Anthropology Product Management

Why “Go Native”?

Written by Trevor Rotzien

Before we attempt to answer that question, an important point: you’re already “native”. We are all part of one professional tribe or another, whether we are aware of it or not. Our membership in our tribe not only drives relatively innocuous cultural symptoms, such as our workday lingo, but even our model of the world and the people in it, including the other tribes we work with.

So, big deal, we’re tribal. Hardly news. And isn’t it perfectly natural? Yes. Blinding? Often.

If you came to Product Management via the business side, there was probably a time when you thought business success was about numbers. If you came to Product Management via the technology side, there was probably a time when you thought technology success was about technology. Now, if you’ve spent anytime as a Product Manager, you’ll immediately recognize those ideas as quaint fallacies, and luxuriously naive. However you define your success in this challenging role, I’m certain that achieving it comes down to your interactions with people.

Mastering our interactions with people in the context of our role can be incredibly challenging, and oftentimes we can be afflicted with temporary delusions of competency in this area. Again, not entirely new news. But if it isn’t news, then why do many of us invest so little into the deliberate study of the other tribes we rely on?

I’m fascinated by the challenge of professional tribal interactions and what it means in terms of becoming a better Product Manager. I believe, and have experienced, that it is powerful to “go native” with the tribes you need most, and to get beyond the cliches and stereotypes we often attach to them.

So as a complete and utter amateur in social anthropology, but with the encouragement and support of my actual anthropologist co-host (and our future guest bloggers and commentators), I invite you to “go native” to get smarter. What’s the first step? Well, going “un-native” from your own tribe first, of course, and beginning to see other professional tribes with eyes less clouded by assumptions and judgment.

How do we start the conversation? In my next post, I’ll talk about how non-anthropologist Product Managers such as myself can go “un-native” before attempting to go native.

The Anthropology of Product Management is a hugely rich topic. I hope you’ll join Paula and me in an ongoing discussion about how digging into this topic can make us better at what we do.

Trevor Rotzien
the product manager

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Trevor Rotzien