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Three Ways To Approach Product Development, And No Clear Winner

Three Ways To Approach Product Development, And No Clear Winner

Here’s a fun fact; according to, it would take 4 years, 2 months and 8 days to watch everything on Netflix without stopping. That’s just one service provider in one sector. The machinery of commerce continues to churn out consumer options at an alarming pace.

Have you ever wondered who is on the other side of the products and services you consume daily? Not just the corporations, but the humans who conceive product ideas and make them market-ready, for you and me.

I have. I’d say these folks have a fascinating job of bringing ideas to life. I do wonder what drives them? How do they see themselves and rationalise their contribution? My efforts to understand their motivations and methods distil into three different personas. Let’s begin with the least audacious.

The Kaizen

The Japanese word kaizen loosely translates to good change. The idea here is constantly striving to change for the better. Product developers with a continuous improvement mindset lean into this – let’s call it kaizen – persona, where the guiding question is: How can we improve?

Here’s an oversimplification of the kaizen method: Tweak, optimise, repeat. In reality, there are exacting standards and meticulous processes at play. Tweaking involves ideation and initiative. Optimising calls for testing and feedback. 

The kaizen approach recognises the importance of moving slowly in one direction over moving swiftly in multiple directions. Albeit the least audacious, this approach is in no way mediocre. It takes unflagging commitment to continuously best your best, never accepting it as good enough. While it’s associated with small gains, they most certainly add up over time. To appreciate this, think of how your social media experience has evolved with platform changes, aesthetics and new features. 

Most product development work today is based on kaizen methods for the simple reason that entirely new products entries are far fewer than already existing ones. Hence the bulk of work goes into improving existing products, as compared to creating new products. 

But sometimes, the improvements are not marginal. They reveal something approaching a thought shift. 

The Inquirer

If the kaizen seeks to modify a solution, the inquirer will gladly redefine the problem altogether – a hard reset essentially. This eagerness to interrogate convention hardly earns the inquirer any plaudits – convention tends to push back – but on a good day, it’s handsomely rewarding. 

With these odds, the inquirer needs a different set of traits to thrive. It may take curiosity to rethink the status quo, but audacity is needed to challenge it. And let’s not understate the role of negotiation and persuasion required to inspire early adoption.  

But the inquirer today is not nearly as frowned upon as before. Recent global trends have profoundly shifted our foundational beliefs, resulting in a willingness to question more. These trends include the financial crisis of 2008, a wave of business disruptions predominantly in tech, large scale data leaks, and most recently, the COVID-19 pandemic. 

Even corporations have caught on and are now open – to varying degrees – to challenge their own conventions. It’s now common for large firms with the budget to have incubators – a testing ground for new concepts. Here’s a classic example. Back in 2016, Anjali Sud led an incubator program at video hosting platform Vimeo to explore the business demand for video as a communication tool. Before this, the company planned to invest in original content, competing with the likes of Netflix and Amazon Prime. The results of this program were so compelling that Vimeo’s management appointed Anjali to lead the company in this new direction as its CEO in 2017 – a title she still holds. 

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The Idealist

So far, we’ve considered product development from two different personas: The incrementalist kaizen with a seemingly insatiable appetite for improvement on one hand, and the inventive inquirer with a pioneering spirit on the other. These both have one thing in common; they start with a problem statement. What happens when the initiative for developing a product is something more elemental to our humanity, like a belief?

In a 2010 TED talk, renowned marketing expert Simon Sinek explained that people follow leaders who embody their beliefs. Why? Because beliefs control decision-making. 

When product developers are inspired by what they believe, the entire process takes on a new significance. The products become a manifestation of those beliefs, a call out statement of sorts. Buyers don’t merely consume the products but also share said beliefs, making this exact statement with their spending. 

The idealist persona sends such a compelling message to users, but it doesn’t map to any process or methods. Operationally, they can lean into the other personas to varying degrees, but they’ll always endeavour to represent their beliefs through the products they develop. 

Craig Federighi, Apple’s Senior Vice President of Software Engineering made this point indirectly when asked in a 2020 interview by tech YouTuber Marques Brownlee why the company had not yet created a weather app and a calculator app for the iPad – a simple technical feat. In his response, he explained that they want to take something “great” to the market, and they’d rather wait than lower their standards. 


These approaches are not mutually exclusive. The above personas apply differently to various settings. Developing entirely new products may call on the inquirer persona, whereas keeping existing ones relevant would lean towards the kaizen. Still yet, the idealist would want to ensure that products embody shared beliefs. It could lead to some tweaking or a complete reimagining, depending. 

View Comment (1)
  • A fascinating read. One of the benefits of social media platforms like Instagram is the opportunity to get a glimpse into the lives, minds and behaviours of some of these product developers. It would be interesting to see if embodying/adopting these personas could lead to personal growth and development.

    xo Stephanie

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