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John Zeratsky is a Co-Founder and General Partner at Character, where he supports technology startups with capital and sprints. He’s a bestselling author of Sprint and Make Time, and has reached millions with articles in The Wall Street Journal, TIME, Harvard Business Review, Wired, Fast Company, and other outlets.
John is a former Design Partner at GV (Google Ventures), where he developed the Sprint method and supported many of GV’s most successful investments, including Slack, One Medical Group, Flatiron Health, Blue Bottle Coffee, Gusto, and Digit. Previously, John was a design leader for YouTube, Google Ads, and FeedBurner, which was acquired by Google in 2007.
John studied journalism at the University of Wisconsin and graduated from the UW School of Human Ecology, where he’s now an advisor to the Dean and faculty. Originally from small-town Wisconsin, John has lived in Chicago and San Francisco with his wife Michelle. They spent 18 months traveling in Central America aboard their sailboat Pineapple before moving to Milwaukee in 2019.
Sprint: How to Solve Big Problems and Test New Ideas in Just Five Days, by Jake Knapp, John Zeratsky, Braden Kowitz, & Dan Bittner.
Make Time: How to Focus on What Matters Everyday, by Jake Knapp & John Zeratsky.
The Art of Loving, by Erich Fromm.
The Wright Brothers, by David McCullough.
Made to Stick: Why Some Ideas Survive and Others Die, by Chip Heath & Dan Heath.
Influence: The Psychology of Persuasion, by Robert B. Cialdini.
The Design of Everyday Things, by Donald A. Norman.
What is the role of design in product development for startups? And what characteristics do the great designers share? In this episode of the Product Momentum Podcast, John Zeratsky joins host Paul Gebel to explain – interestingly, using David McCullough’s The Wright Brothers biography as a backdrop.
The book “provided this interesting illustration of the difference between craft and invention. Designers,” John says, “obsess about craft. When the Wright brothers were building bikes, they were craftsmen – detail-oriented, patient, and introspective. And they made super high-quality bikes.… But when they invented the airplane,” he continues, “they leveraged those skills to do something very, very different. And that is much more akin to the role of design at startups that are trying to do something new.”
John ought to know. With a career journey that includes both craftsman and inventor roles, John is now co-founder and General Partner at Character, where he supports startups with capital and sprints. He and partner Jake Knapp noticed that in the world of venture capital, product was often neglected. Yet product is the foundation of every business; a business cannot be successful without a successful product.
“If you’re starting a company, the hardest thing about it – the core thing – is the product,” John says. “If there’s no product, none of the rest matters.” Design’s role is not to answer the what, John adds. It’s the how. “How are we going to figure out this tricky problem? How are we going to figure out what our customers want and describe it in a way that makes sense for them?”
Tune in to hear John’s insights about how to improve your team’s design sprint process. And be sure to catch his breakdown of the three levels of the facilitation pyramid, and learn why OATS matters if you’re a startup interested in partnering with Character.
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Sean [00:00:19] Hello and welcome to the Product Momentum Podcast. This is a podcast intended to entertain, educate, celebrate, and give a little back to the product leadership community.
Paul [00:00:32] Well hello and welcome to the podcast. Today we are really excited to be joined by John Zeratsky. John is Co-founder and General Partner at Character, best-selling author of Sprint and Make Time and former design partner at Google Ventures. Previously, John was a design leader for YouTube, Google Ads, and FeedBurner, which was acquired by Google in 2007, and we’re really excited to jump into some exciting things. So John, welcome to the podcast.
John [00:00:56] Thanks for having me. I’m excited to be here.
Paul [00:00:58] Yeah, for sure. So, you know, the common thread throughout your whole career, and I think the label that you introduce yourself by is designer. Obviously, the things going on in your life lately are bigger than just design. So for those who haven’t been following the last couple of months of development at Character and even before that, maybe with Sprint and Make Time, can you just share a couple of those stepping stones through your career that have gotten you from there to here today?
