Product Managers: Can You Reject Product Narcissism?

Yesterday we summarized Doctor Who “The Age of Steel” in 10 Screencaps or Less.

Today we’re using that summary as a springboard into a discussion on Product Narcissism.


John Lumic & friends

As we’ve seen, John Lumic was a genius. Unfortunately, he was also slowly dying–and rapidly growing insane.

Desperate to keep breathing, Lumic developed a method of bonding the human brain to a metal exoskeleton… and decided to grant everyone his version of immortality by forcibly upgrading them into Cybermen.

That, my friends, is Product Narcissism in its purest form. In science fiction, PN can threaten Life As We Know It. In product management, PN can kill your product and sink your career.

Let’s look at the signs of PN and how to treat it.

What Is Narcissism?

Narcissism, or excessive self-love, comes from the Greek myth of a handsome young man named Narcissus who rejected the advances of a nymph and was cursed to fall in love with his own reflection. Unable to focus on anything else, Narcissus eventually starved to death.

“What is the Internet, if not a narcissist’s dream come true?”

Tony Long

What Is Product Narcissism?

Product Narcissism can take many shapes…

  • Confusing your needs with the needs of your customers;
  • Falling so in love with your product that you lose sight of inputs that could make it better;
  • Projecting an attitude to your customers that says, “You don’t ‘get’ my product because there’s something wrong with you.”

When confronted with facts or ideas that conflict with the Product Narcissist’s delusions about the product, the PN may fly into a Narcissistic rage.

A Narcissistic Rage?

When the Product Narcissist feels threatened, the PN’s natural reaction is to rage and pull-down the self worth of others to a) end the debate (often using logical fallacies), and b) make the PN feel superior.

You might hear statements like:

  • “Our competitors offer this feature so we need to offer it, too–end of story. Why can’t you understand that?”
  • “Just because people are asking for it, doesn’t make it right. If everyone jumped off a cliff, would you jump, too?”
  • “We’re arguing semantics. Let’s take this offline.” (And never speak of this again.)
  • “Because we’ve always done this; it’s part of our legacy.”
  • “The product should sell itself.”

You Are Not Your Customer

In the worlds of online apps and online games, I see Product Narcissism creep into product conversations all the time–and, as Steve Krug points out, it’s easy to understand why.

We work on websites for a living. We use websites every day. We all have strong ideas about what’s good and what’s bad about the web.

Sometimes, we project: We mistakenly think that “most people who use the web” are just like us so they must think what we think. Which leads to situations like this:

And that kind of thinking–besides devolving into wasteful and intractable debate–loses sight of the actual customer, a cardinal sin of product management.

What’s The Cure For Product Narcissism?

Get out of your own head and get into the heads of your customers!

Product management is about understanding problems, unmet needs, and desires, and providing solutions that help your target market solve those problems, meet those needs, and sate those desires.

Don’t tear the brains out of your customers and bond them to metal suits just because that particular approach to a particular problem works for you.

Reject Product Narcissism. Get to know your customers. Understand them. Do right by them.

Additional Resources

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