The Josh Seiden Hypothesis: Driving Outcomes Over Output Requires Understanding Customer Behavior

Josh Seiden is the author of three books, most recently Outcomes Over Output: Why Customer Behavior Is the Key Metric for Business Success, with twenty-five years experience in the industry. Today on the Product Science Podcast, we find out how to simplify the development process by focusing on getting the outcomes we want.

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Resources

Questions We Explore in This Episode

Driving Outcomes Over Output Requires Understanding Customer BehaviorHow was Josh’s transition to product management driven by customer feedback? What did he learn from Alan Cooper? How do you make design effective inside organizations and cross-functional teams? How do you make teams more effective?

What does Josh mean when he talks about thinking tools? How do you get past the slogan of “outcomes over output” to really understand how to drive outcomes? How do you get the outcomes that you want? How do you translate the things you agree with in principle into practice? What is a “cave designer” and what can we learn from them? How can you create a step-by-step process to help you get to a creative place?

How do you manage outcomes by looking for behaviors that you want to see? How do you translate mandates from business leadership into more tangible goals? What is a proxy metric, and how does Netflix use them?

What is Josh’s starting point for looking at processes, and how is it informed by his background in user interface? When does the emotional component of a product come into play? Why is it so important to think about how a user wants to feel as they do what they want to do? How does this create the potential for someone to win a category? How do you get from knowing you need to create an effective user experience to actually doing it?

What did Josh learn from working in financial services where customers are highly compensated and hard to access? How did he adapt his approach to work with these users? How do you navigate using proxies instead of actual customers?

Quotes From This Episode

As a product person or as an engineer, you're working with invisible materials and making something that's never existed before. It's all very abstract. How do you get practical and get this stuff done? - Josh Seiden Click To Tweet

What are the specific behaviors your customers are doing and you're doing that increase satisfaction? What are the behaviors that decrease it? How do we increase the good ones and suppress the bad ones? - Josh Seiden Click To Tweet

The two patterns are either you get given a high-level mandate like increase retention or reduce churn or whatever. Or product teams you get handed a napkin, and it's like, “Here, build this thing.” - Josh Seiden Click To Tweet

We spend a lot of time when we're in-house in the day-to-day weeds, and strategy seems complicated and inaccessible. My hunch is that strategy is both simpler and more necessary than we think it is. - Josh Seiden Click To Tweet

