Rerun: Breaking the Internet – Sudhir Venkatesh on The Product Experience "Product people - Product managers, product designers, UX designers, UX researchers, Business analysts, developers, makers & entrepreneurs November 11 2021 False The Product Experience, Mind the Product Mind the Product Ltd 7638 Rerun: Breaking the Internet - Sudhir Venkatesh on The Product Experience Product Management 30.552

Rerun: Breaking the Internet – Sudhir Venkatesh on The Product Experience

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We initially ran this episode back in May, but that was before Frances Haugen came forward as the Facebook whistleblower. Our guest, Columbia University sociologist Sudhir Venkatesh, worked in the same area of Facebook as Haugen (civic integrity), albeit years earlier; he also held a similar role at Twitter. We asked him to join us on the podcast to help understand how product people can do great things without fundamentally breaking the internet.

Featured Links: Follow Sudhir on LinkedIn and Twitter | Sudhir Breaks the Internet Podcast | Signal: The Tech and Society Lab at Columbia University | Guy Rosen – VP Integrity at Facebook | Front Porch Forum | Civic Signals

Episode transcript

Randy Silver: 

Lily, we’re famous. People finally know what a product manager is.

Lily Smith: 

Randy, I’m almost afraid to ask what you’re talking about that. What the hell? What are you talking about?

Randy Silver: 

My family has finally figured out what a product manager is. Well, kinda. They think we testified before Congress.

Lily Smith: 

Ah, you’re talking about Francis Haugen, the latest Facebook whistleblower. Yeah, she has raised our profile a bit. But you know, we were on top of this topic a while back and so this week we’re dipping into the archive to re air our chat with Sudhir Venkatesh.

Randy Silver: 

That’s a great call Gilly. Sudhir is a Columbia University sociology professor. And he’s also worked at Facebook, Twitter and the FBI. And like Francis, he worked in civic integrity. It’s a great conversation.

Lily Smith: 

Hey, Randy, you’ve worked at some big companies, haven’t you?

Randy Silver: 

Yeah. Let’s see. I was at Amazon. Early in my career. I did a stint at Sirius XM. I worked at HSBC. Oh, why?

Lily Smith: 

I just need to know. So did you ever break the internet while you were there?

Randy Silver: 

I mean, there was that one time. What have you heard? But no, not really. I’ve broken plenty of sites. I’ve made tonnes of mistakes, but I can’t say you ever broke the entire freakin internet. What have you done?

Lily Smith: 

No, me silly. I would never do that sort of thing. I’m way too sensible and risk averse. But we do have a special guest today who apparently did or at least that’s the name of his podcast suit. It breaks the internet.

Randy Silver: 

I am so excited about this chat Willie. Sudhir Venkatesh is a Columbia University sociology professor and he’s done some amazing stuff. He’s here to tell us about what he learned building products at Facebook and Twitter and working at the FBI.

Lily Smith: 

So without further ado, let’s get started. The product experience is brought to you by mind the product.

Randy Silver: 

Every week we talk to the best product people from around the globe about how we can improve our practice and build products that people love.

Lily Smith: 

Because it mind the product calm to catch up on past episodes, and to discover an extensive library of great content and videos,

Randy Silver: 

browse for free, or become a mind the product member to unlock premium articles, unseen videos, AMA’s roundtables, discounts to our conferences around the world training opportunities and more.

Lily Smith: 

My new product also offers free product tank meetups in more than 200 cities. And there’s probably one near you

Randy Silver: 

Sudhir, thank you so much for joining us on the podcast this week. So for anyone who doesn’t already know you by name, can you just give us a quick introduction into your background?

Sudhir Venkatesh: 

Sure. Okay. So I’m Sudhir Venkatesh. I am a professor of sociology at Columbia University. And until very recently, it was the only job I’d ever held as an adult in 1999, and I periodically get tired of being the ivory tower. So I go out and try different things. And before I get to that hypose Just say that most of my career has been studying the urban underworld. I did a dissertation on a large public housing community social housing community in the US and wrote a book about it. Spend some time writing about gangs and sex workers and gun runners. And then as I was saying, Every so often I get kind of bored and want to see what the world is like outside the ivory tower. The first time I ventured out I spent two years in the FBI Federal Bureau of Investigations and worked with them. Then I was running an advertising school or a school for advertising executives in Berlin for a couple years. And then, lo and behold, in 2015, I think it was Yeah, Mark Zuckerberg decided to read 12 books that year, which was enough to make clients around the world I suppose. Allison’s nobody reads, but I felt very gracious because he chose mine as his third book has. And I developed relationship with Facebook. I went there to work for three years, managing a large team on the product side of the company that is in the space they call integrity, which is designed to think about the safety and of the platform. And then I helped build out that team at Twitter for two years. And I went back at Columbia and three Trying my best to be a podcast host.

Randy Silver: 

Fantastic. And this is exactly why we want to talk to you not because you’re a podcast host, although I’m sure that makes you a better guest as well. But we want to talk a bit about your time at Twitter and Facebook and what we as product managers can learn about it. You know, there’s been a lot of talk about how great they are as companies and all the wonderful things that they do and accomplish, but also all the challenges and some of the negative effects. And we our people in the community we work with are really interested in making sure we’re as ethical as possible, and doing the right thing. So before we ask you, so for some advice on how to do that, and how to diagnose doing the wrong thing, just tell us a bit about the challenges you saw working in integrity in Twitter and Facebook.

Sudhir Venkatesh: 

Sure, so um, so I landed in Facebook as the William B Ransford, professor of sociology at Columbia. And I’d like to say that ad that was absolutely irrelevant, no one could care less. who I was. So I, it was a very humbling path. Because in that tech environment, I really had to figure out what value that I had, you know, I was, I kept thinking my job was to be the smartest person in the room, which is what I was trying to do, or to fake it, anyway, and academics, you know, you’re not really prepared to be part of a team, you don’t really work in a cross functional environment, you are the cross functional environment, so you can understand how ill prepared you are, the thing I had going for me was that I was working on some of these problems in the offline world, whether it was gang activity, or bullying or harassment, etc. So I had to figure out how to make that knowledge useful for a product team, the thing that I always point to is scale, scale scale. I mean, it’s just, you know, I could go out in one community focus there, and not that that’s not challenging. But when you’re dealing with millions and millions of pieces of content in a nanosecond, or however quickly it comes across the internet, it’s just a very, very different challenge. The other part that really jumped out at me was that my job wasn’t really to solve the problem. My job was not to inform policy, I was there to build products, which meant I was there to make money for the company. And this was really my first for profit experience. So understanding what value research has in a setting in which the bottom line is to get people to watch ads, stay on the platform, and otherwise contribute to the good of the company was something that I had to learn. So, you know, those are some of the biggest challenges that stood out for me.

Lily Smith: 

So in your experience, then this is probably I don’t know, if this is answerable as a question that is the net impact of social media good or bad at that kind of scale.

