For centuries we’ve lionized leaders who have an innate gift for setting monumental goals and knowing just how to achieve them. We’ve labelled them visionaries. Changing the world has come to be seen as the preserve of visionaries such as Steve Jobs. For the rest of us, being a visionary seems largely out of reach.
In this session, we challenge this idea with inspiring stories of what it means to be a visionary and consider how each and every one of us can change the world, methodically and in a repeatable manner.
So we’re gonna start with a quick question. And in the Zoom Chat, please just share the first name that comes to the top of your head. Give me the name of a visionary who you think has had an impact on this world? Just the first one that comes to mind.
Excellent, thank you. So most of us think of Elon, someone saying, Bob Moesta, awesome. Tesla. Steve Jobs. Okay. So I think the common theme that we see right, is mostly when Well, I think you guys are the most creative out of all the groups I talked to. So I see more variety here. But in most groups, we mostly think of visionaries as someone in this category. And by the way, you know, I’ll mention that it happens to be mostly white and mostly male as well.
The thing is, though, here’s the problem; society teaches us that to be visionary, right, we have to have this heroic impact on the world. And that’s a problem. It’s a problem. Because the rate at which we create change in the world, it just reduces to this very small trickle when that’s our expectation that being a visionary means being heroic and creating the sort of a massive impact. But you know, the thing is, if we could each create change in the world vary systematically, here’s the rate at which we could create change. The problem until now has been that every time we’ve had business books methodologies, we haven’t really learned how to create change systematically, what really is emphasised in business and just our approach to how we build products today, it’s really all about speed and using trial and error for building products. And that’s, I think, what really needs to be changed.
Our mantras for building products today, you know, they’re ‘build, test, learn, scale’, ‘fail fast, learn fast’, ‘iterate quickly’. The focus is mostly been on iteration. And it’s not to say that iteration is bad at all. I think iteration is important. It’s like having a fast car; a fast car is really nice to have. But it’s only useful for getting to your destination, if you know where you’re going and how you’re going to get there. So a fast car and iteration basically, it gives us speed and execution, right? But speed alone isn’t enough, because what happens is, speed can look like this, we’re all moving in different directions, and just really fast. So direction really matters. And what we haven’t had until now, is a really clear methodology to be able to set that direction. So we have speed, but what we need now is a methodology for setting that direction really clearly. So that we have speed plus direction, and that gives us velocity. And that’s where radical product thinking comes in.
So the book releases today, it’s a methodology for building world changing products. And my goal in writing this book was not just to write a technical book about product management, but really, it’s a methodology and a philosophy that gives organisations a step by step and a practical process for being able to build such world changing products. It is a different way of thinking about product. And in this discussion, and in our breakout session, I really want to talk about what I mean by this different mindset, and how we can really adopt that. But the main premise of radical product thinking is that we can engineer change systematically, by taking this systematic and methodical approach by starting with a very clear vision for what’s the change we want to create, then translating it into a strategy, then into priorities into execution and measurement. And by the way, this is where Lean and Agile fits in, and I’ll talk about that in a bit as well. And finally, we can apply all of these ideas also in engineering, the culture that we want to see.
And the reason it’s designed as these as a set of practical tools is because, you know, in building products, we really have to be able to communicate and bring our entire team with us on the journey. And that’s why it’s designed as these communication tools. And I’ll give you an example of what I mean by that. Because surely by now, you know what your thinking is? Well, you know, I’ve heard of heard these words like vision strategy, etc. Like how is this different? And I want to give you just a sample of that before we get into an actual example in a story that I want to share with you.
Let’s start with just this example of vision what we’ve learned until now about a vision is vision has to be a B.H.A.G., if you are at all raising venture capital, which you may not be after, you know, Matt Wensing’s talk, everyone asks you what is your big, hairy, audacious goal? Are you behind, right? And that is supposed to be your vision. And it turns out that that’s really not a good idea. Because that leads us to write fuzzy statements like this, that often start with, you know, to reinvent or to disrupt something. And God forbid, you would write a vision statement like this, which is, you know, contributing to human progress by empowering people to express themselves, which, you know, can basically be practically any product that ranges from my kids piano teacher to post it notes. And so what I want us to do differently, and what I talk about in the book is, you know, we have to write a detailed vision that really articulates the problem statement in the world that we want to set out to solve. And the solution we envision.
So good vision is basically about, you know, whose world are we trying to change? What does that world look like? Meaning what exactly is their problem? Probably the most important question to me is, why does that need changing? Because let’s face it, maybe status quo is just fine. Then we can say, okay, so how will you know when you’ve arrived? Meaning what does the world look like when you’re done? And then finally, how are you going to change it for them? So we have to answer the who, what, why, how, when questions.
And what I found is, you know, it’s incredibly hard to do that on a blank sheet of paper. So in the radical product thinking way, you have a vision worksheet, which is basically a fill in the blank statement, so that you can focus not on the word smithing and playing vision bingo. But instead, you can really focus on just answering these profound questions as a team so that you can align on what the vision is. And this is the communication part, that that’s so critical, right. But now that I’ve given you just a taste for what I mean, by this radical approach, what I want to do is really stretch our thinking of product by using these elements of radical product thinking, to illustrate how we can build world changing products. And the story that I want to share with you is one that we’ve not heard very often. But this product is out there so much that once you’ve heard about this, you will never be able to eat at an Indian restaurant in the same way again.
So when you go to an Indian restaurant, you know, the poppadoms that you eat, which are the lentil crackers that you eat with chutney? There is one organisation that has 60% market share when it comes to toponyms. If you lived in India, or if you are familiar with Indian culture, you know, lijit is the brand you buy for poppadoms. And what is interesting about this organisation is that it is so incredibly vision driven.
I want to share the story of how it all started, it started with seven women who were stay at home moms, they didn’t have an education, it was a really patriarchal family structure or communities that they’re living in. And they just wanted to earn a dignified living, because otherwise they were dependent on their husbands. And they couldn’t direct household spending at all. So the change that they envisioned was to be able to earn a dignified living and have financial independence so that they weren’t dependent on their husbands. So that was the change that they wanted to bring. And it turned out, they didn’t have an education, their job prospects were limited, and so the only skill that they felt like they really had was cooking.
So the product that they envisioned was making poppadoms and selling those. And that product was what was going to help them bring about that change. So the first point in radical product thinking the philosophy is that your product is your mechanism for creating the change that you envision. And that that was kind of how it started, right. So poppadoms, was their product to create change. So they started making poppadoms, and they started selling them. But what they decided was, you know, they were going to split profits or losses equally among all seven women. And so they started out this way. And soon they became 25, they became 300 Women who no longer fit on the terrace together. So they all started working at home to roll out poppadoms. But one thing remained the same, even to even today. These women all share equally in the profits. And Lijit has now given financial independence to 45,000 Women who are all equal partners in this organisation.
I just think it’s phenomenal that 45,000 Women can be equal partners in something and that organisation is still running on that same vision, right. And so I interviewed the president of lijit and it was so inspiring, you know, their vision isn’t a slogan, she really described her vision. And I just transcribed that into the radical product thinking approach. So this is how the revision would read.
“Today, when women without education from poor households want to run their household and educate kids, they have to depend on their husband’s income, and they can’t influence spending. This is unacceptable because it limits their kids education prospects, and it repeats the cycle of poverty, we envision a world where women become self reliant. And it leads to socio economic progress. We’re bringing about this world through high quality poppadoms. And later, into manufacturing fast moving consumer goods, but without ever taking charity.”
What’s the real pain points?
So this was the vision that really drove these women. And that’s still the vision that drives this organisation today. And what you’ll see from this vision statement, right, is that this is so detailed, you don’t need a slogan, but everyone really internalises this vision. And that’s the power of communicating your vision at such a deep level. But the thing is, you know, a vision is only the starting point, because the whole point of radical product thinking is being able to translate that into your everyday activities. And that’s where your strategy comes in.
So in the radical product, thinking way, your strategy has four elements to it. And the quick mnemonic is RDCL(Radical). So the real pain points, this is what you kind of have to start with, what is it that people need? Why are they engaging with your product? Like what is the real pain? In this case, the real pain was that these women had work ethic, but they just didn’t have enough education. They were the primary caregivers of their family and lived in a patriarchy, which means that they couldn’t just leave home and go off to work in a factory or somewhere. So the design for these problems had to be that these women had to work from home, they couldn’t be from factories. The second thing was, you know, they needed to bring home daily wages, for even being able to justify that they were going to leave home right? To be able to influence daily spending, they needed to earn daily wages, which meant that they earned wages by rolling poppadoms and sharing the profits, you know, periodically, but this whole point of daily wages plus working from home was critical to the design or the solution to address those pain points.
Think about this idea of being equal partners and sharing profits equally. Can you imagine a law firm, where all partners, regardless of their seniority level are sharing equally in profits? It is just unfathomable. Right. So one of the things in terms of capabilities? And how do you power the solution that you’re envisioning? You have to think about what’s your special sauce to be able to power that solution? In Lijit’s case, they had to cultivate a mindset in these women where you’re not thinking about your individual gains, you’re not thinking about, am I earning more than this other person? Instead, they created this mindset of maximising group earnings.
And then finally, you know, in terms of logistics, that’s where you ask the question, you know, how do I deliver my solution? And in this case, you know, today Lijit is just a brand that’s known for their quality. Think about 45,000 Women rolling poppadoms at home, it seems like a disaster in the making, right? How do you ensure quality when people are all doing this at home, and yet Lijit does that. And it’s part of their logistics of just decentralising, their quality control. So, this is part of, you know, thinking about your product strategy, so comprehensively using these four elements. But here’s the kicker, in so many organisations, we may even have a vision, we may have a strategy, but where things go wrong and get disconnected from our everyday actions, is when we’re actually supposed to use that vision and strategy in everyday actions. Often our vision is missing, it just doesn’t feature in our everyday decisions. And that’s where in the radical product thinking approach, the trade offs that we’re making between vision and survival. The point is, let’s just make some explicit; let’s talk about what those trade offs are. And so the way we think about it is let’s just visualise it on an X and Y axis, things that are a good vision fit and that are helpful for survival in the short term. Those are, of course, the easy decisions and ideal.
Investing in the vision and taking on vision debt.
