Don’t Be An 18th Century Product Manager

Even when you find genuinely good things to copy, there’s another pitfall to be avoided. Be careful to copy what makes them good, rather than their flaws. It’s easy to be drawn into imitating flaws, because they’re easier to see, and of course easier to copy too. For example, most painters in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries used brownish colors. They were imitating the great painters of the Renaissance, whose paintings by that time were brown with dirt. Those paintings have since been cleaned, revealing brilliant colors; their imitators are of course still brown.

Paul Graham

The lesson here for product managers is to make sure you understand the customer for that feature you are thinking of copying.  You never know when a feature that looks so bright and shinny from the outside is another product manager’s nightmare feature on the inside.

The competitor’s customers are probably different, their customer is probably different, and their long term strategy is probably different.  If you aren’t building something that is truly valuable to your customer, you could end up with a feature that flops…that stays “brown”.

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Elephant Question – How to Find Entrenched Problems

This is a great article on how to be a patient change agent:

  • People don’t like hearing that entrenched problems are “totally fixable” (none of us do — not just those “other” people).
  • To you, the fix is “common sense”, but to outsiders it may be counterintuitive.
  • By definition, a problem that remains entrenched is not “totally fixable” (without a change in context, actors, intent, etc.) On paper it may be fixable. In context, it is not.

At a minimum, ask someone:

Can you describe an elephant in the room that I will quickly encounter, will think is totally fixable, but will be wrong? Why is the status quo difficult to change?

Hacker Noon

Sustainable Sources of Competitive Advantage

A great article from Collaborative Fund about 5 sustainable sources of competitive advantage.  My favorite was number 2 – Eat Your Own Dog Food.

Forty-seven percent of mutual fund mangers do not personally own any of their own fund, according to Morningstar. That’s shocking. But I suspect something similar happens across most businesses.

What percentage of McDonald’s executives frequent their own restaurant as a legitimate customer interested in the chain’s food, rather than a fact-finding mission? Few, I imagine. How many times has the CEO of Delta Airlines been bumped from a flight, or had his bags lost by the airline? Never, I assume.

The inability to understand how your customers experience your product almost guarantees an eventual drift between the problems a business tries to solve and the problems customers need solved. Here again, a person with a lower IQ who can empathize with customers will almost always beat someone with a higher IQ who can’t put themselves in customers’ shoes.