I’ve been thinking and talking recently about whether “product” is the right word for what I do. I speak to many people like me (oddly, many of them with fine art degrees) who sit somewhere between design, technology and business and end up as “product people”. But “product” isn’t quite right and I thought this conference might help me work out why.

Martyn Evans Mind the Product 2015

After Agile on the Beach, I went into Mind the Product with a sense of relief that there was just a single track - oh the joy of just sitting and letting it all wash over me! Here is what I bathed in:

Jared Spool (@jmspool, http://www.uie.com/) got us off to a good start talking about the Kano model. It’s something I’m familiar with but it was fun to hear him run through how we need to meet customer expectations (we have no control over) whilst at the same time adding unexpected delight. Above all I appreciated his view of “innovation” (another tricky word that often describes the activities I get involved in) which should be seen as simply continuous and incremental improvement to move our customers towards a delightful and valuable experience.

Amanda Richardson (https://twitter.com/amandarich01) took it upon herself to tell the women in the room how they should behave if they want to be successful in product. Aside from some good advice which seemed non-gender specific (don’t fear failure but learn from it, use data to measure success) she seemed to be telling women to be ambitious, demanding and slightly obnoxious. I’ve come across people in my career who are all of those things - some of them are successful and some of them are women. I’ve also come across people of both genders who I consider successful but are none of those things.

Shiva Rajarman (https://twitter.com/shivar) encouraged us to take a few risks with our product without worrying too much about breaking things and to explore the whole system around and beyond our view of it including different cultural contexts and communities that form. It was entertaining and littered with great examples from Spotify and YouTube. Most useful for me was a reminder to build a platform not features - something I put at the heart of Unboxed’s internal product development programme.

Martina King (https://www.featurespace.co.uk/about-us/the-team/) told the room all about the importance of selling. It was awkward and old hat to most of the audience but it did raise the question for me. Is there a belief that if you put customers at the heart of your product and use a “scientific method” to set your course, the product will somehow sell itself? I don’t think anyone in the room would be that naive and I’m sure see selling as a an integral party of product development.

Nilan Peiris (https://twitter.com/nilanp) told us how TransferWise put people at the heart of their product strategy, creating a culture of devolved decision making around shared principles and values. This is also something we believe strongly in at Unboxed but Milan introduced a new concept for me. He spoke of “weak product ownership” whereby any product team is empowered to change other elements of the product that they don’t have direct responsibility for. This is really interesting and I’m sure we’ll hear more about it.

Dana Chisnell (https://twitter.com/danachis) revealed how the US Govenment is making drastic improvements by solving small problems using agile techniques. She used authentication as an example of a simple thing having a massive impact on people’s lives and how building digital services should not be like building battleships. We’ve heard this story for several years in the UK and there seemed to be an invitation for all those currently leaving GDS to go and help in the US.

Dave Coplin (https://twitter.com/dcoplin) gave a passionate and engaging performance with lots of gags and big themes. The “digital deluge” has a huge effect on human behaviour and it’s up to us to imagine how the world can actually be improved through (British) mindfulness, “transformative (critical and deep) thinking” and the use of data to predict the future.

Natalie Nahai (https://twitter.com/NathalieNahai) talked us through her top five tips on how to use psycholgical “triggers” such as “endowed progress” and “hedonistic adaptation” to exploit cognitive bias and engage and retain customers for our products but warned that between persuasive facilitation and manipulative coercion lies intent.

Finally Ken Norton (http://www.kennorton.com/) used the story of Kodak to illustrate how we should resist our natural risk aversion to take “big bets” and aim for 10x (that’s ten ex) rather than 10% returns. These are known as “moonshots” at Google. There were more examples of learning from failure, empowering people to do good work and rewarding bravery and creativity - all good stuff.

So what is it about the word “product” that doesn't quite work for me? I think it is perhaps the way it places too much emphasis on commerce and customers (as opposed to users) - we have to sell our product right? - rather than how we use technology to provide better services and actually improve people's lives - even sales people!