Diverse Thinking: The Five People You Need on Your Product Development Team
Diversity has become one of the most widely discussed topics in hiring and something we consistently try to improve on at hired (and why we publicly release our internal diversity numbers). When we typically think about diversity we think nationality, race, age and gender, but there is a different type of diversity that matters to hiring managers as well: diverse thinking. Don’t get me wrong, diversity in gender and race are critical, but it doesn’t and shouldn’t stop there.
Everyone has a different way of thinking and finding solutions to various problems, and individual experiences shape how the team as a whole solves problems. When it comes to building a product, diverse thinking helps organizations appeal to a larger customer set by incorporating different voices. After all you can’t sell to people whose perspectives you can’t understand.
Specific to product development, there are different ways of thinking that make up a successful team; in fact, one study compared teams of “high performers” versus teams of randomly selected individuals and found that teams with diversity in performance levels trumped teams made up of all high performing individuals. When I’m hiring a new person I try to think within these buckets and make sure I am hiring as diverse a group as possible:
- The Subject Matter Expert is usually the industry expert on everything in the space, obtained by spending a number of years working in your industry, or possibly even for a competitor. These individuals have their finger on the pulse of the industry, know the space inside out, and have an innate understanding of your customers. While their extensive experience in the field is incredibly valuable, especially in advisory or functional roles, it can sometimes result in tunnel vision. However, when paired with someone on the team who helps them see beyond what is right in front of them, they can be an incredibly powerful asset. The subject matter expert will add just enough guardrails to a first-of-its-kind solution to keep it focused in the right direction.
- The Self-Taught Newbie will bring a different type of understanding to problem-solving. Whether they’re actually self-taught or they went through a rigorous boot camp to learn how to code, these folks have a more practical problem-solving approach untainted by the “we’ve always done it this way” thinking. There isn’t one single way to solve any given problem, and an alternative educational background allows different, and sometimes unconventional, problem-solving skills to shine through. When it comes to new ways of thinking, hustle and a fresh perspective, hiring someone for skills and experience, not their alma mater, can have a powerful impact. However, you don’t want your whole team to be made up of newbies; the lack of experience can create fast-moving teams going the wrong direction.
- The creative perspective of a Global Thinker can stretch the mindset of a team. They may have grown up or lived in another country at one time, giving them a differing perspective on how products are used throughout the world. These clever and visionary individuals are often well-educated, have great problem-solving skills and will guide their teams to see beyond what’s right in front of them. Given their international experience, they typically have a strong ability to see the perspective of different backgrounds and are innately attuned to cultural differences between groups of people, which might be invisible otherwise. No matter where they’re from, their understanding of how the world works will allow them to create a product that is perceived well globally and they’ll stop at nothing to achieve that.
- The Empathizer spends their time listening to the ideas and thoughts of others. They might be a parent or someone who has previously worked in customer service or customer success but regardless of their background, it’s in their nature to put the needs of others first. They’re a huge piece of your product team puzzle because they’ll quietly consider the input of the team and the needs of the customer, perceiving things that are subtle and unsaid. When they do speak up, they will offer a well thought out solution that prioritizes the customer; they might be quiet but they’ll ensure your product is delivering what the customer wants vs. what you want.
- Finally, every team needs a Task Master. This progress-driven individual wants to get sh*t done and will see tasks through the finish line, at all costs. They keep the team laser-focused on specific goals and are less concerned about asking “why” we should be working on a product and more concerned about execution. Task masters are constantly in motion, moving experiences to production and learning along the way; after all, we all know that part of building great products is just trying things and seeing what works. Having this person on your team will ensure execution on any given project and can be a highly effective way to drive value for customers.
Diversity isn’t just about visible attributes; it’s about your background and the way you think about a problem. You don’t need teams of Ivy League-educated, highly-skilled engineers to build a successful product — you need diversity of thought to boost innovation and creative problem-solving. Most product teams are solving complex problems for the first time and a number of different approaches are required to come to a solution. The organizations that stack their team with diverse thinking will have a clear advantage over the organizations that don’t.
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