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The Art Of Neighboring… In Product Management

Roy Rogers sings Be A Good Neighbor

Even in jail, Roy Rogers can’t helping singing about being a good neighbor.

Let me say up front: The Art of Neighboring: Building Genuine Relationships Right Outside Your Door by Jay Pathack and Dave Runyon is not a book about product management. But I recently finished reading it, and think it does have implications for Product Managers. Hear me out.

Everyone’s heard at least one version of the Golden Rule

Almost every major world religion agrees with the concept of treating others how you would want others to treat you.

The Art of Neighboring is written from a Christian worldview so the authors are referencing Jesus from Matthew 7:12 (ESV):

“So whatever you wish that others would do to you, do also to them, for this is the Law and the Prophets.”

The big idea is this: When Jesus says to love our neighbors, what if he wasn’t just talking about helping out at soup kitchens or giving to charity? What if he was talking about loving our actual, real life, live-right-next-door neighbors?

The authors assert that people misunderstand Jesus: They take his use of the word “neighbor” metaphorically, and insist that everyone, ever, is now our neighbor. And “when we insist we’re neighbors with everybody, often we end up being neighbors with nobody.”

Set aside the Christian worldview for a minute and think of your own life. How many people around your home do you know really well? You’ve spent quality time with them? Shared hopes and dreams with one another? Had them over for a meal?

We live in a world where it’s easier than ever to not know the people who live next door. Keep your head down. Get to work. Come home. Don’t bother me and I won’t bother you.

How many of our social ills — from struggling single moms, to elderly shut-ins, to troubled teens, to neglected children — could be helped if we would be good, literal neighbors to the people around us?

How Do You Become a Better Neighbor?

Pathack and Runyon challenge us to make time to build relationships with our neighbors, and embrace the messiness of those relationships.

To start, they suggest:

  • Get to know at least eight of the households around you — learn your neighbors’ names and introduce yourself;
  • Clear your schedule of things that get in the way of being a good neighbor;
  • Look for opportunities to be helpful;
  • Gather your neighbors together for a block party at least once a year.

The authors also point out that Jesus never instructed Christians to use a bait-and-switch model where they become friends with someone only to share the gospel, and then dump these people as “friends” if they don’t respond to the gospel message in a timely manner.

What are the implications for Product Managers?

The most obvious one is the need to get out of the office to question, observe, network or experiment. You can’t be a good neighbor if you don’t talk with your neighbors!

Which leads us to a bigger issue.

Real talk.

Conversing with people can be one of the toughest tasks we have as Product Managers — especially with people who make us uncomfortable.

Fortunately, part of the art of good neighboring in product management doesn’t involve talking much at all; it involves listening.

When you’re talking with a customer or a potential customer or a user or even a stakeholder, you want to understand their point of view. You want to know their stories.

  • What is their life like with (or without) your product?
  • What do they like (or dislike) about those situations?
  • Why did they decide to purchase Product A versus Product B?

Ask open-ended questions and let them speak.

Actively listen with real intellectual curiosity and honest empathy. This will help you connect as people, and reveal intriguing trends, behavioral patterns, and underlying motivations for you to explore.

KissMetrics has curated 26 resources to help you master customer development interviews, so be sure to check those out.

If you only have time for a few articles today, I would recommend:

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Bonus Content

Does music motivate you? Listen to Roy Rogers sing “Be A Good Neighbor” — in English and Spanish:

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