If your desk isn’t cluttered, you probably aren’t doing your job. – Harold S. Geneen
If you have a profession, are developing a technology, founding a business, creating a product or just living you probably spend a lot of time thinking about yourself.
If you were to take a minute and list all the things that are rattling about in your brain right now you’d quickly come up with a pretty long list.
How many things on those lists have to do with other people’s products or services?
So, looking at this from someone else’s point of view what are the chances that they’re thinking about your product right now?
A while ago I wrote about the concept of product-market fit and likened it to evolution – a way to survive and fit in.
But have we got the words the wrong way round?
If we start with the idea of a product then we have something already and what we’re trying to do is figure out who will buy it or whether they will buy it if we change something about it.
By putting the word product at the start then we are inevitably promoting it – marking it out as the important part – as the prime mover.
So what happens if you look at it from the other side – look at trying to get market-product fit.
In that situation, what is a market?
Well, it’s not a statistic or a demographic or a psychographic.
It’s a person.
More importantly, it’s the inside of one particular person’s brain – your potential customer.
And what does it look like in there?
If you look at the picture above it’s quite possible that a lot of people would say that’s what their brain looks like.
It’s full of all kinds of things – layers upon layers of thoughts and worries and frustrations and plans.
So, how do we make sense of all that stuff that’s in there – it’s not like there’s much room and all these thoughts are squished together and jostling for space and attention.
We make sense of things through story – through narrative.
A story links concepts together, creating a plausible whole that we can believe.
“Reality is a shared narrative we agree to believe”, said the librarian.
So when we talk about a market what we’re really talking about is a story that someone agrees to believe.
Maybe it’s a story you tell – a story that people choose to believe.
Or, best of all, it’s a story that they come up with.
When someone creates their own story about what their problems are and what they need to do to solve them – you have just found a market.
What’s emerged from that cluttered mess we call our minds is a story, a concept, a cluster of related ideas, first dim and then increasingly clear until it’s an obvious way to go forward.
And, if that story matches what your product does you’ve just achieved market-product fit.
Now, you would argue, if you were in an argumentative mood, that this is exactly what validation does in the lean startup / business model canvas world.
But, being pedantic, those approaches still put the product first and, in the guise of being open ended questions their primary aim is to determine whether you need the product or not.
If you put the market first, what you’re doing is putting the person in front of you first – and making your first task understanding what’s in their mind.
Or, helping them understand what’s in there.
One way to do this is by creating “rich pictures”, freeform drawings of ideas and thoughts as they come up in an interview.
There’s a little bit about rich pictures in this article and I’ll try and put up some examples at some point.
If you do this for long enough, you’ll find that patterns emerge – areas that you need to look at start to become clear and things that you need to do become obvious.
What happens is that a market starts to define itself as a result of your discussions.
Then all you have to do is see if you have a product that fits.
Or create one if you don’t.
And it’s possible that a market first approach is a little like shaping your environment to fit you rather than fitting yourself to the environment.
There’s a good change it’s an easier way to create something profitable.