Please let your product passion endure

There is a natural continuum between an uncompromising idealism of a starry-eyed, first time founder, and a jaded cynicism of someone who has already found a winning formula and is prepared to apply it indiscriminately. I’ve seen an expression of both extremes of passion in my conversations with founders,  managers and product people, and I’ve seen it come across vicariously through the product itself.

What so often begins as a passion for a product and exceptional user experience turns into a passion for profit. I am struggling to express what, if anything, is particularly wrong with this tendency. After all, everyone needs to make a living, and passion alone cannot buoy every single product. It’s brutal out there, and when the money runs out, it has the inevitable effect of also smothering any passion to make something great.

But the converse is also true. I feel like far too many products and far too many judgements never leave the dollars and numbers dimension. There is almost a criminal lack of concern for the user experience or user value, and this comes across as wholly unjustified and offensive. The respect for the user is gone as soon as the product person starts saying things behind the user’s back that they wouldn’t say to their face.

It’s especially disconcerting when an attempt is made to make the business piece fit while the product vision hasn’t had a chance to take flight or even fully form. And I really wish there were fewer of those personally gut-wrenching moments when I see passion compromised for something not worth the paper that business model spreadsheet was printed on.

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2 responses to “Please let your product passion endure

  1. Do you get passionate about products? I get passionate about ideas, about what technology enables me and others to do, etc, but I rarely am passionate about the “product” piece of that.

    That’s just one vehicle for delivery of the idea, which is why it’s about numbers and spreadsheets. If you use the “product” method to deliver your idea or innovation, it comes with the dollars and cents equations.

    But don’t get passionate about products. Get passionate about ideas and what products enable!

    • Thanks for your comment, Greg.

      I *do* get passionate about products, and here is why.

      I only get passionate about ideas when I can envision in my mind’s eye how they would be embodied in a real product. I suppose I used to be more easily excited about raw ideas, but that was before I actually started building things myself and realized that ideas are dime a dozen. Seeing ideas from the maker’s point of view turns out to be really sobering. As you said, a product is really a vehicle, a container for bringing ideas to life. However, the more I work as a product manager, the more I realize that the container is often more important than the idea itself. If an idea cannot be contained, packaged, and delivered, I see it as something with little potential.

      Now, this pragmatic stance of mine definitely helps clear the set from truly farfetched and outlandish ideas. The downside is that some really big, non-obvious things also get swept away in the process. On one hand, that’s too bad. On the other, if an idea is so grand I can’t envision a vehicle for it, I wouldn’t want to spend many of my own cycles on it either. Chances are I am just not smart enough to grok it.

      Of course, the context for this post is ideas grounded in technology. I am not talking about things like democracy, equality and social justice (but nor would I be called upon to help make them happen, at least not professionally). I am definitely excited about them, but not in the same way as I am excited about the ideas I can actually “move the needle” on.

      This is probably more than you wanted to get back in response. :)

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