How to make decisions with large groups

One of the things I have learned in my career as a product manager is that you are in positions to make decisions every day. Quite often, these decision are hard, and impact a lot of people. In a simplified world, there are two ways to go about doing this. You can do this by pushing, or you can do this by pulling.

What do I mean by pushing?

Some people manage to push their decisions to others. Many of these people are very smart. Many of these people have the respect of the organization. Quite often, these people are right. Like I said, they are smart.

Often these people are the fast thinkers, the experts in their field. If you think about it, these people are the ones that are the “go to” people for an organization. If there is a question that comes up, people are often quick to point this person out. “Run this by Bob, he will know.” See, Bob is smart.

What do I mean by pulling?

Others in the organization are seen as influencers, consensus getters, trusted counterparts to do what is seen as right for the organization. No, this isn’t the opposite of the people who push decisions as we discussed, it’s just that the organization sees these people in a different light.

People in this realm are ones who seek out opinions, try to see all sides to a decision, help collect and collate the data to help everyone understand what the answer could be, and pull everyone along to what the answer is.

When the organization has hard conversations and choices to make, these people are often brought in as a balance to the pushers in an organization.

When is a pusher the right way to drive an answer?

There are times and places for both types of decision makers/getters in an organization. Quite often in your career (and in your life), you will be asked to fill one of these roles. When do you need to use the proper technique, and why?

It could be a standard Thursday night, your family is happy the weekend is coming, and nobody wants to cook dinner. Someone needs to take control and make a choice.

What is the impact of that choice? Well, we need to eat tonight. The decision will impact my family, likely only my family, and will be a short-term consequence for the call that is made. Now, I am an expert in my family. I know what they like. I know what they don’t like. I know the budget we have. I know around what time we’d like to eat. These are all factors in my ability to be the pusher in this situation. Considering this type of decision has happened often, it increases my chance of success here.

With a reasonable expected outcome, I can take all of the factors that make me the expert here, and I can decide to make the call. I will pick a place that everyone will enjoy, it fits our budget, is available now (because we are all hungry), and I know it’s close. Decision is made, and communicated. In all likelihood, the outcome here is going to be ok. If it’s not, at least we know the consequences are relatively short term.

When is a puller the better call?

Let’s take a different scenario. My family is getting ready to buy a new house . We have lived in the same house for a few years, but we are ready to move. The consequence of this decision is not short term. We plan on living in this place for a long time. RED FLAG #1. This decision will impact a group of people over a very long period of time . I should recognize this.

Now, I know everyone wants a place to eat, sleep, play and relax. These are facts. I can be the expert, right? Hmm, let’s pause there. Do I really know the factors that each person is thinking of for each of these checklist items?

We don’t go through this decision on a regular basis like we did the dinner choice. I’ve never actually sat and talked with family about what they like in the current house, and what they’d like to change in the new house. RED FLAG #2. This conversation is infrequent enough that likely nobody is the actual expert here. I should recognize this. We all have inputs, but varied by person/role.

So, what is the right way to pull people along?

We want to ensure that we satisfy the needs of the collective whole. In business terms, who are the stakeholders? Well, in this case, for me, it would be my wife, mother in law, and me. (We don’t have kids, and I am not letting my dog try and talk me in to a swimming pool).

In order to make sure that we satisfy the key items, we have to approach this differently. What do we know?

  1. We are buying a house
  2. We want to eat, sleep, play and relax in this new home
  3. What other factors do we need to consider in making this choice.

This is where some guardrails on a decision come in to play. Often we will call these the principles of the decision. What this really means is, what are the rules by which we will make our decision, so we can collectively arrive at a reasonable set of narrowed choices, that match these principles, and hopefully satisfy our collective needs.

In order to do this for our house, we could brainstorm on things like:

  1. Style of house
  2. Color of house
  3. Location
  4. Price
  5. Number of Rooms
  6. Amenities
  7. Wood Shop

It’s easy to weed out a couple of items that may not matter to the list of core principles here. First: Color. Color is something that can be changed later. It is not a long-standing impact for us collectively. This is a short term impact, and it’s not high. Second: Wood Shop. I am really the only person who cares deeply about this. Since this does not impact everyone as a long-standing core principle, we can weight this lower.

