Building systems to improve your systems
"Everything Starts Out Looking Like a Toy" (No.30)
This week’s toy: a painting game where you try to convince an AI that you can match a prompt. What’s sobering about it is that it’s kind of hard to draw with a touchpad or a mouse. Edition No. 30 of this newsletter is here - it’s January 23, 2021.
The Big Idea
Planning how to be a technologist in the coming 2-3 years feels a bit challenging. There has never been a time when it was easier to build almost anything you can think of, using a SaaS tool or an easily installable module.
However, the things that are really useful (the ones that move you forward) are custom. Bespoke. Created because you found your own product-market fit of one and then built the right tool to automate that thing.
Building systems to improve your systems
Let’s step back for a moment. When you deliver a “product” for yourself, that usually means that you take an idea — an input that you need to process frequently – and generate an output: the result of your work. The output could be a spreadsheet, a presentation, a series of queries you run everyday to change information in a system like Salesforce. Building a system for this means that you can devote more time in your daily life to thinking of new things.
The process is the same as other kinds of product development. First, you need to know the inputs for your end product. This could be a report that creates the exact fields you need to insert into a system. It could be a clever way to journal so that you have the bullet points you need for a slide. Or it could be a sophisticated model to automatically.
What does this mean in process?
How do you do this in real life? It’s simpler than it sounds. Write a description of a process that you need to get done. Note what input data is required, and what it looks like when it’s done. Enumerate the steps to take the information from start to finish. Now write an updated version of how you would incrementally change this thing to make it better. Finally, estimate your service level agreement. How long should this take from start to finish?
Congratulations, you just wrote a mini-Product Requirements Document for yourself. Follow the instructions the next time you actually do this process and see whether you got it right. Now, you’ve got a blueprint for the next version of your product.
What’s the takeaway? Describing an “everyday” task you do by identifying its component parts can give you insight on how to improve it so you spend less time on it every time you do it. It also might give you key ideas to improve your process so that you can spend more time thinking about the next service improvement.
We’d like to know …
The current US Economic situation is likely going to require more borrowing, some growth, and perhaps some austerity as the new administration deals with the results of several simultaneous crises. Are you worried that borrowing more money may threaten the US dollar’s status as a reserve currency?
Click the tweet to tell us how you’re voting.
Links for Reading and Sharing
These are links that caught my eye.
1/ It’s early days for the internet, especially the shopping part - It turns out that eCommerce is still just 14% of the total pie. To view the news from the last several months, you’d think that the economy had gone completely online. There’s a lot of room to run yet. The bull case for online business is that we’ve got more room to run.
2/ Nerds rejoice! - This twitter thread, courtesy of @pulplibrarian, is a wonderful summary of pocket calculators. Also, if you haven’t seen Numworks, it’s an open source calculator that you can buy or run as an app.
3/ If it fits, Bernie sits … - After the inauguration this week, the “Bernie sits” meme is taking off. Here’s a way to have him sit anywhere you can find on Google Street Maps. I’m sure there are other generators out there, but this one is just stupid and fun.
On the Reading/Watching List
I’m feeling optimistic this week. And I am looking forward to reading “The Optimist’s Telescope”, a forward looking policy book that lays out ways to approach the future with climate changes in mind. Bina Venkataraman, editorial page editor of the Boston Globe and former Obama policy advisor on climate, shares her thoughts.
I’m also interested in looking back at the age of Hamilton. “The Hamilton Cookbook”, by Laura Kumin, promises to share recipes that A. Ham may have enjoyed. No word yet on whether they are tasty.
What to do next
Hit reply if you’ve got links to share, data stories, or want to say hello.
I’m grateful you read this far. Thank you. If you found this useful, consider sharing with a friend.
The next big thing always starts out being dismissed as a “toy.” - Chris Dixon