Sudhir Venkatesh: 

I think the net impact is overall good. I’m not one of these people who believe that it’s the scourge of our civilization. Nor do I think it’s what’s going to help us land on Mars someday, I think it can make us better people. And I don’t think it’s a problem that we’re moving through this phase where the, it’s been extremely challenging. I probably say that coming from inside the world of social media, where I see a lot of what it does to strengthen people’s general experiences with themselves with each other families, communities, etc. You don’t really see that on the outside that, you know, the news doesn’t care about that. And so I’m fully cognizant, working on the side of these companies, where we, exclusively my teams, we’re dealing with negative experiences, I understand the drawbacks, I understand what it does to us. But I also think that it’s an incredible tool, and it’s just a tool, it really, you really start to understand. And when you go inside the machine, that it really is in the hands of the user, it’s starting to become like blaming the tub, you know, they used to blame the telephone, you know, 100, and some years ago, when further, you know, they thought it was gonna be the end of civilization, they thought we weren’t going to be able to have communities anymore, we wouldn’t want to talk to each other. We won’t want to spend time with each other. They did it when we were building suburban housing, in the state housing, you know, we’re not going to, we’re going to be separate. We’re going to be living in these cookie cutter environments and none of these things ever. None of these technologies and innovations ever ended civilization. I think there’s a lot that is needs to be fixed. And I love the the conception that my colleague Tracy Mears uses. She’s a law professor at Yale University. She says we’re we should be thinking about these tools, kind of like we thought about cars. When we first started to drive cars with all the accidents. There were a lot of voices that said, Oh my gosh, this is just horrible. We got to get rid of this technology. And then slowly people started to see okay, well, how about something called seatbelts or a speed limit? Or rumble strips on the road? Or how about Driver’s Education? I am a huge fan that that the next generation should go to school before they get to go online, or get training or something, you know, I think, I think a lot of people just simply are not, no one’s ever told them how to behave. No one’s ever told them how to use the tool.

Randy Silver: 

So you’re I want to go back a moment to something you said, in that when you first came to these companies, you weren’t there to solve a problem, you were there to make money for the company. And the way product people usually talk about things in at least in my experience is we need to concentrate on finding the right problem to solve and then solving it. And solving it in a way that adds value to the company but also for our customers. And for our users who may or may not be our customers, is that actually one of the fundamental problems around social media is that the user and the customer may not be the same entity.

Sudhir Venkatesh: 

Or we you’re using the word problem in a different way, I came to I came to a world where we would think about a solution set for a problem as largely getting rid of the problem entirely. So let’s take something like people who are committing a serial violators of hate speech policy, people were just being really really hateful. Now, if that was happening in your public park, and there was just somebody spewing the worst kind of ethnic or gender based hatred or whatever it is, or you know, your man, city fan, your man you can they go and going after each other. You, you know, you could imagine, well, that person maybe will lose their privileges to the park, or that person needs to pay a fine or something like that. So that’s the perspective that I was thinking about is what do we do with all these people who are committing this kind of hate speech? From the point of view of the company, the problem is that they are minimising the capacity of others to comfortably watch advertising, to share with each other to communicate with each other. So what can we do to make them more productive members of these online spaces, that is not necessarily the same kind of behaviour change problem. So the product manager is the orchestra director and I who were coming from a different world, you know, I just didn’t understand what that person was looking for. And it took me years to be able to really get the fact that their view of solving the problem, and mine were just very, very different that they had a, an entire platform to be thinking about. And as you’re saying they had users and they had a certain number of business prerogatives to jump to. And I was interested in Okay, we have Joe, who’s not being very nice. What should we do with Joe? I think it was just, you know, we were looking at it in a non complimentary fashion,

Randy Silver: 

and solving the problem of Joe not being nice, theoretically, that leads to good business outcomes, you’re creating a more welcoming space, you’re not having a harassment on the platform, you think that these would be good business outcomes? Was it not seen that way?

Sudhir Venkatesh: 

Right. So recently, and this was after I left Facebook and Twitter, I worked at a company were consulted for a company where they had this problem incivility online. And so I said, you know, one very simple way of approaching this The problem, though, why don’t we just start here is make sure that the people that are doing that understand that can find the rules. So often that behaviour is just people who are uninformed. So that led to about this is not no brilliance on my part. It’s just this is a standard technique that led to about a 90% reduction in the amount in the volume of that kind of uncivil conduct is that people just were able to, they saw the rules, and they Oh, okay, I can’t do that. So I said, Okay, well, we’re almost there. That’s a good start. And the company’s perspective was no, we’re, we’re done. We’re moving on, we’ve got plenty of other fish to fry, we’ve got the next challenge. So that’s what I mean, for me. That’s the start of a sociological conversation about how do we remedy the situation help people do better in their lives? That is not a that’s not the kind of corporate conversation that they need it and I’m not saying one is better than the other. But those were the sorts of asymmetries that I think sometimes happen.

Lily Smith: 

And product managers generally don’t come from a sociology background. Do you think that there’s a need for that expertise within product teams that really are working with large groups of people or kind of large communities in the way that social media is?

Sudhir Venkatesh: 

There’s two things that make me cry, one is my family and one are product managers. And both. I will tell you, I am so so grateful for having been able to work with really good product managers. i There is nobody I learned from more than Technology. In my five plus years in product managers, I have the utmost respect for what they do. If I could shadow them, if they would let me, I would, I would be following product managers all day, I find their job to be challenging, constantly thought provoking, and the best of them, we should be getting rid of the UN, we should, should be having product managers to do our diplomatic work. I’m just going to tell you who the His name is Guy Rosen. He’s the vice president of integrity at Facebook. And I would say that there’s probably two or three people at the whole company, who are who are influential on me and have left a mark. And one was guy, fascinating, smart, sharp, I mean, managing millions and millions and millions of pieces of content. Well, I I come away, thinking that guy’s one of guys chief tensions is how do I work with somebody who has domain specific knowledge and watching a product manager understand, in this case, a sociologist, it could be via an economist or, you know, some a psychologist, figure out what’s what is that? What is the knowledge that I need to plug into a cross functional environment, and into a roadmap so that the entire roadmap is executable, and I can ship the product? What a skill, I mean, that is a real because he has to be in and I’m just marvelled at the way that he could immediately size up the situation and stay focused. So I will go back to him and say, hey, look, I know we’ve taken care of Joe’s hateful speech. But what about Joe? And you know, I’m putting guy in the difficult position of saying, I don’t care about Joe, I’ve got to, you know, stay focused on my. And of course, he cares about Joe, I’m just using that as an example. But to be able to, in the world of Facebook, do what’s called that ruthless prioritisation. And you’re just constantly making people unhappy as a product manager. I mean, it’s fascinating. I just, it’s a thankless piece of work, but it is absolutely so rewarding. So I don’t know if you want me to be more critical, but I find it difficult to be critical product manager.

Randy Silver: 

That the nicest thing anyone’s ever said about us and also one of the saddest things. So but, you know, we’re gluttons for punishment in the best possible way. So thank you. But the we also always want to get better at this. So the question is, we’re the people who have built these products, along with, of course, all the engineers and the designers and a million other people in other departments. But we’re the ones as you said, We’re responsible for ruthless prioritisation and making decisions and it rests very heavily on our shoulders at times. But if we’re the ones who built the problem in some of these cases, are we the right ones to be fixing it?

Sudhir Venkatesh: 

I tell you what I think would greatly I love to stay focused on tech, the world that I know a little bit, I tell you what I say to product managers, when I do onboarding, with people coming into the integrity or safety space, we talk about the fool in Shakespeare’s plays, what is the role of the antic there is only one person who sits next to the king, and can tell the king, absolutely anything, the truth teller, not the king’s wife, not the king’s soldiers, no, nobody, not the priest. It’s the antic. And the fool is the one that the king turns to, to be reminded of his in this case, mortality. That’s what a product manager needs to figure out how to have at his or her side is the gesture, the person who after a roadmap is created, and we’re moving into execution, who can say honestly, to her, hey, you’ve departed from every single hypothesis that we started with? Is that what you wanted to do? Because that was what we’ve ended up doing because of whatever in efficiencies or you know, speed, etc. Because if so, then we’re going to get to a point where we’re not going to know why it succeeded, let alone failed. And it’s that kind of stopping and enabling that person to get a little bit of a perspective and, and facilitate course correction. That I think when I see a great product manager, that’s what they do. They’re able to stop not for a long time, but just a brief period of time, and either make their teams play the role of the jester or have somebody that they have appointed, and said, okay, just give it to me straight. Where do we deviate? If at all?

