Monday, January 18, 2010

"What do you think about my idea?"

Who cares what I think.

Here's a common scenario. Someone tells a bunch of people at work or on the internet or wherever: Here's my idea, what do you think?

The odds I can pick out a winner business or project from what you just described is close to 0. You think I would have said "yeah an iPhone application that makes fart noises is going to sell real well"? No friggin way.

People giving their elevator pitch reminds me of the problem tappers have.

In 1990, Elizabeth Newton earned a Ph.D. in psychology at Stanford by studying a simple game in which she assigned people to one of two roles: "tappers" or "listeners." Tappers received a list of twenty-five well-known songs, such as "Happy Birthday to You" and "The StarSpangled Banner." Each tapper was asked to pick a song and tap out the rhythm to a listener (by knocking on a table).

The listener's job was to guess the song, based on the rhythm being tapped. (By the way, this experiment is fun to try at home if there's a good "listener" candidate nearby.) The listener's job in this game is quite difficult. Over the course of Newton's experiment, 120 songs were tapped out. Listeners guessed only 2.5 percent of the songs: 3 out of 120.

But here's what made the result worthy of a dissertation in psychology. Before the listeners guessed the name of the song, Newton asked the tappers to predict the odds that the listeners would guess correctly. They predicted that the odds were 50 percent. The tappers got their message across 1 time in 40, but they thought they were getting their message across 1 time in 2.

- Found in Made to Stick

We are overconfident when we think people should understand our ideas when we are "tapping" them out at work or on the internet. And then we take their feedback to heart? Problem is the listener rarely hears or sees exactly what we are talking about.

Ignore what everyone else says. Use it maybe as some feedback that you might not be explaining how awesome whatever you are making is, and you need to teach them better.

People have to get better at looking inside themselves. Would you pay for what you are making? Do you want or need a solution to whatever problem you have so bad, that you'd be willing to use a completely terrible solution to your problem?

For example, could you cobble some stuff together to give you a crappy version of your idea. Hard code some things, use manual data entry, hand draw some graphics. Do whatever it takes to get something that applies to your problem done today. Even if it only works for you and no one else.

Now, use that for a couple weeks. After a bit you should have a good feeling of whether or not you love this crappy prototype. If you keep going back to it because it's so useful, than you have something great on your hands you should go back and complete.

Just a couple examples of seeing this in my life. I've seen Zach Kaplan over at Inventables putting Wufoo forms together to prototype an application he thought might be handy. Perfect example of using tools that already exist for the job. Of course it didn't have logins or user management or whathever whiz bang feature you think everyone else is going to need. But he at least got to see if it was something he could use with some frequency.

At Inkling we were pondering a project to do with an integrated search. Did I code up some webcrawler fancy index mechanism? Nope. I hardcoded some iframes pointing to some places that already had search pages so I could see all the results on one page. Did you have to login to each iframe? Yep. :) Could you slap a price tag on this? No way. But we could use it very quickly to see if we kept coming back to it.

Figure out a baby step you can do today to solve your problem. The crappiest, quickest, dirtiest way to meet the need you have. Everyone is sweating this product + market fit stuff. Forget the market. Figure out the product + you fit. You aren't so much different than thousands of other people out there. If you find you want to use your own product constantly, you'll have something awesome. Then start worrying about making other people awesome.


A bit of a cross post from an answer I gave to someone's what do you think post.

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