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Humans of Product: Radhika Dutt

By Isabella Reynolds

Meet Radhika Dutt. You may know her as the face behind ‘Radical Product Thinking: The New Mindset for Innovating Smarter’ but did you know that she can also speak 9 languages; Japanese, French, Spanish, Italian, Afrikaans, Hindi, Marathi, Tamil and English! To decompress, she enjoys “watching some mindless TV shows but in different languages. This way, it’s just not enough cognitive load, but I get the chance to practice them.”

On top of being multilingual, she also spends her spare time painting. 

“I have this painting style of something that looks almost apocalyptic! I paint buildings and water, and they turn out looking like the Hong Kong landscape. I really enjoy drawing and art whenever I can!”

Radhika stumbled across Product in a rather meandering way, navigating her way through entrepreneurism and different positions to finally end up in Product. And she couldn’t be happier!

“I started off as an Entrepreneur. When I started my first company in 2000, I was in a Sales and Business Development role. We caught the Product Disease I now call ‘hero syndrome’ where you focus on being big and scaling instead of focusing on solving the problem you set out to in the first place. I went on to other organisations and one, in particular, didn’t seem to have a visible product disease. That really latched me on to Product as a way of thinking.

Radhika's painting in her background as she works

(Her painting is in the background of this image!)

That company was Avid Technology. They were extremely well known in Hollywood as practically every movie ever made that had won an Oscar had been edited using an Avid product. Whilst there, we were just entering the broadcast business at the time. Sony was the dominant player at the time with an end-to-end tape-based workflow that was widely used. It felt like we stood no chance. However, the Head of Broadcast had a clear vision for our product that could transform newsrooms through a digital workflow. When I was hired, my title was actually Programme Manager for Customer Engineering, which is the diametric opposite of Product. And yet, this is where I realised that Product is a way of thinking, not only a function or a title. My role was to grow our product suite by empathising with and learning what broadcast customers needed that was different from Hollywood. We shared our vision for a digital newsroom  with our broadcast customers and they bought into it. When we felt that Avid wasn’t investing enough to build out the broadcast solution fast enough, our customers partnered with us to fund “custom engineering” – while we called it that, our customers understood that building truly custom solutions would be unsustainable for us and not good for them either in the long-term. We built out our product suite incrementally and  -within five years, we won every major broadcaster around the world!

This was the experience that really latched me onto Product because I realised that no matter your title, you’re really building a product when you can see a vision for change. Then, you’re able to translate that into reality. Your product is your mechanism for creating change systematically.

Once we start thinking about the product in this way, we start to realise that it can be applied anywhere, all the way from parenting or activism to building a high tech product. In today’s world, we are too focused on iteration, trying things and optimising for metrics. These tactics are often the focus as a Product person. 

So I wrote a book recently called ‘Radical Product Thinking: The New Mindset for Innovating Smarter’.  It helps you translate your organisation’s vision into reality systematically.I help organisations (from startups to government agencies) apply these ideas. I’m currently working with the Singaporean Government, specifically with the Monetary Authority of Singapore, to build products that are vision-driven.”

Radhika loves to dedicate her time to sharing her insights and learnings with others. She has most recently been a guest speaker at numerous Product meetups and Q&A sessions all across the globe to talk about the way that we can change the world through radical product thinking.  If you have heard her speak, you would know that she is someone who provides useful advice for those wanting to land their first role in Product Management.

“I think the most important takeaway that I wish somebody had told me when I was starting out, is having clarity of vision. I can’t tell you just how important that is in being able to take on a more strategic role. When I’m interviewing people, too often I hear that they didn’t enjoy working on a particular product because they felt like there was no vision behind the product.

I always challenge them with “I understand that the leaders didn’t have a vision, but what was your vision for that product?” Therein lies that key question that tells me whether they are suited to take on a more strategic role. No matter what title you hold, and where you are positioned in the organization, you can take ownership and craft a really detailed vision. I explain this further in my book “Radical Product Thinking” where I describe that writing a good vision requires answering the who, what, why, when and how questions. These questions are about who’s world are you trying to change? It’s not everyone’s, but what does their world look like? What’s the problem? Why does the problem need to be solved? Why is the status quo absolutely unacceptable? If someone can not answer these, there’s no reason for the product to exist. Then you can talk about what the world looks like when you’re done and then how you’ll bring it about.“

Radhika with book2

So what’s next for Radhika?

Right now, aside from spreading the ideas in Radical Product Thinking, I want to raise awareness around digital pollution. It’s a term I coined to explain that when we build products, we often create collateral damage to society that erodes democracy.. I want to help build awareness that we need to build products responsibly because it has serious ramifications for the very existence of democracies. It’s not just products like Facebook or Google that I’m referring to, this is for every single product person. I strongly believe this is something we need to think about.

Over the next five years, my work is both focused on building products, and also wanting to spread some of these ideas about digital pollution, and how we can embrace responsibility as Product people. I always love to hear stories of other people across the world applying radical product thinking to create change in the world.”

After spending time with Radhika and hearing her journey, it is hard to imagine her as anything but a Product Lover. But if given a chance to be in another industry, she shares that that’s one other career that she would have loved as well.

“I would have studied linguistics, and I would have become a diplomat working in different countries. It would have been a different way of changing the world.”

Radhika's virtual setup for giving a talk
Radhika Family

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