Now what?


John Carmack on making games

Lots of solid advice from John Carmack (of id fame) in an old Slashdot thread:

"There is not a hell of a lot of difference between what the best designer in the world produces, and what a quite a few reasonably clued in players would produce at this point. This is the "abstract creativity" aspect. This part just isn’t all that valuable. Not worthless, but it isn’t the thing to wrap a company around."

"The real value in design is the give and take during implementation and testing. It isn’t the couple dozen decisions made at the start, it is the thousands of little decisions made as the product is being brought to life, and constantly modified as things evolve around it.The focus should be on the development process, not the (initial) design."

"The games with 500 page design documents before any implementation are also kidding themselves, because you can’t make all the detail decisions without actually experiencing a lot of the interactions."


“ We’re living in a world where the ability to imagine and generate new ideas with speed and to implement them through global collaboration is the most important competitive advantage. „

via Thomas Freidman.

This quote is probably the main reason I got into product management in the first place. If you are a person who’s capable of helping people make things (either dreaming things up or making existing things faster, better, etc…) then your skills will always be in demand.

ps: I’m also hoping this is a good example of making fundamental vs. instrumental career choices (jump to slide 47 for more)



That’s why most designers make awful team members. It’s why, when the biz dev guy says “this is how our startup is going to make money,” our first inclination is to tear the living shit out of the idea.

But what designers need to understand is that nobody likes a negative blocker, and when we attack an idea, it feels personal to the guy with the idea, and invariably leads to us being left out, which is that last thing we want.

Fortunately the solution is simple: just force yourself to come up with an alternate solution. It’s a great mental exercise - think to yourself, “what’s the solution I want to see?” If I can’t come up with one, I won’t say anything. Better to be quiet and see how things progress than to be the negative blocker guy.


via Derek Powazek’s “Things I Learned the Hard Way


“ Every great business is founded on a thesis, a statement of what should be true. It’s then the business’s job to go prove that thesis - in essence, the business becomes the argument that proves the thesis. „

via John Battelle.

I think this could also apply to careers or individual roles. What argument(s) would you put on your resume?


“ Learn to make non-fatal or reversible decisions as quickly as possible. „

via Tim Ferriss


Once you have learned how to speak, what will you say?

Lots of great quotes and career advice from this talk, titled Beyond Flash, including:

You will become known for doing what you do. Many people seem to think they must endure a “rite of passage” which, once passed, will allow them to do the kind of work they want to do. Then they end up disappointed that this day never comes. Find a way to do the work you want to do, even if it means working nights and weekends. Once you’ve done a handful of excellent things in a given way, you will become known as the person who does excellent things in that given way.

“ The best measure of a blog is not how many people it reaches, **it’s how much it changes what you do**. Changes in your writing, your transparency, your humility. What blogging has done for me is made me think. I get to think about how the outside world will understand something I’m trying to do, for example. This means, of course, **that you get almost all of the goodness of a blog long before you have a lot of readers.** „

via an interview with Seth Godin.


The small things add up

via Joel Spolsky’s post on User Interface Design:

That’s what days were like. A bunch of tiny frustrations, and a bunch of tiny successes. But they added up. Even something which seems like a tiny, inconsequential frustration affects your mood. Your emotions don’t seem to care about the magnitude of the event, only the quality.

UI is important because it affects the feelings, the emotions, and the mood of your users. If the UI is wrong and the user feels like they can’t control your software, they literally won’t be happy and they’ll blame it on your software.

update on 1/11/09: see also “Retired by not forgotten


How can non-technical people add value to a startup?

Paul Buchheit has a great post on Ideas vs. Judgement and Execution that I think indirectly raises an interesting question…

Imagine that products are mountains. To build a product, you will need to climb that mountain. Some mountains have a big pot of gold at the top, and some do not. In order to make money, you will need to pick the right mountain and then successfully climb to the top and gather up the gold…

Successfully executing a trip to the top of the mountain requires a certain level technical ability — how much will depend on the mountain and route. It also requires good judgment in order to choose the right route, or to change course when you realize that the current path isn’t working out.

Judgment isn’t talked about as much as execution, but it’s obviously very important. A technically brilliant team, upon encountering a sheer cliff, may excitedly think to themselves, “this is the perfect opportunity to use Erlang!”…A team with better judgment would notice that there’s an easier route that goes around the other side.

Are non-technical people less likely to fall into the trap of solving difficult but less valuable problems because they have a different sense of judgement? Asked in a Paul Graham-esque way, are non-technical people better able to determine what people want ?

update on 10/28: after thinking about this, I don’t think non-technical people are “better” at making judgments…they just might have spent more time thinking about things, since that can’t just go off and code a solution (which obviously is still a valuable skill to have in a lot of situations).


Need an idea for a webapp? Start here

A…way of thinking about how to choose web projects is to take something that everyone does with their friends and make it public and permanent. (Permanent as in permalinked.)

