Incentives: The Most Powerful Force In The World

Aviral Vaid

Hatched by Aviral Vaid

Oct 12, 2023

4 min read


Incentives: The Most Powerful Force In The World

How senior product managers think differently

In today's complex world, it can be challenging for individuals to understand how the world works. With an overwhelming amount of information and numerous blind spots, people often rely on stories to simplify complex problems into a few simple sentences. This is where incentives come into play. Incentives have proven to be the most powerful force in the world, shaping people's behavior and driving them to take certain actions.

When we think of incentives, we often associate them with financial rewards. However, incentives can be much more than just monetary gains. Cultural and tribal incentives, for example, can be incredibly seductive. People often support certain things not because of financial rewards, but because they fear upsetting or becoming banished from their social group. These cultural and tribal incentives can have a significant impact on the choices people make and the actions they take.

It is crucial to understand the power of incentives, as they can cause even good and honest people to engage in irrational and unexpected behavior. This realization should make us question our own views and beliefs. We should ask ourselves, "Which of my current views would change if my incentives were different?" This introspection can help us gain a deeper understanding of our own motivations and biases.

Now let's shift our focus to the world of product management. Senior product managers often think differently than their peers. While skills and achievements play a role in their success, there are other factors at play. Factors such as the manager's commitment to talent development, the expertise of peers, and the political landscape of the company can all influence a product manager's trajectory.

When the problem has already been well-defined and a solution has been agreed upon, the focus shifts to execution. The key question becomes, "How can we ship this quickly?" Managing the backlog and ensuring clear, well-prioritized tickets are essential in this phase. Shipping quickly allows for faster user feedback, reducing the risk of spending months building the wrong thing. Incremental rollouts and A/B testing can also be valuable strategies to ensure the best version of the feature is released.

However, it is essential to remember that usability testing alone is not enough. While it is crucial to test whether users know how to use a solution, it is equally important to determine whether they want to use it. Evaluating both the solution and the problem itself is vital for product thinking to reach the next level. This may involve saying no or pushing back on stakeholders. As a product manager, understanding the strategic importance of the problem being addressed and the desired outcomes is essential. This enables the product manager to set the right constraints for the solution.

In some cases, questioning whether a problem is worth solving can be challenging, especially if requests come from senior stakeholders or even the CEO. However, equipping product managers with tools to evaluate the impact of a problem can help make informed decisions. Quantifying impact by considering factors such as reach, intensity, and user segment can provide valuable insights. Understanding the true cost of a feature involves more than just estimating the time and resources required to build it. It also requires an understanding of why the problem should be solved now.

Jeff Bezos popularized the concept of "disagree and commit," which encourages individuals to voice their dissenting opinions but ultimately support the chosen direction. This approach requires a deep understanding of user behavior and the factors that influence their decisions to switch to or away from a product. Jobs-to-be-Done (JTBD) theory is a framework that helps product managers understand what users are trying to accomplish when they "hire" a product. This understanding allows for the identification of improvement opportunities that better serve user needs.

When evaluating alternatives, it is essential to consider the four forces at play in someone's decision to switch: push factors, pull factors, anxiety, and inertia. Mapping these forces against your product and comparing them to customer needs can provide valuable insights. Additionally, mapping user segments and identifying their unique needs can help prioritize efforts. The Kano Model, which categorizes needs into hygiene, performance, and delighters, can further enhance product development strategies.

To expand a product's value chain, it is beneficial to map out the process that customers go through to accomplish their JTBD. This allows for opportunities to provide value before or after product usage. However, it is crucial to weigh the cost of thinking against the cost of building. Sometimes, it is more effective to build and ship a product and let the market provide feedback and validation.

In conclusion, incentives are a powerful force that shapes human behavior. Understanding the influence of cultural and tribal incentives can lead to a deeper understanding of our own biases and motivations. In the world of product management, senior product managers think differently. They focus on execution when the problem has been well-defined and agreed upon. Usability testing alone is not enough; evaluating the solution and problem is crucial. Tools such as quantifying impact and the JTBD theory can aid in decision making. Mapping alternatives and understanding customer needs can help prioritize efforts and drive innovation. Lastly, expanding a product's value chain can provide additional value for customers.

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