John [00:01:21] Yeah. I got into design in a sort of accidental way, which is that I was a kid who liked to tinker with stuff and build stuff so my parents said, “Well, you should study engineering.” So I went to the University of Wisconsin and hated engineering classes. I may have enjoyed being an engineer, but hated the classes, so I just was searching around. And this was in the very early 2000s when web design, blogging was sort of an explosive period. So I found my way into that world, taught myself how to build websites, and I was like, “OK, this is what I was looking for, this is the kind of tinkering where I don’t have to do any calculus, you know, I can play around with things and see results very quickly.”
John [00:01:54] And after graduating from school, I was hired by a startup in Chicago called FeedBurner. This was 2005, I was one of the first employees there working in basically a product design role. So, you know, it was a small company. So I was doing everything from the UX to doing some web development, both on the product as well as the marketing materials. So the website, doing some copywriting, you know, jumping into a lot of places, but all sort of oriented around, “what are we building? Who are we building it for? What is it trying to help our customers do?”
John [00:02:24] That company was acquired by Google in 2007. So then I was an individual contributor designer at Google on a couple of different projects, first on some of Google’s ad platform projects and then at YouTube, which was owned by Google at that time and still is. And I was the design lead for YouTube channels. So when that platform was launching really the ability for video creators to not just upload a video and, you know, send out the URL, but really to build a channel and an audience and a brand.
John [00:02:52] So that was kind of the first big chapter of my career was as an individual contributor designer. But then I had this really interesting opportunity in 2011 to join Google Ventures, and GV is a venture capital firm funded by Alphabet, formerly funded by Google. And it’s a corporate venture firm in the sense that it’s funded entirely by that one company, but it’s not a strategic firm for Google. So it’s meant to compete against, you know, Sequoia, Kleiner Perkins, Andreessen Horowitz, whoever. And one of the things that GV did when they started was they said, “Let’s sweeten the deal for founders, let’s not just make an investment and then offer to make some introductions and provide some good advice, which is kind of the table stakes for any investor, let’s do something that’s very uniquely Google-y, and let’s bring engineers and designers and marketers from Google, let’s make them full-time partners, members of the team, and set them loose on our portfolio companies.”
John [00:03:46] So that was me. I was one of the first people hired into that role. I spent six years there. I worked with about 150 of our portfolio companies, and the Design Sprint came about because we were trying to figure out a way to scale that work. You know, at first, it was like we would just sort of show up at a startup and help them out. But eventually, we were like, “okay, our ability to make investments far outstrips our ability to support those companies as these sort of individual designers.” So we knew Jake Knapp, he was at Google running these early versions of the Design Sprint. We brought him to our team at GV. We sort of embraced that as our engagement model for how we would support our portfolio.
John [00:04:21] So we got to run over 100 sprints. Some months we were running three sprints in one month, you know, back to back to back, learned a ton, obviously, and made the decision in 2015 that, you know, this wasn’t just a nice thing that you would get after investment, it was actually a reason why founders might want to raise money from us in the first place. So that was when we decided to write the book to sort of invest in building a brand around Sprint. So did that, and then I left GV in 2017, took a little bit of time off, wrote another book, Make Time, which you mentioned, and had this period over the last several years where I really wasn’t sure what I wanted to do. I was, you know, still very motivated and very satisfied by the core work of engaging with teams and helping them focus their time and make sure that they were building the right things for the right people. But I wasn’t sure if I wanted to do that as a consultant or I wanted to start a company or an agency or whatever.
John [00:05:13] And I managed to find my way back into venture capital investing. You know, I had been exposed to that world at Google Ventures, obviously, and you know, it’s sort of the classic case of, you know, not appreciating it fully until I was out of it and then thinking, “okay, there were a lot of things about that model that really made sense.” And so, you know, I started working back toward that model and made the decision in 2020 to launch Character.
Paul [00:05:37] Awesome. Everything kind of makes sense when you lay it out in that sort of condensed timeline. But you know, on the surface, you’ve done so many different things and it’s hard for people in that individual contributors’ state to imagine, “what if?” You know, how could things line up possibly if it breaks in one direction or the other?
John [00:05:51] Yeah.
Paul [00:05:52] And last I heard, you guys are up to seven investments at Character?
John [00:05:56] Yeah, that’s right.