Now, if we arrive at a set of criteria like this:

  1. Style: Craftsman or Log Cabin
  2. Color: Ignored
  3. Location: within 15 miles of our current house, but not east of I-5
  4. Price: $300k-$2.5M (whatever, it’s my story here)
  5. Number of Rooms: Minimum of 4
  6. Amenities: Nice to have items include workout space, long driveway, lots of trees
  7. Wood Shop: Nice to have, not core

OK.. so now that we have our principles by which we want to make our decision, this is how we can pull everyone along as the person driving towards this decision. Think of them again, as guardrails that help us stay in our lane. If we can get consensus around these principles, it is likely that we have a good chance to arrive at the same (or similar) decision in the end.

If we find an amazing house that matches all of our criteria, but it happens to be east of I-5, this house violates principle #3 of our decision criteria. In theory, everyone agrees that this house is not a viable option. No complaints. We all agreed up front that east of I-5 is out.

OK, so what happens if someone says “Nope, this IS the house. We are getting this one!” . Well, you have to re-visit the principles to ensure you all still agree. Why does this person think principle #3 doesn’t matter any more? Why are they willing to violate this rule and be east of I-5? If you discuss this together, and can all agree that “No houses east of I-5” is a rule that can be violated, you can adjust your principles. You have collectively agreed that the framework by which you make your decision has now changed. If you don’t agree to that, you must all come to the conclusion that this house is off the list.

How do I close the decision by pulling everyone along

As the person responsible for driving closure to this decision, it is key that you are able to pull everyone along. If you end up in an argument about the house that violated a principle, you are now arguing on emotion or flawed logic. This won’t work long-term. You must ensure that you have clarity on the rules by which you make decisions is agreed, and then you work towards your decision within those guardrails. Once you collectively get to a decision, it is one that everyone can agree upon based on the rules.

What happens if you get close, but are stuck on one factor?

It is not uncommon to get through some basic principles and still end up with two differing answers. The easiest way to solve this is to find the variance in the two options, and then decide on what the principle is that can help you make this decision. The principle is usually aligned towards a joint goal between all parties. By narrowing the rules by which you make the decision, you can guide the answer based on the new principle.

Know when to use the right method

It is up to you to determine how you make decision. You must recognize that sometimes people do want to be pushed. You know the answer, you can make the call. Sometimes it is ok to push a decision.

You must equally know when it is important to pull people along. Often, this decision process takes a lot longer. It often has longer-term impacts and will affect more people. This is were pulling helps. Guide people with principles by which you make the decision, and then collectively you will likely arrive at the same answer. Then, it’s a joint decision. Building out that framework is key. If the framework is wrong, the answer is wrong.

Hopefully this helps in some thinking on how to make decisions in your family, or your organization.

Social Watch face for Apple Watch

I love using my Apple Watch for quite a few things during the day. Depending on what mood I am in, I switch between the utility and the Siri watchface. The reason for this is just to keep quick access to a couple of apps, and see what I have coming up.

On the weekends, or evenings if we are out, I like to switch to the Apple Picture watch face. I use the one that cycles through my favorites. It is always enjoyable to look down and happen to catch a glimpse of a picture that reminds me of a fun event, or favorite location.

So, here is my idea for a watch face. Have a watch face that can be dynamic based on the people you are in the room with. If I happen to be in the room with my wife and sister in law, allow the watch to find photos with them and me in the photo. I picture this as a very engaging way to bring back memories for people you spend time with.

Imagine not seeing a friend for months (or longer), and when you are together, your watch face is cycling through photos of you and them on a camping trip from years ago. It is a great way to remind you of the fun you have with that person, and a great way to help drive conversation, and a deep connection with them.

Additional Social Sharing

If you have a bunch of friends in the group that have and Apple Watch, an additional feature could be sharing of photos. Picture standing and talking to a friend. You look down to check the time and see a great shot of you and them in Hawaii from 2 years ago. Together you ooh and ahh over the picture until your friend asks for a copy. All you need to do is long-press on that photo, and send to friend. The face recognition could know who that person is, their iCloud details and auto-share the photo.