Randy Silver: 

Thank God, you put it that way, because I would look terrible in one of those outfits

Lily Smith: 

Okay, so thinking about the way that we sort of traditionally approach some of these challenges With the way that people behave online, we often start with controls or things to kind of shut that down. One of the things that I found really interesting in the podcast that I listened to the Freakonomics podcast, was kind of like, going back to the reason why people were doing that behaviour in the first place. And then and kind of tracing that through, and then trying to stop that behaviour, even before it got to that point, is that where you see social media products going in the future, being able to almost predict where that person’s gonna end up going into sort of bad behaviour, if we call it that, you know, and then trying to send them down a different path?

Sudhir Venkatesh: 

Yeah, I think there’s three points of intervention. And to varying degrees, depending on the company, depending on the time that we’re living in social media companies are able to do one of the three, you know, better than the others. One is the physical space, the design of the space, and affecting that so independently of the people there. The second is the journey of the particular person. And the third is the group component, the collective component, so how the three of us are, in our own way, creating certain kinds of expectations. Sociologists talk about, for example, turn taking, we didn’t really except for one moment, where one of us said to the other, you get to start the first question, as the first question. There was never a document that said that I couldn’t ask questions, and only you can, or there was never, we just kind of fell into a understanding of the norms and expectations, and that’s a group component, I could have been difficult, or I could have had a different understanding based on a different culture, you know, it just may have taken some work, we would have to specify. So the thing that I think tech companies are doing better is on the individual component, meaning, you see the queues that you sometimes are getting the thing we call them nudges sometimes, right? So you may try to say, Brandy, I think you are a son of a and then you’ll get a pop up that says, hey, you know, you called him that 17 times in the last 24 hours, do you think you really want to do the 18th time, he might be upset. So these little reminders, or these nudges that help you understand the consequences of your action, we’re starting to build those into the platform a little more immediate feedback upstream. So that we don’t end up sending that note saying, Hey, I’m really sorry, Randy, you know, did this blah, blah, blah. So I think there we are getting better. I think we are not getting, I think we could get a lot better on the design of the spaces. Right? What’s the feedback that you need? When you go on Twitter? Or, you know, when you check your email, or wherever it is? What do you need to know? What what would be good to know? If you’re going on a Facebook group, for example, would you be interested in knowing what percentage of the people there are having trouble following the law, the rules of the platform? Would that be something that might make you feel like Oh, good, now I’m with my people. Or you might say, I’m going to be off this group. So just think about what information could be provided to you online, the rules and or information about other people or your expectations of your behaviour. The other part that we don’t think about is the group component, the way people influence each other. There’s an old experiment that used to be done. That was done in the 1950s, and by an American sociologist, in which essentially what the experiment showed is that if we’re in line, and I come in to a line, a long queue for tickets to a Broadway show, and I come right in front of Randy, and literally, let’s say you’re in back of Randy, you, Randy is 95. Randy has something like a 95% chance of saying, Hey, don’t do that. What are you doing? So long line? Now, let’s say that he doesn’t say anything. What’s the chance that Lily standing back Randy is going to say something 5%? Really 95 bucks. So now what if I could get Lily who we’re gonna call a bystander because she’s not quote unquote, directly affected to say something? Well, I’ve just increased the chance that there’s more social order in that line. So now let’s think about it in a group environment in a conversation on Twitter and a thread, person A calls person be a jerk, what if person see heard it or saw it said, Hey, that’s not very nice, you know? So there’s ways in which we can also think about developing relationships with people. So I think we’re at the infancy of all of this. At Twitter when I worked there, 3000 people managing platform are 400 some million people have more 400 million users, you know, we’re just only wise you, as product managers know, you can only work on, you know, one or two things at a time.

Randy Silver: 

One of the stories that you explored was about Facebook Live and some of the safety problems that came along with that. And I’m curious, the issue that, as I understood it, is that the corporate objective was different, in at least in the short term, then creating the most safe, best possible environment from you know, the safest, nicest environment, it was about popularity and take up and hitting certain metrics. I fundamentally believe that the longer term value is going to be around creating a good environment. But I’ve been placed into situations where we’ve also had to make short term decisions. Have you ever seen anyone successfully make an argument around creating that nicer space around being more social, rather than near hitting that those short term metrics and making it stick?

Sudhir Venkatesh: 

I would say that today, Facebook is a very different company. And you know, when I left and when I came in, they are much more even when I, by the time I left, I think they were much more cognizant with creating a very, very good environment for its own just creating a healthy platform. You know, I think you’re the people listening probably, when I say this, they’re probably going to have a chuckle. But what Twitter is actually an organisation that does not think about the bottom line to the same degree or when we think about the health of the platform, I will give that to Jack Dorsey, I will, I will give him the credit that I believe he deserves not, that doesn’t mean that you’re going to agree with me that that intention is necessarily creating the healthiest, nicest public space far from it. So that’s what I mean, I’m going to separate the intention from the you know, what’s actually created. So when, when it comes to intention, I think Twitter is one, when it comes to actually live practice, a great example is something called front porch Forum, which is a social media space that is heavily moderated by Michael Lewis and the northeastern part of the United States. It’s, it’s not a city, it’s not a block, it’s not 20 people, it’s, I think it’s a members of now, three states, residents of three states, you know, you can’t win, when you publish something, it takes 24 hours for it to be approved to be able to put on the site. So there’s, there’s a long lag, you know, it’s not so it’s not an immediate kind of call and response, as something like Twitter is, so that’s an example of something that works. But the trade offs are fairly apparent. If you want something very, very civil, it is very, very hard to do that in real time. If you want something that is very civil, it is very hard to do that and continue to grow if you’re doing it in real time. So I think it’s a question of the kinds of trade offs that you can make, and depending on the ones that you can make, I can point to different places where they are doing

Lily Smith: 

well. I think that’s really interesting as well. And one of the things that we do as product managers will try to do is experiment with different approaches to developing the product. I guess that kind of seems like way more risky when you’re talking about trying to influence people’s behaviour, because an experiment might go wrong in the in the wrong direction. How did the teams at Facebook and Twitter sort of manage that delicate balance of wanting to experiment with the way that you know the way the product works in order to try and improve or change the experience or behaviour from it from a sort of social point of view?

Sudhir Venkatesh: 

Yeah. So we were talking about the three levers that you can pull, you can try to work on an individual person and appeal to them or give them direct information about what they are doing. You can change the the space that they’re in the design of it, or you can change how everyone is relating to each other. What is very, very difficult to do in social media companies is to do all three at once. From a prioritisation and resourcing perspective, it, you try your best but the real challenge is for companies to do all of that kind of work, because you need to understand you need to understand not only what you are doing, not only what’s allowable in that space, but also what everyone else is around you is doing. Eli Pariser is the director of a project called Civic signals, which is an interesting project Jake whether looking for signs anywhere online and offline, about what makes for good environments, healthy environments, and he’s come to the conclusion for the last time I listened to him and his TED Talk, that the park is a great example. Because it’s one of those few places where strangers at scale can congregate. And there’s really no there’s no one who is training you how to what how to behave in a park, but you you know, you generally can create your little note, you can find some other people, you you tend to know what the rules are, etc. So there are people coming to to the intranet with very, very different models. And I think that’s what we’re all struggling with is what is the what is the model for the social media world that will help us best figure out how to help people groups, and create that that design of the space but that’s the real challenge is doing all three at once.

Randy Silver: 

So do you were talking earlier about the car and design of the roads and everything else and also included Driver’s Ed? I’m curious. Architects get licence, lots of careers and professions get licenced? Do you think people who develop products or at least products at scale, should be licenced in some way? Or should we have some sort of Hippocratic Oath or something like that?

