Yi-Wei says he had “a bit of an existential crisis” a couple of years ago. He asked himself what kind of product organisation he wanted to build and what makes a great product organisation rather than a good one. He realised that the “amazing product organisations” that he really respects are the ones that are able to make big, bold bets over and over again.
What enables such a culture and way of working. Yi-Wei was influenced by the writing of Brene Brown. Her statements that if you’re not willing to fail you can’t innovate and if you’re not willing to build a vulnerable culture you can’t create particularly resonated with him, he says.
“As product people we all believe there is technology and products we can build that will make our customers’ lives 10 times better,” says Yi-Wei, “…and there’s a layer of vulnerability in the culture that needs to be built in for it to truly come to life. It’s probably one of the most difficult things to build into a product organisation’s DNA.”
Why is it so hard?
As Marty Cagan says, the purpose of the product team is to serve customers by creating products they love, yet work for the business. But Product is inherently difficult and product leaders are expected to have clarity and conviction, even in the face of deep unknowns.
- It takes courage to not know the answer
- It takes courage to do the right customer-centric thing
- It takes courage to be wrong
- It takes courage to take an unconventional bet
- It takes courage to take a decision in the face of uncertainty
- It takes courage to pull the plug
- It takes courage to say what needs to be said
- It takes courage to built it the right way
Truly amazing product organisations are able to attack this list, says Yi-Wei. They’re able to embrace and build a culture that allows these courageous decisions to get made.
To build a product organisation that can take courageous decisions you must first build a culture that allows for vulnerability.
Allowing for vulnerability
This is a journey that starts with ourselves, says Yi-Wei, so work on yourself.
- Check your ego
- Build that vulnerability muscle
- Be the curious one, for they are never cynical
Then work on your organisation. It’s a long journey so it’s okay to be imperfect.
Here are some things you can try out with your team.
- Model authentic vulnerability
- Learn, share and grow together
- Lean into the difficult feelings in the room
- Never leave things unsaid
Brene Brown also says that courage is contagious. Yi-Wei says that if you build courage into your product organisation then you gain the individual and collective wisdom that makes it part of your culture. It’s important, he says: “In this economy, we want to build an environment where people feel they can do their best work in a sustainable way over a long period of time.” He says it’s one of the most powerful retention tools, one of the most powerful talent acquisition tools – it’s the most powerful tool there is for you to feel great about coming to work.
Yi-Wei concludes by saying that there is no fake it till you make it about being courageous. Lean into the things that make you feel uncomfortable, for that is what makes the journey worthwhile.
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