Craft and Quality: This week on Track Changes, Paul and Rich chat with Vice President of Partnerships and Community at InVision, Mike Davidson. We chat about everything from tomato seeds, to shower heads, to how to lead a remote team and the ups and downs of remote work. Mike shows us that the one thing these all have in common is they can help simplify your life to dig deeper into the things you love.
- Mike Davidson
- NBC News
- Clark Valberg - InVision
- Whole Food
- Slate Magazine
- This is the Perfect Tomato - Slate
- Klee Lab Research - University of Florida
- Kohler FlipSide Showerhead
- Educated by Tara Westover
- Duane Reade
- Screen Time
- Cold Turkey App
- Mac MultiFinder
- Roberta's Pizza Dough - New York Times
- Li Zigi - Youtube
- BKLYN Larder
- Mike Davidson Twitter
Rich Ziade We got a shower head!—I—I just imagine you . . . eating a tomato while that shower just beats into your back at just [chuckles]—
Paul Ford Talk about the greatest day of your life, [Rich laughs] ya know? [Rich laughs, fades out. Music plays alone for 18 seconds, ramps down.] Richard Ziade!
PF You know what’s nice sometimes? Talking to another practitioner who’s been at it for a while.
PF You know? Cuz I talk to people and they’re like, “The first language I learned was TypeScript [yeah, yeah] and the first tool I ever used for making things online was Sketch. Or Figma.”
PF I’m like, “Wow—”
RZ You’re dating yourself right now.
PF I know. I know. No, no but—
RZ That’s ok.
PF But, you know, there’s something to learn here. There’s something to learn from people who’ve been doing it for a while.
RZ And I’m excited to have this guest on the podcast.
PF You’ve interacted with this person mostly through—
RZ It’s weird, we’ve mumbled at each other—
PF You’ve exchanged seeds.
RZ You gotta give more detail than that.
PF Little would our audience expect, this person’s actually currently on the air listening to us have this conversation.
RZ Yes! Mike Davidson has joined us today. Mike, how are you?
Mike Davidson Great. How are you? And—and just for the record, I wanna say, my first programming language was Basic on a VIC-20, the predecessor to the Commodore 64.
PF Very good space we’re in here now.
RZ Yeah, yeah. Oh my God, mine was Basic on Atari 800. So here we go.
PF We just lost 80 percent of our audience but it’s cool. Mike, what is your current, like, role? What do you do?
MD Yeah, so I am the Vice President of Partnerships and Community at InVision which is a tool that many of you have probably used. We’re a design prototyping tool. We are an all remote company. Eight hundred and fifty-some people with zero offices.
RZ Holy moly.
PF Wow! Alright, and before this you ran a big chunk of design at Twitter if I’m correct.
MD I did, yes. I ran the entire Design and Research team at Twitter down in San Francisco from 2012 to 2016 and then before that I worked at NDC News which acquired by company News Vine which I started in 2005. And then before that, ESPN.com and then before that I was in print design. It’s been a long road.
PF Ok. And last question before we get to the important question of the tomato seeds: where are you calling from?
MD I am calling from lovely, cloudy, misty, beautiful Seattle.
RZ There are 800 people at InVision, let’s talk about that for—I wanna also share my—
PF I thought it was just Clark.
RZ Here’s the thing: I have a conspiracy theory. They’re fully remote because nobody knows where Clark is. And nobody ever will.
MD I mean there’s just us three right now so I can say this: there actually is no Clark.
PF This explains why we couldn’t get ‘em on the podcast.
RZ We—yeah, we connected to the VC—one of the VCs, I guess, that funded InVision and they’re like, “Yeah, we’ll get you Clark, no problem.” And then it went dark [laughs].
PF But that’s not—listen: that’s not why we’re here.
RZ You know what? The hell with it. Clark, it’s great to have you on the podcast.
RZ [Laughing] Welcome.
PF Alright, so, here’s the thing I know about Mike is at one point he sent Rich some seeds for his garden, and I don’t understand why and this is all Rich has told me about it. So I’d like to know more.
RZ I’m gonna let Mike take it here. Why did I end up getting seeds from you, Mike?
MD Well this is—I think this story will be useful to listeners because there’s something in it for you. You know, so I am not into gardening as you are, Rich. I am into it but I, like—I feel like there’s kind of a cost-benefit to it that I’m sometimes ok with and sometimes I’m not. Like, there are things that I like to eat but that are just too much of a pain in the ass to grow, and you can get good versions of it at the store. So, for instance, like, apple, right? Unless you’ve got like a ton of land, why would you put up a bunch of apple trees? You can get great Fuji apples at the store. But tomatoes are, like, the one fruit—or vegetable—that it is impossible to get high quality versions of at supermarkets. High end supermarkets, Whole Foods, low end supermarkets, they all have these really big, meaty, flavorless tomatoes, and they suck!