Paul [00:05:56] And growing? I think there is kind of this pivot as you’re kind of doubling down on the design sprint and venture capital combo, is there a way that you can sort of explain how you’re taking that pivot? How have you taken the, you know, dedicated full-time sprinter into now more in the driver’s seat? You’re basically the role of Google in the Google Ventures model. What has that been like for you?
John [00:06:17] Yeah, we decided to start Character with the Design Sprint sort of as the core strategy for a couple of reasons. One is that when we looked at the other options for early-stage startups raising money when we looked at the other seed-stage VC firms out there, a lot of them were saying the same things and offering the same things. You know, we sometimes joke that you can copy and paste the text between the websites because they all say some version of, you know, “we’ll be your trusted partner from day one, we’ll be there when you pick up the phone, we’ve been in your shoes, we know what it’s like.” And those are all really good and valuable things. And I’ve worked with a lot of those investors and they actually do what they say they’re going to do. So it’s no knock on them or what they offer.
John [00:07:00] But it’s like any market where, you know, when all the competitors are kind of doing and saying the same things, you know, think about Tesla in the auto industry, you know, if you come around with something that’s very different, that really delivers something that people want, then your customers, who in our case, are startup founders, they take notice. And so we decided to do that because there was kind of this sameness. And then there was also, you know, we saw this phenomenon where it seemed like, I mean, if you’re starting a company, the hardest thing about it, the core thing, is the product, right? Like if there’s no product, like none of the rest matters. Obviously, you need to raise money, you need to build a team, et cetera.
John [00:07:35] But it’s like, if you don’t have a great product, you’re not able to reach customers, then it doesn’t matter how many people you’ve hired, it doesn’t matter how much money you’ve raised. And so when we looked at a lot of these other investors and accelerator programs, et cetera, we just kept seeing like, “Wow, they’re talking about everything but product, everything but, you know, the design of how you talk to your customers and how you reach customers.” And so we just saw this big opportunity, you know, we thought, “Hey, we’ve got a proven method for helping people with this; it’s something we like to do; it’s something we’ve done a lot. We know that it works very well.” And it was kind of this perfect puzzle piece fit with what was missing in the market. So that was kind of the impetus for it.
John [00:08:12] I think, you know, the work itself actually hasn’t changed that much. Like, you know, Jake and I are in the room running Design Sprints and I’ve still got big six-hour blocks on my calendar when we’re doing a Design Sprint. I mean, that stuff hasn’t changed. But really, the business model has changed. And something that Jake pointed out to me that I wasn’t super aware of when we first started was that it feels very different for us to do this as investors, even different than it did when we were at GV, where, you know, GV was an investor, but there was kind of this handoff from the people who quote-unquote “did the deal.” You know, the partners on the investing team over to us, the design partners, where it was like, “OK, we invested in this company, now you help them out.” You know, now, when we run a design sprint with one of our companies…
Paul [00:08:54] You’ve got skin in the game.
John [00:08:55] Yeah. We’re the people who have our skin in the game and, you know, really put the chips on the table and said, we’re betting on this company, not only with our money and the money of our limited partners but with our time. And we’re kind of all in. And that just is a, you know, I don’t know that I could necessarily like point objectively to the specific things that are different, but it definitely feels different. It’s a different relationship.
Paul [00:09:16] Yeah, I bet. I mean, it’s such a cool story. Just coming down from strategy mountain for just a minute, you teed up a question that I’ve been dying to ask just to kind of get… You’ve been running sprints, hundreds, if not thousands at this point, and you’ve observed many people take your model, you know, become evangelists, even watch a cottage industry crop up around this idea of becoming a facilitator. For those who haven’t dipped their toe in the water of the world of Design Sprints or sprints of any flavor, what does a good facilitator do and what are the most common things that people could work on?
John [00:09:46] I think of it almost like a pyramid where there’s different layers. Assuming that you’re following something like the Design Sprint and you’re not sort of crafting a custom workshop, you know, I think that’s quite a different skill set unto itself. But assuming that you’re following a tried-and-true process, the bottom layer really is having sort of the ability to know when to push and know when to pull, know when to give people space, to mind the clock, to keep track of everything that’s going on, to just kind of perform those basic functions of a facilitator and make sure that the team is doing the work that needs to happen. That’s kind of the basic first layer.
