Product Development: Lessons from an Opinionated Jerk

Remember that guy at school that always had an opinion about stuff and was quick to tell you about it?

Remember the guy who never saw two sides of things or even the nuance and just kept repeating his position in the hopes that sheer exhaustion would bring you over to his side? Yeah, that guy. One of the most important things I learned about new product development, I learned from him. I know it's hard to believe.

He had an opinion and he shared it.

There was never a question what he believed. There was never a doubt where he stood. No wishy-washy sense about him. New product development is tough – tougher than most people think (contrary to this nice article). And one of the things I learned early on was that I couldn't satisfy everyone – not even some of the time. So it meant I needed to share my “perspective” or opinion on the world and where my new product fit in it. I couldn't try to say it was for everyone – because it never was. So I not only had to pick a target and an approach in building my new product, but I also had to share that with others. My short hand for this now goes like this: “My product has a particular take on the world around it. If you agree with our (me & my product) perspective and opinion, then you'll likely like us.”

He found friends who agreed with him.

That guy, when looking to make friends, didn't try to win friends and influence people. He didn't try to find a middle or common ground. All he wanted to surround himself with were people who agreed with him. So he shared his opinion over and over, wherever he could. When he found like-minded souls, he'd pull them together – particularly because his take was that his friends needed to believe in everything he believed in. When we share the perspective that drove us to create the product the way we did, we're sharing our perspectives. When we're “pitching” our products, it's not really a sales job. It's sharing a perspective and determining if our prospects have the same like-mindedness. If they do, we're golden.

Is your Product Opinionated?

At Emphasys, where I spend my days leading a team of software engineers and marketing staff, I push our team to constantly a) have an opinion, b) embed it into our software, and c) share it with our customers. What's great about it is that when we're right on, and we find out our customers share our perspective, the products are a perfect match. When we're off, the great thing is that we learn new things that inform our perspective. But we never try to shy away from the fact that there's a particular take – a perspective, an opinion – embedded in the way we designed our software.

What lessons have you learned from the most unlikely characters you know?