Product School

7 Documentaries Product People Shouldn’t Miss

Ellen Merryweather

Ellen Merryweather

January 09, 2023 - 6 min read

Updated: January 24, 2024 - 6 min read

Documentaries are an amazingly underrated source of information. Culturally, we have them slightly relegated to being something to fall asleep to on a Thursday night, or weekend serial-killer documentary binge sessions.

In actual fact, there are some truly insightful and thought-provoking films out there that can teach you a great number of useful things, spanning human behaviour and psychology, to business and economics, to technology and design. All things which are pretty useful in the product world!

We’ve picked out 8 of our favorites that, each in there own way, will give you new insights and a fresh perspective, helping you to build better products…or at least not build headline-worthy scams!

(If you’re more into books, newsletters, or podcasts, check out our curated lists for those too!)

1. The Inventor: Out for Blood in Silicon Valley

Synopsis: The Inventor tells the story of Elizabeth Holmes, a Silicon Valley star of the early-mid 2000s, and CEO of Theranos. Holmes’ Theranos machines were able to test for an impressive menu of conditions all from a single drop of blood…except they couldn’t. It’s a story of deception, of business wars, and of some pretty shocking smoke and mirrors.

Where to watch: HBO

What Product Managers can learn: First of all, Theranos is an important part of Silicon Valley history, with Holmes set to be ‘the next Steve Jobs.’ It also provides us with an opportunity to pause, and reflect on the danger of having a vision, but with no means to achieve it.

Product Managers are the keepers of the product vision, of the North Star. Theranos is the cautionary tale of what can go wrong when you don’t really have anything else.

2. Design & Thinking

Synopsis: From 2012 (but still very relevant) comes Design & Thinking, a documentary exploring the meaning behind ‘Design Thinking’ and its impact on how product are built. It asks the question ‘why are huge corporations being beaten by college students in garages?’ and ‘how do we fully engage organizations to think about the changing landscape of business, culture and society?’

Where to watch:

What Product Managers can learn: The message coming from the product design world is loud and clear; design needs a seat at the table from the very start of the development process. While not all PMs are naturally design-obsessed, all PMs do need to know how to communicate with their design team, and to understand why design is so critical for the success of a product.

You might also be interested in: Design Thinking for PMs

3. Healed Through A.I.: The Age of A.I.

Synopsis: Have you ever wanted Tony Stark to explain Artificial Intelligence to you? Probably not if you work with AI in your day job, but for beginners, this YouTube Original series explores the various modern-day applications of A.I. as well as looking into what’s possible in the future.

Where to watch: YouTube

What Product Managers can learn: If you’re currently building a product that uses A.I., or you’re somewhat of an expert in the field, then this series may be too basic for you. But if you’re one of the many PMs who isn’t actually that technical, and you’re looking for an accessible way to start learning more about the possibilities and applications of A.I. this is for you.

Each episode focuses on a particular field A.I. is being applied to, and with HealthTech enjoying a recent boom in popularity, we especially recommend episode 2: Healed Through A.I.

4. The Social Dilemma

Synopsis: The Social Dilemma lifts the lid on how social media algorithms work, and well as revealing what happens to user data. The film reveals information known by most people in tech, but not by the general public, and gives viewers a serious look at the potential (and real) dangers of social media.

Where to watch: Netflix

What Product Managers can learn: Thanks to books like Nir Eyal’s Hooked, product people are generally hyper-aware of exactly how social media works. After all, social media was in part built by Product Managers! But before you think that this documentary is ‘preaching to the choir’, it’s useful to know what conversations are being had around the technology you’re building.

The Social Dilemma presents a useful opportunity to see what the fears are surrounding social media and the possible harmful implications. If you work in social media, it’s an exercise in listening to your customers, and possibly even thinking of different paths to take to provide value whilst building back up their trust.

5. Lo and Behold, Reveries of the Connected World

Synopsis: A comprehensive look at the origins, present, and future of technology. Werner Herzog adds his flair for the dramatic and aptitude for gravitas to what may start to feel like a mundane topic for those of us who work with it every day. Featuring interviews with tech giants like Elon Musk, this film will re-ignite your excitement for the possibilities of technology…as well as your fears.

Where to watch: Vimeo

What Product Managers can learn: It’s easy to develop a tunnel vision when you’re busy working on your own product. So every now and then it’s important to take a step back and see what you’re doing in relation to the context surrounding it. Lo and Behold helps us to refocus, and to think about the greater impact of technology as a whole, not just the impact of our own companies.

6. The Creative Brain

Synopsis: A deeper look at the abstract concept of ‘creativity’, and what it means to have a creative mind. A neuroscientist meets with various artistic professionals to record their experiences with the creative process, and debunk the misconception that being creative means ‘making something out of nothing.’

Where to watch: Netflix

What Product Managers can learn: Product Management is very underrated in terms of creativity! In fact, Product Managers are some of the most creative people in technology, because that’s what it takes to find solutions to problems. PMs also use creative approaches to their own day-to-day tasks, like running more effective one-to-one meetings or creating more engaging user personas. This documentary will help to re-engage that side of your brain, and help to unlock your creative powers, even if you think you don’t have any!

7. The People’s Republic of the Future

Synopsis: Shenzhen in China is known in the tech world as a Chinese clone of Silicon Valley. It has become the country’s main source of innovation, and offers Western audiences a fascinating look into what Bloomberg describes as ‘the most fascinating city [for technology] in the world.

Where to watch: YouTube

What Product Managers can learn: Fresh perspectives are always useful in the product world. And knowing about new technology hubs, especially one as fascinating as Shenzhen, will give you a new enthusiasm for global tech. It’s also helpful for Silicon Valley Product Managers who are suffering from the San Francisco echo-chamber effect.

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Did we miss any of your favorites? Share the documentary you think is the best for product people in our Slack community!

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Updated: January 24, 2024

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