Leaders, doing what you’re good at hurts your team.

Playing to your strengths as a leader doesn’t make you a good manager. Here’s why.

Of all the tips to be a good manager, “leaning into your strengths” has got to be one of the most frequently cited.

“Do what you’re good at. Focus on your strengths.” That’s the conventional advice we all receive. There’s no shortage of StrengthsFinders assessments and personality tests urging us to triangulate which strengths we should zoom in on.

However, I recently had a conversation with Peldi Guilizzoni, CEO of Balsamiq, on The Heartbeat. His insight on this topic turned my head sideways… in a good way. Peldi asserted:

“Doing what you’re good at hurts the team.”

Huh? Let me explain.

Keep reading “Leaders, doing what you’re good at hurts your team.”

The books I read in 2018

Now a tradition in its third year (see 2016 and 2017). Here are all my extracted answers to our monthly Basecamp check-in question of What are you reading?

Notes from Underground
Fyodor Dostoyevsky was one of those authors I had heard about in school but never really contemplated reading directly. He lived 1821-1881 and wrote such classics as Crime and Punishment that I never considered myself invited to read. What a mistake. This isn’t exactly the first classic that I’ve given myself permission to read that rendered the inhibition to do so silly, but it really nailed home the point.

It’s such a lovely weird book. Partly, it’s Dostoyevsky giving us an account, through the fictional narrator, of his view on the human condition. Just one quote: “But man has such a predilection for systems and abstract deductions that he is ready to distort the truth intentionally, he is ready to deny the evidence of his senses only to justify his logic”. The idea of humans being suckered into living only according to “logic”, and not only the vanity of such a pursuit, but the impossibility of it, is a wonderful antidote to much of contemporary morality and wonkness.

Keep reading “The books I read in 2018”

Busy is the new stupid

Looks like I may be doing it right. This is exactly why we don’t have shared calendars at Basecamp.

At Basecamp, everyone controls their own calendar, and no one can see anyone else’s schedule. You can’t claim time on anyone else’s calendar, either. Other people’s time isn’t for you — it’s for them. You can’t take it, chip away at it, or block it off. Everyone’s in control of their time. They can give it to you, but you can’t take it from them.

And by the way, this isn’t a special privilege for ownership or the CEO. Everyone controls their own days at Basecamp. Time isn’t a commodity we trade. No one can turn your day into theirs.

Note: We have a whole chapter called “Calendar Tetris” in It Doesn’t Have to Be Crazy at Work on this very topic. You’ll find it on page 62.

Get to know Max Büsser – a creative powerhouse

Maximilian Büsser is the MB in MB&F. They make wholly original mechanical creations – most of which tell time and fit on your wrist. MB&F’s machines are an acquired taste, and they’re priced out of reach for most, but they’re undeniably creative. I have deep respect for what they make, and how they make it.

Max is the creative force behind the whole thing. And he’s a remarkably thoughtful and insightful fellow. Humble, too. It’s hard to imagine how he manages to make a business like his work, but he does. And then some.

In this wonderful interview (embedded below), Max explains how and where he got his start. How he serendipitously found a mentor. How he mustered the courage to just go for it. Why he collaborates and who/what inspires him. How being a trained engineer allows him to push through and find solutions rather than be roadblocked at someone else’s “this won’t work”. Why creativity isn’t a democracy. He goes into just how challenging it all is, but also how natural it all feels. He also gets very personal and honest about his painful childhood – a childhood which clearly fueled his future drive to find his friends and collaborators.

The one-hour interview is one of the best things I’ve heard in a long time about creativity, business, product design, art, purpose, challenges, going your own way, seeing a vision through, and figuring it all out as you go.

It’s well worth your time. Please listen in:

Note: If the embed above doesn’t work for you, here’s a link to the interview on HODINKEE.com. You can also find the HODINKEE Radio podcast anywhere you subscribe to podcasts.


Putting on some wait

I’m generally patient over the long term, but I can be impatient in the short term. But, really, what’s the rush? Why the hurry? I’ve been asking myself this question more and more lately.

A new year is a good excuse to make a change, so in 2019 I’ve decided to put on some wait. In practice this means choosing the slower option whenever possible.

For example, when shopping online, I’m picking the slowest shipping option (I used to always pick the fastest one). Related, I’ve also cancelled my Amazon Prime membership. I only used it for fast shipping, so it’s of no use anymore.

When confronted with two lines at the grocery store, I’m choosing the longer one.

Even small things like waiting for the next walk symbol. Yeah there’s a good 8 seconds to get across the street, but it’s close enough to just wait.

