You're a product manager, not a futurist

...And you're certainly not a healthcare expert

I’m not entirely sure when the product manager problem started, but I’ve been noticing it with startling frequency.

Today, Tinder product manager Jeff Morris Jr. gave his thoughts on the future of healthcare on Twitter:

While I’d like to think that Morris ideas come from a place of optimism and humanity, it’s telling that he mentions Apple here. Yes, Morris might be offering big-brained solutions to the future of healthcare, but - to me at least - it also looks like he’s hinting at new and exciting ways for technology to become better integrated into a wildly lucrative industry.

The scope of the opportunities laid out by Morris are huge - it’s not just about the Apple Watch, it’s also about the cloud. That’s something that will be owned and monetised by a tech company and, presumably, can be shaped and road-mapped in a way that will have a whole host of features and capabilities that can drive new revenue streams.

And where does the text go? The implication - well, it’s actually quite explicit - is that communication would happen via some kind of app (you’re not, after all, going to send an embarrassing rash to your doctor’s personal phone, right?).

This kind of thinking worries me. How did we get into a situation in which Silicon Valley Product Managers could offer up an opinion on the future of healthcare? Given their ideas are so lop-sided, lacking any awareness of the needs of patients, or, indeed, alternative ways we might go about building better healthcare systems, how daft do we have to be for making them even think we’re listening?

Product managers aren’t futurists

The problem is that there is a whole class of managers who think they’re futurists. This is something that’s developed out of a very small but influential strand of people a few decades back - people like Ray Kurzweil - who helped to make the internet what it is today. These were people with wild imaginations, but still a strong commercial instinct and a belief in capitalism to drive progress.

And while it’s true that in tech you need to have a strong sense of the future in order to build and develop products that have some degree of ‘stickiness’ (ie. people will use them and won’t go elsewhere), the problems really begin when product managers do a bit of thinking on their own product (ie. a dating app) and then think they can bring their skill for foresight into other domains.

Products are for businesses. They make businesses money. So, while thinking about the future might help you build better products, it doesn’t follow that someone who can build good products can build a better future.

Product management is necessarily specific. If we adopt product management thinking when it comes to social and civic issues, we’re only going to create more opportunities for wealthy companies to exploit us more.

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