Transcription

Holly Hester-Reilly: Hi, and welcome to the product science podcast where we’re helping startup founders and product leaders build high growth products, teams and companies through real conversations with people who have tried it and aren’t afraid to share lessons learned from their failures along the way. I’m your host, Holly Hester-Reilly, founder and CEO of H2R Product Science.
Holly: This week on the Product Science Podcast, I’m excited to interview Joshua Seiden. Joshua has more than one book out, and so that I don’t miss any of that up, I’m going to ask him to tell you, and he’s got a new book out now that we’re going to talk about today and a bit about just what he’s up to and how he’s gotten there and what that’s like. Josh, can you kick us off with what are the books that you have?
Josh Seiden: Sure. Thanks Holly. It’s great to be here. I’ve written three books, My first book is Lean UX which I co-wrote with Jeff Gothelf and my second book also co written with Jeff is called Sense and Respond. And my new book is called Outcomes Over Output, and that’s just out about a month and a half ago.
Holly: Awesome. I’ve read several of your books and I really found, for me as somebody who’s been in the startup industry, I found Sense and Respond to be really helpful because it was helping me imagine how people from outside might see it and how we explain things to them. So, it is absolutely my go-to, whenever I’m talking to somebody who’s, either also trying to explain it to people in enterprises, or in an enterprise wondering what’s going on. I always recommend Sense and Respond. And then of course, for those of us who actually are inside the startups and trying to deal with continuous discovery in UX, Lean UX is, it’s classic. So, I’m super excited to talk with you.
Holly: I know now you’re working on, or you’ve released Managing Outcomes Over Output. These things all tie together into designing and making great products. I’m curious, I always like to hear a little bit about the beginning of people’s journeys. How did you get here in the first place?
Josh: Yeah. I sort of stumbled into the technology world. I moved out, so I’m a native New Yorker, but I followed my girlfriend to California in the late ’80s. I stumbled into the tech industry. I studied writing in school and I was underemployed fiction writer with a great bartending skills. I got a job at a company called Kensington, which makes mice and track balls and computer accessories. I was doing tech support there and we were getting this sort of one category of phone call over and over and over again, which was about people just basically not understanding this little piece of software that we shipped with our track balls. I was sort of advocating for this change in the design of the software, just to make the function clearer and simpler.
Josh: I didn’t know anything about it. Apparently, I made such a stink about it that the guy who was running the Dev team and who had designed the user interface, he quit. Our mutual boss said, “Okay, Josh, that’s your job now.” So, I sort of threw myself into it and I didn’t even know what it was called, what I was doing, but I ended up managing a team of very talented software engineers and doing some user interface design and learning how to do usability testing. I realized it was just sort of fascinating to me and I ended up being very lucky at landing a job with a guy named Alan Cooper who was I think a really important figure in the history of software design.
Josh: He’s written a couple of books notably about face and he ran a company, founded and ran a company called Cooper. So, I went to work there and really learned how to do design in a consulting context. And then, from there, a lot of my career has been about figuring out first how to make design effective inside organizations and inside cross functional teams, and then sort of more generally how to make teams more effective, cross functional teams that are building products and services, digital and otherwise. How do you get those teams aligned around a shared vision, shared understanding, a kind of clarity on what the business needs are, business strategy is, product strategy, what user needs are, how do you line up and deliver against that? I guess that’s the thumbnail version of the 25 plus years I’ve spent doing this stuff.
Holly: Yeah. I have to say that is one of the most unique ways of getting into it I’ve ever heard. I’m thinking to myself, “Man, would I advocate for that? Could I tell somebody? ‘Just point out the flaws and the reason for the customer feedback until someone says, ‘Fine, you do it.'” That’s amazing. Oh man. Yeah, you’ve had so many years and gone through so many versions I’m sure of learning and operating in this world. So, tell me a bit about what was the thinking that led to writing your most recent book?
Josh: Yeah. I’m really interested in practical methods that help people work on abstract problems. You have to, as a designer or as a product person or as an engineer, you’re working with invisible materials and you’re trying to make something new that’s never existed before. It’s all very abstract. So, how do you do that? How do you get practical and sit down and put pen to paper or put fingers to keyboards and get this stuff done? I’ve always been interested in those kinds of thinking tools. The whole thing was sort of catalyzed for me. I had a client who was … I was doing like a planning workshop with them and they’d been given a kind of a strategic objective for the year to increase the net promoter score of the service that they operated.