John [00:10:23] The next layer up, I think, is really about creating space for people to participate and to contribute in a way that is meaningfully different from what they would otherwise have a chance to do.
Paul [00:10:34] Yeah.
John [00:10:35] You know, that’s about how long you let things go on before you cut them off, how you sort of use your presence as a facilitator to maybe create a little bit more space for one person while, you know, maybe putting a little bit of a shadow over somebody else who’s been taking up too much air time, really using the process to make sure that you allow everybody to contribute before the decision-maker comes in and makes a call on something. So I think that’s kind of the next layer up.
John [00:11:00] And then, you know, really the tip of the pyramid, and this is where, you know, we think that we can be really effective with the startups that we work with is, is bringing not just your facilitation skills, but bringing those kinds of domain-specific subject matter-type skills that you might have from working on similar problems, and having not just run hundreds of sprints, but having run hundreds of sprints on startup design challenge. So being able to, whether it’s through your sketches that you contribute or whether it’s, you know, putting your finger on the scale a little bit or knowing who to bring in as a guest expert and saying, “Hey, when we solved a problem like this for this other company, what are some of the lessons and patterns that we can bring into those sprints, not just as the process, but really as making a direct contribution and using that sprint process and our facilitation as a vehicle to increase the impact of that?
Paul [00:11:50] Yeah. Having run several sprints myself, I appreciate the visual metaphor of the finger on the scale. It’s so easy to let people spin on a problem for so long that it becomes unproductive. So I think that the facilitation technique and the others that you shared are definitely part of the toolkit that come along with being successful. You’ve been successful in raising funds, so you’ve got some capital to work with and make some choices. But making those choices has to be a challenge. It’s not an unlimited blank checkbook.
John [00:12:19] Right.
Paul [00:12:19] What are the criteria that you use to find these products that have the potential to change millions of people’s lives? What are those things that you look for in a company if you’re going to make that decision to partner with them?
John [00:12:29] That’s a good question, and it is hard, and honestly, the hardest and my least favorite part about doing this is having to say no. Because we meet with so many founders every week, and you know, by definition, we’re not going to invest in all those companies. And, you know, for the most part, like they’re all really interesting, really promising. They’re smart people working on really cool stuff. And yeah, it’s tough to say no, but obviously we have to. We’re building a fairly concentrated portfolio, probably invested in 15 to 25 companies total from this first fund.
John [00:12:59] But Jake and I have been around startups for, depends how you count, but you know, I started at GV in 2011, he started in 2012. So 10 years there. I worked at a startup before that, going back to 2005, have a ton of friends who are startup founders. And then our partner Eli comes from more of a traditional venture capital background, and he’s reviewed thousands and thousands of companies. So we bring a lot of intuition and pattern recognition to the companies that we invest in. But for people who know the Design Sprint, this will sound familiar. It was important for us to be really structured and repeatable in the way that we make decisions, both to eliminate bias, but also to make sure that we had a consistent record of those decisions so that we can look back over time and say, “Hey, we decided not to invest in this company, and it went on to be a big success; what did we miss?” What did we think at the time and then it will give us, you know, the ability to hopefully improve the quality of those decisions.
John [00:13:54] So we actually made sort of a scoring rubric. And it’s based loosely on some stuff that we did when we were at Google Ventures in developing a similar rubric, as well as just kind of the patterns and intuition that we formed over the years. And we call it OATS. We gave it a backronym, if you will. It’s opportunity, approach, team, and success so far. And within each of those categories, there are a bunch of small sort of questions that we ask ourselves. And then for each of those questions, we rate it on a scale of zero to three. So it’s really one to three, a zero would disqualify. But the zero is unacceptable, one is acceptable, two is excellent and three is extra-, exceptional, sorry.
John [00:14:31] And so, you know, we go through that and it’s still subjective in the sense that it’s not like there are specific quantitative numbers or metrics that a company needs to hit, particularly because we’re investing so early that many of those metrics don’t even exist. But it’s really important that we force ourselves to slow down, to sit for a minute, and to translate sort of this fuzzy sense in our heads of like, “Oh, that was really interesting, well it seems like a great founder, how cool was that, what a fun conversation,” translate those things into these very concrete like, you know, an example of one of the sub-criteria is like, “is the team capable of validating assumptions in a methodical way?” So like, really think about that. Like, what evidence do we have that this team is going to, bit by bit, tear apart all the assumptions, all the hypotheses that they have in the business and work through it that way versus like just having a beautiful vision and like going out and building it and hoping that it works? And so there’s about 15 things like that under those four different categories that I talked about. So just going through and kind of scoring those we think really helps with the quality of our assessments.