RZ You’re making a great point, and people [that] are listening are gonna say, “What are you talking about? My tomatoes are fine.” If you’ve ever tasted a tomato you grew in the ba—like that you grew, it’s a whole other experience.
PF No, it’s just a lovingly tended tomato. I remember once I was like 21 a guy came into the office I was working, he was in his forties. I was like, “What do you have in your briefcase?” And it was tomatoes [Rich laughs]. And this—
RZ Let me ask you: you think I wanna see an image of Mike’s avatar every time I bite into a juicy tomato? I don’t! But this is what happened. He sends me—
PF It’s a good association.
RZ So, what was special about these see—First off, how did you get these seeds? What club are you in?
MD I don’t remember how I found out about these. I think I read an article in Slate Magazine or something and it was like the history of tomatoes, like how did we get to this terrible place with tomatoes. We have figured out most fruit but tomatoes we have gone backwards on. And so what happened was several decades ago they started breeding these things for color and durability. Supermarkets want to be able to, like, you know, have a bunch of it shipped from across the world and have it live on their shelves for as long as it needs before it spoils and they want customers to walk by and think, “Oh, what a beautiful, juicy tomato. I want ten of those.” And then consumers get home and they realize what they bought and they’re generally not happy with it. And so this guy named Harry Klee is a horticulturalist in Florida—decided one day—about ten years ago, I believe—he decided one day that he had enough. And he came up with this variety called the Garden Gem and he ran it through all of these tests with real humans to test, you know, color and taste and long story short: he bred the perfect tomato. And he started making these seeds available to people because he wanted to continue to improve this tomato and so I bought some of the seeds. I sent some to Rich and I’ve sent hundreds of them to other people and it’s really just a great way to improve the tomatoes that are in your life.
RZ They are lovel—I’m gonna try to describe it. It’s sweet but it’s like it has a tinge of savory, it’s like someone sprinkled a little see—it’s really ridiculous. And—my wife saw me crying in the garden alone, and she said, “What’s wrong?” And I said, “This is so beautiful.”
RZ Uh. Yes, Paul? [Laughs] You don’t understand! This could be the next 45 minutes of the podcast.
PF No, I understand but no, I wanna pause because here’s the thing: so I’m [yeah] getting this about the tomatoes and I understand this now. I have only had really one interaction with Mike in my life. I’ve observed Mike’s career for a long, long time.
PF One interaction. I was typing something on Twitter. Maybe something about showers or shower pressure.
PF And chattin’ with folks and then all of a sudden out of nowhere, this designer I respect greatly is just like, “This is the showerhead you need to use immediately.”
RZ Yes! Yes!
PF Ok, so, what I wanted—Mike, I want you to explain the showerhead and then I think we need to drill in a little bit on your evangelical enthusiasm for things.
MD Mmm. Ok. Ok.
PF Ok, so what—what is this thing? Cuz I didn’t buy it but I regret it every day.
MD Ok, so, by the end of this podcast we need to turn you into a consumer of this product, Paul. I may actually just buy you one on Amazon as we’re talking. But so I built a house about ten years ago and, you know, during the process of building the house, you know, we had to sort of like figure out all the different little details like what tile do you want; what floor do you want; what windows do you want—like all that stuff. But then like there are all these things that builders pay no attention to at all, and a lot of those happen to be inside of bathrooms. I’ll give you an example—a non-showerhead example, but it is in the shower. So, you know, almost every shower that you get into has the controls right underneath the showerhead. That is like the one place that you do not want the controls. It’s like literally the worst place that you could put controls because when you get in you’ve gotta like turn the handle and then get doused with cold water immediately before the water gets hot. So it’s a huge pain in the ass. So, anyway, we had our controls placed over, you know, on the other side of the shower which was nice but then we thought about, “Well, hey, these typical, like, beautiful showerheads that these builders, you know, generally like to install who’s to say that that’s the best showerhead?” Like I have used plenty of these giant, opulent rain showers inside of hotels that are just horrible, right? Like, terrible water flow; terrible body coverage. And so what happens with these really high—you know, quote “high end” showerheads is they have so many holes on them but each mode only uses like ten percent of the holes. And so it ends up being a really terrible experience. So I found the showerhead made by Kohler, it’s called the Flipside, and I tested it. You know, I tested a bunch of these showerheads like as the house was getting built. And I tested this Flipside showerhead which is a really unconventional design. It has four modes and each mode uses every single hole on the side—you flip it four ways and each mode uses every single hole, and as a result you get four totally different shower experiences but they’re all very, very high pressure and they all feel amazing. And so over the last like several years I’ve just been tellin’ everybody that I know about this showerhead and only a few—I’ve probably sold 500 of ‘em or more. And I’ve only had like a couple of people tell me, “Eh”—that they didn’t really like it. Everybody else seems to be pretty happy.
RZ I just—I mean I just looked it up. It’s not expensive. It’s 47 bucks. How expensive are these seeds, Mike?
MD The seeds are like free basically. So the way you get the seeds is you gotta find this guy. He has a page on one of the larger social networks. Just search for ‘Harry Klee tomato seeds’ and you just make a donation to the University of Florida Horticultural Center. I think I donated like 20 bucks or something like that.
RZ And then he sends you seeds.
MD A hundred seeds, yeah, but I have a bunch of seeds too so if people want ‘em, just send me an email, I’ll just mail you seeds.
PF I sorta got—first of all, I would listen to 140 hours of this content. This is just—
RZ No, no, this is like a human wirecutter who’s kind of interesting.
PF It’s the Mike-cutter.
RZ It’s the Mike-cutter. It’s just very excit—are there other things on your list where you’re like, “If I can just—I need—people need to know.”
MD There’s one thing that isn’t so much like a product but one of my friends, Dan Cederholm who you guys may know as well, the guy who started Dribbble and SimpleBits, among other things. I saw him at a web conference 15 years ago or so in Portland. And we were just shootin’ the shit, having a beer, and I can’t remember how this topic came up but he was like, “You know, I eliminated shoelaces from my life a year ago and it was the best decision I ever made.” And I was like, “That’s a great idea.” And I tried it myself and so I stopped buying shoes with shoelaces on them. I just like basically started finding all the cool slip ons out there, cool sneakers, Vans, you know, those sort of things. And over the last like 15 years I have amassed a collection of laceless shoes that makes me think I could really never go back to shoes with laces on them. They’re great at airports: you can slip ‘em on, you can slip ‘em off. You don’t have to worry about, you know, double knots and you know all of that stuff. And it’s just been one of those things that I feel—it’s a small thing but I feel like it’s done a lot to help me simplify in a really small but cool way.
RZ See I—we’re hitting on a theme here, right? I mean we are constan—First off, all of these things that you’ve just described, none of them require you to be wealthy and I have bought iPhone cases to fill a void, an empty void in my life.
PF I have a friend who used to say—a friend who used to say an amazing thing which was, “I don’t like to buy stuff for my stuff.”
RZ Yeah. That’s a great quote.
PF I think about that every time I have to buy a new case for my whatever. I’m like, “Uh, I’m buyin’ stuff for my stuff.”
PF I’m way too deep.
RZ Well it’s that—you know that sound? The tape that Amazon uses on their boxes has like string in it—
PF Yeah, the sound of waste.
RZ No, it’s the sound of—as I like to say, success. But opening the box [Paul chuckling] has this tear sound to it [mm hmm] and there’s like this little squirt of endorphin gets shot into your brain cuz you’re getting a new thing.
PF Yeah. But the earth screams when you open that box.
RZ Well my wife also screams but that’s separate.
PF Right, fair. “What did you order?”
RZ “What did you order?” But the thing is it goes away—those things don’t have lasting value and the truth is between everything we’re consuming, whether it be information—I cannot tell you the last time I really was really excited about a piece of information I consumed. Where I was just paused and said, “Woah. Put this one on the side. It’s so good.” It’s because whether it’s Amazon boxes or just my phone constantly screaming at my thigh because there’s more stuff coming out of it—
PF No, you know how many things—you know Twitter’s bookmark feature?
PF You know how many things I’ve probably bookmarked on Twitter? How many tweets? Hundreds.
RZ They’re just sittin’ in a box.
PF Do you know how many times I’ve looked at my Twitter bookmarks?
RZ Of course.
PF About twice.
PF Yeah. And it’s—they’re good. They’re golden! I just can’t get back there.
MD I think it’s really kinda—I’m feeling the same thing and it’s kinda sad, really, because we have all this great content out there now. We have all this great writing—like there are great articles, great books continue to be read but because we have so much other information competing for our attention, it feels like a burden . . . to read even like a ten-minute article, you know? You save up all your articles in Instapaper and you wake up on Saturday morning and you’re like, “Oh, 42-minute read.” Ten years ago, you’re like, “Wow! There’s an amazing 42-minute long article in The New Yorker that I can read—like that’s fantastic.” And I worry that the deluge of information over the last few years has made us, you know, a) less likely to wanna read things of more substance; and b) like you said, Rich, it’s gotten us to the point where it’s not even as enjoyable which is really—
PF This is what’s tricky, right? It’s like fitness. Like if you don’t—I have gone back and said, “I am gonna read books again,” like I’m pretty serious about reading. It takes me a minute to get used to reading long things. It’s not—
RZ It’s so bad.
PF And then you’re locked in and then I’m like, “Great, I really remember why I love reading literature,” but then things get busy and now four months goes by and I haven’t read a book.
RZ I think I’m in an even worse state than you, I was reading a book recently—it’s called Educated, it’s very popular. It was a big topseller for like the last year or whatever. It’s really good. Really engaging. And for no reason whatsoever, I’m on the train, and I’m in the middle of a paragraph and I slide up from the bottom of my phone and I just start goin’ and lookin’ at other shit.
PF Of course!
RZ For no reason!! I have no reason to move away from the damned thing. It’s just because all the other stuff is right there, right? Why can’t—
PF It’s not just that. You need to actually finish that book and not start other books. Like that’s also hard.
RZ That’s also—I did finish the book! It’s just—I was like, “What are you doing? Where are you going right now? What are you going to look at?” It’s just like being in a Duane Reade and loitering in there and just fidgeting with products. I’m like, “What are you lookin’ for?!?”
PF We are men with grey hair, I can’t imagine being, like, 17 in this world and being told, “You should read and interact with these sort of like serious things.” [Mm hmm] Whereas the entire world is atomized into one second intervals.
MD When you guys were kids—I mean did your parents tell you that TV would decrease your attention span? Like that was the thing that my parents used to always say, like I used to love watching TV. I used to sneak it in whenever I could. They would always tell me, “If you watch too much TV it’s gonna do terrible things to your attention span.” As a kid I’m like, “[Blows raspberry] I don’t care.” And now I’m like, “Oh my God, if I sit down and watch like an hour long show on Netflix, that is like the longest I have [chuckling] concentrated on something.”
MD “In a few weeks, in some cases.” You know? I just feel like it’s this continuation of the shortening of our attention spans and it’s really, really hard to counteract.
PF You know my father used to say, he’s like, “I don’t like computer games, you should be making up your own stories.” [Rich laughs] Yeah. That was a rough one. I was like, “But dad, Zork is cool!” “No, well, I’m glad you’re havin’ a good time.”
RZ So I wanna pitch an app.
RZ You can’t do this on iOS, iOS has screen time. By the way, I forgot my Screen Time passcode. I tried to Screen Time myself.
PF [Chuckling] You can’t use your own—
RZ I can’t even use my own Screen Time. There’s—I have to get like an app—
PF Oh this is great.
RZ—that hacks your phone to reset the Screen Time code. Anyway, there’s an app called Cold Turkey for Mac. I think it’s also for Windows, if I’m not mistaken. It’s like ten bucks or 20 bucks or something, it’s a great name. And what it does is you can essentially give it a white list of black list of URLs, it’ll essentially say, “Look, you can only go to this URL. The others aren’t gonna work.” And then you give it a timetable. And unless you reboot your whole Mac, you’re stuck with either only certain URLs you can use, and it’ll work for apps. So you can’t even open apps. I can’t open Slack. Like I need to get something done. I’m in, working on a presentation for a pitch, and I’m going to Slack. And I’m going to Slack for nothing. I’m not looking for anything, I have nothing to go find. But I’m going to Slack cuz everybody’s chatting and it’s cool to walk up to people when they’re chatting. And, at some point, I just said, you know, “I’m gonna use this thing.” And I’ve worked out my brain to avoid using it. I haven’t been able to dive in and use it. I think I might have to get my mother who doesn’t know how to use a phone, really, generally speaking to put Screen Time on my phone and control my behavior.
PF It’s not a bad idea.
RZ I’ve started to do this. I’ve started to not take my phone to meetings. I wanna start taking nothing to meetings. I need to take notes but when your laptop’s in your hand, the whole world’s in your hand so that busts—breaks for me.
MD It’s funny that the feature that could help you with this—that’s built into the Mac is actually called Parental Controls. And as an adult you’re saying you would like your parents to turn these controls on for you.
RZ Well, I mean—
RZ—Parental Controls doesn’t work for a 50 year old man, maybe it can for certain 50 year old men who are still in the basement and wear weird Star Wars gear, then it works. I would love a greater level of control. I mean the offerings are amazing out there now. I yell at the walls and my lights go off in my house.
PF Mike—Mike, do you find this like—Ok, so Rich and I—I think you’re roughly our cohort of not the youngest people on the internet and yet we’re all extremely ONLINE, in all caps. Like increasingly I just find that to be this bananas paradox where everyone feels about 11 years old and yet I’m using their language and connected to them and part of this community. And it just gets more and more surreal.