Josh: This was a service team they called me in for a couple of days of planning and they said, “Look, we get it. We understand what net promoter score is and we understand why we want to do this, but how are we going to do this? Like we operate this service, we’ve been given this kind of vague mandate, what do we need to do?” In that workshop, the sort of insight was like, what are the specific behaviors that your customers are doing and that you’re doing that increase satisfaction? And what are the specific behaviors that everybody in the system are doing that decreased satisfaction? How do we increase the good ones and suppress the bad ones? That became a very, very concrete way of approaching what’s a pretty abstract question, right? Increase net promoter score.
Josh: The more we talked about it, the more I was convinced that this was kind of like a magic key in some ways to doing the thing that you always hear in the agile world, which is we want to be more outcome centric. It’s not about the output, it’s about the outcomes. It’s like, okay, right. Everybody gets that at the slogan level. Nobody’s going to seriously dispute that. So, the real question becomes, how do you do that?
Holly: Yes.
Josh: What that session led me to see was that there’s really, really practical way to do that, which is by really focusing in a very concrete and almost reductive way on behavior. What are the people doing that’s good and how do we get more of that? And what are people doing that’s bad and how do we get them to do less of it? If you just kind of relentlessly focus the question on that and you call those behaviors the outcomes that you’re seeking, good things happen. That little bit of insight I thought lent itself well to the books that Jeff and I had been publishing on Sense and Respond Press. This is a publishing house we started two years ago to publish short practical books on product management, innovation and digital transformation.
Josh: It felt like there was a small book there. And so far, the response has been positive, so it feels like maybe that was right.
Holly: One of the things that I love about what you just said is, I guess it’s more than one, but one is there’s a lot of things that I think those of us who read the best practices or listen to speakers agree on in principle, but then it’s everything that happens after that. How you make that tactical, how you actually accomplish it. What are the nuances of how you put it to use in this organization with this set of people in this set of customers? That is I guess still so largely unwritten that people are just shooting into the dark, or on the other hand, it’s not uncommon for me to talk to somebody who maybe after a drink or two tells me that they’re pretty sure all of the things they read are lies. “No one’s really working that way. Right?”
Josh: What’s interesting is that … I had a friend … I’m very interested …. I work best in a collaborative context. And so, when I’m designing, I sketch on paper, but I tend to prefer sketching on a whiteboard with other people in the room. That’s just my personality style. But there are designers, and I have a friend who calls them kind of cave designers, who work best when they’re kind of in a cave. Like you put in a cave, they go in there with whatever their tools are and they emerge with something fantastic. There’s nothing wrong that style. It’s hard on a collaborative team, but whatever.
Josh: But I think a lot of people operate that way. They operate in a kind of intuitive, like black box way when they’re trying to get through abstract problems. For me, like I think I’m super interested in making that less of an intuitive black box kind of problem and more methodical and sort of help me get there piece by piece. It’s not a replacement for creative genius or creative spark, but it gets you closer to the place where …. it gives you the Tinder and it gives you the Flint, you know what I mean?
Holly: Yes. You could actually make some light in that cave if you’ve got the Tinder in the Flint.
Josh: Yeah, exactly. Exactly. Yeah, but I do think there’s a lot of people who write about methods who are like, “Here’s the method you should use because this method is easy to describe and I hope it works.”
Holly: Yeah. Well, I think in today’s world too, with the ease of publishing, there’s a lot of people who write because they can write, but haven’t got a depth of different experiences that they’re talking about.
Josh: Yeah. And for me, a lot of my work, I’m very interested in that sort of cycle of work where you’re actually in the field doing the work with teams and people. That gives me the raw material to then sort of reflect on my experience and write it up. I don’t think I could only do one. The writing reinforces what I’ve learned when I’m practicing and makes me a better practitioner, and the practice gives me material to actually write about.
Holly: Yeah. Well, that’s good to hear because that’s my hope as well. For myself, I’ve been doing more of the practicing, and this podcast is one of my first efforts at trying to do more of the content. But that’s my hope is that they’ll both make each other better. Another thing from what you said that really stood out to me was the … so, you got a dog in your house?
Josh: There’s a dog. I have a neighbor with a loud dog.
Holly: Yes.
Josh: I’m Sorry about that.
Holly: No, that’s okay. I like it better when they come running up and you can like see them and enjoy the comfort of a pet. But barking dogs outside, it’s very New York.
Josh: Yeah.
Holly: Okay. So, one of the things that also stood out to me about what you were saying is about focusing on behavior, because I think there’s a lot of levels that people who are trying to design and build products look at things and there’s what is the opportunity in the market and then there’s what what problems do people have. We need to understand a lot of these things, but if we can’t understand which things people actually act on and which ways they behave and why they behave, then it’s not as effective.