John [00:15:35] And then the other thing that we do is we complete those scorecards individually. So if we both meet with a founder or even if we meet separately with the founder, which we often do, we don’t have any conversation about that company or about that founder before we’ve completed the OATS score, because that introduces bias as well. We call it narrative bias, where like, the story starts to take shape in your head and you start to prejudge before you’ve even learned anything about the company. So instead, you know, one of us will meet with a company, we’ll record our assessment using the OATS framework, and then we’ll make a recommendation, either “yes, I think you should meet with this person,” or “no, I don’t think it’s worth meeting with them at this time.” And so, you know, it’s too early to tell, but these are things that we’ve put into place to hopefully increase the quality and the consistency and the improve-ability of our decisions over time.
Paul [00:16:22] That is so fascinating. There’s so many stories of venture founders or venture fund managers who’ve talked about all the things they didn’t invest in and ended up blowing up like Facebook and PayPal and a bunch of others. So it’s got to be nerve-wracking to say no, not just because these people are passionate about what they’re building, but also because there’s potential upside that might be walking out the door, too.
John [00:16:40] Yeah.
Paul [00:16:41] I love how you talked about eliminating the narrative bias of getting so wrapped up, you know, and prejudging things, eliminating that subjectivity. As an agency, as a partner who comes alongside companies and runs workshops, it can become, you know, too subjective, and it’s difficult to maintain that self-awareness. So I appreciate that insight. You know, I’m just humbled by the openness of the journey that you’ve been on, and I’m wondering if you could share, maybe you’ve had a chance to do some reflection after the launch and a couple of your portfolios have gone public, or you’ve been more public about them, I should say. Being careful with words there.
John [00:17:12] Yeah, I wish they had gone public, but.
Paul [00:17:15] So have you had a chance to reflect on what the sprint process has done and maybe changed now through this different lens? Do you look at sprints differently? Obviously, the skin in the game piece we’ve already talked about, but have you started tweaking exercises or components of the sprint now that you’re in a different sort of mode?
John [00:17:33] Well, I think that the biggest reflection related to Sprint is just that it’s been so amazing to see how many people have adopted it.
Paul [00:17:42] Mm-Hmm.
John [00:17:42] You know, we certainly didn’t imagine that it was going to be this worldwide phenomenon and that there would be, you know, people from the other side of the planet emailing us and saying, “Hey, I ran a sprint at my company.” So that has been just mind-blowing and we’re super grateful for it. And I think one of the things that it’s led to is that we constantly get stories and suggestions and input from people who have figured something out about the Design Sprint that we didn’t get quite right. And a good example of that is at the beginning of the COVID pandemic when everything was going into lockdown, you know, a lot of people were wondering about how to run remote Design Sprints, and we had done very, very few remote Design Sprints. I think maybe two, maybe three. And when we did, it was like most of the team was in one room and then some poor soul was somewhere else in a different room.
John [00:18:29] So we truly didn’t know what to recommend. You know, it’s not like we could say, “Oh yeah, we’ve done this 100 times, these are the best practices.” But because of this amazing community that has formed around the Design Sprint, those people had done this hundreds of times and we put out a call. This was in probably like April of 2020, we put out a call to the community and said, “Hey, what have you learned about remote Design Sprints?” And we pulled together all of their inputs and all of their lessons into a guide that we then put on our website.
John [00:18:56] And there’s a lot of other examples like that. There’s examples of how the mapping process on the first day has been improved. There’s examples of how the way that we record the findings from the customer test on Friday has been improved that have all come from people who’ve read the book, people who are leading sprints on their own, and then a handful of improvements that we’ve introduced as well. So it has been a continual process of improvement and evolution. But I think if we were to write a second edition of the book, it wouldn’t be dramatically different. There would just be some new and improved bits here and there.
