Author Archives: Ben

It’s Nice to be a Novice: Using Data to Identify Fitness Gains in Low-Intensity Endurance Training

I recently decided that some endurance training would be good for me, so I bought a used spin bike and started riding on non-lifting days. It’s been fun to be a novice at something again and experience novice gains. One difference, though, between strength and endurance training is the ease with which novice improvement can be measured.

As I mentioned in my last post, strength gains are unambiguous: If you lift more weight than you’ve ever lifted before, there’ a very good chance you are getting stronger. With endurance training, it can be less clear. What’s the difference between your first and fifth 30-minute ride in Zone 2? Your rate of perceived exertion? Perhaps, but I’d love to see something more objective. So I decided to review my cycling data in search of objective indications of improvement.

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Using Data to Motivate the Post-Novice Lifter

Great products are based on insights about the people that use them. When I was at MapMyRun, we based our roadmap on three interconnected insights that are relevant to any fitness product:

  1. Everyone wants to get better. No matter where someone is in their fitness journey, everyone wants to improve. The common thread between trying to qualify for the Boston Marathon and training to finish a 5K is the desire to improve.
  2. Everyone can use a little extra motivation. Getting better requires consistent training. And while some are more naturally motivated to train than others, even the most dedicated athletes need a little extra push now and then.
  3. Getting better is addictive. Once a person gets a taste of improvement, they get a craving for more. This craving fuels the motivation to train, and so on. Getting people into this virtuous cycle of training is the sweet spot for any fitness app.

Strength Training Novices are Easily Motivated

I’ve personally experienced this virtuous cycle of improvement but in the form of weightlifting instead of running. I discovered the Starting Strength Linear Progression, a strength training program for novices, as a form of rehab after back surgery. Weight training turns out to be an even better example of the “getting better is addictive” phenomenon because novice lifters can improve so rapidly and measurably.

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All Understanding is Visual: Why Aristotle Writes With Pictures

Sometimes when I’m reading bedtime stories to my five-year-old, I glance at her and wonder Is she following this? We recently made the jump to “chapter books,” starting with some that have illustrations on every page. She often stops me and says “Let me see.” She’ll grab the book and pull it up to her nose to study the pictures.

Pictures seem to be at the core of how we understand anything. People often say “I’m a visual learner” as if it were a matter of personal style. (Where are all the audio learners? Taste learners?) I’m no neuroscientist, but it seems to me that everyone is a visual learner.

The fact that great writing is rich in imagery is not some accidental aesthetic quirk (like the fact that pavement always appears wet in movies), but an insight into how our minds work. I first encountered this idea reading Steven Pinker, but Aristotle gave me a renewed appreciation for it.

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You Only Get One Triangle: Storytelling Is the Art of Attention

We live in an age of distraction. Attention is a scarce commodity, which makes storytelling more valuable than ever. Good storytelling, after all, is the art of attention management.

Storytelling—or rhetoric as the ancients called it—has always been my most valuable asset as a product manager. A product manager’s first job is to persuade a group of smart and opinionated people to follow a particular strategy. The key word here is persuade. A strategy is not provable, so product managers have to convince people to follow a plan, even though we can’t be sure of what the future holds.

If you’re a product manager looking to improve your storytelling skills, where should you turn? There is no obvious answer. If you wanted to learn Python or repair your refrigerator, you could easily find plenty of online courses and videos. But when it comes to improving storytelling skills, I’ve never come across anything particularly helpful. Why is that? One compelling explanation for our lack of rhetorical resources can be found in Plato’s dialogues.

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Building a Learning Culture, Part 1: The Problem of Organizational Knowledge

Every time I watch a teammate walk out the door for another opportunity, I wonder how much of our organization’s knowledge leaves with them. Surely an organization can “know” more than what’s inside each employee’s head. But how is this knowledge acquired? Where is it stored? Is it written down in documents, or is it tacitly woven into a team’s culture?

These questions are especially pertinent to product managers. Think about a product manager identifying the winning variant of an A/B test. Given enough of these tests, the PM begins to build an intuition for what tends to work. But does the organization share these data-driven intuitions?

I believe that organizational learning can be a source of operational effectiveness and even a competitive advantage. Further, product managers are in a unique position to enable such learning due to the data-driven nature of our work. My team of product managers has been experimenting with a process to translate our product experiments into shared organizational knowledge. This is the first in a series of posts that will describe how we approach building our team’s knowledge base.

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