The Innovator's Bias is Immune to Lecture And What to Do Instead
How to trigger mindset change
Tell me if this sounds familiar: Three minutes into your first coaching session with a team, you learn they are heads-down focused on finishing their MVP with a target release date four months from now. And they haven’t yet talked to a single customer.
So, you immediately interrupt and tell them that they should have ideally started with customer interviews and validated their problems before building out a solution. You try and convince them to stop building and course-correct.
Here’s how that plays out:
You: Starting with a solution is too risky. You're back to the drawing board if it fails to solve a real customer problem. That’s why I suggest you pause building and spend some time first running a few problem discovery interviews.
Them: We know the problems already. We started building this product because we experienced these problems ourselves in our work. Also, we did reach out to a few friendly customers and pitched them the solution. They loved it and can’t wait to start using it. That’s how we validated the problem is real.
You: Talking to friendly customers is a good start. But you have to factor in the fact that they might be slightly biased because they know you already. More importantly, though, customer interviewing isn’t about pitching but learning from your customers. Are you familiar with the problem/solution fit process using customer interviews?
Them: Yes, we’ve read all the books like Running Lean, The Mom Test, and Talking to Humans. And we completely understand the importance of starting with problems with some products. But our product is different.
You: Why is that?
Them: Our product is solving an obvious problem with a non-obvious solution. People will need to see it in action to believe it. Most of the examples in these books are B2C products that you can quickly test with customers. Ours is a more complex B2B product — at a higher price point aimed at more sophisticated customers. We can’t simply create a landing page and run ads.
You: Yes, the books cover more B2C examples because they are more relatable, but the principles apply even to B2B products. Let me send you a few B2B case studies that you can review. Let’s regroup after that and see what you think.
Them: Interesting… Yes, please send them over, and we’ll take a look.
You never hear back from them ever again.
What just happened?
You Can’t Lecture Your Way Around Cognitive Biases
You just tried to argue through a series of cognitive biases and lost. We all have cognitive biases that we unconsciously employ to justify what we already want to do over what we need to do.
The real kicker is that intelligence makes matters worse.
According to behavioral scientist Daniel Kahneman, the smarter you are, the more prone you are to cognitive biases.
Reasonably smart people can rationalize anything. Entrepreneurs are especially gifted at that.
In the scenario above, the team wants to build out an MVP, and some of the biases at play are:
The Innovator’s Bias: Build a great solution, and customers will come.
The Visionary Bias: People will not understand what we are building unless we show them a finished product.
Survivorship Bias: None of the companies we admire, like Apple, ran customer interviews. So why should we?
Confirmation Bias: We have this problem, and so do others. They told us so.
Sunk Cost Fallacy: We can’t afford to lose momentum now by slowing down product development.
Probability Bias: Yes, most startups fail. But we are different.
Also, the team is aware and well-informed of new methodologies and techniques for testing ideas. However, they don’t think it applies to them. Lecturing here rarely works. If you push too hard, the team disengages and does what they want without you.
Is there a better way?
Yes, let me outline my 3-step process next:
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