Mr. Hyde Slays Logical Fallacies In Product Management

Yesterday we summarized BBC’s “Jekyll” In 10 Screencaps Or Less™. Now let’s extract a product management lesson from this creepy “sequel” to the classic novella written by Robert Louis Stevenson.

When the protagonist of the story learns that his entire life is a lie, his faux friend Peter tries to justify a lifetime of manipulations by stating it was for the greater good if the end result leads to cures for disease. That, my friends, is a logical fallacy.

I haven’t conducted a formal survey to determine how many of you are involved with shadowy corporations breeding armies of clones of fictional characters to cure disease. But many of us engage with (or in) logical fallacies–so let’s take a look at that.

Sometimes logical fallacies are created intentionally to deceive others, sometimes they’re created unintentionally to support a particular argument or point of view. Logical fallacies can be very effective because they appeal to emotions and create something that looks like logic but really isn’t.

Detecting and dissecting logical fallacies is a critical skill for any product manager–or anyone who interacts with a product manager–because sound decision-making is rooted in the ability to determine whether to accept or reject an argument.

What kinds of logical fallacies do product managers confront–or engage in? And how does one slay them (the fallacies, not the people)? Here are three of the most common situations with advice on how to work through them.

Q: Why should we implement this feature?
A: Because the CEO says we should.

Do you (or does someone you know) justify arguments by citing an authority figure in your organization? That’s a pretty flimsy justification for, well, anything. However, it can be effective because it’s an emotional one. After all, no one wants to cross the Big Boss, right?

To combat this fallacy, stay focused on the target market. You’ll never meet your strategic goals if you spend your time chasing whims instead of understanding and meeting market needs. Let the facts guide your decision-making.

Q: Why should we continue to support this feature?
A: Because we always have; it’s part of our legacy.

Do you (or someone you interact with) cling to features that have outlived their usefulness to the target market because This Is How Things Have Always Been Done? Then quit it. Seriously, cut it out.

Evaluate your legacy features. If the return isn’t there, if the value isn’t there for the user, why are you supporting those features? Imagine if the resources applied to those useless legacy features were instead applied to new, useful features! Inertia can’t be tolerated.

Q: Let’s implement feature [fill in the blank].
A: No; nobody wants it. I know this because I don’t want it.

This is the classic product management logical fallacy, assuming that a small sample–say, one’s personal preferences–accurately represents a much larger segment of the population.

Never settle for hearsay. Want to prove a feature’s viability? Research it. Uncover what your target market needs, and how they might receive it. Product decisions need to be rooted in facts and evidence, not personal predilections.

Every day–at work, at home, online–we’re all barraged by fallacies designed to sway decision-making without providing conclusive evidence or actual proof.

By increasing your ability to detect logical fallacies, you’ll be in a better position to create, accept, or reject arguments… without wreaking havoc in modern day London.

Additional Resources

What kind of logical fallacies do you confront in your organization? How do you deal with them?

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Christopher Cummings

Blogs about product management. Loves Jesus, his family, comic books, video games, and giant robots. Occasionally crawls through mud and leaps over fire.

3 thoughts on “Mr. Hyde Slays Logical Fallacies In Product Management

  1. Very good article. Are you not dismissing the CEO argument too blithely? I have worked in environments like that in the past, and just “focusing on the facts” did not sway the day. I would like to hear your thoughts on that.

  2. Hi Hannah –

    Thanks for your feedback. This topic seems to come up a lot in this blog… You are right: disagreeing with the CEO, especially in public, can be tricky. And, depending on the CEO’s temperament, very very painful.

    I think the key is to approach it respectfully and carefully–and make sure you have solid arguments for why the particular feature is not in the product’s best interests, plus ideas on how to proceed.

    Even if you don’t succeed in changing the CEO’s mind, demonstrating your ability to consider the business aspects of product management will help build upper management’s belief in your ability to do right by the company.

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