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20 Jun

Baigan 🍆

“Imagine an old alchemist's situation. A man in a certain village would build an isolated hut and cook things which caused explosions. Quite naturally, everyone calls him a witch doctor! One day someone comes and says he has found a queer piece of metal and would the alchemist be interested in buying it? The alchemist does not know the value of the metal, but gives the man some money at a guess. He then puts what has been brought him in his stove and mixes it with sulphur, or something similar, to see what happens, and if the metal was lead, he would be badly poisoned by the vapours. He concludes, therefore, that this particular matter makes one feel sick if approached, and nearly kills you, and therefore he says that there is a demon in lead! Afterwards, when he writes his recipes, he adds a footnote saying: ‘Beware of lead, for in it is a demon which will kill people and make them mad.’”

Alchemy, by Marie-Louise von Franz

There's this video from Bihar of a person asking a bunch of students around what subjects they like in school — apparently, to understand the extent of their knowledge and how well they're learning.

That video has gone viral recently, and is being widely used as a meme anywhere someone wants to communicate a sense of cluelessness, or rather, a feigned sense of confidence under a state of total cluelessness.

The meme is called “Baigan.” If you haven't watched the video that led to the meme, I recommend you first watch it here before coming back to read this piece.

(For non-Hindi speakers, the word ‘Baigan’ means brinjal or eggplant.)

I think a lot of customer feedback is like Baigan.

And if as a product manager, you don't try to investigate by what a customer exactly means when they say something and the real reason/s behind why they said it, you might end up taking bad product decisions.

You see, it's a natural human impulse to feel obliged to answer whenever a question is asked. It's a rare individual who refuses to opine citing a lack of knowledge or lack of due thought or observation.

Most of us, in the absence of good observation and awareness, quickly jump on to dishing an answer that's easiest to articulate. Giving any answer to placate the questioner is usually preferred over not having any opinion.

This of course isn't true in all contexts, but in my experience, it is largely true in the customer research context. It becomes truer still when the customer cares about creating a good impression or feels like they're being evaluated on some metric.

Say a startup has developed a fitness app.

In user interviews, several customers say they stopped using the app because it doesn't have enough workout routines.

However, when the product managers analyze the data, they discover that these users rarely tried new workouts when they were added.

Instead, data showed a correlation between app usage drops and periods when users were less active overall (e.g., holidays, busy periods at work). So, the real issue here probably wasn't be the number of workout routines but rather the app's inability to keep users motivated or engaged during their less active periods.

But of course, no customer would like to admit that they aren't “motivated enough” or “sincere enough” or “curious enough.”

Consider another hypothetical scenario that usually plagues e-commerce startups.

The startup receives feedback that their website's “user interface is not intuitive,” leading to cart abandonment.However, after conducting a usability test with a group of customers, they discover that the real issue is slow website loading times, not the interface. Turns out, customers misattributed their frustration with waiting for pages to load to the website's design.

In this case, the cause being misplaced on the website design is due to quite a simple and straightforward reason: your customers do not think like your designers do. Their vocabulary or model of design isn't as high-resolution as your own. They tend to categorize website loading times and website design under a single umbrella.

This issue of misrepresenting real reasons is far more pervasive than you would think. And none of this misrepresentation happens intentionally. Rather, it is usually due to a lack of observation and attention paid to the activity. And that's natural, considering your customers' lives do not revolve around your product, only your life does.

Initially, some users claimed that they liked Slack because it “reduced email.”

However, upon further investigation, the Slack team found that what users really valued was not the reduction in emails, but the sense of connectedness and transparency that Slack brought to their teams.

It was precisely an increase in async comms and visibility into other channels that the customers loved about the tool, not a reduction in email or communication!

This insight led Slack to reposition their marketing to emphasize the product's ability to make work more pleasant and efficient.

Even Dropbox faced a similar situation early on.

Users often cited the convenience of “having files everywhere” as a primary reason for using the service.

But upon further investigation, Dropbox found that what users really loved was the peace of mind the service provided — knowing that their files were safe even if their devices were lost or damaged. This prompted Dropbox to focus on the “peace of mind” aspect in their marketing.

In both of these cases, the startups could have easily taken user feedback at face value.

But by asking the right follow-up questions and digging deeper, they were able to uncover the true reasons behind user satisfaction and use that to their advantage.

This is where good product taste and intuition play a significant role.

Often, stated reasons and revealed reasons are quite different. Customers tend to supply answers they can articulate easily, not necessarily answers that are an honest representation of reality.

A lot of image upkeep is involved. It's generally considered bad to not know things, or to not understand the question, or to express a lack of knowledge or insight.

The result is you get Baigan 🍆. Or you get some made-up reason like, “Beware of lead, for in it is a demon which will kill people and make them mad.”

But if you possess a deep understanding of the product and the market you're working within, you naturally develop a sense of what a useful and honest answer looks like. And if someone doesn't supply it, you know what questions to ask to uncover the real reasons.

The best product people I know lead with much more intuition and taste and a lot less data than we would like to believe.

The reason we don't like to acknowledge this is because intuition is tacit, undemocratic, and hard to articulate while data is objective, democratic, and easy to justify and present.

It is Baigan 🍆.

Of course, I'm engaging in some humorous hyperbole here, strictly for effect. I don't mean to say that data is absolutely useless. Far from it. But we generally tend to err on the side of valuing it more than less, simply because it is easy to justify.

But all the sauce lies in interpretation. And without good taste or judgment, we can often make the mistake of buying what the data or our customers say at face value. The real incentives or reasons might be different, and it takes a good nose to figure out what's actually going on.

How do you develop that nose? Sadly, I don't think there's any other way than burning your hands and getting betrayed by stated reasons and preferences. Unless that happens, you may not even come to realize the severity of the issue.




If you enjoyed reading this piece, you will also enjoy reading:

The “I know I'm being watched” Effect

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