Author Archives: Zunder Lekshmanan

About Zunder Lekshmanan

An obedient son, a committed worker, a bearable husband, father, brother and a loyal friend. A self-proclaimed techie, a foodie, enjoy road trips and love the mountains

Product Owners – Identifying hidden biases

killing_dreams

Recently I was one of the judges in an internal Hackathon ideas presentation competition. Here we judge the presenters on their ability to pitch perfectly. One idea we heard was from two rookies who spoke something about building some communication technology to avoid car to car collisions. We kind of heard it acknowledged it as a good idea and let it pass. For the record this team did not win the pitch making award.

A week went by and I came across the following article

Vehicle-to-Vehicle Communications Will Save Lives on the Road | MIT Technology Review
http://www.technologyreview.com/featuredstory/534981/car-to-car-communication/

This article hit me and hit me very hard. It is not because of the article or the technology, but my failure to recognize a good idea or even acknowledge it. I am very positive that the rookies who presented this idea had no clue about the MIT insider article. They were more presenting it out of their convictions and spontaneity.

I guess I played a role in killing their spontaneity. That set me thinking and I kind of present here my own internal thought processes and biases on how I have been killing ideas over the years.

  • Immediate Relevance
  • Need for External Validation
  • Confirmation Bias
  • Outside the core

Immediate Relevance

On a lighter note, though living in the present is being advocated by spiritual masters, it comes with an opportunity cost of recognizing ideas that shall have an impact in the future. I am so consumed either by what I can do or what I can do in the next three months or possibly in the next one year, I kind of tend to overlook ideas that I possibly cannot realize immediately. But, do not all good or great things take time? How can I begin to be less myopic?

Need for External Validation

I suppose that this bias is more of a country specific DNA. I feel good only when someone else possibly says that I am good and over a period of time this becomes conditioned heavily into my system that I begin to compromise on my conviction, which I believe is a prime factor for nurturing any kind of idea. If I had not seen the MIT article mentioned above, possibly this thought process would have remained dormant in me

Confirmation Bias

I think when it comes to pushing ideas I suffer from this bias. It has to possibly subconsciously appeal to beliefs I hold are true. Having being primed in certain frame of thinking for years, it is impossible for me to accept something that is outside my frame of reference , accept it and promote it. Any idea that is outside my frame of reference seems to have the first predetermined response as ‘This will not work’

Outside the Core

The word ‘Core Competency’ is so heavily drilled into all of us including me, be it personal core competency or organizational core competency. If any idea falls outside the realm of these competencies I naturally seem to be threatened and start to reject the ideas saying that is outside our core competency. In a fast changing world, where the only certain thing of tomorrow is that the sun shall rise (Does the sun rise?), should we be so stuck to our core competencies or should we adapt?

As a product manager, owner, decision maker, facilitator, mentor or anyone in any capacity what do you think?

Do you have your biases?

What are your hidden biases?

What do you today to set aside your personal prejudices?

How do you create a culture where these biases can be overcome?

I will set out to answer some of these questions the next time around, but I would love to hear from you.

Have fun.

They tried to bury us, but they didn’t know that we were seeds – Mexican Proverb

 

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Building Products – A tale of two Steve’s

steve_job_1steve_blank_1

I have been recently wondering about two Steve’s who have had a profound influence on me or possibly all of us. One of them is the mercurial Steve Jobs. I cannot put a prefix of Late to Steve Jobs as he still continues to have his spirit hover around and influence us through his ‘i’ series of products The other is the incredible Steve Blank (http://www.steveblank.com) who through his ‘Lean Startup’ movement has been disrupting the approach to product development and has been systemically re-writing conventional wisdom on product development. I have kind of distilled down some basic factors behind these two schools of thought. I trust, as builders of products it would possibly help you to debate within  on which school of thought you belong.

Conviction

I think this is one of the foundations of building products. I do not think you can bring out something without conviction. Steve Job’s (SJ) conviction was around a sense of supreme self-assuredness. Steve Blank’s (SB) conviction is about validating your conviction periodically and frequently. SB’s Rule number one is to ‘Get out of the Building’ while SJ would have fired you for getting the idea out of the building!

Time to Market

SB’s rule number nine is about fast decision-making, cycle time, speed and tempo. In other words, get the rubber on the road faster to your target market, get feedback, incorporate that feedback and get it out faster again. Repeat this cycle, till you reach some kind of critical mass. SJ’s modus operandi is to take necessary time , create a suspense, a sense of awe, make people anxious about it and create that magic time and again by making people stand in queue from early morning to touch and feel the product. In my view the former approach is about getting something ‘Good enough’ faster to market, while the latter approach is to market ‘Near Perfection’ as the differentiator.

Price and Cost

Though unstated, SB’s model focuses on iterative price discovery, while SJ always kept it at a premium. In SB’s model the argument is about preserving cash till the time customer/market fit is made, while in SJ’s model it is about planned pre-emptive and massive spend in the absolute faith that the pay-off is going to be multi-fold. With respect to failure, SB’s model is more resilient as SJ’s model requires deep pocket to recover and start again.

Scale, Impact, Pivot

The views from both the schools of thought kind of converge here. Both advocate embarking on something that impact on a sizeable segment of population over a period of time to remain relevant. However in SB’s school of thought it is easier to pivot and also be less emotional about killing something that is not working. Since the emotional investment is validated periodically it is easier to course correct. In SJ’s model the emotional investment made is so huge and it takes a slightly longer time to announce that ‘I made a mistake’.

There could be various other factors that I possibly could have missed out, but I thought it might be a good idea to make a beginning somewhere. In my earlier stages of my life I have believed that I know best and I have been proven wrong countless number of times. I have been proven right at times but my success rate is lower when I believed I know what is best for my consumers. As the colour of my hair changes, I have began to wish somehow that SB came into my life earlier as I firmly believe his model gives a sense of semblance , structure and possibility thinking to normal human beings like me. So does that leave SJ’s model null and void? I would not even dare to attempt saying so, but SJ’s model though available in bits and pieces has not successful repeatable replication yet. It might just be SJ’s model is fit for Zero to One technologies and SB’s model fit for One to N technologies (http://zerotonebook.com).

Setting aside the models which I would like you to ponder, I would like to end with a final question? Who would be remembered in hundred years from now?

SJ – The Artist Par Excellence or SB – The Teacher Par Excellence

Have a great 2015 of Building Products

Zunder