Sudhir Venkatesh: 

I do think that if I could wave my wand and and create something, unlimited time, energy, you know, etc, like, what would my world look like? If you’re working with user behaviour is within the area of user behaviour? In social media, e commerce you know, just faces or TripAdvisor, you know, places where you can you’re having conversation with others, Airbnb, I would really love to create an onboarding programme for product managers, where they spend not long, just a couple of weeks, even if I could get them to spend that kind of time understanding some of the feedback that they’re going to be seeing and how to interpret signal and how to differentiate different kinds of signal from noise. I tend to begin with a very, very simple example, when I do the, my, my training for people in the product world. I’ll just ask somebody, have you ever gotten a traffic ticket? I’ll use the US example. Yes. And I said, well, was the experience hostile? Do you feel like you were gonna get assaulted? Did you feel scared? That’s a no, no, no, it was generally fine. Police officer came up next to me and wrote me a ticket and message you really you weren’t? You didn’t, you weren’t angry. You didn’t want to reach out and grab them by the neck and sit down? I said, Well, let’s figure out why. And when you have to fast forward, essentially, what they’re admitting is that they knew the rules. They were given an opportunity sometimes for forgiveness, right? The person said, okay, you know, you’re right, you, you’re new to this area, I’ll let you go. But if you’re gonna stay around, or they, they knew where to find the rules, they knew that there was a ladder, and they they have more than five points, they’re gonna lose their licence, they’re number one, then the consequences, everything was clear, they were treated with dignity, and respect. So now I’ll turn to that product manager. And I’ll say, so thinking about that, what do you think is the vision? What do you think we should? How do you think we should be treating users on our platform? And they’ll immediately say, Well, I was going to say, I think we should just keep punishing them harder and harder and harder until they behave. And I said, Well, you just told me. You’re treated with dignity, respect, and love. So there’s a kind of a knee jerk reflex that comes into user behaviour, which is that there are made up of two people, there are good users, bad users, we want the good guy to get rid of the bad users. How do we do that we just keep punishing the bad users until they don’t come back. And so what I tried to do in these sessions is to tell the product managers Hey, what you’re doing is with one hand, you’re making good users into bad and the other hand, you’re kicking them off the platform. Now, how long do you think your company’s going to keep you there, if that’s the sausage you’re producing, you’re going to run out of users. So it’s a just using simple ways of helping them to understand that you could execute a very large change by having just a different understanding of the person from one who is either good or bad. To one who needs to be forgiven. Sounds quaint, sounds ridiculous. But think of all the times you stopped doing something poorly because somebody said, Hey, that’s okay. Everyone makes mistakes. But so it’s just those little kinds of shifts on human understanding human behaviour that I think go a long way.

Randy Silver: 

I love that. I’m gonna ask you one more question off the back of that though, this. There’s so many times that I’ve been involved in training, either being the trainer or being someone who’s trained, and then you go back into the office the following week, and it’s the same environment, and it’s very hard to follow through on it. So How would you fix this? Who should be on the team who should be in the room besides the people that we have today? Or who should we be talking to, to ensure that that lesson that you bring up in onboarding is kept current throughout the person’s lifecycle their career?

Sudhir Venkatesh: 

Here, I want to make a slight differentiation between team dynamics and client dynamics, because I think there are different kinds of problems for the client dynamic. I think that there’s the need to this is what I was talking about with the court jester, I think you have to either create a space within your product team, where periodically before you make a decision, or even just once in a while, just everyone gets to write down on a piece of paper, or they have a if everyone is comfortable enough, just saying, Hey, I think we’re really off track, just as just a 30 minute, 60 minutes session, you know, maybe it’s around at the end of the day, the round of glass of wine or something just to kind of get people to tell you and tell each other where they feel like they’ve gotten off track with the understanding that that’s part of the process, and that you may not act on every single thing that’s being said, I think this this thing that I’ve seen in tech companies, oh, we got to move fast, we don’t have time to take stock, blah, blah, blah. That I think is poor product management. I think the product manager needs to know when to slow down, so they can move fast. And that’s why this guy Rosen is an example of somebody I’ve always found, can slow down in the right way, for the right amount of time. The client dynamics, I think is a different issue. I think there’s a lot of frustration that I see product managers experience, because the people that they serve are not acting like them. It’s the why don’t they just like, I wouldn’t do that, why are they doing that? Why are they not clicking? Why are they behaving badly? Why are they not commenting, etc, there’s this inability to get out of your own shoes. Now, there, I think the solution is actually to use your user research team in a different way. The strength of product that I see of a good product manager is to know when to alienate the research team. And usually that’s in the very beginning, right, because you don’t want people like us around after you have a provisional identification of the problem. So you can move ahead otherwise, we’re the people keep going around going, it’s complicated. I don’t know that that’s, that’s just not gonna work. You know, you don’t, we don’t You don’t want people like us around, I totally get it. So we should be removed us in the policy people get us out of the room. The key is to bring us back in and use us as the truth tellers and say, Okay, we’re having some difficulty. Tell us a little bit about our users that may help us to understand why we’re feeling this way. Because I’m a product manager and the engineers and others where we’re, you know, we’re busy, you’ve got the view of the research of the user. You know, I think there’s little things like that in the the workflow that can make a big difference.

Lily Smith: 

That’s a massive challenge for a lot of product managers who often have to well, a just want to be involved and be quite often product end up running research, because they don’t have the luxury of having a research team available. But I totally get your point. Because I have definitely, you know, been guilty of that failure of like, you know, why are they doing this? Why are they like me? So just one more question before we wrap up? And how do you measure success when you’re working with a product team? Or how do you kind of think about success? And what’s making a successful team a successful product?

Randy Silver: 

You talked earlier about? We solve 90% of the problem you were worried about? About other thing was Jack wasn’t Jack, it was Harry or whatever the name was? I’m sorry, Joe. I bet you if we sold 90% of the problem, that product in the commercial team was happy that you were this, and especially when you’re dealing with the scale of Facebook, or Twitter or something like that, that still leaves a huge number of incidents. But you’ve done an awful lot. I’m just curious about Yeah, how you go from 90%. Is that success? Or how do you measure success and progress in this?

Sudhir Venkatesh: 

When I first arrived at Facebook, Mark Zuckerberg had done something that I always that I didn’t really understand. But now I come to marvel. And I think one of his genius is Is he really understands product. He understands product teams, he understands the product cycle, and some of his early lieutenants are just fantastic product work. One thing that he would do is to say 50% of your goals have to be really happy to be stretch goals. I mean, give me a roadmap for the next half. And I want to see that at least half of them are, you know, challenge yourself and he’d send it back. And he and his leadership team will just keep sending back when the product managers that this is what I’m going to work on, this is what we’re doing. And it was a very bottoms up company. At that time, he just would force product teams to stretch. And he would not allow them to get up. I think that was a an extremely useful way to start. Because at the end of the day, you’re going to compromise, right? That’s what good product managers management is all about is finding a road that you can follow and, and working towards the end, the real challenge for me is that when you when you congratulate your show self for shipping the product and getting your bonus, do you know what your stretch goal originally was? And are you able to say how far short we were like can you simultaneously say we succeeded? And we failed. And if you can understand that my view genius is to be able to handle the inconsistency of you know, life in that way, at the same moment that you can succeed and fail at the same time you usually do. I think that makes for excellent leadership. But that’s hard. If your bonus is riding on it, if your incentives for the team are riding on it if you’re feel like your job is riding on it in the culture of the company doesn’t permit that. I’m not saying that’s easy to do. In fact, that’s hard to do.

Lily Smith: 

See, it’s been so fascinating talking to you, thank you so much for joining us on the podcast.

Unknown: 

Thank you for having me. It’s a pleasure

Lily Smith: 

What a lovely man, there was so much we didn’t cover but if you want him more from Cydia, I highly recommend his podcast sued it breaks the internet.

Randy Silver: 

It’s available anywhere that podcasts are sold or distributed and you know, much like this one so like subscribe, leave a review. No one ever leaves a review, leave a review. We’ll see you next week.

