We Are Family

Over here in Europe, we get a fair number of American TV series, but not all of them. Recently, a friend passed me a complete set of all the existing episodes of Firefly which I’ve been enjoying immensely. I’d not heard of it before, but I understand that it has become something of a cult series in the U.S. and I understand why.

It has something in common with a series that has had vastly greater success, in the U.S. and abroad: NCIS.

I’m not sure why one series failed and the other succeeded, but what ties them both together, and makes them both so appealing, is the sense of dysfunctional but united family.

In both series, characters seem to be constantly at each others’ throats, but when push comes to shove, they’ve got each others’ backs, and they love each other, and wouldn’t know how to live without each other. We identify with them easily.

I’m not sure if this is a phenomenon for this time in history, or if it’s universal, but it certainly speaks to us in this uncertain, crazy age full of simultaneous anxiety and opportunity.

Finally, what is a family – dysfunctional or not? It’s a special case of a community. We seem to need them – after all, we congregate in cities, and though we complain about the noise, the pollution, the long commutes to work, the cost of living, etc. – most of us are not ready to quit the city for a bucolic but unconnected existence in the countryside, even if we can telework from home.

When it comes to product design and conception, though, we forget all that and think that some person – a product manager, interaction designer, developer, or specialist – will spring forth a great product out of his or her singular brain, as Athena did from the forehead of Zeus.

I’m on a roll with classical analogies, so – let’s put an end to this hubris, and realise that we need integrated communities, that include developers, marketers, content workers, product managers, designers of all types, and – gasp – users, working as equal stakeholders to define new products, or evolutions of existing products. In the end, someone is going to make a decision – it’s not a democracy. But shouldn’t that decision be informed by the collective wisdom of everyone who has a stake in the success of the product, and its ability to delight customers? If not, what are we in this for?

I’m not talking here about “crowd sourcing” – which is often an excuse to throw responsibility for content development to our customers, and abdicate from it ourselves. I’m talking about real, integrated communities, in which we see our user/customers as allies, assets, members of our family, however dysfunctional it may be – people whose backs we want to guard – and who will have our backs as we build their loyalty.

That’s how we’ll end up with great products that help people do what they need to do.

Author: Ray

Ray Gallon is president and co-founder of The Transformation Society (www.transformationsociety.net), a research, training and consulting company focusing on building learning organisations that can manage complexity and the digital transformation. He has over 40 years as a communicator, first as an award-winning radio producer and journalist, then in the technical content industries. His management experience includes a stint as program manager of WNYC-FM, New York City’s public radio station. Ray is a self-described "humanist nerd," and has always been interested in the meeting point between technology and culture, and has used his broad experience to advantage with companies such as IBM, General Electric Health Care, Alcatel, 3M, and the OECD, as well as in smaller companies and startup enterprises. Ray recently helped co-found the Information 4.0 Consortium (www.information4zero.org) and serves as its current president. Ray is a university lecturer and a keynote speaker at events throughout the world. He has contributed articles and chapters to many books and periodicals and is the editor of the recently published “Language of Technical Communication” (XML Press).

One thought on “We Are Family”

  1. Well said, Ray. I think that the key lies in everyone having the same goal — and every player knowing that every other player shares that goal. Too often we see other stakeholders as rivals rather than as colleagues who share a common interest.

    I could go on about how the same principle applies to our communities in general, but that’s a topic for another day.

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