Empiricism in Product Development

January 2018 · 2 minute read

Francis Bacon wrote about idols of the mind, with regard to scientific inquiry. With a nod to empiricism, here are four ways to build a product nobody wants.

Rely on preconceived assumptions

Questions are one of the best tools for avoiding unwarranted assumptions. Paul Graham suggests, “the initial idea is just a starting point—not a blueprint, but a question.” A fresh perspective is invaluable when entering a domain that’s ripe for disruption.

However, failure to recognize your own innate biases can limit your ability to innovate. From your target market, to the problem your product solves, don’t limit yourself with assumptions unless you’ve a compelling reason. There are times when assumptions are unavoidable, but that’s ok as long as you recognize them.

Fail to acknowledge external perspectives

Idiosyncratic belief and passion are often at the heart of brilliance. They are also barriers that can feed your own echo chamber. Don’t fall victim to this. External perspectives lend insight into the alignment of your product in the marketplace, balancing raw, creative effort with instructive guidance.

In the same essay on ideas, Graham suspects the together-alone-together sandwich as being the most productive setup for conceiving and implementing great ideas. I tend to agree with him. Time spent alone reflecting on discussions with others shouldn’t be discounted.

Let yourself be seduced by words

As Edward O. Wilson paraphrases Bacon’s idols of the marketplace in Consilience: The Unity of Knowledge, don’t “let the power of mere words induce belief in non-existent things.”

Talking about your product won’t get you to launch. Someone telling you a market exists doesn’t mean it actually does. Take steps to empirically validate any assumptions you’ve made about your product and its place in the world.

Cloud your vision with dogmatic thinking

Unquestioning acceptance is almost never a good thing for product development. An open mind allows you to see opportunities that would be missed if you closed off your thinking. Dogmatic thinking begets more of the same old thing, or worse, something nobody wants.

In Summary

Start with a question. See the world as it is. Make something better.