2 min read

A Clear Northstar :: the value of knowing what you want

Having the entire purpose of your operation boiled down to a single question is extremely valuable. A lesson in identifying a north-star to know what you want from TransferWise, my old job, and video maker CGP Grey.
A Clear Northstar :: the value of knowing what you want

a lesson from TransferWise, my old job, and CGP Grey

I went to a product management event at TransferWise some time back. If someone doesn't know what product management is, it's basically the profession of deciding what the product of a company is, and not forgetting it. And reminding everyone else what it is.

This quickly becomes abstract in a world of Siri (that has no tangible interface) and even WiFi (have you ever tried to explain the difference between WiFi and 4G to someone?). 'Product' used to be something we could touch and look at, like a chair. Now product can be something that simplifies people's life by taking away pain points. Even if we don't have anything we can touch with our bare hands.

And the people who pick what pain points to solve for are called product managers. They work with designers and engineers to bring a solution together for someone. It helps when they have a really clear idea what the problem being solved is, so when designers want to remove functionality because it's ugly – or engineers want to solve the more intellectually stimulating problems, they can stand up for the person who's problem is being solved.

And the clearer the pain point, the better. TransferWise (not a sponsored post) has a very clear product: international payments. Their entire product strategy is simple: make it faster, make it cheaper.

Working with smart people is wonderful, but it opens up the potential of people overanalysing and making simple things complicated. Having a really clear vision: "We are TransferWise. We want to make international payments (that are a pain in the butt normally) as effortless as possible. How do we do that? Well, there's a lot that goes into it actually – but all else being equal, we will choose a solution that makes it more painless for our user. What are our user's pain points? When things take long, and fees. So our north-star in the sky that guides the way is to make things cheaper or faster".

This idea of having the entire purpose of your operation boiled down to a single question is extremely valuable. My former boss regularly asked in meetings, "but does it sell more tickets?" when we worked on a ticket sales product. Getting caught in the details is natural when working on something, but it's helpful to not forget to look up, find the north-star, and make sure you know what you want.

Video maker CGP Grey when writing scripts for his videos has: "Clearer. Shorter." as his north star.

from 'Iteration'

And now I'm curious if anyone else has this? Please tell me if you have a north star like this; or a question you can ask yourself to see if an idea is a distraction or a worthwhile endeavour.