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Scott Belsky - On Tech/Product, Creativity, & Making Ideas Happen - Issue #9

Tap tap, is this thing still on? Been a while, and I'll start by saying: I hope you're ok. The pandem
Scott Belsky - On Tech/Product, Creativity, & Making Ideas Happen - Issue #9
Tap tap, is this thing still on? Been a while, and I’ll start by saying: I hope you’re ok. The pandemic, the deaths, the overdue anger, the fires…the optimist in me tries to see beyond as we all find our way through it and do what we can…and must…to improve this world.
I did promise myself that I’d get back to this newsletter, but going to try something new.
Over the years, sharing on social has been my mechanism to get feedback on ideas, share projects and startups I am excited about, and build a likeminded network to help advance interests and passions. But there is often more behind a link or 280 characters of thought, and going forward I am renaming this occasional newsletter “Elaboration.”
I’ll select a handful of thoughts/things I’ve shared, and use them as prompts for additional research and consideration - and will share it as elaboration. Always welcome your feedback and help in connecting the dots of ideas and action. -scott

scott belsky
Having tracked many to-do/note products over yrs, the underestimated force prompting consistent reinvention (and lack of a sustained “winner” in category) is *switching benefits* where trying a new tool, like spring cleaning, re-engaged us and our teams. https://t.co/3mTpUOTpKv
Productivity tools are like cuisine, there will always be many choices and users will keep switching as tastes change to stay engaged.
Consider the cascade of specialized productivity apps (not suites) over the years, like Evernote, Wunderlist, Any.do, Todoist, Trello, Clubhouse, Basecamp, and the list goes on. Many of these are stable businesses, but they all claim a small piece of a large pie (and one could argue, were not great VC investments from a multiples perspective). The fundamental flaw of these technologies is that they thrive with personalization for each customer, and die by trying to personalize for every customer. To complicate matters, in a world where customers retain out of anxiety around “switching costs” (the burden of adopting a new tool), there are actually switching benefits when it comes to productivity tools.
Every few years, when your system gets clogged with old stuff (or if you have a new leader in your team, you may have the desire to switch things up. Like a dose of spring cleaning, switching tools boosts your productivity. In doing so, you make the tool super relevant to your current needs once again.
…Makes me wonder if the path to truly win the modern “productivity app” category is launching an underlying set of APIs for every aspect of project management + personal productivity with a wide and evolving set of products and interfaces (native ones and third-party creations) that users can switch between (and, in the process, endure a light “cleansing” process)?
Elad, who I co-invest a bunch with as a seed investor, shared a collection of wild “spurious correlations” that underscored just how dangerous data can be, especially when the bogus stuff (like age of Miss America and number of murders by hot objects!) is less obvious (most of the time). Great reminder to pressure test every stat we see for evidence of causation.
But the bigger point here is around decision-making and how seductive anything seemingly “factual” can be in an otherwise ambiguous world. I’ve been in many meetings where we grasp onto the data we’ve got rather than start by debating the data we need. How a leader handles data tells you a lot. Some people try to manage the dissemination and impact of the data, others will focus squarely on validating the data and acting on it. But the most important thing I try to remember is that data is, of course, just a datapoint. And what happened before, even statistically, is not always what will happen again…especially in a business of exceptions (aka innovation).
scott belsky
thinking: note takers are the underestimated holders of power and team performance - they are the source of truth 24 hours later, and often the arbiters of our memory.

