Don’t Let the Tail Wag the Dog

I always try to be self-aware of how easily I can be seduced. 

In developing new products and experiences I’ve often found it’s both exciting and challenging to be open and encouraging of amazing new ideas while at the same time staying anchored to why we’re creating something and whom we’re creating it for.

At its best, everyone knows what problem or opportunity you’re trying to solve for, so when an idea is presented, you can simply ask how and where does this fit into what we’ve set out to do?

At its worst, losing focus on what you’re solving for and either chasing the market or getting seduced by a shiny new idea can have the affect of pulling up one’s anchor and setting your project adrift.  While some might view an anchor as something that holds you up or slows you down, it can also be thought of as what keeps you in place and oriented in a way that is safe, known and understandable.

My work at Jawbone has put me at the intersection of exciting emerging spaces including wearable tech, personal health, quantified self and the Internet of Things, amongst others.  No shortage of cool buzzwords I get to use on any given day. The potential downside is that it’s easy to be seduced by exciting ideas and opportunities going on in any of these areas.  What helps keep us grounded is revisiting what it was we decided on anchoring ourselves to.  For UP, our ultimate goal is to be able to help our users lead healthier lives. In order to do this, there are 4 core principles that we have to stay true to:

1) UP has to track the things in your life that are truly important to leading a healthier life.  Some of which people are not always aware.

2) UP has to give meaning and context to that data.  Telling a user what they’ve done is not enough.  Knowing and sharing how something impacts a user, both positively and negatively, is even more important.

3) UP needs to be able to help users take action to improve on what they need to improve on and to sometimes introduce a user to new things that might be essential to their journey to a healthier place.

4) UP needs to do all of this in a way that works for all different kinds of personalities.  UP needs to be socially intelligent enough to support you when you need supporting, educate you when it’s relevant and push you when a push is needed and appreciated.

The upside of maintaining the integrity and focus that I’ve been referring to is that it leads to breakthrough thinking around the areas that we really care about.  In order to track more meaningful things about our users, we’ve created an entirely new platform of sensors that allow us to gather additional data and help our users understand things about themselves that were previously unknowable.

We’ve created Smart Coach in order to inform and coach our users in a way that is personal and meaningful to them.  We’ve created UP as an open platform that allows us to work with partners that have deep expertise and experiences that can further help our users take the right actions to get to a healthier and happier place.  This is all hard work and much of it is work that hasn’t been done before.  Trying to deliver against challenges and opportunities like these that are core to what UP stands for is why we have to make sure we’re not seduced by the shiny ideas that don’t contribute directly to this.

This takes me back to the challenge that I started with.  How do you know when a new idea is a game changer or a distraction?  The best I’ve learned in how to deal with this is if it’s not connected to your anchoring principles, then it’s likely worth passing on, or putting on a shelf till a later date.  This is where you need to not let the tail wag the dog.

However, if after substantial consideration an opportunity feels so important and powerful, yet doesn’t fit your core principles in a clean way, then it might be time to revisit your core principles. When the tail ends up wagging the dog in a good way, then I believe you can and should call that a pivot.

Steve Rechtschnaffer is the VP Product Experience at Jawbone and will be speaking at this year’s GROW Conference, happening August 19-21 in Whistler, BC. To hear him speak, tickets are available, here.