When I came across this quote from Kottke it helped to give me some confidence that there was real potential in my idea…after letting things marinate for a long while (months/years) I’m finally starting to bring my vision into focus.

Steps I’m taking to shape things:

  • What action will your app help accomplish/what problem are you trying to solve?
  • How is this problem currently solved vs. how do you propose to solve it? (if it’s not a 10x better improvement, it might be a feature instead of a product.
  • What’s the basic functionality needed to test if your app indeed solves a problem in a better/meaninful way (ie: fuck style) this is where I’m currently at
  • Assuming the product’s working like you hoped, what’s the minimum feature set needed for a worthwhile v1.0?

(note - lots of the above ideas don’t originate with me, I stole heavily from Kottke, Evhead, Nivi, Bezos, etc…)


How can I guarantee I’m not missing anything?

A couple of posts ago I ended with a question related to Friendfeed…”how can I guarantee I’m not missing anything?”

Well, reading Susan’s post on Connection vs. Purpose I think I found my answer…it doesn’t matter.

Quoting Susan:

The consistent, ongoing nature of the updates is a great screen for the fact that I am wasting time doing something that feels purposeful, but isn’t. Or, to put it another way, giving too much attention to tools that support social network sharing and monitoring is a way to feel like I am *doing something* that has very limited results.

So the ongoing challenge is to not feel too bad about ignoring this stuff - going to try to take deeper, but less frequent dips into the feed pool.

update on 10/26: related to these thoughts of “feels purposeful but isn’t, there’s Merlin Mann’s recent post on consuming “better” content, which drives home the point about:

"making mindful decisions about the quality of any input that I check repeatedly — as well as any “stuff” I produce. * identify and destroy small-return bullshit"


Abridged version of Pmarca’s Guide to Career Planning

Marc Andreesen’s blog is chalk full of fantastic advice from someone who’s been there, done that with regards to the web world….in this post I’ll share a summary and some notes from reading his three part guide to Career Planning.

Part 1, Opportunity:

  • Career planning = career limiting. Instead of planning your career, focus on developing skills and pursuing opportunities.
  • The world is a very malleable place. If you know what you want, and you go for it with maximum energy and drive and passion, the world will often reconfigure itself around you much more quickly and easily than you would think.
  • In life, there is generally no opportunity without risk.

Part 2, Skills and Education:

  • (pulled from a Dilbert quote) Become very good (top 25%) at two or more things. It sounds like generic advice, but you’d be hard pressed to find any successful person who didn’t have about three skills in the top 25%.
  • Five skills that you can develop once you leave school that, in combination with your degree or degrees and your other skills, can help maximize your potential:
    • Communication
    • Management
    • Sales - Think of this as the art of being able to interact with people such that they will do what you want, predictably and repeatedly, as long as you are making sense and offering them something they should want.
    • Finance
    • International
  • In my opinion, it’s now critically important to get into the real world and really challenge yourself — expose yourself to risk — put yourself in situations where you will succeed or fail by your own decisions and actions, and where that success or failure will be highly visible.
  • If you’re going to be a high achiever, you’re going to be in lots of situations where you’re going to be quickly making decisions in the presence of incomplete or incorrect information, under intense time pressure, and often under intense political pressure. You’re going to screw up — frequently — and the screwups will have serious consequences, and you’ll feel incredibly stupid every time. It can’t faze you — you have to be able to just get right back up and keep on going. That may be the most valuable skill you can ever learn. Make sure you start learning it early.

Part 3, Where to go and why:

  • Pick an industry where the founders of the industry — the founders of the important companies in the industry — are still alive and actively involved.
  • Optimize at all times for being in the most dynamic and exciting pond you can find. That is where the great opportunities can be found. Apply this rule when selecting which company to go to. Go to the company where all the action is happening. always make sure that your startup is aimed at the largest and most interesting opportunity available
  • Reputational benefit. Having Silicon Graphics from the early 90’s, or Netscape from the mid-90’s, or eBay from the late 90’s, or Paypal from the early 00’s, or Google from the mid-00’s on your resume is as valuable as any advanced degree
  • working for a big company teaches you how to work for big companies.
  • When picking a startup - look for one where you understand the product, see how it might fit into a very large market, and really like and respect the people who are already there.

Phew, that’s a lot of stuff….some scary, some challenging, all inspiring. Now off to reread everything and try and let it sink in and dwell on some of the important questions.


What’d you create today?

Part of my training to get into the world of product management is to start making more things….not specs or plans or wireframes - actual finished products (ie: today I made a t-shirt on Zazzle).

I can’t fully articulate my beliefs on the benefits of creating, but thought this Vonnegut quote summed it up nicely:

I always say to people, practice an art, no matter how well or badly [you do it], because then you have the experience of becoming, and it makes your soul grow.

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