Alle Beiträge von Sebastian Lindemann

Embracing the Idle Mind

How being bored leads to higher creativity and better decision making

Last month I made a change to my commute: I started to leave my phone in my pocket withholding the temptation to check emails and read the news. Soon, subway windows started to substitute my apple screen. No doubt, it was boring; but this is what I wanted. I was embracing the feeling of boredom to help my mind wander.

Suddenly, commutes started to become rewarding thinking sessions helping me to process my day and prepare for upcoming ones. Also, my 30 minute ride, brought up long forgotten memories and new ideas started coming to me a lot easier.

My daydreaming experience made me question how I had been using my idle time so far. Like many others, I was armed to the teeth with e-books, podcasts and social media accounts, ready to kill even the shortest downtime.

Keeping busy at all costs actually costs more than we think though. And this might be especially true for fields in which creativity and problem solving are of the essence, such as product management and UX.

An idle mind will seek a toy

Already Friedrich Nietzsche saw boredom as the “unpleasant calm that precedes creative acts”.

He who fortifies himself completely against boredom fortifies himself against himself too. He will never drink the most powerful elixir from his own innermost spring. — Friedrich Nietzsche

Neuroscientists and psychologists, like Jerome Singer, back up Nietzsches claims helping to explain what exactly happens when the brain is bored: When we do not have anything to do, our brain tries to escape the feeling of boredom. We shift into a mode of internal stimulation, commonly referred to as mind-wandering, where we refrain from task-related, focused thought. When our mind wanders our brain switches from “focused mode” into “diffuse mode” which increases activity in many regions of the brain.

These areas have been linked to high levels of openness to experience and divergent thinking — two common traits of highly creative people. And of course, the higher our level of creativity, the better we become at thinking outside the box and at developing effective solutions to difficult situations.

The benefits of mind-wandering and positive constructive daydreaming

The increased creative output in “diffuse mode” explains why revelations sometimes do not come to us when we are pondering about a tough problem, but actually when we manage to forget about it for a brief moment. This is how such “Eureka!” moments under the shower can be explained, when it feels like a solution came to us out of nowhere.

Your smartphone might be killing more than just boredom

Humans have daydreamed for ages; commutes, waiting lines and everyday tasks gave us the perfect environment to do so. Today, our smartphones can keep us busy within an instant though, preventing us from experiencing even the slightest feeling of boredom. So instead of focusing inwards, on our own thoughts, we have a constant external focus on the device in our hand. As a result, our creative potential and problem solving abilities might be reduced — our brain is not getting the valuable time to escape boredom through mind-wandering as we are using our smartphone to not even feel bored in the first place.

I cannot picture my live without my smartphone and enjoy the many ways it has improved through it. Still, I try to be more aware of the high costs that come with heave smartphone usage and also treat my brain with the rewarding “off-time” that it needs to increase my output of fresh, creative ideas.

The urge to be productive and progress

What makes it so difficult for me to get into mind-wandering-state is not just that I can easily distract myself with my smartphone. It is also the feeling that I should be doing just that.

As many others, especially those motivated people in the product community, I want to learn, improve and advance with the countless ideas and pet-projects that I have. The need to get ever more done has created a whole industry around tools, books, and substances that are promising to make our life more productive. Consequently, I used to consider a ride in the metro without anything to do a waste of time; maybe even a failure to achieve progress.

Thus, proactively not doing anything wasn’t something that I could do easily. It seemed like waisting time without visible progress. Of course, these fears are short-sighted and inflated. Yet, I never consciously reflected upon them before learning about the benefits of mind-wandering.

Finding the sweet spot for maximum progress and learning — Graph is purely for illustrating my argument and not based on any primary research or studies (even though I would like to know if there are any about this topic)

Overloading my brain with information and tasks will leave me tired and exhausted with no additional mental capacity to learn more down the road. In other words, after a certain level of utilization, my task-related learning curve is hitting a point of diminishing returns.

