The core principle I've sought to illuminate in this series is this: Product development processes should be designed and practiced from a perspective of radical curiosity about how to make things that people love. This will ensure that your team is constantly unblocked. This will result in perpetual improvement. This will yield truly top-notch products.
Here are two final thoughts:
On the surface this is obvious: Your product development process should be driven by intense pragmatism, a respect for statistical significance, deep transparency leading to open decision making processes, a slightly maniacal approach to data collection and analysis, constant cost-benefit analysis. Reason should always win.
Go deeper though, and you’ll find that humans have a shocking degree of skepticism about the power of reason. We tend to embrace—overtly or subtly—a belief in magic more readily than a belief in reason.
There are a number of ridiculous reasons for this. Among the least ridiculous of these is the sense that it is only unreasonable action that yields true growth and change.
Such a position, in the context of product development, says that unreasonable men and women, unreasonable choices, unreasonable beliefs and obsessions—these are at the root of every epic product victory.
The mistake here is thinking that the unreasonable is not within the bounds of Reason. That is, people often presume Reason to be so weak and inflexible as to not include in its embrace the kind of radical, rule-breaking thought and action that so often fuels true progress.
But Reason’s first premise is knowing what is unknown. And it’s this knowledge—this sense of mystery—that leads the truly reasonable person to take risks, to reach out into the unknown with the hope of understanding, of making a discovery, of seeing or building something new.
When I say that Reason should always win I’m saying that your product development process should be driven by an insatiable desire to know what you don’t know, to build new things, to discover what humans will adore.
Put into practice, reason is a systematic, ongoing guess about how to make something people will love.
In this series I've sought to outline my best current thinking about product development processes. I really hope this has been helpful.
Product development process is part theory and part action. The implementation details are essential—and I've tried to cover them in detail in these pieces, perhaps to the point of boring the hell out of people who aren’t trying to solve the specific problems I’m addressing. But if you aren't guided by deep principles, then your concrete processes will end up without soul. They'll be uninspired—and uninspiring.
It’s not surprising that this is how good things are best made. Learning is very much the fuel of modernity; we are living on an exponentially explosive arc of learning. He who learns well survives, and he who survives spreads, and so learning prospers. In a sense, culture is a mechanism for increasingly rapid learning. "The business" is a primary—perhaps paramount—cultural unit through which this learning takes place. It's no mistake that the most lasting businesses seem to be built through processes that involve a self-perpetuating upward spiral of learning and attainment. The best businesses execute exceptionally on curiosity.
The really cool thing about business as a primary unit of cultural learning is this: Businesses that last learn how to make things people love. We've developed a genius system in which a tremendous percentage of our efforts as a species go into learning how to more and more effectively create value. Now, perhaps humans have some work to do to learn to value what’s actually valuable; but, assuming our desire-compass is tuned towards an ethical north, this trajectory of learning and building is a hopeful one.
From a more day-to-day perspective, work—when driven by the insatiable drive to learn how to make things people love—becomes less about success and failure and more about constant improvement. When we know that things will always get better, we let ourselves think more radical, breathtaking thoughts. And we personally unlock the true gifts of work: fulfillment, gratification, togetherness, and the experience of creation.
Perhaps most importantly, we make more wondrous things. Our cars become smarter and safer and less destructive. Our spaceships spin more elegantly through space. Our dating sites become more likely to help you find deep, abiding love. And soon—very soon—we will make new things, things that speak, things that shine, things that make planets better, things that unravel and expound on the mystery, and things that reveal just how deep the mystery goes.
Part 2: Value-Driven Product Development: Using Value Propositions To Build A Rigorous Product Roadmap
[Image: Flickr user Robert S. Donovan]