My guest in this episode is Teresa Torres, an internationally acclaimed author, speaker, and coach. She teaches a structured and sustainable approach to continuous discovery that helps product teams infuse their daily product decisions with customer input. She’s coached hundreds of teams at companies of all sizes, from early-stage start-ups to global enterprises, in a variety of industries. She has taught over 7,000 product people discovery skills through the Product Talk Academy. She’s the author of the book Continuous Discovery Habits and blogs at ProductTalk.org.
In this episode we talk about continuous discovery habits, why discovery is a team sport and not just the domain of design, and why product (and service) teams need to address the ethics of what they’re creating.
- Teresa’s blog - ProductTalk
- Teresa’s online courses
- Teresa on Twitter
- Teresa on Linkedin
- Teresa on YouTube
- Teresa’s Membership Community
- Suggestions? Feedback? Get in touch!
Note: This transcript is machine-generated and may contain some errors.
Andy Polaine 00:09
Welcome to Power of Ten, a podcast about design operating at many levels zooming out from thoughtful detail through to organisational transformation, head on to changes in society and the world. My name is Andy Polaine. I’m a service design and innovation consultant, coach, trainer and writer.
My guest today is Teresa Torres, an internationally acclaimed author, speaker and coach, she teaches a structured and sustainable approach to continuous discovery that helps product teams infuse their daily product decisions with customer input. She has coached hundreds of teams at companies of all sizes, from early stage startups to global enterprises in a variety of industries. She has taught over 7000 product people discovery skills through the products talk Academy. She’s the author of the book, continuous discovery habits and blogs at the product. talk.org. Teresa, welcome to power of 10
Teresa Torres 00:57
Andy, thanks for having me. I’m excited to be here.
Andy Polaine 01:00
So a lot of people know you. The 7000 people, at least. Your name at least comes up quite often in my work and my coaching people talk about, you know, this book, I’m interested in know people’s journeys from where they started to where they are now. Because partly, it’s you know, it’s always interesting. I think it’s also useful when people sort of see an author or they see someone who’s kind of well known speaker and so forth. It kind of feels unattainable. So I think it’s also useful to hear from people, you know, how did you get to where you are now?
Teresa Torres 01:28
Yeah, I’m going to start all the way back to college, because that’s really where this journey started. As an undergraduate at Stanford, I was a symbolic systems major, which is a cognitive science programme that draws from philosophy, psychology, linguistics, computer science. And so it’s this amazing interdisciplinary programme, ride to pick a concentration, my concentration was human centred design. And that was sort of where I got introduced to the design world. And this idea of include the customer in the design process, design with people, not just for people. And I, as a 22 year old entered the workforce thinking that’s how business worked. And then I spent the next 14 years is a full time employee severely disappointed. That wasn’t how business worked. And I’m pretty stubborn. So I just stubbornly tried to make business work that way. And so in my full time employee career, I worked as a front end software developer in my earliest days, because very few people were hiring designers at that point, I also did design work in those roles, eventually. So I kind of started as a front end software engineer, slash designer, and then eventually became a designer slash product manager, and then eventually moved into leadership roles. And I ran product and design teams, I was a CEO of a, somebody else’s startup, which I don’t really recommend, and then eventually decided that I just saw the same problem everywhere. And that’s that most product people, whether your product managers, designers, or software engineers, just weren’t spending enough time with our customers. And as a result, they’re building the wrong things. And so after I think my fourth really early stage startup, I just kind of got burnt out and started to look at, how can I be more effective than trying to change one little company at a time? And then that’s what led to my coaching business, which evolved over time into a course business, and eventually the book. So coming out,
Andy Polaine 03:17
you know, how long ago was it that you had that kind of moment of feeling? Disappointed?
Teresa Torres 03:23
I you know, it started as a 22 year old, I remember my very first job. The first company that I worked at was called highwire. Press, we put we were one of the earliest providers of STEM journals online. So today, the big dog in that space is Elsevier, and Elsevier owns their own journals. So there’s all these other journals that like science, nature, New England Journal of Medicine, JAMA, all these really big name journals. They didn’t have an internal organisation to bring their content online. So they partnered with highwire press. And so that was my very first job out of school. It was a classic client vendor shop, right there kind of a professional services shop. There was no product managers there, there were no designers. There’s one graphic designer there when I started. And there was a bunch of software engineers that were just like, we partnered with the American Association for the Advancement of Science, and our remit was put science online. And I was blown away, because what I saw over and over again, was we just said yes, to whatever the society is asked for. And there wasn’t a lot of product thinking. And I didn’t even know product thinking was a thing at the time. I just knew that we should care about their end users. And that wasn’t showing up anywhere in the process. It really was a classic. We still see this right? A company’s customers hire the company to basically do professional services for them, rather than this product mindset of we’re building a platform that allows us to bring journals online. And to be fair to highwire press. They did build a platform to bring journals online. They ended up publishing over I think 3000 journals, and they did build a really good product, but it was very client driven rather than sort market product driven. And I was blown away by that. I was like, wow, should we be talking to our end users? Isn’t that that’s what I just learned in school? Isn’t that how the world works? And then I saw that everywhere I went and was just kind of disappointed by it.
