A porous membrane for the organisation, and why it matters for product thinking

Hugh MacLeod introduced the concept of the porous membrane of the organisation in 2005 to explain why organisations should use social software like blogs and social media.

The porous membrane allows a conversation to take place between the external audience (B) and the internal organisation (A). This conversation allows the organisation to find an audience that aligns with its culture, value proposition etc. For MacLeod, the alignment comes before increasing the size of the viewing the blog posts, etc., so this idea shouldn’t be read as a strategy for growing an audience, but as a means for developing alignment between the organisation and the right audience for it.

This thinking about how organisations should have porous membranes applies to more than just blogging and social media. It is also fundamental for thinking about products and how they create an interface between the organisation and the users.

A product is an interface between the user and the organisation. Like the conversation enabled by blogging and social media, a product enables a value exchange between the user and the organisation that only works if there is alignment between the two. It’s this alignment that the product process attempts to understand through user research, market analysis, etc.

An organisation that doesn’t consider its products as part of creating a porous membrane, part of a two-way exchange, misses out on understanding that alignment.