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Taking the Egocentric Path to Product Development Success

Building products and businesses is hard work.  It’s so hard that most people decide to not do it at all.  It’s not hard to understand why.  Many ideas never see the light of day, a lot of products flop before before they are adopted, and most, most businesses fail.  In the end, it’s not bad ideas, technicals, or flawed market execution that causes most ideas to stay in the dark or most business to fail.  No. It’s not being researched heavily, but some of the smartest investors and brightest minds in business are sighting demoralization as the number one cause of startup failure and product failure.

That’s why we’re bringing in Teague Hopkins for MVP.

Teague Hopkins is the President of THG, a consulting group that works with startups and established organizations to help them adopt lean methodologies.  THG helps organizations understand the lean startup methodology, and puts science behind it.

With any new venture there are 3 major types of risk:

There’s market risk: If we build this thing will people want it?

Technological risk: can we actually build this thing?

And then, there’s EGO.

Building a business is exciting in the beginning.  You’re venturing into an unknown territory where you’ll be bringing new ideas and people together to build the next great thing.  Unfortunately, setbacks, obstacles, lean times can interrupt the ride. And that’s when entrepreneurs find themselves in the trough of sorrow.  These down times can wreak havoc with your ego leading you to avoid the hard work needed to get your product out the door.  Dear reader, it’s tough down there, but Teague will be at MVP to share how you can deal with bad times and prevent getting your teams bogged down.

I was actually in one of these troughs when I interviewed Teague and decided to put myself on the couch.  He gave me some perspective that proved helpful, “sometimes, there is a big gap between knowing what do and bringing yourself to do it. You’ll have some down times, and when those happen you have to realize it’s not about time, and not about money.  It’s all in how well you manage the psychology. We can help with that.”

Some of y’all are already thinking that Teague is going to be holding court wearing a moo-moo and chanting New Age-y hymns.  Get over yourself, Teague’s good time vibes are backed by science, “it’s not just a lack of enthusiasm,” he lectured, “but also the cognitive biases that trip us.”

Our brain has developed lots of heuristics and short cuts that help us do many things.  Confirmation bias is one of those helpful short cuts. The brain is very good at recognizing patterns, especially patterns we expect to see.  Your brain is primed to fit with your hypothesis, and that would be bad if your hypothesis is incorrect.  That’s when it’s helpful to take a step back and observe what you are  thinking about and why. A little mindfulness and objectivity can pull you out of a funk and inspire you to get back on the horse.

Earlier that day I read an article about how Tim Robbins uses a nitrogen gas chamber to chill the demons out of his psyche by quick freezing his body.  I don’t if I heard a laugh or a scoff, but Teague says less extreme measures can go a long way, “meditation isn’t for everyone, but works for me.  Meditation is good for getting you out of the grind and can help you obtain a degree of self-awareness.”

“Well what about teams,” I asked.

“Things that work well are exercises that can be integrated into a process.  A big proponent of things that maintain balance over a long term.  Simply having team-awareness and having trust to point out when you’re getting out of sync goes a long way. It’s hard to identify problems within ourselves.  And it seems the smarter ones have a harder time recognizing cognitive biases.”

“Like myself?”

He demurred, “having trust among your team members can help eliminate the HIPPO effect and HALO problem.”

[I know I need to lose weight, but at least I’m honest]

“No, HIPPO is the Highest Paid Person’s Opinion,” Teague explained. “It’s easy to fall into this trap as well as the HALO problem. If we believe someone is good at one thing, we believe they’ll be good at other things.  We’re unconsciously willing to give them others things to do because we believe they’ll do well at it.  Well, we know everyone isn’t good at everything and that can set them, or you, up for failure which can lead you down the trough of sorrow.”


“Having trust among your team members can help eliminate the HIPPO effect and HALO problem.”


Teague explained that we can guard against the HALO and HIPPO problems by cultivating a culture of awareness, “there’s a term called the power distance.  If you cultivate a lower power distance culture, your team is less susceptible to the HIPPO problem.  Ask yourself if our culture only celebrate success and punish risk?  The way to mitigate these problems is to setup a culture.”  And that means building a culture that goes beyond free beer and video games I work.  I’ve been around long enough to know these perks don’t inspire hard work or cohesion.  Teague advises entrepreneurs and team leaders to avoid the design and build approach to culture, but to let it grow.  He believes that when a company culture is started from the grass roots, you can cultivate what works and prune away what doesn’t.

Teague is going to share the different types of risk and how to mitigate each at his talk.  Along with some ways entrepreneurs and product owners can recognize if their teams are falling into the trough of sorrow and how to pull each other out.

Teague left me with one last nugget before I went back to the grind, “starting new things is hard, and when you get demoralized it’s hard to pull yourself out of that trough of sorrow and finish it. Not tripping yourself up is a real challenge, but taking a step back with a little bit of mindfulness and self-awareness can bring you back to real innovation.”

It’s May, and it’s not too late to register for this year’s MVP conference.  Don’t wait until your dev team sinks into depression.  Use Teague’s techniques to keep your mind right and help your team stay on track.

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