Holly: I find myself having conversations with people about, well, okay, you could have people who both have a bleeding head problem, but one of them might act on it and one of them might not. And we’re trying to design a product for people who will actually do the thing. I guess I’m curious about the behaviors that you … how you landed on that, and how that works in practice as a tool for people to work through, managing outcomes by looking for behaviors that they want to see and understanding what’s going on there.
Josh: Yeah. A lot of times what happens is that people get given a pretty high level mandate from leadership. The two patterns are either you get given a high level mandate like increase net promoter score or increased retention or reduce churn or whatever that is, right? Or product teams you get handed a napkin, and it’s like, “Here, build this thing,” And then there’s a place in the middle that is about … you always hear like, give the team a problem to solve. That’s great. Totally agree with that. But how do you frame that problem correctly so that it moves the needle? I think translating it from a kind of an abstract roll-up number, like retention into hours of video watched.
Josh: I was just listening to an interview with the former head of product at Netflix. He talked about a system that they have where he has a, what he calls the big dog metric, which was retention. And then, they have all these strategies to increase retention, personalization, streaming video, dah, dah, dah. Each one of those plays has what he calls a proxy metric. So, if you’re responsible for streaming, your proxy metric is the percent of users who stream X number of minutes per month. That’s a problem statement that as a product person you would love to get.
Josh: Like, :Okay, your job is to increase the number of minutes streamed.” Presumably there’s a counter balancing metric without killing our customers for that system or something like that. But I think, in that space, that kind of sets the context for what we’re always trying to do in a sort of an agile or sort of lean startup mindset, which is have a hypothesis about what we can give to our customers that will create value for them and value for the business. So, what can I give my customer that’s going to increase the minute streamed? That’s an interesting problem to work on.
Holly: Do you have any examples that you’re allowed to share? I know that’s always tricky as a consultant, but whether it’s a real world example or something that you can change the names so the innocent or guilty may not be known?
Josh: I’m trying to think of one that I can talk about. With one client, recently what we did was, we we were looking at the sort of process funnel. They were operating a relatively high and business to business service that takes a long time to sell, takes a long time to get approval, takes a long time to fulfill. So, we were looking at that process funnel and helping them kind of break that down into, what are the key actions that people have to take to make each step in that funnel succeed? What are the critical factors to get people successfully through that funnel? Some of those things had to do with getting through a certain phase in a certain amount of time.
Josh: Like this particular phase can’t take longer than a week. Okay, so then, how do you design that process so that it doesn’t take less than a week? One approach is if you’ve got a process that’s relatively understood, you map that process and then you understand … you map that process in terms of what people are doing at each stage in the process. And then you try to create the good behaviors and eliminate the bad behaviors and then you design your product or your service to make it possible to do those behaviors.
Josh: That’s kind of my preferred approach. That’s very much my background as a user experience designer, so it’s very much like a user flow-centric kind of way of thinking. I think there are cases where it may not be the best way to go, but that’s my starting point is, are people doing and how do we get them to do more of the good stuff?
Holly: Yeah. That actually reminded me happily of …. I think we’ve all, I’m sure have been through many versions of user journey mapping and user flows and mapping out processes, but I’ve [inaudible] at the most valuable when we were really trying to also identify and map the emotion with it and really say, okay, what are the highs? What are the lows? How do we amplify that? I think for the teams that come to you with, “Well, I was told to move this metric, this KPI, and I don’t even know where to start.” It gives them a tangible beginning, right?
Josh: Yeah. I think certainly for some kinds of work that sort of the emotional dimension becomes really, really important. I remember early on in my career, I was at Cooper, and one of the teams there was working on designing an early kind of kiosk guide, like a in museum digital kiosk for visitors. So, you walk into the museum and there’s a touchscreen and blah, blah, blah. This is back when those things were just starting to happen. The team was sort of used to designing sort of very practical application software and they brought their first version back to the museum team. The museum team said, “Well, look at … It’s fine. It does everything that we asked you to make it do, but it’s not fun. People are coming to a museum to experience the art. Where’s the feeling in this?”