Anyway, I think it’s a pretty cool concept. Would love to see Apple do something like this.

Frustrated with the clash of names in my “Smart Home”

I just want to vent a touch.  Why is it that my “Smart Home” is not very smart?  If I look at the 27 connected devices I have in the home, and the names for these devices, it does not seem that hard to make them work across systems.  The two key ways I control things are via voice with Alexa, and HomeKit on my iPhone.  (I don’t use Siri much due to lack of my success with it)

So.. tonight I was trying to use the Alexa app to create a group called “Downstairs”.  OK.. so, let me go back and see what the actual naming conflict is then.. Was it my Hue?  Lutron?  Nest protects?  Nest Thermostats?  .. damn, it was a Thermostat named “Downstairs”.   So, I re-named it to “Downstairs Nest”.  Fine.  Now..  what happens when I look at the list in the Alexa App?  It appears Nest reports some stupid names.

Luckily, Alexa is smart so when I saw “Turn up the temperature downstairs”, it knows that only the Downstairs Downstairs Nest can accommodate that command.   But what about if I had TURN ON, and multiple devices had an ON command? Ugh.

The Connected Home space is complicated.  With Nest, Alexa and HomeKit, we are battling for naming conventions.  Luckily, at this point, Lutron does not have it’s own rooms model.  Just for a quick view in the top level items, I inventoried the various apps.

As you can see, its a joy to think through.  Anyway.. my quick vent. This was mainly to document my learnings in the Connected Home space .

Wine cooling system for the room, on the cheap with HomeKit devices

We did a small remodel in our house where we cut a larger room in two so that we could create an area for storage of wine.  In the room we have one duct in the floor for heating that I knew eventually I wanted to use for the cooling of the room.   The challenge came as we started to price out cooling systems, and they ran in to the thousands.  I think I have a solution, all the parts are ordered, and I will let you know how it goes.   Here is my plan.


First, I need an AC Unit.  I settled on the relatively cheap, but highly rated (and quiet) Frigidare.

6,000 BTU AC Unit


I could leave this in the window, but it just doesn’t have the look we were hoping for.  I needed to move this in to the crawlspace area.  I can easily build a rack for this to live on in the crawlspace.  There is plenty of ventilation as it’s 6ft tall.  I will then build custom ducting from this unit to the floor vent.  But, the thermostat is built in to the unit.  So.. how do make the unit shut off and on?

I decided to piece together my own system using the Eve Degree HomeKit room sensor.  This gives me my remote sensing I needed.

I can use the Eve application to monitor when the room temperature is getting too warm, and I want to make sure the AC turns on.   So.. Now to control the unit itself.  I decided to stick with the Eve system since I could tie the automation together in their app.  (HomeKit does not do remote thermostat automation the way I needed).   Here is the wall plug I went with.

Now, when the Eve Thermometer senses the warm temp, it will turn on this outlet, feeding power to the AC unit.   When the Thermostat gets to a certain lower temperature, the wall unit will shut off again.

Sure.. it’s a bit of a hack, but one I am trying for now to get the look I wanted, without breaking the bank. A split AC unit or Heat Pump was going to be a minimum of $2500 or more.   With this, I spent the following:

AC Unit:  $229.00

Eve Thermostat: $60

Eve Outlet: $50

Total:  $339

I feel like it’s a reasonable price to try to get this working.  If it doesn’t work out, I can always re-purpose all of the items in my house.. but it’s definitely worth a shot!

In the coming weeks, I will try to get the ducting build done and post an update.

Bear Notes App and Nested Tags

The 1.1.1 update to Bear Writer finally fixed the syncing issue I was having on Sierra.  I am not sure where fault lies with this one, but it seems a bug in Sierra and or the way Bear was using iCloud was causing issues.  This was the one thing from holding me back from really trying this out full force.  Guess what.. I am diving in.

Here is my first concern I am coming across; tagging is leaving some room for improvements.

If I want to nest tags for organization, it makes it a lot cleaner looking to view, and search for tags.

