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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Mar 14

Don’t Just Use Social Proof – Make Sure It’s Personal

We have learned – from Dan Pink in Drive, Chip and Dan Heath in Switch, and many others – that to engage and motivate people effectively, you need to reach both their rational self and their emotional self. The research shows that one of the main jobs of our rational brain is to justify the decisions of our emotional brain, and a good way to reach the emotional brain is to talk about personal goals

I’ve been working with clients recently to help them engage their prospects better on their websites. I’m surfacing how the prospect’s personal goals will be satisfied by the product or offering by sharing social proof of how existing customers have achieved their personal goals.

To do this, I’m going through the clients’ success stories (and in some cases, doing more interviews) to find statements of:

  • Low expectations that were exceeded
  • Problems they faced that had personal impact, and were solved
  • Worries about a product solution that the solution didn’t have (especially if a competitor did!)
  • Impact of problems that the solution addressed
  • How they measure the success of the solution in personal terms 
  • How their standing in the company changed after the solution was implemented
  • Unexpected benefits they got by using the solution

For example, one of my favorites is a client who said that after implementing the solution, “I could wake up in the morning and not dread how much will I have to multi-task today.” Now, that’s a personal goal that’s been satisfied – not dreading waking up!

Another client said that as a result of a successful project with the solution, “everyone from management to sales and product management look at us [i.e., her group] as experts” in a particular area.

A last example, showing that you don’t have to help people sleep better to get a great personal benefit – eliminating annoying and tedious work is a great result as well: “The solution has saved our department a lot of time and headaches by eliminating most of the tedious, manual tasks associated with our [old process].”

Now I’ll be working with these clients to use these stories in their marketing at the top level, so prospects can immediately get emotionally engaged with how the solutions will improve their lives.

Taking Action

Here are three things you can do today to start using these ideas:

  1. Whenever you talk to a customer, try to elicit some thoughts about how your product has helped them satisfy personal goals, from being less annoyed by their work, to being more praised by their peers. You can use the list of points above as a guideline for your questions. 
  2. Search through your existing customer success stories and find the quotes that represent personal successes for the speaker, and not just the achievement of business goals – which are not as engaging.
  3. Work with your marketing department to start using these personal goal achievement quotes at a top-level on your website – use A/B testing to confirm they create more engagement than what you might have there already.

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Mar 14

“Creating Value” Means Eliminating A Problem Completely, Not Making It 5% Better

If your goal is to create value in the world with your product or offering, then you need to make sure your product either:

We all get these credit card offers in the mail every week. The people sending those direct mail offers are doing their best to send fewer and fewer, and have more and more of the recipients actually take the offers. But the numbers are pathetic. A great response to one of those come-ons is that 2% turn into customers after three impressions. That means that for every customer I get, I had to send out 150 of those mailers. And the 49 people who got three different offers are pissed off at me. And a giant pile of paper needs to go into the landfill. And that’s for an offer that performs well – if an offer performs badly it might be ten times as many mailings for the same result – one customer.

If you are sending out credit card offers, you can get marketing software today that might help you increase that 2% response rate slightly. Say to 2.1%. That’s a big enough increase that if you send the offers to enough people you’ll make a measurable amount more money. But I have to ask – is that marketing software helping you create value? Or is it just extracting value?

What if you had marketing software that could ensure your ad will only appear for people who will buy your thing. If a person won’t buy it, they won’t see the ad. That would be a gamechanger in the marketing world. It changes marketing software from a tool for extracting value to a tool for creating value, by ensuring the people who need your product hear about it, while those who don’t care aren’t bothered.

I don’t want to pick on marketing software – it’s just an easy target. But there are a lot of enterprise software companies out there whose value proposition is “we will make you 20% more effective” (or 5%, as in my example). Most consumer software companies have the same message. But I’m interested in products and processes that will make a problem go away completely.

That might be a fantasy for marketing software, given human nature, but there are examples where it’s happened. That’s what the Toyota Production System did in the 70’s and 80’s for example. Toyotas went from having a slightly-worse than industry standard level of defects in their car to essentially zero defects. That changed the company, the industry, and consumers’ expectations. And as a result, it created a huge amount of value in the world.

The iPod, in its own way, made a problem go away completely. In the days of the Walkman it was always a challenge – “Which tapes should I take with me so I will always have music I want?” When the iPod came out you could put all your music on it. Problem gone.

Generally, a new product is not worth the cost of changing if it doesn’t improve the process (at least some part of it) by an order of magnitude, or completely eliminate a problem. That’s where you really start to create value in the world, instead of just extracting it.