Josh: The team was like, “Oh yeah, right.” Like there’s this emotional component. They’d been approaching it really functionally and they’d done a really good job on that functional dimension. And then, they had to go back and they had to formulate an approach that was like, oh, okay. it’s not just what people want to do. In some instances, it’s as important or more important to think about how they want to feel as they’re doing it. So, then how are you going to help people feel the things that they want to feel and that you want them to feel as they’re doing the things? The doing may be secondary, the doing may vanish altogether for some kinds of products. So, being able to map that, uh, is, is a super interesting and valuable and tricky.
Holly: Yeah, I’ve really loved that. I also find as someone who’s often working with the people who are making the decisions about which time investments of their team are worth it, that kind of thing, the feel like it’s missing the fun is something that I think people struggle with a lot. I definitely see people are like, “Well, when …” They’ll ask me, “Well, when do I do the polish?” Or, “Should I do this now?” A lot of times, those are sort of the day to day coaching conversations where I’m like, “Yeah. No, you do it now.”
Holly: You’re not going to come back to it later. I’ve learned this the hard way. You have to figure out as one of your values, what level of that you need. What is the instance here? Are people just …? If it’s something they’ve got to do, it’s their banking … or I guess banking is pretty competitive. So, maybe more like it’s their medical thing. But if it’s something where it’s just like there’s no choice, then they’ll fight through it. But otherwise, they’ve got to feel pretty decent.
Josh: Yeah. I think there are a lot of categories where nobody has played that card yet and somebody is going to come in and play that card and they’re going to win that category. I think it’s a big opportunity space for helping people feel … I feel smart organizing my money. It doesn’t have to be fun or frivolous. I feel smart, I feel competent, I feel … whatever those things I feel, I think to a certain degree, meant … was a win or not, just kind of functionally because it integrated all of this data, but I think there was an emotional component for when you’re managing your money of like, “Oh my God, I finally got it all under control.” Yeah, I think people who ignore that dimension are missing a big opportunity.
Holly: Yeah. Do you ever work with clients who have, I guess with that example, but maybe more recently, have been ignoring that dimension and you have to argue to them that they need to invest more in it? I’m thinking about, I’ve worked with startup founders who, for example, thought they didn’t need to hire any kind of design for far too long. I’m curious if you come across that and how you argue for it.
Josh: Most of the clients that I work with, they know that it’s important. Honestly, I don’t work with a lot of clients that need convincing. It’s like, if you need convincing, you’re probably not going to hire me in the first place, you know? So, the clients are more struggling with, how do I do it? I’m fighting so many fires, like the whole houses burning. Don’t ask me about the scented candle, you know?
Holly: Oh, I like that one. Yes.
Josh: I mean, it’s not that dire. I’m not trying to say my clients have a burning house. It’s just like there’s lots of stuff.
Holly: Yes. I’m just imagining now the cave and the Tinder from earlier. So, they’re all afraid that the designers go into the cave and come out with a scented candle.
Josh: Yeah. The metaphors all seem to be about fire today.
Holly: Yes. Oh, that’s good. Yeah. I’m actually curious, I think that made me think about this a little bit, but so Cooper, I’d heard of Cooper before, I’ve talked to several people who’ve been there. I agree, it sounds like a place and it sounds like Cooper himself or sort of seminal in the history of software development. Can you tell me a bit more about what are some of the things you got exposure to while you were there and how did that influence you?
Josh: I’ll tell you, one of the first things that attracted me, so this was … I started working at Cooper, and I got hired there in ’96. That was really early in the development of the idea of design in software. A lot of people felt that design had no place in software. I heard executives from large companies tell Alan, “Designers have no place in the software development process. This is an engineering discipline and your ideas are illegitimate.” So, a lot of what we were doing in those days was figuring out how to even do design in the context of software. And then, there was a lot of sort of basic figuring out of the grammar of graphical user interfaces
Josh: This was ’96. That was just one year after the groundbreaking Windows 95. GUIs were pretty new to the world, at least commercially GUIs, and people didn’t know how to program for them. So, there was a lot of sort of basic … a lot of the work in those years was kind of, I call it grammar, like what does a dialogue box do? what should it do? What should you even put in a dialogue box? I know that these years later sounds crazy, but people didn’t know how to lay functions out on a screen. That was kind of exciting. I would say that the big thing that Alan taught me how to do was to understand the constraints that you were given on a problem and that a lot of times the sort of big wins come from seeing unspoken constraints and removing them.
Josh: I’ll give you an example. One of the first pieces I read by him, before I worked for him, he’d written a piece about why calendar software sucked. There was a very popular app back then called Meeting Maker, and it was a group calendar software. It was before everybody had Outlook. It’s one of the early, early shared calendars you can install in a company. It’s called Meeting Maker. He said, “The reason that that software sucks is that, it’s trying to make it easy to make meetings.” He said, “The thing is nobody wants to go to a meeting and a really great scheduling software would make it easy to avoid meetings.” I was like, “Wow.” I don’t know whether I agree with that or not, but it was such a radical reframing of the problem.
