The Paperclip

You don’t build, you discover

You don’t build, you discover
While our intuition suggests that good product is created, the most meaningful work we do is actually discovery. We discover the true behaviours of people, the true problems they have, the true state of the product today, the true impact of what we've built. We don't create, but discover the reality as it stands and the reality of how we can help.
By Amogh Sarda, on the 5th of Dec 2022
You don’t build, you discover

Product folks refer to themselves as "builders". The premise is that we envision a future, create, iterate, and eventually build something people want. I'd like to argue that in practice, we're much more like "gold prospectors" or "detectives" than we are "builders". Any “building” - if any - is no more than a means for discovery.

There are rarely upfront plans and much of our work is about exploring unknown territory. We move to areas where others have found gold, and try to discover our own river bend of "good product".

The truths we discover

We keep an astute eye, and discover many truths about the world.

The true underlying motivations

What are the related cues and cravings people have? What are they really trying to accomplish? Are they trying to look cool in front of their colleagues or friends, reduce anxiety or avoid risk, make money, find a personal connection?

The true existing behaviours

What're people trying to do today to accomplish their needs? What tools do they use? Who do they interact with? What's the timeline of this behaviour?

The true problems people have

What's wrong with today's workflow? Are people unhappy about that? Do they care about improving their workflow?

The true ways of "helping"

How can we help the situation? How would we fit into the day to day?

The true nature of the "help" we do provide

How does the product work today? What does it cost someone (including time and energy, and not just money) to adopt this?  How does someone adopt this? What's the experience as a power user? What parts of the product do / don't get used?

The true impact for the user

What value do users get? Do they really care about that and why?

The true impact for the company

What business metrics do we move? Why is that important? How much does it cost to build and maintain this? Is it ROI positive for us?

World view updates

Naturally, it's a continuous journey to keep discovering all these truths. We keep iterating and updating based on new signals, and gradually build a world view as close to reality as we can.

The truth is elusive

While we're on this journey of discovering truth, the world works against us and we need to navigate this carefully.

People don't care

People are busy living their lives in their existing worlds and inertia is in the favour of not changing. People aren't able to help our discovery of truth, at least without clear incentive.

People lie

People say they care, but in practice may not care enough to change. People don't want to hurt our feelings so they say it's a good idea. People say they want X, but then realise they don't. People say they'll pay, but they don't.

We lie to ourselves

We convince ourselves of what we want to see, rather than what the world is. We tell ourselves we're one feature away from unlocking everything. We have wishful thinking with our "darling" ideas. We lie to ourselves that people will care about what we build.

The impact of thinking like a “discoverer” and not "builder"

We detach ourselves from our work

We relieve ourselves from the burden of "being right". After all, the "truth" isn't a subjective opinion we "own" or define, but an objective reality that exists. We're merely discovering it and it's okay to keep updating our world view iteratively.

We learn to not be adversarial

We realise that teamwork is less about fighting for our ideas, and more about working together to get closer to the truth. Everytime a new signal comes, it's a gift that helps us get closer to reality. We evaluate the signal for its credibility, and update our truths accordingly.

We learn to respect the market above all

You can be the best gold prospector, but if you're sifting in a desert, you won't get far. We don't create market need, but "find" it, and not "finding" doesn't necessarily mean we didn't "work hard enough" or "didn't have the right tools". It could mean that we were looking in the wrong places, and need to change river bends - and maybe even rivers.

Wrapping up

These ideas are still a tad rough and I’d love for people to challenge and help refine them. I’m all ears to discover the truth (hah!) here. For now however, I’m all for evangelizing “Discover something people want” over “Make something people want”.

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About us

We're building eesel. It's an app that brings together all your work in one place so you don't waste time finding what you need to do your job. The Paperclip is where we write about our learnings on this journey.
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