Moreover, the creative insights and revelations from mind-wandering are very different to my “regular”, task-related learning — it’s the kind of material you will simply not get out of a Coursera class.

Mind-wandering gave me fresh angles at solving problems, helped me come up with new topics for my writing, and made me discover new ideas by reflecting on what happened to me throughout the day. Therefore, even from a productivity perspective the occasional daydream makes total sense as otherwise all these creative discoveries would never see the light of day. Or in other words: Giving your brain time to wander can help maximize your “total learning function”.

And knowing this also helps me to not feel bad about starring out of subway windows anymore.

Visuals and infographics are a great tool to cover deeper level of information .

Visuals and infographics are a great tool to cover deeper level of information . You can deliver further insights to those that are interested while still maintaining good readability of your article.

I have never used infographics so far, but your comment is a great inspiration to try, Venkatesh Rao. As I wrote in the article, I like to learn new skills when preparing a post.

Common sense would suggest that if people see 8 minute read on a teaser, they’d be hesitant to…

Common sense would suggest that if people see 8 minute read on a teaser, they’d be hesitant to click it. However, I do not see this behavior when I look at my articles’ stats. My longer articles (7–8 minutes) ended up being viewed the most. Now, this does not mean that I believe longer articles click better; more that I do not see a direct link between article length and clicks on articles.

What I do see though is that shorter articles (4–5 minutes) have better completion rates. Meaning that there is a higher share of readers who start a post and finish reading it. Medium tracks this with the “Read Ratio” statistic. The observation makes sense to me: The more time it takes to finish your article, the higher the chance that something else draws the reader away from it. Improving your posts’ “read ratio” is thus another good reasons to keep articles short and concise. Yet, I do not try to limit my writing to 4–5 minute articles just because of this.

Thanks for reading my post and this good question, Carl Burton 🙂

On Writing about Product

I’ve been writing about product management a little over a year now. Last week I was on stage talking about what I wished I knew before I got started. The audience was my company’s product community at our very first Xing Product Barcamp.

I put together a summary of my talk below. I share how I make writing work for me, what I learned from writing about product on, and lastly why I believe writing is helping me become better at what I do.

The Craft

When I started writing in April 2016, I set myself the goal to publish a post every month. With every article I put out, I felt that I was improving my writing as well as my process around creating it.

Embracing disciplined creativity work

Today, I feel more comfortable writing articles. For my first posts I tried to write whenever and wherever I could. I squeezed sentences and paragraphs out of every spare minute I had. After some weeks, I had to accept that this was not working for me. I was coming up with words, but fell short of creating meaning.

My writing process. Credits to Inipagi Studio for the icon

As a result, I now stick to a process that helps me improve my output. Before even writing connected paragraphs, I sketch out a skeleton article with a rough storyline. When the skeleton makes sense to me, I start to write with my door closed. I am borrowing this term from Stephen King’s On Writing — one of the best books on the craft.

Your stuff starts out being just for you (…). Once you know what the story is and get it right — as right as you can, anyway — it belongs to anyone who wants to read it— Stephen King: On Writing

For my closed-door writing, I make sure to only start when I can have at least one distraction-free hour. I also stopped using my laptop and use a paper notebook instead for the first drafts. This allows me to work with my thoughts when they are fresh. Scratching words, adding them somewhere else, scribbling on the side — this is what pen and paper help me do and what I just cannot do on a keyboard.

Only when I am happy with my article, I am opening my door again for the review. Having someone proof read what you put together surfaces the obvious flaws and typos that you have become blind to. Be aware though: While the review is the best thing that can happen to your article, it is also a disaster for every aspiring writer’s self esteem.

My actual writing process. Credits to Inipagi Studio for the icon

My process helps me work more efficiently and improves the quality of my writing. Yet, what most pleased me is accepting that even with a process in place, writing is above all creative territory. And on said territory there is no set way to the finish line.

