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Integrating pleasure into professionalism: watching anime to build better products
Watching anime, or hand-drawn and computer-generated animation originating from Japan, has become one of my favourite pastimes.
Though I had a late start jumping on the anime hype train that has left the station years ago in North America, I have yet to get off the ride anytime soon. From exploring the mysterious world of giant, human-eating monsters in Attack on Titan; to an adorable family consisting of an undercover spy dad, assassin mom, and telepathic, laboratory-created daughter in Spy x Family, I truly believe there is at least one series out there that is bound to resonate with everyone.
Aside from anime being a delight to consume as a viewer, watching anime provides me with a fresh lens into refining my product sense, or making better decisions about the product I work on for my team’s customers—present and future—and the broader business.
Let’s face it—a big component of our job revolves around making decisions. So, if we can improve our decision-making muscle, we increase the odds that we capture the hearts and minds of our customers. If we don’t exercise this muscle, no matter how much experimentation we do, customers or prospects we interview, we won’t be able to draw meaningful and actionable insights that guide how we shape our product.
You might be thinking, “Tiffany, there’s no way you’re telling me that something you do for pleasure also helps you at your job!”
Let me share four principles that I have reinforced about building my product intuition through watching anime, some of which I first shared with the Women in Product Toastmasters Club on March 12, 2023.
I’ll let you come to your own conclusion at the end. 😉
Principle 1: Knowing your customer takes time.
Understanding the universe your customers are in takes time and intentional diligence.
Why things are the way they are may seem obvious to you. However, are the reasons you think for why things are the way they are really reality?
Early on in the first season of Attack on Titan, we think Titans are the enemy. It makes sense, right? After all, they are huge monsters that eat humans for the sake of devouring them, even though it’s been scientifically proven that they don’t need to eat human flesh to survive.
Then, we find out that within each of these titanic monsters is a human being.
Suddenly, it’s difficult to see these titanic characters as being purely evil; they have endured immense suffering, and opposing governments wield them as weapons of mass destruction to carry out political agendas.
Since things aren’t always what they seem to be, it’s important to talk with our customers and users and observe them in their natural environment, to understand their deeper intents and motivations. However, we must be mindful that they, too, are only human and may not always be consciously aware of the true motivations behind the actions they take and the decisions they make.
So, be patient as you make strides towards stepping into the shoes of your customers.
Principle 2: Diversity matters.
Product team diversity ought to reflect the diversity and nuance that makes up the target audience of the products we work on.
To me, some of the most memorable moments in Attack on Titan were character arcs that shone the spotlight on both main and supporting characters as they went through impactful moments or periods of personal development, or we saw flashbacks of their childhood to better understand why they are the way they are in the present day in the show.
For example, the viewer sees that Mikasa, one of the show’s main characters, was kidnapped. Eren, the show’s protagonist, finds her in an abandoned cabin deep in the forest, where her kidnappers were holding her hostage. Eren manages to fight off two assailants; however, he didn’t realize that there was a third and is unfortunately taken hostage as well, but not before he had secretly freed Mikasa. Mikasa finds one of the assailants’ knives and is put into the situation to use it or see Eren die in front of her eyes.
Contrast this with their best friend, Armin. Armin is portrayed to be significantly less aggressive than Eren and Mikasa are, running away from bullies as opposed to fighting back. After his bullies beat him up, Armin sits against a building, crying. Eren discovers him and asks him why he never fights back against his aggressors, igniting their friendship. Despite their different natures, they are united in their fascination with the idea of what life outside the walls that defend their nation against the Titans is like.
Even if we conduct plenty of insightful research and are capable of distilling an entire segment of users or customers into a user or buyer persona, we must be mindful of the unique individuals of whom we’re serving, and their needs, wants, and preferences.
Working alongside teammates who come from a diversity of lived experiences and backgrounds better equips us to catch each other’s blind spots, so we can hold ourselves and each other to a high standard of quality that is best for our customers and business.
Principle 3: Think about how you engage the senses.
Every single touch point, no matter how big or small or wherever in between, is an opportunity to reinforce your product’s promised unique value proposition with your existing customers and prospective ones.
Music, voice acting, animation, direction, intended emotional impact, what is in focus and what is in the background, and so many more aspects and details are what makes anime one of my favourite art media.
Continuing on with my case study of Attack on Titan, I love listening to the original soundtrack as I’m working. The orchestral soundtrack helps me focus. There are certain pieces that rekindle memories of emotionally charged moments in the show, and I mentally replay the scene and re-experience the emotions that I felt as a viewer because the connection between the music and the plot is so deeply coupled and intertwined in my memory.
Consider what is the first form of your product that your audience will engage with and what the first impressions they may form about your product—or your broader company brand, if you’re working in a multi-product portfolio context.
Seek to understand:
What does each touch point communicate or reinforce about the unique value proposition?
How complex is your unique value proposition to your intended audience? How often and in what methods might you need to reinforce a more complex one?
For combinations of certain touch points, is there an intended sequence of exposure to them?
How do touch points across different channels look? Feel? Sound?
What mental or visual associations might prospects make with each touch point?
The data and information that we take in through our senses about our environment drive our thoughts and behaviors. So, design the stimuli that your prospects and customers will experience with deliberate intention.
Principle 4: It’s about how everything comes together.
One of the elements that makes me have an immense respect for the medium of anime is how wonderfully all the components come together:
The original source material and its creator’s involvement in the making of the series,
Voice acting, and
So much more that I’m probably not even aware of or lack in expertise to fully appreciate.
The same principle applies to products:
What problem in the market it intends to solve and for whom,
The company’s stance on the solution,
Which go-to-market motion(s) does the company make use of,
Which channels does the company use to distribute the product and get it in front of prospects,
…And so much more!
That’s why it’s integral for product professionals and company leaders to collaborate closely and frequently enough to maintain that holistic view over the full, end-to-end product experience.
Otherwise, we risk inappropriately focusing too much on individual aspects, losing sight of the whole product.
After all, “the sum of the whole is greater than the sum of its individual parts.”
Through the simple hobby of watching anime, I’ve reinforced four important lessons to continuously develop my product sense:
It takes deliberate practice and patience.
There is nuance behind the customers we serve, no matter how effective a buyer persona or user persona we develop, or how great we are at segmentation—hence the importance of hiring and retaining diverse product development teams.
Be intentional with the stimuli about your product’s unique value proposition to prospective and existing users.
The value of each component behind your product’s experience comes from what it contributes to the product’s full, holistic experience.
The next time you’re engaging with a favourite hobby of yours, I challenge you to reflect on how it has made you a better product manager—and how it might continue to help you hone your intuition about your product, market, and business!
Let me know what you thought of this month’s post in the comments below.
I’d also love to hear how a personal interest or hobby of yours has shaped your philosophy or approach to product management. 💜