24
Apr 14

More On The Path Between Great Idea and Successful Product

Aeropress coffee maker (photo my m15u, CC2.0 licensed)

Aeropress coffee maker (photo my m15u, CC2.0 licensed)

More on what it takes to turn a great idea into a great product, this time from the inventor of the Aerobie flying ring. Steve Jobs said “there’s a tremendous amount of craftsmanship between a having a great idea and having a great product,” but it’s not just craftsmanship – there are obstacles of all kinds, as Adler experienced both with the Aerobie and the Aeropress coffee maker.

At every turn, the AeroPress — like most of Adler’s other inventions — encountered innumerable roadblocks, faced skepticism, and was doubted. Like anyone who has forged new ground, Adler had a choice at each junction: throw in the towel, or return to the drawing board; he consistently chose the latter. In many ways, the AeroPress is a reflection of its inventor: it’s simple, but precise, it’s highly adaptable, and it squeezes every last drop of flavor from the bean.

Link: The Invention of the AeroPress

Hattip to Boing Boing for the link and to Zachery Crockett of Pricenomics for the fascinating Adler article.


22
Apr 14

The Distance Between A Great Idea and “An Elegant, Really Beautiful Solution That Works”

An elegant handmade tool for making elegant handmade furniture (photo by Visitflanders, CC 2.0 licensed)

An elegant handmade tool for making elegant handmade furniture (photo by Visitflanders, CC 2.0 licensed)

One of the things that really hurt Apple was after I left, John Sculley got a very serious disease. And that disease—I’ve seen other people get it, too—it’s the disease of thinking that a having a great idea is really 90 percent of the work. And if you just tell people, ‘here’s this great idea,’ then of course they can go off and make it happen. The problem with that is that there’s a tremendous amount of craftsmanship between a having a great idea and having a great product. (Steve Jobs, 1995)

The good stuff in product management happens when new concepts start to emerge as you work, based on or sparked from other ideas bashing together, and human insight, and touch and feel and a sense of elegance. Where the whole is much more than the sum of its parts.

Unfortunately, lots of people think of product management as if simply having an idea is the hard part, and turning that idea into a product is just a simple process of A-to-B. Partly because that’s what they’ve experienced with other business processes, which are mostly just complicated – lots of moving parts, but fitting together in a well-understood way. This is not how good products arise – things that seem obvious at first turn out not to be, while things that seem hard at first often end up simple. Jobs understood this better than anyone, and he said so often.

When you start looking at a problem and it seems really simple, you don’t really understand the complexity of the problem. Then you get into the problem, and you see that it’s really complicated, and you come up with all these convoluted solutions. That’s sort of the middle, and that’s where most people stop… But the really great person will keep on going and find the key, the underlying principle of the problem – and come up with an elegant, really beautiful solution that works. (Steve Jobs again.)

I’m inspired every time I read this quote.

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09
Apr 14

Structured Vs. Unstructured – What PMs Can Learn From Mozart

Don’t be like this guy! (Image by Christina, CC 2.0 licensed)

There’s always a balance between structure and lack of structure. It plays out in every domain, and especially every creative domain. Structure can help us think, can help us remember (i.e., be an offboard memory), and can give us guidelines within which to be creative.

Consider the classical composers – Bach, Mozart, Beethoven – each had a structure in which they composed, and part of their greatness was creating the greatest of works in that structure. The other part of their genius was in breaking the rules of those structures and extending the structures to accommodate new thinking and new avenues for creativity. We might not have had a Beethoven if Mozart had said “let there be no rules for music anymore!”

But, on the other hand, we wouldn’t have had a Beethoven if Mozart had only followed the rules he got from Bach. Breaking the rules, even while mostly playing within them, characterizes most important creative work across history. Even transgressive artists start from a structure – in fact, their transgression is only meaningful in opposition to the structure it transgresses.

The point is, some structure – the right structure – is good. History has shown that it’s better to have structure, but to break out of its rules sometimes, than to have no structure. And as the Heath Brothers discuss beautifully and at length in Decisive, you have to break your structure sometimes to enable creativity.

You have to strike a balance. Most tools “designed for” PMs are too constricting (see my earlier post on the danger of treating product management as a list management problem). But in contrast wikis are too freeform – they don’t help you think as a product manager, but just as a thinker. Without enough structure, it’s easier to leave stuff out of your thinking that you should be including (see my post about Impact Areas, for example). This is even more true if you want some analytical ability – analytics depends on structure.

Let me know what you think about structure and lack of structure in the comments.

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