PRODUCTHEAD: Products with a fatal flaw ☠️

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

a favour: please share this with other product people

every PRODUCTHEAD edition is online for you to refer back to


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: 2001Glass: 2013
Great engineeringGreat engineering
Created in a tech bubbleCreated in a tech bubble
Massively hyped before launchMassively hyped before launch
For the tech-savvy, by the tech-savvyFor the tech-savvy, by the tech-savvy
Illegal to use when most likely to be of useIllegal to use when most likely to be of use
Mainstream users feel a bit daft using itMainstream users feel a bit daft using it
A solution in search of a problemA solution in search of a problem
The Practitioner’s Guide To Product Management, p.66

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 [2015] 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.

A wild and brief ride

[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.

Good money after bad

[The Decision Lab]

recent posts

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.

The ingredients for success

[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.

It’s all about the safety net

[I Manage Products]

can we help you?

Product People is a product management services company. We can help you through consultancy, training and coaching. Just contact us if you need our help!

Product People Limited logo

Helping people build better products, more successfully, since 2012.

PRODUCTHEAD is a newsletter for product people of all varieties, and is lovingly crafted from spent firework casings.

Read more from Jock

The Practitioner's Guide to Product Management book cover

The Practitioner's Guide To Product Management

by Jock Busuttil

“This is a great book for Product Managers or those considering a career in Product Management.”

— Lyndsay Denton

Jock Busuttil is a freelance head of product, product management coach and author. He has spent over two decades working with technology companies to improve their product management practices, from startups to multinationals. In 2012 Jock founded Product People Limited, which provides product management consultancy, coaching and training. Its clients include BBC, University of Cambridge, Ometria, Prolific and the UK’s Ministry of Justice and Government Digital Service (GDS). Jock holds a master’s degree in Classics from the University of Cambridge. He is the author of the popular book The Practitioner’s Guide To Product Management, which was published in January 2015 by Grand Central Publishing in the US and Piatkus in the UK. He writes the blog I Manage Products and weekly product management newsletter PRODUCTHEAD. You can find him on Mastodon, Twitter and LinkedIn.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *