Teresa Torres is one of the top product coaches in the world, and one of the people who has most impacted how I think about creating and bringing things into the world. She teaches a structured and sustainable approach to creative work that infuses decisions with customer input, and has coached hundreds of teams of all sizes around the world. She is also the author of the newly-released book, “Continuous Discovery Habits,” which I think of as the missing operator’s manual for product teams and more broadly, I actually consider a must-read for anyone doing creative work.
I say that because the the framework we discuss in this conversation isn’t really about products at all: it’s about critical thinking, decision making, and problem solving in a world that’s always changing and irreducibly complex. And the genius of Teresa’s approach is that it is a simple set of habits that you can adopt in your work to increase the odds your bets pay off.
We talk about all things product discovery, how to increase your sense of agency and overcome obstacles to being more creative, career strategy, and how to balance the unsolvable, built-in tensions that are inherent in all creative work.
It’s a privilege to bring you Teresa Torres.
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Transcripts may contain some typos. With some episodes lasting ~2 hours, it can be difficult to catch minor errors. Enjoy!
Andrew Skotzko 00:01:48 Teresa. First of all, congratulations, what a week? Thanks for coming and spend a little bit of time with me this week. How are you? Yeah,
Teresa Torres 00:01:56 Thanks for having me. I’m excited. It’s been a really fun week. My book launched on Wednesday and I have been neurotically following Twitter and LinkedIn, because there’s so much enthusiasm. It’s been a ton of fun to just watch it. People get excited to receive their books and share their feedback and ask their questions. And after a year and a half of a ton of work, I’m getting to sorta just enjoy the response, which is great.
Andrew Skotzko 00:02:20 I’m curious, you know, there’s always, it feels like there’s always a moment when I talk to authors where they just, they knew they’d like made it, like, they’re like, oh my God, it’s, it’s really happening. And there’s just this like wave of relief and excitement. Was there one of those moments for you?
Teresa Torres 00:02:32 Yes and no. So obviously when you put a thing in the world, you’re worried about like, are people going to be receptive to it? And I did have, um, a really great moment on Wednesday where Marty Cagan emailed me and he was like, Hey, I know this is your first book and you might already know this, but this is the sales number to watch. And he sent me my Amazon sales rank number. And he was like, I just want to give you some context for this number, like to break 10,000 is amazing. And to break under 2000 is unheard of. And that point I was at 1393, like he was congratulating me. And then by the end of the day, I ended at three 24. Wow. Unbelievable. Right. Was like all books on Amazon, all books on Amazon. And then of course he qualified it.
Teresa Torres 00:03:15 He’s like, you know, all books get a big bump on day one. So you want to see where you end up over the next whatever. And I was like, I don’t care. I’m just going to, so it’s that that’s been really incredible, like the enthusiasm and just, people’s willingness to go out and buy it on day one. Um, I’d actually, I sold more books on day two than I did on day one. So that’s just, it’s phenomenal. Um, it’s a little bit scary still because people have to read the book and then I think that’s really where I’m going to hear from people and all the problems are going to come out and I’m like, I’ve already heard from somebody that asked a really good clarifying question about my interview advice. And I’m like, I’m like, oh man, I’m going to have to write a blog post about that. All right. Okay.
Andrew Skotzko 00:04:00 All right. We’ll have to bring that back up here in a little bit when we get really into the meat of the book, but we’re going to spend a lot of time talking about the book and applying and all that, but I actually want to jump back in time and get a little bit more of your personal story. So obviously I’ve taken all of your courses and trainings. I’m very familiar with your work, but what I was interested to find out was that in that you talk about this in the book was you had this sort of like a bit of a rude awakening when you came out of college and went into the real world with this very human centered lens. And I guess I have two part question is the first one was, you know, I, I had never heard of this term symbolic systems, which is what you studied in school. Uh, and it sounded fascinating. And I’m just curious, you could tell me, like, what, what was that and how did, like, what drew you to it? Because it’s clearly influenced your whole, like your whole journey,
Teresa Torres 00:04:39 I’ll start with what is symbolic systems and then I’ll share sort of how I ended up there. Um, so symbolic systems, a lot of schools have cognitive science programs, right? So cognitive sciences, um, how does the human brain process information? Um, and it’s it’s copy of science in and of itself is an interdisciplinary program because it looks at, um, how does the brain process information from a cognitive psychology standpoint, but also from a neurobiology standpoint, um, uh, Stanford, symbolic systems is sort of their version of cognitive science, but it’s broader than how does the brain process information it’s how does brains or machines process information? So that’s where symbolic systems comes from, right? So the brain and computers are systems that process symbols. So there’s symbolic systems, um, and it’s really broader than that. So it draws from computer science, um, linguistics philosophy, and then psychology.
Teresa Torres 00:05:33 Um, and actually in recent years, they’ve integrated more of that sort of neuro biology as well. So that’s yeah. So that’s what symbolic systems is. Um, I actually had never heard of symbolic systems when I arrived. Um, I came into Stanford as a chemistry major. Um, I actually wanted to be an immunologist because I grew up in the, um, late eighties, early nineties was sort of my high school years. That was the height of the aids epidemic. I was super fascinated by viruses. I was kind of a science, science nerd. I wanted to be an immunologist. Uh, so I came into Stanford as a chemistry major, and then I did my first four hour lab and I was like, hell no, this is not what I want do. Um, so I liked the like intellectual side of science, but I didn’t actually really like the lab work, doing side of science.
Teresa Torres 00:06:17 Um, and I figured that out pretty early on. So then I was like, okay, now, um, and I had been a, um, I’d already gotten into computers and had some exposure to programming, um, before getting to college and thanks to my dad. And I, um, I didn’t really want to just be a computer science major because I was, um, I was just a little more of a, um, sort of heady academic nerd than that. Like I wanted more of the like, um, less applied and more the intellectual side more theory. And that does a disservice to Stanford because their computer science department is not just applied. It’s actually one of the most phenomenal theory programs as well. Um, but, uh, I had ran into a couple of people that were symbolic systems majors at the time and just learned about, um, all the different things that pulled from it. It just blew my mind and I was like, yep, this is for me.
Andrew Skotzko 00:07:06 Yeah. That’s super interesting. Yeah. Like I had to Google it or before this conversation and it was, and I saw this thing on this. I don’t know if it’s a press release or whatever, something on the Stanford site talking about, you know, this is create incredibly interdisciplinary programs talking about how, you know, computers and the mind and language all integrate. And I was just like, this makes sense for Teresa. I get that now,
Teresa Torres 00:07:26 You know, it’s funny, I’ve actually done two degrees in both have been really interdisciplinary programs. And I, and I just, I actually feel like that’s that lens of looking at the same type of problem from multiple disciplines has been a really influential part of how I think about the world. And I think it even shows up in my product discovery philosophy of like, I don’t really care that you’re the product manager and you’re the designer, you’re the engineer. Like we all need to tackle this problem from all three perspectives and blur those boundaries. And I mean, that’s how real life works. Right. We want to put clear boundaries on things, but they’re not that clear.
Andrew Skotzko 00:08:03 Yeah. Life life’s a little fuzzier and more complex than that as I increasingly learned. Yeah. You know, it’s funny you say that, cause that is something that really stands out to me about your work compared to, you know, relative to all the other people in the, in the product world or it really, frankly, people out there who are creating frameworks for just about anything. You know, usually it’s very, I don’t know, I’m going to say procedural, um, almost maybe a little bit formulaic, like, oh, here’s your cookie cutter and you clearly went the other way and you said, no, no, no, I’m going to go upstream of that problem. And I’m going to tell you how to like, collaboratively, think about this stuff about solving problems at all. Uh, and I think it’s almost like you’re, you’re, you’re, you’re you have this product management framework, but it’s almost like your Trojan horse for like a critical thinking and decision-making way of living.
Teresa Torres 00:08:44 Yeah. I mean, that is exactly right. In fact, I would argue, I don’t have a product management framework. I have a problem solving decision making, critical thinking framework that happens to apply really well, product management. Um, and I think that really is my, are my core interests is how do we make good decisions? How do we solve hard problems? How do we be good, strong, critical thinkers? And a lot of the like primary sources that I relied upon are not product management sources, right? Like I talk a lot about decisive by chip and Dan Heath. And they did a phenomenal job of summarizing decision-making research. And I talk a lot about, um, Andrews Erickson and deliberate practice and how do we develop our craft and hone our skill. And I talk a lot about John Dewey, which I realized nobody else is going to read because he’s a really hard, uh, 19th century philosopher who wrote, um, in a very academic card, he wrote 150 page book called how we think, and it took me a voracious reader, 15 hours to read that book took a huge investment.
