What I learned at my first virtual conference

Empty conference chairs
Empty conference chairs
Photo by Jonas Jacobsson on Unsplash

I’ve been working remotely for nearly 15 years. First as a software developer and later building large remote teams at a hyper-growth startup. I’m very comfortable working with people from the other side of a camera. And yet, my finger hesitated for more than a moment before I clicked the big “Get started” button in the middle of the page.

The Remote PM, the first virtual conference from JAM, had just started for real and I was about to start the first of several speed networking sessions. If you’ve ever heard of speed dating, then you get the concept. You’re paired at random with another attendee for a 5-minute chat; no agenda, no bias towards selecting familiar faces. …


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Photo by Jason Rosewell on Unsplash

This article has nothing to do with the famous play by Oscar Wilde other than borrowing its name. It is a great play though, you should read it.

Being earnest is important. But I believe it’s a skill that many of us lose as we get older. Unfortunately, our education system is largely to blame here. The “modern” education system was founded with the intent to create an army of industrial era workers. Workers who could follow instructions and who took satisfaction from the praise they received for repeatedly performing tasks accurately. …


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Photo by Michael Liao on Unsplash

Some days are light and fluid, progress pours forth naturally and bountifully. Solutions to all the problems you face are easy. Other days are all pain and suffering; head banging against the wall, zero discernible progress. We all face complex, ambiguous problems from time to time. Knowing how to deal with them gracefully is a learned skill like any other. Let’s explore a few ways to think about complexity and how you can approach your hardest problems more elegantly.

The universe is a non-linear system

There are very few things that can actually be described in a linear way in nature. So much so that much of science and mathematics is built around approximating non-linear systems using linear models. And let’s not even start on business, where the “intuition” of a CEO can override all the data in the world. …


Years ago, I found an old set of videos of Ira Glass (of NPR, This American Life, etc.) talking about creativity and storytelling. I’ve come back to these videos regularly over the years. The video quality is horrible but they contain a timeless wisdom about what is worth fighting for and how hard it actually is to produce something good.

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Photo by Nick Jio on Unsplash

Enjoy the killing

At one point, Ira talks about the work and time he and his team invest in searching for good stories. And not just good stories, but good stories told well.

Between a half and a third of everything that we try, we’ll go out, we’ll get the tape and then we kill it. …


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This is taken from something I wrote during the excellent AltMBA last year. I’d love to know what you think in the comments below.

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Photo by Carles Rabada on Unsplash

What separates the companies worth billions from the companies that fail? Luck certainly plays a part but you’d be hard pressed to find anyone that would posit that luck is the only variable. Is it talent? Leadership? Yes, to both. But that’s not all. Great companies align themselves around a common goal. Great companies have a coherent strategy. Great companies subjugate everything else in service to that strategy.

But where does good strategy come from? And what distinguishes good strategy from poor strategy? The excellent book Good Strategy/Bad Strategy asserts that good strategy comes from three core…


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Photo by Kevin Schmid on Unsplash

There is a quote that is often misattributed to Abraham Lincoln.

Give me X to cut down a tree and I’ll spend the first X/2 sharpening my axe.

The times vary wildly from citation to citation but the point remains the same. Preparation is important to the outcome of any task. This is a non-controversial point of view. We train for marathons, we plan for retirement (well, we try to at least), we prepare for important meetings at work.

And when you view it this way, you’re left with the impression that preparation is always something that you actively do. …


It used to be that customer support was an afterthought. A function sequestered far from product or farmed out overseas to the cheapest provider. But as businesses everywhere began to better understand how customer experience effects the bottom line this has changed.

Smart companies built support teams that gave a damn and were enabled to make a difference. It was their responsibility to act as the advocate for the customer’s needs, wants, and desires. To go beyond answering questions and fixing issues. To guide the user to a successful outcome, whatever that looked like.

And these support teams worked hard as advocate and advisor. They empathized, they fought to get common confusions cleared up in the product and docs, and they cataloged and prioritized bugs to ensure quick fixes. They cared deeply about their customers. Over time, distance between the teams designing and building the product and the team supporting the product widened. No one wanted the teams to lose touch, it was just a natural outcome of so many people, and so much work. And as that gap grew, the support team slowly slid over an invisible line. They lost touch with the end goal. They spent their time outraged on behalf of customers when the product team didn’t fix a reported bug. They sided with customers that “the way the product team designed this feature doesn’t make much sense”. They gathered in chat rooms and forums to complain and commiserate with to each other. …


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I was recently looking through some photos from a winters ago and came across this one. It immediately made my hands sweat. Not because it’s a good photo or because what my friend Mike is doing is anything special. It’s because it brought back very clear memories. The snow that day was absolutely horrible. Wind-scoured, sun-burnt, old, crusty, and inconsistent. That was a bad season here in the alps. While the US was getting hammered with record-breaking snowfalls we had a dry and sunny winter. We actually went 5 weeks in January and February with no weather. Just sunshine, blue-skies and no snow. It was nice, for sure, but it wasn’t winter. …

About

Jeff Gardner

American living in Italy. Head of Customer Success @GraphyHQ. Musing on tech, the outdoors, and lifelong learning.

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