Anyone who stood in Manchester’s Albert Square on the afternoon of 23 May 2017 for the public vigil after the Manchester Arena bomb attack will remember hearing poet Tony Walsh read his poem “This is the place”. His phrase “Mancunians in union” resonated with many of us and was something we wanted to celebrate at MTP Engage Manchester in February.
Part of the motivation for MTP Engage Manchester was to celebrate the spirit of the place and its people, and to show how these can be evoked in a product. Manchester’s heritage is all around us and we wanted to honour the city’s legacy, and show what we’ve learned from it – by building better products, in the right way, together.
Mike Perls, founder of strategic marketing agency MC2, began his talk with footage of Tony Walsh’s reading, before introducing us to the “original product manager”, Daniel Adamson. Adamson was a Victorian engineer and the driving force behind the construction of the Manchester Ship Canal, which connects Manchester to the coast at Liverpool. Adamson pulled together the powerful and influential people in the city, from politics to engineering, sold them his vision for the canal and got the project moving. While the building blocks of Adamson’s canal project were very different from those we usually associate with product deliveries, his skillset translates well to product management today; from conveying an ambitious vision through to dealing with tricky stakeholders.
Mike took us through the most common fears that people have. If you’re able to be disruptive and do something no one else has done, then you have to break through the second biggest fear that humans have – that of standing up and standing out. Mancunians don’t seem to have this fear, according to Mike, and they have been responsible for delivering some truly spectacular products, from the first computer to the first commuter. Manchester is a city where standing up and doing something differently is celebrated.
And it seems to pay off. There have been 27 Nobel Prize winners from Manchester, so if Manchester was a country, it would be sixth in the global league of winners, ahead of Japan. Being able to ask what is possible, to sway opinion, and deliver, has clearly worked.
Manchester is the fastest growing UK city outside London, one of the city’s strengths is its ability to bring people in and bring people together. The Manchester narrative is bringing people in, and it has a young talent base that welcomes diversity.
Mike also reminded us of the importance of creativity and that this should be blended with technology. As product people we should be connected to creative influences, from art to design to entertainment, we should absorb it and ask how we can apply this thinking to everything we do. As product managers we are uniquely placed to embrace these other ways of thinking. If, as Mike says, 98% of Mancunians state that London is the second city, then there’s definitely a swagger that can be tapped into.
Mike finished by challenging us to become more “magnetic” and to get out and stand out – to tap into your city, wherever you find yourself, use the resources, work the connections, and double-down not just on your product, but on yourself.