Paul [00:19:29] Sure.
John [00:19:29] And I think that for me, what has become more and more clear since when we first started running sprints was that this idea of design, it’s sort of a Trojan horse into like the most important decisions and the most important challenges that a company faces. And design is not the what, it’s the how. You know, it’s the, how are we going to figure out this tricky problem? How are we going to figure out what our customers want and describe it in a way that makes sense for them? And I think, you know, we were just fortunate to have backgrounds as designers, so we could say, “Oh, well what if we used this sketching stuff? What if we use this user research stuff? What if we use these brainstorming techniques that we learned about?” and kind of put those things together and then had a laboratory in which to sort of refine it and test it with all the companies at Google Ventures.
John [00:20:13] And so the way that my thinking has evolved on the Design Sprint is that it’s less and less about design. It’s sort of the, what people assume design is, it’s much more about like using the tools and the discipline of design, but applying those to the most core, most critical decisions that every company needs to make. You know, that orientation has sort of been reflected in doing this as an investor and not just as a consultant or whatever.
Paul [00:20:37] Yeah, I appreciate that insight. I was actually a graphic design major, but my career has taken me down a product management path. But product management is kind of analogous to design in that way, it is kind of a Trojan horse. You know, business model conversations that have, you know, jumping off of product management, it’s, “how are we going to make money; where is the product-market fit?” I can tell you a story about that virtual Design Sprint aspect of things, though. The very first Design Sprint ever ran, we’re headquartered in Rochester, New York, scheduled in February, a couple of years ago this month, and it just so happened that we decided to keep it even though we had about 18 inches of snow get dumped on us and we called an audible and went virtual at the drop of a hat. We threw together a bunch of Miro boards. I think they were still RealtimeBoard at that time.
John [00:21:18] Yeah.
Paul [00:21:18] It was a while back, but the boards that we put together, we still hold up as sort of patterns of, “this is the best way to run this exercise virtually.” And we’ve run many successful virtual Design Sprints. You know, face-to-face is great, but they do translate very well to a virtual modality.
John [00:21:32] And I think there are some advantages to doing it virtually. I think it’s much easier to schedule, which is great. And as you alluded to with having those Miro boards as sort of artifacts. That’s one thing that’s been really, really useful is having that automatic, built-in artifact that you’re generating, you know, just by virtue of doing the exercises. I remember when we were at GV and everything was still on whiteboards, we’d be like, “Oh, I forgot to take a picture,” or like, “Oh, is it hi-res enough?” Like, “was it focused properly? Like, was it too dim in the room and like, now I can’t read the text anymore.” Like, “who’s scribble was that, like, what does that say?” You don’t have any of those problems. It happens automatically. It’s high fidelity. It’s searchable, and we’re referring back to boards constantly.
John [00:22:13] I mean, just yesterday we had a meeting with one of our portfolio companies that’s a health care startup. They’re actually trying to do like an internal sort of values exercise to figure out, you know, what are the company values, what are the team values that they want to organize their culture and their decision making around? You know, Jake and I were talking about a similar project that we had done, a similar sprint that we had helped another company with. And so we just pulled up the Miro board, you know, right there during the Zoom call. It’s like we could sort of retrace our steps and show them, “here’s exactly what we did, and here’s how it all worked.” So I actually think in some ways, remote sprints are better, although in-person sprints are a lot more fun. So…
Paul [00:22:48] At least the happy hours after the fact.
John [00:22:50] Yeah, exactly. Yep, the team lunches.
Paul [00:22:53] Yeah. So we just got a couple of minutes left, and I want to make sure to ask, you’re only hardly a year into Character and I don’t want to, you know, jump the gun too much on this question. But, where do you see this going? Is there another book on the horizon? Is this the last stop? Is this just one more chapter in your career? Where do you see this taking you?