The issue I am having is speed of entry.  If I want to tag a note, I have to type #apps/bear to tag a note for bear.   Not horrible, but when i start to think of adding multiple tags by grouping, it becomes tedious.  If I am tagging things under work, it becomes a series of typing the following

#work/projectName #work/PersonICareAbout #work/keyTag

I end up typing way more than I’d have hoped.  If I mis-type any one of those, I create new tags on the fly.  There is no tag completion, no quick selection.

I’d love to hear others thoughts on how you are using tags.  I am inclined today to have a massive list of tags all at the same level for speed.  It’s a pain, but doable.  The fact I can search by #tag is also helping me here.



The auto industry is approaching Car Apps in an interesting way

I saw an article today on Ford and Toyota launching a Consortium to get developers to build on the Smart Device Link (SDL) platform. You can learn more about it on the SDL homepage.

The strange thing is, SDL appears to be a declarative way to express your application while still giving the auto manufacturer the control over how things actually lay out in the car. I am curious, don’t the brands building want to own the display for THEIR application?

The other thing that comes to mind is “what value do I get out of building for a car platform?” Does this make my users more sticky? Is it just the PR value for the announcements and ongoing press? (which does have some real value) Are companies able to not only build, but keep up with the platforms in the auto space as it gets more fragmented?

I was curious, I am sure there has to be a handful of key apps that motor companies want on their platform. If they think it is a differentiator, or something that partners of the Open Source SDL platform could benefit from, why not just build it for them?

Taking Ford as an example.

Assuming nobody was kicking in money but Ford, and they ate all of the costs, it is probably still worthwhile. (but they could spread the cost over each SDL partner and encourage other car manufacturers to sign up for the platform)

Ford made $7.2B in revenue in 2015. (with a gross revenue of $23M) That’s nothing to sneeze at for top line. Now, let’s say you wanted to ensure you got the top 20 applications on your platform. Things like weather, music, podcasting, traffic, etc. You could hand select a couple from each category and build the winners with no cost to them.

You can see that even at an estimated cost (wild ass guess) of $500k per application to build, getting the top 20 apps would be roughly 1/10th of a percent of Ford’s top line revenue.

Now, let’s say they could convince just 4 other companies to help share the cost. This becomes a much better value for them, and others; something each company could easily justify to expand from the top 20 apps, to the top 50 apps if it show real value as a differentiator.

There are probably arguments to be said about doing what SiriusXM did with building the cost of the services in to the cars, that would be a whole separate discussion.. but it is something interesting to think about.

EDIT:  I should have taken the extra step to calculate additional car sales against competition due to the advantage, and top line growth due to that number.. but I was running under the lazy assumption that Ford/Toyota did that work, and that’s why they are investing in the platform.  It wouldn’t take long though to make up  the revenue..roughly the Equivalent of 1 days sales or less.

Screen Capture feature in Bear Writer

Did you know you can do a screen capture right within your note?   I didn’t realize this existed, pretty cool though.  It would be a way for me to replace Skitch for basic screen grabs I need in notes.

Why I am sticking with Evernote for now

I don’t use Evernote for everything like I had in the past. It really used to be my “everything bucket”. That has gone away over time, but there are some things the way I manage my daily workflow that really help me out. Let me explain.

I try to keep goals and a journal

Keeping a daily journal; I am not good at this. Actually, I am really horrible about doing this anywhere near perfect. I DO have a strong goal to get better at this. it helps me understand where my time is spent, and also gives me something to look back on over the week to see what I have done.

You can see in the image that I try to lay out a week by week journal in a single note for a single month. In the journal I create a couple of sections:

  • Week of.. to track which week I am looking at
  • Goals for the week help me track what I need to make sure I finish by the end of the week
  • Daily logs of work to keep track of my time and thoughts

It becomes very useful to go back and look at where you have spent time. You can see in the image that many of my bullets are links to other Evernote notes. The way I generate this is one of two ways.

  • Right click and copy a note link for a one-off bullet
  • Towards the end of a day, I use my saved search for UPDATED TODAY to grab the notes I have edited today. Then, highlight all of them, right click and copy note links.
  • Paste these in to my Journal

This workflow in Evernote is one of the key items that keeps me here.