Especially with my product manager mindset, I was frustrated by this at the beginning. I was expecting to move forward whenever I was investing time. What happened was the opposite: I would decide to rearrange paragraphs for better readability, discover new angles after being almost done, think of a catchier introduction after revising it twice. Today, I stay open to new ideas and consider them vital stages on my way to a good article.

Less words, more clarity

To make sure my work is good to read, I adopted two guiding principles from Strunk & White’s The Elements of Style — another classic on writing well:

  • Omit Needless Words: I make cutting words and paragraphs a sport. Even when a post is finished, I still force myself to find some words I can remove. My texts benefit from short, easy to read sentences and reduced clutter.
A prime example for omitting needless words: Malcolm Forbes in “How to write a business letter”
  • Be specific, be bold: I want my writing to be to the point and specific. I put a focus on this as I saw the harmful effect the opposite had on my articles. The last time I had written longer texts was at university and this was still influencing my writing. I would trade understandability for fake eloquence. Sentences would read similar to this Strunk & White example: “a period of unfavorable weather set in”. A sentence more pretentious than informative. Today, I feel comfortable saying “it rained all day for a week” instead. Clarity trumps vagueness, even on a rainy day. The same goes for long sentences with endless sub clauses. They become difficult to read, so I break them into shorter sentences. I apply the same focus on clarity to the arguments that I make in my text, stating them as bold as possible to make sure I get my message across.

Luckily, you do not need to check for these two composition rules all by yourself. There are tools that help you with it. Hemmingway App highlights hard to understand text in your article with suggestions how to improve it. Grammarly checks your text for mistakes as you write and offers alternative suggestions.

The Medium

Next to my general learning on writing, I also gained experience around product related topics and publishing them on Medium.

Telling the story right is as important as telling the right story

My topics come from what I am surrounded by at work. For my writing, I still need to give them a different spin, so that the stories do not read like a presentation at the office. For this, I need to become less product manager and more like John Oliver.

In his late night show Last Week Tonight, the comedian is explaining complicated, sometimes even tedious, topics in brief 15 minute episodes. He does this in an easy to understand and entertaining way, managing to make the topics relevant to the audience.

For writing about product it is thus worth getting inspiration from the masters of entertainment. This includes:

  • An introduction that makes the audience stick around
  • A story that is relevant, to the point, and at least somewhat entertaining to the target audience
  • An ending that puts your piece to a grateful end.

While I look for inspiration outside the office world, I also try to block some habits from within the workplace to enter my writing:

  • Too many facts: For readability’s sake, less is more. I consciously omit facts and information, even though they could further strengthen my point. For the reader to understand what I am saying, one supporting example is as good as five. And sometimes even that one example can be removed.
  • The full picture: I let go of the fear of being called out for missing information and resist the urge to cover any potential hole in my argument. If people object in the comments, let them. Adding clarifying sentences, just to be on the safe side, makes the article long and complicated. Again, readability and simplicity trumps completeness for me here.

Know whom you are writing for

When you are writing about product, you are writing for a wide range of disciplines — Designers, Developers, Product Managers, Founders, and the list goes on.

The Product People Pyramid from the view of someone writing about product management

You might speak to one or many of those groups depending on your topic. I try to think about which groups I am addressing with my article before I start writing, and then shape and structure it accordingly.

We are all part of the global product community, still I noticed that product organization’s tend to speak “local slang”. There are certain words (grooming vs. refinement vs. estimation) and tools (Slack vs. Hipchat vs. Skype) that readers from the outside will not understand, or at least won’t feel as familiar with as you. This breaks rapport with the audience and can be prevented by using more universal terms. is where our product tribe goes to read

To reach our product community in the first place, I have found to be a good publishing vehicle. The platform gives your articles an audience even if you do not have many direct followers.

What also made me chose Medium is the ease of publishing and the beautiful article layout. If I had needed to setup and manage my own blog, I probably wouldn’t have started in the first place.