John [00:23:10] Character is definitely an open-ended adventure in the sense that we’ve talked a lot about the idea of building a firm and not just a fund. So, you know, it’s not like we just raised this one fund and we’ll see what happens. It’s our intention to do this for 10, 15 years. I mean, we’ll see how long. It’s hard to predict what will happen and certainly, you know, we have to be successful in the interim to be able to keep doing it. But it feels like a really good alignment of kind of the business model and the structure of, you know, being an investor and creating these deep partnerships with the companies that we work with, a place to apply the Design Sprint that’s really going to have a large impact on the teams that we work with, the companies that they’re building, and the customers that they’re serving. And then this really natural sort of flywheel effect, where with every sprint that we run, we can generate a case study, there’s going to be stories that those founders and those teams can tell to their friends, and hopefully those people will come back to us and they’ll want to raise money from us and work with us.
John [00:24:14] So like you said, it’s only been just under a year since we started investing and things seem to be changing more and more rapidly all the time. But it certainly feels like a very stable context in which to continue to build and grow. I think that, you know, we have a lot of ideas for ways we want to continue to leverage and expand the Sprint method. We’ve already started to use some variations, the Brand Sprint, the Opportunity Sprint, quite a lot. And there are different places we can apply the Design Sprint that we’re not currently doing. You know, we’ve got some ideas about how we could actually run sprints with companies before we invest in them. So there’s a lot of ideas and it’s exciting and creative in that way, but the core of it feels really, really good. So you know, hopefully it’s self-sustaining. Hopefully it continues to go well.
Paul [00:25:00] Yeah, I think, you know the things that you guys have put out in the world, the books, the process, the templates, have been incredibly impactful both for our organization and for our clients that we’ve helped. So I’m really excited to see where you guys go next. It’s definitely been fun spectating, as you’ve kind of put things out, made things public, so thanks for sharing your journey with us, with the world. I’ll leave our listeners with one last question for you. Obviously, Sprint and Make Time are two go-to books. What’s something that you’re reading for inspiration lately? Where would you point a product manager, you know, maybe early- or mid-career trying to up their game on their journey?
John [00:25:34] I try to read a lot. You know, at least once a year, I try to read a book that’s going to really challenge me. The connection to design and Design Sprints is not clear at all, but right now, I’m reading The Art of Loving by, I think it’s Erich Fromm is the name of the… Yeah, Erich Fromm. And that’s, you know, it’s about sort of the like true nature of what it means to love oneself and other people. I’m just starting to read it, but I can already tell that there’s going to be benefits in terms of how I relate to the teams that we work with, the founders that we work with, not to mention, of course, my friendships and my relationship with my wife.
John [00:26:10] You know, I recently read the Wright Brothers biography by David McCullough, which was really, really good. I mean, it’s such a classic story, but so many details of it that I didn’t know. And the thing that I loved about it was that it provided this really interesting illustration of the difference between craft and invention. And I think a lot of designers, in particular, they obsess about craft. You know, it’s like all they want to do is like, sit there in Figma and make things perfect. And the Wright Brothers, when they were building bikes, they were craftsmen, right? Because they didn’t invent the bicycle. You know, they took this, this well-known thing, but they were detail-oriented, they were patient, you know, they were introspective and they made super high-quality bikes. But when they invented the airplane, they leveraged their skills as craftspeople, but they were doing something very, very different. And that, I think, is much more akin to the role of design at startups and at any organization that’s trying to do something new. So I found that really interesting. There’s a bunch of other books that have influenced the way I think about design and product, Made to Stick by the Heath brothers, Influence by Robert Cardini, [The] Design of Everyday Things…
Paul [00:27:23] Yeah, of course.
John [00:27:24] So, you know, kind of like in this world between like psychology and process, those are a few just off the top of my head.
Paul [00:27:32] Definitely more than I was bargaining for. Thanks for the recommendations. And thank you for your time. You’re obviously in high demand these days, so I really appreciate you taking a couple of minutes to share your thoughts and insights and we’ll be in touch. Thanks so much.
John [00:27:43] Sounds good. Yeah, thanks again for having me.
Paul [00:27:45] All right. Cheers.
Paul [00:27:49] Well, that’s it for today. In line with our goals of transparency and listening, we really want to hear from you. Sean and I are committed to reading every piece of feedback that we get, so please leave a comment or a rating wherever you’re listening to this podcast. Not only does it help us continue to improve, but it also helps the show climb up the rankings so that we can help other listeners move, touch, and inspire the world just like you’re doing. Thanks, everyone. We’ll see you next episode.