Sean M Everett

Humanizing Technology | Table of Contents

Understand Innovation From …

Ideas are easy, they say. Execution is hard, they say.

But how do you understand what a private company’s go-forward strategy is, without them telling you?

How do you know where Uber is headed? Or Snapchat? Or any other startup or competitor, for that matter.

The answer is very easy and something that I haven’t seen any product folks talk in depth about before.

The answer, as follows:

  1. List your competitors
  2. Go to each Of their blogs
  3. Write down the major feature releases or press releases over the last 3 to 6 months, or a year for each company
  4. Sort the list by value (funding via Crunchbase, revenue or market cap via Google Finance, or any other metric you have access to)
  5. Run your eye down the page
  6. Look for patterns, both the direction one company is headed, but also the market at large
  7. Once you know where the puck is heading, you can build something on a completely different trajectory

- Sean

How To Make Someone Push Bu…

Sounds like drudgery doesn’t it? Just sitting there for 1400 hours on end doing nothing but mindlessly pushing buttons.

What could it be for? Why would anyone do this for free and, in fact, even pay money for this?

I mean, it’s not like you’re saving the earth or doing anything meaningful as a result. And yet, people do this, and have been doing this for decades.

You have done this. Guaranteed. Maybe not quite as many times, but you have.

I’m talking about video games. You sit in one place, push buttons, and stare at an object. When you put it like that, it sounds like mind control, torture, and something out of 1984 or a horrible alien sci-fi flick.

But we humans are strange creatures indeed, and human behavior is stranger still. Wondering how you can get people to do some mind-numbingly dull task over and over again?

Easy. Make it fun.

- Sean

How To Save Your (Battery) …

For almost the last year, I’ve kept my phone in sleep mode, even when I’m not sleeping.

I click that little moon icon, turn the phone to silent with no vibration, and bask in the all-day battery life.

I get plenty of notifications on my computer, I don’t need them duplicated or multiplied by having my phone light up, beep, and vibrate.

I can focus on my work. I can focus on the people in front of me, I can focus on my life.

And I’ve started doing something even a bit more aggressive.

When I go out, I turn my phone on airplane mode for hours at a time. It doesn’t just save my battery life, but also my life.

From a guy who’s been connected nearly non-stop for years, it’s the only solace I get from the always-connected world. The pendulum swings both ways.

And to be Frank (Hi Frank, I’m Sean), I need it to keep my sanity.

My thirties have made me even more of a recluse, with work overtaking nearly every aspect of my life. So those very few moments every week when I get to see a few people I consider friends, and some maybe a bit closer to what you’d call family, I do my best to put away the phone and live in the moment.

My thirties are about the experiences that most people had in their twenties, but I always had my eyes pointed squarely at a computer or the text in a book. And ten years ago people didn’t have iPhones. So today I try to live at least part of my life without an iPhone.

At the very least, it saves my battery life.

- Sean

High Five or Praying Hands?

What do you see?

Church goer? You might seeing praying hands.

A bro? You might see a high five.

If what we see really is primed by our experiences, our friends, our work, and our belief systems, then when something could be perceived in a number of ways, the best way to predict what you will see today is what you have done or seen in the past.

So what’s the point? Namely this.

That you can’t expect someone you’re communicating with to have the same mental image in their mind that you do. That’s why explaining new ideas is so hard. It’s not just that the idea isn’t fully baked and still very fragile, but also that we have two very different perceptions of reality.

The best communicators paint a picture using stories to ground an unfamiliar audience in familiar territory. Then, and only then, do they hit ‘em with the reveal.

Every great magic trick consists of three parts or acts. The first part is called “The Pledge”. The magician shows you something ordinary: a deck of cards, a bird or a man. He shows you this object. Perhaps he asks you to inspect it to see if it is indeed real, unaltered, normal. But of course… it probably isn’t. The second act is called “The Turn”. The magician takes the ordinary something and makes it do something extraordinary. Now you’re looking for the secret… but you won’t find it, because of course you’re not really looking. You don’t really want to know. You want to be fooled. But you wouldn’t clap yet. Because making something disappear isn’t enough; you have to bring it back. That’s why every magic trick has a third act, the hardest part, the part we call “The Prestige”.― Christopher Priest, The Prestige

Find your prestige, and you’ll have found your audience.

- Sean

How A Perfectionist Used to…

Yes, I actually use to be a developer, albeit never a 10x-er. It started when I was still in college and working for PricewaterhouseCoopers (PwC) as an Actuarial Intern programming valuation software. It was more data science and math than web services and APIs. Mathematica and MATLAB over C++ and Java (though I took that class in college).

It eventually turned into code for math and money (high frequency trading) and then the consumer internet (halp me, websites).

But I never realized how much of a perfectionist I was when writing code until recently. Borderline institutionalized. Here’s what I do:

  1. I would write a single line of code
  2. I’d then save the text file (command + S, folks)
  3. Then I would test it by compiling, running, or refreshing browsers to see the impact on the system as a whole.
I would do that over and over and over and over and over and over until a program was complete.

I didn’t realize it then, but what I was actually doing was making it bulletproof while I built it.

NASA is famous for having only 17 defects in a program with millions of lines of code. Of course, they need that level of quality because they’re sending fragile human lives into the most unforgiving environments in the universe:  space.

There’s only one other company that (used to) come close. And that was Apple. They’ve slacked since Steve left. They released a version of their premiere operating system for their premiere product that made it functionally useless, then had to pull it and provide instructions to revert back.

This never would have happened if Steve was around.

Yah, yah, yah. We “git” it. But I’ll tell you what. The older I get, the faster the world spins around me, and the more life tries to push you away from the knife’s edge of atomic level detail, the more I realize how incredibly undervalued it is.