Once I am done writing, I found the following exercises helpful for generating views to my articles:

  • Thinking in traffic channels: Visitors come to your article from many different sources and it is good to make your post visible in many of them. Being featured in a publication is the most effective way to increase visibility on Medium itself. Publications aggregate content around specific topics from Medium writers and have a large follower base. While publications have to contact you through Medium to include your post, I stopped being shy about reaching out proactively — so far this worked out well for me.
  • Cover Image: It is always worth the investment to prepare a cover image for your post. It draws attention to the post on Medium, but also when shared in social networks.
  • Read Ratio: If less than 34% of your readers finish your article (Medium gives you this number), think about revising your article; especially the introduction.
  • Headline Check: When you prepare your headline, ask yourself if you would click on it yourself. If you are unsure, it is worth a revision.

My Motivation

When I started to write, my motivation was to be more visible in the product community. This changed, and I learned that writing does much more for me. Today, I am motivated by what writing helps me achieve personally. I write to reflect, learn and grow as a PM. Writing articles becomes much more rewarding with this mindset. Even though I am thinking about how to best reach an audience, my articles do not need to be a whooping success for me to be happy with them.

Achieving personal growth

Writing helps me to make sense of the thoughts in my head. Thinking about a topic is a great way to reflect and helped me understand and learn form my experiences. For instance, I wrote about the inconvenient truth that all the digital products we create will soon be gone after a product that I created got shut down. Also, you will learn a whole lot more about the topics you chose to write about. In one of my earlier post, I applied the psychology of Flow to product experiences and got the chance to learn a lot more about the concept.

Further, publishing has become a way for me to make my work and efforts last. Even if the products I create are shut down and forgotten, I still have learned from it and it’s out there for everyone to see.

Every article is an opportunity to hone your skills

In the last year I improved my knowledge around language and communication significantly. It comes with no surprise to me that Ken Norton, product management mastermind and partner at Google Ventures, recommends Stephen King’s On Writing to every product manager. We communicate a lot at work. Learning from the masters helps us be better at it.

Over time, I also learned about image editing and design when I prepared graphics and header images for my posts. To be more flexible when it comes to creating visuals, I recently also picked up sketching. Learning about all these skills further motivates me to keep trying new things.

Get better at whatever it is you do

After a year, I see the benefits from writing more clearly and they are a strong motivation for me to keep going. Also, these benefits are not exclusive to product managers. Writing gives everyone the opportunity to reflect, learn and grow professionally. And from my experience, you do not need to be a good writer to get started. A Medium account, some discipline, and a copy of On Writing will do.

All I need to get started with a new article. Mind The Product sticker not required, but I’m sure it helps somehow.

Some more information:

Some people reached out to me for more information on the tools I use and the books I have read; Below you can find the handout of my talk with more information on this plus some more insights into my process and motivation.

On Writing about Product was originally published in on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.

Mind the Product Delivery

Why delivery is still important in the age of product discovery

Over the last years we witnessed a mind shift in the product community: The focus used to be on product delivery— the process of building releasable software in the most efficient way. Nowadays, the spotlight has moved on, though. Product discovery, the quest of figuring out what to build in the first place, has become the state-of-the-art way to craft products. A discovery mindset is advocated by the great minds in the field and is placed at the heart of popular concepts like Design Thinking and Value Proposition Design.

I do believe that this focus on user centered innovation and idea validation helps to create amazing products. Yet, with the obligation to discover unmet user needs, we must not forget where we came from. Sure, the creativity and energy-laden discovery phase can make the detailed and structured delivery work feel dull. Ultimately, we still need to deliver and bring value to our customers and succeed with our endeavors.

It’s not about choosing sides

Sure, discovery is different to delivery. The former seeks openness to discover and validate new ideas. The latter is about deep focus on the task and tries to deliver value to users as fast and smooth as possible.

