What I’m Crunching — December 31, 2023

Book I’m Reading

Here’s another great book I read in 2023 as part of my personal development at SonSet Solutions. See last week’s post for an explanation of how SonSet invests in our people.

Fadell worked at Apple and was on the teams that designed the iPod and the iPhone. He later built Nest and sold it to Google. His book is full of hard-learned lessons about building incredible products, teams, and companies. Here are my five biggest takeaways from the book.

Storytelling is key:

So what do you do when you’re stuck with a manager who’s hellbent on driving off a cliff, ideally while throwing all their money out the window at some consultants? Or what if you have data but it’s inconclusive — nobody can say for sure where it leads? Or what if you need to convince your team to follow you even though you can’t prove your heading in the right direction?

You tell a story.

Storytelling is how you get people to take a leap of faith to do something new. It’s what all our big choices ultimately come down to — believing a story we tell ourselves or that someone else tells us. Creating a believable narrative that everyone can latch on to is critical to moving forward and making a hard choices.

Your job in this moment is to craft a narrative that convinces leadership that your gut is trustworthy, that you found all the data that could be gleaned, that you have a track record of good decisions, that you grasp the decision makers’ fears and are mitigating those risks, that you truly understand your customers and their needs and — most importantly — that what you’re proposing will have a positive impact on the business. If you tell that story well, if you bring people along with you on that journey, then they will follow your vision even if there’s no hard data to back you up.

Pages 63-64

If you have to make big fuss over something that’s going wrong, make sure it’s to support the mission, not for personal gain:

If you’re going to get everyone’s attention, make sure it’s to support the mission, not for personal gain. Think through the problems that are plaguing your project. Write down thoughtful, insightful solutions. Present them to leadership. Those solutions may not work, but the process will be at the very least educational. Don’t nag, but be persistent, choose your moment wisely, be professional, and don’t hold back about the consequences if you don’t succeed. Tell them you’re passionate about making this job work, but if you can’t solve these issues then you’ll probably quit.

And remember that even if leadership acknowledges that you’re right and promises a major shift, it may take a while for anything to change. Or it may never change. But it’s worth it to try. Quitting anytime things get tough not only doesn’t look great on your resume, but it also kills any chance you have of making something you’re proud of. Good things take time. Big things take longer. If you flit from project to project, company to company, you’ll never have the vital experience of starting and finishing something meaningful.

Pages 82-83, bolded font mine

Write a press release…before you start:

If you wait for your product to be perfect, you will never finish . It’s very hard to know when you’re done — when you need to stop building and just put it out into the world. When is it good enough? When are you close enough to your vision? When are the inevitable issues ignorable enough that you can live with them?

Typically your vision is so much greater than what materializes in V1. There’s always another revision, always something else you want to do, change, add, tweak. When do you tear yourself away from what you’re making and just. . . stop? Ship it. Set it free. See what happens.

Here’s the trick: write a press release.

But don’t write it when you’re done. Write it when you start.

I began doing this at Apple and eventually realized other leaders had figured it out, too (looking at you, Bezos). It’s an incredibly useful tool to narrow down what really matters.

To write a good press release you have to focus. The press release is meant to hook people — it’s how you get journalists interested in what you’re making. You have to catch their attention. You have to be succinct and interesting, highlight the most important and essential things that your product can do. You can’t just list everything you want to make — you have to prioritize. When you write a press release you say, “Here. This. This is what’s newsworthy. This is what really matters”

Pages 136-137

How to work through a crisis:

You will encounter a crisis eventually. Everyone does. If you don’t, you’re not doing anything important or pushing any boundaries. When you’re creating something disruptive and new, you will at some point be blindsided by a complete disaster.

