The pandemic is not only forcing us to reconsider how we work, it’s also unlocking gains — and potential efficiencies — we accrued but never fully realized. The implications are far reaching and worthy of consideration.

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No doubt, within teams and organizations, this pandemic has forced us to make tough decisions and has accelerated our adoption of new tech and business practices that enable us to work remotely. A less discussed result of this black-swan event, especially as we emerge out of it, will be the sudden realization of potential productivity gains that we’ve accrued over the last decade but never taken full advantage of. The power of this global forcing function will massively refactor how we work — and reveal the new value of creativity.

THE PRODUCTIVITY REALIZATION LAG

Despite how excited we get about new tech (Slack, Airtable, Notion, your favorite new SaaS tool), “agile” development, and modern ways of doing business, there is a long lag between implementing new practices and harvesting the full benefits of the resulting productivity gains. Sure, you may feel a personal productivity bump, but there are always people and parts of the organization that hold us back. These obstacles come in the form of Holdouts — people resistant to change/adopting new tech (and antiquated processes that prevent widespread adoption!) — and Organizational Debt — the forever “pending” decisions and the excess time and resources spent that could otherwise be optimized. …


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If new mediums take off only when they fundamentally change our everyday life, what are the daily implications of augmented reality? What are some principles for the adoption of new mediums?

On the prospects of augmented reality, opinions vary widely in my conversations with fellow investors, designers, and technologists. Many investors consider the space “many years away,” “un-investable,” “not practical,” and “far from certain.” At the same time, the designers and developers building the platform and authoring products for the space believe it is “inevitable,” “transformative,” and poised to change our everyday life as we know it — sooner than we think.

Since the best investors are most persuaded by present trends (rather than potential future trends), it is no surprise that augmented reality may be a bit far off to elicit excitement. Until it is clear which platforms (Apple, Google, Microsoft…perhaps even start-ups like Magic Leap) will dominate this new medium, it is difficult to invest with confidence. …


In the age of A.I. and machine learning, just being more productive won’t cut it. The future belongs to the creatives.

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The Productivity-Creativity Inversion

When leaders face the challenge of scaling their teams, they hire people to replicate many of the tasks they were doing. Sure, you might be able to do the mundane aspects of your job, but you’re better off hiring someone else to do it so you can concentrate on your more important value: thinking creatively and strategically about your product and company’s future.

In a sense, humanity has been doing the same thing for centuries: “hiring” people and machines to take over every mundane and repetitive action that consumes our natural human resources (work, energy, carbs — however you want to frame it). Sure, you could walk half a day to get your crop to market, but if a truck will get you there in half an hour, you’ll earn your revenue quicker and have more time to spend planting the next crop. …


I’ve received over a dozen emails and calls in the past year asking about lessons learned from Prefer, a team I helped gather and advise that ultimately shut down. Among all the ideas and new teams I’ve encountered, Prefer is still one of those products that I believe needs to exist. I get excited when I come across other entrepreneurs seeking to solve this problem so I figured I’d share some take-aways for the benefit of others exploring the space.

Prefer started as an idea I shared with a few other entrepreneurs I respect, just as I started my stint as a full-time VC and before I returned to building products/teams at Adobe. The original idea was based on a few insights about customer preferences for services and the growing economy of independent service providers — from massage therapists and personal trainers to chefs, tutors, and accountants (aka “Soloists”)…


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Product teams tend to be all about launches. They develop projects in secret, then focus all their attention on the big release. But what about the middle of product development? That’s when you’re struggling to figure things out and when you learn the most.

Within the companies I know, teams increasingly want to be more “real-time” with their customers, being more transparent about what they’re developing and why, and getting feedback during the process. …


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Forecasting the future is a fun exercise. I like to ask the question, “what about our work and lives today will feel ridiculous ten plus years from now?” What about the future will feel obvious in retrospect?

Future forecasts are not an investment thesis because innovations, no matter how exciting they are, won’t happen until the present is ready for them (and this is why the best investors are more insightful about the present than they are about the future). But if you’re a product leader, entrepreneur, or very early-stage investor, future thinking tunes your attention and instincts. …


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Excited to launch a collaboration with Jessica Hische, an amazing lettering artist and illustrator I deeply respect and have known since the early days of Behance. Alongside the launch of THE MESSY MIDDLE, Jessica transformed three of the book’s 100+ insights into a limited series of illustrations. (and if you want one…read your way to the bottom).

THE MESSY MIDDLE distills 5+ years of interviews with legendary founders, artists, and executives about their middle journeys down to 100+ insights for founders, artists, and leaders of bold projects and new ventures. …


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A new battle is brewing to be the default of every choice we make. As modern interfaces like voice remove options, augmented reality overlays our physical world, and artificial intelligence gains our trust by transcending our own reasoning, DEFAULTS WILL RULE THE WORLD.

I’ve come to call them disruptive interfaces — drastically simpler and more accessible interfaces that ultimately commoditize everything underneath.


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Products aren’t designed and developed in a vacuum. On the contrary, they are crafted and managed amidst ambiguity, frequent bouts of self-doubt and uncertainty, and working in sheer anonymity. For new products, you can falter and switch it up as much as you want… because nobody really cares.

For the last decade or so I’ve been fascinated by the trials and tribulations that product teams face in the messy middle. I’ve come to believe that the volatility and challenges a team faces are the ultimate source of their product’s complexity.

While a product’s simplicity is its advantage right out of the gate, solutions made — and customer requests addressed — under duress in the messy middle introduce complexity. When you rush to build features for “power users” or your most important customers, coupled with your own anxiety, the product becomes less accessible to new customers. …


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I’m excited and super-f’n-anxious to share a 5+ year obsession/project nearing the finish line (and now available for pre-order!). THE MESSY MIDDLE is a collection of insights for traversing the hardest and most crucial part of any bold creative project, new venture, or turnaround.

No matter what it is you’re trying to create or transform, the myth of a successful journey is that it starts with an idea, followed by a ton of hardship, and then a gradual and linear rise to the finish line. But no extraordinary journey is linear. …

About

Scott Belsky

Product Obsessive & Investor; Chief Product Officer, @Adobe; Founder, @Behance; Venture Partner @Benchmark, Author Making Ideas Happen http://scottbelsky.com

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