With the latest buzz around creating discovery driven organizations to escape life in the feature factory, it sometimes feels like we need to choose sides. There is no either-or decision to be made here, though — both phrases have their Raison d’Être in the product development process and should be used situational, not mutually exclusive.

Dual Track Development framework by Jeff Patton, Source

Jeff Patton, author of User Story Mapping, coined the term dual track scrum in which validated learning from the discovery phase eventually ends up on the delivery track. To ship items in a fast and focused way, there need to be continuous shifts between exploration and delivery. It might even be that teams need to get into delivery mode during their discovery when low fidelity prototypes do not cut it anymore and a test requires a larger amount of work.

Don’t keep them waiting

When the handover into delivery mode is made, you benefit from the focus on getting work out into the world. Retaining this willingness to deliver to users is as important as understanding them better. It creates a sense of urgency ensuring that what was learned in the discovery is processed into actionable development items. Having this urge to deliver prevents the discovery death spiral in which a promising idea circulates in research phase missing the exit to become an actionable product concept.

Highlighting the important areas of product delivery in the discovery process

Moreover, user value will not solely come from discovery insights. In larger teams, there is a fair chance that not every member is fully stretched with doing discovery work. This gives the opportunity to ship additional improvements. However, filling this downtime gap with value might be easier said than done as the people required to finalize the work packages— designers, product owner, lead developer — are more involved in the discovery. Thus, keeping actionable chunks of work prepared for delivery is important, so that user value can be created in parallel to the discovery.

When in discovery mode, we are taught to think of “wicked ideas” trying to help users solve their problems in a whole new way. Not all work needs to be game changer material, though. Even if you are just giving your users something small, this value is instant. With discovery work, even though its outcome aims at producing much higher value, it might take a while until your idea is ready. And even then, the development process is iterative and first deliverables are mostly only rolled out to test groups first. We should thus not underestimate the time it takes for discovery value to reach our users and that it’s worth preparing to deliver valuable work to users in the meantime.

Bathing in uncertainty is not for everyone

Focused delivery can also have a positive impact on team members who are not yet used to live the new discovery driven approach to building products. Tom Chi, Google X Co-Founder and prototyping evangelist, stresses that product management is all about uncertainty. You have to embrace it to a level where you enjoy the regular uncertainty baths during your quest to uncover what users really want.

Ultimately, discovery helps you manage and master uncertainty. Still, finding an established discovery mindset in an organization is rare. It requires a change of thinking, going away from set plans towards an openness to new ideas. Only a few companies have mastered this shift so far. So if uncertainty baths are not part of a company’s DNA, how can you expect every member in your team to feel comfortable with it?

As someone who entered product management motivated to take a deep dive into the uncertainty pool, this wasn’t obvious to me at first. Not everyone looks forward to the unpredictable and spontaneous nature of product discovery. I saw colleagues excel in their role, producing highest quality work constantly and quickly, when they had a concrete and plannable task given to them. In the uncertainty driven discovery phase it is important to keep these individuals in mind to spot potential frustration with ever changing plans early. Clearly defined delivery tasks can keep the motivation high, while ensuring high quality work at the same time.

Don’t forget the delivery, man

A constant change between discovery and delivery allows teams to enjoy the best of both worlds — validated user needs combined with a focused delivery of valuable functionality. We should not forget about the importance of the latter with the current buzz around the former.

Without proper delivery, all those customers that you interview might never get their problems solved… or at least not by your product.

If you liked reading this, please click the below to help share with others. This small and kind gesture keeps me motivated to write more articles like this one.

Hacker Noon is how hackers start their afternoons. We’re a part of the @AMI family. We are now accepting submissions and happy to discuss advertising & sponsorship opportunities.

If you enjoyed this story, we recommend reading our latest tech stories and trending tech stories. Until next time, don’t take the realities of the world for granted!

Mind the Product Delivery was originally published in Hacker Noon on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.

One for the forgotten pixels

All the products we create might soon be gone. It’s up to us to make them last.

