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Emprendimiento digital, startups, Big Data Analytics y nuevos modelos de negocio

Lateral thinking puzzles and their relationship with Customer Development

"A woman walks into a bar and asks the bartender for a glass of water. The bartender reaches under the bar and brings out a gun and aims it at the woman. The woman says 'thank you' and leaves". You have surely heard of this puzzle and some others of the same kind, that is, "lateral thinking" puzzles (expression coined by Edward de Bono). The way this kind of riddles (which I am a great fan of, and which I have made extensive use of over the years to organize creativity training sessions for groups of very different profiles) are solved provides an interesting analogy with the practice of Customer Development that can be of great utility when starting such a process.

When posing one of these riddles (as the example used above), the person hosting the puzzle gives the group the option to make questions whose answer can be "yes / no / not relevant" ("Are there more people inside the bar?", "The gun is a real one?") so that those trying to solve it can little by little complete the story behind the puzzle until they get the full picture of the situation. The use of "lateral thinking" refers to the approach that should be taken when trying to solve the puzzle, that is, trying not to assume facts that are usually taken for granted (lines of reasoning that are very commonly followed, as if they were very deep "furrows" or high-speed highways in our brains) and allowing ourselves to break paradigms and question every questionable detail (i.e. to explore secondary or "lateral" paths, not so commonly followed).

After having used these puzzles as a resource in training sessions for quite many years, I have noticed a very common effect when people try to solve them: we tend to not follow an exploratory approach and instead we try to devise a full solution in our heads, that we then pose as a question ("The woman is a robber and the glass of water is just an excuse, but the bartender notices her real intentions and brings out the gun, and then she walks away pretending that nothing happened, right?") hoping to hear a single "yes" that confirms us that our guess was completely right. When you -as the host- notice such an approach you usually start explaining that they should not try to elaborate a complete and definite solution in their heads, but to pose exploratory questions (not directly linked to a specific solution already established in their heads) that allows them to "fence in" the problem space and to find keys that will lead them to identify those "lateral" paths that are worth following.

This very same piece of advice can be used when practicing Customer Development, Lean Startup methodology and the search for validated learning. When following the road from the idea to the product we must avoid our inertia to elaborate a full solution in our heads, or to develop it completely until we get a whole product, before presenting it to our potential customers asking them whether it is the solution to their problem, because the most probable outcome is that we won't be even close. What we should do is follow a process that allows us to check the main assumptions in our proposal, and identify what we should change in it or where we can find interesting alternative ways to explore, e.g. when we are interviewing our potential customers and they answer "yes" to a question/problem that we didn't consider particularly relevant. It is highly probable that our natural reaction will be feeling fearful or ashamed when considering to face a potential customer using very open questions or incomplete products, and because of that we will tend to invest more time in preparing a more developed product before testing it with customers, with it is really worth it to remember a very famous quote by Reid Hoffman, creator of LinkedIn:
"If you are not embarrassed by the first version of your product, you've launched too late".

By the way, as a side note, for those who are curious about the puzzle used above as an example, the answers to the questions mentioned along this entry are, in this order: "Not relevant", "Yes", "No" :-)

[Haz clic aquí para la versión en español de esta entrada]

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