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Love the Mission, Not the First Idea

19. Oktober 2023

Michael Laussegger


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On my first startup, 30 years ago, we developed a wiki-style app for research. Having spent days and nights for two years in a row, we were invested so heavily with our emotions, and so convinced we would change the world, we did not dare to ask our users if they wanted it. And they did not. A classic.

Still, way too many startups and corporates dive into product development headfirst, without testing fundamental assumptions. They are sleepwalking into failure three years down the road, and often they do it despite knowing better. A lot of the Lean Startup jargon is used, but effectively, once an MVP gets funded and the ship is sailing, it is usually very hard to stop, because everyone is invested. Without having data as evidence and purely based on personal experience, I feel that it's this very human feeling of attachment that is misguiding people. I’d like to offer a fresh perspective on how to approach the journey more wisely.

The Problem with Premature Attachment

It's human nature to become attached to our ideas, especially when we're passionate about a project. Sponsors, managers, and team members all want to see the product succeed, and this shared enthusiasm can be a double-edged sword. While it's great to have a motivated team, becoming emotionally attached to an idea before testing its assumptions can lead to misguided decision making.

Loving the Problem, Not the Solution

One often-heard mantra in the product world is "Fall in Love with the problem, not the solution" coined by Uri Levine. This advice encourages us to focus on understanding the problem space deeply before rushing into solution space. However, it doesn't provide a clear strategy for dealing with the attachment that naturally arises when you're passionate about solving a problem.

Try this: Run a 3-Weeks Experiment

Instead of embarking on the traditional path of planning an MVP, often followed by piloting and scaling, which can consume a year or more with a full cross-functional product team, consider a different approach. Start with a well-prepared experiment designed to test the riskiest assumptions in just three weeks. Get domain experts, product, design, and engineering on board at a minimum of 30%. Get users on board and make sure they are available for interviews during your experiment for at least 1 hour per day. Map out the value proposition and its riskiest assumptions before you start the experiment. Make sure everyone understands the scope: It’s a three-week experiment. We are not starting a new product initiative. Not just yet. No one expects marriage; it’s just a flirt. When the experiment is finished, take rest. Digest. Don’t jump into the next “sprint,” but reflect instead and collect the learnings that you have gained. You might run another one. And another one. Until you have gained sufficient evidence and confidence to invest in a full product team. This is where everyone is getting attached. Whether you want it or not.

The Psychological Factors at Play

Behavioral scientists have identified several cognitive biases that can lead us astray when we become too attached too early. Overconfidence Bias, Confirmation Bias, Sunk Cost Fallacy, Loss Aversion, and Anchoring are all rooted in the same human tendency to become emotionally invested in our ideas.

Embracing the Mission, Not the First Ideas

It's crucial to shift our focus from being attached to our initial ideas to being devoted to the overarching mission. By doing so, we can avoid the pitfalls of premature attachment and make better-informed decisions. Instead of rushing into development, we take the time to test our assumptions wisely, learn from experiments, and stay true to our mission. In the end, it's not about the first idea; it's about the long-term impact we have on users, the planet, and society.

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