Asana's Co-Founder on Cutting Out Useless Meetings, Emails

On this episode of Fast Forward, I spoke with Justin Rosenstein, co-founder and head of product for Asana, a PCMag Editors' Choice for productivity software. Put simply, Asana is an app that makes people work together better. It is also what PCMag uses to manage our editorial workflows. We spoke about personal productivity, team communication, and the changing nature of work. Read and watch our interview below.

Before we start, I want to tell you how PCMag is using Asana. When started to use it we said, "We're going to roll it out slowly. We're going to build small teams. We're going to see who wants to use it, essentially let people onboard themselves." After that, it spread through the staff. People wanted to be on the service. You don't get that with a lot of business software products. How do you make that happen as the head of product?

Some of it's about product design. Historically, there's been consumer software that has higher and higher bar for software design. And then there's enterprise software, which we think of as ugly, old, gray. I think we came from consumer software backward. I used to work at Facebook and Google, but we had the business needs of real enterprise customers. It just felt very natural to build something that was as high-quality, design-wise, as consumer software but had all the power and richness of something you need to run a complex business. I think the other thing is that the traditional way that people have done leadership, delegation, deciding what to do, is very much a holdover from the Industrial Revolution. This very top-down, hierarchical, boss-tells-you-what-to-do and you just do what you're told. You don't even understand how your work fits into the bigger picture.

Whereas the new kind of work that people do is much more collaborative, much more everyone coming together and figuring out collectively what is the work that needs to be done. I think it's a tool that enables everyone on the team to be collaborating and co-creating the plan and the leadership together, which, I think, is a lot preferable in modern environments.

Even things like cryptocurrency. I haven't thought about this enough to have a firm opinion. But when I'm in conversation with the enthusiasts who are super excited, and they're telling me all the benefits of this, I ask questions like, "How do you know that that's actually not going to lead to bad things where suddenly we can't regulate currency?" We'll be unable to tax the people who are the most technologically literate and that will lead to increased wealth inequality." And often they're like, "Oh. We'll figure that out." I'm like, "Are you sure?"

Because it could just be bad. Again, maybe people have thought this through, but just taking more time to actually consider what are the social implications of these technologies before just jumping breathlessly at like, "This is the greatest new thing."

On the flip side, is there a product, a tool, or a service that you use every day that has totally changed your life, and obviously you can't say Asana.

There's a product Thistle. I am an investor, but I invested because it was so life-changing. They do food delivery by mail, which I know a bunch of startups have done. We have food at Asana, but on weekends it is great to have breakfast, lunch, and dinner delivered. Like a lot of things in their early phase right now, I think it's on the expensive side, but they're working on that.

They need to scale.

They need to scale, and the cost will come down over time. The need for more transportation was this huge pent-up demand and as soon as Uber and Lyft came along and said, "Here, we're going to make it one-click easy for you to get transportation," it totally changed how we'd move around. I think food is the same way. Obviously, there's a lot of people who enjoy cooking food every day, but for a lot of us, the idea that you could have really healthy and delicious food delivered to you on exactly the schedule you want is pretty great.

I'm a vegan now after considering that for a long time. I just think that's the only way I can live in a way that's consistent in integrity with my values. It's hard to live as a vegan in the world we live in. They have a vegan option started that was the only option. Being able to have healthy, delicious vegan food delivered to meet all of your nutritional needs, I think is going to be a game changer.

All right. If people want to follow you online and follow Asana, how can they find you, where should they go?

I have a Twitter account. It's @rosenstein. There's also Wavelength. is a new publication we started that has team productivity information. it gives you information on how to apply a purposeful, mindful approach to teamwork. Also a website if you're interested in my current thinking on some of the bigger, humanity-level dashboard systems change, stuff that I was alluding to.

Excellent. I will definitely check it out.

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