Come Live in SuperVenice

I just finished Kim Stanley Robinson’s novel, New York 2140, set in the city I call home, 120 years in the future. By then, global warming has wreaked global havoc on a whole new scale, melting the polar ice caps to raise the sea level 50 feet above where it is today. In Manhattan, streets south of 42nd Street are under water. Death and displacement were widespread during the initial flooding, but people built sky-bridges spanning the canals that were once streets, invented new forms of housing and transportation, and gave NYC the endearing nickname, "SuperVenice". I’ve been a sucker for post-apocalyptic novels since I was a kid, but what separates this book from others that take place after catastrophes is optimism. There’s a lesson here for product managers.

Adaptability and optimism are key if you’re going to weather situational changes. Adversity will arise, whether it comes from competitive forces, trouble integrating with third-party hardware, or individuals on the outside who purposefully seek to do harm. When you’re managing a product and its context changes, you must adapt. When I was at FanDuel and new state regulations mandated we separate more experienced players from n00bs, we didn’t only do what the law required; we took it as an opportunity to create areas and games that catered specifically to inexperienced players. We adapted to the new scenario from an optimistic stance. I challenged the team, “how will you take what seems like a blow to the business, and use it to catalyze a better experience than ever?” Our expansive thinking led us to design exciting, new fantasy game mechanics that grew our business.

I've found the best way to get myself – and my team, when I'm lucky enough to have one – to an expansive mindset is by adopting a playful demeanor. We're looking for open-minded positivity here, right? Have fun, set up situations with no consequences to being "wrong", play a game, be a little silly, and open your mind to ridiculous ideas. Remember we're not trying to reflect today's reality; we need to conjure up a possible future. You'll figure out whether you can get there later. That path usually won't be clear; if it was, it'd likely already have been taken.

DFA's Pier 40 2100
Are you thinking expansively enough? (Image via Pier 40 2100, DFA)

We New Yorkers are adaptable. How could we not be, living in a city where subway maintenance means every weekend you've got to learn a new route from point A to point B, where options change constantly as shops, theaters, and restaurants close and open, where you’re regularly stuffed into small and often smelly spaces with strangers. New York 2140 takes the best of who we are and fast forwards the clock. It’s a story to which I’ll think back for years, like Neal Stephenson’s 1992 novel, Snow Crash, which foreshadowed not only corporations taking over traditional roles of government, but also creative technologies – like Google Earth – that became nonfiction. Think expansively and playfully about your products and you can take giant leaps forward.