But if you always focus on just the ideal, you’re being short term driven, always right. So sometimes you have to invest in the vision, which is it’s not good for survival in the short term, but it’s helpful for the vision in the long term. And then the other hard decision is taking on vision debt, which you know, in software, we’re so familiar with tech debt, vision debt is like tech debt is except that you It’s, you know, on the visual side is taking you further away from the vision, but it’s helping you survive, right. So in the case of Lijit, this is how they made decisions, they had to start by taking a small loan, it was the equivalent of $150 today, but that was vision debt because these women really wanted to be financially independent. So that was vision that had him to take on that loan. But to be able to compensate for that, what they agreed on with beyond that, they would never take charity, but they would always share in profit or loss equally, and they didn’t know that this was going to make a profit, right. So that was investing in the vision.
The other piece of it was, you know, I mentioned how they had to earn wages every day. So one feature that enabled that which was good for survival, and for the vision is not giving or taking credit, so that they could deal with accounts on an everyday basis and pay women every day. And then finally, you know, overtime in Lijit has now been around since the 1950s. One of the ways legit is investing in the vision is that they’re actually educating women that instead of just giving them financial independence through rolling poppadoms, they’re teaching them financial literacy, and reading and writing. So that’s again, investing in the vision.
So this is how it all features in your decisions. But finally, you know, a vision driven approach means that we actually have to measure what matters. And, you know, if you think about how Lijit measure success, there’s only one metric that they measure success by, which is the number of women to whom they give financial independence. Now, this is not to say that, you know, popular metrics such as revenues, market share, etcetera, they’re not important, right? Like, obviously, if their revenues tanked, they aren’t, they can’t make more women financially independent, same for market share. But those popular metrics, that’s not an indicator of progress towards LitCharts vision. And so what they measure in terms of success is based on whether they’re achieving the vision that they set out to. And so the point is, right, today, Lijit is a radical product in that this product that they have, it’s an improvable mechanism to engineer the change that they envisioned.
And it does mean that, you know, we can be successful financially, but also we can create the change that we want to see; as a radical product legit has given independence to 45,000 women, they have 60% of market share. And although they’re based in India, they have annual revenues of over $220 million. And yet, we don’t know about this organisation very much. But this is the kind of radical product that we can build when we systematically create change.
So the thing is, if we’re all here, not all of us are founders. So the idea is, how can each of us be visionaries at work. And the example I want to share with you there is that of Margaret Hamilton. So some of us might have heard of her, but Margaret Hamilton is my hero, and I interviewed her for the book. She is the one who saved the moon landing. And also coined the term software engineering.
So when I interviewed Margaret, you know, I asked her, How did she come up with this term software engineering, like what led her to that? And I’ll tell you in a moment, kind of how she saved the moon landing as well. But, you know, the main thing is that NASA had this vision of putting man on the moon, right. But this is, again, one of those fluffy, big visions that’s not really useful for a software engineer. So Margaret had her vision for the change that she wanted to create. And that was building ultra reliable software that can recover from every possible error in the process of putting man on the moon. That was her vision for her work. So how does that manifest itself? You know, three minutes before the moon landing happened, there was a system crash on board. And what happened was, there was an astronaut’s user error that caused the computer to get overloaded. And so Margaret software was designed so that in the case of such an overload, it would ignore every thing that it would kind of trash all the tasks that it had. And it would just focus on a prioritised list of activities that were necessary for landing. And if you think that, you know, this was in the 1960s, that she built that, you know, even today, this would be a remarkable feat of software engineering. And it was driven by this vision that, you know, her software had to recover from every possible error.
How did it feature into her decisions and her priorities? Here’s an example. There was one time when her daughter was in lab, she was playing astronaut. And her daughter daughter crashed the system by pressing two buttons simultaneously, P0 and P1. And so Margaret said, Oh my gosh, you know, if she can do that astronauts can do that, too. So she asked NASA to allow her to add a fix for this problem. But NASA said, You know what? You’re just being too obsessive this, astronauts are trained to be perfect, they will not make this mistake. And of course, you know, to apease or the added line in the instruction manual to say don’t press P0 and P1 at the same time.
And of course, as we know, in software that solved the problem, right? All you need is to tell users what to do? Well, of course, it just so happened to Jim Lowell was the astronaut who actually accidentally did press that somewhere between here and the moon, and it converted that their unit into this tin can that was floating in space with no navigational data. And so the next step was to take on vision debt and urgently fix this issue. And so finally, they did fix that issue. But it then led to features in the ideal quadrant, which is NASA then gave her carte blanche to implement her approach to ever recovery across all systems. And that led to this approach of really defensive coding, let’s say to become widespread across all of the Apollo mission.
