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How to Sift Through Unintentional Lies

July 5, 2011  

When you ask for feedback on a proposed innovation, writes Scott Anthony at Harvard Business Online, sit back and brace yourself for one lie after another from your stakeholders. They aren't malicious lies, but that's what makes them so dangerous—the liars think they're telling the truth. According to Anthony, innovators will inevitably hear lies like these:

The customer who insists she will buy a new product or service. "Don't look at what people say they will do. Look at what they are already doing," Anthony says. "If they aren't spending money or time solving a problem today, they might not spend money or time to solve that problem tomorrow." Gauge actual interest by inviting customers to pay a nominal fee to join a private beta test—this way you'll know if they're willing to pay anything at all.

The product developer who insists it will be ready to ship in six months. No development team wants to miss a deadline—but it will happen. "There's one project I've been watching that has literally been three months away from shipping for 18 months now," notes Anthony. You'll get more reliable estimates if you eschew a single, long development cycle for rapid cycles that produce a "minimal viable product" for testing and further augmentation.


The salesperson who insists he can sell it. Just because he can sell it doesn't mean he will—if he lacks incentive. When a newspaper started selling an online product in a three-month pilot, writes Anthony, the tepid response seemed to show little demand. But the problem wasn't the product itself—rather, it was a low commission for selling to unfamiliar customers. "Predictably," he says, "once they got in the field the commission-based sales force prioritized making more money over making less money."

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