Going “Un-Native” First

In my previous post, I made a couple of relatively obvious assertions:

  1. We are all tribal.
  2. As product managers, it is beneficial if we better understand the professional tribes we rely on.

I also alluded to the observation that one of the consequences of being tribal is a kind of blindness about other tribes. It’s what a proper anthropologist (like Paula) would call “ethnocentrism“.

Okay, so we are all tribal, and to get better at what we do as product managers, we need to understand other tribes better, but being tribal ourselves, there’s a kind of blindness that gets in the way? Yes. All that together. Ouch.

Fortunately for us humans, our brains are fabulously sophisticated and flexible, and are quite capable of operating with multiple points-of-view (not necessarily simultaneously, but at least sequentially). One particularly difficult-to-master but hugely powerful point-of-view is that of self-observation. How does that fit in?

Going “un-native” is the process by which you recognize:

  1. You are a member of a tribe.
  2. Your membership within a tribe is inherently intertwined with specific jargon, customs, assumptions, habits, behaviors – all of which speak to a specific model of the world.
  3. Any tribal model of the world may allow you to operate effectively as a member of the corresponding tribe, but like any model, it also functions as a prejudicial filter.
  4. There is inherent value in diminishing the filtering effect of your tribe to better understand the other tribes you rely on, as a first step to more powerful engagement with them.
  5. You can diminish the filtering effect of your tribe via self-observation (as a start).

Don’t worry, you don’t have to be a Zen master to pull this off. I’m betting that if you’ve survived or thrived as a product manager, you already do this to a certain degree, and instinctively. What I’m proposing is that we ramp this up to something more thoughtful and deliberate.

Does this make sense to you? Can you share workplace experiences that might either amplify or challenge these ideas?

In my next post, I’ll get way more practical, and with your help, start defining the toolbox that a product manager can use to apply anthropology to tangible benefit.

Trevor Rotzien
the product manager

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