The Looking Glass: The Power of the Mindmeld
How to present information convincingly; 7 questions to improve clarity; and why the words count
When I was a kid high off of X-Men episodes, I’d play this game with myself all the time: What superpower would I choose, if I could choose?
Flying seemed neat. But duh telekenesis was the smarter choice (it is a superset of flying, after all!) And don’t even get me started on how utterly impressive flinging supercharged playing cards are.
But what I ultimately concluded was that the absolute most desirable power was the ability to read minds.
This desire has remained remarkably consistent through the years. I still long to read minds. I wish I knew what all the users I’ve designed for feel when using my work. I wish I knew what I could do to make my reports and colleagues love their day-to-day. I wish I could diagnose immediately why my kids are in a foul mood.
When I was younger, I thought of mind-reading as a thing you do to other. Now, I’m fancy and have feature requests. I want this to be a two-way street! Basically, I want perfect, lossless communication.1
Alas, we don’t have this yet. But I’ll still keep dreaming. And in the meantime, write an issue on the theme of communication.
This week’s tidbits:
- How to present information convincingly
- From the Archives: The words count
- Bonus! Is the New Deal for business leading by design?
For paid subscribers:
- 7 questions to improve clarity
- Making it memorable
- What is lost with AI summaries
If you and your team are rowing a boat together, your boat does not get anywhere unless you all row in the same direction, and ideally at the same time.
If you and your team are trying to build something together, the same reality holds — you do not get anywhere unless people work towards the same goal, and ideally in a coordinated manner.
To work towards the same goal, you must have the same map in your head as your team members, with the same destination in mind. I think of this as mindmeld.
If a team does not have mindmeld, it will instead reap pain — the entire spectrum from resentment to sloppy output, circular conversions to office politics.
If you are on a team and you do not sense everyone is on the same page, you need to make some noise about it.
I find this rolls off the tongue quite nicely: We do not have mindmeld.
How to present information convincingly
The only reason we should be presenting is because want to achieve mind-meld. If you have a new idea you want to land with teammates, remember that there are 2 things you must do:
Establish a shared foundation
Before you introduce a new room to the team’s architectural diagrams, you must make sure everyone had the same original plan in mind. It would not do for you to suggest let us add another floor but in your head, the original plan was a 2-story house and in your colleague’s mind, it was a 3 story house. So do the equivalent of showing the shared foundations before introducing your new idea. This means:
- Remind people of the shared goal or the shared problem
- Define precisely any technical terms you are using.
- When you say room do you mean a traditional 4-walled structure with a door? Or do you also consider a living area with 2 open walls a room? When people throw around terms that mean slightly different things, things get confusing fast.
- List the assumptions you are working off of
Explain the entire chain of So what’s
So what? Why should people care about your new idea?
Probably because it accomplishes useful, which the presenter should explain. This part is generally obvious.
Unfortunately, the explanation often sounds like this: So if we do hocus-pocus, this function will now be whizbammable! Then the presenter looks around the room excitedly, as if to say Isn’t that amazing?
The problem is, the presenter assumes the audience understands the So what? of whizbammability. Alas, the presenter assumes too much. The audience (especially if they are executives) are rarely thinking as much about hocus-pocus or whizbammability as the presenter.
What the presenter should do instead is explain the chain all the way back to the shared goal. So if we do hocus-pocus, this function will now be whizbammable! And whizbammability is great because it allows for shazam. And what’s wonderful about shazam is that it will make prestomagic work twice as fast. And since most of our costs are on prestomagic, this means we will cut our $3 million cost down to $1.6 million for a total savings of $1.4 million.
Now that is amazing! Only after the entire chain of So whats? has been established, should the presenter look around the room excitedly.
From the Archives: The Words Count
My first full-length novel, The Shadow Gods, was a story about a modern-day goddess of love who becomes a pawn in a high-stakes political game.
My second, The Chances, was about a cat-mouse-game between a pair of identical high school twins, one a detective and the other a thief.
My third, Neath, was about a forsaken underground kingdom plotting its revenge in the last days of civilization.
And lastly, Game of Chances was a combo concept: a pair of identical high school twins, one a detective and the other a thief, discover they are modern-day gods in a high-stakes political game.
What do all four of these novels have in common?
