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Author Martha Wells discusses the origins and meaning of Murderbot

If you’re a fan of the Murderbot series (and if you haven’t read it, get on it!) you will absolutely love this recent keynote speech by author Martha Wells at the annual Jack Williamson Lecture at Eastern New Mexico University. She describes how Murderbot came to be, what it’s really about, and where the story sits within sci-fi and our world in general:

There are a lot of people who viewed All Systems Red as a cute robot story. Which was very weird to me, since I thought I was writing a story about slavery and personhood and bodily autonomy. But humans have always been really good at ignoring things we don’t want to pay attention to. Which is also a theme in the Murderbot series.

I won’t ruin the ending by quoting the final paragraph, I’ll just say that this is my favorite thing I’ve read in a long time, and you should savor every word.

‘End of the world vibes’: why culture can’t stop thinking about apocalypse

I admit that I love post-apocalyptic books and movies. So I feel more than a little bit chastised by ‘End of the world vibes’: why culture can’t stop thinking about apocalypse:

“Such convictions in the mouths of safe, comfortable people playing at crisis, alienation, apocalypse and desperation, make me sick,” complains the protagonist of Saul Bellow’s 1964 novel Herzog. “We must get it out of our heads that this is a doomed time, that we are waiting for the end, and the rest of it … Things are grim enough without these shivery games … We love apocalypses too much.”

Read on for more choice quotes from olden times that make the case that “the only way to manage a dread of the future is to remember that the past was no picnic”.

On Managing Expectations

Michał Poczwardowski shares a good reminder about how to set expectations well in our teams:

The biggest partner in crime for missed expectations is unclear communication, which means that the antidote is clear communication. Follow these steps to make sure that expectations are clear:

  • Be realistic about the future. Overconfidence will build up expectations. If there are a lot of uncertainties, state clearly what is certain and what is uncertain.
  • Point out what you don’t know. Give as much context as you can. If you leave too many unaddressed gaps, people will fill these gaps with their own projections of which you have no control over.

Dolly, Beyoncé, and Differentiated Value

Thanks to April Dunford for this fantastic reminder about positioning (and life!):

My favorite positioning quote is from Dolly Parton, who said, “Find out what you are and do it on purpose.” A great positioning exercise is a structured process that allows a team to get real clarity on exactly “what you are” so marketing and sales can “do it on purpose.”

Come to her article for the Dolly Parton quote, stay for the Beyoncé positioning lesson…

Draw it until it works

Here’s a quick thought about ramping up on something new as a product manager.

If I don’t understand how something works in an organization, I do two things. I ask questions, and I draw boxes and arrows based on the answers. People sometimes make fun of me for this, but hear me when I say that nothing gets people aligned like a systems diagram they can disagree with.

B2C, B2B, Platform, Internal… the industry/product type doesn’t matter. Draw the flow of information through your product, get people to disagree, adjust until they agree. That’s the moment when you become a PM that can actually be helpful to the team and the business. You cannot improve the system until you understand it.

Make better documents

This has been shared around quite a bit over the past couple of weeks, but Anil Dash has written another[1] modern classic in Make better documents. Excellent advice all around, including:

Similar to the importance of sequencing and order, you almost always want to start by clearly and simply stating your conclusion, or declaring your request or question. Very often, people feel a lot of anxiety about the need to preface their big dramatic point with lots of build-up. But you almost never want to be building dramatic tension in a professional context; this isn’t a thriller where you’re trying to surprise them with twists and turns.

And:

Similarly, you’ll want to constrain your requests to your audience to be something they can react to constructively. “Do we want to invest at the higher cost of Option A to move faster, or go with the lower cost of Option B to be more cautious?” That’s an answerable question! And it’s perfectly fine if it leads to a conversation where a third option is explored — but you never would have gotten there with a prompt that says, “What do we want to do next?”

You’re Not Managing Enough

This is a good reminder about micro-management from Judd Antin. He says that maybe You’re Not Managing Enough (a big climbing analogy runs through the whole post):

As managers, we can be so afraid of micro-management that we risk moving into passive territory. We’re made to believe our main job is putting people in position to grow, and then going hands off to give them the space to do it. But that’s like encouraging a climber to take on a harder route, cheering them as they start while you check out TikTok instead of holding fast to the rope. To do their best, that climber needs an active belay from start to finish. It’s easy to try again when the rope caught you and you only fell a few feet. These are the most educational failures — it’s those big ones that you want to avoid.

There’s some practical advice in the post on the best ways to be more active and helpful in the right ways by providing clarity and making solid plans with your team.

Have Concerns And Commit

I like this alternative approach to the old “disagree and commit” adage. That idea always struck me as a little passive aggressive (“sure, I’ll do this stupid thing you want me to do…”), whereas this seems like a more active, helpful approach:

It’s much healthier to “have concerns and commit.” Some decisions you can agree with, some you can disagree with, but most you should either just “have concerns about” or “be supportive of”. […] If you’re not sure of the answer but have concerns, you want to make sure that your feedback is deeply considered. You can tell your team that feedback was heard but ultimately the people with the most context made the call, which is how it should be.

It’s important to note that this type of culture is only possible if leaders agree to provide a lot of context on decisions (which not everyone wants to do):

As much as you have to be humble in your approach to engaging with decisions, healthy companies and leaders should provide you with enough information to be able to understand decisions in enough detail to have confidence in supporting the decision.

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