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Making a case to save Human Ecosystem

A Produt Manager's perspective

Rangoli is a form of art in which patterns are created and colored with sand, flowers, etc. A specific form of Rangoli popular in Karnataka, India follows 3 steps

  1. Place the dots
  2. Connect the dots to arrive at a pattern or design
  3. Color the pattern

We can apply the methods of Rangoli, an art form, to solve practical and even intellectual challenges. Let’s consider how we might create intellectual Rangoli by following the same three steps.

Step I: List down some facts or specific thoughts. These correspond to the dots of the pattern.

Here is an example. It is probably very specific to the US.

  1. At one time African Americans, Chinese and other people of color did not enjoy the same privileges as white Americans. This is now slowly changing. Similarly, the acceptance of LGBTQ is a work in progress. A woman not so long ago, could not be considered for many jobs, and this too has been changing. The transformations we see are the results of the efforts by many activists working in a variety of initiatives.
  2. Today there are new services which are disrupting long standing ways of doing things. Ride sharing is just one example of the emerging sharing economy. Delivery services of all types are popping up changing the way we use our own time and at the same time creating opportunities for work for many others. There are also the discussions associated with tipping or not tipping those who offer these services. See Note 1 for more.
  3. There are more and more companies selling fair trade and certified humane products and the demand for these is increasing. See Note 2 for more
  4. Ben Horowitz’s quote that product manager is the CEO of the product. Suffice it to say a product manager has the bottom-line responsibility of the product.
  5. Diffusion of Innovations

Step II: Connect the facts/thoughts. As you start connecting, an intent or solution will slowly evolve during the process. That corresponds to the design. In this example, the intent is to include the less privileged. Let’s start connecting

#1 shows how humans as a species are progressing by being more inclusive.

#2 tells us that companies which offer these services make the delivery fee cheap or free to attract more customers. They in turn end up paying low wages to the delivery folks. These delivery folks use their own car and fuel and don’t get health insurance and other benefits and they end up expecting the tip. In the current system, although it is not mandatory, it is just the right thing to tip them. If you cannot afford to tip them, may be this is not affordable for you. Routinely availing the services and not tipping because it is optional and you rather save some money is excluding the less privileged. This is unhealthy symbiosis where the less privileged end up not getting fair compensation for their work. Now, let’s join #1 and #2 and call this entity A = we have started to include what we once excluded but we are creating new relationships in which new groups are being excluded. Is this bad? Well, it certainly isn’t good, but it is quite natural for new problems to arise as we try to solve existing problems. What really matters is the awareness of the situation and willingness to correct it.

#3 Says that people have the willingness to do the right thing. Joining A and #3 (calling it B) = people would be willing to help solve these new problems. It is important to understand that it is not the right thing to put mental strain on each customer to help solve the problem.

That brings us to #4 where this responsibility should be given to the product manager. Let’s join B and #4 and call it C. Sustainability should be added as a new parameter for every product and should be measured and improved just like product adoption, features and profit.

Let’s pause the intellectual Rangoli and dig deep into sustainability and the issue at hand.

