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Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Hope and Denial and why does it really matter?

In these testing times feelings and emotions run high as people deal with the implication of the financial crisis on both a personal and professional level. One of the many ways that I hear from people is to keep hoping for the best, to hold on, and hunker down so that we will hopefully survive the crisis. The question is: is it not the same as being in denial? Would it not be more effective in the long run to be to take a realistic approach and look the situation in the eye – if you will? I suspect that it may be fear that is driving this behavior. People tend not to show hesitation or lack of hope because it may be percieved as if they have admitted defeat - and that will surely lead to failure. Therefore they rely on a goal setting approach to help drive hope, hope for a bettering of the current circumstance.

However I believe that sometimes this hope may be based on goals that have been set with little regard to the current circumstances and may in fact be the driver for failure. The fundamental problem is denial of what is really happening. In any situation a healthy dose of realism is always needed. We need to both understand the circumstances that we are facing and use this knowledge to navigate towards realistic future goals. We have to be realistic in assessment of a situation in order to truly understand the risks. 

Hope is effectively used by leaders to motivate and inspire people. However this hope has to be based on something substantial. Hope with no grounding in realistic goals has achieved very little. Look no further than the current economy. “This could not happen to us” – they said. Well it did, because the only thing that they had was hope – hope that the bubble will not burst.

People will not follow blindly just on hope and if they do then it usually is detrimental. So what does all this have to do with product management leadership? I have over the last decade experienced time and time again, through multiple positions, this blind quest of companies to grow on false premises grounded in denial of the real market’s situation.  They operate companies based on hope of better times and more market share. While the notion of better times is mostly always true, if you look far enough in the future, it is subjective. The sizing of a market is another one of these elusive quantifications that like statistics can be crafted to support a certain viewpoint. In the new approaches to product management it is important to have a deep understanding of the market, the people that you are marketing to and obviously their needs. Once that understanding is achieved the quantification of the market size becomes much easier. However sizing a marked before gaining an understanding of it is not only dangerous but it is denial – a false assumption that is based on a hope that it is really there. As David Meerman Scott just recently reminded us in his blog post “people just want to do business with people”.

Some markets are well defined - like the diaper market. There is a finite number of screaming toddlers that require these paper based collection devices to keep them sanitized. Yet if we do not understand the market enough we may base strategic product decisions on a hope that the market will increase in size – maybe there is unexplained excremental yield amplification due to organic baby foods (that was a joke). This is of course a gross simplification and markets are rarely as static or as simple as that. Yet the lesson is that based on an understanding of a market one may and should come to a conclusion if there is (or not) a market size to base the growth of future business.  As product management leaders we always hope that our product will be successful – the next big thing. However we all know that in order for that to happen we need to base the product plan on real market needs – yes realistic market needs. Not needs that we assume the market has because we have developed unrealistic what-if scenarios.
The famous saying “Hope for the best and prepare for the worst” embodies this relationship between hope, realistic and adversely denial. Denial is when one only hopes with no preparation grounded in the reality of current and future circumstances. A healthy dose of realism is always good medicine. The test of true leadership is the ability to be realistic. Yes plain and simple, be realistic while at the same time being able to inspire and motivate towards a goal that we all hope will bring better times. Like my wife always tells me when pondering the question: “what will you do if you win a million”? If you are dreaming - why not go all the way, let’s buy an island in the Caribbean, and get a beaming device that can get us there in a matter of seconds. I can only say that I hope that it may be true, but it is just as unrealistic as winning the million in the first place.

1 comment:

Zak Merzouki said...

Very interesting article!