They say the hardest thing about flying is landing. That made me think about the language we use in product development, in particular the product launch metaphor. Can a term like that in itself drive us to do things we don’t want to do?
To recap, a Product Launch is supposed to encompass a number of coordinated efforts, including things like:
- Optimising the technology for heavy loads
- Going big on marketing
- Omnipresence in press and social media, roadshows, exhibitions, etc
- Community building, content curation, customer service
- (and much more)
Ideally, we are well prepared before the product launch. We may have iterated under the radar with “early adopter” customers, but now it’s finally time to create a big bang and become as instantaneously successful as Pokemon Go, with its more than 10 million downloads within the first week of release. Awesome!
It doesn’t have to be this way. In fact, most experienced entrepreneurs would do anything to avoid it. Aiming for a product launch is a beginners mistake, but in the world of entrepreneurship there are a lot of beginners. Why has the all or nothing approach to product release become an ideal so strong that we continue doing it, or pretend to be doing it, despite overwhelming experiences telling us to work differently?
Seasoned product developers with a track record of success might have found their way, if their products are somewhat coherent (i.e. this is the 12th coffee machine we’re launching, we know how to do this by now). Innovation, on the other hand, will always be a first time effort: A journey through learnings, perspectives and feelings like “nothing is what it seems”, “I’m too late”, “I’m too early” and “what the hell am I doing here, I should go back to my ________” (whatever it is you were doing before you started). It’s in the middle of this emotional and intellectual chaos, that we impose on ourselves a lot of additional unnecessary work, not to mention a big mental distraction, that keeps us from embracing other, more essential challenges.
I believe there are three factors that prolong the life of the Product Launch:
Our own vanity: Having worked so hard with our unproven idea, most of us wouldn’t mind a little bit of attention when we’re finally able to detonate that big bomb nobody believed could make as much as a whistle. We aim for a singularity moment, after which nothing will ever be the same again.
Stakeholders: Stakeholders, reaching from investors to corporate management, want things to be big. You have to be visionary, and you have to make promises. Otherwise, there’s no deal. The road from vision to promise to product launch is all too short.
The metaphor itself: I’ve come to believe that the third most crucial factor, is the actual launch analogy in it self. It has become the most pervasive self-fulfilling prophecy of the entrepreneur world, and it survives after decades worth of experience pointing the other way. We do product launches because we have a product launch term.
(I’d like to know how many innovation slides that have been made with pictures some rocket sitting on a fireball of thruster flames. I’d also like to know how many times analogies like “count-down”, “three-stage rocket” and “into orbit” have been used. My hypothesis says: A lot.)
It’s time to conquer our language. Let’s put an end to the metaphor that tempts us into a trajectory of distraction and disappointment. To soothe the transition, my suggestion for a better metaphor might not render all previous slides and gospels completely outdated (space travel is too much fun, not to be used in any way).
I propose we start talking about Product Landings instead, and here’s why:
- The metaphor of a Product Landing implies we’re outsiders (from outer space if you will), with an idea that as of yet has not been tested and proven to work on planet earth, which by the way is still far away (imagine a black slide with just a tiny blue circle representing the earth in a corner). Needless to say, the process we have ahead of us takes time and involves a lot of unknowns. Talking about a landing creates a context that makes it more natural to talk about alle the uncertainties and the time needed achieve a breakthrough (whereas a launch is expected to take off instantaneously).
- The metaphor of a Product Landing implies there’s a lot of operational risk involved, even with a clear vision of where we want to go and the clear understanding of the general physics of how to get there (unlike a launch, that most of us perceive as mostly an upfront planning effort). We see the planet earth in front of us: That’s our goal. We’ve calculated the right angle for orbit entry, and the necessary speed and pitch of our spacecraft. But it’s still a daunting challenge to fly the space craft into that tiny funnel that leads to a successful orbit entry, making sure we neither undershoot, and bounce back into space, or overshoot, and burn into the atmosphere. Even with a successful entry, we subsequently also have to make that soft landing. Needless to say, only thorough training, proper planning and ability to improvise can make this a success.
- The metaphor of a Product Landing implies it’s possible to recover when something goes seriously wrong (unlike a launch that can go wrong in many different ways, but will always end up in a giant explosion). Stories like the Apollo 13 mission comes to mind. Almost destined to crash and burn, a heroic effort of improvisation, focus and collaboration by both the astronauts themselves and their supporting teams on earth, makes them achieve their goal: It didn’t happen quite the way they had planned for, there were some unpleasant surprises along the way, but they made it in the end. Does that sound more like a true story from a successful startup?
The obvious flaw in this analogy is what happens after you land. Are you done now? Make the landing, then sit back and enjoy, the product is now supposed to handle itself? Not at all. This is where the launch analogy is reborn. After all, we’re a multi-mission space craft, ready for new endeavours. The launch is however not as big and dramatic as it used to be. It’s a minor event that marks the beginning of trying something new, either building on an existing product (let’s scale this globally, let’s go into adjacent markets, etc), or a new product.
Product Launch: It’s not that you haven’t contributed. You have indeed created a lot of buzz, great stories, and not to mention cool slides, keeping investors, innovators and other working with product development from getting paralysis from a monotonous series of slides, all black and white with 14 pt Arial all over the place. For that, we thank you.
But just like Goto loops, DVD sones, Flash plugins, Comic Sans and other things that may have sounded like a good idea at the time, we are leaving you behind. As sad as it may be, we call it development.
We do however promise to put the time and energy we now save into our next effort. Stop starting and start finishing – it’s time we land our next big idea.
On behalf of the entrepreneurs of this world: R.I.P.
Related posts from @hauge2:
Anders Haugeto (39) is software engineer and entrepreneur helping the customers of Iterate innovate faster. Going from responding to change to being the change, he shows you how the right mindset and tools can help your mission in life – disrupt yourself from within.