So the thing is, right now, I’ve talked about how we can apply this work, how the we can apply this as founders. But I also want to share with you the idea that we can use this approach anywhere we want to create change, it doesn’t just have to be at work, we can apply this even if we’re doing activism. And the example I want to share with you is that of Claudette Colvin, who I also interviewed for my book, and it was such an honour to interview Claudette Her story is one that history has forgotten. But I think it’s just so important. So Claudette was 15, when she was arrested for defying the bus segregation laws in Alabama. And this was nine months before Rosa Parks. I asked Claudette, you know, at 15, how is it that you were unwilling to give up your seat? You were you weren’t even an adult? Right? How did you do that? And her answer to me was that, you know, she had a vision, it was that she wanted to see a world where everyone could partake in the same American dream, and she was tired of adults not doing anything about it. And that’s what led to her not giving up that seat. But one of the most interesting things to me, right in terms of how this manifested in her activity or in her action. Not giving up her seat, she talked about it as an impromptu decision. But what really was not impromptu and engineered. And, you know, this is something where she really invested in the vision was she was one of the four plaintiffs in the Browder v. Gayle case. And that was the one that overturned segregation on buses. It was her not Rosa Parks on being one of these plaintiffs. And there was tremendous pressure to back out of being one of the plaintiffs.
And what’s interesting to me is, you know, in, in how she talks about the whole Civil Rights Movement, it wasn’t about her, you know, although she’s she sparked something, she was very happy to let Rosa Parks be that icon. And again, that was very vision driven. She was seen as this rebellious teenager, not accepted by society, whereas Rosa Parks was well respected by everyone. And so her vision – because she was so vision driven – she was happy to lead Rosa Parks be that icon for the civil rights movement.
So in conclusion, I think whatever we’re doing, we can engineer change systematically by starting with a vision and systematically translating that into everyday activities. And so in terms of key takeaways, I just want to leave you with three ideas. The first is, you know, this I did not talk about today. But you can read that in the book, and you’ve heard me talk about it elsewhere. We can avoid product diseases by being vision driven, instead of being iteration led, your product is a mechanism to create change, you know, it’s not just hardware, it’s not software, it’s however, you’re creating change in the world. If it’s at a company, it’s your entire product that includes services, training, etc. But how are you creating change? That’s your product. And each of us can be visionaries in whatever we’re doing by creating change systematically.
Hi, there. So I think one this is my favourite talk of the conference so far. Thank you so much for coming in. I love the matrix for dividing, you know, survival and vision into a single, you know, space with which to evaluate ideas. How do you think about, like, processes for getting stuff on there? Like, is it something that I sit down by myself and do, is it like call meetings is like, how do we kick off things like that? And I feel like a lot of those decisions are also kind of inter temporal. They don’t happen at the same time. You know, Is it better to just like, plan ahead for every, you know, thing that we can think about? Or just go with? What’s what’s alive right now for the company?
Yeah, excellent question. So there are two contexts in which I typically use this right. So first, let me talk about the grassroots level. So at the grassroots level, like with the product team, with developers, the way I use this is, when I’m doing a sprint plan, for example, you know how very often you do value versus impact kind of matrices to plan or do prioritisation. I really don’t like that approach very much. And nor do I like an approach where, you know, prioritisation is done based on numbers, where, you know, we have detailed numbers for like, feature one through five and how each feature ranks on five different principles, and then the magic spreadsheet spits out a number.
So instead of taking that approach, I dropped this x and y axis on a whiteboard, or, you know, on a on a shared screen, and then we start to plot each of the features we’re thinking about on the four quadrants, and then we’ll pick more things from ideal, a few things from investing in the vision, and then we’re very careful about picking from Vision debt. So that’s how I use it for sprint planning. And this way, you know, it gets everyone on board in terms of why we’re taking on certain features. And then I use that same x and y axis and that, and kind of what we plotted on those features, to be able to communicate that to stakeholders and say, you know, here’s why we’re doing something/we’re not doing something. So that’s, you know, the grassroots level and then communicating it upwards as well.
The second context in which I use this is, you know, I talked about crafting a strategy, there are so many items on that strategy, right. And that goes to the other way that you talked about just now, which is, you know, when you’re planning ahead, so when you’re planning through all your strategic initiatives, I, you can use the X and Y axis and plot some of your strategic initiatives on there. And so you use that whether you’re, you know, part of an executive team planning out your strategic initiatives for the next few months, I have also used this to talk to my salespeople to say, you know, this deal that you want to take on, it’s really vision debt, like if we’re going to take it on, let’s all agree that we’re taking on vision debt before we say, Yeah, let’s just do this. So those are a few contexts in which you can use this.
But I think the main thing that happens, right is, whoever you’re using this with, just start by defining what’s the x axis and the Y axis? Because for different teams that x and y axis might be slightly different, you know, most decisions that we disagree on, we disagree, because either we’re not aligned on the vision or we’re not aligned on what survival means. And this part I didn’t talk about in the presentation so much, but what is survival for you? Like? What is that existential risk in the short term, that’s really important to be aligned on for a startup, that existential risk might be that you run out of money in a big company, that’s not necessarily your existential risk. Your existential risk in a big company might be that your stakeholder decides that they’ve had enough of you and your product. And that’s it, you know, you’re out kind of thing, right? So that could be your existential risk. Like, you have to think about what is the x and y axis define that? And then you start your discussion of how are we going to prioritise that was kind of a long answer. But I’ll pause there thoughts questions?
Yeah, I can definitely understand this. The survivability being different across teams, like, you know, the founders are, like thinking about investment. And the engineers are thinking about whether or not the thing actually survives when we get to X million users. Thanks. That’s really helpful. Radhika,
your new book your book launched today which was very exciting. You said you started writing about three years ago? What was your push to write that book? What can I start with you and your journey to write that book?
