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Product guy – understand your levers

Archimedes_lever_(Small)Every decision Product Guy makes is important. So is every precious minute spent on any chosen topic, out of the many worthy of “Urgent!!” email header. However, some decisions are more important than others because of the leverage (interestingly, a concept invented by another theory guy, Archimedes)

Levers behave differently in different businesses and market contexts. And can be a little counterintuitive. But recognising the meaningful ones makes a world of difference.

For example, I worked in the mass market mobile phone business of Nokia, which had a massive “volume lever”. Individual mobile phone product families designed could ship in tens, and sometimes in hundreds of Millions of units. Hence, for example, any cent, or sometimes fraction of a cent, unnecessary component cost eliminated would impact profitability way more than any impressive sounding one-time cost.

High price elasticity can also be a lever. The income pyramids in different countries are very different, and being able to move down a tier can multiply the size of the addressable market.

Sometimes the important lever has nothing to with the cost, but is about ‘being the best’ or ‘being the first’. People might remember that Buzz Aldrin was the second person to step on the moon, but that’s a rare exception for the runner-ups in the collective memory of the man-kind. We also know Tom Hanks and Kevin Bacon were in Apollo 13 because it was the best almost-disaster. But very few remember who were in Apollo 12.

Speaking of “Houston, we have a problem” level of catch-phrases, “easy copy & pasteability” can also be a lever. Communications and marketing people hone their materials to reach the same level of virality. Consultants and lawyers try to template-ize their work up to only needing the change the company name.

Sometimes it is the ‘partner visibility lever’ that matters. For example, during the rise of Facebook or Angry Birds usage, any electronics product that was ahead of the curve providing those functionalities got free publicity, and something to build the product identity around. Until of course, every one had them

Sometimes certain leadership actions are perceived to have ‘symbolic lever’. Personally, I think today’s world is overly consumed by this myth of leadership. I get that Bill Pullman, as the U.S. President Whitmore, had to make a passionate speech in Independence Day. But did he really have to suit up and get in a jet to fight some aliens himself, even if he had been a fighter pilot pre-politics? Generally, handing CEO or EVP the keys to engine room is amongst the worst crisis management idea ever.

And so on and so forth. The list is endless when you really put your mind into it.

What I am saying is that the impact of leverage on different activities should be a key determining factor how Product Guy spends his/her time.

This understanding of contextual geometrics also separates the rookies from the veterans. Running after every idea or problem until exhaustion works only for the young and dumb who love the thrill of being in the middle of product making action. The more experienced ones remember that it takes a village to move a mountain.

The experienced ones also know that overly transactional behavior makes the world a cold and indifferent place. Sometimes you need to spend the time on what’s right, what’s interesting and what gets the energy up, even if the leverage was non-existent. And, at the end, it may make rational sense too. You never know who’s going to carry the big stick in the next project.

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Happened in the previous episodes of Product Guy series:

Stay tuned for the next episode: Product guy – review the unknown

 

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