Sustainability is the ability to sustain the ecosystem. Or in other words, to live and let live. For instance, sustainable agriculture would use the farming techniques that protect the environment, public health, human communities, and animal welfare(www.sustainabletable.org). It is easy to put this in perspective when we look at an industry that puts the environment at risk. But why do technology companies get a pass? It seems that when a product harms nature or steps on other living beings for selfish human needs like oil and plastic, it is easy for us to see. But when a product steps on underprivileged humans for the needs of privileged, it is not as visible and therefore more difficult for us to see.
Here are a couple of reasons why this is the case:
  • since we are involved in the creation and use of the products and are directly benefiting from it, we are both diverted by our own self-interest and by our familiarity with it. To put it simply, we are too close to the problem to see it.
  • We could be falling under the privileged category for some products and in the case of some products we in fact are victimized.
I am making a case here that all products including technology products should focus on sustaining the human ecosystem.
What if all banks tell you that you can open a savings account and also get a credit card but there is no fraud protection? What if they tell you that you might get robbed even when you keep the money at home or in a secret place and it is no different from losing money when you had it in a bank savings account? Thank god! There is fraud protection. Banks have come a long way too. But, what if an e-signature company tells you that you can take a picture of the signature and use it for e-signature? Let’s say you wonder about someone misusing your signature, what if they tell you that this problem exists even outside of the product? What if a social media platform allowed the fake news to spread? What if the CEO brushed it aside and said hoaxes existed even before his platform? What if spreading of fake news influenced the US presidential election! Now, that’s big. It’s getting fixed because it is big, but smaller ones don’t get the same attention. Smaller ones like cyber bullying or teens and young adults going through a phase where they think their worthiness is measured by the number of likes and comments for their posts. But are these small?
Notice that these are different types of problems. Money is something very personal and tangible. US presidential election is probably not so much(generalizing) but it is big. Cyber bullying which is an age-old problem getting new form is somewhere in between. External validation etc. due to products taking advantage of human weaknesses is of course personal and tangible although not as directly as money, but the impact happens so slowly that you don’t even notice when you got there.
The imbalance in human ecosystem is not just created by the technology products. For instance, why are people made to feel like they need to constantly upgrade their wardrobe?
I understand it is due to capitalism. But it is not the only reason. I think it is also the lack of awareness of the severity of the situation. If you are someone who believes in climate change, is there any reason why you wouldn’t believe that protecting human ecosystem needs immediate attention?
Going back to the fake news, I don’t know if fake news did or did not influence the election, but it is just wrong that Mark Zuckerberg initially dismissed it without giving it the required thought. On one hand, Facebook brags about connecting billions of users around the world and on the other hand they act so naïve when Facebook is criticized for its negative impact. Do they not know the power of the tool they created? It is not a magical platform where it does only good and no evil. Amazon doesn’t even make profit consistently and Jeff Bezos is the second richest in the world. Don’t you think something is off here? Are we, as a generation, getting ahead of ourselves? I believe we are and it is because we are focusing on short term benefits.
I am not against technology or innovation or creativity or change. I like it. But I would love it even more if the missing element SUSTAINABILITY is included in its wholistic sense.

Resuming the intellectual Rangoli …

We had left at this-

Let’s join B and #4 and call it C. Sustainability should be added as a new parameter for every product and should be measured and improved just like product adoption, features and profit.

This means products being respectful and to include the weak or the underprivileged in the solution and not take advantage of the weakness. Remember? our design/intent of the Rangoli is inclusion of the less privileged.

#5 Diffusion of innovations identifies categories of adaptors of innovations – the innovators, early adopters, early majority, late majority and laggards. Connecting C and #5 – Let’s say sustainability should be added as a new measure for each product, who are under these categories?

Innovators – Those products that are already in the market with sustainability as one of their mission

Early adopters – Those with highest social status and financial liquidity that want to add humane dimension to distinguish themselves

Early majorities – Me-too’s

Late majorities – When something gets told repeatedly, human brain believes it as the truth. These are the ones who have now heard it enough times to start believing it.

Laggards – Those who suffer confirmation bias

Step III: Adding color or giving it life or putting it into practice

If you are an individual, you can do what you can to deliberately sustain human ecosystem

If you are an organization, you can introduce sustainability as a new element to measure and improve at the product level. Also, when you hire someone for a responsible position, you could give importance to the virtue and qualities of the candidate and not just the skills, experience and culture fit.

Diversity is the most natural thing. Inclusion is the most humane thing.

We are done with Rangoli. Let me answer 2 specific questions

  • What is human ecosystem?

The topic is too vast to do it justice in a few words, but for the sake of this article, human ecosystem consists of our interaction with each other, with other organism and the physical world. It is complex in its own sense since humans are rational beings. We can think and we can feel; they are both important. The ecosystem is constantly evolving. Eg: new means of communications, new habit of checking the phone often

  • Why should one care about it?

We should care about it since we are the ones who are causing the rapid evolution and we are also the ones who are suffering the consequences along with all the other organisms with whom we share our environment. In the example of people getting habituated to the phone, it is the result of many apps you use that are all trying to make you get hooked to their product. It is easy to blame each individual for their own habits. Suppose, a seagull eats plastic, it’s like mocking the seagull for mistaking the plastic for food. Someone conveniently forgot to pick up their trash in the first place.

#SaveHumanEcosystem

Note 1: I would love the comfort of not having to make the decision on how much to tip. But I am ok to go through the minor discomfort until the system gets fixed.

Note 2: I know, certified humane is not REALLY humane and fair trade is only a bit fairer. Changes don’t happen overnight.

P.S: image not from the original article

Originally published at musicandnoise.com

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