Goals versus Systems

I’m a big proponent on focusing on doing good work and letting the rest fall into place. That doesn’t mean that I never plan, I just often focus more on executing at my standard of quality versus the end result. James Clear takes that a step further in his Forget About Setting Goals. Focus on This Instead,

What I’m starting to realize, however, is that when it comes to actually getting things done and making progress in the areas that are important to you, there is a much better way to do things.

It all comes down to the difference between goals and systems.

He provides some compelling arguments for why goals can actually be counter-productive to success, outlining the strengths of focusing on systems. It’s a worthwhile read.

Everyday Convenience

Benedict Evan’s “Cloudy” take on WWDC has dovetailed with a number of thoughts I’ve had over the last few months:

I’ve described this before by saying that Apple is moving innovation down the stack into hardware/software integration, where it’s hard for Google to follow, and Google is moving innovation up the stack into cloud-based AI & machine learning services, where it’s hard for Apple to follow. This isn’t a tactical ‘this’ll screw those guys’ approach – it reflects the fundamental characters of the two companies. Google thinks about improving UX by reducing page load times, Apple thinks about UX by making it easier to scroll that page.

In particular, this excerpt reminded me of Fred Wilson’s recent comments about Apple not being a “top three” technology company by 2020 because they don’t get the cloud. Over the last couple of years, it has been arguable that Google is getting better at what Apple does faster than Apple is with Google’s core competencies. Whether it’s user experience, design, or even a more platform-centric approach, Google has advanced those fairly quickly compared to Apple’s mastering of the cloud.

So, yes it was a year of Apple having the cloud—including what Benedict calls the “personal cloud”—underpin a number of their key initiatives. But with Google getting better at some of Apple’s strengths, will Apple’s “dumb cloud” approach be able to compete with the likes of Google Now?

I would guess that many consumers would still choose using SMS or taking phone calls from their Mac—features powered by OS X Yosemite and iOS 8—over being told when to leave for an appointment. Clearly each of those kinds of features appeal to a specific demographic but Apple continues to cater more directly to everyday convenience where Google’s AI and machine learning are attempting to solve bigger and more complex problems. Obviously Google Now is just one example but self-driving cars and drones also come to mind.

Put another way, Apple continues to optimize for the relatively near term. Each year they make consumers lives just a little bit better. What they bring to the market may not appear as lofty as Google’s future initiatives but as John Gruber notes, Apple knows how to ship. These aren’t concepts, they’re products that scale to the mass market.

Of course, Apple has their own future-focused, mind-boggling roadmap, which is what has allowed them to launch market-transforming products like the iPhone or iPad. Still, I’ve wondered if Apple is not focused on the future enough. The corollary may be more pressing for Google: optimizing too much for the future will continue to reduce the impact they can have on the present. Apple may not have self-driving, concept cars but there’s no company that can compete right now with their ability to deliver incremental, everyday convenience to the mass market each and every year.

Not All Business is Good Business

Running your own business can be frightening. For many businesses, there’s a natural ebb and flow to sales or even some sort of seasonality. In the consulting world, the fear of no new customers or losing existing customers can push a business owner to take on the wrong kind of business or make bad decisions.

For a number of year years now—thanks to my father-in-law—I’ve appreciated Alan Weis’ perspectives on consulting. His recent post on this topic really resonated with me:

Some potential business is too small, too remote, too laborious, too demanding, too ridiculous. Some of it is unethical or repulsive. Eschew it.

Pursue that business which you are great at and love doing, provided by your ideal buyers. It’s as simple as that.

One might be tempted to think that being able to “choose a customer” is only applicable when business is booming. It’s that type of thinking that can get you into trouble.

There’s an opportunity cost to taking on the wrong customer. The biggest one being that when the right customer comes along, there’s a higher likelihood that you won’t be available to work with them.

My experience also dictates that the “wrong” customer is usually wrong for three reasons, not just one. For example, it’s likely not just about the customer being demanding. It’s that the customer is demanding, the budget too small, and the timeline too tight.

At savvy apps, we look at potential customers through three lenses:

  1. Do we believe in and like the idea?
    Is this app something we would use? Is it focused enough? Can it continue to evolve?
  2. Do we believe in the people and the team?
    Are they proven? Do they have key advisors and industry contacts? Would we enjoy working with them?
  3. What do we see as the long-term potential for the relationship?
    What happens after v1.0 ships? Will this customer make referrals? Will there be new work outside of this app?

Even during slow times, we’ve turned down business that did not align with one of these kinds of tests. While turning down money is a difficult choice, I know that the right customer will motivate us to produce award-winning work and keep our attrition extremely low.

The Great Unbundling of Apps (and Identity)

Q. Instagram and WhatsApp are not going to be branded as Facebook apps. So eventually part of your business will be apps that people don’t think of as Facebook. Is that the way to think about the future of Facebook. Is it like a conglomerate?

A. One of the things that we’re trying to do with Creative Labs and all our experiences is explore things that aren’t all tied to Facebook identity. Some things will be, but not everything will have to be, because there are some sets of experiences that are just better with other identities. I think you should expect to see more of that, where apps are going to be tied to different audiences that you can share with.

from Can Facebook Innovate? A Conversation With Mark Zuckerberg

Last week’s news about Foursquare splitting into two apps spurred this excerpt to mind from a recent interview with Mark Zuckerberg. Not only has Facebook “unbundled” apps like Messenger, it’s also experimenting with unbundling identity.

Even though both Instagram and WhatsApp were acquisitions for Facebook, Zuckerberg teased that this could be experimented with on homegrown products as well. That’s exceptionally progressive relative to say Google, which does not even allow saving of maps locations without being signed in to an account on Google Maps.

James Dempsey on Life Without WWDC

One key was thinking about what WWDC provides and figure out how to meet those needs in some other way. For me, that boiled down to:

  • Sessions
  • Labs
  • Social Events / Networking

Here’s a handy reference about the many substitutes available to WWDC. As James notes though, the Design and App Store Labs are irreplaceable, which really is a shame. Hopefully Apple can find a way to fill in this specific gap in the future.