Andy Polaine 05:12
So the reason why I asked about the… when was that was kind of looking to work out sort of the era, I know, out to you sort of age wise. So when are we talking here? date wise?
Teresa Torres 05:22
late 90s, early 2000s? Yeah, sorry about that. So now that’s
Andy Polaine 05:26
okay. Because the whole sort of product thing that’s not that old, really thinking of sort of products, thinking, and we’re gonna have conversation probably about this in a minute. Because you know, from me, I kind of rant on about the services versus product thing. But, you know, it’s more recent, I would say, What would you say 1015 years can be mined? The product has been going since when? I would say it depends,
Teresa Torres 05:46
right. So I would say broadly, it’s become a topic that most people are talking about only in the last five years. Yeah. I would say some of the best companies, we can push back 15 years. Yeah. Okay. I mean, arguably, I would say this started beginning with the Agile Manifesto, which really was looking backwards, right, when, by the time the Agile Manifesto was written, it was looking at problems from the 90s. And maybe even before that, yeah. But the Agile Manifesto was like step zero, I’m not even sure that got us to product thinking, it just got us to talk to your customer a little more often.
Andy Polaine 06:23
You know, I think from a design perspective, I always had this kind of thing with the Agile Manifesto, which was, this is developers thinking in the way designers have always thought in terms of that kind of iterative approach, and all those kinds of things and rather having, you know, and actually so discovering what the problem is, before I even started building something that felt to me every kind of design approach. So it’s always kind of weird for me to see sort of agile, then be sort of pushed on to design because I felt like, oh, hang on, we’re already here. Yeah, the reason why I was asking you about the date thing is because I was thinking about this question, I think I can’t ask this is really offensive, which was kind of along the lines of what, you know, why does this book need to exist? And then I realised that the actual question is, because it’s really good your book. And I didn’t want to say that this offensive version is wider, the problems that you tackle in this book still exist, because as we’ve just talked about these problems, been around for a while. And there’s bit of me that kind of feels like, you know, we know this right, we know that you should go and speak to your customers and understand what their needs are. And then that should flow into how you’re deciding what you should be building. Why is this still a problem?
Teresa Torres 07:22
Because humans are involved, I think is the short of it. I mean, some of us know this, right? Like, I think people with a design background and trained in not, I can’t even say a design background, because I meet a lot of designers that don’t talk to customers, right? I think people with a human centred design background, where they were taught to include the customer, as part of the design process, get this. But if we widen our lens, and we look at companies, and we look at the history of business, and the evolution of business over the last 100 years, I don’t think this is obvious, right? If we go all the way back to the beginning of the 1900s, how we won at business was being more efficient, right? It was about building things faster. That has nothing to do with the customer that has to do with manufacturing and production, and sort of industrial age, winning at this sort of productivity piece. Yeah. By the time we get to the mid 1900s, we start to see a conversation around strategy and markets and your position in the in the market. Like it’s a little closer to being customer centric, but it’s not customer centric, like there’s nothing customer centric about Porter and his strategy framework Mintzberg. But another big strategy and gets a little bit closer when he talks about emergent strategy and listening to your market. But we’re still not really customer centric, even by the mid 1900s. And I think it really took the internet and the rapid pace of evolution, and the dramatic increase a competition for business to start, I don’t even think we fully recognised it to start recognising that really the biggest competitive differentiator is a better understanding of your customer. And I think we’re swimming upstream against 100 years of history, we still a lot, see a lot of companies stuck in Taylorism. And that sort of efficiency and productivity suck. I mean, a lot of companies still struggle with Porter, like a lot of companies still struggle with what in the world of strategy, let alone this next evolution of like, okay, we’re actually designing for somebody,
Andy Polaine 09:18
it seems like such a no brainer, though, doesn’t it to you go and speak to your customers and understand what they want, and then try and design products and services that meet those needs. I’ve had this conversation many, many times when you know, there’s a there’s a lot of frameworks out there. Some of them are kind of super complex. And what actually what I really liked about your books is very clear. And I particularly like the at the anti patterns, which I think was a very smart way of so for those of you haven’t read it, you should, but Well, maybe you want to describe what that the anti patterns are and sort of how you came to the anti patent. And we’ll start there.
