Mind The Product 2018: Building products in the age of distrust, Ryan Freitas — Director of Product Design @Facebook
- For a few years, we have entered a new age of distrust of the products and industries because of the aggregation of power that the tech industry has gained in the economy.
- Working at Uber and then Facebook, Ryan Freitas advises us to apply the lessons that we have learned before it’s necessary. If we manage to build resilience within our teams, we can take criticism and avoid making decisions that could hurt people at the margins.
- Nothing gets any better unless principled people choose to work on the hardest problems.
Are we in fact doing the right thing?
For a few years, the certainty that product people were only doing good, has started to be questionable. Privacy, influence, user safety, data protection…The tone of the overall conversation shifted and we entered a new age of distrust and criticism of the products and industries.
Context: a pressurized environment
Ryan Freitas has worked at Uber and Facebook for the last 4 years. When he worked at Uber, some significant changes in the culture happened and it was hard to support the teams. Some people left or lost faith.
Then he joined Facebook before the presidential election thinking, hey, what could go wrong? Unfortunately he found himself in the same kind of pressurized environment, surrounded by people telling him « Don’t worry, it’s not like that every day! ». He often had questions and doubts about his mission at Facebook. Being told every day that you’re leading the world to a bad place is hard.
The problem is the aggregation of power that the tech industry has gained in the economy: building consequential things tends to have consequences.
The key is to distill the harder lessons into something useful, because there are so many options and so many useful products to build. Apply the lessons that you’ve learned, maybe before it’s necessary.
Because nothing gets any better unless principled people choose to work on the hardest problems.
9 lessons for product leaders
Build up personal resilience and focus on yourself. In order to do that, patience, fortitude and self care are essential. Ryan Freitas gives us a tool to test our decisions in the everyday life: answering the following questions will help us to be strong: what are we willing to sacrifice to achieve some goal? On what won’t we compromise?
I am willing to sacrifice <something I value> in order to help my team achieve <a definable goal>
Embrace and extend principled criticism. Ryan Freitas tells us: « My haters make some valid points », you have to listen to them because criticism makes you grow as a person.
Recognize that you are responsible for building an environment for people to do their best work. Take for example Sir Bobby Robson’s 11 commandments of football management.
As leaders we should be judged by our advocacy for the vulnerable and to people at the margins. Be humble.
Show care but understand that showing care is not an end in itself. You should read « Radical Candor » by Kim Scott .
Trust, but verify. Be sure to put your energy in the right direction.
Make it clear you expect your team to care for themselves and look out for each other. This will shift the responsibility not only to you but to everybody.
Recruiting and retention aren’t about ego, they are about efficiency. Recruiting demands clarity about why people should join your team. The narrative you are telling is key to recruiting: why do you need to recruit?
Look back, but don’t stare, because you will make mistakes. You can make as many mistakes as you want, but you need learn from them and lead the team forward.