Lily Smith: 

Haste, me, Lily Smith and me Randy silver. Emily Tate is our producer. And Luke Smith is our editor.

Randy Silver: 

Our theme music is from humbard baseband power that’s pa you thanks to Ana Kibler, who runs product tank and MTP engage in Hamburg and please based in the band for letting us use their music. Connect with your local product community via product tag or regular free meetups in over 200 cities worldwide.

Lily Smith: 

If there’s not one Nagy you can consider starting one yourself. To find out more go to mind the product.com forward slash product tank.

Randy Silver: 

Product Tech is a global community of meetups driven by and for product people. We offer expert talks group discussion and a safe environment for product people to come together and share burnings and tips

[buzzsprout episode='9407345' player='true'] We initially ran this episode back in May, but that was before Frances Haugen came forward as the Facebook whistleblower. Our guest, Columbia University sociologist Sudhir Venkatesh, worked in the same area of Facebook as Haugen (civic integrity), albeit years earlier; he also held a similar role at Twitter. We asked him to join us on the podcast to help understand how product people can do great things without fundamentally breaking the internet. Featured Links: Follow Sudhir on LinkedIn and Twitter | Sudhir Breaks the Internet Podcast | Signal: The Tech and Society Lab at Columbia University | Guy Rosen - VP Integrity at Facebook | Front Porch Forum | Civic Signals