Teresa Torres 00:09:45 But to me it was worth it because a lot of that book gets at the heart of like, what does it mean to be a good, strong, critical thinker? Um, so what I love about this is that like I’m willing to do that work. Like I nerd out on that. I’m super curious. I love all the research. Um, and then it’s really fun to try to translate that to like, okay, I realize most people are never going to read how we think, but it’s this really formative important work that could help us be better at what we do. And so I want to play that role. I want to help bring that to more people. Yeah. You
Andrew Skotzko 00:10:15 Really seem to have a gift as a, I’m going to say a translator between things like, again, you’re sort of bridging that theory and application gap, but in a very translational way for people, which is a real gift.
Teresa Torres 00:10:24 Yeah. Thank you. That’s actually, one of my goals is I think that industry has really strong strengths and that we move fast and we experiment and we try a lot of things, but sometimes we forget that like academics actually can contribute to our world too. Cause they’re doing slower, more reliable research and sometimes like industry guesses over and over and over again. And we guessed too many times because we could have just taken inspiration from like, Hey, what is, what can we learn from the research? The reason
Andrew Skotzko 00:10:49 That strong basis of theory can cut down your experimental time. Yeah. And I
Teresa Torres 00:10:53 Don’t, I mean, I couldn’t be academic. I don’t think, I mean, maybe it’d be like when I’m ready to retire. Um, because it’s just too slow and I don’t want to wait. I don’t want to wait 10 years before I have any impact whatsoever. Um, but I also don’t want to ignore that world. Cause there’s just, it’s just so rich and there’s so much we can draw from and learn from, you
Andrew Skotzko 00:11:11 Know, there’s an example in the book that’s coming to mind right now that we can probably use as a, as a pivot point into talking in, you know, diving into the material in the book. I remember there was an example you gave in there and I believe you were citing research, more updated goal goal setting and goal theory research by lock-in Letham um, that kind of contradicted what most people think about with like, you know, the, the ever-present smart goals and about how that might break down in the way the real world works. And I was hoping you could talk a little bit about that. Yeah.
Teresa Torres 00:11:37 I already ruffled some feathers with a few of my reviewers with this feedback. It’s kind of counter to what a lot of people think. So let’s, let’s break this down a little bit. So, um, a lot of people think, oh, in order for, uh, for empowered product team to do good work, they need a big heart, a big, hairy, audacious goal. Right. And yeah. And then, and then it needs to be smart, right? So it needs to be a specific number. It needs to be measurable. So we’re talking about things like, you know, with the OKR model we hear about, you should set it aggressively aggressively enough that you’re getting 60 to 70% of the way there. Okay. So there is a lot of goal setting research that does show that if you set a big challenging goal, people will perform more. However, most of that research was conducted in really simple task environment.
Teresa Torres 00:12:24 So think about like somebody creating a widget on an assembly line, right? And this is where a big, hard motivated goal gives you a little bit of purpose beyond just crank this widget. Right? The challenge is most of us don’t work in that really simple task environment. We work on hard complex tasks. And so what we’ve been seeing in the last 10 to 20 years, there’s a lot more people starting to ask does this same research, hold up. When we’re talking about teams that work on hard problems. And the answer is only sometimes. So if you’re a team and you have a complex task and you have a successful strategy for how to tackle that task, then that same hard, challenging goal is motivating, right? It’s just like cracking the widget. You know what you need to do. There’s more complexity there, but you have a strategy for how to go after it.
Teresa Torres 00:13:15 If you’re starting with a goal and it’s completely unknown and you still need to identify the strategies, then the research it’s still early. But the research is starting to suggest that that big challenging goal is actually more problematic than it is helpful. And it’s because we don’t want you running hard after something, until we know that you’ve identified the right strategy to get there. So it’s a little bit like you have to find the path to run on before you can run hard down the path. And so what I advise, what I advise in the book, the way that I translate this to product work is if you’re working on an outcome for the very first time, and you have no idea, what’s going to move that outcome. You don’t want to run as fast as you can. You actually want to slow down and try a lot of different things until you start to find the strategies that are going to work.
Teresa Torres 00:14:00 And then once you can identify those strategies, then you can set that big, aggressive goal. So I encourage teams to set sort of a learning goal in the beginning, um, and then set a performing goal. Once they’ve started to identify the strategies that work. And the reason why I got pushback on this is that some people interpret learning goal is like, oh, just go off and do research and we’ll see what you find, but that’s not what I mean. Like I put in the book, really the learning goal should be go map out the opportunity space, take some time to figure out what’s your strategy for reaching this outcome. And I do think when a team works on an outcome for the very first time, we need to give them a little bit of leeway to do that. And that doesn’t have to be a whole quarter. Like I never want to see a team go whole quarter without shipping something, but they do need a little bit of runway to get behind it and say, okay, how am I going to reach this outcome? So this is perfect.
Andrew Skotzko 00:14:53 And I’m really loving the foundation you’re laying down here, but let’s push pause for a second and like back up one step and just lay down sort of a quick conceptual foundation around discovery continues to discovery just in case the listener hasn’t encountered those ideas before. So I know you have a particular definition. You like, so in your words, what is product discovery and especially what is continuous product discovery?
Teresa Torres 00:15:13 Yeah. So product discovery, it’s a little bit of jargon, but I actually think it’s helpful jargon. So product team is responsible for shipping a product that creates value for the customer and for the business, right? That’s their job in doing that. There’s two sets of activities that they’re doing. They’re making decisions about what to build. We call that discovery and then they’re writing code, shipping code, maintaining code, all the work that’s required to support a production quality product. We call that delivery. I think the reason why that distinction has become so powerful is because a lot of companies hyper-focused on delivery. We underemphasize discovery, but really discovery is I think, um, if not equally important, more important, right? If we built the wrong things, it doesn’t really matter. Yeah. It doesn’t really matter how well it’s written. Um, so we’re seeing a bigger and bigger emphasis on discovery.
Teresa Torres 00:16:06 Now, a lot of business still works from a project mindset where we kick off a project, we do some research, we’d go build it, we ship it. We hope it’s the right thing. And then after we ship it, we find out it’s not the right thing or really late in the process before we build it, we learned it’s not the right thing. And it’s too late to kinda adapt and adjust. So building on this discovery is the decisions we’re making about what to build continuous discovery is how do we continuously get feedback from our customers while we’re making all of those decisions so that we don’t just get the big decisions, right? But we get all the daily and weekly decisions right. As well. Um, so my definition is, um, continuous discovery is at a minimum weekly touch points with customers by the team, building the product where they’re conducting small research activities in pursuit of a clear, desired outcome. Mm that’s
Andrew Skotzko 00:16:56 Beautiful. I thank you for making it so clear. Um, and I really liked the at minimum once a week, by the way, is I think a lot of people think, oh, once a week, we’re good. It’s like, well, you know, the best teams are doing a lot
Teresa Torres 00:17:05 More than that. If you’re competing with
Andrew Skotzko 00:17:07 Them, you might want to think rethink your goal. So talk to me a little bit about what the Keystone habit here there’s, there’s, you’ve identified one habit that really unlocks this whole situation.
Teresa Torres 00:17:17 Yeah. And this is, there’s not, there’s no science behind this. So I can’t like say I’ve, I’ve proven this, but this is just from observation of working with many, many, many teams. Um, continuous discovery can feel overwhelming. There’s all these things that we should be doing. We should be talking to our customers. We should be testing our assumptions. We should be AB testing. We should be usability testing. And a lot of teams get really quickly overwhelmed with where do we start? And what I’ve observed is that teams that just talk to their customers every week, they literally do one interview a week, um, start to naturally do those other things. And the reason for this is that as product people were more not talking to our customers, we spend all of our time thinking about our products. We start to feel like, oh, we know exactly what we need to build.
Teresa Torres 00:18:04 And if we don’t have this feedback loop where we’re constantly talking to our customers, we start to deviate. So our customers think about our product one way. And the, and the less time we spend with them, we start to think about our products different from our customers. And so just having this weekly cadence of customer interactions helps to pull us back and see where we’re deviating and the more awareness we have around like, oh, I’m actually thinking about this different from you. The more we start to realize like, oh, I should test this idea. I should prototype this. Oh, I’m making this assumption. Maybe I should see if that’s right. And so just starting with go talk to a customer every week, we’ll help pull you in the direction of doing all these other things. Um,
Andrew Skotzko 00:18:45 Yeah. I really liked that because it gives people one clear place to start. And that is so helpful when you’re, when someone’s trying to take on a big new change or at least what feels like a big new change, even though in reality, it’s actually, it can be much more lightweight, which is fantastic. As we said, just a few minutes ago, this is really a critical thinking decision making, problem solving framework that just happens to fit really, really well with the nature of building things and putting them in the world. Talk to me a little bit about how this framework looks differently in different.
