Simon Sinek changed the world. If you haven’t seen his famous TEDx talk “How great leaders inspire action”, do so now. He delivered a necessary, simple, powerful message at the right time, in the right channel, and in the right format, which is why his ideas had a massive impact in the startup world. His assessment of what makes people buy or follow was rooted in a long journey of trying to understand people. As someone that has been doing sales his entire life, I can testify to the effectiveness of his philosophy.
If we look at the evolution of mission statements from both organizations and individuals, one could argue that people like Sinek helped more businesses grow their sales with human-centered ideas such as the importance of communicating our purpose and engaging with people’s emotions, than many CRMs, apps, and other technologies with a similar goal.
Simon Sinek does not code, or engineer, or biohack for a living. He gets paid to understand people.
Travel is an art, not an algorithm
Airbnb, the home-rental platform, is one of the fastest growing companies of the last decade. It’s currently valued at $25 billion, with +60 million users active in +34,000 cities. It may surprise some to know that when its CEO, Brian Chesky, wanted advice and ideas on what the direction of Airbnb should be, he didn’t go to a programmer or an engineer. He reached out to Alain de Botton, philosopher and author of The Art of Travel, among many other wonderful books. Chesky appreciated Alain’s efforts on deciphering what people look for when they travel, so he wanted to get his suggestions on what Airbnb should deliver to its customers.
His co-founder, Joe Gebbia, recently spoke at TED and explained that Airbnb succeeded because they “designed for trust,” and ponders towards the end of his talk “What else can we design for trust?” While knowing how to design technology for trust requires understanding of the technology, the answer to Gebbia’s question requires understanding of humanity. Like the one Alain de Botton has been pursuing his entire life.
Community as a priority
Instagram, the photo-sharing platform had only 13 employees when it was acquired by Facebook for $1 billion in 2012. This is one of the biggest social networks in the world, which means that they must have been making technology their priority since day one, right? Wrong. They succeeded because their priority was to understand their community and its preferences in order to serve them better, which is why the company’s first non-founding employee, Josh Riedel, was neither an engineer nor a designer, but a community manager.
The need to build and manage communities is not going away anytime soon. As Sangeet Paul Choudary explains in his book Platform Scale: “A community isn’t simply a more participative audience.” The challenge to understand what each community needs to grow and thrive represents a major career opportunity for those interested in working with people.
Free to play, pay to be cool
Riot Games is the company behind the online videogame League of Legends, which is the number one “free to play” game in the world. But if it’s free to play, how did it earn $1.6 billion in revenues last year? It allows people to pay for what Riot’s co-founder Marc Merrill calls “the coolness factor”:
“People told us when we started that if you don’t charge up front, or if you’re not selling extra power or stats, it won’t work,” Merrill says. “But that fails to account for the coolness factor. If you’re really into cars, you don’t mind spending $50,000 to soup up your Honda. That’s the player we’re tapping into.”
Trusting that people would pay so much money for coolness in a free-to-play videogame required a counter-intuitive and deep understanding of what motivates gamers. Furthermore, to imagine and create coolness that people would pay for, required creativity.
Creativity and deep understanding of motivation are skills reserved for humans. The mantra for Riot is that “revenue is second, the player experience first.” There’s a huge opportunity for humans to keep tapping into their creativity and understanding of people to design more profitable experiences.
With these examples I do not want to diminish the impact, expansion or importance of technology. Technology advances daily and quickly, we should be aware of it, and master different technologies to different degrees so we can navigate the future.
However, I’m not concerned about us forgetting about technology. Because of its novelty nature, the media and many “experts” make their living by telling us about every single “innovation,” alarming us in the process, regardless of the likelihood of that invention actually changing how we live or work in any significant way or fast enough to matter.
I am concerned, though, on us forgetting or underestimating the amount of work it takes to understand what people want, how they want it, and why they want it. I worry that we stop appreciating the things we are bound to do better than machines for any foreseeable future. I worry that we stop imagining the best ways to complement each other.