Why is having no passion for the industry you work in potentially a huge benefit when it comes to building products?
In Product, the user is number one. We must get to know our users inside-out, live and breathe their worlds in order to spot where we can solve problems to make their life better, easier, or more enjoyable. This is a skill that doesn’t come naturally to many. User testing is long and forever changing so it’s very easy to fall into the trap of knowing who our user was a year ago and just rolling with it.
Consider job interviews; we are often asked why we want to work for the company. We reel off lots of reasons why they’re the best and why we love them so much. But really we may just want the job because the pay is good or it offers a shorter commute. Often we’re not crazy about the company or industry we’re building products in, we may not even like it very much. I’m going to argue why having zero passion for the industry is not just okay, but actually a huge benefit.
The best way to get to know our users is to put ourselves in their shoes. This can be tough. Take the Babylon Health app. Its user base began in one of the poorest countries in the world, Rwanda, and it had to learn how it could best solve its user problems in accessing healthcare. The Product experts involved were most likely very nice middle-class people living in the UK so they had their work cut out when it came to getting to know their users. When our user base is closer to home, a simple change of mindset can make getting to know them easier than you might imagine. Consider a couple of seemingly tricky user bases:
Industries People Should Care About but Don’t
Building pensions products is hard because people aren’t excited about pensions. The best Product person to build a pensions product is one who couldn’t care less about pensions. They can put themselves in the user’s shoes without taking their own shoes off.
The best products are never new things, they’re just easier ways of doing things. Facebook didn’t invent photos, messaging, friends or family; it just brought them together online.
Lazy people make great users. They want things to happen with as little effort as possible. Therefore the Product expert must make their product as effortless as possible. And then halve that effort. A good example is the group of people who noticed that takeaways were popular but so was high-end restaurant food, so they stuck them together and made Deliveroo – arguably the simplest food delivery service currently available.
The folks at Deliveroo didn’t have to be passionate about food to create ways of making eating even easier for their users. They just needed to know what it’s like be lazy and hungry.
You Don’t Need to Love Your Industry
If all Product people built products in industries they loved, they’d likely be blind to what engages their users. They wouldn’t understand why somebody might not go wild for short music and lip-sync videos (TikTok) and therefore wouldn’t know where to start with an engagement strategy. After all, the toughest user is the disinterested one.
When it comes to passion for your industry, it’s job-specific. Passion is pretty crucial if you’re a teacher because you need to care about kids and, ideally, you need to like them. When it comes to Product, however, you should probably be passionate about technology. But you don’t have to be passionate about the industry your product is in to do a top-class job at building it.