- None of them were any good.
- All of them were birthed during NaNoWriMo.
- Through the experience, I grew to be the writer I am today.
If you haven’t heard of Nanowrimo, it stands for National Novel Writing Month, and it’s exactly what it sounds like. In the month of November, the goal is to write a 50,000-word novel. (Very quickly, you realize this averages out to 1,667 words a day for 30 days.)
When I first heard of this challenge in college, I was instantly swept by the ingenuity of it. I’m not one to run an actual marathon, but this felt like the mental equivalent of one: intense, but capped. Extreme yet intoxicating. It felt like stepping into a creative blizzard and emerging at the end with something tangible: the actual bones of a story.
Here’s the thing: we all have stories to tell.
Perspectives, parables, proposals, lessons, fantasies — they all live within us, in the dark depths of the mind’s ocean. Writing is the process of fishing these out. It’s the extraction of personal truth, bottled into little black squiggles on crisp white paper. These words help us sweep chaos into order, knit pain into opportunity, multiply the power of great ideas. They help us be known.
Entire religions, governments and innovations have been constructed from a few pieces of writing. The reading of someone else’s words is the closest thing we have to being able to occupy their mind for a few brief minutes or hours.
But your writing doesn’t have to be read by someone else for it to be worthwhile.
The hundreds of thousands of words of my earliest novels have seen no eyes but my own. The extraction process, especially during those Novembers, was sloppy. I often didn’t know what I wanted to say, or the sentences were dull, or the plot meandered like a lost child, or the characters changed histories midway through.
I failed in my dream of being a published novelist, and there were times when I wondered at all that effort — all those plot holes I tried to mend, the sentences I tried to shape, all those November nights lost in a flurry of typing — what was the point, if nobody was going to read them?
But now, more than a decade later, I reap the bountiful harvest.
What is a few hundred thousand wasted words when I have written millions more since then?
I am a product designer and manager by profession, but oh, how I write. Daily e-mails debating the pros and cons of specific product decisions; mission statements and company values; new strategies and organizational updates; promotion criteria and primers for new employees; letters to myself that turned into widely read blog that turned into a bestselling management book.
What I learned is that the most important thing in writing is to just get the words down — the discipline of 1667 a day. The words don’t have to be good; they just have to be. Because once they’re down, you have something you can evolve, respond to, and polish.
What I learned is that writing, reading and thinking go hand-in-hand. As my words sharpened, so did the clarity of my ideas. What used to be an amorphous haze of emotions and fragments now, more often than not, present themselves as a series of structured thoughts.
I approach reading with more depth as I consider all the choices the author made, and why. I express myself more honesty and connect better with readers. I am learning, over and over again, that writing regularly has many advantages in life.
What I learned is that writing is fun when you do it for yourself. There is joy in the invention that happens on the page. There is delight in unwrapping a tiny piece of ourselves only to discover what’s behind it is universal.
What is the point of words?
Write, because your story matters.
Figma asked me, along with some fabulous design / PM superstars on our reflections on Brian Chesky’s talk. I shared my perspectives on judgement and context in this article, with the long version in this newsletter post on Higher Level Design from a few weeks ago.
Some of my fav quotes from other peeps are below:
The rivalry [between design and product management] is over. We need to get all that out of our heads. — Steve Johnson, VP design at Netflix
So, I really look at what Brian is saying as a combination of, “Look, designers, you should not discount the value that you can be adding,” and also, “PMs, don’t let bureaucracy get in the way of the right answer.” — Sho Kuwamoto, VP product at Figma
Then a friend gave me some really important advice: It’s really rare you find something you enjoy doing, that people also value. — Lenny Rachitsky, creator of Lenny’s Newsletter
As some companies get bigger, a PM’s job can become more and more internal-facing. It’s all about alignment. It’s all about communication. A big company PM can start to actually get very distanced from, you know, “building product.” That’s the phenomena Brian was was experiencing — just like all the decks, and all the reviews, and all the strategy docs. When you see so much energy being poured into that versus just shipping, it’s very easy to just try to cut it all out, you know? — Yuhki Yamashita, CPO Figma
Read the whole thing here.
Below are 3 more pieces for paid subscribers:
- 7 questions to improve clarity
- Making it memorable
- What is lost with AI summaries
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