Product Thinking

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I have a new job!  Still with Mozilla, still doing a lot of what I’ve done in the past, just hopefully more/better/faster.  The group I’m joining has a great culture of active blogging, so I’m hoping the peer pressure there will help me blog more often.

What’s the gig you ask? My new focus is to help the Mozilla Foundation make our products as adoptable as possible.

MoFo (as we affectionately call that part of the Mozilla organization) has a few main ways in which we’re hoping to change the world — some of those are programs, like Open News and the Science Lab, some are products. In a program, the change we’re hoping to effect happens by connecting brains together, either through fellowship programs, events, conferences, things like that. That work is the stuff of movement-building, and it’s fascinating to watch my very skilled colleagues at work — there is a distinctive talent required to attract autonomous humans to a project, get them excited about both what you’re doing and what they could do, and empowering them to help themselves and others.

Alongside these programmatic approaches, MoFo has for a while been building software whose use is itself impactful.  Just like getting people to use Firefox was critical to opening up the web, we believe that using products like the Webmaker tools or BadgeKit will have direct impact and help create the internet the world needs.

And that’s where I come in!  Over the last few years, various smart people have kept labeling me a “product person”, and I’ve only recently started to understand what they meant, and that indeed, they are right — “product” (although the word is loaded with problematic connotations) is central for me.

I’ll write a lot more about that over the coming months, but the short version is that I am particularly fascinated by the process that converts an idea or a pile of code into something that intelligent humans choose to use and love to use.  That translation to me is attractive because it requires a variety of types of thinking: business modeling, design, consumer psychology, and creative application of technology.  It is also compelling to me in three other aspects: it is subversive, it is humane, and it is required for impact.

It is subversive because I think if we do things right, we use the insights from billions of dollars worth of work by “greedy, evil, capitalist corporations” who have figured out how to get “eyeballs” to drive profit and repurpose those techniques for public benefit — to make it easy for people to learn what they want to learn, to allow people to connect with each other, to amplify the positive that emerges when people create.  It is humane because I have never seen a great product emerge from teams that treat people as hyper-specialized workers, without recognizing the power of complex brains who are allowed to work creatively together.  And it is required for impact because software in a repo or an idea in a notebook can be beautiful, but is inert.  To get code or an idea to change the world, we need multitudes to use it; and the best way I know to get people to use software is to apply product thinking, and make something people love.

I am thrilled to say that I have as much to learn as I have to teach, and I hope to do much of both in public.  I know I’ll learn a lot from my colleagues, but I’m hoping I’ll also get to learn on this blog.

I’m looking forward to this new phase, it fits my brain.

2 thoughts on “Product Thinking

  1. Congrats David. As concerns of privacy and security grow I’m looking forward to see where product development goes at places like Mozilla Foundation. I can’t help but feel Mozilla is in a unique position to solve problems that can’t be done at corporations due to trust, and won’t be done as open source side projects due to scale.

    It’s been sour grapes seeing Mozilla’s privacy/security concerns vindicated in recent years. On one hand, it would have been better if Mozilla was wrong to be paranoid, on the other, we must be thankful we have Mozilla Foundation in our corner.

    All the best with the new position. I look forward to seeing where things go. You are a great fit for the role.

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