Yeah, one thing that I did not talk about today, which is often what I use, even as a starting point in organisations, in thinking about a new approach is this concept of product diseases. What really got me to start writing this book was that I was seeing the same set of product diseases over and over. So meaning that you know, and I caught these diseases in myself. So in my first startup, the disease I’d caught was what I call hero syndrome, where you know, we really conflated product market fit with fundraising success, or just achieving scale. So we started scaling too early as an example. And this is so common in startups. So that was one example and other common diseases pivotitus. Or, for example, you know, even Matt was mentioning this as part of his presentation. I He was talking about how if you’re bootstrapping, there’s often this pressure to take on different deals, that’s that, you know, require maybe custom development and so on. That’s obsessive sales disorder that you’re, you’re at risk of. But these product diseases were things that I kept seeing over and over. And that just made many good products go bad. And that was one of the key reasons that this book came about, you know, is the fact that I was questioning is it that just some people are destined to build good products? And the rest of us sort of keep learning from trial and error? Or can it be a process that we can really systematically learn, and we can all build good products, and that’s kind of how it all came about.
And with it being written over a decent amount of time. And with COVID, coming in, kind of right in the middle of that – Do you think the way that things are being built have changed because of the pandemic, and is that part of you know, has therefore played a part and what you’ve written in the book,
I think the pandemic has played a really important role in what I’ve written about, and I’ll share an anecdote in a moment, I don’t think it’s fundamentally changed how we build products, because I still see the same issues of you know, iteration, and, you know, being driven by iterations. I think COVID does share a really interesting example of why throwing money at the problem is not enough. And the example I want to share is, you know, how the US approached COVID versus what I was seeing in Singapore. So I was living in Singapore at the time, when COVID first started. And you know, the moment COVID hit, right, this was, in January, Singapore already started testing, travellers arriving from outside the country. This was before anyone else was starting to do anything. But you know, the moment it started in January, they also told people that if you’re sick at all, stay home, we’ll pay you, even if you’re a contractor, or a freelancer will pay you just to stay home if you’re sick. Whereas in the US, right, when I saw that, it scared me for what it was going to happen in the US. Because if that was never going to be the case, like in the US, people would kind of have to go to work, because there isn’t that sort of social infrastructure, there was a vision driven approach. Throwing money at the problem didn’t necessarily solve it. Like we were throwing money at the problem by building vaccines. And I’m not saying that’s bad. But it could have saved so many lives to take a more efficient driven approach. And Singapore, on the other hand, had a clear vision for how they needed to curb COVID. And it was based on their experience from SARS. And so they started this testing and isolation very early, so that, you know, when I was leaving Singapore, actually, before Delta, they had zero cases in the community. And it was all done through the sort of isolation testing and control. Whereas here in the US, you know, we weren’t that sort of taking that vision driven approach. There was all this debate over whether to wear a mask or not, and so on. Like, that was one example of just you know, if we can be systematic and vision driven, we can apply it anywhere.
Probably, hello, um, you probably not going to be too surprised that my ears pricked up at the product disease, you turned obsessive sales disorder. Can you tell me a little bit one of the early signs that people you know, how do you pick up on it early before it becomes a full blown disorder?
Yeah, I think so. I think, you know, I’m, first of all, I think taking on vision debt, sometimes for a sales deal. I’m actually fine with that. I’m not saying we should never do that. And you’re exactly right. Like, we just have to make sure it doesn’t become a disorder. I think the way we do that is that we have to start seeing if people feel people start to feel demoralised. You know, there’s a certain point where you start to see that the morale starts to tip, initially, people are okay with taking on some vision debt, hey, we’re winning deals, let’s do this, there comes a point where people within the team start to feel like, you know, what, I don’t know what we’re doing anymore. We’re starting to feel like we’re losing direction. And when you start hearing even the beginnings of that, you know you have to do something already that there’s it’s time to do take a different approach.
So I think the, the key to that, right, like, often, it’s very hard to know, when exactly are you hitting that point, it’s hard to find that tipping point, it’s easy to go over it. And so this is where, like, you have to keep talking about when you’re taking on vision debt. And so I find this approach of x and y axis when you’re talking about sales really useful, because if we start to see that we’re taking on lots of vision debt and every single sales deal, we know we’re heading that way anyway, so we start to talk about So how are we going to invest in the vision and do something that counteracts this vision that we’re taking on? So it’s a technique we have to kind of use early on, as opposed to try to catch the tipping point, which is just really hard to do.
