When did Necessity stop being the mother of Invention and is that bad?

Fun fact: did you know that Frank Zappa’s band name was originally « The Mother F…ers » but his publisher refused it so he renamed the band « The Mothers of Invention » (by necessity)!

But I’m digressing here. So there was an imaginary past time when things were so simple and in order to come-up with new stuff, all we needed was to ask « What do customers need »?

Unfortunately, I’m constantly reminded that it’s not always past nor imaginary as I see a lot of Product Managers invoking the proverbial « Let’ see what customers are asking for » or in its more acute form:  » I’ve never heard a customer ask for that ».

I must have missed the focus group where a teen-age girl from Arkansas expressed the vital need to take duck-faced pictures of herself and share them with everybody and their cousin. Here’s a case for you where Vanity took over Necessity hands down yet nobody will admit to it when asked!

I’m not saying that is bad but I’m more worried about the two byproduct of waiting for Necessity:

Analysis paralysis

Problem solvers are great but I’ve seen many become dysfunctional and do unproductive things (like posting on LinkedIn 😬) while waiting for the next problem to solve. I’ve also seen many push back until they had clearly formulated problems whith only one imaginable solution. Unfortunately my adoptive France offers an abundance of such examples and I always seem to hear a muttered « CQFD » which stands for « Ce Qu’il Fallait Démontrer » and loosely translates into « What was there to be proven ».

Single purpose products

There is always a fine balance to strike between what the product can do and what it is restricted to do. In Software Tooling (unlike Applications) it can be dangerous to assume that we know exactly how our products will be used. Like for a child, you equip them with capabilities, have them reach a viability stage, teach them a couple of tricks, (pray), then sit back and marvel at how they will be put into use. I remember seeing customers using the BI tool BusinessObjects in ways we had never fathomed during our long specification sessions back in the nineties!

So my friends, let’s explore how Passion, Curiosity, Opportunity and why not a bit of Vanity and Greed can give birth to more Innovation!

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