MD It does and I think that there are some ways that I have tried to counteract that. So, for instance, like I have never been a watch guy. I don’t think I’ve worn a watch since I was like 12 years old. But! I did recently buy an Apple Watch and, you know, it’s nice to track running and exercise and things like that but what I like more about it is I feel like I can leave my phone in the charger, almost all day. I can go to the store without my phone; I can go to a football game without my phone. I like it because it’s basically, like, it provides the minimum level of connectedness that I need—like if I need to make an emergency phone call, it’s got LTD, I can do that. If I need to text somebody, like my wife, I can do that but it’s kind of a pain in the ass like, you know, so it keeps you to like, you know, one, two word texts. So, like, I like the idea of moving to a world in which if we have any devices at all on us they are very small devices that are not optimized for spending a ton of time on. And I feel like only now are some people starting to kind of take that mentality about technology. You know, as you guys were talking about Cold Turkey, it reminded me—do you remember in the early days of Mac, this was like in the eighties, the operating system, it was called Finder, right? Then a few years later, something called Multi Finder came out. And Multi Finder was just basically a Finder that allowed you to multitask and everything has just kind of snowballed from there, right? Like now you can have 50 apps open and just, you know, control-tab between all of them and, you know, that’s been looked as a good thing but when I think about it I’m like, “You know what? I kinda wanna go back to Finder.”
PF It was good!
MD I know, I kinda wouldn’t mind if there was a mode I could put my Mac into where it’s like you literally get one program to have open. That’s it. If you wanna switch programs, you need to quit your current program, launch another program, and use that. And there are some apps that sort of mimic this a little bit. Like, I don’t know how you guys do your writing but there’s an app called Ommwriter.
PF Oh yeah, no, there’s al—there’s the infinite fantasy of the fullscreen, interruption-free text editor. Can I tell you, though—this is a little bit of schtick but there’s exactly one technology that works to help you get the writing done . . . and it’s called a deadline. It’s somebody going, literally tapping their Apple Watch—
RZ A hundred percent. That works for a lot of different things. The deadline.
PF I’m a writer—
RZ Not just writing.
PF I’m a writer, I’m a procrastinator—these are two very well known things about me.
PF And . . . there is absolutely noth—I have tried—because one of the ways I procrastinate is to optimize my writing environment [mm]. And it doesn’t freakin’ matter. If somebody genuinely feels bad and I’m making their day bad by not getting my thing done, I will write it on bark, in my own blood.
RZ Well, this is—there’s another component to this, right? It’s that there’s a human being, right? It’s why—I don’t need my trainer anymore. I’ve been goin’ to my trainer for eight months. He’s been pretty much using the same routines with me—
PF Your pecs look great. You’re just—
RZ Thank you so much.
MD He’s not listening to this podcast.
RZ Yeah, yeah. No, but I will keep going . . . is my point. And that’s because I’m accountable to a human, right? I’m accoun—self-imposed deadline, like when you set that alarm on your own phone or—it’s just bullshit.
PF Oh, you—we slipped so fast as humans.
RZ I mean [stammers] I’m observing Lent.
RZ Right now, so I’m not eating sweets. Cuz I don’t wanna go to hell. So like the accountability here is God which is pretty intense.
PF Cool, this really sounds logical.
RZ [Laughs] I wanna actually tie this together. I wanna tie custom tomato seeds [hmm!]; a beautiful showerhead; and I guess we’re talking about unplugging, in a way, or focusing or our attention span and whatnot. I think it’s—I—
PF Well we got a guy here who works all day in his house.
PF Managing people staying focused—and it has to get a lot of work done.
RZ But also where we can go find—
PF And that guy is Mike Davidson, by the way. I’m not [stammers and laughs]—
RZ No, agreed, I guess—I think there is a theme here which is the things that give us actual, real joy in a prolonged way are not the things that we keep going back to. Like I keep going back to the damned feeds wherever those feeds may be.
PF No, that’s right, that’s that little bit of dopamine. It’s also that, you know, there’s so much to be said for the planning and the suspense of it. What I have found with my spare time, I like buying books online. Sometimes they’re a little older; sometimes they’re from the eighties; sometimes they’re whatever. But researching them; thinking them through; planning when I’m going to read them—like having a relationship with the object all the way through: thinking about where it came from and then reading it.
PF And then putting it on the shelf and knowing it’s there—
PF And then I wake up in the morning, I see those books. They are on the shelf by my bed and I feel—I feel connected to something that’s internal and external and so on as opposed to the kind of relentless flow—
RZ Going deep is incredibly fun.
PF Yeah it is.
RZ I mean, you know, we’re listening to Mike talk about a researcher who like hacked tomato seeds and it’s like, “Wow, that’s kinda weird, that’s kinda—” But going deep is fun and it’s satisfying and there’s gratification around it and sharing that knowledge, I think, is really cool. Are we sounding old? I guess we’re sounding old. Maybe we shouldn’t park in front of the high school and hang out there, like 50-year-olds in the schoolyard.
