How to send progress updates

I don’t agree with everything on this list of how to send progress updates, but these two points are especially important and worth remembering:

Acknowledge changes explicitly. If you said a the last time and b this time, and b conflicts with a, you need to explain the inconsistency. People perceive acknowledged inconsistencies as cost of doing business, but unacknowledged inconsistencies as broken promises.

I name this section “challenges and requests” in my updates, but the underlying principle is the same:

Add a dedicated section for worries and failures. Be honest, have good plans, and don’t panic. People are drawn to conscientiousness and vulnerability but repelled from haplessness and histrionics.

How cheap, outsourced labour in Africa is shaping AI English

This isn’t entirely surprising but it’s a sad state of affairs, and it’s worth highlighting not just how, but also where LLMs are being trained:

Hundreds of thousands of hours of work goes into providing enough feedback to turn an LLM into a useful chatbot, and that means the large AI companies outsource the work to parts of the global south, where anglophonic knowledge workers are cheap to hire.

I know it’s too dismissive to call chatbots “fancy autocomplete” like many do, but we have to remember that this isn’t magic. The words the bots use come from somewhere. And in the case of “delve”…

I said “delve” was overused by ChatGPT compared to the internet at large. But there’s one part of the internet where “delve” is a much more common word: the African web. In Nigeria, “delve” is much more frequently used in business English than it is in England or the US. So the workers training their systems provided examples of input and output that used the same language, eventually ending up with an AI system that writes slightly like an African.

Move at the speed of trust

Mandy Brown nails it, once again:

One of the principles I come back to over and over is adrienne maree brown’s invitation to move at the speed of trust. That is, whenever attempting any effort with other people, prioritize building trust and respect for each other over and above any other goal. The trust forms the foundation from which the work can grow.

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.


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