Episode transcript

Randy Silver:  Lily, we're famous. People finally know what a product manager is. Lily Smith:  Randy, I'm almost afraid to ask what you're talking about that. What the hell? What are you talking about? Randy Silver:  My family has finally figured out what a product manager is. Well, kinda. They think we testified before Congress. Lily Smith:  Ah, you're talking about Francis Haugen, the latest Facebook whistleblower. Yeah, she has raised our profile a bit. But you know, we were on top of this topic a while back and so this week we're dipping into the archive to re air our chat with Sudhir Venkatesh. Randy Silver:  That's a great call Gilly. Sudhir is a Columbia University sociology professor. And he's also worked at Facebook, Twitter and the FBI. And like Francis, he worked in civic integrity. It's a great conversation. Lily Smith:  Hey, Randy, you've worked at some big companies, haven't you? Randy Silver:  Yeah. Let's see. I was at Amazon. Early in my career. I did a stint at Sirius XM. I worked at HSBC. Oh, why? Lily Smith:  I just need to know. So did you ever break the internet while you were there? Randy Silver:  I mean, there was that one time. What have you heard? But no, not really. I've broken plenty of sites. I've made tonnes of mistakes, but I can't say you ever broke the entire freakin internet. What have you done? Lily Smith:  No, me silly. I would never do that sort of thing. I'm way too sensible and risk averse. But we do have a special guest today who apparently did or at least that's the name of his podcast suit. It breaks the internet. Randy Silver:  I am so excited about this chat Willie. Sudhir Venkatesh is a Columbia University sociology professor and he's done some amazing stuff. He's here to tell us about what he learned building products at Facebook and Twitter and working at the FBI. Lily Smith:  So without further ado, let's get started. The product experience is brought to you by mind the product. Randy Silver:  Every week we talk to the best product people from around the globe about how we can improve our practice and build products that people love. Lily Smith:  Because it mind the product calm to catch up on past episodes, and to discover an extensive library of great content and videos, Randy Silver:  browse for free, or become a mind the product member to unlock premium articles, unseen videos, AMA's roundtables, discounts to our conferences around the world training opportunities and more. Lily Smith:  My new product also offers free product tank meetups in more than 200 cities. And there's probably one near you Randy Silver:  Sudhir, thank you so much for joining us on the podcast this week. So for anyone who doesn't already know you by name, can you just give us a quick introduction into your background? Sudhir Venkatesh:  Sure. Okay. So I'm Sudhir Venkatesh. I am a professor of sociology at Columbia University. And until very recently, it was the only job I'd ever held as an adult in 1999, and I periodically get tired of being the ivory tower. So I go out and try different things. And before I get to that hypose Just say that most of my career has been studying the urban underworld. I did a dissertation on a large public housing community social housing community in the US and wrote a book about it. Spend some time writing about gangs and sex workers and gun runners. And then as I was saying, Every so often I get kind of bored and want to see what the world is like outside the ivory tower. The first time I ventured out I spent two years in the FBI Federal Bureau of Investigations and worked with them. Then I was running an advertising school or a school for advertising executives in Berlin for a couple years. And then, lo and behold, in 2015, I think it was Yeah, Mark Zuckerberg decided to read 12 books that year, which was enough to make clients around the world I suppose. Allison's nobody reads, but I felt very gracious because he chose mine as his third book has. And I developed relationship with Facebook. I went there to work for three years, managing a large team on the product side of the company that is in the space they call integrity, which is designed to think about the safety and of the platform. And then I helped build out that team at Twitter for two years. And I went back at Columbia and three Trying my best to be a podcast host. Randy Silver:  Fantastic. And this is exactly why we want to talk to you not because you're a podcast host, although I'm sure that makes you a better guest as well. But we want to talk a bit about your time at Twitter and Facebook and what we as product managers can learn about it. You know, there's been a lot of talk about how great they are as companies and all the wonderful things that they do and accomplish, but also all the challenges and some of the negative effects. And we our people in the community we work with are really interested in making sure we're as ethical as possible, and doing the right thing. So before we ask you, so for some advice on how to do that, and how to diagnose doing the wrong thing, just tell us a bit about the challenges you saw working in integrity in Twitter and Facebook. Sudhir Venkatesh:  Sure, so um, so I landed in Facebook as the William B Ransford, professor of sociology at Columbia. And I'd like to say that ad that was absolutely irrelevant, no one could care less. who I was. So I, it was a very humbling path. Because in that tech environment, I really had to figure out what value that I had, you know, I was, I kept thinking my job was to be the smartest person in the room, which is what I was trying to do, or to fake it, anyway, and academics, you know, you're not really prepared to be part of a team, you don't really work in a cross functional environment, you are the cross functional environment, so you can understand how ill prepared you are, the thing I had going for me was that I was working on some of these problems in the offline world, whether it was gang activity, or bullying or harassment, etc. So I had to figure out how to make that knowledge useful for a product team, the thing that I always point to is scale, scale scale. I mean, it's just, you know, I could go out in one community focus there, and not that that's not challenging. But when you're dealing with millions and millions of pieces of content in a nanosecond, or however quickly it comes across the internet, it's just a very, very different challenge. The other part that really jumped out at me was that my job wasn't really to solve the problem. My job was not to inform policy, I was there to build products, which meant I was there to make money for the company. And this was really my first for profit experience. So understanding what value research has in a setting in which the bottom line is to get people to watch ads, stay on the platform, and otherwise contribute to the good of the company was something that I had to learn. So, you know, those are some of the biggest challenges that stood out for me. Lily Smith:  So in your experience, then this is probably I don't know, if this is answerable as a question that is the net impact of social media good or bad at that kind of scale. Sudhir Venkatesh:  I think the net impact is overall good. I'm not one of these people who believe that it's the scourge of our civilization. Nor do I think it's what's going to help us land on Mars someday, I think it can make us better people. And I don't think it's a problem that we're moving through this phase where the, it's been extremely challenging. I probably say that coming from inside the world of social media, where I see a lot of what it does to strengthen people's general experiences with themselves with each other families, communities, etc. You don't really see that on the outside that, you know, the news doesn't care about that. And so I'm fully cognizant, working on the side of these companies, where we, exclusively my teams, we're dealing with negative experiences, I understand the drawbacks, I understand what it does to us. But I also think that it's an incredible tool, and it's just a tool, it really, you really start to understand. And when you go inside the machine, that it really is in the hands of the user, it's starting to become like blaming the tub, you know, they used to blame the telephone, you know, 100, and some years ago, when further, you know, they thought it was gonna be the end of civilization, they thought we weren't going to be able to have communities anymore, we wouldn't want to talk to each other. We won't want to spend time with each other. They did it when we were building suburban housing, in the state housing, you know, we're not going to, we're going to be separate. We're going to be living in these cookie cutter environments and none of these things ever. None of these technologies and innovations ever ended civilization. I think there's a lot that is needs to be fixed. And I love the the conception that my colleague Tracy Mears uses. She's a law professor at Yale University. She says we're we should be thinking about these tools, kind of like we thought about cars. When we first started to drive cars with all the accidents. There were a lot of voices that said, Oh my gosh, this is just horrible. We got to get rid of this technology. And then slowly people started to see okay, well, how about something called seatbelts or a speed limit? Or rumble strips on the road? Or how about Driver's Education? I am a huge fan that that the next generation should go to school before they get to go online, or get training or something, you know, I think, I think a lot of people just simply are not, no one's ever told them how to behave. No one's ever told them how to use the tool. Randy Silver:  So you're I want to go back a moment to something you said, in that when you first came to these companies, you weren't there to solve a problem, you were there to make money for the company. And the way product people usually talk about things in at least in my experience is we need to concentrate on finding the right problem to solve and then solving it. And solving it in a way that adds value to the company but also for our customers. And for our users who may or may not be our customers, is that actually one of the fundamental problems around social media is that the user and the customer may not be the same entity. Sudhir Venkatesh:  Or we you're using the word problem in a different way, I came to I came to a world where we would think about a solution set for a problem as largely getting rid of the problem entirely. So let's take something like people who are committing a serial violators of hate speech policy, people were just being really really hateful. Now, if that was happening in your public park, and there was just somebody spewing the worst kind of ethnic or gender based hatred or whatever it is, or you know, your man, city fan, your man you can they go and going after each other. You, you know, you could imagine, well, that person maybe will lose their privileges to the park, or that person needs to pay a fine or something like that. So that's the perspective that I was thinking about is what do we do with all these people who are committing this kind of hate speech? From the point of view of the company, the problem is that they are minimising the capacity of others to comfortably watch advertising, to share with each other to communicate with each other. So what can we do to make them more productive members of these online spaces, that is not necessarily the same kind of behaviour change problem. So the product manager is the orchestra director and I who were coming from a different world, you know, I just didn't understand what that person was looking for. And it took me years to be able to really get the fact that their view of solving the problem, and mine were just very, very different that they had a, an entire platform to be thinking about. And as you're saying they had users and they had a certain number of business prerogatives to jump to. And I was interested in Okay, we have Joe, who's not being very nice. What should we do with Joe? I think it was just, you know, we were looking at it in a non complimentary fashion, Randy Silver:  and solving the problem of Joe not being nice, theoretically, that leads to good business outcomes, you're creating a more welcoming space, you're not having a harassment on the platform, you think that these would be good business outcomes? Was it not seen that way? Sudhir Venkatesh:  Right. So recently, and this was after I left Facebook and Twitter, I worked at a company were consulted for a company where they had this problem incivility online. And so I said, you know, one very simple way of approaching this The problem, though, why don't we just start here is make sure that the people that are doing that understand that can find the rules. So often that behaviour is just people who are uninformed. So that led to about this is not no brilliance on my part. It's just this is a standard technique that led to about a 90% reduction in the amount in the volume of that kind of uncivil conduct is that people just were able to, they saw the rules, and they Oh, okay, I can't do that. So I said, Okay, well, we're almost there. That's a good start. And the company's perspective was no, we're, we're done. We're moving on, we've got plenty of other fish to fry, we've got the next challenge. So that's what I mean, for me. That's the start of a sociological conversation about how do we remedy the situation