Teresa Torres 09:51
Yeah, so fortunately, when I wrote this book, I had already been coaching using all of the material in the book for years. In fact, I tried to write the book in 2016 and I realised how do I know this content is going to work very well, I’m kind of developing it as I write the book, that felt very uncomfortable to me, I’m a very test and iterate kind of person. And so what I did was I started putting more of a formal curriculum behind my coaching so that I could test the content. And so where the antipatterns came from, basically, each chapter is about a habit that I want to see teams develop to help them build the strong feedback loop between the decisions they’re making and their customers. And then because I had worked with a lot of teams trying to put those habits into practice, I saw where they went off the rails. And so every chapter ends with some anti patterns, here’s some common things that people get wrong. And here’s why you should avoid them. I think that’s really important because it sounds really simple, like, oh, just go talk to your customers. And I really wish it was as simple as like, seriously, just go talk to your customers. But what we see in practice is that people ask the wrong questions, okay. They, they frame things in a way that they want their customers say great things about them, they don’t want their customer to criticise their babies, which is their beautiful, perfect ideas, right. And so there’s a little bit more nuance to this. And so one of my goals in the book was to help people overcome some of those mistakes so that hopefully, we get to a world where we just make better products.
Andy Polaine 11:08
Yeah, it’s interesting. There’s a piece I wrote about organisational amnesia and my sort of thesis in it was this idea that what it came from me being asked to have two to four years later to do exactly the same work with a client, different stakeholders, but the same business all over again. And I was thinking, you know, what’s going on here, there’s some kind of amnesia, and of course, what happens is that people get frustrated by the organisation they’re in, and the organisation doesn’t, you know, wants to change and tread digital transformation, whatever it is, but then they, the entire sort of infrastructure of the organisation structurally gets in the way of that and people leave, or people or senior stakeholders move on. And then this has come back around again. And one of the kind of things I’ve talked about was this idea of subcultures of doing, and actually about habits, which was, you know, like, like languages or craft skills, if they’re not valued, and people stop doing them, they just kind of die out. And that’s how I felt that you sort of get this amnesia in organisations. So for me, the anti patterns were really good sort of canaries in the coal mine in some respects and say, you know, if you’re seeing these things going on, then you’re starting to kind of slip back into the kind of bad old habits, but they’re also I thought, were really good examples of what not to do, because I think most of you know, many books you read, tell you the kind of utopian ideal, and it’s not really like that.
Teresa Torres 12:20
Yeah, I think for me, it was really important that the book be grounded in practice. Yeah, right. So I think we have plenty of books that talk about why we should be human centred, and why we should be customer centric, like we’ve had those books, like you said, Why is this still a problem in business? We’ve had those books for decades. I don’t think people know how to translate that into action. So one of my goals with the book was to help people literally translated into action. And one of the things I’m most proud of is I do hear from teams all the time that say it’s literally sitting on their desk as a reference, which is great, because that’s that was the vision I started with, is how do I create a handbook that can act as a reference for product teams?
Andy Polaine 12:57
Yeah, it’s very good on that front. And I’ve been interesting, I’ve been reading your book, and Melissa’s the bill trap. I mean, this appears to be a trap, sort of in in tandem, and then sort of recommending it to kind of everyone at the moment, you know, and I think it’s because they’re both very practical. And there’s a comedy in some respects from from different ends, or I guess Melissa’s is looking at the CPO are the kind of product manager and you’re looking at kind of what could teams be doing? More or less? Is that fair to say? Or do you? Yeah, yeah,
Teresa Torres 13:26
I think Melissa does a phenomenal job of sort of getting into the day to day nuts and bolts of the messiness of being a product manager. It’s like one of the most undefined roles ever. And I almost look at it as like, that’s your, for a product manager, that’s your foundation. But a giant chunk of your job is to learn how to cross functionally collaborate with your team, so that you’re making better decisions about what to build. And that’s where I see my book fits in.
Andy Polaine 13:50
Yeah, absolutely. So when I said we’d sort of maybe returned to the product service thing. on Slack, you see me kind of bang on about this, it’s my kind of hobbyhorse, one of the things that I kind of feel is, you know, we’re talking about the industrial age thing, we’re talking about how that’s kind of flown into business, even today, even in the kind of world we’re in was all about kind of treating their business as a machine and being this kind of ever more efficient. And then once you’ve kind of hit there, and then sort of parity across competitors, it’s then, you know, went to all about marketing. And now we’re in this different stage. You know, one of the arguments I often make, and I guess I’m saying it too, because I want I want you to kind of poke holes in it really, is that from a perspective of services or thinking of, you know, the shift that we’ve made from products to services that almost every digital product is actually really a service, right? It’s more it’s got multiple touch points. It’s an ecosystem. And that one of the dangers I find in using the language around products, it harks back to that kind of industrial era, kind of mental model, which is, you know, an assembly line where you’re building products. And so you see that thing where you have, you know, feature teams working on different parts of the same touch point, which itself is one touch point in a kind of larger ecosystem. And then There seems to be an awful lot of, because it’s kind of thought of that way, there’s an awful lot of work going on to try and kind of connect that all back up again. And yet you could have kind of started with that connected view in the first place, which is these are services. You talked about platforms before, I wonder what your kind of view is, is of that, and whether I’m just kind of saying, you know, get off my lawn, or whether there’s, you know, I just be interested in your kind of opinion on on that kind of perspective,
Teresa Torres 15:24
I think the idea of like product thinking versus service thinking, I think, in a lot of ways, like I get the argument for why services gets you to think, broader than just the product, which I think is really good. I think the challenge is most companies don’t think they’re creating services. And there’s some baggage with that, right? Yeah, talk about professional services, companies that don’t scale in the same way that product companies do. So I think conceptually, the idea of service design is looking at all the touch points with the customer, the whole ecosystem, I think all of that is spot on. To me, it feels a little bit like the same way I feel about the jobs to be done language, it’s really hard language for people to adopt. People understand they’re building products, I actually like that product thinking is now becoming a part of the vernacular. Because I think we can grow product thinking to mean all of that. I think one of the challenges with the product thinking language is that we tend to think it’s what product managers do. Whereas I think product managers, designers, software engineers, anybody involved in building a digital product is part of product thinking. I’m not convinced service design is the right words, I think it brings up too much of this professional services. It’s a little too foreign for a lot of companies. Yeah, but think about it as we make products. That’s
Andy Polaine 16:39
fair enough. I’ve lost count and amount of times to try and explain it. And in fact, we you know, the way the best way to explain it is either by an example or to work backwards and talk about the outcomes, you know, and then go back to that ecosystem view.