Teresa Torres 00:19:14 Yeah. So the framework was really developed in a lot of different contexts. So I’ve worked with teeny tiny startups where there’s just two founders and I’ve worked with really large multinational companies where they have hundreds of thousands of employees. I’ve worked in a variety of industries. I’ve worked with teams that are B2B, B2C, B2B, DC, every combination you could possibly imagine. Right. All the letters. Um, and it’s really held up really well in all those contexts. And again, I think it’s because it’s really grounded in problem solving and decision-making, there’s tweaks. You have to make, right. Um, depending on who your audience is, it’s going to change how you recruit them. Um, depending on your, um, iteration cycles, it’s going to influence how you test your assumptions. What’s nice about digital products, particularly web based digital products. We can get changes life really fast. If you’re on prem software, that’s not the case.
Teresa Torres 00:20:07 If your hardware, that’s not the case. So we’ve gotta be more creative about how we test our assumptions, but I don’t think the process changes. In fact, um, I’m going to go broader than just product. I teach a course at Northwestern university as part of their learning and organizational change program in their school of social, in their school of education and social policy. Most of the students in that program are either, um, people that are, um, consultants from the big four consulting firms or their HR practitioners working on challenges like employee engagement or creating, ensuring knowledge and organization. Um, and we teach the exact same process. So if you’re an HR person and you’re working on employee engagement, we teach you to set an outcome, right, and increase the satisfaction of employees at the company. Then we teach you to go out and interview current employees about what’s the current state and to map out the opportunity space.
Teresa Torres 00:20:56 And then your solutions are not going to be products. They’re probably going to be programs and initiatives, but it’s still the same exact process. They tilt, they take their solution ideas, they break them up into underlying assumptions. They quickly attest them. Um, and we’ve had to make very few adaptations to the curriculum to make it work in that context. And most of the adaptations are just language changes. So we don’t talk about testing with your users. We talk about testing with your employees or with your constituents. Um, but there’s not big substantial changes. It’s the exact same process. That’s actually
Andrew Skotzko 00:21:27 Fantastic. So have you, have you found, I’m just curious, have you found anywhere it didn’t work?
Teresa Torres 00:21:32 Um, there is a specific stage where it works like Andrew. I know you and I have had this conversation quite a bit about like, if I’m a brand new company, I don’t have a product yet. How do I start with this? And so I do think that there’s some sort of prerequisites that have to be in place before you kick off this sort of discovery process. And that’s the two things that I want to see in place is you have to have a clear definition of your who, so if it’s a product, what customer segment are you going after? If it’s internal company challenge, it’s what, what employee segment or what employee group are you going after? And you have to have a clear idea of the value proposition and they can be a theory, right? You can still be testing them, but without at least those two things in place, it’s a little bit hard to even set an outcome. Right. And so this process kicks off with, we needed to set an outcome. What does success look like? Yeah, that makes
Andrew Skotzko 00:22:24 Perfect sense. And I know, you know, you and I have had that conversation a couple of times offline, um, which I really appreciate by the way. Uh, but yeah, I’ve sort of seen a similar thing the way I’ve been thinking about it lately. I was working with a team just the other week on this and we kind of hit the point you’re talking about. And we realized that like, oh, this, after our conversation, we realized like, oh, this is actually because it was a brand new product. This is existing kind of on three levels. Like we’re kind of working across three levels of abstractions simultaneously. You know, the, the sort of more, most concrete level is the opportunity solution, tree and all that. Most of the stuff that’s in your, in the framework and in the book, then that level above it, which is what I was missing that you, you told me about was the experiential level of the customer and really seeing how are we, you know, day in the life from a to B how are we trying to change it?
Andrew Skotzko 00:23:08 But then really what was missing was that top level at the business level of like, what are, wait, hold on. I don’t think we actually know who we’re serving and how, like, what are we basically trying to do for them that they really care about? Um, so, so that’s actually, I find to be a, um, a very useful reframe. So thank you for that one question, because it actually, I’ve gotten that question from a bunch of folks. Um, it’s come up many times in my conversations when you, when you’re dealing with a team that’s at that much earlier stage, right. Where they are they’re are fuzzy on like the who and the what, uh, at the value prop level, is there a different set of tools you recommend that they engage with to really kind of nail that down? Yeah,
Teresa Torres 00:23:45 So it depends on, it depends on where they’re coming from. So some founders are really customer segment focused, right? Um, they come in and they say, Hey, my audience is this. And I see this problem and I really want to solve that problem if they’ve already validated that that problem exists and they know who they are, who is, they can jump right into this process. And the book that that’s a great starting point. A lot of founders don’t start there, they start with, I have this cool solution idea. There’s this cool technology I want to get out in the world. And it’s a little bit like a solution looking for a problem to solve. Right. And that’s where I actually think they need to do the work to at least have a theory of who’s that customer segment, who’s that value proposition, what’s the value proposition for them.
Teresa Torres 00:24:27 And that’s where I think, um, Alex Osterwalder’s business model canvas is incredibly helpful. And especially if you pair it with David Bland’s testing business ideas, because what David does is he layers on the same mindset of testing assumptions, but he does it at the business model level. Um, and I think that you have to have, again, two of the big boxes on that business model canvas are the value proposition and the customer segment. And I think in order to kick off this sort of product discovery process, those two pieces at least need to be awesome.
Andrew Skotzko 00:24:57 Yeah. Thanks for that suggestion. I’ll throw one more out there that I’ve seen be helpful is, um, the work of a guy named Ash Moria, um, who runs a site called lean stack. And he, he created the lean canvas, which is sort of a alternate version of the business model canvas from Osterwalder. And, uh, I, he has an approach that I really liked for this early stage of, of basically doing a lot of work to figure out kind of who is the customer like customer, uh, customer problem fit, problem, solution fit, and then trying to really validate the value prop through like offer testing, which is one of the, I think one of the many, one of the many, many tactics that, uh, is in the testing business ideas book, which actually happens to be on my desk right now. So yeah. Thank you for pointing that out. Um, so let’s dive back more into, you know, the context where this does apply. Like when someone’s already working with this, they’ve got that figured out in the background and things are nicely framed up. So, you know, we talked about this baseline of continuous discoveries, like, you know, minimum once a week. So that’s a good starting point to go for it, but I’m really curious, like what, what does kick ass look like? Right. Like what is just like the, the most bad-ass team look like when they’re doing this?
Teresa Torres 00:25:58 Yeah. So I’ll share a couple of personal stories of me working this way. So I made a lot of teams that say they don’t have time to talk to customers. And frankly, I think it’s bullshit. Like, and really it rubs me the wrong way because here’s the deal. I was a startup CEO of a company that was in the recruiting space during the economic downturn. So let’s just talk about a company in crisis, right? I was a first time CEO. Uh, we had two sides to our business. We sold recruiting software to employers and we ran online communities for universities. Let’s talk about the economic environment of this company. During a downturn, employers were no longer hiring and they could care less about recruiting software. Universities were seeing their endowments shrink or their state budgets shrink. And they really like engaging alumni as a nice to have.
Teresa Torres 00:26:44 So guess where we went out the door. So we were a company in crisis is a CEO of a small company. I was our only sales person. I had been our head of product. So I was now our only product person. We did have a designer. Um, we had to lay off most of our customer support people. So I was also our account managers and our customers. So I was doing seven jobs in this environment. I still talked to one of our customers on both sides of our marketplace every single day, every day. And we had two different types of customers, right. Had to talk to, um, our universities that we were selling to. And I had to talk to her employers. And the reason why I did that was because I felt like it was the only way I could figure out how to make this company work.
Teresa Torres 00:27:32 Right. That’s I was really fortunate. I was introduced to human centered design as a 20 year old. Um, it is part of the way that I think about the world and in a crisis, that is what I fall back to. I’m just going to go and spend time with my customers and figure out like, how can I provide any kind of value to them whatsoever given this crazy environment that we’re in. So when I hear individual contributor, product managers say, I don’t have time. I don’t have a lot of sympathy for that. Like I get that. You don’t know what this looks like, and you’ve never done it before. Your problem is not time. And so it’s just that you’ve never, they’ve just never seen what it looks like. They don’t know where to start. And that’s my goal with this book was just give you a literally step by step guide of like, here’s how you can get started. Um, because I think that’s, I think the real problem is that enough places don’t work in this way, that the vast majority of people have never seen what good looks like. So it’s less about, I don’t have time and it’s just more about, I don’t know how to get started. Yeah.
Andrew Skotzko 00:28:32 I don’t know what to do. Yeah. You know, that is
Andrew Skotzko 00:28:34 Such a great point because I, and I will say I went through the entire book already. It’s fantastic. And as someone who had already engaged with all of your material, I still learn new things. So for whoever you are listening to this thing, go get her book right now. It’s really, really good. You mentioned that you got some clarifying questions and pushback about the way you talk about interviewing the book. And I was hoping you could expand on that a little bit. What’s shifted there.