help people do better in their lives? That is not a that's not the kind of corporate conversation that they need it and I'm not saying one is better than the other. But those were the sorts of asymmetries that I think sometimes happen. Lily Smith:  And product managers generally don't come from a sociology background. Do you think that there's a need for that expertise within product teams that really are working with large groups of people or kind of large communities in the way that social media is? Sudhir Venkatesh:  There's two things that make me cry, one is my family and one are product managers. And both. I will tell you, I am so so grateful for having been able to work with really good product managers. i There is nobody I learned from more than Technology. In my five plus years in product managers, I have the utmost respect for what they do. If I could shadow them, if they would let me, I would, I would be following product managers all day, I find their job to be challenging, constantly thought provoking, and the best of them, we should be getting rid of the UN, we should, should be having product managers to do our diplomatic work. I'm just going to tell you who the His name is Guy Rosen. He's the vice president of integrity at Facebook. And I would say that there's probably two or three people at the whole company, who are who are influential on me and have left a mark. And one was guy, fascinating, smart, sharp, I mean, managing millions and millions and millions of pieces of content. Well, I I come away, thinking that guy's one of guys chief tensions is how do I work with somebody who has domain specific knowledge and watching a product manager understand, in this case, a sociologist, it could be via an economist or, you know, some a psychologist, figure out what's what is that? What is the knowledge that I need to plug into a cross functional environment, and into a roadmap so that the entire roadmap is executable, and I can ship the product? What a skill, I mean, that is a real because he has to be in and I'm just marvelled at the way that he could immediately size up the situation and stay focused. So I will go back to him and say, hey, look, I know we've taken care of Joe's hateful speech. But what about Joe? And you know, I'm putting guy in the difficult position of saying, I don't care about Joe, I've got to, you know, stay focused on my. And of course, he cares about Joe, I'm just using that as an example. But to be able to, in the world of Facebook, do what's called that ruthless prioritisation. And you're just constantly making people unhappy as a product manager. I mean, it's fascinating. I just, it's a thankless piece of work, but it is absolutely so rewarding. So I don't know if you want me to be more critical, but I find it difficult to be critical product manager. Randy Silver:  That the nicest thing anyone's ever said about us and also one of the saddest things. So but, you know, we're gluttons for punishment in the best possible way. So thank you. But the we also always want to get better at this. So the question is, we're the people who have built these products, along with, of course, all the engineers and the designers and a million other people in other departments. But we're the ones as you said, We're responsible for ruthless prioritisation and making decisions and it rests very heavily on our shoulders at times. But if we're the ones who built the problem in some of these cases, are we the right ones to be fixing it? Sudhir Venkatesh:  I tell you what I think would greatly I love to stay focused on tech, the world that I know a little bit, I tell you what I say to product managers, when I do onboarding, with people coming into the integrity or safety space, we talk about the fool in Shakespeare's plays, what is the role of the antic there is only one person who sits next to the king, and can tell the king, absolutely anything, the truth teller, not the king's wife, not the king's soldiers, no, nobody, not the priest. It's the antic. And the fool is the one that the king turns to, to be reminded of his in this case, mortality. That's what a product manager needs to figure out how to have at his or her side is the gesture, the person who after a roadmap is created, and we're moving into execution, who can say honestly, to her, hey, you've departed from every single hypothesis that we started with? Is that what you wanted to do? Because that was what we've ended up doing because of whatever in efficiencies or you know, speed, etc. Because if so, then we're going to get to a point where we're not going to know why it succeeded, let alone failed. And it's that kind of stopping and enabling that person to get a little bit of a perspective and, and facilitate course correction. That I think when I see a great product manager, that's what they do. They're able to stop not for a long time, but just a brief period of time, and either make their teams play the role of the jester or have somebody that they have appointed, and said, okay, just give it to me straight. Where do we deviate? If at all? Randy Silver:  Thank God, you put it that way, because I would look terrible in one of those outfits Lily Smith:  Okay, so thinking about the way that we sort of traditionally approach some of these challenges With the way that people behave online, we often start with controls or things to kind of shut that down. One of the things that I found really interesting in the podcast that I listened to the Freakonomics podcast, was kind of like, going back to the reason why people were doing that behaviour in the first place. And then and kind of tracing that through, and then trying to stop that behaviour, even before it got to that point, is that where you see social media products going in the future, being able to almost predict where that person's gonna end up going into sort of bad behaviour, if we call it that, you know, and then trying to send them down a different path? Sudhir Venkatesh:  Yeah, I think there's three points of intervention. And to varying degrees, depending on the company, depending on the time that we're living in social media companies are able to do one of the three, you know, better than the others. One is the physical space, the design of the space, and affecting that so independently of the people there. The second is the journey of the particular person. And the third is the group component, the collective component, so how the three of us are, in our own way, creating certain kinds of expectations. Sociologists talk about, for example, turn taking, we didn't really except for one moment, where one of us said to the other, you get to start the first question, as the first question. There was never a document that said that I couldn't ask questions, and only you can, or there was never, we just kind of fell into a understanding of the norms and expectations, and that's a group component, I could have been difficult, or I could have had a different understanding based on a different culture, you know, it just may have taken some work, we would have to specify. So the thing that I think tech companies are doing better is on the individual component, meaning, you see the queues that you sometimes are getting the thing we call them nudges sometimes, right? So you may try to say, Brandy, I think you are a son of a and then you'll get a pop up that says, hey, you know, you called him that 17 times in the last 24 hours, do you think you really want to do the 18th time, he might be upset. So these little reminders, or these nudges that help you understand the consequences of your action, we're starting to build those into the platform a little more immediate feedback upstream. So that we don't end up sending that note saying, Hey, I'm really sorry, Randy, you know, did this blah, blah, blah. So I think there we are getting better. I think we are not getting, I think we could get a lot better on the design of the spaces. Right? What's the feedback that you need? When you go on Twitter? Or, you know, when you check your email, or wherever it is? What do you need to know? What what would be good to know? If you're going on a Facebook group, for example, would you be interested in knowing what percentage of the people there are having trouble following the law, the rules of the platform? Would that be something that might make you feel like Oh, good, now I'm with my people. Or you might say, I'm going to be off this group. So just think about what information could be provided to you online, the rules and or information about other people or your expectations of your behaviour. The other part that we don't think about is the group component, the way people influence each other. There's an old experiment that used to be done. That was done in the 1950s, and by an American sociologist, in which essentially what the experiment showed is that if we're in line, and I come in to a line, a long queue for tickets to a Broadway show, and I come right in front of Randy, and literally, let's say you're in back of Randy, you, Randy is 95. Randy has something like a 95% chance of saying, Hey, don't do that. What are you doing? So long line? Now, let's say that he doesn't say anything. What's the chance that Lily standing back Randy is going to say something 5%? Really 95 bucks. So now what if I could get Lily who we're gonna call a bystander because she's not quote unquote, directly affected to say something? Well, I've just increased the chance that there's more social order in that line. So now let's think about it in a group environment in a conversation on Twitter and a thread, person A calls person be a jerk, what if person see heard it or saw it said, Hey, that's not very nice, you know? So there's ways in which we can also think about developing relationships with people. So I think we're at the infancy of all of this. At Twitter when I worked there, 3000 people managing platform are 400 some million people have more 400 million users, you know, we're just only wise you, as product managers know, you can only work on, you know, one or two things at a time. Randy Silver:  One of the stories that you explored was about Facebook Live and some of the safety problems that came along with that. And I'm curious, the issue that, as I understood it, is that the corporate objective was different, in at least in the short term, then creating the most safe, best possible environment from you know, the safest, nicest environment, it was about popularity and take up and hitting certain metrics. I fundamentally believe that the longer term value is going to be around creating a good environment. But I've been placed into situations where we've also had to make short term decisions. Have you ever seen anyone successfully make an argument around creating that nicer space around being more social, rather than near hitting that those short term metrics and making it stick? Sudhir Venkatesh:  I would say that today, Facebook is a very different company. And you know, when I left and when I came in, they are much more even when I, by the time I left, I think they were much more cognizant with creating a very, very good environment for its own just creating a healthy platform. You know, I think you're the people listening probably, when I say this, they're probably going to have a chuckle. But what Twitter is actually an organisation that does not think about the bottom line to the same degree or when we think about the health of the platform, I will give that to Jack Dorsey, I will, I will give him the credit that I believe he deserves not, that doesn't mean that you're going to agree with me that that intention is necessarily creating the healthiest, nicest public space far from it. So that's what I mean, I'm going to separate the intention from the you know, what's actually created. So when, when it comes to intention, I think Twitter is one, when it comes to actually live practice, a great example is something called front porch Forum, which is a social media space that is heavily moderated by Michael Lewis and the northeastern part of the United States. It's, it's not a city, it's not a block, it's not 20 people, it's, I think it's a members of now, three states, residents of three states, you know, you can't win, when you publish something, it takes 24 hours for it to be approved to be able to put on the site. So there's, there's a long lag, you know, it's not so it's not an immediate kind of call and response, as something like Twitter is, so that's an example of something that works. But the trade offs are fairly apparent. If you want something very, very civil, it is very, very hard to do that in real time. If you want something that is very civil, it is very hard to do that and continue to grow if you're doing it in real time. So I think it's a question of the kinds of trade offs that you can make, and depending on the ones that you can make, I can point to different places where they are doing Lily Smith:  well. I think that's really interesting as well. And one of the things that we do as product managers will try to do is experiment with different approaches to developing the product. I guess that kind of seems like way more risky when you're talking about trying to influence people's behaviour, because an experiment might go wrong in the in the wrong direction. How did the teams at Facebook and Twitter sort of manage that delicate balance of wanting to experiment with the way that you know the way the product works in order to try and