I love a good debate. You know that saying “playing devil’s advocate?” I’m pretty sure it applies to me. The instant I’m presented with a product, design or strategy, my instinct is to question it, parse it and challenge it. As a dimension of truth-seeking, I feel this style of inquiry is a critical asset to success in product design (and investing). Yet, every asset can be a liability to its extreme. I’m guilty of occasionally twisting inquiry in a way that blocks progress, diverts attention or shifts focus away from our shared vision. When I’m under pressure and uncertain about which path to take, I tend to fall back on strategies I’ve seen work in the past. My creativity plummets. I lose openness, optimism. The worst part: it feels almost exactly the same when I’m helpfully questioning as to when I’m being a huge liability. I can’t speak for others, but I don’t think I’m alone. When you place passionate, intelligent people all in a room with a challenging problem, they will seek the truth and serve their shared vision. As the problems get harder and more complex, individuals fall back on what they know and have experienced. As we all know we are not the audience (user) we serve, empathy can slip away quickly. I’ve seen the culture of data-driven product development exacerbate this condition. With data — which we all know can be manipulated — we have a weapon to make arguments and question strategy. And just like inquiry, data can lead us forward or set us back. Its apparent objectivity can blind us. When we lean on data to solve our most challenging problems, our products can develop a clearly perceptible, awkward hyper-rationality. In my last post on Products That Count, I presented the use of a narrative storytelling framework as an alternative way to examine and build our product. The best, most impactful, and most successful products use storytelling to speak to a wide swath of humanity at an emotional level. From the moment an audience discovers our product to the moment they make an emotional decision about it, we can guide them to believing that our product promises to do a certain thing in a remarkably better way, and to trust it. One of the qualities I love most about this framework is its ability to transcend both data and the work styles/experience of the team to find the truth in a product design debate. I’ve found that many of our ‘product’ or ‘growth’ metrics are lagging indicators of ‘built trust.’ Trust is a leading indicator.
This “either-or” question will force teams to respond in a way that inspires debate. This is good. However, when used correctly, this simple question becomes a secret weapon that yields three valuable results:
Try asking the following simple question:
Are we building or breaking trust?
- Orients the team with our product’s promise to our audience
- Assesses the impact of our decisions on audience trust in that promise
- Reduces cognitive load on our audience