It takes a pretty strong sense of character and self to be able to listen. In my experience, one has to go through quite a few tests of will and tests of community to know that the radar should always be pointed out, trying to take in the feed of other people’s wants and wishes.
In Startup Land — this weekend it’s at Microsoft SVC in Mountain View — I see this activity and sense of culture writ large. Teams everywhere tonight are testing their ideas, and asking feedback from other teams. Mobile devs are talking to Gamers and Robot people are playing with robots in front of mobile people.
We’re at the stage where all the devs and designers and everyone are all mixing in one room and giving feedback. It’s tough, because with less than 20 hours to go, the last thing a team wants to do is take their heads up and listen to someone else.
Assumptions Make Great Thought Bubbles, But They Are Better Off Dead
I keep thinking of developing with empathy. Putting yourself in someone else’s shoes, but differently. It’s not about assuming you know what another person is feeling because you think you are feeling what they are sensing.
It’s a more active development process. You are actively developing a customer in line with your product. It’s like a really great first date, one of those dates that goes beyond the superficial chomping on lettuce and nodding while your date tells you about that really cool time they met the lead singer from Green Day.
If you are building a product and you need customer input, they are not always going to tell you what you want to hear. And the proposition is kind of a scary one, because when you are developing a product and asking for feedback you are marrying the shaping of the product with the question. You are creating a marriage, or a partnership between your product and the people who will use it. You want it to be right.
It’s Not About You, It’s About Us
Which brings me to an interesting conversation I had with a team of PR people, all women, who talked to me about dating. One of them told me that when her brother and his wife face a problem in their marriage, they have to look at the marriage like it’s this third entity.
That’s your product. When you are talking with a consumer and getting feedback, the product is held in isolation, in a creative space. What can be done? What is it not doing right? Where can we take it? It’s not about you, or your failure. It’s about US. You and the consumer. The product is your marriage.
That’s why I am thinking it’s best to practice active empathy. To not only put yourself in someone’s shoes by imagining them. Put yourself in their shoes by asking them to try on the shoes. Ask really really deep questions. Get to the freakin’ core.
If you watch relationships in the movies, they never show you the four years after the marriage or the romance. That’s because that part is not easy. It’s not fun. It is sometimes hard as hell. But if you want that product to work, feel free to feel defeat. But keep breathing.
As long as you can breathe, you can ask a question.