Josh: Like how different would it be if you were designing an app that made it easy to avoid meetings? It’s a completely different mission. Right? Being able to look at the problem space and say, okay. We have all of these assumptions about the problem space. We have to make it easy for people to schedule meetings and then being able to remove them or replace them with new constraints. I would say that was one of the biggest takeaways from that time for me.
Holly: That’s an incredible story. I feel like my mind is still turning on that. Like, “Okay. Interesting.” Has anybody solved that yet? Did anybody create the app that makes it easier to avoid meetings?
Josh: No. Whoever’s out there listening, there’s your opportunity, make it easy for me to avoid more meetings. The world will thank you.
Holly: Yeah, man. That’s awesome. How long were you there?
Josh: I spent four years there. It was just sort of like, I joined, it was kind of pre-internet and the Internet, it blew up and that it blew up. I followed my girlfriend out there. I married her. We’re both from New York. We decided we wanted to move back to New York City. So, in 2000, I moved back to New York. I parted ways from Cooper. And then, the .com bubble burst at that point. I think as happened to many people at that moment, I became a consultant.
Holly: Yes.
Josh: But I liked it. My kids were little. I spent about six years as an independent consultant then in New York City and building my network. At some point, I’d sort of run out of things that I could learn on my own in that context and I was lucky to find a job running a design team on a company on Wall Street. We designed trading products. So, I spent the next kind of chunk of my career in-house working on sort of very specialized software for the finance industry.
Holly: Oh, that’s interesting to me, because the first time that I started working as a product manager in a company that had over 100 people instead of less than 10 was in Ad Tech. I think at the time, we use a lot of financial trading metaphors for how this ecosystem was coming alive and being designed and what it was [inaudible] we’re thinking of it. But it was really hard to get any insight into it because so much of the things that were happening in the finance investment banking industry were, not like you could just go to Google and be like, let me experience the sign up flow. I guess I’m curious like, I know trading is complex and you have very demanding professional users. What was that experience like and how long did it take to ramp up and then be effective in that environment?
Josh: First of all, that’s a kind of problem space that I really enjoy. I really enjoy complex problems, solving complex problems for expert users. I find that a lot of fun. The problem spaces there a suited me. There was a fair amount of learning, but I think one of the things that happen as a design consultant is you get very good at, if you’re going to be successful, and I think I was a pretty good design consultant, you get good at being a quick study. Asking questions and figuring out the fundamentals of any given industry pretty quickly. So, a lot of the experience of getting started there was just using my skills that I gained as a design consultant to figure out what the users were doing.
Josh: There’s this interesting thing on Wall Street, which is everyone on Wall Street assumes that if you’ve never worked on Wall Street, you’re useless. But it doesn’t take very long to get up to … it’s a complex domain and there’s a lot of them, and there’s a lot of them that I’ve never worked in that I don’t really understand. But you come up to speed pretty quickly, and then once you’re in, people assume that you’re in. I remember changing my LinkedIn profile to say that I worked in financial services. Suddenly, I was getting these calls that I’d never gotten before. my resume was exactly the same with the exception of sort of one job, but Wall Street thinks that if you’ve worked on Wall Street, you’ve somehow got a gold star or something like that.
Holly: I actually think that’s amazingly parallel to Ad Tech. It’s the same thing-
Josh: I find Ad Tech much more confusing than Wall Street, honestly. The vocabulary of Ad Tech makes no sense to me. I go, and when I speak with clients and Ad Tech, I’m just like, “What are you guys talking about?
Holly: Oh my goodness. Yeah. I have a similar proclivity for complex problems. So, I was like, “Give it to me. I can’t wait to learn something new. I’m too bored. I want that.” But I learned later that I think that there were doubts around the person who decided to hire me because I hadn’t been in Ad Tech and I see all the time now, and everybody I know who I met working there were just constantly like hearing from Ad Tech companies, looking people who know Ad Tech.
Holly: And then, if I try and tell a client whether it’s Ad Tech or Ed Tech or gaming, like all sorts of things. People in all industries think that you have to be in their industry. That’s what I think anyways. I see that all the time. They all think that the, that they’ve got the special knowledge that no one can gain. But you’re right. Just apply your design research skills and learn.
