Repeating Our Mistakes

Let's Stop Repeating Our Mistakes

I had several product-related conversations today. And in each, it felt like I was repeating lessons that we all knew. The problem isn't knowledge. It's the mental shortcuts we make that put us in a situation where we find ourselves repeating our mistakes.

Bobby Bowden was a football coach at Florida State University from 1976 to 2009. I don't know when he said this, but this quote has been attributed to him:

“The greatest mistake is to continue to practice a mistake.”

Bobby Bowden, FSU Football Coach

My Wife is a Perfect Example

My wife loves playing piano. Several years ago she asked if she could get piano lessons as an adult to keep learning. I thought it was great and when we moved to Houston last year, I bought her a nicer piano and an even more accomplished teacher.

What's been impressive over the last year is how much her piano teacher has helped her dramatically improve. She was already great. But now she's amazing!

The thing he focuses on? Practicing the right way. Most piano teachers have you learn a piece slowly and then get faster. They also have you learn with sheet music, and then slowly memorize things.

This teacher does things differently – having her learn one hand at a time, memorizing from the start, and focusing on stress reduction (in her fingers, arms, and shoulders).

He's helping her practice right so that she doesn't keep practicing mistakes. Mistakes that will limit her ability to speed things up, or learn large pieces.

Product Mistakes We Often Make

Today I want us to look at three mistakes we keep making.

Our value proposition is ease of use.

In one conversation I was having, I asked a product owner what their value prop was. And even as I was typing out the question, I knew I should have said, “you can't say ease of use.”

It's not that customer experience isn't important. It's critically important.

But it's important to everyone. So that's a corner everyone will attempt to take. And you can't differentiate there. We know this. We know the point of a strong value proposition is to compete well – to differentiate ourselves.

But then we do it. And there we are, repeating our mistakes.

We talk segments instead of micro-segments.

In another conversation I was talking about a membership plugin. Who is the customer? Someone who wants to build a membership site.

Here's the problem with segments that are that big. And we know this already. They don't all act the same. So our messaging and marketing campaigns won't work.

They only work when we focus on a micro-segment – like coaches who want to protect their videos, or investors who need a spot for deal files. Those folks will react in similar fashion to a targeted campaign.

We're building generic features.

The third place where we keep repeating our mistakes is when we build generic features and then hope that really great marketing will solve everything. That's so much harder than building targeted features for those micro-segments we were talking about.

If I build a membership site solution for people trying to sell subscriptions of protected content on Shopify or Squarespace, it's going to be a focused set of features and easy to sell. If I build a generic membership SaaS or plugin, and then hope I can find an audience, it will take more work.

Let's Stop Practicing Mistakes

Here's what I know – the only way to get better at this is to stop practicing incorrectly. We know these are mistakes. So we need to stop making them. We need to create rigor around how we think about our target customers, our features, and products.

When you practice right, you get better.

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