Teresa Torres 16:51
I think it’s really important that we not get caught up in the language. I’m not suggesting language doesn’t matter. I have a linguistics, background language definitely matters. But it’s really easy to get into these, like pedantic arguments about is it like I remember late 90s, early 2000s, it was about little D design in Big D design and information market. Like it’s nobody cares for us. Right. And I feel like this distinction a little bit falls there. Like I saw today, somebody pushed back on how I was defining discovery, because they defined discovery as starting with an idea. And I defined discovery as starting with a customer. And maybe historically discovery started with an idea. But I don’t think that’s true. I think Marty Kagan popularised discovery. And he defined it the term itself, and he defined it as how we make decisions about what we build. And I think we should include the the customer, and the problem space, in how we make decisions about what to build. But here’s the deal, I kind of wanted to respond. And I didn’t, because I don’t want to have those pedantic arguments like language evolves, right. Like, I think what’s really important is that we match our language to what our customers are using. This is part of that customer centric thing. Like why are we teaching them all new language?
Andy Polaine 18:01
Well, sorry, who are the customers in this? Are you talking about our clients? as consultants? Are you talking about their end customers?
Teresa Torres 18:09
Well, if like, as an industry people are, are starting to adopt this product language, and that’s what’s organically happening. I don’t think that we should be swimming upstream against that big saying, No, this is the proper language for it. Right? Yeah, it’s,
Andy Polaine 18:22
it’s not so much for me, it’s not so much the word, I’ve just written a piece about this, I’m gonna kind of send out in a day or two, as for part of my newsletter, it’s, it’s more about, you know, there’s this famous phrase by Rabbi who said, you know, words create worlds. Yeah. And this, this idea of kind of, you know, the language you use, really does make a difference. And it includes an exclusion, if you think of, you know, illegally immigrant versus asylum seeker, right, or, you know, all of those kinds of things, you know, boy or girl, and what if, what if I’m neither, right, and all of those kinds of things, you know, it’s, it’s, it’s important. And we see, you know, right now, we see how there’s a real push to kind of shift language, because language does set kind of mindsets. And hence, sort of my thinking about this is, you know, how much are we you creating a problem through the language that you then actually try to undo through the process lens, and, you know, like, the some of the stuff you’re working on, you know, whereas if we’d started from a different kind of place, and I don’t really mean in terms of disciplines and stuff, I’m the same with you. I think, you know, everyone is designing, if you’re designing products that are part of an ecosystem for me, you’re in the business of designing services, right? Yeah. And the same goes in the other direction.
Teresa Torres 19:30
So I think this is part of that argument of language evolves. Like I think language should evolve, and we should introduce new terms to help people grasp new concepts. I think the key is that the new terms have to be close to what is under like, in order for people to adopt them, and for it to expand thinking they have to be close to what they know today. Right. So that I think discovery and delivery is a really great example of this. Yeah, it was not a big reach for people to go from product to this product is Every product delivery, like that was adjacent to what they were already familiar with. And I think it’s right, why they’re taking hold. Yeah. Whereas I think some people take it too far. And they try to introduce this whole new term. But in fact, I feel like I’m responsible for popularising opportunities. I didn’t create that word, it was already out there and existing. And I kind of wish I hadn’t popularised it, because I think it is a little too different. I think I could have used customer needs, right? I was trying to get away from problem because we do more than solve problems. But that’s fine. It’s out there. People are becoming more comfortable with it. But I recognise it’s jargon that creates a barrier. And I don’t, I don’t want to be a part of that. I want to stay as close to the vernacular people are already using, and then try to introduce language that expands that thinking
Andy Polaine 20:44
not yet around. So Well, let’s talk about opportunities, actually, because, you know, I think this is one of the your opportunity tree is probably the one of the things you’re, you know, well known for. But the idea of not just kind of going off on all, you know, in all directions, and actually evaluating opportunities, rather than just kind of need. I think there is a bit of a difference between those two. And what do you think it is?
