Your Knowledge and Ideas Are Worthless. Do This Instead - Product Thinking

Your Knowledge and Ideas Are Worthless. Do This Instead

learn to thinkIn the last 2 years of my research, studying and interviewing hundreds of product managers and over 60 experts, I came across something significant and I wanted to talk about it. It’s the hunger for ideas and subject knowledge. Product Managers are either looking for the next big feature or product idea, or they are looking for better ways to prioritize, segment the market, etc. I see a fundamental flaw in this approach.

It’s not just Product Managers. For a long time I’ve seen phrases like Knowledge is Power, Power of Ideas and more being used in various places as a means to motivate and drive aspirations in people. My school used to have Knowledge is Power as its motto. Business daily like Economic Times runs an initiative called Power of Ideas along with top Indian B-School IIM-Ahmedabad to promote entrepreneurship.

What’s wrong with this?

Ideas and Knowledge are Tactical

Ideas are worth a dime a dozen. Knowledge is not worth anything until it’s useful to the world outside. While many of us have a lot of ideas, it’s about the ability to come up with ideas at will that matters. In other words, there is no point having a lot of food in the kitchen so long as they cannot be eaten. Similarly there is no point knowing how to cook the best tasting food, but not having the tools and opportunity to cook them.

Need to Think

Many of us go (have gone) to schools that exposed us to thinking systems that’s taught us to analyse, criticise, judge and argue (read about my earlier article on the history behind thinking and design to know why). Literature, Mathematics and Science were based on these philosophies. There are no classes taken or credits given that taught us to think. It’s a natural skill that we possess, but a good portion of it gets lost as we get through schooling. Even worse, thinking is not given enough importance by today’s corporate sector either. So the question here is – how do people know about the need to learn thinking?

In the context of making products, the question is not about what technique to use or who to involve, but getting the picture right. It’s about understanding not just the what and the who, but also about understanding why.

Give a man a fish and you feed him for a day; teach a man to fish and you feed him for a lifetime. – Maimonides

Learn to Think

As Product Managers and makers, we are constantly solving problems. Given that every challenge is different, it’s important for us to understanding what the problem is, but also get a clear picture of who are involved, when are the times that the problem presents itself and where does that happen, how the problem evolved and eventually why.

In order to effectively think, it’s important for us to structure our inquiry in a way that it leads us to a clear picture. I talk about a formula to do this in my article Getting To Why. Give that a read and use the Getting To Why Formula in practicing to think consciously. It helps you look for the right data so you can make your decisions effectively.

Evangelize Thinking

I hear some people criticise IDEO for having used the phrase Design Thinking as a way of solving real world problems. Nevertheless I give all the credit to David Kelley for having made the world aware of the term. I hope that the repeated use of the word will at least create a small group of passionate thinkers who will act as catalysts to create awareness of this hidden gem. There will always be a good number of people to capitalise on Design Thinking for business and other vested interests, but that’s the cost we pay for spreading awareness.

The next time you get an idea, try to see how you can come up with more such ideas. The greater the sample space, the greater the chance of you having a winning idea. The idea is least important compared to the way you come up with ideas at will. Instead of feeling good about a certain subject knowledge, think of what you don’t know and see how you can learn it and master it.

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