Josh: Yeah. The challenging thing I think in that context was that, we were doing, that particular company was doing institutional trading. So, we traded on behalf of the biggest money managers in the world. It’s just not that many of them. So, the total population of companies in the world that I think even could use our service was maybe 1,000. We had good market share, so we had the sort of 750 customers that we wanted. In that context, each one of our accounts had a handful of users and each one of those users is highly compensated, very busy, hard to access. So, the dynamics of doing user centered design work in a context like that is challenging.
Josh: You have to really adapt your approach to get in front of those users. We ended up doing a lot of sort of ride alongs with the sales team, but even so, it’s hard to get to people’s desks. People don’t want to show you their desks.
Holly: It’s so fascinating. Why do you think they don’t want to show you their desk?
Josh: Well, because Wall Street operates on information. It operates on information asymmetry. So, if I know more than you, I’m in a better position to make the trade than you are. That’s my edge. So, there’s a lot of guardedness about letting outsiders see the positions and what’s going on.
Holly: Yeah. That’s fascinating. Any other techniques that you developed and in that context of just B2B with a relatively small number of clients or companies on it that helped with user center design?
Josh: Yeah. So, we used the proxies to a certain degree. So, it was much easier to sit next to our internal trading desk than to get out to our clients trading desks. Sometimes proxies work and sometimes they don’t and you have to kind of know what the limits of that are. But being able to set up a team, sitting next to your internal proxies is a really useful strategy. And then, just like the other part of that then becomes a social and relationship thing. When I first started working there, I was sort of shocked and appalled by the way we would get to our clients.
Josh: The thing about trading particularly is that traders have to be at their desk from market open to market close. So, they don’t have meal breaks. If you show up with nice food and you bring nice food to their desks, they’re greatly appreciative. So, we would show up with these crazy breakfast spreads or these insane lunch spreads. We’d show up with lobster and steak for lunch, you know what I mean? That kind of thing really. At first I was really appalled. Maybe I’m still appalled, but by the same token, that opens the door to a kind of a social relationship and a relationship of where there’s some trust there that helps you get past the guardedness and get to the people who are using your product.
Josh: It’s easy I think to write that off as bad research practice. Bribing your users.
Holly: With lobster and stake.
Josh: Yeah, exactly. Then showing up with these giant Sushi platters. Yeah. Every context is unique
Holly: Yeah. No, I think it’s creative to figure out what works in the context you’re in. Everything is meta. We’re experimenting on how to get to the users on how to get them to open to us. We’re experimenting on how to communicate with our coworkers. We’re experimenting on how to communicate with our team, and then of course, we’re experimenting on the product itself.
Josh: Right.
Holly: Yeah. That’s really cool. For you, you’ve written a lot, so there’s a lot of messages that come through in your work, but what is the thing that’s on your mind lately that you’re trying to help people really understand and do a better job of applying?
Josh: I’ve been thinking a lot lately about a product strategy, and strategy in general, but particular product strategy and how to help companies crystallize the product strategy and then stick to it. I think a lot of us spend a lot of time when we’re in-house, sort of in the day to day weeds, and strategy seems complicated and inaccessible. My emerging hunch is that strategy is both simpler and more necessary than we think it is. So, I’ve been working on trying to relate strategy in the same way that outcomes can be made simpler by thinking of them as like getting people to do more of the good stuff and less of the bad stuff and being very specific about what that stuff is, that kind of makes the whole idea of outcomes really simple.
Josh: Like, can we do the same thing for strategy? Can we say like, “Okay, strategy is actually a really simple thing. And what’s hard about it is, is having the discipline to stick to strategy.” In the next couple of months, follow me on Medium, if that sounds interesting to you. I’ve got a couple of blog posts queued up about using outcomes for strategy and I’d love to hear people’s thoughts on them.
Holly: That sounds great. I will definitely check that out. Yeah, I’m passionate about strategy too. I think you’re right. I think it’s simpler than people think. A lot of, especially sort of rising product leaders think that they’re not allowed to be strategic. It’s just taking ownership of that and saying, “Oh, I can be. And I’m learning how to communicate it.
Josh: Yeah. I think we think of strategy as like something people with the big paychecks do. It’s not for me. And I think all of us can operate more strategically. It’s just a question of figuring out that framework, you know?
Holly: Yeah. I totally agree. Well, this has been really interesting and fun. How can people find you online if they want to follow you on Medium or Twitter. What are your places of to go?
Josh: Sure. My website is a koshuaseiden.com. You can find me on Twitter @jseiden and both those places you’ll find links to my other stuff.
Holly: Awesome. Well, thank you so much for the time. It was great to talk with you, and I look forward to sharing this with our listeners and I’m seeing what comes out in the next couple of months about product strategy.
Josh: All right, terrific. Holly, great to talk to you and thanks for having me on the podcast.
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