Inbox Use

I use the Evernote inbox to capture everything as a starting place. It is my default notebook for every note coming in to evernote. IFTTT to Emails all show up here when I send things over. If I am jumping in to a meeting to take notes, I go here, create a new note and start typing away. I always file things later, but I pretty much know that anything here needs attention to complete.

In an effort to keep things clean, I use a WIP tag for anything that is a WORK IN PROGRESS. then, I can file away as needed to one of my very few folders. If I need to bring back all things I believe I am currently working on, I use the saved Work In Progress search. It will bring up all notes with the WIP tag.

My Shortcuts are my lifeline

This is really the key for me, what other note apps lack. The ability to create shortcuts for easy access. It is how I manage my workflow.

You can see that I have few, but powerful shortcuts. I will describe them for you to help understand my daily use, and why Evernote is sticky for me right now.


This is where everything starts. The .. at the beginning is just to sort it to the top in my folder view below.

December 2016

This is my “current month” journal. As described above, this is how I quickly add items to my journal. I add items to the top of my journal list so everything appears in reverse chronological order .

Sonos Archive

This is where I store all of my work related notes. Simple. Nothing is sorted beyond this one folder for work. (I also have personal archives). I search and sort with tags as I find them way more powerful.

Work In Progress

As I mentioned above, this is a saved search to find all items tagged with WIP. It helps me keep track of open items.

To Complete – Week

This is a saved search that looks for all notes with open checkboxes edited in the past week. If I am taking notes and I need to add a task quickly, rather than creating it in my Task Manager (currently 2do), I just use the Evernote checkbox.

Later, once I am processing meeting notes, I move tasks to my actual task manager and check them off in Evernote.

Having a quick way to find things for the week has been very helpful.

To Complete – Month

This is the same concept as above, but often I use this just to make sure I have not missed any processing from as far back as month. It’s not common, but it does happen.


So, as you can see, my workflow itself is what keeps me in Evernote. Sure, I could go learn how to adapt to Notes, Bear or other apps, but I have just found that I am very used to working in Evernote this way. I have been an Evernote user since the beginning, and it’s a hard habit to break fully.

Trying out the new note taking app called Bear

I’ve been in a bit of a funk lately trying to figure out my long-term plan with Evernote, or something else.  A couple of things that really bug me about Evernote are:

  • Lack of markdown support
  • The editor is just goofy as hell for layout/formatting
  • tagging seems tedious..but perception I guess

So, I was excited to try out Bear when I heard about it.   It’s a new application that looks to bring a lot of key features of Evernote, but fixing some things that really bug me in Evernote.


There are a couple of things I’d like to see in Bear that are not currently there.

  • There is no tag completion.  This leaves it open for me to accidentally mis-type a tag and create a new one
  • There is no bulk-tag management.  I want to be able to select a group of notes and apply a tag.  No luck yet, maybe soon

I am going to play with this for a bit and see how I like it.  If you want to check it out, jump over to for the details.

Use Emoji to help make searching in Workflowy easier

I just had this thought tonight.. I’ve been using #task or #meeting in my notes in Workflowy to track meetings or tasks.  Why not make them an emoji, it will look better, and you can still search on it?

I tend to keep my weekly/daily journal of all meeting notes, things I was working on and random stuff that pops up during the day.  Now, if I just click a month, or week.. and search for the emoji I want to find, it filters down nicely.   See the clip below


For my text expander snippets, I’ve got a few I am using.

The first is when I am creating a meeting.  Once I sit down in the meeting I type .mm to ask to fill in the meeting minutes.  It prompts me for a meeting name, and then fills this in. (with proper tabs for layout)

📅 test meeting name – Tuesday, 25 Oct 2016
Action Items

Then, as I need to add in action items, I can use the — shortcut to put in a ✅ in front of each action item.

Later, as I clear off action items, I can just delete the Emoji, and still see what action items I had captured, but not completed.

Finally.. I can search using .meeting as a shortcut in the search bar to get my 📅 emoji to show up.  This helps me filter on all meetings.   I can also search on ✅ to find all tasks in a bucket.  (usually by week or day)