Teresa Torres 00:28:55 Yeah. So one of the things that I recommend in the book and we teach this in our continuous interviewing course is to keep the interview grounded in a specific story. The goal for this is to increase the reliability about what you’re hearing. So if I ask you, if I say Andrew, tell me about your experience on Netflix. That’s a speculative question. You’re going to have an answer for me. You’re going to tell me a lot of interesting things. I’m going to feel like I’m getting insights, but what you tell me isn’t necessarily going to match your actual behavior. It’s not because you’re trying to be deceptive or you’re lying to me. It’s just because our cognitive biases come into play. Right? So the answer that your brain conjures up doesn’t necessarily match your behavior in reality. So what I want to do instead is I want to say Andrew, tell me about the last time you watched Netflix and I want to listen for your experience, right?
Teresa Torres 00:29:41 So that’s in the book and that’s a tactic that I teach in the anti-pattern section of that book. I wrote, um, an anti-pattern is to ask who, what, why, how questions, because those are speculative questions that lead to unreliable feedback. Um, that’s not entirely true. So when I wrote that, what I meant was, I don’t want to start the interview by saying, Andrew, what device do you watch on? Who do you watch with, where do you watch? These are all speculative questions. I can ask those questions in the context of a specific story. So if I say, tell me about the last time you watched Netflix, it’s perfectly fine. As you tell the story for me to say, oh, where were you or what device were you on? Um, and I didn’t specifically clarify that in that anti-pattern, I think earlier in the chapter, I do give an example of that. Um, but I there’s something I can, I can further clarify. Yeah, for sure.
Andrew Skotzko 00:30:34 So one of the questions, or actually a couple of questions that came up when I was getting ready for this interview, from folks in the community, in, in the audience were, they were sort of confidence questions. Yeah. I’ll put it this way. Like, like how do you know it had a bunch of versions of this, but they were all kind of asking a confidence type of question of like, well, how do you know when, for example, you’ve identified your customer segment properly, or you’ve identified the right opportunities or, you know, you’ve got the right tree, so to speak like, oh, there’s sort of a lot of this kind of question in the background. They’re going like, am I there? Am I not? Am I there? Am I not?
Teresa Torres 00:31:05 I think the answer is you don’t, you never know. Right. And I actually think that doubt is really important. So one of the things I talk in the book about is balancing confidence in what you, what, you know, with balancing doubt in what you know, and this balance, this equation of balancing confidence, plus doubt comes from Carl lek. He’s a educational psychologist at the university of Michigan. And he actually defines wisdom as the balance of having confidence in what you know, and doubting what you do. Right? Because if we just have confidence in what we know, we’re going to charge after it, and we’re going to miss all our blind spots. But if we only doubt what we know, we’re not going to act. Right. And so we actually need to balance those two things. And so how do you know when your tree is right?
Teresa Torres 00:31:44 You don’t, how do you know when you pick the right opportunity? You don’t, how do you know when you have the right solution? Even if you release the solution and all your customers love it, you still don’t know if it’s right. You’re still going to iterate on it. You’re still going to get feedback. That there’s problems. Right. Um, and so I actually think it’s less about like this. How do I know when I’m done is a little bit of this waterfall process, check the lid, check the box mindset. It’s like, how do I know when I can move to the next step? I want to reframe that there’s, it’s not a next step. There’s, you’re always doing all the things. So a good, a continuous discovery team. The opportunity solution tree, top to bottom is always evolving all the time. So you’re never done mapping the opportunity space. You’re never done testing assumptions. You’re never done exploring solutions. You have to ship something. Right. So along the way, you’re constantly making judgment calls about this is the best decision I can make based on what I know today. So I’m sending it to the delivery, right? Yeah. On the discovery side, I feel like there’s always a lot of doubt and there’s always a lot of evolution and there’s always a lot of change. And then periodically we’re pulling things the best, the best thing we can to build and ship. Yeah.
Andrew Skotzko 00:32:55 Because you talked about in the book that I really liked that I had missed it before, was this idea that basically everybody has a different appetite for risk, right. And not just every individual, but every team and every company. And so it’s this idea of what I, what I took away from it anyway. And please correct me if I’m misunderstanding, was this idea of like, look, you’re trying to de-risk it enough for you and your context. And it reminds me of talking with, um, Tom cheek, uh, who was the sort of co founder of Google X and one of the inventors of Google glass. And I remember hearing a story he told about, um, he was meeting with Larry and Sergei about Google glass. And at this point in time, the team that was working on it at X, the team had already really done great discovery work around Google class and like a kind of a industrial context, or like a, you know, think about like maybe in surgery or people working in warehouses for sort of an augmented reality type thing. And it was a really good opportunity, you know, they could probably crush it it’d be a several hundred million dollar a year business. And Larry and Sergei were like,
Andrew Skotzko 00:33:52 Nope, too small. And so they were like, note
Andrew Skotzko 00:33:55 Roll the hard sex, like go after the crazy big thing. Because for them that was like, that’s where their risk appetite was. And I was just like, oh wow, like it’s all relative.
Teresa Torres 00:34:04 It is all relative, right? Like if you work at Facebook and their motto is move fast and break things, you don’t need to test all of your assumptions. You need to ship something quickly. It doesn’t mean they don’t do discovery. And it doesn’t mean they don’t test some assumptions. Right. But the number of assumptions and the amount of discovery they’re going to do before they deliver is much smaller than a company that say is owned by a private equity firm. That’s more concerned about exploiting what exists then about exploring new, new, innovative solutions. And so every organizational context already sets an appetite for risk. And then within that, every team has an appetite for risk. And even within that, every individual has an appetite for risk. And honestly, your boss’s appetite for risk is going to have a big influence on how much discovery you have to do.
Teresa Torres 00:34:50 So a lot of people ask this question, how do I know when I’m ready to build something? It’s a judgment call and it’s a judgment call based on your context. And a lot of people are uncomfortable about that. They think about it as like, oh, if I do my discovery, right, I’ll prove this is the right thing to build. That’s not true. Everything you put in your delivery backlog is a bet. Always 100% of the time, what you put in your delivery backlog is a bet. If you do discovery well, you will make better bets, that’s it? But there’s still bets. There’s still risk.
Andrew Skotzko 00:35:22 Yeah. Reminds me another great book by the way, on, on a lot that I think is great for product people and real relevant to what we’re talking about here is all of Annie Duke’s work on thinking in bets. And, uh, I can remember the name of the followup sort of workbook, but it’s excellent stuff for anybody who wants to go deeper on thinking about bets and deciding things this way. Uh, it’s a great follow on to Teresa’s book.
Teresa Torres 00:35:43 Duke books are a great example of, um, drawing from decision-making literature rather than just product management literature. Yeah. I,
Andrew Skotzko 00:35:51 I found her work really changed how I thought about bets. And I was like, oh, this is, you know, I’m not shipping a thing. I’m placing a bet. Okay. How much, how big of a mental I want to play? It’s like, what do I think the expected value is? What are the, you know, all, all of the stuff she teaches. So
Teresa Torres 00:36:04 One of the things that, um, I love about her book is that when you’re, um, when you disagree with someone to fall back on this, like, do you want to bet? So, um, uh, I love playing with this idea and actually my partner and I have started doing this where like, we’ll be discussing, we’ll be discussing something in the news and we’ll disagree and it will just turn into, well, do you want to bet? And this comes from the thinking in bets idea, right? Because it’s like, as soon as you frame it as do you want to bet your evaluation brain kicks in? Like, do I really want a bet? And we did this last year. So when COVID hit, I started to freak out about the impact of COVID on my business because a lot of companies immediately cut their training budgets. Right. And so we saw training dropped to zero almost overnight.
Teresa Torres 00:36:47 And I was, there was about six weeks where I was totally freaked out and my partner kept saying, um, I think you’re going to have the best year you ever you’ve ever had, like, you’re going to, you’re going to figure it out. You’re so good at experimenting. It’s going to be fine. And of course I was in panic mode and like, no, it’s going to be the worst year ever. I’m gonna have to let my employee go. It’s going to be awful. And he said, do you want a bet? And we bet on it. And we bet a really nice steak dinner at a high-end restaurant. And what was great for me was I was either going to have the best year of my career for my business, or I was going to get a really nice steak dinner. So of course I said, yes, I want to bet I lost the bet.
Teresa Torres 00:37:25 Okay, good. I’m so glad you did
Teresa Torres 00:37:28 Perfectly. Okay. Losing that bet. And then, and then while we were at steak dinner, he said, so are we renewing the bed? Uh, and I have not yet decided if
Teresa Torres 00:37:37 We’re running. Okay. TBD.
Andrew Skotzko 00:37:40 So one of the things that I really like about the way you approach things is that you’re, you’re not just, you know, you’re not, you’re, you’re walking the talk, right. You’re actually doing the things that you’re, you’re practicing what you preach, so to speak. Um, and you apply this to your own business. So I’d love if you’re okay. Talking about it. I’d love to hear how you apply this stuff to your own business, especially in such a difficult moment like that. I mean, wow. Talk about another crisis you taught, you know, PTSD from the one 10 years ago with an education startup. Um, so I’m curious.