improve or change the experience or behaviour from it from a sort of social point of view? Sudhir Venkatesh:  Yeah. So we were talking about the three levers that you can pull, you can try to work on an individual person and appeal to them or give them direct information about what they are doing. You can change the the space that they're in the design of it, or you can change how everyone is relating to each other. What is very, very difficult to do in social media companies is to do all three at once. From a prioritisation and resourcing perspective, it, you try your best but the real challenge is for companies to do all of that kind of work, because you need to understand you need to understand not only what you are doing, not only what's allowable in that space, but also what everyone else is around you is doing. Eli Pariser is the director of a project called Civic signals, which is an interesting project Jake whether looking for signs anywhere online and offline, about what makes for good environments, healthy environments, and he's come to the conclusion for the last time I listened to him and his TED Talk, that the park is a great example. Because it's one of those few places where strangers at scale can congregate. And there's really no there's no one who is training you how to what how to behave in a park, but you you know, you generally can create your little note, you can find some other people, you you tend to know what the rules are, etc. So there are people coming to to the intranet with very, very different models. And I think that's what we're all struggling with is what is the what is the model for the social media world that will help us best figure out how to help people groups, and create that that design of the space but that's the real challenge is doing all three at once. Randy Silver:  So do you were talking earlier about the car and design of the roads and everything else and also included Driver's Ed? I'm curious. Architects get licence, lots of careers and professions get licenced? Do you think people who develop products or at least products at scale, should be licenced in some way? Or should we have some sort of Hippocratic Oath or something like that? Sudhir Venkatesh:  I do think that if I could wave my wand and and create something, unlimited time, energy, you know, etc, like, what would my world look like? If you're working with user behaviour is within the area of user behaviour? In social media, e commerce you know, just faces or TripAdvisor, you know, places where you can you're having conversation with others, Airbnb, I would really love to create an onboarding programme for product managers, where they spend not long, just a couple of weeks, even if I could get them to spend that kind of time understanding some of the feedback that they're going to be seeing and how to interpret signal and how to differentiate different kinds of signal from noise. I tend to begin with a very, very simple example, when I do the, my, my training for people in the product world. I'll just ask somebody, have you ever gotten a traffic ticket? I'll use the US example. Yes. And I said, well, was the experience hostile? Do you feel like you were gonna get assaulted? Did you feel scared? That's a no, no, no, it was generally fine. Police officer came up next to me and wrote me a ticket and message you really you weren't? You didn't, you weren't angry. You didn't want to reach out and grab them by the neck and sit down? I said, Well, let's figure out why. And when you have to fast forward, essentially, what they're admitting is that they knew the rules. They were given an opportunity sometimes for forgiveness, right? The person said, okay, you know, you're right, you, you're new to this area, I'll let you go. But if you're gonna stay around, or they, they knew where to find the rules, they knew that there was a ladder, and they they have more than five points, they're gonna lose their licence, they're number one, then the consequences, everything was clear, they were treated with dignity, and respect. So now I'll turn to that product manager. And I'll say, so thinking about that, what do you think is the vision? What do you think we should? How do you think we should be treating users on our platform? And they'll immediately say, Well, I was going to say, I think we should just keep punishing them harder and harder and harder until they behave. And I said, Well, you just told me. You're treated with dignity, respect, and love. So there's a kind of a knee jerk reflex that comes into user behaviour, which is that there are made up of two people, there are good users, bad users, we want the good guy to get rid of the bad users. How do we do that we just keep punishing the bad users until they don't come back. And so what I tried to do in these sessions is to tell the product managers Hey, what you're doing is with one hand, you're making good users into bad and the other hand, you're kicking them off the platform. Now, how long do you think your company's going to keep you there, if that's the sausage you're producing, you're going to run out of users. So it's a just using simple ways of helping them to understand that you could execute a very large change by having just a different understanding of the person from one who is either good or bad. To one who needs to be forgiven. Sounds quaint, sounds ridiculous. But think of all the times you stopped doing something poorly because somebody said, Hey, that's okay. Everyone makes mistakes. But so it's just those little kinds of shifts on human understanding human behaviour that I think go a long way. Randy Silver:  I love that. I'm gonna ask you one more question off the back of that though, this. There's so many times that I've been involved in training, either being the trainer or being someone who's trained, and then you go back into the office the following week, and it's the same environment, and it's very hard to follow through on it. So How would you fix this? Who should be on the team who should be in the room besides the people that we have today? Or who should we be talking to, to ensure that that lesson that you bring up in onboarding is kept current throughout the person's lifecycle their career? Sudhir Venkatesh:  Here, I want to make a slight differentiation between team dynamics and client dynamics, because I think there are different kinds of problems for the client dynamic. I think that there's the need to this is what I was talking about with the court jester, I think you have to either create a space within your product team, where periodically before you make a decision, or even just once in a while, just everyone gets to write down on a piece of paper, or they have a if everyone is comfortable enough, just saying, Hey, I think we're really off track, just as just a 30 minute, 60 minutes session, you know, maybe it's around at the end of the day, the round of glass of wine or something just to kind of get people to tell you and tell each other where they feel like they've gotten off track with the understanding that that's part of the process, and that you may not act on every single thing that's being said, I think this this thing that I've seen in tech companies, oh, we got to move fast, we don't have time to take stock, blah, blah, blah. That I think is poor product management. I think the product manager needs to know when to slow down, so they can move fast. And that's why this guy Rosen is an example of somebody I've always found, can slow down in the right way, for the right amount of time. The client dynamics, I think is a different issue. I think there's a lot of frustration that I see product managers experience, because the people that they serve are not acting like them. It's the why don't they just like, I wouldn't do that, why are they doing that? Why are they not clicking? Why are they behaving badly? Why are they not commenting, etc, there's this inability to get out of your own shoes. Now, there, I think the solution is actually to use your user research team in a different way. The strength of product that I see of a good product manager is to know when to alienate the research team. And usually that's in the very beginning, right, because you don't want people like us around after you have a provisional identification of the problem. So you can move ahead otherwise, we're the people keep going around going, it's complicated. I don't know that that's, that's just not gonna work. You know, you don't, we don't You don't want people like us around, I totally get it. So we should be removed us in the policy people get us out of the room. The key is to bring us back in and use us as the truth tellers and say, Okay, we're having some difficulty. Tell us a little bit about our users that may help us to understand why we're feeling this way. Because I'm a product manager and the engineers and others where we're, you know, we're busy, you've got the view of the research of the user. You know, I think there's little things like that in the the workflow that can make a big difference. Lily Smith:  That's a massive challenge for a lot of product managers who often have to well, a just want to be involved and be quite often product end up running research, because they don't have the luxury of having a research team available. But I totally get your point. Because I have definitely, you know, been guilty of that failure of like, you know, why are they doing this? Why are they like me? So just one more question before we wrap up? And how do you measure success when you're working with a product team? Or how do you kind of think about success? And what's making a successful team a successful product? Randy Silver:  You talked earlier about? We solve 90% of the problem you were worried about? About other thing was Jack wasn't Jack, it was Harry or whatever the name was? I'm sorry, Joe. I bet you if we sold 90% of the problem, that product in the commercial team was happy that you were this, and especially when you're dealing with the scale of Facebook, or Twitter or something like that, that still leaves a huge number of incidents. But you've done an awful lot. I'm just curious about Yeah, how you go from 90%. Is that success? Or how do you measure success and progress in this? Sudhir Venkatesh:  When I first arrived at Facebook, Mark Zuckerberg had done something that I always that I didn't really understand. But now I come to marvel. And I think one of his genius is Is he really understands product. He understands product teams, he understands the product cycle, and some of his early lieutenants are just fantastic product work. One thing that he would do is to say 50% of your goals have to be really happy to be stretch goals. I mean, give me a roadmap for the next half. And I want to see that at least half of them are, you know, challenge yourself and he'd send it back. And he and his leadership team will just keep sending back when the product managers that this is what I'm going to work on, this is what we're doing. And it was a very bottoms up company. At that time, he just would force product teams to stretch. And he would not allow them to get up. I think that was a an extremely useful way to start. Because at the end of the day, you're going to compromise, right? That's what good product managers management is all about is finding a road that you can follow and, and working towards the end, the real challenge for me is that when you when you congratulate your show self for shipping the product and getting your bonus, do you know what your stretch goal originally was? And are you able to say how far short we were like can you simultaneously say we succeeded? And we failed. And if you can understand that my view genius is to be able to handle the inconsistency of you know, life in that way, at the same moment that you can succeed and fail at the same time you usually do. I think that makes for excellent leadership. But that's hard. If your bonus is riding on it, if your incentives for the team are riding on it if you're feel like your job is riding on it in the culture of the company doesn't permit that. I'm not saying that's easy to do. In fact, that's hard to do. Lily Smith:  See, it's been so fascinating talking to you, thank you so much for joining us on the podcast. Unknown:  Thank you for having me. It's a pleasure Lily Smith:  What a lovely man, there was so much we didn't cover but if you want him more from Cydia, I highly recommend his podcast sued it breaks the internet. Randy Silver:  It's available anywhere that podcasts are sold or distributed and you know, much like this one so like subscribe, leave a review. No one ever leaves a review, leave a review. We'll see you next week. Lily Smith:  Haste, me, Lily Smith and me Randy silver. Emily Tate is our producer. And Luke Smith is our editor. Randy Silver:  Our theme music is from humbard baseband power that's pa you thanks to Ana Kibler, who runs product tank and MTP engage in Hamburg and please based in the band for letting us use their music. Connect with your local product community via product tag or regular free meetups in over 200 cities worldwide. Lily Smith:  If there's not one Nagy you can consider starting one yourself. To find out more go to mind the product.com forward slash product tank. Randy Silver:  Product Tech is a global community of meetups driven by and for product people. We offer expert talks group discussion and a safe environment for product people to come together and share burnings and tips