Tuesday, August 14, 2007

ha ha: avoiding hubris

Oh Lord it's hard to be humble when you're perfect in every way.

(Mac Davis, It's Hard to Be Humble)

I'm not writing about myself, or anything specific I've experienced at any point in my career.

But you know the feeling as well as I do.

You find yourself looking at a competitive product. Not just catching a furtive glance, or reading through their glossies or their presentations.

But really looking at their product.

In a moment such as this one, you must have had the experience of feeling your chest swell with pride. You've had a gleam in your eye that would make Bruce Campbell nod in a knowing gesture of silent brotherhood.

Because in this moment, you've realized that it's crap. As in "not even close to you" crap, or perhaps even "you'd have to have the mental capacity of a yam to not see that this product is utter crap".


You want to climb up a building, grab hold of a gutter and holler it at the top of your lungs; even better, you want to rub their noses in it. You want to point and chortle Ha Ha!

In moments such as this one, it is my dearest hope that you've kept your poker face firmly strapped to your skull and said nothing. Look at everything you can reasonably see, and say nothing.

Why, you ask. A few reasons, each originating from a different point of view.

The Paranoid View - They knew you were watching, so they served up an older version, or something engineered to be deficient.

The Whole-Systems View
- What you may be seeing may in fact be a minor part of a larger system or solution, a part that needs to be personalized / customized in order to deliver value, or perhaps even a "selling feature" that was never expected to stand up to the sort of scrutiny a product manager can generate.

The Market Leader View - What you are seeing is a product created by a better-funded, more broadly-recognized competitor who doesn't have to invest in quality the same way you do, and their "good enough" product is sufficient.

The Marketing View - You need to do a much better job of communicating to your target market that you've got a better product, because the mere presence of an inferior product in the market means that the consumer isn't aware of your superior offering.

The Market Intelligence Failure View
- What you are creating doesn't matter, and you are looking at the functional equivalent of comparing your ice machine business to his ice-cutting business. Both of you lose to refrigerators, so the fact that you're better is meaningless.

The Pricing Failure View - You may be better, but you've priced yourself out of the market; for what a customer is willing to pay, the level of functionality you see in your competitor's product is "good enough".

The Built for a Different Buyer Persona View
- You added features and functionality to meet the needs of a specific buyer persona that your competitor doesn't feel any need to develop for. One of you is wrong.

Hubris is an odd thing, it is. A little goes a long way, kind of like anchovies.

Pronunciation: 'hyü-br&s
Function: noun
Etymology: Greek hybris
: exaggerated pride or self-confidence
(source: Merriam-Webster)

When it comes to taking a full-frontal look at a competitor's product, try to see the whole picture and put it into the right context. Once you've thought it through, you may discover that it's deficiencies tell you more about your own failures than it does about your successes.

1 comment:

Paul Young said...

This is so true; add to it the fact that most PM's are perfectionists and detail-oriented people - we want to create the "best" product. I know personally I find it very difficult and have to make an effort to step back from the features that would make my products the clear cut market leader on technology and consider what is good enough for the market. What a Pyrrhic victory to have the best product in your space that no one ever buys.

I made an observation in the same vein with my Pride Comes Before the Fall post: