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Blair Reeves

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Smart and Dumb

About ten years ago, I realized something significant: there really are no innately “smart” and “dumb” people. Or, at least, there are so few of them as to make those labels, at a minimum, inadequate. Realizing this had far-reaching implications for how I understood others that I continue to process.

There are at least two major problems with the concept of “smart/dumb” humans. The first is the idea of intelligence itself. Namely, no one can tell you what it means. Is being smart being able to sound glib, deploying just the right bon mots and being charming? Maybe… but a lot of people mask profound ignorance by being glib. Surely a brilliant engineer or poet or quant or essayist could qualify as “smart” too. There’s nothing natural about any of these skills; they’re simply activities that humans have found a way to direct their mental energies into in a way others find interesting and recognizable.

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Welcome to the world, Penny

Our daughter, Penelope Lark Reeves, was born a week ago today. Both she and Momma are doing very well.

That is not a yawn, by the way. It is a roar. World, you have been warned.

How I use Twitter

It would be fair to say that Twitter is the most valuable online service I use by a wide measure; certainly the best social media platform. I get a lot of my news from Twitter, meet a lot of interesting people, discover ideas and (yes) products that I wasn’t aware of before, and much more. I have a Facebook account that I rarely look at these days and LinkedIn for networking, but Twitter is really the locus of my online identity.

Even now, over a decade after its founding, Twitter struggles with adding and retaining users because so many people just don’t get it. I think a lot of this comes down to the format of engagement. Many, many people use Facebook as a portal for funny videos and other forms of passive content consumption. Indeed, a primary use case of Facebook is as an endless scroll of lols, highly optimized for mobile. That does not really describe Twitter, which is more of an onslaught of unpredictable human-ness. What I tell friends of mine experimenting with the platform is that you have to invest some time into making it work for you – and this is likely what keeps Twitter a relatively niche platform.

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Generational perspective

The impending arrival of our daughter has me pondering a lot of big things that anxious fathers-to-be have for ages on end. Chief among them is that I – we – have no idea what the future will hold. This has gotten me thinking about how my parents probably felt the same when they sat where we do today, and likewise, their parents before them.

I was born in 1981 when my parents, both Boomers, were in their mid-30s. I did a little digging to get a glimpse of what the world, as viewed through a consumerist lens, looked like when each of our generations of the Reeves clan came into the world.

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Build versus buy

One very common question that you run into when building enterprise software is customers who ask: why should we buy this stuff at all? Can’t we just build it ourselves?

The build-versus-buy debate is remarkably common. Companies of all sizes wrestle with it, albeit in different ways, in almost every industry when they start adopting new software tools into their operations. Obviously, there is no blanket rule that can apply to everyone’s situation. But after being directly involved in a bunch of these discussions, across a couple of different software markets, I thought I would write down some things that I wish decisionmakers looking at this issue understood better.

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Postal Banking

In most of the developed world today, as well as a fair swath of middle-income and developing countries, you can walk into any government post office and after posting a letter or buying stamps, also deposit money into a savings account that is safe, secure, fully insured, and most of all, free.

“Postal banking” is a phenomenon that most Americans today don’t recognize, but in much of the world, it’s almost the definition of mundane. In the UK, Germany, Japan, South Africa, Korea, India, the Netherlands, China and France, just to name a few, the national postal system also offers basic financial services. Depending on the country, these range from no-frills savings accounts to checking and bill-paying services, to more sophisticated stuff like small loans, money transfer and forms of insurance.

Postal banking is an old idea whose utility for America has returned. We should bring it back, updated for the 21st century. It represents a big solution to two major problems Americans face today: first, and most importantly, low-income communities are seriously “underbanked.” The FDIC finds that over a quarter of Americans either have no access to the banking system or must obtain financial products outside of it (ex. payday loans). Second, the U.S. Postal Service has been teetering on the edge of crisis for years, as legal strictures imposed by Congress starve it of funds and the overall volume of mail decreases. Postal banking would go a long way to restoring its stability.

With large swaths of low-income Americans feeling shut out of the economic growth story happening in much of the country, reviving postal banking should be one part of any progressive agenda to build greater economic resilience and strengthen the social safety net.

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Social platforms and responsibility

I’ve been mulling some words on free speech on the internet for a while, but a couple of pieces on Tyler Cowen’s blog finally moved me to write them down.

Recently there have been many, many white men on the internet extremely concerned about “censorship,” and a lot of credulous observers giving these absurd complaints the time of day. Most of them have the issue precisely backwards. The internet, and democratic society itself, would benefit from a much stronger sense of responsibility by those who own and control the platforms that matter, and by more aggressively nixing toxic and abusive behavior.

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Summer streets

One thing that I didn’t fully grasp before we moved to New York was how accurate this viral-y picture truly is:

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An aside on television

I gave some long thought to this earlier in the gym. Presented here in no particular order is my list of the best-written, best-presented television characters of all time:

  • Jack Donaghy (30 Rock)
  • Omar & Stringer Bell (The Wire)
  • Benjamin Linus (LOST)
  • Ron Swanson (Parks & Rec)
  • Poussey & Suzanne (Orange Is the New Black)

With honorable mentions going to:

  • Tyrion (Game of Thrones)
  • Al Swearengen (Deadwood)
  • Phillip & Elizabeth (The Americans)
  • Josiah Bartlett (West Wing)

These are all amazing works of theater – “television” is a bad label for it. I would have to say that The Wire is probably the single best series of them all. If, somehow, you have not seen it, stop what you’re doing right now and go cue it up on Netflix. For sheer acting talent, Orange Is the New Black definitely leads this list. It’s so ridiculously stacked that there’s no real comparison – I had to drop Taystee (Danielle Brooks) from this list just to not make it ridiculous. LOST’s acting, by comparison, was actually pretty bad – besides Linus (and Hurley), I wasn’t super impressed, but the story was just super compelling. The Americans is probably the least-watched of all of these shows, but I think that’s going to change. It’s an incredible show – great writing, solid acting, compelling drama and all the 1980s kitsch you can ask for. I’m looking forward to seeing more from Westworld, which we’ve really been into, but so far I haven’t been blown away like with these other shows.

Huge news about “Make It So”

O’Reilly has decided to publish Make It So as a full print version! Tentative publication is slated for February 2018.

For anyone unaware, Make It So has been the working title for the book on product management in enterprise software that Ben Gaines and I have worked on for much of 2017. We had originally planned to self-publish it as an ebook, but when O’Reilly heard about the project, they asked if we’d be interested in working with them. Ben and I have always wanted our names on a book with a cute animal in front, so we said sure. And there you go.

Go to the book website to read more about it. At a high level, Ben and I have both long found the prevailing Product Management literature to be poorly applicable to our lives in enterprise software. Most of what you read about “PM” is strongly oriented towards consumer-facing startups, and we thought that maybe there would be an audience for a closer look at how this function is done for the enterprise market. As a part of the book, we’ve collected input from some outstanding enterprise PMs at Salesforce, Adobe, IBM, Asana, Basecamp, Parsely and DynamicAction, among others.

More to say later, but for now… 🙌🏻 🔥 😎 ! You can check out the site for more info and sign up there to get an update when the book is released. (If I can finagle you a discount, I will.)