Teresa Torres 21:08
Yeah, so I do like the term opportunity, I will say that I do think it’s a good term, I like that it’s slowly getting traction. So I didn’t make up this word. I feel like it was already being used in the industry, but it was being used by designers. And I think the reason why it was introduced was that we used to talk about the problem space in the solution space, we see lots of products that don’t solve problems. The examples that I always give is I really like ice cream, it probably creates more problems than it solves for me. But it is a viable product. Right. So how do we represent that in this concept of the problem space? So I started to think about like, oh, across a wide variety of products, what are they doing, they’re addressing needs, they’re reducing pain points, they’re addressing desires. So ice cream kind of falls into that desire category, like I want something that tastes delicious, some things that tastes delicious, solve problems. For me, they provide nutrients, other things that salt that address that desire, create problems, so I can’t really put them in the problem category. People really understand this problem, space solution space distinction. I mean, it’s a little challenging, but they can wrap their head around it, thinking about the opportunity space versus the solution, space is a little bit of a harder jump. But I think it’s an important one. So this is one where I’m happy that people are starting to embrace it. Because I think what I see is most people jump straight to a solution. And we even see this like the Lean Startup, fantastic book, but it really starts with an idea. Yeah. Whereas I think good teams don’t start with an idea. They start with a customer. And they start with an understanding of the opportunity space.
Andy Polaine 22:35
I agree. I think that’s kind of idea. I, you know, I think maybe it’s partly designer training, actually, I think, which is, oh, here’s a problem, I’ve got an idea how to solve that, you know, literally if you if you are one or you live with a designer, you will know that’s kind of the really irritating people to walk around with, because it constantly kind of like that could be like that. And once I’ve done this, and whereas Yeah, I agree opportunity space kind of makes it broader in your sort of framing of it. And it I think it’s sort of slows down the the jump to, you know, solution talking, which, you know, talking of slowing down, you know, part of what you’re doing on another part of what you talk about a few times in the book is that, you know, I want to slow you down in this bit. Even if it’s just for a little Tell me a little bit about why you think that’s necessary,
Teresa Torres 23:17
mostly because of cognitive biases. So a lot of what I like to do in the book is design frameworks or tools or activities, to help you see your own thinking. A big theme throughout the book is to externalise your thinking so that you can then see and examine it. This is really at the heart of critical thinking, right? So a good critical thinker, takes the time to evaluate. So I have this belief, what led to that belief. So what were the precedents that led to that belief, and equally important, what are the consequences of this belief? Right? That’s what a good critical thinker does is they understand all the inferences that led to that belief and the following inferences that result in consequences. We don’t get trained in this, right? Like, I never took a class that taught me, hey, to be a good critical thinker. You need to examine what led to your beliefs and then examine the consequences. I learned this from reading John Dewey’s really hard book, how we think, but it’s phenomenal. Like when you think about it, like that makes sense. Okay, so then if you have a basic understanding of cognitive biases, our brains make really fast inferences. And sometimes those fast inferences are wrong because of cognitive biases. So what I like to see teams do is if you can externalise your thinking and start to externalise, those precepts, and then those subsequent consequences, you can catch those mistakes. And I think this is particularly true for product people, because it’s easy to fall in love with an idea. And our brain is making a fast inference from either an outcome or a customer problem, all the way to a solution. And we’re not really examining does that actually solve that problem? More importantly, was that the right problem to be solving? Is it going to impact our outcome and create value for our business? So a lot of it is just how do we get people to slow down externalise that Thinking. And then I really want to do it in a way without you having to know that that’s critical thinking, or that the cognitive biases, right? Because most people don’t really want to geek out on critical thinking or cognitive biases, like maybe at a surface level,
Andy Polaine 25:14
unfortunately, yeah, the world would be a bit better. So if we did, I tried
Teresa Torres 25:18
to ground it into the work that we have to do, right. Like, just if just follow these methods, it’ll help you overcome biases.
Andy Polaine 25:23
You know, it’s one of the biggest challenges. I think that teams face right? Which is this this pressure for velocity. And quite often, I’ll ask, you know, why does it have to be done so fast? And why can’t you take another week? And there is no real answer. It’s just that they’re taught to me and and some of it ripples up to being a VC funded startup. But some of these aren’t startups. But sometimes it’s just defacto faster is better. And it does feel like there’s this real need to at least slow down in the beginning. So you’re running in the right direction later, you know, because if you run in, if you sprint in the wrong direction you set and you quickly enough in the wrong place.
Teresa Torres 25:56
Yeah, I think some of this harkens back to this, these ideas of the industrial age, faster is better, right? And we see that show up in feature factories, we have teams that are just this is the whole idea of Melissa’s book is avoiding this build trap. Yeah, teams think about more output is better. That’s a manufacturing mindset. And that’s true if you already have a widget that you know, people want to buy, and more widgets mean more revenue. But in a digital product world more features does not mean more revenue. And so that’s, it’s a little bit of we got to break this culture of more is better.
