You’re in the Business of Well-Being, Whether You Know It or Not


Yazin Akkawi


April 9, 2018

Product leaders are often referred to as the “CEO of products” in modern technology companies.

So does that mean should they be held to the same standards as CEOs?

In short, yes — and these days, CEOs are being held accountable for more than just profit. Larry Fink, the world’s largest asset owner and CEO of BlackRock, recently wrote a letter to S&P 500 CEOs about considerations for the modern enterprise.

“Society is demanding that companies, both public and private, serve a social purpose. To prosper over time, every company must not only deliver financial performance, but also show how it makes a positive contribution to society.” he wrote.

So what does this have to do with product leaders? Let me explain.

For Technology Companies, Well-Being is Top of Mind

The notion that businesses should make a positive contribution is especially relevant in the technology industry.

Two big investors (which together control $2 billion of Apple stock) sent a letter to Apple’s leadership imploring the company to consider how technology affects children’s wellbeing. They cited research on the consequences like decreased focus, difficulty with social interactions, lower empathy and higher stress, depression, and suicide.

As a result of the growing sensitivity, the well-being of customers has become top of mind. But what, exactly, can product leaders do? In addition to the success metrics that drive product growth, well-being should be as much of a success metric as any other.

The good news is that we know how to define well-being, and more importantly, the measurable elements that contribute to it.

In 2011, Martin Seligman, a pioneer in positive psychology, introduced the PERMA framework for well-being, comprising five key elements that, although independently pursued, are the foundation for human flourishing when experienced together.

These five ingredients should serve as guiding principles for product leaders, and moreover, as a qualitative data source to measure a product’s success. Product leaders can measure the extent well-being by surveying customers on the following:

1. Positive Emotions

Positive emotions are the pleasures of the human experience. We experience positive emotions in relation to the past (satisfaction, contentment, pride), the present (bodily pleasures, bliss, comfort) and the future (optimism, hope, confidence).

Questions to survey: How often do you feel joy when using the product? To what extent do you feel content?

This is the area that product teams prioritize the most through delightful interactions or content. But positive emotions alone aren’t sustainable for cultivating well-being in the long-term.

2. Engagement

Engagement comes from activities that make us feel completely immersed in the present moment — in the here and now. It’s also known as flow state. We experience engagement when we find activities that optimally challenge our strengths.

Questions to survey: To what extent does this product facilitate activities that you become absorbed in? To what extent does this product remove you from activities that you become absorbed in?

This is not to be confused with traditional engagement metrics. I’m not talking about time spent on page, or frequency of use. I’m talking about understanding what activities (outside of the context of your product) afford the most engagement to your specific users on a human level.

In many cases, the activities that cultivate human engagement have nothing to do with your product, but should be taken into consideration as the broader system in which your product functions in.

3. Relationships

Positive relationships are incredibly important to our well-being. Research shows most instances of happiness while we’re interacting with friends, partners, family and colleagues.

Questions to survey: To what extent does this product make you feel support from others? To what extent does this product make you feel satisfied with your personal relationships?

This is a complex ingredient. Social and dating apps have completely over-simplified dating down a left and right swipe and news feeds, and one would think this would help us develop and maintain positive relationships. But yet, when measured for well-being, have the lowest ratings of any other apps.

4. Meaning

Meaning comes from belonging to and serving something bigger than ourselves. This ingredient is connected to time spent on things we consider worthwhile; things like the pursuit of knowledge, ethics, spirituality and philanthropy.

Questions to survey: To what extent do you feel like your time spent with this product is worthwhile? To what extent does this product make you feel like you matter?

Great examples are products like Ted that enable the spread of ideas, like Headspace that aid in self-improvement or like GoFundMe that have a charitable component allow us to feel connected to something bigger.

5. Achievement

Achievement, or accomplishment, is the act of attaining desired goals like academic success, wealth, safety and personal growth.

Questions to survey: To what extent does this product help you make progress in achieving your goals? How often does this product help you achieve your goals?

Educational and project management tools, when done well, are highly effective in cultivating achievement. It helps us get more done and affords us more time to pursue the other ingredients.

Find Out Which Ingredients Your Product Contributes To, and Then Double Down

Of course, it would be unreasonable to believe that an experience with a single product can fulfill all five elements. However, each product we use serves as a tool that contributes to positive emotions, engagement, relationships, meaning or achievement. Product leaders should be able to identify which of these elements are tied to their product, and double down on cultivating them.

Doing so will generate more value for customers, help companies serve a social purpose and, in turn, grow the bottom line.

This article was originally published here.

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