Every product manager knows how important it is to meet customers, to speak to them and to observe them. We all do it. I work in healthcare publishing and, of course, we often meet physicians and go to hospitals. So do our competitors. In fact we tend to meet the same people and ask broadly similar questions. Is it any wonder that the products and workflow solutions that we develop tend to look similar?
The challenge for product managers is how to be more insightful, to see and hear things that others do not see or have never seen before.
You can find a great example of this in Tom Kelley's book The Art of Innovation. Ever since toothbrushes were invented in 15th century, kids have had to make do with cut down, smaller sized versions of adult toothbrushes. Until the mid-1990's when IDEO, who were working on a project for Oral-B, watched children playing with toothbrushes. An insightful person realized something that no-one over the centuries had ever realized before, that little kids grasp things with their whole fist and not with their fingertips as adults do. So they made toothbrushes with fat, soft, squishy handles. Nowadays you won't find anything else on sale. So how is it that we give our kids toothbrushes to use for over a 100 years without realizing that it would be better if they were bigger and fatter than our adult ones? Because it is paradoxical. Little people need little things right? Logical. Well no that's wrong.
This is insight in action. The ability to see and hear things that no-one else has never seen before.
Here are some tops tips on how to be more insightful that I hope will be useful (with thanks to ?!):
- Be curious - never take anything at face value but ask why? what's this about? what could be going on here?
- Be playful - children are naturally curious, try to remember what being a child was like; if you were a child again now what would you be thinking?
- Don't look for the ultimate answer, the answer to life, the universe and everything.. look instead for something simple that makes you go "ooh, now that's interesting, I'd like to know more" and then follow your instinct
- Do you ever find yourself thinking "I like that but I don't know why"? That's a sure sign that you just sensed something insightful. Don't let your rational brain dismiss the thought until you've explored it
- Another sure sign of insightfulness is when you find yourself bubbling with questions; you cannot wait to understand why, to explain the observation. Capture that moment.
- Look for something that surprises you, that you didn't expect. If you find nothing that surprises you then look deeper, ask more questions; your brain is probably playing tricks on you by jumping to conclusions and only allowing you to see patterns that you've seen before
- Try being someone else! If you were the Queen what would you ask and what would you think and what would you see?
- Get fresh! Continually bring freshness into your life and work. Go to places you've never been before. Meet people you've never met before. Ask different questions. Break your habits.
And don't forget context. Sometimes unremarkable insights become remarkable when you understand the context better. Here's a great example I heard from Narenda Laljani There are around 2.7 billion searched on Google every day. Taken at face value this sounds unremarkable; I mean Google is big and successful, you expect a big number right? Well the world population is around 6.7 billion..... Wow! Suddenly 2.7 billion sounds like a really big number. When I heard this my mind started asking questions like 'what is everyone searching for?' and 'before Google, where did all these questions go?' and 'has Google increased the number of questions asked worldwide?' and..... I have no idea what's going on but I do know that an apparently unremarkable fact suddenly became fascinating by the addition of context.