PF Well I need to stop buying vodka for 14-year-olds. That’s not cool.
RZ [Laughs boisterously] Mike, how long have you been working from home?
MD About a year and a half now. I started yeah July, I believe, July of 2018.
RZ Ok, so, this is—I mean I think a big question because it’s a question we ask ourselves here at Postlight. Postlight’s growing and where we recruit and—
PF Well it’s easier to grow if you’re not geographically—
RZ Limited, yeah. But also—we’ve also balked at the question of leadership being remote even though we already have some success on the engineering side. Our head of engineering is not at headquarters, he’s in Tennessee. Talk to us a little bit about—I think I figured out why you’re a happy, well adjusted person, I’m gonna make that assumption about you, Mike, but talk to us a bit about leading remotely and this is not about commits in Github, right? Where you can quantify progress and productivity. Talk to us a bit about that and how it’s gone for you and what’s worked and what’s a challenge.”
MD Yeah, I mean I think the best way to look at remote work is it’s a series of tradeoffs. That’s just basically the same way I look at design, right? Like all design is a series of tradeoffs. When you change the design of the product, your case is sacrificing configurability per ease of use, for instance. Every decision is a trade off and so I look at remote work as being a series of tradeoffs as well. It’s not unconditionally positive; it’s not unconditionally negative. It’s not the same for every person even. Could I see myself as a remote worker in a small house shared with five roommates who are all there every day? Probably not. Could I see myself being a remote worker in a place in the country where I was comfortable, where I had my own space? That’s basically my situation now. Yes, I could. So, when you look at remote work and you look at how people react to it, there is no sort of one set of rules that apply to everybody. I would say in terms of how it feels, you know, I think what I tell people is the lows are less low because, you know, if you have a bad meeting or you’re having a bad day or whatever, you can slam your laptop shut and you go out onto your deck and have a beer [hosts laugh]. Whereas, you know [chuckles], if you’re physically in the office with a bunch of people and you’re having a bad day, things can compound a lot more quickly than that.
RZ Yeah. I call it The Walkout. I’ve seen it. A really rough meeting, for whatever reason, with a client or whatever, and the person just takes their jacket and takes a walk.
RZ Is usually what happens.
PF No, but it’s true when you’re in an office you can’t walk away from the disappointment of others.
RZ No! You leave the building! I think you go for a walk.
MD Well and that doesn’t always happen, right? Like sometimes you don’t leave the building and you stew and things get worse. So anyway, the lows are less low but I would also say in many cases the highs are less high. There’s really something to be said for being physically in the trenches with people. Maybe you’ve been workin’ on a big launch for six months and it’s a bunch of you in the same room together, and you’re ready to hit the switch together, and watch what the reaction is on Twitter and what happens with your stats and all that. Like, doing that all while you’re in—physically in the same space together, you know, does provide a high that I think doesn’t exist to the same degree that it does in remote companies. I think the other thing too that is a lot more subtle is, you know, when you’re in the same place with a bunch of people and somebody comes in the morning and they’ve got a bit of a long face, you can see, right away, that something might be wrong, and you might go over to them and say, “Hey, is everything ok? Is there anything I can do to help?” And you don’t get that.
PF Well and also you might—you might say, like, “You know, I’m gonna leave them alone. I had that thing to bring up but I’m gonna just—let’s give til tomorrow. I know there’s some stuff goin’ on.”
PF That pacing is really hard and it does get a little more pro forma like, “Oh, I have to communicate with person X about Y, I better get on Slack and do that.” As opposed to reading the room because you’re not in the room. You know the thing we’ve learned too—I think there’s an assumption that, you know, you’re gonna get everybody in the room with a big onsite and we’re all gonna hang out. Those are very tiring and they—they are halfway between holiday and labor.
RZ They could be exhausting.
PF They’re not the same as that sort of slow burn, direct interaction over time. So, to me, I always thought that would be the fix. Well, we’ll just all hang out for a week, and that’ll build the—and it’s key, it builds the community. But it’s not—it’s still not quite the same. It’s a different world.
RZ As a leader, Mike, how do you motivate remotely? How do you get people excited about things?