Andy Polaine 26:30
Yeah, yeah. I mean, you end up with word from kind of like 1999, or whenever it was, where there was just so many palettes and features, you know, when I think of kind of physical products that I think some of the best products that we know of, and the products, the physical products that people kind of love they’ve had, like so much stripped away, and actually sort of taking stuff away, seems to be something that is very hard for product teams to kind of get their heads around and where we’ve been talking so far about kind of what should we do be doing and in some respects, what you should be adding? What about taking stuff away? What should we remove?
Teresa Torres 27:04
Yeah, I actually like to describe this in the context of the opportunity space. So like, let’s take the alarm clock. This is a classic example. Yeah, where a call arm clocks just got so complicated over time, because we added more and more features. If we think about this, in the opportunity space, we have a lot of needs, like really, the primary need of an alarm clock is I need to wake up on time, right. But we added additional needs, like I would like to wake up to something more pleasant than a beep. And I would like to know what time it is. And I would like to have a white noise machine to help me fall asleep. And I would like to. And so we’ve identified there’s all these sorts of needs, that sort of grew around alarm clocks. And as alarm clock started addressing all those adjacent needs, the core need of I need to wake up on time got diluted. And so what happens is, we partially solved a lot of opportunities, but we didn’t fully solve any of them. And I think the best products limit the number of opportunities they solve, and they fully address them. And this is partly why I want to see teams map out the opportunity space, and not move on to the next opportunity until they fully addressed a small opportunity. Because I I personally believe you’ll build a way better product if you fully address a smaller set of opportunities than if you partially address a big set of opportunities. The problem with that mindset is that how people buy things is different from how people use things. And in the purchase decision, they want to see all those features. But when they’re actually using it, all of those features actually interfere. And so until we start to figure out how to bridge that sort of marketing versus using gap, this is gonna be a problem.
Andy Polaine 28:43
I was gonna say that’s kind of a byproduct of marketing. And I think that’s how I mentioned Microsoft Word, you know, but quite a lot of things. Equally, I could point at Adobe as well was ematic, which is, you know, slightly marketing team, like, what new stuff have we got this year that we can market, then that’s what they get caught in that cycle. And you can’t say we’ve taken this thing away, the only company that I are the only thing I can think of where a company did that and it wasn’t painless, was when Apple kind of rebuilt the iWork suite. And they can have stripped it kind of right back and then kind of gradually started adding stuff in. But there was a lot that kind of went away. I mean,
Teresa Torres 29:17
I would love to see marketing teams also become customer centric. Right now. They’re very, they’re very product centric, right? They talk about what we built, I would love to see them shift to here’s the success our customers had with this product. Right? That I think is the is when marketing will shift away from this feature factory mindset.
Andy Polaine 29:36
But let’s talk about outcomes over outputs. Sure. What’s the difference?
Teresa Torres 29:39
Yeah, so again, this is really grounded in that feature factory Industrial Age mindset, right? Where we’ve historically as teams, produce all these outputs build these things. And what we’re starting to recognise us mostly because of the pace of change in the world, is that we can’t predict right now what we should build three months from now six months from now, nine months from now, and actually I think this is the silver lining of, of going through a global pandemic, is if you started January 2020, with a fixed roadmap, it probably changed by March of 2020. Right? So we’re recognising is okay, if we can’t predict the future because everything changes. So quickly. Let’s take a step back and say, Why are we building these outputs? What’s the impact we expect these outputs to have? How are we measuring that impact, and that gets us to an outcome. And then that allows us to say, it’s not about building these outputs. It’s about having this impact measured by this outcome. So let’s just start with the outcome and iterate our way through to figuring out how to reach that outcome that allows us to react and be adaptable to change, it allows us to test an experiment, it gets us away from building too much and more about how do we build the least amount of stuff that has the impact we need,
Andy Polaine 30:51
which is also an advantage of starting with that idea of opportunities, right? Because needs to features seem to be a kind of seemed like a kind of one to one, quite often, I think, whereas opportunities kind of force you to focus somewhat as well. So you’ve been coaching for a very long time. And the book has grown out of the coaching. But you know, coaching itself is a voyage of continuous discovery. So now having published the book, and we’ve probably had quite a feedback on it by now as well. What are the bits that you you know, after the the print deadline you wish on now? I’d like to put that in? Yeah, because things change fast, right?
