Three Product Management Lessons from a 4 Year Old with a Bee-bot Robot

17 Jun 2019 by Scott Middleton

This morning a 4 year old reminded me that creating a great product isn’t always about doing what your customers say they want you to do.

The reminder came while I was teaching my daughters’ preschool class how to program Bee-bot robots to follow a path I had mapped out along the ground. I had drawn a starting line and finish line (I called it “end” so it was easier for them to read).

To begin with the kids were trying to follow the path I had mapped out by tapping the appropriate arrows on their little Bee-bots.

The kids were really getting the hang of it when one of them decided he would take the Bee-bot and put it at the end, then program it to go straight ahead 4 times. He did this and it reached the start line.

By both inverting the challenge and thinking creatively the little boy received a huge clap and a shared smirk between myself and one of his teachers.

I’ve reflected a bit on why this approach made me clap so vigorously and smirk.

This little boy had delivered on what we actually wanted (but didn’t know it), not necessarily what we had said we wanted.

What we said we wanted: We explicitly said we wanted the kids to program the robot to follow the path we had laid out.

What we actually wanted (but didn’t know it) was for the kids to gain confidence instructing a robot to do what they wanted it to do.

The boy did the latter.

My next lesson from this same situation was that he delivered the outcome with less button presses and in a straighter line than my roundabout path.

That is, he took my stated requirements and delivered to my actual requirements with less effort.

He found the shortest path.

This little event combined with many others from teaching robots to kids really helped me (re)learn a few lessons and, most importantly, put a huge smile on my face. Hopefully sharing it with you gives you the same smile and reminders.

Is there something you are working on at the moment where you could reinterpret what you are being asked to do, where you could invert the problem or simplify things by finding the shortest path?

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