MD Yeah, well, I mean I think it really all comes down to everybody feeling like they’ve got a common goal to go after. I have a much smaller team at InVision than I had at Twitter. At Twitter my team was, you know, a hundred people, at InVision it’s just a few. I’m not really on the design team. So it’s a different managing job altogether, managing a team that small but the advantage that we have at InVision is we all know where we’re going. We all know what the purpose of InVision is, and where we wanna take things, the only disagreements are like how do we get there. Which is, I think, typical of most successful businesses out there. I think Twitter was probably the atypical example where, you know, you talk to any employee who works there and they all kinda want a slightly different thing out of the service, right? Some people use it for how to get their news, some people use it to catch up on celebrity gossip, some people use it to catch up on sports scores, some people use it for direct message private conversations. It’s such a versatile service that I think that that served it well over the last 12 years that it’s been a product because it’s allowed so many different disparate use cases to emerge but it’s also been very, very difficult to get people on the same page about—not just about what to do but what not to do. Like where should we not take this product? What resources should we not spend building things that should not be part of this product? And so I think—getting back to your question—I think whether you’re remote or not, having a common goal, having a north star that everybody kind of believes is really, really important.
MD [Continued] In terms of management hygiene, I still have video one-on-ones every two weeks with every member of my team. You know we do interesting things sometimes like I ran the InVision studio design team for a few months, temporarily, and we started doing these science fairs, we used to call them. So, you know, rather than have these kind of long meetings where people are going through PowerPoint decks, we would just have people sign up for the science fair and show off an actual thing that they built. So, you know, a bunch of people just kind of login to Zoom and you’ve got a hundred, 200 person meeting and it’s a bunch of engineers, a bunch of designers, product people, and people are just going through their stuff, like, “Hey, I just built a new sign in screen. Here’s how it works.” It’s five, ten minutes a person, very casual but it helps really remind people of what’s going on around the company because when you are remote you don’t always see it.
RZ Cool. It’s hard. I’m still wrapping my head around how distributed a place can be. I think, you know, one of the things you pointed out was a shared goal and a shared mission. It’s harder for us. We have many clients and we are—you know, we do have a culture and we really do have a commitment to craft at Postlight. We’re an agency and a product studio here in New York City but, you know, that—InVision you could do the one sentence exercise, right? Of what the mission is for InVision which is, by the way, to bill us a lot of money on a monthly basis.
PF We do. That one pops right up [Rich laughing] on that Amex notification. “Oh! There we go!”
RZ Mike, this has been amazing. I want one more life hack out of you before we say goodbye.
MD One more life hack out of me. Ok. Here’s another culinary one: I think we’re going through a golden age of pizza right now. You know, in the eighties—seventies, eighties, nineties, whatever, most people in the United States were subjected to this very mass market pizza and then, you know, the first time you go to Italy, you have pizza over there and you’re like, “What is this? This is something totally different than what I’m used to. Like it tastes fresh, the crust is thin. It’s beautiful. What is this?” And then you obviously—you do the research and you realize, “Oh, they’ve been making pizza like that in Italy for a long time.”
RZ [Laughing] Yeah.
MD What’s happened though, I think over the last like, you know, ten to 20 years is that America has wised up to that style of pizza. And so almost every major city in the US now you can find a place that cooks either Neapolitan style pizza or semi-Neapolitan style pizza: thin crust, high temperature [yeah], great ingredients. So that’s great but what most people don’t know is that it’s actually very easy to learn how to make that stuff yourself, at home. You don’t need a pizza oven. You do not need a giant wood fire pizza oven in your backyard. You can get one!
RZ That’s true. It’s the dough. The dough takes a little bit of work to master it and get it to a good place but it’s true, it’s not that hard.
MD Ok, so with dough here’s my—[stammers] You’re right, it takes about, I would say maybe like four or five tries to learn how to make dough. So let’s—give yourself like a month, basically, and you’ll know how to make the dough. The easiest, best recipes for beginners, I think, is just look up Roberta’s pizza recipe in The New York Times, and it’s super easy to make. You can make it the same day. You don’t need to ferment it for like a week or grow your own stupid sourdough starter and keep it in a fridge for a year. You don’t knead [;)] to do any of that stuff. So that stuff, you know, is not hard to learn and then really you can make pizza that is as good or better than you can get at the Neapolitan places. You can do it on a gas grill which is what I do. So I’ve got a gas grill outside that I just put a pizza stone on top of the gas grill. In the winter time, when it’s cold, I just do it inside of my oven. Once you start making pizza yourself, you’ll have a hard time going to pizza restaurants ever again because it’s easy to make, and it’s great, and pizza’s the best food in the world.
PF That’s a good life hack.
RZ I want this life! No, I want the life, not the hack.
PF We have to go soon—
RZ He’s got—he’s got loafers on, he’s in the shower, he’s eating tomatoes! I mean, look, this is—“Enjoy Life” is what I wanna call this podcast—this particular episode.
PF Ok, well, I mean maybe we shouldn’t live in a giant, mega city where capitalism’s on full blast in your face [Rich laughing] at every frickin’ minute. Here, wait, I have a great suggestion for everybody.