It may be an external crisis that you have no control over, or an internal screwup or just the kinds of growing pains that hit every company. Either way, when the time comes, here’s the basic playbook:

  1. Keep your focus on how to fix the problem, not who to blame. That will come later and is far too distracting early on.
  2. As a leader, you’ll have to get into the weeds. Don’t be worried about micromanagement — as the crisis unfolds your job is to tell people what to do and how to do it. However, very quickly after everyone has calmed down and gotten back to work, let them do their jobs without you breathing down their necks.
  3. Get advice. From mentors, investors, your board, or anyone else you know who’s gone through something similar. Don’t try to solve your problems alone.
  4. Your job once people get over the initial shock will be constant communication. You need to talktalktalk (with your team, the rest of the company, the board, investors, and potentially press and customers) and listenlistenlisten (hear what your team is worried about and the issues that are bubbling up, calm down panicked employees and stressed out PR people). Don’t worry about overcommunicating.
  5. It doesn’t matter if the crisis was caused by your mistake or your team or a fluke accident: accept responsibility for how it has affected customers and apologize.
Pages 218-219

On lawsuits and “winning”:

If you’re moderately successful at something disruptive, you’ll probably be a target. If you’re really successful, you definitely will be.

So the possibility of a lawsuit should always be a risk that you’re weighing. But a lawsuit isn’t the end of the world. And a “maybe” or even a “no” from your lawyers isn’t always a reason to immediately stop what you’re doing. You have to weigh their input against the needs of your business and against the fact that you need to take risks to innovate and succeed. That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t follow legal advice— it just means that legal shouldn’t be your only consideration.

The first time I had to deal with a lawsuit was at Apple. I remember feeling like a deer in the headlights. Creative, the maker of the second most popular music player after the iPod, sued us over the iTunes interface to transfer songs to the iPod and the technology that enabled it. It wasn’t clear cut whether we had infringed or not, whether we would win or not, and Steve was worried. We’d built Apple their first great new product in years, and now they were getting sued for it.

Chip Lutton, who led all intellectual property legal work at Apple, partnered with me and Jeff Robin, the VP of iTunes, to find solutions to work around the issues. We proposed different ways to change the product, but in the end Steve ended up making the business decision to settle. In fact he settled for $100 million, tens of millions more than Creative had asked for. He wanted them completely out of our hair, never to return.

It was an interesting lesson in what winning meant. It wasn’t a proper legal victory — we never defended ourselves, never went to court — but it was a win for Steve. It was more important for him to never spend another second of his life worrying about this lawsuit than to save money or face.

Pages 302-303

Articles/Letters I’m Reading

8 Significant Great Commission Stories of 2023 (Ted Esler)

Stone Ridge Investor Letter (Ross Stevens)

On the Stone Ridge letter above, if you don’t want to read the whole thing, read only the section under the header: “A BLACK BELT IS SOMEONE WHO GETS HIT AND DOESN’T CARE.” Here are two snippets of that section:

“The power to create money – via printing (central banks) or credit creation (commercial banks) – is simply too intoxicating to relinquish for anyone not named Milei. To bitcoiners, the hysterical wails “ban it!” or “close it down” are as boringly predictable as they are, Conute-like, irrelevant. It’s hard to point a gun at an idea, or at a passphrase in my mind, especially one I may have forgotten.”

“In contrast to bitcoin, fiat represents government-sanctioned counterfeiting. Printing little pieces of unbacked paper and trying to pass them off as money? Fiat is an economic paradigm premised on the plunder of time from the unfavored many not directly downstream of the State’s monetary spigot. No wonder those in charge love it.

Counterfeiting should be illegal regardless of whether the Xerox machine is government or privately owned. The only monetary difference is the size of the confiscatory audacity. The US Treasury estimates $70 million in counterfeit bills are in circulation. Since 2020, the Federal Reserve has Xeroxed a fresh, crisp $6 trillion.”

Tweets I’m Reading

If you have feedback for me, if something resonates and you want to see more of it, reply in the comments below. You can also tweet at me on Twitter @the_cody_hall.

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