Systems, Three-Body Problems, Resurrectionists and Yellowstone
Monthly Wrap From August
Another month, another host of great articles, listens, books and other finds from Product Thinking and around the internet. Here’s what you may have missed.
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When the System is the Problem
Another great article from the past month, we explored how often the system we work in can be the cause of the problems. And we work in so many systems. At work, in politics, in religion, etc. We didn’t shy away from exploring all the taboo topics in this newsletter. It was for paid subscribers, so you’ll need to grab a paid subscription if you haven’t already, but it was definitely my favorite post from August.
We can make improvements within the system, and those are important incremental changes. A new rule or a new process can improve the system. But we need to assess the system holistically. Is it the right system? Should we be pulling red and white beads and counting them?
Dogs and Data and Assumptions
In another article, we explored our new puppy and whether that makes me a more adventurous person. My conclusion: it depends. You’ll have to read for more.
It’s interesting to think about how much our pets influence us vs. how much they are a reflection of our existing preferences. I suspect it is both, though how much is an open question. We certainly can’t escape how our decisions shape our environment, which in turn shapes our decisions.
The Forest for the Trees
I had a great conversation on my other podcast, Product by Design, with Florian Daniel about our car-centricity. That prompted me to write this post about how centered we are on vehicles rather than thinking about ways we can change.
Should we really be so car-centric as a society? Should we build our cities around the idea of driving everywhere? Or can we start to be far more friendly to other ways of traveling? And how can we accomplish that?
Rather than optimizing the system, how can we blow it up and make a system that works so much better?
As you look around, you’ll see other systems that we’re optimizing rather than questioning. I know I have.
The Art of Gathering by Priya Parker: Book Review
Finally, we reviewed the book The Art of Gathering by Priya Parker. This was a great read for anyone who gets together with friends or family socially, or has meetings professionally. Which I assume is most of us. It has helped me plan better meetings and get-togethers by applying product thinking to gatherings.
The more time we take to understand the purpose of our gathering, whether it is to reconnect with friends, to develop deeper relationships among extended family, or simply to create a shared understanding of our product metrics, the better our gatherings can be. Our meetings can continually improve as we take charge as hosts and focus on the purpose and the people involved.
The Three-City Problem of Modern Life
I found this article on Wired by Luke Burgis fascinating. I’ve recently been contemplating many of these same topics—theology and rationality. And I love the intersection with professional value. Comparing this problem of the Three Cities to the Three-Body Problem is great perspective as well.
Trying to solve for the movement of three large bodies in one another’s orbit creates a circular logic. The calculations rely on the initial positions of the three bodies, but these initial positions are unknowable over time because the bodies always affect one another in unpredictable ways…
The three-body problem is the best metaphor I’ve found for a social complexity that affects us all today—a problem resulting from the interaction of three major centers of gravity. This dynamic is scrambling our intuitions and making us long for order in what feels like an increasingly chaotic world. We’re caught on the inside of a three-city problem…
REASON, RELIGION, AND the technology-driven quest to create value at any cost are now interacting in ways we scarcely understand, but which have vast influence over our everyday lives.
ROCKY MOUNTAIN MASSACRE
The reintroduction of wolves to Yellowstone was controversial, and has only gotten more heated over the past two decades. Recently the restrictions on killing wolves outside of Yellowstone have been lifted, and a slaughter has begun. It’s a complex issue, and I’ve been interested in reading more about it given our love of Yellowstone and frequent visits there (more on that below).
“I friggin’ watched that thing, and it’s not a wolf hunt,” Ralph told me. “It’s killing is what it is.”
Much of that killing, Ralph said, was orchestrated by a crew of around 20 locals he recognized from Gardiner, Emigrant, and Livingston. He knew many of the men and watched in his hikes with Sage how they attempted to lure wolves out of the park to mow them down with military-style rifles.
Are you a gravedigger, a body-snatcher, or a respected archaeologist? And is there a difference between those three? It depends on who you’re asking and who is doing the digging.
This podcast was a fascinating dive into the history of body-snatching, or resurrectionism, in the past. And how those who were respected members of the community were exempt from consequences while others weren’t because we talk about it differently. Which is why words matter.
Wake up and smell the fraud
I was unfamiliar with Triangulation Fraud until this podcast, but it is an interesting scheme. And it involves you getting more than you paid for when you order something online. It sounds like everyone wins, but that’s usually not the case. Give it a listen.
Conducting User Research and Applying Behavioral Science - A Conversation with Florian Daniel
Florian is the co-founder of Carployee, an Austrian-based startup that was acquired by RideAmigos, where he is now a technical research lead. In this episode, we discuss changing our thinking about big concepts like commuting, applying behavioral science to tough problems, and changing behavior.
We also talk about:
Balancing short-term and long-term research in a start-up with lots of constraints
Sales-driven development vs. product-driven development
Join us for a great conversation for anyone in product management, UX, technology, or working on advancing their career.
Trauma-Informed Research and Product Design - A Conversation with Dr. Bre Gentile (Dr. G)
Dr. G is a trauma-informed psychologist turned trauma-informed product researcher and designer. In this episode, we discuss getting into UX research, becoming an advisor, meeting people where they are, and emotional inclusivity. We explore trauma-informed design (understanding), restorative design (creating), and receptional design (receiving) as the product lifecycle.
We also talk about:
Going deeper for a small audience rather than trying to get all the audience
Focusing on getting design right
Designing for emotions other than just joy and delight
Join us for a great conversation for anyone in product management, UX, technology, or working on advancing their career or understanding people and how design impacts them.
Babbitt by Sinclair Lewis
This is a classic satire, and though it was written in 1922 (a full century ago!), it is remarkably relevant today. Lewis successfully criticizes everything and everyone from American society fueled by consumerism to rampant racism to the obsession with status.
In this sardonic portrait of the up-and-coming middle class during the prosperous 1920s, Sinclair Lewis perfectly captures the sound, the feel, and the attitudes of the generation that created the cult of consumerism. With a sharp eye for detail and keen powers of observation, Lewis tracks successful realtor George Babbitt's daily struggles to rise to the top of his profession while maintaining his reputation as an upstanding family man.
Empire of Shadows
Every year we take a trip to Yellowstone as a family. It is one of our favorite places to visit because of the beautiful landscape, unique sites, and the number of animals. As part of our visit this year, I wanted to read more about the history of Yellowstone, so we listened to Empire of Shadows. It was a superb book (I have about an hour left, so I expect I’ll be done this week).
If you enjoy a thorough history, you’ll enjoy this book. It’s not just about Yellowstone, but about the history of the westward exploration. It doesn’t shy away from the darker parts of the story, which I think is critical to understanding the real history.
Born and Raised
This John Mayer album is from about 10 years ago, but it’s got a great folk/mountain vibe, and I recently got the vinyl copy. It’s been worth re-discovering over the past few weeks and has a good August feel.