Okay, can I have a follow up question because it’s super interesting to me? And I’m always interested in this topic, because the, I see conversations kind of rolling out to people with grass, all the time sales coach, and, Coach, I see, I see people sitting down, and we’re not going to make this publish, we’re not going to make this promise that the client says, I really liked this, and they made the promise, and you can see the word sort of pulling out of people’s heads, and then you walk out and go, Why did you make that promise? Now we’re committed to it, you know, so have you. Have you found any techniques to sort of set a warning light off or things that people do, instead of falling into that sort of extensive, please declined to all caps trap? Oh,
that is such a good question. Because I have been there in those meetings, that it’s so hard not to say yes. I would love to hear your thoughts as well, and kind of how you’ve approached it. Maybe one thing that I’ve tried to do is, you know, this vision statement that I talk about, I’ve started to use that even with clients. So a lot of what I would we use internally to be able to align the team on what’s our vision, what problem are we setting out to solve our strategy, we started sharing that with the client, maybe not like all of all of that, but like selectively sharing most of that with clients, but to the point where we were able to get that same sort of buy in from the clients as we had within our own team. And so if we got them to see the end vision the strategy and where we were going, it became a little bit easier to say, you know, this is why we’re not going to do it or this is why, you know, in terms of vision versus survival, you know, this is why this is investing in the vision or vision deck, and we can’t do it just yet. Maybe we’ll do it some time later. I started to try this technique doesn’t always work the mileage varies with clients. But I’d love to hear your thoughts on this one, too.
Wow. When a company decides whether they have a sales team, right job, selling, they have enough technical insight to really dig in and go higher, Why you asking for that? capability. They don’t always have the instinct to ask a question, but they have the technical competence to question and then they can work work around it. Often salespeople don’t have that. And so and they are often trained to, to, to always on the positive with the client, never leave it on a nervous, we can’t do that. Because they feel it shuts the door. And so the work has been where you stop trying to close a deal and start trying to close the next meeting with the integration team or with the senior, a senior product manager or a senior developer. And actually, I’ve seen companies have success with that where they’re prepared to award it. And it’s actually towards [distorted] therefore we understand the customer better. And then we can explain why we can’t Well one consider
doing. And I’ve seen people panic. [distorted] trying to look at it to say no, no, but I will come back to you and have a vector of return than to say yes, and then not be able to not be able to do it. [ distorted]
You’re sound was going a bit funny on my end Paul , I hope I think I think I got all of that.
have to extrapolate It’s raining over here. So you might hear a lot of
that’s pretty standard though for us though Paul! So the book is launched what’s next on the cards for Radhika and for radical product thinking?
You know, my goal with writing this book is I really want to change how we build products today. It’s, it’s funny, like I there was a review just today that came out of the book and I love the thoughtful review. Right. And it’s, and it’s so polarising, there are two chapters in my book. One is digital pollution. And the second is the Hippocratic Oath of product, where I talk about, you know, the superpower for building world changing products comes with responsibility. And here’s how we embrace the responsibility. Those two chapters I’ve found to be really polarising people either really love it or hate it because like, it feels like a manifesto for making the world a better place. Right. And so, I don’t know, my hope is that over time, we can really think differently about taking on this Hippocratic Oath of product, that we can build products, you know, in a way that it doesn’t make the world worse off place. We often don’t think about that today. And that is one of my hopes and how we change how we build products that it’s not just based on, let’s just iterate see what works. We’ll just follow financial metrics and optimise for metrics that we think about the change in the effect on society in general. Yeah, so my goal is, after this book, that it’s more about spreading that latter half of you know, what I talked about that responsibility?
I’m really interested in how companies have that conversation about do no harm or, you know, build a product that does no harm early enough. Because I guess, you’re half the time you’re building. And you’re trying to figure out whether this is useful or not. But but have you seen anybody who’s done a really good job of having those conversations early enough and building the least building some warning signs, or some triggers to make make them stop and reflect as they build?
You’re so right. No, I have not seen that happen. And you know, what, what I’ve, I’ve come to this really profound realisation just recently, there. Okay, people in this next generation, you know, how you and I think when we grew up, technology was always something that was positive, we always grew up thinking technology was making the world a better place, right? In the last just few weeks, I’ve been talking to people younger than us. And I consistently hear the same answer. A lot of them, even as teenagers are saying that they don’t want to have kids because they feel like it’s not right to bring life into this world.
Like, whoa, this is not something I ever thought when I was a teenager, right? Like people from their 30s, all the way down to teenagers are saying this. We’re creating a world where, you know, teenagers don’t feel like technology and kind of the world we’re creating is something to look forward to. And that’s a profound change between generations. And you’re exactly right. I don’t see companies taking this sort of an attitude early on saying, oh, you know, how do we embrace responsibility? This is something and in fact, you know, there was one entrepreneur who was challenging, he was building a chatbot. And it went viral, this chatbot could write snarky things. So that it sounded like a real person. And so it went viral. And I asked him, so what do you think? What’s your long term vision? And he goes, Well, you know, my hope is that these chatbots become friends with us on Facebook, and like, all these chatbots are connected. And I’m like, Whoa, you know, what do you think about privacy and the issues that are going to come with it? Like, what if the HR Chatbot is connected with a suicide prevention line chatbot? And he goes, Well, we would not do anything that slows us down. You know, once we become successful, then we will deal with privacy issues.
