4 Interesting Reads - Jan '20

January 27, 2020

A different post this week. Instead of the usual dose of problems and frameworks, here are four articles I came across in the past few weeks, along with summaries of why they’re worth reading.

How Will You Measure Your Life by Clayton Christensen


Prof. Christensen passed away last week. He was a giant in the business world, with his theory of how low-end disruption can topple the biggest, most well-funded companies, explained in The Innovator’s Dilemma. He also gave us the Jobs To Be Done framework, in his more recent book, Competing Against Luck.

The above article is a break from business and explains his ideas on how to measure life. It is a beautiful and sobering read.

  1. Have a purpose and follow a strategy to achieve that purpose
  2. Allocate time wisely, knowing that intimate and loving relationships with family and friends are the most potent and enduring sources of happiness.
  3. Create a culture, at work, and home, of doing things that are hard and learning what works.
  4. Never compromise your principles. “It’s easier to hold to your principles 100% of the time than it is to hold to them 98% of the time.”
  5. Remembering to stay humble, even if you’re the smartest person in the room.

Functional vs. Unit Organizations by Steven Sinofsky


Sinofsky’s post is an essential read for any leader planning an organization’s structure. This long post includes the history of Sinofsky’s organization of Office, followed by Windows. He goes into a lot of detail on the pros and cons of functional and unit organizations. Functional organizations are organized by discipline (eg. engineering, product, design, research), with functional leaders all reporting to the CEO. Unit organizations are led by general managers, with smaller functional teams reporting to them. Lots of unit organizations constitute the company. Neither are correct per se, and the pendulum swings between the two. Sinofsky also points out his three golden rules:

  1. Don’t ship the org chart (or accept that you will always ship the org chart, and design the org to match what you’d like to ship)
  2. Know the problem the re-org is solving.
  3. Ship schedule is everything. (bonus: ship dates are dates. “January” or “Q3” are not ship dates. January 15th is.)

Pioneers, Settlers, and Town Planners by Simon Wardley


Wardley argues that different phases of innovation need different types of people and thinking.

  1. Pioneers. They can explore never-before discovered concepts, the uncharted land. They show you wonder, but they fail a lot. Half the time, the thing doesn’t work correctly. You wouldn’t trust what they build. They create ‘crazy’ ideas.
  2. Settlers. They can turn the half baked thing into something useful for a broader audience. They build trust. They build understanding. They make the possible future happen. They turn the prototype into a product, make it manufacturable, listen to customers, and turn it profitable.
  3. Town Planners. They can take something and industrialize it taking advantage of economies of scale. You trust what they build. They find ways to make things faster, better, smaller, more efficient, more economical, and good enough.

The article was an interesting way to think about the different mindsets, people, and teams, that work well on products in various phases of development.

How To Hire Smarter Than The Market by Erik Bernhardsson


With the help of a toy statistical model, the author argues that there is an arbitrage opportunity in hiring engineers. When companies collectively place a hefty premium on some trait (e.g., graduate of a top tier engineering school), they ignore a large pool of candidates that another company can go after. He lists several such traditionally undervalued traits: candidates who didn’t get a CS degree, or who have gaps on their resume, or who are not confident in interviews, who don’t have experience with your exact tech stack, the list goes on.

This article made me think, rather than being immediately actionable. I don’t know how to efficiently screen and interview candidates without the help of some traditional markers. I do agree with the hypothesis that we are collectively ignoring a lot of great talented people out there.

Selfish Note

If you liked this sort of post, or if you hated it, I’d love to hear from you. I spend a lot of time reading articles and books about leadership, engineering, product management, and technology. I would love to share more summaries and pointers if they are of interest. Thank you for being a reader.