Stones unturned

The surest sign of a great process is knowing you left no stone unturned. That’s when you walk away knowing you did everything in your power to make it work.

A great process doesn’t guarantee a good outcome, however. The higher stakes the outcome, the more likely a good proportion of the result isn’t in your control. So, things can and will, on occasion, go south.

But, you don’t control that.

You control effort. And, an effort that leaves no stone unturned is the kind of effort that allows you to let go and completely accept the outcome.

That’s the thing with great processes – they don’t guarantee the outcomes you seek but, in allowing you to let go, they do guarantee long term happiness.

Avoiding bad decisions

You might want to avoid bad decisions.

However, avoiding bad decisions is a poor goal because you only develop judgment over time. So, achieving it would mean making less decisions, taking less chances, and beating yourself when something inevitably goes wrong.

Decreasing experimentation in the long term is a very expensive decision.

Perhaps our goal instead should be to make sure we avoid making the same bad decision twice. This way, we keep the experimentation but ensure we take the time to learn from our experiments.

As the saying goes, good judgment comes from experience. And, experience comes from bad judgment.

So, here’s to occasional bad judgment.

Onboarding – Converting new users to power users | Thinking Product

The best definition I’ve come across for the purpose of a great onboarding flow is – onboarding converts new users to power users.

Connecting aspects of great products to strategy again, the growth portion of the strategy targets users who would hire your product to get a job done. The purpose of the onboarding flow is to make it very clear how to do so.

This is the piece of the strategy where great design shines because the onboarding flow answers the two important design questions – i) does the user know what it takes to “win” in the product? and ii) how easy is it for the user to win?

I think it is critical to get onboarding right because it transitions people from interest in your product to your core value props. Fail to this and people leave without giving you a shot.

So, what are the principles behind great onboarding experiences? As I’m a fan of boiling things down to at-most 3 things, my sense would be that great onboarding experiences do the following –

  1. Structure/set expectations and show progress/celebrate success
  2. Ask them for just enough information to get them to value (the aha moment!)
  3. Show them what’s important

Let’s work through each of these with an example.

1. Structure/set expectations and show progress/celebrate success

It is incredibly annoying when you have to keep clicking yes to set things up as a user. While the simple answer is to keep sign up processes as short as possible (and we should all do that), different products have different needs. And, a great way to help users along the way is to set clear expectations.

I love how Etsy does this. You know exactly where you are in the process and what you need to do to make progress. It nails this principle.

2. Ask them for just enough information to get them to value (the aha moment!)

Onboarding doesn’t need to give you 100% of the data you need to deliver on your core value prop. The question is – how can you ask just enough to take them to value? Quora does a great job of this. When you go through the Quora onboarding process, there are 2 key steps – a quick selection of topics that you’d like to follow and also friends you’d like to follow.

Interestingly, they use a modal with what looks like a live feed to show you what success would look like. That’s smart.

They also add a touch of suspense before they deliver the “aha” moment (annotated in the image below by Samuel at

3. Show them what’s important

Most products collect a bunch of information and just leave their users on their own. Apps that do a great job with onboarding, however, do a fantastic job contextually helping users.

And, slack is a great example of the best practice via its slack bot.

One last thing – these principles focus on what happens once a user gets into your product. But, what about the connection between growth and onboarding, i.e., what happens when a user shows up?

I think good onboarding flows do a good job with the education process right when you sign up. Here’s an example of the sign up process on “Personal Capital.”

The app has 6 nice looking screens that tell you what it does. But, at the same time, you can skip it to sign in, join or ask for a demo. Again, that’s smart.

To summarize –

  • Great onboarding converts new users to power users
  • Great onboarding experiences i) set expectations and celebrate users moving through it, ii) ask for just enough information to take users to value, and iii) contextually show users what’s important as they navigate through the product for the first time
  • Finally, you can lay the groundwork for good on boarding even before a user signs up

When in doubt, paraphrase the question

A simple technique for answering questions better –

Step 1 – If you are certain you understood the question, answer it directly.

Step 2 – If you are in doubt, paraphrase what you heard in your own words to make sure you’re answering the right question.

It is tempting to shoot for efficiency and aim to just answer every question that comes at you.

But, constant attempts at efficiency often come at the cost of effectiveness.

Look, see, notice

There are many great stories about genius musicians playing on street corners, unrecognized.

My takeaway from these stories is that many look, few see and fewer take notice.

There’s a section of those who’re walking who don’t even realize their presence. Many look in that direction but their eyes likely glaze over. A few see that something is going on – maybe they even realize it is something good. But, the choice few dig deeper and take notice.

Great talent scouts learn to notice talent. Great leaders notice leadership and remember to call it out. Happy people learn to notice things they are grateful for.

We can, of course, be all these things. But, first, we must learn to see. And, once we learn to see, we must then learn to take notice.

From Daimler to Didi

The Daimler internal combustion engine first made its appearance in a 1902 race for horseless vehicles in Paris and looked like this.

It won. It also went on to change the world.

But, it’s time has come. I predict that we’ll see roads dominated by electric vehicles in a decade. And, we’re likely to see roads dominated by global autonomous car fleets owned by leading ride sharing companies after that. Of course, we’re all going to be touched by all this change in ways we can hardly imagine. How we own and drive cars has shaped how we live and how our cities have been built.

That’s the topic of my bi-weekly essay on the car revolution. More on Medium or LinkedIn.

Always on is always unhappy

There’s a lot of talk about how our current generation of human beings is “always on.” We’re always connected, always checking our feeds and emails and always texting.

The price we pay is an overwhelming sense of unhappiness. We seek to get rid of tension, postpone thought and shun solitude by looking into our phones.

But, it is precisely those things that help develop self awareness, help us grow and get better. And, there’s no happiness without such awareness, love and growth.

It may be hard, depending on what you do, to consider a life that embraces the opposite. But, it is possible for us to find middle ground. Less checking, more switching off, more depth and quitting any social media that isn’t making us better.

Always on is a recipe for always unhappy. Happiness (the state, not the feeling of pleasure) rarely accompanies more time with our devices.

Always on isn’t a necessity.

We have a choice.