How a pandemic is changing our community

Adrienne Tan

Community has been a big part of Brainmates from the beginning. Back in the early noughties, when Brainmates began, nobody knew what Product Management was. When we spoke about it, people thought we were talking about Project Management. It was immensely frustrating, and hard.

But we were younger and braver – and yes, stupider – back then, so we pushed on. We also had a deep belief in the value of Product Management. We wanted to show everyone that Product Management was essential to every business. But to do this, we needed supporters – a community to back us up. And people to whinge to and drink wine with when things went wrong.

The birth of Brainmates’ community

It really started with our Product Talks Meetup back in 2007. We wanted to create a home where Product people could feel safe and comfortable, share their ideas and help each other. The very first Product Talks in Sydney had a grand total of 7 people. It was a quiet affair. People were shy. We were shy. We each quietly held a drink and spoke around a table about defining Product Management.

Product Talks grew slowly, but we had some magic moments during those early days. Stellar speakers contributed to our understanding of Product Management. We had Alan Jones, Mike Knapp, Mike Cannon Brooks to name a few…Then, as Product Management found its stride, so did we. We collaborated with like-minded Product peeps and our Sydney Meetup grew and grew. We started Meetups in other areas. We started Product Women in Sydney and Melbourne to create a safe space for Product-loving women to meet, share ideas and network – we also wanted to help address the gender imbalance. We also created a conference, Leading the Product, and it was a success.

When the pandemic struck, Product Management, and our community was in rude health.

Then we weren’t allowed to go out. We couldn’t see anyone in person. Our community of warm, friendly, passionate Product folk retreated into their homes. What would happen to our community now?

Community in a lockdown world

Belonging to a community is a fundamental human need. The landmark Harvard longitudinal study, found that the best predictor of long and happy lives, was close relationships. More recent research has shown that our casual friendships, or acquaintances, are also a crucial part of happiness. This is the essence of community.

Maybe this is why, unexpectedly, our community is thriving during this pandemic.

Firstly, we’re growing.

  • We’ve had record numbers at our recent meetups, with more than 150 people tuned into our latest Sydney online meetup.
  • We have more than five and a half thousand people in our Product Talks community now – 500 have joined since the beginning of March. Product Women is growing too.

I guess that’s not that unexpected, when you’re in lockdown there’s not so much to do…but we’ve had some other benefits.

We’ve grown closer to people further away.

When we moved our Meetups online it felt weird at first. Chatting to people on video cam when you were used to seeing them face to face was odd. But then other benefits came along. We were able to hold combined meetups where our communities in New Zealand, Australia and Singapore could get together. We could invite speakers from anywhere in the world and it was just the same as if they were down the road.

People can come that couldn’t come before.

We’ve heard from many people that have said they’ve come to their first Meetup in years – or their first one ever. People who have kids and need to be home for dinnertime, people who live or work far from the city centres, people that don’t live in cities at all, people that don’t find it easy (or don’t think it’s safe) to be in the city by themselves at night time. It has made our community more open, more egalitarian.

As Aussies, we love this.

Our community has changed forever, in a good way.

We’re people people. We love seeing people face to face and the buzz you get from being in the same room. We’ll be some of the first people in the pubs and cafes and restaurants when they open up. But we also love the way this has opened up our community and we don’t want to close the door again.

When we emerge into a post-COVID world, we definitely want to see people face-to-face again, but we don’t want to lose what we’ve learned and gained by living through a pandemic.

Need a bit more community in your life?

Adrienne Tan

Adrienne Tan | Author

Adrienne is Co-Founder and CEO of Brainmates and Co-Founder of Leading the Product. She has been championing Product Management since 2000, earning international recognition for raising the profile of the Product Management profession. In this capacity she regularly consults to the Asia-Pacific's top businesses and speaks at business and Product events around the world.

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