Teresa Torres 00:38:06 Okay. So first of all, here’s what I love my startup experience. It was that being the CEO of that company, I’ve been at the company for five years. I was CEO for two and a half. Um, it was the hardest thing I’ve ever done, but my takeaway, I learned some really important lessons that makes running my business today really easy, even in a crisis. So one, I learned that even in a crisis, I’m fine right now. Some of that is I’m really fortunate and I’ve had a really good tech job for a long time and financially I can, I can survive some, some rough months. Um, so that’s the first thing is that like, even in the middle of a horrible crisis, I personally am still fine. Like I can keep my head, it’s going to be okay. Um, the other thing is, is that like, you talk about how I walk my talk that’s because this book is who I am, right?
Teresa Torres 00:38:53 Like, it really is an expression of who I am. It’s how I think, um, a lot of these frameworks and tools where me externalizing, how I intuitively thought about things. And of course I learned from peers and I borrowed things and you’ll see, like some of David Blaine’s work is in there and some of Jeff Patton’s work isn’t there. So like, I, I really it’s it’s, this is the way I think about the world. Um, so how do I use this in my own business and even in a time of crisis. So at the time that COVID hit, the vast majority of my revenue came from my 12 week coaching program. So my 12 week coaching program is, um, I work with a product trio. We meet every week for 12 weeks. They have a curriculum that they go through, um, do team activities. And then in our coaching sessions, like give them feedback.
Teresa Torres 00:39:39 That’s a big ticket item. Your head of product is paying for it. I’m contracting with large companies. Um, that’s the revenue by the way, which was like 80% of my revenue that went to zero almost overnight. And this was a program that had had like a two year waiting list for, right. So it had been a high demand, easy, easy thing to sell low capacity. Right. I can’t work with that many teams, but it just paid the bills. Um, and then it dropped to zero overnight. However, thankfully I had already been planning other seeds. So I had this, I’d been doing this coaching business for many years. Um, I also have a popular blog product talk and I was hearing from lots of individuals and they would email me and say something like, I really love your content. I want to learn from you. My company’s never going to invest in coaching.
Teresa Torres 00:40:28 What options do you have for me? So before COVID, I had already started experimenting with online courses. I had already started experimenting with in-person workshops, trying to meet the need of the individual who wasn’t going to work at a company where they were going to invest in coaching. And so in three years before COVID started, I launched the continuous interviewing course, and I already had three years of experience in the online course business. And what did that look like? And how did that work? I also, unfortunately it was a year into the public offense business, which obviously was decimated by COVID. Um, so when, so it’s March COVID hits, things are shutting down. I’m starting to see that. Literally everybody I talked to in the sales process is saying we’re kicking the can down the road. Um, and I basically just sat down and said, okay, I looked at, I have an opportunity solution tree for my business.
Teresa Torres 00:41:19 Um, this past January, I shared a little bit of it publicly, um, at a high level, there’s a branch for that head of product. That’s like, I need to train my team. And then there’s a branch for that individual of like, I don’t work at that company, but I want to develop my skills. My business had been heavy on that head of product side. That’s where most of my revenue was coming from, but I had a lot of demand on the individual side. And so when COVID hit, I just said, okay, what I’m seeing in the marketplace is the head of product is not ready to spend money. I need to focus on the individual. And so what did I do? Um, I just started talking to students in my community and I started looking at what they were asking for. And I went back to literally every email I’ve ever received from individuals and started looking at the language they were using and what they were asking for and what their needs were.
Teresa Torres 00:42:04 Um, and so I started to build out that branch and to really understand what are the needs of the individual. I also knew that the whole world was changing really fast and had to run a lot of experiments. And so I did, I launched my early readers program, which was a $20 a month program, teeny tiny spend. Right. Um, that w but what, and then also, what was beautiful about that program was it also gave me feedback on my book as I wrote it. So the way that program worked was you paid $20 a month. You got a chapter of the book as I wrote it. And then we did a call every month to get feedback. Uh, that was really successful. I sold it for two weeks. I had an enrollment window of two weeks and I got 60 people. So what question are you trying to answer with that experiment?
Teresa Torres 00:42:49 Uh, would individuals spend $20 out of their own pocket every month? So I’d never done a subscription program before. Right. And I was trying to test the assumption of our people are there too many subscriptions where people still pay for this. Um, and then I was also trying to figure out how to have a stronger feedback loop as I wrote the book. Um, and that paragraph I would say was successful. I sold, I sold 60 seats in two weeks. Um, it brought in a little bit of revenue that turned out to be about 800 to a thousand dollars a month. Um, it ended up being a loss because I spent more money on that servicing the program and I did, it was fine. Um, but it was a really good, um, assumption test. So I did validate people would spend $20 a month. Um, the vast majority of the people in the program stayed through the whole thing.
Teresa Torres 00:43:34 In fact, we’re still members today, um, that actually led to us launching the membership program that we just launched this week. That’s coupled with the book. Um, other experience minutes that we ran, I launched two new courses. So we launched opportunity mapping and defining outcomes. Uh, one of those courses I created, so opportunity mapping, I created it’s just like continuous interviewing exact same model. And I was really just testing would pass students, buy more courses. Would it bring a new types of people? Can we get this back and forth movement between classes? So like you, you took multiple courses. That was an open question. And when people take multiple courses, um, and then I also launched a finding outcomes with my partner hopes. So she designed that course, and I was just testing, can I scale this by inviting other people to design courses with a quality stay high?
Teresa Torres 00:44:21 Um, we launched, um, we took our two day in person workshop and turned it into a six week masterclass. That’s a little bit of a different experiment. So, um, that actually crosses a little bit of the individuals can pay for it, like it’s $1,500. So it fits within sort of that annual professional budget. Um, but we also see some heads of product because I don’t have a big training budget anymore. It’s small enough that they can kind of still send some of their team. Um, it’s also live instruction. So that’s a little bit different from our deep dive courses. Um, that is Ferno has gone phenomenally well, uh, that burger themselves out and this year I’ll offer it 12 times. Um, and so, yeah, so that’s fantastic.
Andrew Skotzko 00:45:02 I think I was in the first cohort of that, by the way, I think you
Teresa Torres 00:45:06 Bought a Portland ticket, right? So you were like, first of, like, we got to figure out what to do for all these people. Here’s what happened. I’ll be really honest about this. Like I saw my coaching revenue go almost to zero overnight. I had about $30,000 in event ticket money that frankly, I didn’t want to refund. Right. Cause I’m already terrified, but like, I don’t have any revenue
Teresa Torres 00:45:27 With divorce because I don’t want to give the money. I got to get $30,000
Teresa Torres 00:45:30 Back. So I was like, how do I get these people to like, still be excited about an online class when they bought it in person event? I think four people total asked for a refund and everybody else came to the virtual event. So it turned out fine. Um, we didn’t end up eating any, we had a whole bunch of cash outlay on event venues and catering. And thankfully we were able to thanks to force matured in our contracts. We were able to get all of that money back. So we did not, we did not take a bath on our verge, on our in person events in March and April. It looked like we were going to take a bath on events and it was a little bit scary. Yeah.
Andrew Skotzko 00:46:05 I mean, I’ll say actually from the student side, I found it actually to be almost a better experience in some ways, having it be distributed over time, that way, because it gave me time between sessions to like sit with the materials and let it kind of percolate in my mind. And I actually found it to be, I felt like I, I felt like at the end of it, I had a better grasp on it than if I had just done like drink from the fire hose for two days.
Teresa Torres 00:46:28 Yeah. So I’ll share, we’re not going back to in-person ever. And the reason why is a lot, well, first of all, I get, we limited to 20 people, our, our in-person events, we had to do 40 because we’re paying for event venues and food scales. It’s hard to do smaller in-person events. We can limit it to 20, which means I get to know every single student in the class, which is way more fun for me. Uh, we support it with a slack community so that people can ask questions in between. So literally everybody’s questions can get answered. Um, we see better learning outcomes because you’re learning over time. I think it’s a much better program online. Um, so we’re actually not going back to in-person events. We might for corporate events. So my, I teach all of our public events, hope my partner teaches all of our corporate events companies want in-person events.
Teresa Torres 00:47:14 So we might go back to in-person there. Um, but what ended up happening? So we saw all of our coaching revenue dropped to almost zero. So I had a really small summer coaching term. It all roared back in the fall. So like we were overbooked in the fall. Um, we saw our course business triple over the course of the year because all these companies wanted training for their teams, but they couldn’t do in person. Uh, we introduced our masterclasses, which is, uh, a bigger ticket item that just sold out and it continues to sell like gangbusters. Um, and then we have this monthly subscription program that we’re actually carrying forward with the book that also is doing well. So instead of like being in this crisis where everything was falling apart, we actually ended up with a way more different diversified revenue, um, and a lot of really strong programs and things that meet a lot of different people’s needs. Um, and so, yeah, so this year I’m actually not coaching anymore. Um, hope is actually taking over all of the coaching and I am focusing on developing our courses and building out our membership program. Um, and so we’re sort of spreading ourselves. She’s working the, I’m a head of product branch of the tree and I’m working the I’m an individual branch in the tree. Great.
Andrew Skotzko 00:48:22 And what a nice way to scale the business and start to have, you know, even more time to invest into making it better. And I will say, uh, as, as someone who’s gone through all of the things you just described, uh, from the student side, utterly, completely worth it. And so glad I did it. So if anyone’s looking for a testimonial, I fully endorse it and it’s really, really, really good. Awesome, totally changed. It totally changed the way I see the world and approach everything I do. So I’m a hundred percent I’m on board and, and big fan, you know, I know this is not your favorite question, but I think we got to cover it because my, some people in the audience will, will send me hate mail. If I don’t, you know, we gotta talk for a minute about the, but my company doesn’t work that way. Teresa, we gotta talk about that for a second. There’s obviously a million versions of that, that you get, uh, whether it’s, you know, oh, we’re a sales led company and our, you know, we just bow down to whatever sales wants. Um, or, you know, my boss would never let me or whatever.
Andrew Skotzko 00:49:15 How do you respond to these sorts of things? Yeah.
Teresa Torres 00:49:18 So I have a chapter in the book all about this. So in the book, every team, every chapter starts with a couple of quotes. And, uh, there is a chapter at the end of the book where the opening quote is, but my company will never work this way and it’s attributed to you the reader. Uh, and it is because this is the number one question that I get. And I told this one, I completely understand, right? So it’s easy to read about or hear about this like idealized way of doing product work. And if you’ve never seen it in action, it feels like a Cinderella story. Like it’s a fairy tale, does this really exist? Um, and here’s what I’ve come around to. I get that the vast majority of people aren’t in a situation where they get to work this way, but here’s what I do know, regardless of your organizational context, if you develop an outcome mindset, if you engage with customers, if you, um, get an understanding of the opportunity space, even if you are being told, build these features on this fixed roadmap, you will build better versions of those features because what this process does is it just helps you connect with your customer and understand their context and understand their world and understand the impact business value through that, through that outcome.
Teresa Torres 00:50:30 Right? So if your company doesn’t work this way and it’s not going to work at your company, you individually still have control over how you work in your company and adopting a lot of these mindsets and adopting a lot of these methods and tools will still help you build better versions of whatever you’re being told to build. So there is a whole chapter, that’s just, how do I get started? Like, what’s the first thing that I do, especially if you’re in a context where it just doesn’t work this way. Yeah. Yeah.
Andrew Skotzko 00:50:57 One of the things that I love that you talked about in that chapter was this sense of agency and how that is really, really core here when you’re coaching people, you know, thinking back to all the teams you’ve coached and, and those much more, um, intimate settings, what do you see that gets in people’s way there and how do you help them develop a better sense of agency?
Teresa Torres 00:51:16 Yeah. So one it’s really sad that this is the case, but a lot of people are in meetings from 8:00 AM until 6:00 PM. Like they literally are. And then some of them are double booked and triple, triple booked. Like they just don’t have time to do real work. Um, so one of the things that I encourage people to do is just sit down with your, a print out of your week and a red pen and start exiting through those meetings. You do not need to be in the vast majority of those meetings. This is hard. You actually have to set your ego aside a little bit product. People want to be in those meetings because they want to feel like they’re important and they’re part of every decision, but here’s the deal. Do you really need to be in those bug prioritization decisions with your engineers?
Teresa Torres 00:51:55 Do you really need to be in all those scrum rituals? Do you really need to be in all those stakeholder management meetings? Some of them, yes. Right. That’s a big part of your job, but not all of them. And especially we have a lot of these recurring weekly meetings that frankly could happen over email, or they could happen over slack. You could just hear a summary of it. Um, so I think the first thing is take back some of your day, get rid of the, and be ruthless about it. Get rid of those meetings that you don’t need to be in, replace them with emails, replaced them with slack conversations, replace them with confluence, pages, whatever, however your company works. Um, so that’s the first thing is just gotta get rid of all the useless meetings. And that sounds scary to people that don’t think it’s really within their control.
Teresa Torres 00:52:33 And this is where you got to rock the boat a little bit. Just how about don’t show up one day and see what happens, right? Um, don’t get fired. Don’t get fired, use your best judgment, but rock the boat a little bit. Maybe you got an email, someone say, Hey, is it okay if I skip it this week? Um, do that, uh, do that one-on-one with your boss. Yeah. Do it a couple times and maybe then remove it from your calendar. So that’s the first thing is really, you got to create some space for yourself and not just discovery space, but thinking space, like you’re not doing your job. Well, if you’re in meetings at 10 hours a day, that’s just the reality. Um, so that’s, that’s the first thing I think from there, it’s just, um, some people have real big challenges talking to customers and they get, they get, they let perfect be the enemy of good.
Teresa Torres 00:53:15 So they’re like, uh, they, they like want to go to their sales team and ask permission and get, and like have somebody set it up for them and they run into organizational and they can’t do that. And I just go, Hey, look, your, um, your customers are doctors. Do you have, do you know any doctors? Right. And they’re always, always, they’re like, yes, I know a doctor. Cool. Why don’t we just start by talking to that doctor? Oh, well, they’re not, they don’t use our product. I’m like, okay. But your product is a badge that lets them unlock a workstation. Even if they don’t use your product, do you think they do use a badge to unlock a workstation because they’re a doctor. Like they do that. Um, so talk to them. Right. Um, and so that’s a little bit of it, of like, you can find somebody to talk to you, even if you have to reach out on your LinkedIn network, even if they’re not a customer, even if it’s not perfect start somewhere.
Teresa Torres 00:54:09 And here’s the thing, like you talked to the first person and you’d be like, Hey, do you know other people like you, I can talk to, and now you can find a second person to talk to. Um, and eventually with time you can start to share with the people in your organization that you’re getting resistance from. Like, Hey, I talked to this doctor, here’s what I learned. And they can start to see the value of it. I’m in a lot of that resistance is just fear of the unknown. So the more that you can help them see, like here’s what I’m planning to do, that resistance goes away. Um, so that’s, that’s the other thing is, um, and that chapter is really full of just teeny, tiny places you can start. Yeah. And then
Andrew Skotzko 00:54:43 One thing I’ll say, uh, I love that you called this out in that chapter and I’m just going to re underscore it from having done this thing. And it doesn’t go well, is, you know, you’re talking about like, don’t fight the holy war. Don’t fight the ideological war. Yeah. I’m just going to reinforce that one. I’ve tried it it’s it’s painful. It’s does not go well. Yeah.
Teresa Torres 00:55:03 This comes from personal experience. I just, um, I was a little bit like a bull in a China shop when it came to the ideological war and a lot of startups. And I just, I really Nively believed this was how business worked and I just didn’t understand how other people didn’t think this way and dammit, let’s do it. Right.
Andrew Skotzko 00:55:21 I was like, I know what this is supposed to look like.
Teresa Torres 00:55:23 And, um, it, it never once worked. So after dragging out time and time again, at many different organizations and learned really slowly and then saw other teams make the same mistakes. Honestly, that’s probably when I came around was when I saw other people make the same mistakes, but I was like, okay, this didn’t just work for me. It doesn’t work for anybody. Well, this is not the way to convince anybody. And actually, I really think the best way to convince people of anything is to show that it works. So just start changing your own behavior, have some success. Suddenly people are gonna be knocking on your door saying how in the world did you do this? For sure.
Andrew Skotzko 00:55:57 You know, here’s a bit of a question that I’ve gotten from people and I’m never quite sure how to answer. So I’m curious if you, if you have a take on it, undoubtedly, I am sure you have had many, a private conversation with somebody on a product trio, especially a PM where they’re really frustrated about this stuff, right. The company, and they’re trying their best. And maybe they really are doing, you know, they’re doing exactly what you just said. They’re like doing it first, leading it, doing it in their own work, and then hopefully others will come along. But when do you advise people that, you know what, maybe you should just find another place to work. Is that, do you ever get that? Is that point or is there always a no, you can do it better here. Kind of thing.
Teresa Torres 00:56:32 I’d actually advise people that often, um, obviously not for somebody I’m coaching where their boss is paying me to coach them, that there’s a little bit of ethical conflict there. Um, but here’s the reality, like the best as an employee, one of the most important decisions you make is where to work. And I do think like I’ve been in situations where, like I opened the book with a story about a company that I worked at, where I loved working there. I absolutely loved, um, our head of engineering, who was a peer who was one of the best partners I’ve ever had in business. Um, I loved our product engineering team. I loved the problem space that we were in. I loved, um, co I literally loved coming to work every day and I chose to leave that job. And I chose to leave that job, um, because I really had some really strong ideological differences with our CEO. And I knew that I had sort of hit the ceiling of how, what kind of impact I could have at that company. And even though I literally loved coming to work every day, like I’m really driven by impact. Like I want to work on things that matter, um, apropos for this podcast. Right.
