This post, directed at job applicants in general and ones for product positions specifically, was created after a series of meetings of our product team following a recent series of interviews we’ve held, in order to help individuals currently looking for a job see at least one point of view of an experienced product manager.
A couple of days ago, I was riding the bus home. Three teenage girls sat in front of me, facing each other, messing with their phones for most of the rather quiet ride. Suddenly an older man stood just above their seats (since there were no empty seats left), a total stranger to them, and simply asked them loudly: “Are you actually talking to each other right now?” We all laughed out loud for a few seconds, and not a second after the laughter died off, the girls went straight back to their screens and their precious notifications.
When was the last time you went into an elevator and started chatting with some stranger that’s sharing the ride? When was the last time something like that happened to you on the bus? Do you remember the sound of an awkward silence, or to be accurate, lack thereof? Yeah, the one that makes you look at a stranger’s face. The one that is usually followed by a blank stare at some random object around you like the elevator floor or some reflection on the train’s window?
It seems that today most people in first and second world countries have replaced the small talks and casual chatting with strangers with the safer, easier, and more dopamine based and instantly rewarding alternative – staring at their smartphone screen.
An Alternate Reality
There’s a whole world in that screen and it’s much more interesting than a casual chat with strangers: it’s much more personalized and on demand. A data stream consisting of your friends, your desires, a story composed by machine learning algorithms that have processed the huge amount of data compiled of your interests that’s being created on-the-fly while you browse your Facebook feed or your friend’s Instagram albums, expressing affection by clicking a “like” button, ignoring what you dislike or even contributing your opinion with a spicy comment onto a sea of talkbacks.
That’s why you don’t see people with their heads up anymore – People aren’t here, in the moment. They easily escape to another world when a person asking for charity knocks on their car window.. And though they seem to be trying to avoid the reality around them – they are consuming it, but a version of it that’s documented and shared by their friends; a sensationalized version of reality compiled of the most exciting (for better or for worse) events your network of friends and peers experienced recently.
It’s the TL;DR of reality – it only has the interesting parts of life.
They think they are experiencing something more interesting than the reality itself. But are they?
They stopped trying to take control of their surroundings since they no longer need to face the day to day interactions we had to have when we had nowhere to run to. The struggles that have existed in same old world they were born into up until the smartphone era. It’s those small talks with the bus driver or the person that just lent you the sport section of the paper on the train. These short and sometimes touchy stories old ladies tell you when you help them on those endless lines in the bank. The spontaneous political arguments on the way back from work, In the bars and cafes with random people next to you.
We stopped talking. I’m pretty sure I saw more expressions of emotion from people I love through Facebook than by hearing it from them directly, face to face. And this 65 years old man’ joke while standing in the bus was on point, but the “funny” part there wasn’t the fact that they weren’t really talking to each other, but that no one even thought of offering him their seat.
The Ideal Candidate
When people ask me what I look for when I interview someone for a product management role, I find that my description of an ideal candidate is very different than what I expressed in this post. I’m looking for the people that are curious enough to raise their head up and look for answers in real life. I’m looking for those who are great small talkers, the ones with a communicative approach and that are very open minded to the virtually infinite different types of human beings that exist in order to be able motivate them to execute. Positive people with a can-do attitude that are always the first to notice details that others looked over and are ready to solve them.
A product manager motivates his colleagues in order to get a product up and running, and he needs to understand what gets their motors running – and you can’t find the answer to that question just by staring into your smartphone.
In some way, I know that today we’re all addicted to screens that make us ignore the world around us, but I’m looking for those who still have that old-school curiosity – true “people persons”, not only on paper in their C.V or on their social profiles.