Product Development is Poetry

This Ethan Hawke clip makes an important point that also applies to what we do in developing products.

I think that most of us really want to offer the world something of quality, something that the world will consider good or important. And that’s really the enemy, because it’s not up to us whether what we do is any good, and if history has taught us anything, the world is an extremely unreliable critic. Right?

So you have to ask yourself: Do you think human creativity matters? Well, hmm. Most people don’t spend a lot of time thinking about poetry. Right? They have a life to live, and they’re not really that concerned with Allen Ginsberg’s poems or anybody’s poems, until their father dies, they go to a funeral, you lose a child, somebody breaks your heart, they don’t love you anymore, and all of a sudden, you’re desperate for making sense out of this life, and, “Has anybody ever felt this bad before? How did they come out of this cloud?

Or the inverse — something great. You meet somebody and your heart explodes. You love them so much, you can’t even see straight. You know, you’re dizzy. “Did anybody feel like this before? What is happening to me?” And that’s when art’s not a luxury, it’s actually sustenance. We need it.

Ethan Hawke — Give Yourself Permission To Be Creative — TED Ed

A couple of things this nicely highlights:

Sweat the small stuff

The first is that a lot of the products and services we are working to improve can seem trivial, circumstantial or even boring. I’ve worked on Banking Apps, KYC and FATCA tools, a global Shipping Container booking application, Business Card design and ecommerce, and apps that support the R&D for the next iPhone — among others. Possibly the most meaningful work I’ve done was for Cancer Research UK, but even then, it’s not something most people think about – until they have to.

There’s still an opportunity for magic in that smallness though. No matter how insignificant each might seem, at some point each affect someone’s life, for better or for worse, than what was there before. So it’s worth us obsessing about how easy or hard it is for users to do the thing they’re trying to get done. Making it delightful even.

So that’s the first point: no matter how insignificant it might feel, it really is important.

We don’t get to decide what is good

The second, more counterintuitive point though is that our own opinions about whether it’s good or not are “the enemy”. It’s not us to gets to decide. We have to be brave enough to put it out there and ask others whether it is in fact good. It’s only by tuning in to that feedback loop that we can really know.

I also believe that as Product Developers, we all want to do something good, something meaningful. Tune in to the moment when the people that use our products really need it, and listen carefully to what they do and say in response to what we have put out there.


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