Teresa Torres 00:57:39 And I, it was just really hard for me to swallow, right. I just couldn’t accept the fact that I wasn’t going to be able to do the type of work that I wanted to do. Um, and ultimately I had to decide to leave my job. Now, here’s where the it’s hard to advise other people on this. I was in a financial situation where it was safe for me to leave that job. I knew that there were other jobs out there for me. I didn’t want them. That’s when I chose to decide to become a consultant, but leaving a job as a really hard decision because there’s financial implications in the U S there’s health insurance implications, um, there’s family dynamic implications, right? That that’s a big decision. So I would say for the people that have that flexibility, choosing where to work is one of the most important decisions in terms of how you get to work.
Teresa Torres 00:58:26 And I’ll say, it’s not just choosing where it’s choosing who you’re going to work for, because I get this question all the time, who are the best companies to work for. If I want to work this way, that’s the wrong question. There are no companies where a hundred percent of teams work this way. We’re just not there yet. Right? The better question is who are the bosses that will give me this space and empower me to work this way. So really it’s about doing that homework and learning everybody’s on a journey trying to get here, right? And so it’s who are the people that are further along in that journey, and it’s not, who are the companies it’s, who are the bosses. Totally.
Andrew Skotzko 00:59:01 And I’m gonna, uh, uh, selfishly plug an article. I wrote to help you figure out what questions to ask, to figure this out, by the way. So I’ll link to this in the show notes, um, that was very much inspired by a lot of conversations with Theresa. So, uh, hopefully I’ve helped you figure out how to figure this out. So that, yeah, I’m really glad you said that because you’re right. Career, career strategy has come up a lot in recent conversations on the podcast, um, with different guests and then also, you know, community members reaching out to me. What, is there anything else that you really advise people to look for when they’re choosing where to work next? You know, in addition to a boss, that’s going to give them the space and set them up to work this way. What else, what else do you suggest people really focus on? But for example, one of the things people often ask about is like, well, I, you know, I need to be so on, you know, so passionate about like the company mission. Do you, do you think that’s the case or like, how does that, what does that stack up with all the other factors?
Teresa Torres 00:59:53 I, I think it matters, but not as much as people think. So I would look at a few things. I think primarily I would focus on who’s going to be my boss. I think your boss relationship has the biggest impact on your work environment. Second to that, I would focus on my trio relationships, who are my peers, I’m going to have to collaborate with on a regular basis. Um, I think that combination probably has the biggest impact on your day to day life. Now, if we getting into what kind of product am I building, where I think it really matters is does the product align with your values? So if you’re working on a product that you have ethical concerns about, that could, that will definitely Trump those first two things. But assuming that the product broadly aligns with your values or isn’t orthogonal to your values, then I think it’s actually really easy to get excited about any product, as long as it’s truly serving a customer.
Teresa Torres 01:00:44 Right? So I’ve worked on pro I didn’t think I would care about recruiting. And I worked at two different recruiting companies, and I got to learn that recruiting, helping a company hire the right people. It was actually a really fascinating, hard challenge, and it has a really impact big impact on people’s lives, right? Like where we work and how we make that match is really meaningful. Um, but especially at my last company, we were helping college students find their first job out of school. That’s an amazing problem space. Cause those kids don’t have any idea how to find a job. Um, and I would not have thought going in, oh, here’s a space I’m really passionate about. But all it took was conversations with people who are really struggling to find a good fit, either both on the hiring side or on the job seeking side. And suddenly this is a really rich opportunity space to get excited about. Um, yeah,
Andrew Skotzko 01:01:29 I’m so glad you said that because it matches a hunch I had had, um, which is that you can get excited about almost anything assuming, and that this is a big F you can close the feedback loop to the humans. Like if you can find a way to close the feedback loop to the person or people who are positively impacted by what you’re doing, I think we’re all wired to help. And I think that will be intrinsically motivating when you can see that.
Teresa Torres 01:01:54 Um, so as a coach, I don’t always get to, um, it’s a little bit dicey about like what types of teams do I work with? Are they working on products that align with my values? Um, and you know, if there’s a company that doesn’t align with my values at all, like I’ve turned down working with tobacco companies, um, I’ve never had the opportunity to work with the military. If I did, I would have some big questions about, is that really what I wanted to do. Um, but I have worked with some that are kind of in a gray area. So I’ll give an example. I spent a couple of years coaching product teams at a company. I’m not going to say who that was working on products that involved selling your location data. Um, and so their, their core business gave them access to a lot of location data.
Teresa Torres 01:02:35 And they were looking at, Hey, here’s an asset. How do we productize it? Um, and I th they weren’t outright doing anything unethical their customers in their first business, um, knew that they were collecting location data. They were incentivizing them. Um, they were rewarding them for, in exchange for that data. But as I worked with those teams and saw to the degree how that data’s being used, it was really uncomfortable. Right. And so my role as a coach, here’s what I can do. I can encourage those teams to test ethical assumptions, right. And so it’s not that I don’t want to work with those companies because I can still have an impact on the work that they’re doing. And I actually think those are the companies that needed to be doing really good discovery so that they don’t end up on the New York times front page about the ethical things that are unethical things that they’re doing.
Teresa Torres 01:03:25 Um, and so if you’re a product manager at one of those companies and you share those ethical concerns, do you leave the company or do you try to positively influence the company? And there’s a really fine line. We saw this in the Trump white house. We heard a lot of people say, I feel like I need to be a grownup in the room. And we heard a lot of people say, I can no longer be a part of this. Right? Yeah. That’s a really fine line. And I think it’s an individual choice. I think people forget to ask what are my values, where are my line? Right. And so I think on the line, can you get behind the mission? I think maybe that’s the wrong question. I think it’s more about what are the values that matter most to me. And even if I’m not behind this mission, as long as it’s not orthogonal to my values, I can probably still do good work here.
Andrew Skotzko 01:04:13 That makes a lot of sense. Thanks for sharing that. Uh, so this is fantastic, Teresa, and I want to go ahead and shift and kind of close out the conversation now with some fun, rapid fire questions, short questions, your answers can be as short or long as you as you’re feeling. Um, so this is a bit of an odd one, but if you had to pick one thing, what would you say? You know, best, it’s a hard one. I know I’m
Teresa Torres 01:04:38 Going to cheat. I’m not going to give you one thing. I’m going to say, like, that’s the like academic side of me wants to say, like the decision making and research, the challenges is that decision-making research is always evolving. So like, I don’t know that I can say I’m an expert in it. Cause I don’t spend my full-time life staying up on the decision-making research. But I think as far as like what’s influenced my work and like the rock that I draw from often, I would say it’s decision-making research. I think on the like really pragmatic side, I would say it’s really helping a team unlock this cadence. Like being able to sit down with a and, and see how they work and helping them to find that like first step of how do I get there.
Andrew Skotzko 01:05:23 Hmm. Cool. Cool.
Andrew Skotzko 01:05:25 What is a quote that’s important to you that you returned to often? And what about it speaks to you?
Teresa Torres 01:05:30 Oh man, there’s this John Dewey quote that I love people tell me the language is terrible and it’s hard for them to understand. Um, and I don’t know if I can remember off the top of my head, but it’s basically, um, it’s like to maintain a state of doubt, um, to conduct systematic and protracted inquiry. These are the essentials of good, critical thinking. Um, and it’s, that gives you a sense of duty his language. Like he’s a little bit esoteric, but here’s the essence of the quote it’s is that like, it’s our brains want to convince us, we know something right. And the essence of critical thinking is to maintain that state of doubt, um, to keep searching. Right. And he uses systematic and protracted, which are like two terms like systematic is so important to me. Like I talk about, I teach a structured approach, right.
Teresa Torres 01:06:16 That’s really important. And then protracted, when I read the book, I didn’t know what that word meant and I Googled it and it means for longer than you feel comfortable. And I just love that, right. Like search for longer than you feel comfortable. Um, and so I feel like that quote just gets at the heart of like, it’s basically saying, do the work to know what you think and constantly for longer than you feel comfortable. And so I just love that because I feel like it’s so rare to find that in the world, like just keep
Andrew Skotzko 01:06:43 Doing the work. Yeah. Yeah.
Andrew Skotzko 01:06:45 I feel like that’s good life advice right there. That’s not just good thinking advice that’s like for life, you know, keep, I, it’s really interesting actually as a quote that seems to, uh, you know, talk about people, we talk about explore versus exploit. Like it’s this, you know, a trade, like a clear, like I’m going to put one down and pick up the other. But like, what I really hear in that is you’re always balancing and managing this tension between them. Um, which somehow reminds me of, are you familiar at all with, um, uh, what is it called? Are you familiar with, uh, I think it’s sort of a framework. I think it’s also a book called polarity management.
