Empathy is the most valuable product skill
• It’s vital for correct product decisions
• It’s useful at all granularities: from strategy to UI copy
• It’s crucial in execution too: project mgmt, sales..
Empathy in action feels like magic. Like magic, it can be learned
To build greater empathy:
• Understand how people think
• Understand how organizations operate
To do that:
• Learn the basics of psychology, behavioral economics, & cognitive biases
• Be an objective & keen observer of org situations
• Spend time with customers
When spending time with customers:
• Prioritize quality of insight over quantity of facts
• Ask more “why” questions than “what”/”how” questions
• Ask them how they’d react to certain scenarios, then ask them why
And then use the “whys” to form a better product hypothesis.
Now, the greatest impediment to building world-class empathy isn’t this knowledge or these tactics.
It’s our selves.
People often can’t get themselves to build respect for empathy as a skill & a tool.
Building respect for empathy requires building disrespect for these views:
• "Everyone thinks like I do"
• "Everyone may not think like me, but clearly they ought to"
And you’d be surprised how many intelligent people default to one of these views
Hence unlearning is crucial.
Now, I will leave you with an empathy-building metaphor that's safe & useful for individuals & for teams: the Eyeglass Store.
In the Eyeglass Store, you’ll try different eyeglasses, each giving you a different view of the world around you and of the situation at hand.
When debating a product decision, enter the Eyeglass Store & try on different glasses.
Try one on for your Core User, another for the Casual User, then for the Buyer, for Competitors, for Press, for Regulators, for Channel Partners, and so on.
For each: observe, reflect, note.
Do the Eyeglass Store simulation often & this approach will get wired within you.
You’ll be able to apply it with ease at all granularities:
from a tricky pricing strategy decision down to being able to accurately predict people’s reactions to a given sentence in your blog post
So folks, that’s all for today.
If you take away one message from this thread, let it be this:
Empathy isn’t a touchy-feely concept, it can be a superpower for product success.
And as a nice bonus, more individual & collective empathy will make your team & users happier.
Back to the top of this thread:
Quite a few of these recommended books for product people can be helpful in directly & indirectly building the skill of empathy e.g. Super Thinking, Alchemy, Practical Empathy, Art of Thinking Clearly, 100 Things Every Designer Needs To Know..
And some of the podcasts I've listed here can help build a better understanding of how people & systems work
e.g. Freakonomics, Planet Money, Hidden Brain, Wizard of Ads, The Knowledge Project, The Look & Sound of leadership
More empathy building tips for product people:
1. Get really good at listening
2. Use your own product
3. Use competitors' products (when you can)
4. Shadow folks in customer-facing roles (sales, support)
5. Approach problems with "a beginner's mind"
Even when summarizing Product Management in just 280 characters, we must include empathy. It's just that vital.
There are a few different types of empathy. I first came across these types in @indiyoung's book "Practical Empathy", one of my July 2020 book recos for product people.
This thread is about Cognitive Empathy.
Summary of the types, via @bryanzmijewski:
You can follow @shreyas.
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