And I’ve heard the same line over and over. I think the first step to even having that conversation in a company is realising that you’re taking one of these, you’re phrasing some of these things as heroism. I’ve heard two versions of heroism. One is if I don’t do it, someone else will. The second version is the whatsapp heroism, which is, well, if I don’t do it, someone else will, but at least we get to be the good guys will keep control over it, right. And then the third one is, if I don’t do it, someone else will therefore it’s the user’s responsibility. If we start to recognise that we’re taking one of these three attitudes, I think that’s kind of the starting point. where we can say, Okay, I am starting to think this way. But this is not maybe we know that this leads to digital pollution, we’re not creating a better world, my hope is just to spread awareness so that, you know, employees can force these discussions, I think, you know, we’re seeing this great resignation right now. And people are starting to care about what they build, I think the big realisation people have to come to is that they vote with their labour, you no longer have a choice to really vote with your dollars as a consumer, but at least we can vote with our labour. And I think that’s where I see hope that we can hope we can take a more thoughtful approach towards rebuild in this presentation, right, I really wanted to share an alternative view of what it means to be a visionary, not the same old, same old kind of stereotype of a visionary that we see in the in media, that it’s, you know, these women who are illiterate and come from low income households, it’s, you know, people who are activists, and just not known of that, all of those are visionaries. But I’d love to hear your thoughts on kind of what resonated.
Anyone going to take the bait?
I super love that you highlighted visionaries that, you know, weren’t the, you know, types of people that, you know, most of us chose, when you asked us and I love that you dedicated your your book to, you know, folks kind of outside the mainstream mould. I mean, I invited a friend to this conference, and the first thing she said, you know, after, you know, we regrouped after the first day was like, wow, there’s a lot of white guys in here. You know, I, you know, I’m not a white guy. And I also want to believe that, you know, I can be a great product manager or entrepreneur, without being a white guy. And, you know, I obviously have nothing against white guys, I just feel like it’s hard to imagine yourself in these visionary roles, because identity is such a big part of what it means to be a visionary. And I really valued that, that you came in strong with this.
Thank you for bringing that up. You know, I think it’s not a topic that we talk about very often. I think, yeah, one of the things that really, okay, so there was this really interesting article that I read, saying, you know, we have an empathy problem in, in product or in design, right. And the empathy problem is that we have learned that the way you build product is you can empathise with anyone. And this is this myth that was created by ideal that if you can just empathise with your user, that you can build anything for them, it basically gives, it creates this impression that anyone can build for anyone. Right. And it’s such a flawed idea. Because the reality is, you know, everything that we perceive is coloured by the lenses of our experiences. And so, you know, if we want to build a product that works for all, we need diversity on our teams. And we just don’t recognise that if we think about like leadership, whether it’s business leadership, or leadership and product, right? In product, for example, six, at only 15% of product leaders are not white and male, like basically women and my minorities together make up like 15% of product leadership. And that’s just a dismal number, right? And it’s dismal, because that means that that perspective, and that the different lens that we bring to be able to understand people’s experiences, etc. We’re just not bringing that to the table to the table as we design products. And so my goal in this book was also to not give that same Silicon Valley perspective of how we build products and what is a successful product, like I wanted to just examples from around the world. To illustrate that, you know, successful products are not just the unicorns, they are your world changing in ways that change the world, but not necessarily just based on the monetary element.
What you see quite a lot of as well is that are some companies that have you know, CEOs and boards of directors that are very, not uncultured, but undiverse and getting change in and trying to can recommend change can be hard. And how would you suggest approaching if you know if you’re coming at it from a, you know, your level you want to be more inclusive and more diverse, and how do you help achieve that when you’re not the one that’s always in control of these things?
That is such a good question. I don’t have a really good answer for that. I think you know, it’s something that I’ve struggled with honestly, one thing that I will say is, for the longest time, in my career, I’ve always said that it’s really hard to be heard.
I’ve always found that, you know, in a company, I’ve had to fight to make a difference, and it really is tiring, you’re just exhausted. Like, you only feel like there’s so much that you want to fight to make a difference. Part of it has to just come from leadership’s awareness that you need diversity, and being able to listen to people like one of the main problems with the issue of diversity, right is leadership often thinks that the way to address diversity is just trying to recruit more people. It’s not that there actually there’s a second aspect to this, which is, there’s research that says that we don’t take advice from people who fall under minorities, meaning that there’s basically this gap in terms of attention, they call it the attention gap. Or I can’t remember the exact term, but basically, that we don’t pay attention to people who might be of colour. And I’ve seen this throughout my career. So we have to kind of recognise that that happens. And we have to highlight experiences, like what this research found was, when you actually witnessed that someone is very capable when their accomplishments are highlighted within the organisation, it’s easier for them to be listened to. So we kind of have to address two problems. One is having, like recruiting people who are more diverse, but the second is making sure that they have a platform within the organisation to actually be heard. And that part is hard to do from a grassroots level, because it’s kind of a recursive problem. If you’re not heard, you can be heard to, to to advocate for being heard, right? Like, you kind of need leadership to be aware of the second problem that there is such an attention gap. It’s hard for people of colour to be heard. And you have to address it very purposefully, deliberately. It’s funny, we went from product to talking about
It’s very interesting. It’s interesting how all these topics can kind of be interlinked a little bit, you can meander from one to the other on one tangent to another tangent.
You know, I think, in the book, I do talk about one example, where this sort of diversity in product really created a better product. And the comparison I give is, there’s a game called prodigy. So my kids one day, when my son was seven, he came home, he was really excited to play this math game called prodigy. And, you know, my daughter, on the other hand, hated this game. And it turned out she had also been introduced to the same game, because she’s also an advanced math student. So you know, of course, as a product person, I’m like, I wonder what happened there. So I go look at this game. And the moment I look at it, right, it’s obvious to me why my son loves it. My daughter hates it. It’s a bunch of Pokemon characters, then you get them to battle each other by answering math questions, right? So of course, my son was loving it. And so I was curious, you know, and I did more research and I looked at all the videos put out by this company. And then all these videos, the boys are going Yes, and pumping fists. And these girls are mostly looking quite sullen and serious as they’re solving math problems. So I asked my kids, you know, of course, I don’t reveal this to my kids. I’m doing an honest test. So what do you think, guys? Is it for boys, girls? And my son goes for boys, of course. And to which my daughter adds with biting sarcasm, she says, but don’t worry, the next version will be for girls. And it’ll it’ll be princesses who invite you out to tea if you get the answer, right.
Hers was a comment on how we build products, right? It wasn’t just a comment about prodigy. It was a scathing remark of how we optimise for engagement without thinking about what it does to society. Think about LEGO Friends, and you know what Barbies and whatever other game right? It’s all designed for maximising user engagement without thinking about the effect on society. But the end if you look at the whole team, right? That’s part of my problem in terms of like they’ve not thought about this effect of on society and kind of how do you how do you educate boys and girls equally? I’ll give you a compare. isn’t a positive comparison was. And I didn’t know this at the time. But it turned out that a good friend of mine Melee was the head of design at Khan Academy. And Khan Academy is one product that both my son and my daughter loved equally. So I talked to melee when I was writing the book, I interviewed her. So she was very deliberate about getting a really diverse team to build a product because Khan Academy’s vision was to, you know, make high class education available to everyone, you know, no matter kind of where they are in the world, and who they are. And so she really invested in having a diverse team. And that translated into how she measured herself even. And she had the set of five questions that I talked about in the book and in terms of like regular, how do you say regular surveys that you do, like every week, basically, to see how the team was feeling whether they were feeling valued, heard whether they were feeling proud of their work? So simple five question. survey every week, but to be able to really make sure that people are heard and feeling like they could all contribute their very diverse ideas, disagree with her, etc, to be able to build a better product,
And out curiosity of your son and daughter who was better at privacy. Who enjoyed the most, who was better?
Oh, definitely my son, right? Like, he enjoyed prodigy, but prodigy who’s, you can’t say that he’s better at math necessarily. You see what I mean? Like, it just is that he engaged more with that game. So it turns out that in gaming, gaming with combat is very polarising for the sexes, girls, mostly engaged, not so much in the fighting in the combat, they engage more for like completing missions, full immersion in a different world sort of thing, boys like combat in games. So it was very polarising in terms of how they were targeting the two sexes,
to kind of build on your point Radhika, about how the products we build and the teams that we have, you know, kind of shaped them for particular missions, and, you know, larger visions. If I can self blog a little bit, I’m no founder or CEO, but I’m a product lead at a company called a Susu. And we are trying to build credit scores for the first time for the millions of Americans that don’t have them or are credit invisible, through something like rent for reporting and other means of reporting, you know, credit building opportunities to the three bureaus that you know, have this stranglehold on on credit in America. But the the interesting thing is that it kind of attracts a very, kind of scary audience that wants access to these, you know, not so financially educated folks that we have to make constant vigilance towards people manipulating people that we’ve been collecting data on, or that we need to collect data on in order to do the right report. Like I literally know if you paid your rent last month. And I know that you’re going to request for rent relief, so that you can, you know, get by this month, meanwhile, somebody wants to sell you a credit card that you probably won’t be able to pay because we know that you’re struggling right now. And so the the kind of gravity of the mission is, is absolute absolutely impossible, without you know, the values underpinning them. Otherwise, we would I mean, there are many competitors in this space now that are kind of going that route, which is alarming. And kind of terrifying, but at the same time, because we have such a grounding in the values. I was mentioning in an earlier breakout session that I’ve been referring people throughout from throughout my career to join this company. And they’ve been absolutely thrilled about, you know, the first call, you know, who knows what happens after that. But, you know, getting people in the room has been so easy, because of the strength of that mission, because of the clarity of our values. And, you know, to kind of Yeah, to to build on what you were saying that having that that vision of the world helps in so many other ways that I didn’t know until this moment in my career.
And you know, what, you’re what this product that you’re talking about, I mean, it’s just so much responsibility, right? Like, you just have so much information on people that can be used in so many different ways. And that all of that responsibility, like being able to take on that responsibility. It starts with a vision and a vision that’s not driven by business goals but rather you know what’s the change you want to bring about so it’s really nice to hear you say that
Author, Radical Product Thinking
Radhika is the author of the book Radical Product Thinking: The New Mindset for Innovating Smarter. She’s an entrepreneur and product leader who’s participated in four acquisitions as a result of the products she built; two of these were companies she founded.
Radhika advises organisations from high-tech startups to government agencies on building radical products (ones that create a fundamental change instead of optimizing the status quo). She co-founded Radical Product Thinking as a movement of leaders creating vision-driven change. Radhika graduated from MIT with an SB and M.Eng in Electrical Engineering, and speaks nine languages while learning her tenth.
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