you get to the persona you develop.  Who is going to pay the most for the longest time and build from there.  Then the next piece is autonomy: have to have a team that owns discovery and delivery.  You have to make sure that an outcome (not an output) is what you're getting. Outputs and outcomes.  Outputs are what the team produces.  Outcomes are what takes time.  Unit economics, value of a user.  Outputs from product help achieve the outcome of a profitable eco-system.
  2. Martin:  To underline the autonomy thing: good product teams need to be independent.  Engineering as a resource that has to be doled out to products instead being someone who focuses on users.  Get much more measured about it.  Autonomy.  Still managing expectations of that outcome.  Still set metrics.  Still see strong corporate goal.  Autonomous teams work beautifully and independently.  Need to sync them with unit economics.
  3. Nate: It's like the R-factor, the multiplier, has nothing to do with the product that you're building.  If you have cross-functional co-located teams, you're going to get a good product (particularly if the team is trusted).  If you watch them do qualitative and quantitative research together, it makes them beautiful practitioners.  Likely to buy/likely to stay.  When they ship something to production together and they measure the outcome and it's not right, you can go back to the way they practiced.  Did they have confirmation bias?  The team gets better and better.  All of a sudden you have these people living their values.  The product gets good, but what really matters is what happens to the team.
  4. Question from Julia (from Goldman Sachs): How to get more female presence in the profession?
    1. Martin: 5 out of 9 of our presenters last year were women.  Diversity is incredibly important, but its also incredibly smart.  Different perspectives pull lots of empathy into the product.
    2. Lots of great people out there. Sometimes a reticence to step forward and own their greatness.  PMs and designers suffer from a complex that makes them shrink.  Need to stand up and be heard.
  5. Question from Ken: Team autonomy.  From a leader's perspective, what do leaders need to give teams in order to make them truly autonomous?
    1. Autonomy is a fancy word for decision making.  Returning authority from the leader to the team.  The word empowerment is the wrong word to use.  Empower means taking your power and giving it to them.  You need to give them their own power.
  6. Question:  How do I work on a product I believe in?
    1. Richard: product design--whether you measure it by unit economics or revenue or P&L--are being driven by economic concerns.  We haven't gotten to the point where we do what's good because it's what good.  We do what we do because of economic factors.  As we progress forward, we can see that there are things that measure going forward.  NPS score ... ugh.  How excited are they to use our product?  How satisfied.  But Richard, I think LTV is the single best score from customers.  Vote with them dollars baby.  But we're still too far away from valuing user experience.  Stockbrokers don't think that way.  As long as we're thinking that way, we're stuck.  But Richard, aren't financials less the objective and more the vitals?  Don't most businesses still fail, particularly in the presence of exponential change?
    2. Martin: The world is changing a bit, we have to be more focused on long-term metrics like ARR or LTV.  (YES!)  I think there is more attention being paid to using tools in the right way.  On a personal note, trying to impact the world in the biggest way is about trying to do things the best you can in your sphere of influence.
    3. Nate: The answer is that it's up to you (us) to make a decision on what we want to build.  We're the creators of these things.  Everyone wakes up and decides if they want to align their interests with the good/bad in the world.  During the industrial revolution, someone picked up a piece of cotton and figured it could be turned to clothing (actually happened around 3000 BC, but it's a good point regardless; someone looked at the white puff and figured it could become something else).  We are in our own industrial revolution in technology.  We're writing the pages of that.  I love what I do, I love the people I work with, I love the mission/vision/values of the company.  Is it architected to the greater good?  If it's not, then I think you have something to say about it.  If I wasn't aligned to the mission/vision of Pluralsight, I would have something to say about it.  But I love what we do for the world.