(8/3/20) the unholy church of growth

Hey all,

Hope you had a restful weekend!

On Friday, we logged into a community video call to celebrate Eid al-Adha alongside hundreds of others. The imam gave the sermon with his wife and young children sitting beside him. The call to prayer streamed in from two brothers singing into a laptop at a colorful mosque in Morocco.

At the end of the khutba, the organizers invited everyone to unmute their microphones and wish their Eid Mubaraks. It was a special experience that we would not have had without the current global circumstances.

I don’t consider myself religious, but there was much to be grateful for.

What I’m Thinking About

A couple months ago, Swedish designer Farzad Ban Tweeted the following:

Stated otherwise -- the things we create are always battling the construction-subtraction tension.

You construct to map out unknown terrains and integrate what you know with what you do not.

You must then subtract to remove inefficiencies, compress your understanding into less space, and become more economical.

Less is not always better. You might remove too much and lose the essence of what you created.

But more is also not always better. You might add too much and end up with a tangled, unnavigable mess.

Ay, there’s the rub. Ultimately, it’s how everything fits together that creates value (and dare I say “good taste”?). For all you basketball fans, this is Pop’s secret to success with the Spurs.

Here’s an example of too spare. Lunchclub makes it easy for strangers with similar interests to meet each other over video chat.

The engineering team has done a great job training their ML models to find strong matches. But beyond making new connections, the product is not arranged to do much else yet. I think they're one more insight away from really building something compelling.

Here’s an example of too much bloat. Webflow allows non-developers to build custom interactive websites (such as this) without writing any code beyond a little CSS. I first used it a couple years ago, and it was great! Fast, intuitive, and easy to figure things out.

Today, the product wants to be an all-in-one solution for many different types of customers. They added a lot more functionality into the sidebars without taking a step back to consider a more fundamental redesign.

So the product slows down to a halt on my laptop after an hour or so of use. It’s not clear when a change in one area will cause changes elsewhere. I often feel like I’m fighting with it to do what I want. A true Turing tarpit - “where everything is possible but nothing is easy.” (Squarespace similarly suffers)

Webflow has built something great, but it’s time for them to subtract. You can’t be everything for everyone.

Here’s an example of a pro product. Figma brings modern design tools to the browser. You can design wireframes, mockups, prototypes, and pretty much any other visual in between.

You can collaborate with others in these designs real-time. It’s fast, it’s intuitive, it has some great keyboard shortcuts, and it encourages non-designers to get involved in the design process.

It is a delight to use Figma. Figma borrows quite heavily from industry giants Sketch and Adobe, which have also produced some great products. But these incumbents are now playing fast follower to Figma’s browser-first multiplayer capabilities.

The Unholy Church of Growth

All of this is to say that bigger and more is not always better. I’ve been studying digital tools long enough to find every joy quite bittersweet.

In The Dark Knight, Bruce Wayne says that you either die a hero or you live long enough to see yourself become a villain.

It’s not that stark, but I’ve seen enough great products slowly become mediocre simply because they chased rapid growth at all costs. They kept adding feature upon feature, driven almost entirely by revenue metrics.

You can tell when a company is building less for enduring quality and more for closing deals with giant enterprises. The product bloat often tells the story, justified by the “If we don’t, we’re leaving money on the table!!” defense.

When the construction imperative does not check itself with the subtraction imperative, you become an initiate of the cult of More, the religion of dissatisfied and hungry ghosts.

Bullet-Point Summaries

How to Look Good While Creating BS (conversely, How to Detect BS)

A Pioneer of OKRs No Longer Recommends OKRs

  1. OKRs are measurable results that hold teams accountable to outcomes, not outputs.

  2. OKRs are an empowerment tool. Enable your teams to figure out how to solve problems, rather than micro-managing results.

  3. Yet many companies have coopted OKRs as a coercion tool (“do this, exactly in this way, or else”).

  4. This failure of leadership puts lipstick on the pig. All the right methodologies, stripped of their essence, revealing the same lackluster performance.

That’s all for now! See you here next week.

Ammar