Building your mind like how you build products

Hello,

I was recently recounting on how our brains have a periodic influx of questions, sometimes catalyzed by a set of base questions. And, I was relating that to the product journey I’m a part of, thinking some ways to condition my mindset to avoid hyper-intention as well as burnout—shaping the mind exactly the way you’d do with a product. Here’s what I penned down for myself.

[Original article posted on aishashok.com]


building a product and mindset

Product minds are like the playgrounds during peak summer—gushing with thoughts, bickering with decisions, a tad bit of waiting along to see which ride to take, and a lot of uncertainty about stumbling over while playing. People who work on the products that the market calls for are forever stuck in the loop of ‘users need this’ and ‘users may need this’ only to later alternate it with the prefix ‘I thought’ in both the phrases. The whole game is an interesting one for all the product makers, marketers, designers, support, and sales folks—you always ask questions your mind is inundated with, and most of these questions multiply to produce some more. Could this be related to psychology or the way the brain is wired to think? Well, why not! So, a little intrigued by this relation, I’m essaying out my learning on how a product mind thinks to gradually get the maker’s mindset. 

Facing the perennial more-is-good glitter:

A stroll around your home after a cup of coffee, a casual scroll on that ecommerce app in your phone, a peek into your fridge—what hits you? You want something new to go with, almost all the time. A new wall decor to match your couch, a recommended (and totally uncalled-for sometimes) game to add to your previous selection, more bread because a spread is there; these are so familiar both personally and anecdotally with a number of fellow mates stating it. Our innate cognitive bias towards buying more doesn’t always have to come in bulk, but it attacks in droves, one after another. And, this behavior had a name too, mentioned in one of the habit-focused books by James Clear, terming it as theDiderot effect, an eponym taken after a French philosopher and his unsatiated needs on becoming suddenly rich. 

This isn’t too bad, whilst it also does no good. A continuous deliberation and constant belief of ‘customers need this’ (similar to ‘I need this’) make our mind wander around. There can be many goals, but there’s a main vision for an organization that all employees abide by. Does this mean the key goals are not valid (equate to ‘do my needs or customers’ needs not matter?’) at the moment? No, but it means there can’t always be a list of goals, all tried to be achieved at one moment. One at a time, aligned with the core vision, can help stay focused. Remember that you go from one headline to another in the newspaper, and combining bits of all words together from different leads will end up making a nonsensical text. 

And, it’s easier said than done. So, assuming those bevy of customer needs we think they want, we end up pushing that on the product development.

One at a time won’t turn creepy:

Just like that you switch on your TV and to your surprise find a channel list, a humongous one, and a forced selection for you to pick a channel number before you would be let into the entertainment. Would you enjoy it? 

Okay, let’s move to an even relatable example. Most of us as kids would have brought a multi-colored pen that has colored refills deftly attached to a rounded-cylindrical body of the pen. How does this operate? That fetish mind of ours would have made us click all the refill buttons at the same time to see if everything comes out, even when we clearly see that the slot fits one. So, a multicolored pen replaces the need for buying five pens, and allows you to use one at a time. The design is so smart that you don’t feel like you’re bombarded with so many things to do with it, while you still can. But see the idea? You concentrate on one main thing in a moment. 

As product people, remembering this central tenet of ‘what features customers can’t do without’ often than ‘what features customers need’ will help avoid this many-things-on-the-screen phenomenon termed as feature creep. Your product can still support a lot of functionality, but getting back to what to show and how to show them to the users will again require you to remember the core purpose. Allowing for one action at a time, one purpose to solve at a moment, one central feature request to work on presently, brings in better clarity. 

Need > benefit

Apply this to features and your marketing plans, and you know how many of what you thought as dire need turns into feel-good benefits, which can take a seat gradually. Relate everything to your core idea of the product, every time you want to act.

Matching tiles reappear: 

If most of us recall our Tetris-playing days, we see all colors, pattern-matches, and a little shot of dopamine on successful playing. That’s a sign of good remembrance! A similar psychological effect is eponymous after this game, known as Tetris effect, that signifies more attention towards an activity patterns your thoughts, mental images, dreams, and intended actions. Well, there are two ways to see this—do you want your mind to work how a child sees us walking and eventually attempts to do and succeed, or the ads that see how we work and end up reappearing on our feed?

Good thing is we almost instantly reflect on positive experiences of doing something, albeit it also needs a bit of cultivation. Use Tetris effect to our play is when you get involved in your product experience that you start seeking inputs from everyday things you see, read, or involve in—a vintage ad that inspires you to tweak your content copy, a little behavior your niece/nephew does that helps you understand a different perspective of using your app or addressing a product gap, and so on. The more your thinking revolves around a product problem statement, you’re bound to take inspiration from a lot of happenings around you, a game with its own pattern-match. 

[There’s as much a negative side to this—ending up obsessing over work and letting it impact across your after-hours, which could be avoided through clear preferences and practice.]

Tracing back to spring forward: 

Thinking about what our customers ultimately can’t do without, we also at times figure out how to further build on removing discontinuity in product flows. Sticking to the core idea is one way to look at it, while the other is to look back to your very-own backlog of things that you prioritized for later. You may never know what spikes out from the list in a different angle than what you thought way back then. 

An interesting analogy to embark on is what is popularly called Lindy effect—for every additional period of existence, something extends to a remain longer. The more your feature ideas wait, the longer they’ll sit there in the backlog. No, this doesn’t mean you have to take everything into action, ending up in case we discussed first. But, constantly revisiting your logs, (not your to-dos), the ones you held in the least priority eons ago, can sprout a chance to revive your product building. Even otherwise, it gives you a way to look at something with fresh perception for decision-making. 

Sourced from David Bland’s notes

Lastly, there’s also one huge trap in building for the market—the next time you get stuck in what David Bland calls the product death cycle as shown above, think through some of the scenarios discussed here. Clearly, they’re not solutions. But, just as how your brain is conditioned for positive influences, step by step, reflecting on the above quotidian anecdotal references can help you gradually in conditioning your mind, building it just the same way you do with your products.

The whole product space is an everyday learning! 


Some suggested reads from the past:

Yours truly, Product Marketing

Finding nimbus—what networking means in the product world

Democratizing privacy, not data


Have a great week ahead!

Regards,

Aishwarya