PRODUCTHEAD: Products with a fatal flaw ☠️
PRODUCTHEAD is a regular newsletter of product management goodness,
curated by Jock Busuttil.
punchdrunk lovesick prodalong #
Encourage continual scrutiny of your product’s central flaws — talk openly about the elephants in the room
Cognitive biases lead us away from rational thought and objective truth
Research and evidence help us to neutralise biases
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Back in June 2012, a bunch of adrenaline junkies parachuted into Google’s annual I/O conference. While this was an impressive stunt to pull off in its own right, what stole the headlines and broke the internet was the detail that they were all live streaming throughout.
The skydivers were connected to a live video call to the conference’s main stage using a prototype of what would become Google Glass. The hype this stunt generated was immense.
Comparing hyped products #
Writing in 2013, I couldn’t help notice some similarities between Glass and the Segway, a self-balancing electric scooter that similarly failed to live up to its hype.
|Segway: 2001||Glass: 2013|
|Great engineering||Great engineering|
|Created in a tech bubble||Created in a tech bubble|
|Massively hyped before launch||Massively hyped before launch|
|For the tech-savvy, by the tech-savvy||For the tech-savvy, by the tech-savvy|
|Illegal to use when most likely to be of use||Illegal to use when most likely to be of use|
|Mainstream users feel a bit daft using it||Mainstream users feel a bit daft using it|
|A solution in search of a problem||A solution in search of a problem|
Barely two and a half years after the skydiving stunt, Glass was essentially dead. (Called it. ✌️) There were several good reasons for its demise, notably privacy concerns, cost versus capabilities, slow rate of improvement, and the disconnect between the hype and reality of what Glass could and would do.
Fatally flawed products #
Designer Warren Craddock worked on, in his words, “a number of high-profile failures” including Glass. In his Twitter thread, he gives a few examples to make the point that each product was fatally flawed, yet the culture of the teams working on them caused them to disregard that fatal flaw and push on regardless.
“The theme here is that the cultures that arise around products, methods, and inventions often grow to exclude discussion of their fatal flaws, and instead find elaborate ways to paper over them — to find more and more clever ways to pretend they don’t exist.”Warren Craddock (@warren_craddock), Twitter (10 October 2022, retrieved 29 October 2022)
I’ve worked with teams and companies that have fallen for their own hype. In each case it was only a matter of time before reality brought them crashing down to earth. However hard they marketed the product, however well they compensated their sales teams, the product was a dud with paying customers.
Disconnected from reality #
What causes teams — and product managers — to disconnect from reality in this way? Perhaps in part we can attribute it to the IKEA effect, where we tend to value things more when we’ve built it ourselves, even if they’re fatally flawed. Maybe we’re succumbing to the sunk cost fallacy, where we use our historical (and irretrievable) investment of time, money and effort as flawed justification for continuing with a fruitless endeavour.
Or it could be that we’re at the mercy of other cognitive biases. If enough of our peers are super-enthused about a new product, even if that product is fatally flawed, we would still tend to behave in the same way. This is known as social proof. It’s all too easy to substitute our fervent hope that our product may be successful with a belief that it will succeed. Our susceptibility to conform our behaviour with those around us can suppress our scepticism and lead otherwise sensible people to believe and do absurd things.
Who’s really in control? #
Except we’re not ‘at the mercy’ of our biases — we can assert control if we choose to. Like the child who points out the emperor is naked in Hans Christian Andersen’s “The Emperor’s New Clothes”, we can choose not to conform to the prevailing social norms and instead speak the truth (unpalatable though it may be). We can challenge our cognitive biases with factual evidence, which we gather through user and market research.
It all boils down to two questions:
Are we solving a real problem that people would value a solution to?
How do we know that for sure?
Final thoughts #
As product people, we’re not just here to create meaningful and valuable products with our teams. We’re also responsible for demonstrating that objective truth and evidence of tangible value hold more sway than marketing fluff and hype.
If enough people in your organisation can set a good example, then maybe — just maybe — that can become the social norm instead.
Speak to you soon,
what to think about this week
Thread: high-profile failures
I’ve worked on a number of high-profile failures:
– Lytro lightfield cameras
– Google Glass head-mounted computer
– Google Clips automatic photographer
They all had a fatal flaw. Everyone saw the flaw. But the culture that arose in these teams purposefully ignored the flaw.
Refusing to see the wood for the trees
[Warren Craddock / Twitter]
Google Glass: A brief history
Google announced on 15 January  that it would soon end sales of Google Glass as well as kill the Explorer programme, though it promised to continue working on “future versions” of the smart eyewear. The news shocked many who still expected Google to do a full consumer launch, but for those who followed the search company closely, it seemed like a long time coming.
[Elyse Betters / Pocket-lint]
Fooled by the hype
Everyone’s continually looking for “the next big thing,” whether it’s technology, a manage- ment method, or the latest human-resources approach. And in a “now economy” that seems ever-accelerating, businesses feel pressured to meet rapidly changing customer demands, reinvent or evolve themselves more frequently, and beat competitors to the punch by being the first to provide faster, better, and shinier solutions.
[PDF] Next big thing or merely shiny new object?
[John Lucker, Susan K. Hogan, and Brenna Sniderman / Deloitte Review]
The sunk cost fallacy
The sunk cost fallacy describes our tendency to continue to pursue an endeavor that we have already committed to in terms of investing money, time or effort into it, even if those costs are not recoverable.
[The Decision Lab]
Billion-dollar platforms — how they did it
I was asked recently whether platforms will conquer the world. My view? They already have. In this article I share how they’ve done it, and how you can successfully bring your own platform to market.
[I Manage Products]
An exercise in stakeholder alignment
When your stakeholders each have their own interpretations of the product strategy, this lack of stakeholder alignment will cause you no end of problems. Here’s what you can do about it.
A practical exercise you can run
[I Manage Products]
The 4 unintended side-effects of risk aversion and what to do about them
When we become more worried about risk, four unintended things also tend to happen: bottlenecking, erosion of trust, ossification of process, and a risk appetite that tends towards zero. Here’s what you can do about them.
[I Manage Products]
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