All the products that I helped create might soon be gone. Disassembled in their look and feel, iterated into different products, or worst shut down all together. Picturing my efforts of the last years disappear feels like losing a bit of myself while burying parts of my professional credibility right with it.

I started to enjoy the thought of how the situation would be different if digital products were made out of stone, not pixels. The stone’s concrete surface would be strong enough to resist seasonal design changes. Their robust structure would be hard to tear down by other product builders. And thousands of years of experience would shrink the uncertainty around why, what and how to build.

Yet, digital products are still made out of pixels — lightweight, easy to rearrange and prone to change their layout every other release cycle.

As product people of the pixel generation we must understand that nothing we create is set in stone. At some point it will all be gone. And while we won’t be able to change this inconvenient truth, it is worth preparing for it in the best way.

How it feels to lose a product

The first step towards making sense of my product loss anxiety was understanding what I was so afraid of losing in the first place. For once, reliving my first product shutdown came in handy:

A couple of years ago, when Quiz Apps were all the rage, the company I was with wanted to participate in the hype. We partnered with a gaming startup to bring a successful northern European game to Germany. I was the product manager responsible for making this happen. The game was one of my first big projects, making it hard to forget the excitement when we launched. The week after the release, I witnessed the app shoot to the top of the app store charts when I was out on a city trip to Amsterdam. I vaguely remember the blossoming trees around the sun filled canals. I do recall, though, sitting near the water playing the game, eager to challenge every new player. One play at a time — I was determined to engage every user myself if I had to.

Fast forward two years and little was left of the engagement of the early days. I had to witness from the outside how the game was taken off the app store.

In-game screenshot showing one of the many game boards. The goal was to have more points from answering questions than your opponent. Reaching the star in the middle ends the game.

Looking back makes me realize that I connected to the product on many levels causing varied, yet always unpleasant, feelings about its shutdown.

User focused product development taught us to obsess about our customers and their well being. Even without this ever-present mantra, I wanted to build something beautiful that people would like. Thus, it felt like losing a part of myself when I had to witness the product go away, which I helped create with so much passion. Like the canvas to the painter, the product becomes our tool to communicate with the people in front of the screen. And for the pixel artists we often aspire to be, it sucks when your digital canvas is taken off display.

Next to my lifeblood, a significant share of my lifetime went into the app as well. It frustrated me to see all my efforts vanish and not paying off in the end. I started to wonder if I should have been doing other things with my time instead, which further amplified my doubt-filled dissatisfaction.

I also felt that closing down the game made me lose some of my professional credibility. We are judged by what we build and achieve. Now, one of my main achievements in the last years was buried in the app graveyard. I felt naked with nothing to show for except some app store pictures of the good ol’ days.

As personal as my product loss story might be, I think I am not the only one with these feelings. When after work drinks with fellow product makers slide on to memory lane, you hear tales of long forgotten products and features — loved by users, success stories for the business, and an epic battle to get released. It’s as if we want to keep our creations alive with our stories. as otherwise they might be lost for good.

Accepting product change

Understanding what I felt was important. To my own surprise, what helped me progress the most, was accepting that there was nothing I can do about my situation. And that this was a good thing.

Product development is driven by two stakeholders with ever-changing needs — our users and our company. It could be a redesign that keeps users experience up-to-date or a new feature aimed at a change in user behavior. If a company is off to enter a new market or fight off competitors, major product changes will come as well. In some cases, a switch in corporate strategy might even lead to switching off the product right with it.

Even though different in its magnitude, products need to change to meet the requirements of users and businesses. And given the increasing speed at which digital businesses evolve, change will come even more frequent in the future.

A third and major driver for change is neither to be found with a product’s audience, nor in the higher ranks of a company’s org chart. It’s us — product people with their agile, lean, and minimum viable way of thinking. Thanks to the likes of Eric Ries, Jeff Gothelf and Jake Knapp, we have been taught to iterate our way to success. State-of the-art product management embraces change to serve users well while keeping risk and initial investment low. In return, this means that either myself or those following after me will and should tinker and evolve what I created. If they didn’t do so they’d be doing something wrong.

