Short version:
We made a thing called Mystery Science. It’s gotten big!

Longer version:
If you haven’t heard, over a million children experienced Mystery Science in the classroom last year. Every month, teachers in more than 10% of elementary schools in the U.S. use the program.

I remember four years ago flying down to the L.A. area to watch Doug in the classroom. He’d recently been voted one of the top teachers in southern California, and his science classes were consistently voted the students’ favorite class at school. …


The range of options that most people consider available to them is much narrower than the truth. If they can’t find a job description or an enrollment form, they assume it’s not an option. Or if a person of authority tells them, “I’m sorry, that’s not an option,” too many people are too willing to accept that as truth. Whenever I hear the three pre-defined options, I assume those are just suggestions and want to know what’s behind door #4. There are always other options.

I was telling a friend about this and rattling off some examples of door-#4 thinking. …


If you walk into a casino and on a whim bet your entire life savings and you win. Was it a good decision? No. Even though many would congratulate you on a job well done, it was a bad decision. Or the opposite example of simple expected value. You make a decision that has a 90% chance you’ll lose $5, but a 10% chance you’ll receive $1000. Each time you make the same decision, the expected value of that decision is $95.50, even the times you lose!

Any individual decisions can be badly thought through, and yet be successful, or exceedingly well thought through, but be unsuccessful, because the recognized possibility of failure in fact occurs. But over time, more thoughtful decision-making will lead to better overall results, and more thoughtful decision-making can be encouraged by evaluating decisions on how well they were made rather than on outcome. …


In recent years there have been some great resources on metrics for startups, in particular Dave McClures metrics for pirates and Andrew Chens articles on user acquisition and KissMetrics article on conversion. Over the last few products I worked on I synthesized this into a core model that I found very helpful. Here are some questions I had difficulty understanding early on that led to my approach:

  1. You notice that your power users all have taken some action (e.g. filled out their profile) so you try to encourage all users to fill out their profile to get them more hooked on your product. …


I’ve noticed that over the course of a week that over-working and working smarter are both self-reinforcing. To put it another way: the less I work, the less work I have to do; the more I work, the more work I have to do.

I’ve found that during periods where I have a lot I need to get done, I work harder. I dive in right away, take less breaks, and put in more hours. Often this is necessary for a short period of time, but it can be dangerous. By over-working the first thing that gets cut is time for reflection. By cutting this thinking time I’m less likely to see those smarter ways to get things done. I don’t cut off tasks that drag, I miss an opportunity to delegate, I miss a clever solution that solves a problem. …


Its been a few years since I’ve been in start-up mode: dissecting great products to learn, generating lists of ideas, and meeting lots of new people. In undergoing this process I’m reminded of my fundamental approach to developing a new product and how unusual it seems to be among other entrepreneurs. (This is actually not a new insight, I’m reposting this from a blog post a few years ago.)

When I have a new idea that I’m intrigued by that I want to bring into the world, the two most important first features I stay focused on are: (1) simplicity, and (2) community. …


Pinterest is the best new social application I’ve seen in awhile. Exploring it has rekindled a lot of thinking about what it takes to get users to create online content. This is not an analysis of Pinterest in particular, but the mental framework I use to think about this design problem. (This is a re-post from my blog circa 2012).

1) The creative container

The naive view of encouraging content production is to create really flexible creative controls so that your tool has a wide range of uses. The reality is that a more constrained container encourages production. Think about a coloring book versus a blank sheet of paper. …


Have you ever observed that you can live through the same event with someone but afterwards you’re reflecting and the two of you experienced something totally different? What you choose to focus on determines the experience that you have.

You have a lot of work you need to get done. You sit down to eat dinner and quickly eat your food, you aren’t even tasting it because you’re mind is thinking about what you need to get done.

You ride the bus with someone each day and after a year of doing so you realize you hardly know anything about them. All your small talk about the weather, the day’s errands, the bus driver, and you never thought to get to know the real person. …


It’s accepted wisdom in the startup space that you begin by testing your product on early adopters and over time you work to expand to the mainstream users in your market. But if you’re struggling to bridge this gap, maybe what you thought were early adopters are actually just mainstream users in a small niche. The people who are using your product first may not be the beginning of a larger opportunity.

How do you tell the difference? I was curious about this myself and last week I had a chance to talk with Steve Blank. I asked him this question and he shared some insights that clarified my thinking. …


I was trailing ten feet behind my four-year-old son, quickening my step to catch up. His short legs were hopping from crack to crack on the sidewalk. He leapt over a tree root bulging between the concrete tiles and, landing on two feet, he froze. He was looking at the base of the tree next to him.

A cricket was tangled in a spider web. The cricket thrashed as the spider spun it, wrapping it in silk. The web pulsed as the white lump of spider silk got bigger and bigger. My son leaned in close and watched until the spider stopped. …

About

Keith Schacht

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