Exercise your product muscles
This post starts about soccer. But, don’t worry, in the end it’s about products. Apologies if you don’t care about soccer.
I’ve watched hundred of hours of soccer. I’ve probably seen hundred of players miss penalty kicks. Some of them from not too far away (I play goalkeeper). Yet, having seen all this doesn’t make me a better penalty shooter. In fact, I’m pretty sure I’d shoot like this:
I know that I should aim between the post. Avoiding the goalkeeper is probably a good idea too. Yet, that’s not what matters if you want to consistently score your penalty kicks.
What matters is your foot placement, the angle of your body, the position of your foot next to the ball, the spot where your other foot hits the ball, the spin you give to the ball… A lot of stuff you have no idea about if you’ve only watched soccer on TV.
Watching other people miss penalties doesn’t make me a better penalty shooter.
But I somehow had the delusion that this would be true for products. I don’t think I’m the only one. I often hear people complaining about how other people product ideas are stupid. Or how other people’s execution really sucks. Or how other people’s design are ugly and not intuitive.
I certainly did a lot of this myself. But then, when having to do my first product, for real, I shot like Sergio Ramos.
If you think about it, that’s not surprising. As Jason Fried says, “You’ll play like you practice. You’re not going to be sharp unless you practice being sharp.”
In product, what is practice? When you get your first PM assignment or start your first company, it’s not a practice shot. You’re in the Champions League. If you’re an engineer looking to practice, it’s relatively easy, you can code a side project. How do product people practice?
I would argue that you can use all those bad products out there and use them to improve.
- Don’t stop at complaining they’re bad. That’s easy. Everyone can spot a lemon. That doesn’t mean you’re good at product.
- Instead, try explaining in a few words what makes them suck
- Could it be that they’re actually good, in a way?
- Now think about what you would have done differently? Would you have built the product differently? Would you have built an altogether different product?
- Why is it that there’s no good alternative? What is it that’s hard about it?
This also works with the good one. Go to Product Hunt every day, pick the top 3 products:
- What makes them successful?
- What did they get right?
- How did the people behind this product think about this idea?
Exercise your product muscles. Don’t just criticize the decisions. Think (preferably in writing) about what you would have done. That way, when it’s your time to shoot, you’ll have some practice under your belt.
If you want to go even further, think about the person (or persons) that made this decision. This is Water by David Foster Wallace changed the way I look at other people (and I think it’s made me a better person). I would argue that forcing yourself to think differently about product will make you a better product person.
Think a bit more about that “stupid company adding a stupid iOS8 widget because it’s shiny and new, while their main feature is buggy”
- What constraints were they under?
- What other data points do they have that could explain their decision?
- Who is their target user? Could it by any chance not be me?
- Are they testing something? If so, what?
Your hypothesis might be completely wrong. This stupid product mistake may really well be the result of an overworked Product Manager not giving a shit about their customer.
But rather than making the lazy hypothesis, thinking repeatedly about the alternative explanation and how, in that same situation, you would have done better will make you a better product person.
When you get to shoot that penalty kick yourself, you’ll be better prepared.