Building Product in an Age of Distrust by Ryan Freitas

BY James Gadsby Peet ON NOVEMBER 23, 2018

Once upon a time, designers were convinced that they were doing the right thing. They didn’t question outcomes because they thought their motives were sound. Recently the conversation has shifted to become much more focused on user safety, trust and ethics.

While this is progress, it has led people to feel they work in an age of distrust. Data, opinions and industry voices are checked, rechecked and validated, creating a heavy sense of pressure to do the right thing, without a lot to work with.

This is a difficult situation for individuals to work with. It is having a measurable effect on confidence, mental health and worker effectiveness.

Ryan joined Facebook two months before the 2016 US presidential election, with responsibility for looking after the News Feed. This was obviously a highly charged environment, with stress for everybody involved.

Building consequential things has consequences. Building at scale allows you to learn a few lessons that you might not expect. And nothing gets better unless principled people choose to work hard on the hardest problems.

Crucial Lessons for Leaders

We face difficult problems which usually get harder before they get better. So we need really good leaders to work on the products we’re building now. The most crucial lessons for these leaders are:

  1. Build up personal resilience – if you want to lead groups of people, you need to have the strength to deal with difficult situations. Build up your own plan for keeping yourself happy – whether that’s hiking in the mountains or drinking tequila – you need to focus inwards in order to be available to others effectively externally.
  2. Embrace criticism – this is the most useful lever that people inside and outside your organisation have to help you do better.
  3. You are responsible for building an environment for people to do their best work – model the empathy, discipline and execution that you need from your team. Focus on outcomes and iterate to be better. Do what you need to do in order to influence your team to be great – your biggest responsibility.
  4. We should be judged by our advocacy for the vulnerable and marginalised – diverse teams outperform singular ones all the time. As such, you can’t expect everybody around you to have the same qualities as you – and approach each conversation with humility.
  5. Show care, but not as an end in itself – this will bring you candour and transparency. This allows you to challenge directly whilst still caring personally – otherwise known as Radical Candour.
  6. Trust, but verify – constantly interrogate your feelings to be in the right place at the right time, to do the most good. A key part of this is whether you trust the people around you.
  7. Get your team to care for themselves and look out for each other – it’s not solely the leader’s responsibility to make a team work well.
  8. Recruiting and retention aren’t about ego, they are about efficiency – the importance of your organisation or team is not about the size of your headcount. Recruiting people should be about meeting your need for resources, rather than adding people for the sake of it. Be clear about why someone would want to join your team and have a story to illustrate it.
  9. Look back but don’t stare – you will make mistakes, but the most important choices are in front of you. Getting to the next place is what’s important for you, your team and your product.
James Gadsby Peet


James Gadsby Peet

I've been in the digital industry for over 10 years and have worked across small and large charities, as well as my own freelance projects. I am now Director of Digital at the sector leading creative agency William Joseph. Having been at Cancer Research UK for the last four years, I have been able to work on high volume, high profile campaigns such as Race for Life, Dryathlon and the much-quoted #nomakeupselfie. In that time I helped drive forward the charity’s digital product and marketing capabilities to be some of the most respected and successful in the sector. I'm always excited to work with other organisations, share expertise and swap cat gifs. Give me a shout!