Teresa Torres 01:07:17 I know it, I have not read the book, but I am familiar with the concept of like, um, and somebody talked about like the, the, the, like a sign of intelligence is the ability to hold opposing ideas at the same time. Yeah.
Andrew Skotzko 01:07:31 Yeah. And the polarity management framework, I’m not deep on it, but I just want to throw it out there for people as something to explore. If this idea is interesting to you as a, it seems from what I have heard from folks who are deep on it, it’s, it’s sort of a, a way to approach doing this in an ongoing way. Especially when you have these built intentions, you can never resolve, like for example, do we, you know, do a product thing for the short term or do we invest for the long-term like that tension is not going anywhere. Right. You can’t solve it. You just have to manage it
Teresa Torres 01:07:58 Are the, um, exploitation, exploration distinction is really helpful. Like every team needs to be balancing both. Um, and actually in my business, this was really critical to me, right. Like I can exploit coaching forever and have a really nice life. Um, but I knew that on this individual side it was important to keep exploring. And when COVID hit, it was really critical that I had done the exploration because I had other revenue streams to rely upon. Um, and then there’s another book that has a really similar model that I also really like, um, which is the alchemy of growth, which is the horizon models, horizon one horizon two.
Andrew Skotzko 01:08:32 Yeah. Yeah.
Andrew Skotzko 01:08:34 I knew I knew the horizon model, but I didn’t know the, the book. So that’s interesting. I find that for most people, there is a person or a very small set of people who in their life made just a massive difference in parents are the obvious ones people go to, but usually there’s like a mentor or somebody like that, where you just look at them and you say, wow, that person, like my life would be so different and probably worse if not for that person. And I’m curious, is there somebody who like that for you that comes to mind and what would you say you learned from that
Teresa Torres 01:09:02 Many there’s many and I’m going to go all the way back to high school. So I had two high school teachers that like, in fact, one of whom I wish I could just track down and send a copy of my book. So one is, um, uh, part of what got me super excited about science was my high school biology and chemistry teacher. So for the same teacher, I took biology, chemistry, and a second year of biology. Um, Elaine Preston, I think she’s currently based in Washington somewhere, uh, just lit a fire of just inspiration around science and just, um, just exploring the world and discovering the world around us and also, um, really encouraged me to attend the summer science program. Um, which was one of the first times that like, um, her saying that to me and like identifying me as someone who should do that, uh, really helped me see like, oh, I have a gift here.
Teresa Torres 01:09:50 Like I can stand out. And, and that was really formative for me. And then the other high school teacher was, um, Harlan Walker. He was my AP English teacher. And what he did, which was brilliant was, uh, he said, you’re all gonna get an a in this class, as long as you complete all the homework assignments, but you’re not done with the homework assignment until I tell you, you are. And so what he did was he made us write and rewrite and rewrite and rewrite, and he taught us to like, okay, you wrote a thing now remove a hundred words. Right. And just like tighten up your writing and writing has been a really important part of my career. Like I think through writing, um, I built my brand through my blog. Uh, I’ve gotten a ton of feedback. Like one of the things people say is comment on is how well-written the book is.
Teresa Torres 01:10:35 Um, and all of that comes from those sort of fundamentals. I literally learned in my high school English, like I’d never took a writing class in college, um, because I placed out of place out of it because of my AP score. I did take philosophy classes in college and I would actually say my philosophy prep professor, Ken Taylor, who sadly recently passed away young. Um, he had a huge influence on my critical thinking skills because to write a philosophy paper, especially in the analytical philosophy, like the sort of mind brand area philosophy, um, you really have to have clarity of thought. And, um, those were classes that early on I really struggled with. And then I ended up taking three courses from, um, Ken Taylor and he has like amazing passion enthusiasm, and same thing just lit me up. Right. Yeah. Super fun. And then professionally, I don’t know. I I’ve had a lot of really good coworkers. Um, and a lot of, mostly on the engineering side, like really amazing engineers that like were curious and wanted to dig in and iterate, but there’s too many of them. Yeah. Yeah.
Andrew Skotzko 01:11:46 So big shout out to all of them. Thanks everybody. That’s terrific. So, uh, in this next phase, you know, you’ve got the book out now, you, you’re kind of shifting into a new gear with the business. What are you, what does success look like for you personally this next phase? Like what do you want to be experiencing and how do you want things to go in this next phase for you? Yeah,
Teresa Torres 01:12:04 This is a good question. So at the beginning of the year, I announced that I, you know, I’ve, I’ve run this process myself. The outcome that I’m focused on is how can I increase the number of product trios that are adopting a continuous cadence to their discovery? So that’s sort of my north star. Um, I don’t really have a way of measuring it. So it’s, it’s kind of a weird north star. Um, I have proxy ways of measuring it, right? Like I can increase the number of students that by the people that buy the book, people that take my courses, but of course there’s ways to do this without me. So I don’t know how to measure that. Um, so some of it is just impact is like, how do I keep scaling the impact I can have? Um, but I always counterbalanced this. So I always have a counterbalance outcome for me, which is, um, quality of life.
Teresa Torres 01:12:48 So I spent 20 years in the San Francisco bay area. I worked like a dog. I let work be, be all everything. And I just know that by the time I was in my early thirties, I was done with that. Like, I just can’t do that anymore. Um, and so now, like, do you want to have a big impact? And I want, I want to get this book in as many people’s hands and I want to support people as they try to put it into practice. Uh, but I also want to balance that with, I want to go outside every day. I want to ride my mountain bike as often as possible. I want to ski in the winter. Um, I want to hang out with friends. Um, and so that’s an equally important thing for me is to design my business in a way that allows me to have a really balanced life. Um, and I want to share that because a lot of people forget to do that. Yeah. A lot of people don’t talk about it, so I’m glad you are. Yeah.
Andrew Skotzko 01:13:35 So, so in closing out, first of all, Theresa, thank you for all of your work. Thank you for being here. Uh, you’re one of the most prolific and generous thinkers I’ve come across. So I really appreciate it on behalf of not only myself and everything you’ve done for me, but everybody I’ve encountered who’s encountered the work. So first off, thank you. Oh, absolutely. It’s, it’s really a pleasure to have you here. Um, and just in closing out, what would you like to leave the listener with?
Teresa Torres 01:13:59 I mean, it’s going to sound obvious, but I do highly recommend you check out the book and if you’re not, if you’re on the fence about the book, here’s what I’m going to say. Go to product, talk.org. There’s over 200 articles that are about continuous discovery. I’ve been about this for a long time, so you can get a sense for my writing. You can get a sense for my style. If it resonates with you even a little bit, it’s a $10 ebook. It’s a $20 paperback. And somebody once told me, you should never worry about how much money you spend on a book. Like it’s a life. It’s a person’s lifetime of experience being shared with you just by the book. Um, and as an author, like, of course, I’m going to say that because I want you to buy my book. But as a voracious reader, hearing that feedback has changed the way I buy books. I used to buy a book when I was ready to read a book. I now have like 500 unread books on my Kindle. And it’s great because it’s my own bookstore. Right. Um, so I would say if even a single idea has resonated with you, a $20 investment is not a big deal. Just go buy the book. Yeah. And
Andrew Skotzko 01:14:55 I’ll be a lot more blunt than that. If you’re still listening to this and you’re having bought the book yet, I’m angry with you. You should go do it right now.
Teresa Torres 01:15:02 A second thing to that is that I know it’s really hard for people to apply what they learned in the book, right. It’s really hard to go from like, how do I connect this with the way that I work, which is why we are doing a ton of things to help you bridge that gap. And the easiest one is we have a membership program that’s literally $19 a month. You can cancel it whenever you want. We don’t spam. You it’s just meant to come join our community, come learn from each other, get help putting it into practice. There you go.
Andrew Skotzko 01:15:31 Well, dear listener, if you are interested in these topics, you would be well-served to do everything she just said, and I highly recommend it. Cause I already did that too. And I will tell you it’s worth it. Um, so three, so again, thank you so much for being here. Uh, if people want to follow up with you, connect with you, how would you, where would you send them to anywhere you want? You’d recommend they check out besides the book. Of course,
Teresa Torres 01:15:50 Obviously the blog I share my email address right on the right on the, get in touch page. Um, I’m also on Twitter. Um, so feel free to reach out to me on Twitter. I will say I get so many LinkedIn messages that that’s probably not the best way to reach out to me. Um, cause I just, frankly, can’t keep up with it. Um, but, but Twitter or, uh, email through my blog is a great way to right on, well,
Andrew Skotzko 01:16:11 We will link to all that in the show notes. Well, Theresa again, thanks so much. And congratulations on not only the book launch, but I’m writing a really, really good book.
Teresa Torres 01:16:18 Thank you, Andrew. And thanks for having me and helping me get the word out.
Andrew Skotzko 01:16:21 Absolutely a real pleasure. So have a great rest of the day.