On the Kano Model and the LGBT Movement: Musings on the Intersections of my Startup and Advocacy Life

A few weeks ago, my startup company Taxumo had a two-day sprint activity to assess how we can create exciting new products for our customers—the thousands of Filipino self-employed-professionals, freelancers, and sole proprietors (and many thousands more, soon to come.)

During the session, our CEO EJ Arboleda introduced to us the Kano Model, the product development and customer satisfaction theory developed by Japanese professor Noriaki Kano. The said theory advocates going beyond the functional benefits of your product and service, and assessing the emotions which you can elicit by introducing certain new features.

The theory posits that products/services are composed of either three attributes: threshold attributes, otherwise known as the “basics”; performance attributes, or the ” satisfiers”; and the excitement attributes, or the “delighters”.

For example, think of an insulated water bottle. It’s basic (threshold attribute) that the said water bottle would not get hot and still be holdable even after you put in hot water. Now, if the said water bottle also keeps your water’s temperature stable for 48 hours (versus its competitor’s 24-hour temperature stability), that could be really satisfying (a performance attribute) for you as a customer, since it boosts your enjoyment of an expected feature. But what if the water bottle also changes color depending on how cold or hot the water is? That’s a totally unexpected feature, and could be a delightful thing for your customer (an excitement attribute.)

In time, however, as people become used to the exciting feature which you’ve once offered, it sort of becomes an expected property for your product. (Think of mobile phones having touchscreens—a feature Apple popularized.)

Oddly, but perhaps with good reason, the Kano model came to mind when I was thinking about our work within the LGBT advocacy, specifically during the recent IDAHOBIT (International Day Against Homophobia, Biphobia, and Transphobia) event which the Philippine LGBT Chamber of Commerce did with the Embassy of the Netherlands in the Philippines.

At the event, we screened the documentaries we produced for the “Beyond Rainbows” series, featuring some of the leading lights of the Philippine LGBT advocacy. After the screening, the advocates—namely author and feminist Anna Leah Sarabia, filmmaker Nick Deocampo, and Metropolitan Community Church (MCC) Philippines founder Fr. Richard Mickley—talked about their struggles as the vanguards of the LGBT movement.

The decades back then were fraught with so much fear and resistance: Fr. Mickley shared how they defiantly staged with a handful of people the first-ever Pride March in the Philippines in 1994, which catalyzed an annual movement that only last year reached a record-breaking 25,000 (probably even more) march of LGBT+ people and allies. Anna talked about they tested the limits of the freedom of expression which the 1987 Constitution accorded activists like her, post-Marcos. Nick about the outright and normalized bigotry he had experienced from people around him.

As a Filipino gay man, I feel somewhat strange (and I mean that in a positive way) that I am alive to witness this time of our community’s collective history, when we see support finally coming from different sides. Undeniably, there is an upheaval happening right before our very eyes: a change that is swinging towards greater social justice. As we always say, there is more work to be done, still. But we have to acknowledge that the world is changing for the better.

So how does the Kano model come into my story?

I think our victories—the “delighters” and “satisfiers” in our fight—are something to celebrate about. Taiwan’s affirmation of the constitutional right to marriage equality has electrified all of us here in this part of the world: we’ve seen an Asian society give us a precedent of what could happen to all of us. We felt that same elation when the SOGIE Equality Bill got approved at the Congress level two years back. We were similarly ecstatic when the World Health Organization recently struck being transgender from its list of mental disorders a few days ago.

The fight towards more representation, diversity, and inclusion is moving forward.

But perhaps, what I truly wish for is that these delighters become basics in our world.

This is not so that we would take for granted all the good work our elders have achieved for us.

What I mean to say is, I wish that we will come to a time in our history when we as people would simply know by heart that love and equality is a human right that everyone deserves.

I’m dreaming of a world when it won’t be so revolutionary to love whom you want to you love, whomever they may be.

I hope for a world when we will respect people not because we’ve recently legislated penalties against discrimination, but because it’s the unspoken obligation of our humanity.

I can’t wait that these things become the self-evident truths that we all live and adhere to.

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