What’s the best way to learn about new products?

photo by http://www.flickr.com/photos/globevisions/
photo by http://www.flickr.com/photos/globevisions/

The last time you needed to buy a vacuum, a car, or a coffeemaker, what did you do? If you’re like me you probably asked your family, friends, and neighbors for a recommendation. Maybe you even asked your friends on Facebook. And what was the response? Probably a mishmash of “this is the best COFFEEMAKER evah!” and some technical writing on merits of the perfect boiling temperature at which to make pour-over coffee in the best Blue Bottle coffee style. What was missing from this result? Some great feedback from people like you who are interested in finding great products. So how do you find great products?

Finding Great Products is Hard

There are a lot of options for almost any product and product category. The folks at Yabbly are trying to solve this problem. Yabbly – which I’ve been beta testing for the past few months – helps people find good advice on what products to buy. Yabbly bridges the world of very exact people (you’ll know them as avid readers of Ars Technica and specific answers of detailed questions on Quora threads) and the friends you have on Facebook who are well-meaning and will recommend whatever brand of coffeemaker they bought last.

Advice is Cheap

Why is this problem hard? It’s hard to get advice from people like you who are considering making similar purchases. It’s easy to get any advice, and Yabbly helps you get better advice. Yabbly does this by adding the concept of Karma to posts (if it works for StackOverflow, it should work here, right?) and giving answer recipients the opportunity to reward great answers. Yet Yabbly does this without feeling stuffy, without feeling exclusive, and while helping guide you to the right answer as measured by the people who are reading and answering your question.

Why does Yabbly Work to Find Products?

Yabbly works because it’s friendly, offering both mobile and web access and hiding the details of the game mechanics and offering instead a seemingly simple question and answer format. Yabbly is more interesting for me than other services because it’s focused on the soft aspects of why people buy, instead of only comparing the features offered by each product. “How does the TV display the darkest darks of a movie in a sunny room” is a subjective question – you can study the manufacturer’s suggested specs for as long as you like, and you usually need to go see the TV in the showroom to get a better look. Yabbly helps shortcut that process by helping you to get real answers from real people about real products. Check it out!

What do great team members do?

#lego voltron
photo by http://www.flickr.com/photos/wiredforsound23/

“Don’t worry about, I’ll take care of it,” said my amazing team member on Friday night (props to @tcoffee). Just like that, a major roadblock to an upcoming project was gone and I didn’t have to do a thing. Great team members take on responsibilities like this all the time and radiate confidence that the job is going to get done. They also make sure that the job goes over the finish line. I felt great when he said this and I also wondered what other traits signify a truly valuable team member.

It starts with excellence.

What makes a really great team member? Great team members start by doing things that are simply table stakes on the imaginary list of “Great Team Qualities.” You might pronounce some of these items “they do a great job,” and “they are fun to have around,” and “they just get stuff done no matter what happens.” Yet we often ignore the smaller, less quantifiable things that great team members do and that don’t always get noticed.

When I think of the qualities that mark a great team member, I compile the following list. It’s not stack ranked purposefully, but since this is an ordered list, maybe it is stack ranked after all.

The Things Great Team Members Do.

Great team members:

  1. display grace under pressure – if they are cracking, you don’t see it, and they fail gracefully.
  2. are willing to do small, unpleasant jobs – sometimes the “get it done” jobs are not very pretty, and still need to get done.
  3. show respect for the waiter and secretary – if you see them give respect when they don’t have to do so, that’s a sign of a great team member.
  4. is almost always excellent at what they do – they say “that wasn’t that hard,” and then go ahead and do amazing things.
  5. has the easy ability to say “I screwed up”, raise their hand, and ask for help – when it actually is hard, they involve the team at the right time (early enough to fix the problem.)
  6. can fix it after they screwed up – a great team member will use a solution to make it so.
  7. maintains love of food, life, and fun – that team member has a life beyond the office.
  8. by nature, is the Most Interesting Person in The World – and always surprise you by sharing great information and things they learned today.

How do you know when you’ve got a great team member?

There are a few constants here: service, excellence, ability to learn, and fun. If your team member provides great internal and external service, is consistently great at what they do, learns new things and has fun sharing and doing those new things, chances are good that person is a great team member.

A Year of Using a Standup Desk

I’ve been using a computer at a standup desk since April 2012 (almost a year.) When I first started using a standup desk, the key things that I noticed were that it was challenging to stand all day and that I felt more awake and able to contribute. 

Companies (especially startups) are noticing the twin benefits of standing up and of the attendant productivity gains – here’s a video demonstrating what the folks at Freshbooks are doing:

Fast forward to February 2013, and the following things about using a standup desk seem true to me:

  • Standing for long periods of time now feels natural
  • The overall fitness benefit is substantial
  • And my ability to make points as a public speaker is better

What’s the net benefit for each of these observations? Continue reading “A Year of Using a Standup Desk”

Fight Decision Fatigue by Limiting Choices

Lots of choices.
Lots of choices.

You’ve seen it, probably several times today. It’s the opportunity to take in more information and wait before deciding. It could be simple, like “what should I have for lunch?” Or it could be more complicated, like “Where should I live, given all the factors that I know.” Research suggests that decision fatigue is real, and that if you limit the choices for a decision, you’ll be happier. Many retailers disagree, suggesting that more choice is always better. I believe that consciously limiting your choices will help you to make decisions faster and ultimately, will help you to make better decisions.

Can I prove that limiting choices help you make better decisions? Not immediately, but consider the following. If you take the hypothesis that many decisions are equal in value (no, I’m not suggesting all decisions are equal), making these decisions faster gives you information about the result faster. And if you use an evaluation model to allow you to assess, decide, and react (what should I be doing, what are the choices, and what was the result), you’ll know pretty quickly where or not your decision was good. If the decision is higher in value (risk of making a bad decision is higher), then try to break down the big decision into a series of small decisions that will help you avoid not deciding.

Decisions will give you results. Because evaluating whether a decision is “good” is subjective, it helps to make sure that you’re not just picking blindly, or by having a model uninformed by events. Nate Silver’s new book examines both political pundits (they are not accurate very much of the time, it turns out) and groups that offer precise but inaccurate results (ratings agencies managing collateralized securities). Silver points out that the best way to make correct and precise decisions is to test your assumptions, to continue making decisions over time, and to get more data points. Also, if your decisions about big events are very different from the crowd, you might be wrong. Or you might be right only once in a while.

In my experience, lining up the available decisions and knocking them down (adopting the practices popularized by David Allen in his GTD or Getting Things Done method) helps me to make these decisions faster. By spending less time making decisions on small choices, I have more mental energy available to approach bigger questions. What do you think?

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