Experimentation Works, by Stefan H. Thomke

I can't remember who recommended this book but I'm glad they did. I'm talking about Experimentation Works by Stefan H. Thomke. The subtitle sums it up quite well: The surprising power of business experiments.

I'm still fairly early in this one but here are a few of my favorite highlights so far:

At Booking.com all employees can define a hypothesis and launch an experiment on millions of users without permission from management.

Even though the business world glorifies disruptive ideas, most progress is achieved by implementing hundreds or thousands of minor improvements that can have a big cumulative impact.

The serendipitous breakthroughs may be more likely to occur when managers are clear that understanding what does not work is as important as learning what does.

True experimentation organizations not only appreciate surprises, they cherish and capitalize on them.

I encourage you to take a few minutes to stop and think about each of those points individually. I'm particularly hung up on the last one. Why? Like a lot of people, I tend to view surprises as bad, mostly. An experiment that doesn't turn out the way I expected it to means I didn't know as much as I thought I did. I need to get past that though and embrace those surprises as the author suggests.

The book can feel overly academic at times as you'll sometimes think you're stuck in the middle of a textbook. If you skim through those sections and focus exclusively on the company success and failure stories I'm confident you'll find it worth the price of admission.


Providing broadband service to those who need it most

I love this article from Fast Company which talks about how libraries are offering drive-up wifi access from their parking lot. It's a great example of how a necessity is indeed the mother of invention. But let's face it: while I applaud this effort, as well as those buses driving around with wifi service, it seems there's a disruptive alternative which could go much further.

One of the problems with schools being closed is that some families don't have broadband connections so their children are unable to participate in e-learning. It's a problem plaguing both urban and rural families. And although it helps, driving to the local library isn't a viable solution.

Our family plan with AT&T provides us with 2 Gigs of downloads from their cellular network. When we exceed that ceiling we're charged $10 for every Gig above two. As we continue working through the current crisis our family would gladly offer to pay for several Gigs worth of download capacity if it's going to a good cause. And by "good cause", I'm talking about those families with children who are unable to get online today.

You're probably familiar with those little hotspot devices you can use on the road for a reliable web connection. How about this, AT&T, et al?: You guys make wifi hotspot devices available to needy families (at no cost) and customers like us subsidize the monthly fees? Let me opt in and just tack it onto my monthly bill, the same way you somehow manage to do with other obscure charges. Your brand (AT&T, Verizon, etc.) would benefit nicely from this as well.

How about it?...


Embracing the World of Remote Work Environments

I spent almost eight years working remotely before joining my current employer in 2016. I learned a lot from that experience including the importance of maintaining a presence when not on site. Much of the world has suddenly been forced to shift to remote working conditions and it's exposed a lot of problems which might never have surfaced if not for the coronavirus.

As we work through this unusual period it's important to consider how this experience should affect our work life during and after the recovery, when we're all heading back into the office. For example, are there positions which could very easily operate remotely and, in fact, maybe should? If you or your employer weren't that open-minded about remote work before is it possible you're starting to see some of the benefits?

How about the morale boost which sometimes accompanies remote work? I'm talking about eliminating commute time and therefore helping employees feel they were more productive today than yesterday. Over the past few weeks I've discovered that although my own commute (approximately 75 minutes each way) can sometimes get a bit old I'm looking forward to heading back into our office soon; I didn't realize how much I enjoy spending time face-to-face with colleagues, so that was a valuable discovery.

In other cases the solution might be something in between remote and on-site. Maybe three days in the office and two remotely each week. I had been doing one day remote per week earlier this year and found that I was infinitely more productive that one day than I was the other four, so it helped me balance my day-to-day activities.

The key here is to learn as much as possible today and make adjustments as conditions permit. Plus, by maintaining some number of remote employees you dramatically reduce the likelihood of being surprised when you try to quickly cobble together a collection of virtual work solutions all at once (e.g., video calls, cloud-based file storage/sharing, etc.). Don't forget the possibility that this is just Part One of the journey, especially if the virus rears its ugly head again later this year.


Secrets of Sand Hill Road

I decided to read Secrets of Sand Hill Road after hearing an author interview on one of my favorite podcasts. The VC market can be so mysterious and this book helped bring clarity to many aspects of the startup fundraising process. Here are just a few of the many excerpts I highlighted along the way:

Most VCs assume that the product that is initially conceived of and pitched is not likely the product that will ultimately prevail.

Max Planck, German scientist, put it best by saying "Science advances one funeral at a time." Simply put, it's hard to get people to adopt new technologies.

Products are either vitamins (nice to have) or aspirins (need to have); VCs want to fund aspirins.

How much money should you raise? The answer is to raise as much money as you can that enables you to safely achieve the key milestones you will need for the next fund-raising.

If you allow yourself or a VC to overvalue the company at the current round, then you have just raised the stakes for what it will take to clear that valuation bar for the next round and get paid for the progress you have made.

VCs love infinite learners.

Companies are definitely staying private longer, resulting in more of the appreciation of startups going to those investors in the private markets, at the expense of those in the public markets.

[Beware of becoming] the most advanced dinosaur, where you may think you look differentiated relative to others but are at risk of being the last generation in the evolutionary chain...


The importance of curiosity

Curiosity. It's the single most important characteristic I look for when interviewing someone. Does that mean I don't care about experience, character, etc.? Of course I do, but I believe a high level of curiosity is what distinguishes the top performers from the rest of the team.

That's why I was intrigued when reading this article from MIT Sloan Management Review. Yes, it feels overly academic at times, but it hits on the critical points. I also love a couple of phrases used in it. First, "incurably curious." Yes! That's what we need more of. Second, "catalytic learning capability", which sounds like part of your car's exhaust system.

How incurably curious are you? How about your team? There are countless indicators to show where someone is on this scale and I think a few of them are (1) being a voracious reader, (2) always asking "why?", and (3) being a great listener who's willing to alter their stance on a topic as they learn more.

Don't underestimate the importance of that third point, btw. Some would interpret that as a flip-flopper but I think it shows you're open-minded, not set in your ways and willing to learn.