am very grateful to my project management colleagues that move us forward.
This moment of gratitude occurred when I was trying to untangle a complex issue and a set of notes from a while back totally saved the day. Upon further inspection, I quickly deduced who I needed to hold accountable and how I could help. The person who captures the output of brainstorms - or any form of gathering - is not only the source of truth for what happened, but they also play a crucial role deciphering meaning and capturing what actually matters (and is actionable). A meeting without these people, a week later, essentially never happened.
Some responses from friends on this one:
  • Josh Wolfe, at Lux Capital, reminds me: “Truth of fact, truth of feeling…”
  • Amira Yahyaoui, founder/ceo of Mos, one of my portfolio cos, adds: “So many times I found myself in meetings where I felt uncomfortable because the note taker is someone who would not exercise neutrality. Zoom is great for this as the notes are usually taken live on a shared screen.”
  • Aaron Dignan, founder of TheReady and now cooking up something new, makes the point that “anyone on the team can play this role in rotation. Develops a muscle that has atrophied in many.” And Veronika Hečko Wu, whose team I worked with when I was involved with Persicope (now part of Twitter), recalled that Periscope leads rotated this role, and how important it was to “have the notes visible as they were captured to easily spot errors / misalignments. Great mental training to focus exclusively on listening and accurate capturing.”
  • Adam Besvinick, an investor focused on health and human capital, added, “One of the first phrases I learned in Latin class: Qui scribit bis legit (He who writes reads twice)”
One fun part of my work at Adobe is managing our 3D & Immersive efforts and working with partners like Apple to ensure that future mediums like virtual and augmented reality are flush with creativity. I’m a firm believer that new mediums succeed only if their experience is a step-function better or more convenient than their predecessors. The web was a new medium replacing print. The iPhone/smartphone was a new medium replacing cell phones. And now, as we inch closer to a world that is overlaid with personalized, interactive and wildly animated experiences, we’ve got to outfit creative professionals to make the content. This tweet above from the Universal Everything AR Lab is a good example of the kinds of experiences made possible with depth cameras/mapping and creative tools working together. At Adobe, we’ve already launched Aero - a product for AR experience creation - and have outfitted products like Substance (application of realistic textures and materials to 3D objects) and After Effects to work with this new medium. And if you want to see a fun prototype of what life might look like, check out the video here.
scott belsky
people > firms

it’s a theme of the 21st century, as experts build personal brands, quality content democratizes SEO, and every-function-as-a-service has eliminated the need to align yourself with a shingle hung by others.

& turns out customers also prefer working with people.💥
Firms (and its many incarnations, like agencies, salons, etc) are a relic of a time when skilled professionals didn’t have easy-to-use tools to handle operations, manage clients, and grow their businesses. There were no social graphs or systems to track reputation. For the first time ever, a truly independent career is possible, which calls the existence of “firms” into question and poses incredible challenges and opportunities across industries and the global economy. A few more thoughts on this topic:
  • An agency may have one of the best Creative Directors, or a law firm may one of the best immigration attorneys, but it is less likely that these entities also employ the best talent across every other expertise. When you select a firm to work with, you are inherently reducing the chance of working with the best talent for every need that may arise. To some degree, you’re relegated to the lowest common denominator of talent.
  • A firm’s brand as a proxy for a person’s reputation was born out of laziness and lack of access to data. No doubt, top talent enjoys working together, but it’s no longer a necessity. You are seeing this in spades right now within venture capital, as individual investors are banding together to support entrepreneurs who would prefer a group of hand-picked experts to a traditional firm.
  • The internet’s “long tail” applies to expertise just as much as it applies to content and commerce. You can now find and connect with the best talent for a specific problem, wherever she or he may be located. Skilled professionals can communicate, bill, and collaborate with clients easily and cheaply. Reputations are easier to gauge using established social graphs like LinkedIn, Twitter, and niche industry graphs like Behance for creative or Quora for industry thought leaders.
  • More often than not, the greatest innovations bring us back to the way things once were. Before the internet and before the advent of the “firm” during the industrial revolution, the reputation of people and relationships mattered more than anything else. My hope is that the latest technology returns us to our roots and enriches the potential of independent careers and the services clients get from professionals they can trust. Here’s to unleashing the potential of people, sans the constraints, overhead, & politics of groups.
scott belsky
ironic that the most critical skill of great ceos (and what I think is most highly correlated skill w/ success) is one of the least respected and glamorized: sales. they don’t even teach it in b school, yet it’s the bridge to the best hires, customers and investors.
And we’ll part ways today with a skill I try to suss out in every entrepreneur I work with and every leader I hire: the ability to sell. “Sales” has a bad rap in some industries, but it shouldn’t. It is the skill that converts all of us to everything that moves us forward. It is the narrative that compels us to see a new future and take a career risk to make it happen. It helps us cross every bridge to new partnerships and opportunities. In response to my observation, my NYC friend from early days of Behance, Tina (aka “Swissmiss”) noted:
tina@hey.com
@scottbelsky Agreed! My friend once pointed out how negatively I spoke about sales. She looked at me and said: “Tina, selling is a transfer of enthusiasm. Nothing else.” That was a game changer for me.
…and I couldn’t agree more. We should all be seeking to transfer enthusiasm in what matters most to us.
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Scott Belsky - Elaboration On Tech/Product, Creativity, & Making Ideas Happen

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Scott Belsky, NY/SF