PF Something—I’m pretty sure—if you don’t know about this, Mike, you will love this. There is a video blogger in China, her name is Li Ziqi, L-I Z-I-Q-I. And go watch her videos because she does things like make bamboo furniture utterly from scratch. She goes out to the forest, gets the bamboo, makes the furniture, then she’s like, “You know what? I’m gonna make—I wanna do some calligraphy, so I’m going to make the brushes which means I have to—”
RZ Oh so she deep dives. That’s what this is about, right?
PF She has to go—it’s like classic Chinese crafts. She has to go get the hair from the rabbit to make the brush, then she has to make the paper, and then she has to make the ink. There’s some charcoal involved and it’s months. These things take months and it’s just the most soothing and informative videos you will ever watch.
RZ Very cool. Very cool.
MD So you’re saying we should watch these purely for the watching part. You’re saying you don’t need to then do what she does. You’re saying just watching her do it is soothing.
PF Well it gives you a lot of conte—She’s unbelievably popular in China. She represents, you know, a really specific sort of agricultural-historical ideal. And it’s fascinating to see it in comparison to kind of what our rustic heritage is and how we think of things in America as being like sort of pure and simple, and that difference. Like the way the furniture looks; the way the experience is; the way the food is prepared. It’s very, very different but it’s the same emotional connection to something that feels pure and real and sort of beautiful. So she makes her own clothes and then her grandmother’s there and she makes clothes for her grandmother. It’s spectacular . . . as content.
RZ Oh my gosh, all of her videos have tens of millions of views.
PF And that’s just on YouTube, like when you get to the Chinese platforms, she’s even more popular.
PF This is a global superstar, quietly making videos slowly about her life on the farm—she moved away from the city. She went to the city when she was like 16 and then she said, “Eh, I’m gonna go back to my grandmother’s. I’m tired of all this.”
RZ Very cool! I’m like clickin’ through. Very cool stuff.
RZ Very cool. I feel like a failure right now [sighs] um—
PF No, no, we did good, we did good.
RZ I don’t know I feel like I should do someth—I’m gonna make soap this weekend or something.
PF You should make some soap. The Lebanese are famous soap makers.
RZ Final tip: if you live in Brooklyn, there was a[n] incredible Neapolitan restaurant—pizza restaurant—called Franny’s that is not open anymore.
RZ But the people who started Franny’s opened a place called Brooklyn [Bklyn] Larder that’s like this speciality goods shop. They still sell the Franny’s dough, frozen. If you don’t wanna go through the whole hassle. It’s on Flatbush. Go get some dough. Make some delicious Neapolitan pizza. Shower afterwards with some strong pressure. Call it a day!
PF Mike, so is there anyone that you would like to get in touch, anything you’re looking for, and how can people reach or follow or be in contact with you?
MD You can find me on Twitter @mikeindustries. Yeah, if anybody wants any of those seeds, I’ve got a bunch of ‘em saved up from last year. So I’m happy to just drop some in the mail for you. Otherwise, I’m just a designer.
RZ Mike, this has been an absolute—absolute pleasure. I’ve really enjoyed this. I feel better about my life just talking about this stuff, I don’t know if I need to do any of it . . . [laughs boisterously].
PF You need to do some of it.
RZ Oh, ok, fine! [Chuckles]
PF You just can’t get away from craft. You can’t get away from quality and a focus on quality.
RZ I think it makes you happy.
PF It is. It is a thing that makes you happy. You think about how things were put together and why [music fades in] and you realize that you live in that larger context, it’s not just all about you.
RZ That’s right.
PF That’s the problem with social media, right? Is it just keeps getting focused on the individual, it’s your experience, your experience. And then you listen to Mike talk about the tomato plants, that’s bigger than him.
PF And learning about that made him feel empowered and connected to the world.
RZ Yeah! And it’s something he enjoys sharing.
PF That, to me, I know when people brandish the words ‘design thinking’ I usually get hives which is why I need a high pressure showerhead to kind of get the—But that, to me, is the actual design thinking.
PF It reminds me of—remember when Craig Mod was on?
RZ Mm hmm.
PF And it’s very similar like the—you know, he was telling us about a really stretchy clothesline.
PF That just mattered to him. And you’re like, “Ok, I get it.” So, look, if somebody wants to talk to us, all you gotta do is send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org.
RZ Speaking of craft.
PF Yeah, that’s—we like to build things for people that are good.
RZ Yes, design, engineering, across the board.
PF You can follow us on @postlight, we do lots of great events, there’s just a lot of wonderful ways to connect to Postlight and the most important one is to either send that email or come to postlight.com website, on the World Wide Web.
RZ Have a wonderful week.
PF Alright, we’ll talk to you soon [music ramps up, plays alone for three seconds, fades out to end].