A collection of reading material that helps to make products self destruct

With these forces at work, even the best products will need to change constantly to stay successful. While this sounds obvious, I never properly reflected on what it means for the foreseeable mortality of my work. Knowing that change is a prerequisite for product success, helps me to accept this unpleasant truth. Even if it means seeing my own work vanish, I know that it is (hopefully) for the best of the user, the business and the product itself.

Already ancient stoic philosophy put a focus on understanding and accepting what is outside of one’s control. Until today, stoic principles are known for helping leaders and entrepreneurs live a more fulfilling life.

“If you are pained by external things, it is not they that disturb you, but your own judgement of them. And it is in your power to wipe out that judgement now .” — Marcus Aurelius, Emperor of Rome

Embracing the inevitable helps the stoic to foster strength and happiness without worrying about what cannot be changed. Accepting the mortality of digital products fits right into the stoic mindset.

The courage to reflect

Even though we need to accept that our products will change, there is still a lot we can do to benefit from this situation. For the Stoic, accepting what is outside of one’s control is only half the deal . Identifying what is within one’s control to then improve one’s situation is of equal importance.

So how can we apply this way of thinking to product development? We have full control over our past experiences and memories from developing products. To leverage this work we need to constantly reflect and then extract what can be valuable for us in the future.

“Happiness and freedom begin with a clear understanding of one principle: Some things are within our control, and some things are not. It is only after you have faced up to this fundamental rule (…) that inner tranquility and outer effectiveness become possible.” — Epictetus

Continuous reflection helps to identify what worked and what didn’t, thus uncovering areas of improvements. Further, the emotional and timely distance to the observed topic aids the discovery of new insights by looking at a situation in a new angle. You might even uncover that you have learned and achieved more than you originally thought. I was surprised by how much I had learned about navigational hierarchies and user flows when I reflected on a recently released feature.

Lastly, reflection aids to develop more abstract ideas, making what you have learned applicable to a wider range of situations. For instance, reflecting on the Quiz App started my thoughts on how to apply ‎the theory of Flow from psychology to product design.

The Experiential Learning Cycle from David Kolb

And this is really what reflection is all about — uncovering what you have learned to later apply it to other products and become better at what you do. Even if the product that provided the learning is all gone, you will start to notice its long lasting benefits.

Over the last year, I have discovered writing to be a helpful reflection tool for me. Education researcher Ulrich Boser also mentions this in his latest book Learn Better when talking about the benefits of explaining a topic to other people. What I write needs to be understandable to the outside world, so I am forced to think and make sense of what confuses me. Also, I need to develop a coherent story for the reader which helps me to connect the dots about the topic myself. Publishing my reflections also makes my progress visible to the outside world, keeping it alive in a new medium.

There are plenty of other tools that can help to reflect and learn, such as regular feedback sessions with coworkers or retrospectives of a project. Even just taking half an hour each month to write down lessons learned from the past weeks is a valuable exercise. Pick the format that best fits you and work your way from there. Essentially the most important thing is to start. Otherwise, you might find yourself with nothing to show for in a couple of years.

To make a product last

I came to accept that short term product perfection is not what I will be remembered for. Nor will it help me improve throughout my career. What will make an impact, is constant reflection on my ephemeral pixel experiences. By using what I’ve learned in past projects, I have control over making my work live on.

While this surely is more work, it helps me to not rely on keeping my products alive by telling stories to others during happy hour. Instead, I can take my time to listen to tales of their fallen products, which tend to be very worth learning from as well.

If you liked reading this, please click the below to help share with others. This small and kind gesture keeps me going and motivated to write more articles like this one.

One for the forgotten pixels was originally published in The Startup on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.