There Must Be a Pony Here Someplace …

There are many versions of this story, which is often attributed to Ronald Reagan, but it also serves as a good metaphor for those in Product Development.

There are twin boys of five or six. Mom was worried that the boys had developed extreme personalities — one was a total pessimist, the other a total optimist — their parents took them to a psychiatrist.

First the psychiatrist treated the pessimist. Trying to brighten his outlook, the psychiatrist took him to a room piled to the ceiling with brand-new toys. But instead of yelping with delight, the little boy burst into tears. “What’s the matter?” the psychiatrist asked, baffled. “Don’t you want to play with any of the toys?” “No,” replied the pessimist, “I want a pony.”

Next the psychiatrist treated the optimist. Trying to dampen his outlook, the psychiatrist took him to a room piled to the ceiling with horse manure. But instead of wrinkling his nose in disgust, the optimist emitted just the yelp of delight the psychiatrist had been hoping to hear from his brother, the pessimist. Then he clambered to the top of the pile, dropped to his knees, and began gleefully digging out scoop after scoop with his bare hands. “What do you think you’re doing?” the psychiatrist asked, just as baffled by the optimist as he had been by the pessimist. “With all this manure,” the little boy replied, beaming, “there must be a pony in here somewhere.”

Very often the trick is indeed finding the pony!

The One Best Way (Part 1)

Frederick Winslow Taylor (1856 – 1915) was one of the founders of scientific management and probably the first modern management consultant. He believed that all tasks could be reduced to “one best way”.

Captain Queeg in The Caine Mutiny (perhaps not one of literature’s great managers) said, “There are four ways of doing things on my ship. The right way, the wrong way, the Navy way, and my way. Do things my way and we will get along.”


The next few posts will outline different approaches to new product development.

My question for the reader: do you think there is one best way, and if so what is it?

Rumsfeld Matrix (Part 1)

”Reports that say that something hasn’t happened are always interesting to me, because as we know, there are known knowns; there are things we know we know. We also know there are known unknowns; that is to say, we know there are some things we do not know. But there are also unknown unknowns — the ones we don’t know we don’t know.” — 2002, Donald Rumsfeld.

From this came “The Rumsfeld Matrix”.

Rumsfeld Matrix

Product developers and their managers have always had trouble dealing with uncertainty. The Rumsfeld Matrix illustrates both the “comfort” that comes from working in the lower left quadrant where all is known, as well as the complexity with working in the top right.

You can bet the “fuzzy front end” is not so fuzzy if you live in the bottom left quadrant.

More about the implications of this in future posts.

Good Books (Part 1)

There are very few decent business books in general, and a rare one indeed relevant to product development. If I read one business-related book every few years it is remarkable. Time would be better spent re-reading Shakespeare, history or the Bible. Think about it: If Don Quixote is still in print after hundreds of years, might this be a more valuable read than Who Moved My Cheese?

One important contemporary book is Nassim Nicholas Taleb’s Anti-Fragile.  This is the upgrade to his prior work, The Black Swan.

While some might argue that this is a book about finance, it has much broader impact.


The book has over five hundred pages, almost all of which have to be read to understand the entire tome.

One cannot easily summarize it in a paragraph – but here goes:

Major events, while in retrospect obvious, cannot be predicted. Examples might be 9/11, the invention of the micro-computer, and the Great Depression. No matter how carefully one plans, these kinds of events are missed. We need to understand that these unpredictable events (Black Swans) happen, and we need to be prepared for the unexpected.

So why is this important for product development? Readers of this blog have probably noted references to luck or chance. A Black Swan does not have to be something bad. It can well be an unexpected good event.  Anti-Fragile is how to be robust in a world where we cannot predict the future.

Taking advantage of unexpected outcomes is at the core of invention.

Methodology Gives Those With No Ideas Something to Do

The title above was taken from Mason Cooley’s “City Aphorisms”. You have got to love it.

In brief – here is how large corporations approach product development. It begins with idea generation. This is the brain storming – the hard-to-define process aptly called “The Fuzzy Front End”. While there are scholarly works dedicated to just this portion of new product development, this is probably the least well-understood part of the process.

Ideas that successfully exit the “front end” will then go through a series of stage/gates before finally being commercialized as a new product. These stages are relatively easy to define and are usually well-understood by the host company.

As much has been written about The Fuzzy Front End as well as Stage/Gate, I recommend other sources for a more detailed explanation.

Despite the existence of this conceptual framework, companies have a very difficult time innovating successfully.

This blog will explore why this is and what can be done about it.