Are you building a product nobody wants?

One of the most common mistakes when starting up is to focus on the solution instead of the problem. I’ll tell why but first allow me to tell you two quick stories. One about paintings and one about buffalos.

Paintings, happiness and the intricacies of human mind

Chosing a painting

This story is an actual study on what makes people happy. You can find the full TED talk here: The surprising science of happiness, by Dan Gilbert.   

In a room, the study participants are presented with 6 paintings and they are asked to order them from the most liked to the least liked. They order the paintings 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6. After the experiment, they are offered as a present one of paintings 3 or 4. A rather difficult choice, because none was strongly preferred over the other, but most subjects still chose painting #3. The experimenters told the subjects they would mail the print.

Two days or two weeks later, in the second part of the experiment, the subjects are presented with the same 6 paintings and asked to rate them again… and the resulting order is 1, 3, 2, 5, 4, 6.

The painting that was rated 3 jumped to the second position in the top, and the painting that was rated 4, jumped to the 5th. “The one I chose was really better than I thought; the one I didn’t get, sucks”

In other words, people “fell in love” with their choices. And before you say anything, there’s more to the story. And this is rather spectacular.

The researchers decided to repeat the test, just be sure… but this time they did it with people with chronic amnesia, as in they forget everything within 30 min. You walk in you have a talk with them, you walk out of the room, come back in and they have no clue who you are. So, what were the results you might ask. Oh yeah, you guessed it: same results. People that have no recollection of what happened 5 min ago, did the same thing. Chose 3 and then 3 became 2. Amazing isn’t it? Of course it is, but what’s the key learning here?

Well, for me it’s clear that the process of falling in love with our decisions (solutions) happens at a subliminal level, and even if we think we are super objective, our subconscious plays tricks on us.

So now imagine if even people that suffer of amnesia prefer the paintings they choose prior, if there’s a connection at that level, imaging how strong and subtle that must be. So if you come up with a solution before knowing the problem, then according to this study chances are that as time goes by, your solution will go from 3 to 2 and from 2  to 1. You will end up building your solution just because you made an unconscious decision… without having all the puzzle pieces. Without understanding what people want.

And this leads me to the second story, with another important learning point at the end…

Buffalos, problems and banging at the wrong door


The second story is about bufallos. Well, on the surface at least… It goes something like this:

At one point Hornaday realized that the buffalos that were roaming the great America plains were almost extinct, so he did what every respectable conservationist would have done: he went to Montana to kill several dozens of them.

Yeah, that’s right. You see, William Temple Hornaday was one of the greatest pioneers in the early wildlife conservation movement in the United States. He was head taxidermist at the Smithsonian museum and he traveled the globe hunting exotic animals and stuffing those animals for the museum. It’s sounds weird, but for Hornaday killing all these animals was a kind of conservation. He believed that by stuffing them he was preserving endangered species for future generations that might not know them. Through taxidermy he could make the immortal…

After he hunted down and stuffed around 24 buffalos he arranged them in the natural museum around a fake watering hole. As he looked at them he realized he was just a funeral director embalming the species that America was exterminating.

Again, for me this story packs another strong lesson. If we go and start working on the first solution we think of, we might spend years doing the wrong thing. Hornday, didn’t know better when he became a “conservationist”, he could not imagine another solution because his knowledge was limited… he just didn’t know better.

And same applies to other situations as well. Chances are that your first idea is not the best idea, even when you are seen as a specialist in the field, like the gentleman above.

The above fragment of one of my earlier posts. For the full story and the audio version (which is amazing) head over to A story about buffalos, problems and solutions.

Building the ghost towns of China



Choosing a solution without understanding the problem first, might lead you on a dangerous path. A path on which you take the wrong decision based on limited information and then you become too attached to it t let it go. So what do you do? You end up building a product your customers don’t want.

Maybe the old saying “build it and they will come” shouldn’t be your motto in this case… otherwise you might end up building on a Chinese ghost town.

So how do you focus on the problem? Click here to find out.

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