Whenever there’s an opportunity to pick the wait, I’m picking it. And I’m not filling my time with other things I have to do while waiting – I’m genuinely waiting. Waiting while doing nothing. Idling. If I’m in line, and it’s moving slowly, I’m not reflexively reaching for my phone to soak up the dead space. I’m just enjoying having absolutely nothing to do.

In the end, after all this waiting, I suspect I won’t miss anything. I’ll just have waited. In fact, I think I’ll actually find something: Additional, special moments with nothing to do. Sacred emptiness, a space free of obligation and expectation. New time to simply observe.

In a world where everyone seems to be super busy all the time, bumping into more moments with nothing to do seems like a real discovery.

Imagine a world without ads targeted by personal information

Elephants wouldn’t be killed for their tusks if there wasn’t a demand for ivory. We can do all sorts of things to discourage poachers, but as long as the market is there, the killings will continue.

Likewise, the flood of privacy scandals involving Facebook, ad exchanges, and other privacy poachers all tie back to the same root cause: Personal information is valuable because we use it to target ads.

But what if you couldn’t do that? Then the personal information would cease to have value, and the flood of privacy scandals would stop (or at least greatly diminish).

The world of commerce spun around just fine in the era before ads could be targeted by personal information. When ad buyers would place their spots based on context. Got a new car to sell? Put an ad on a website that talks about cars. Maybe it wasn’t as efficient, or maybe it was. Either way: The societal price we pay for allowing ads to be targeted is far too high.

We’ve placed all sorts of other restrictions on advertisement, so it’s not like this is a new thing. You can’t advertise tobacco products in many places. Some countries restrict advertisement against children. Regulation like this works.

Just try to imagine that world without ad targeting. It’s hard to imagine that it wouldn’t be a better one.

How to: Back-to-top button without scroll events

Web developers: here’s an alternative way to build UI features that rely on scroll position without actually observing scroll events. Using the Intersection Observer API we can know when an element enters or leaves the viewport and respond in a way that’s much more performant.

It’s a very, very, bad idea to attach handlers to the window scroll event.

— John Resig, Learning from Twitter

You probably don’t have to be reminded of this but there are few other options when you want an element to behave like the back-to-top button we recently added to Basecamp. Here’s how it looks:

The back-to-top button appears and disappears as-needed

The design dictated that the button wouldn’t always be visible but rather just when you most need it. That meant only on pages that require scrolling at all and only after you’ve scrolled a good amount — at least a couple of screens.

Enter Intersection Observer

The Intersection Observer API provides a way to asynchronously observe changes in the intersection of a target element with an ancestor element or with a top-level document’s viewport.

Perfect! Since we only want to know when the user has scrolled a couple of screens we just need an element in the DOM that’s the right height to observe. When that element leaves the viewport we’ll reveal the button.

Here’s how it works 

The mark-up has two elements: the button and its container.

<div class=”back-to-top-container”>
  <button class=”back-to-top--button”>Back to top</button>
</div>

Keep reading “How to: Back-to-top button without scroll events”

Why I ignore the design industry on purpose

I’ve been a designer for nearly twenty years now (😮), with the last seven years spent happily at Basecamp. I enjoy my work and I care about it a lot.

Since I’ve been doing this for a long time, occasionally people ask me to predict next year’s big trends, or reflect on some industry controversy that’s been brewing.

That’s when I have to sheepishly admit: I pay almost no attention to what’s going on in the design industry. I don’t hang out on Dribbble or Product Hunt. I don’t read Hacker News. I don’t go to design conferences or Creative Mornings. I don’t look at inspiration sites or read designer blogs or tweets. I’m also not out there networking, hustling to make connections, hard-selling my personal brand, or fighting to stay on top of the game.

…I guess I’m kind of a professional hermit?

Keep reading “Why I ignore the design industry on purpose”

Signal v Noise post from the year 2000. The more things change, the more they stay the same 😂

Signal v Noise exits Medium

Three years ago we embraced an exciting new publishing platform called Medium. It felt like a new start for a writing community, and we benefitted immensely from the boost in reach and readership those early days brought. But alas it was not to last.

When we moved over, Medium was all about attracting big blogs and other publishers. This was going to be a new space for a new time where publishers could find a home. And it was. For a while.

These days Medium is focused on their membership offering, though. Trying to aggregate writing from many sources and sell a broad subscription on top of that. And it’s a neat model, and it’s wonderful to see Medium try something different. But it’s not for us, and it’s not for Signal v Noise.

Keep reading “Signal v Noise exits Medium”