If you want to create the incredible, you have to spend the time to go down to not just atoms, but quark-level detail. Products are a fractal. So is technology. How it is at the tiniest level, is how it will be at the largest level.

So I got back to the way I used to write code. And I realized I could do better. I could focus intently on every single letter that’s written down. I could understand the impact of every keystroke across the universe of my program. And I can rest comfortably at night knowing that even though I only got one object of 50 lines written in a 10 hour day, that I would never have to revisit it because it’s absolutely bulletproof.

Modern business requires that we move 10x faster than that. Or does it?

When Jiro Dreams of Sushi, and dreamed for 70 years straight, he didn’t much care for the clock on the wall. In fact, he didn’t much care for anything at all, save for sushi. And he was rewarded by selling a simple commodity (think:  the french fries of Japan) for $300 a plate.

Incredible quality = incredible value = incredible financial.

As Jony Ive so eloquently put it, “If we build great products, and we’re operationally competent, we won’t have to worry about how much money we have in the bank.”

But that’s not my favorite quote. It lives with the gentleman who’s no longer with us. Steve said, “If we build great products, that customers take out their wallets to pay for with their hard-earned dollars, then we get to come into work tomorrow.”

We get to come into work tomorrow.

It’s the only way you get there. If you believe that what you do every day is a privilege.

Here’s to the crazy ones. Parts of me sure are.

- Sean

How To Bend Your New iPhone 6

I’ve been reading all these crazy accounts on the web of people bending their brand new iPhones.

I’m scratching my head.

Why would you try to bend your iPhone? Why would you sit on it? Why would you treat it like something that held no emotional or tangible value.

It stores pretty much everything about you inside it. You take it with you everywhere. You spend hundreds, or maybe even a thousand dollars on a new one. And then it just gets tossed around like flotsam.

My mouth is agape. I just don’t understand. If you try to bend a spoon, you will bend it. But why would you try to bend a spoon? Just use it to eat and put it back in the drawer.

If you put your phone in your back pocket, don’t sit on it. Do you sit on your computer? What do you think would happen if you shoved your iPad Mini in your back pocket and then sat on that?

Yes, you’d probably break it.

If you stand on top of your new iPhone, then jump up and down on it, you’re probably going to break it.

If you put your iPhone in your front pocket, in your purse, or on a table, you’re not going to bend it.

Then the media picks up this nonsense and perpetuates lunacy across the pages of print and digital websites. IF YOU TRY TO BEND A PIECE OF ALUMINUM, YOU WILL BEND IT.

Why this is newsworthy, I’ll never know. But if you really want to throw away hundreds of dollars, why not bend it for charity (like Beckham) and be done with it?

- Sean

How Important is QA?

More important than anything else.

Quality is like oxygen. You don’t care about it until it’s gone, and then it’s the only thing you care about.

- Sean

iPhone Box Office

I’m a big fan of movies. In fact, I grew up going to one with my parents or my girlfriend almost every weekend since I was 5 years old. The result is that I’ve seen darn near everything that’s hit the box office in the last two decades.

So, when I think about launches, especially technology products, I think about it in much the same way:  opening weekend box office results.

And boy, the new iPhone sure didn’t disappoint last weekend. Check out the historical “box office” chart below:

The beauty of charts like this, and the fact that Apple is a publicly traded company, is that you can see the market’s reaction to this level of success in their business. Remember that the iPhone represents about 75% of Apple’s annual revenue. It’s not just one of their biggest products. It’s one of their most successful, commercially. Here’s a chart of their historical stock price over the same time period (2007 to today):

It’s not quite a one-to-one ratio of units sold to market perception (Mr. Market isn’t always fair), but in general there’s a strong correlation.

The only thing that really matters, aside from cash in the bank and annual profit growth, is their market cap. That is, what does the market think Apple is worth as a result of these continued box office successes.

Well, the market thinks Apple is worth $600 billion. That’s getting pretty close to the first trillion dollar company. Nuts.

Apple is the most financially successful company in the history of the world. And as Tim Cook recently said in his interview with Charlie Rose, all their products can fit on a kitchen table, with ample room to spare.

If you think about the amount of leverage an incredible product can have, you need to look no further than Apple.

Focus on one thing. Care about the most minor of details, to the point where it meets your own high expectations, and you can’t find even one tiny thing wrong with it. Only ship it when it’s ready. And then sit back, eat some popcorn, and watch the box office results roll in.

- Sean

How To Build Human Technology

It’s all very simple, conceptually at least. The answer is in the question.

You start with the human and then work backwards to the technology. You don’t start with the technology and move forward.

The problem is that it’s incredibly hard to keep reminding yourself, others, and entire companies that you have to start with the human experience (e.g., the emotion, the connection, the problem), and then move backwards into requirements, user stories, design, and ultimately code.

But why is it so hard to do that?

The reason, I think, is because we live our lives going forward. We step through time one moment to the next. This happens, then this happens, then that happens, and on and on.

What does not happen, though, is that we live in this moment, then the one before that, then the one before that. We don’t live our life moving backwards and so our thinking doesn’t work backwards either. We have to consciously think about and act in a way that’s backwards to our fundamental existence.

We have to think backwards, map out dependencies, and actually draw a treasure map backwards from the X (which marks the spot).

Then, and only then, can we shape the future that we want, instead of letting random moments determine the future. We have a unique ability above animals where we can actually design the future and outcome we desire. But it takes an incredible amount of hard thinking and work. It will exhaust you and test you to the Nth degree. But the reward, oh the reward, is well worth it.

This is why companies developed. A goal to make a profit couched in products and services that the builders love.

Set an X, draw a treasure map, and then start the adventure.

- Sean