Teresa Torres 31:24
Yeah. So there’s some little things like I, one of the things I tried to do in the book was there’s a million ways to test assumptions. And I see teams really rapidly get overwhelmed by that. So I’ve tried to distil it to like, here’s some easy tactics, there’s three in the book, I’ve already added a fourth. So I actually probably will put out a revision to that chapter. And what’s great about self publishing is I can release that revision whenever I want. And it doesn’t have to be a full on second edition. Yeah. Um, so that’s like a really short term tweak that I probably will make in the next month or two longer term, the big gap that I see in the book is that I really wish that I had dive deeper into ethical assumptions. So there’s a whole chapter on how do you identify the assumptions that your ideas are based upon? Yeah, I did introduce ethical assumptions as a category. And I framed it as you know, what data are you collecting? How are you using it? Who are you selling it to? How are you storing it? We see this show up a lot in data breaches and companies asking for way more information than they actually need. And then I also framed it as sort of social equity and inclusivity issues. And that second category has blown up, we see a lot of teams talking about, again, thanks to 2020. How do we do that? Like, how do we be more inclusive in the way that we build products, and I wrote the book throughout 2020. And that’s been a topic I’ve been thinking about for a long time. But I really want to dive deeper. I think teams are hungry and eager to do that. They just don’t know how that probably won’t be a revision on the book. That will probably be it’s, I don’t know if it’ll be a whole second book. Or if it’ll be a workbook that complements this book. It’s too early for me to tell. But I’m definitely diving deeper on how can teams surface ethical assumptions that will help their products be more inclusive and help us not replicate? The inequities we see in our societies and the products that we’re building?
Andy Polaine 33:09
Yeah, I don’t know if you know Sara Sara Wachter-Boettcher’s [Note: I got Sara’s surname the wrong way around in the recording] book, Technically Wrong. And she sort of goes into this quite a little
Teresa Torres 33:22
Andy Polaine 33:22
Oh, you should definitely read it.
Teresa Torres 33:22
Andy Polaine 33:31
And, you know, an upcoming, which she published a couple of couple of years ago was just sort of pre I think it was just before Facebook, you know, whole Cambridge Analytica scandal kind of broke with Facebook. And then, you know, since then, it seems like this of tech industry has been unravelling in that respect in that regard, quite a lot. And I would argue, it’s very, very hard to think about because ethics difficult, right? Ethics is tangly and messy, and there are no right answers. And I think designers sometimes come at it as a bit of normal, we’re doing the wrong or the right thing. But often, it’s incredibly contextual, as the you know, as the age or trolley car kind of problem demonstrates. And it takes some thinking through it. And not only that, it takes a dedicated team of people to try and kind of nefariously break, you know, to read team, something’s really kind of nefariously kind of try and bend and break and think, how would someone abused this product? How would someone use it completely differently to how we think and you know, and it’s my favourite thing to do to my poor students is to kind of do that with IT service concepts, but it’s really, really valuable. It sort of runs counter in a way I think it has, up until now been connected to this problem of philosophy, because you’re going really fast, you sort of don’t realise it’s cognitive biases, where you don’t give enough time to think about these things, you know, and with data is perhaps also equivalent to the speed thing that you know, more speed or faster is good and more data is is always better was generally the kind of mantra now we’re seeing that kind of unravels. It’s very hard to undo it after the fact once you’ve captured a load of data. And you’ve kind of positioned in some cases, your business model around that. It’s very, very hard to walk that backwards and expecting that some organisations will probably fall over as a result.
Teresa Torres 35:00
Yeah, I don’t. Okay. So I don’t think it’s possible that a product team can foresee all of the unintended consequences of how their product will be used. I just don’t think that’s possible.
Andy Polaine 35:10
No, but there are unintended for a reason, right?
Teresa Torres 35:12
We can do more than we’re doing now.
Andy Polaine 35:14
Teresa Torres 35:14
Right. So like you said, we can have red teams that sort of try to beat this up. I think more importantly, we are making implicit decisions about who we’re going to serve, no product can serve everybody equally well. And I think the challenge right now is a lot of those decisions are implicit instead of explicit. And so we get things like medical devices that work for people that have fair skin and not for people with darker skin. I don’t think that was an intended racist consequence. But the outcome is racist. Right? And so how do we ask better questions, so we just reduce the times that happens? I don’t know that we can get it to zero. But I do think it’s our responsibility to ask better questions so that we catch more of those instances.
Andy Polaine 35:57
I completely agree. I think that unintended consequences are, by definition, unintended, but I think you can have some sense of least thinking through how might this, how might this be used wrongly, you can never catch every case, but the effort to at least do so it feels to me like it should be a fundamental part. Because to go that sort of, sort of square this around the square the circle to kind of round back to the beginning, if you were talking about physical products, there are things that you know, you did some of these things, you wouldn’t be allowed on market, because you’d know, they’re kind of dangerous, you know, there’s got some bear wiring in it, or it’s got sharp corners that people cut themselves into, it feels to me, it’s like at that level of kind of basic duty of care, that kind of doesn’t happen, partly because I think in the digital world, it’s, it’s so ephemeral, if you’re an IF slide, or as you’re saying about your book, well, we can kind of fix it afterwards. But you know, then it mounts up and you get, like, maybe it’s ethical debt that kind of builds up over time, you know, because you It’s one small thing you think it doesn’t really matter doesn’t really matter. And then they, you know, aggregate to something that really does matter.
I think this is a really important piece. So we can’t always foresee all the unintended consequences. But when we start to get evidence of the unintended consequences, we can be a lot quicker to act on them. So you brought up Cambridge analytics. That was, what, five years ago?
