Product Development and Wickedness

Product Development is about learning

Product Development and Wickedness

In the fantastic book Range, David Epstein starts the book by describing wicked and kind learning environments. Kind learning environments are those that provide immediate feedback. Music, dribbling a basketball, staying in your lane while driving are all kind learning environments.

Playing the stock market, raising children, playing complex team sports: these are wicked learning environments. The feedback isn't immediate, or the feedback can be in the wrong direction based on how complex the system is.

As I was reading this excellent book and counter-point to Malcolm Gladwell's 10,000 hour mastery rule, I noted in the margin:

  • Agile
  • Lean Product Development
  • Design Thinking
  • Figuring out what product to build

So many movements in product development and technology are about turning the natural wicked environment into a kind one. Agile provides you with time to stop and figure out if you are on track, to adjust and learn quickly. Lean product development allows you to stop and figure out if you are building the right product. Design thinking and user testing helps you to make sure people care about your product, validate if the products works, and keep getting feedback consistently as you build. And any well-run business has figured out a way to get feedback from users and the market as fast as possible. These systems have ways to filter out noise and find the signal in a complex system. They move wicked to kind.

All of these systems are common-sensical. Of course you should make sure you build your product so you can maintain it, of course learning is smart, of course you should make sure people want to pay you if you want to be paid, of course you should listen to users. But this wicked/kind insight explains why it is so damn hard to make these things happen over and over. You are trying to change the environment, not really the way you do your thing, but the conditions under which you do your thing.