The Takeaways: Week 36 of 2021

A periodic review of articles, newsletters, and podcasts that I found interesting, inspiring, or otherwise worth remembering.


Nils Davis (host), The Secrets of Product Management. 93: How To Show Quantifiable Results – Even If You Don’t Have The Numbers (September 7, 2021)


Gordon Brander, Subconscious. Why did the web take over desktop and not mobile? (September 10, 2021)

John Cutler, The Beautiful Mess. TBM 37/52: Bet Taxonomy (Roll Your Own) (September 9, 2021)

It is tempting, but you have to resist this [urge to default to using the same bet-making strategy for every kind of project]. How?

On a basic level, you'll need to come up with a categorization scheme for initiatives. Start with the question: What details about an initiative will dictate how we work, how we make decisions, how we think about risk, and how we think about what progress looks like?

Chas Roades and Lisa Bielamowicz, MD, The Weekly Gist. September 10, 2021

Is price transparency a “To Err is Human” moment?

But in the opinion of the executive we spoke with, systems shouldn’t have to be goaded into transparency, they should embrace it. “We should view this as similar to the IOM report,” she said, referring to the landmark 1999 study from the Institute of Medicine that shed light on the thousands of deaths each year caused by preventable errors in hospitals. “That report was a wake-up call for the industry,” she said, “and rather than point fingers and take punitive measures, we all rallied together to address the problem.” Similar to the issue of avoidable medical errors, the root cause of distorted hospital pricing is system structure, not individual bad actors. Public scrutiny of high and widely variable pricing is an opportunity to address structural issues around how reimbursement works, rather than a moment to punish individual organizations for acting rationally in the context of a broken payment system.

Paul Shafer, Research Corner. Tradeoffs (September 10, 2021)

A large team of international collaborators conducted this randomized trial in rural Bangladesh from November 2020 to April 2021, covering 600 villages with over 340,000 adults. The intervention, known as the NORM model, included 1) free masks (1/3 cloth, 2/3 surgical), 2) instructions on how to wear them, 3) in-community mask promoters and 4) endorsement by religious leaders for randomly selected villages. The control villages received none of those things, though they were not prevented from wearing masks on their own.

The researchers found the intervention tripled the level of mask wearing and, in turn, led to decreases in both self-reported COVID symptoms (-11.9%) and symptomatic seroprevalence, or the presence of SARS-CoV-2 antibodies in the blood of symptomatic people (-9.3%), in the treatment villages relative to the control villages. The effects of the intervention held over a 10-week period, but waned in the months after the study ended as mask wearing declined.

Ernie Smith, Tedium. How I Research Stuff (September 10, 2021)

Ordinarily, I try to find a good pull quote, but this one is great from first word to last.

Ben Thompson, Stratechery. Tech Epochs and the App Store Trap (September 7, 2021)

Of course these are big well-known companies fighting with the biggest, most well-known company; the question, as always, is about the companies that aren’t formed, the creators that aren’t empowered, the metaverses that die on the vine because developers couldn’t make money, or the platform creator couldn’t justify the risk. Looking back it’s easy to see how Microsoft and Windows could have stifled the Internet epoch; Apple (and Google!) ought not hold back the full potential of the app-platform epoch.

Olivia Webb, Acute Condition. Would Theranos have been caught earlier by healthcare experts? (September 9, 2021)

Rather than selling to traditional healthcare entities like pharmaceutical partners or hospitals, Theranos followed a retail strategy that removed any potential oversight from any healthcare professional. Then, Holmes marketed this strategy as a way to empower patients over their own care.

This is a stunningly successful pitch. While it’s one that many digital health companies still use, Theranos went so far as to remove any oversight or input from healthcare experts: In its final retail iteration, Theranos machines were barely overseen by phlebotomists. At the end, it was just the patient and the (barely functioning) machine.


Julie Appleby, KHN. (August 31, 2021)

Patients and their doctors are getting creative, with some consumers simply driving across state lines, then making a Zoom call from their vehicle.

“It’s not ideal, but some patients say they are willing to drive a mile or two and sit in a parking lot in a private space and continue to get my care,” said Dr. Shabana Khan, director of telepsychiatry at NYU Langone Health’s department of child and adolescent psychiatry and a member of the American Psychiatric Association’s Telepsychiatry Committee. She and other practitioners ask their patients about their locations, mainly for safety reasons, but also to check that they are in-state.

Eric W. Bailey, Writing. What they don’t tell you when you translate your app (September 2, 2021)

Someone getting what they need in the language they prefer signals quality and builds trust.

That being said, people are far more likely to remember the frustration that comes with friction. Poor or missing translations can easily unmake the positive associations you’ve painstakingly tried to build for your app, website, or web app.

John Dickerson, The Atlantic. Every Dog is a Rescue Dog (September 9, 2021)

The study offers no information about what happens to the owners when the dog falls still and the owners must keep walking.

Robert Jones, Jr., Son of Baldwin. A Message to Michael (September 6, 2021)

Rest now, brother. Though your life was also ephemeral, your impact is infinite. And if there is any justice in the cosmos, so is your spirit.

Ben Lindberg, The Ringer. Fancy Footwork: A Complete Breakdown of the Soto Shuffle (September 7, 2021)

[Soto is] following [Ted] Williams into rarefied territory where failure is roughly as likely for the pitcher as for the batter. Soto’s walks would be a marvel—albeit a boring one—if he simply stood still in the batter’s box until it was time to take his base. But few players are as fun to watch when they do swing as Soto is when he doesn’t. He’s the game’s most judicious and prolific pitch-taker, and he’s its most entertaining taker, too.

Elise Reuter and Anuja Vaidya, MedCity News. After Google, Microsoft struck out, can Apple get people to use its health records feature? (September 6, 2021)

This is a very detailed review of the challenges and possibilities facing Apple's health records iPhone feature set after three years in the market. Hopefully somebody on the product team wrote up something like this when it was still in the discovery phase!

Charles Stross, Charlie's Diary. Towards a taxonomy of cliches in Space Opera (arch 5, 2016)