Andy Polaine 37:21
Yeah, something like that yep.
Right. So it’s five years later, what is Facebook done, okay, they did a couple things they shut they, they, they limited how much data goes to third parties, but they’re still letting companies abuse that data through their advertising programme on their platform. And I actually like Facebook advertising, I think they’ve built a really unique advertising product that has a lot of power that helps empower small businesses and gives them a platform to compete with big businesses. So I don’t think that all of Facebook is evil. But I do think that they have more responsibility than they’re acting on right now. And that they didn’t learn the lessons of Cambridge analytics not fully, and that they do have more responsibility to curb some of this unintended consequences that is clearly emerging on their platform. Yeah, and they’ve been really slow to act. And we see this across the industry, Amazon has a lot of the same problems, we see that they have unintended consequences of counterfeit products, and they’ve been aware of it for years. And it’s still a problem, and it’s still there. But I don’t think there’s easy answers here. Right? Like, I don’t know what the solutions are. But we certainly can be doing more.
Andy Polaine 38:28
But this is what I mean by this ethical debt idea, you know, which is, it’s very, very hard. Once you got to that scale, it’s very, very hard to kind of then unpick it, you know, and that there was a thing recently where I can’t remember it was but someone from Facebook said, you know, we’ve got the largest amount of the other content moderators or something like that in the world working at organisation to take away take off this information. But you know, they’ve got an even larger, aka the rest of the company group of people who’s where the business model is really predicated on on the opposite direction, and then it’s impossible for that group of moderators to really do anything about it. And it’s it comes back to this idea that, you know, everyone is designing this can’t just have kind of have one group of people in the corner trying to kind of fix the ethics whilst the rest of the companies is doing the opposite. And you just see it over and over and over in, in different industries. You know, we’re coming up to time, I feel like this is something we can talk about, for a very long time. The very least I think there’s something there that is important a message which is to take the time to study your thinking and actually do some critical thinking before you touch any kind of design work at all. Seems like a good kind of place to end that. Listen, people can be coached by you. People can obviously read your stuff. They can also do your classes and courses online. Where do people find you online?
Teresa Torres 39:39
Yeah, so the first thing is the book is called Continuous Discovery Habits. A lot of designers in particular because I know you have a big designer audience, ask me how is discovery different from design? Discovery obviously draws a tonne from the design world. Here’s the key difference. Discovery is a team sport. And a designer should not be going off on their own being Voice of the Customer and bring it back to the team. And the reason for that is it’s hard to truly cross functionally collaborate. When one person is the voice of the customer. That’s a trump card. Right? So we really want it to be a team activity. So for designers listening, I really encourage you to read the book, I’m sure there’s things that you can take from it. And really help be an advocate for the team mindset in your organisation. There’s a couple other resources I’ll share. Along with the book, we did launch a membership community, where people can connect with like minded peers, ask questions, get feedback, we do mini coaching sessions, we do community calls, it’s super fun. You can learn about that at members product talk.org. And then we do have a variety of online courses that help you develop skill in each of the habits. So we have a course on interviewing, we have a course on defining outcomes, we have a course on opportunity mapping, you can learn about those at Learn dot product talk.org. And if that’s too many URLs, you can just go to producttalk.org and you’ll find all of it there.
Andy Polaine 40:53
I’ll put them all in the show notes anyway. And one of the things I always ask every guest at the end, because the podcast is named after the round Charles Eames film called Powers of Ten, which is all about the sort of relative size of things in the universe. And I’m always interested to hear what one small thing people think, either has already kind of changed the world, and people don’t know about it, or would change the world and have a huge impact if only we did something about it.
Teresa Torres 41:15
Oh, that’s a big question. You know, I really think that we are just at the beginning of understanding what it means to be a customer centric business. I think in our business culture, we’re still hyper focused on shareholder value on profit. I do personally believe a business needs to have a profit, that’s what’s going to earn you the right to serve your customer over time. But we need to elevate serving a customer at the same level. And it’s not a new idea. Peter Drucker talked about this, but we’re not living it today. And it’s such a simple idea. But I do think it would radically change the world we live in. And I think it would dramatically decrease things like income inequality, I think work would be a much more civil place. I think people would be excited to show up and go to work every day instead of experiencing burnout. So even though it’s seems obvious to you and I, I do think it’s a it’s a small idea that has a huge impact.
Andy Polaine 42:09
That’s a fantastic way to end. Teresa thanks so much for being my guest on Power of Ten.
Teresa Torres 42:14
Thanks so much for having me.
Andy Polaine 42:17
As I’m sure you’re aware, you’ve been listening to Power of Ten. My name is Andy Polaine. You can find me at @apolaine on Twitter, or polaine.com where you can find more episodes and sign up for my newsletter Doctor’s Note. If you like the show, please take a moment to give it a rating on iTunes. It really helps others find us. And as always get in touch. If you have any comments, feedback or suggestions for guests. All the links are in the show notes. Thanks for listening and see you next time.