Ep. 273 - Radhika Dutt, Author of Radical Product Thinking on Developing a Vision to Build Products
On this week's episode of Inside Outside Innovation, we sit down with entrepreneur and product developer Radhika Dutt, Author of the new book, Radical Product Thinking: The New Mindset for Innovating Smarter. On this episode, we talk about the product diseases holding back good product development, as well as ways to develop and execute a more radical vision to build products that have impact in a changing world. Let's get started.
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Interview Transcript with Radhika Dutt, Author of Radical Product Thinking
Brian Ardinger: Welcome to another episode of Inside Outside Innovation. I'm your host Brian Ardinger. And as always, we have another amazing guest. Today we have Radhika Dutt. She is the author of Radical Product Thinking: The New Mindset for Innovating Smarter. Welcome to the show.
Radhika Dutt: Thanks so much for having me on Brian.
Brian Ardinger: I am excited to have you on the show. I always love to have entrepreneurs and product folks on here to talk about what it takes to build in today's world. You've been in product development for a long time, and you help companies figure this out. What's the state of product development today? What's working and what's not?
Radhika Dutt: I think the most important thing in terms of where we have landed today, right. Is we've learned that the way we build products is by iteration. The mantras have been, you know, fail fast, learn fast. We keep hearing that you really just have to keep iterating and pivoting until you hit this nirvana of product market fit. And here in lies the problem.
Because Innovation it's like having a fast car, a fast car is great. It's good to have a fast car. But the problem is, if a fast car is just not that useful, unless you know where you're going. And the ability to iterate fast has often given us this illusion that you don't need to start with a vision, just set off on your journey, and you'll kind of discover a vision. And that is the piece that's really not working.
So, if we think about the fact that Lean Startup, Agile, all of these methodologies have really become ubiquitous over the last decade, right? And yet fundamentally the number of startups who succeed or fail hasn't really changed. Right?
So, we've really gotten this approach of innovating fast, but what we're really missing is a methodology that helps us set the direction and be able to navigate to it using this fast car. Meaning that our iterations have to be driven by a vision and strategy. And that's the piece that's been not working so far.
Brian Ardinger: You talk about in the book, how folks in product and that, or they're building stuff, kind of run in to these product diseases that hold back good product development. Can you talk a little bit about what stops people from developing and maybe getting into this iteration rut?
Radhika Dutt: These product diseases are things that we need to be able to speak openly about. Because regardless of the size of company or the industry that we're in, I keep seeing these same product diseases over and over. So, a few that I've run into or caught myself, right? One that I will admit to contributing to myself is obsessive sales disorder.
This is where your salesperson comes to you and says, you know, if you just add this one custom feature, we can win this mega client. And it sounds mostly harmless as a product person. I was like, yes, let's do this. Right. And pretty soon, by the end of the year, you're sitting with a stack of contracts and your entire roadmap is driven by what you have to make good on. And that's one example.
A really common one is Pivotitus. Pivotitus is where you know this idea that we have that you just pivot until you find product market fit, it leads us to just keep trying different ideas to see what works. And your team just feel demoralized, confused, even your customers, they don't know what you're about anymore. And that's Pivotitus.
Brian Ardinger: I love those. And I think a lot of us in product can relate to that. And even more to that, I think it's not just product folks that are running into these particular issues. A lot has changed in the world of product development with things like no code and low code. And pretty much everyone these days has run into this ability to create something. You know, and it's democratized the product development process in general.
And so, whether you are in product today and you've seen these things, the majority of folks are going to be running into these diseases, whether they know it or not. What can you talk about to the new product person, the person who maybe is new to this world and trying to understand what does it take to build something of value in this world?
Radhika Dutt: Yeah, maybe first, I want to talk about what I mean by product. Because, you know, traditionally we've thought about product is a software or a hardware. A thing, basically, right. A digital or a physical thing. And that view has really become outdated is what I've realized. To me product is your mechanism to create change in the world.
It's your vehicle for whatever that change is. And so, you know, whether you're a non-profit, you're working in a government agency, in a high-tech startup, or even freelance. You're creating change in the world. And as a result, you are building a product. And I think that's the first fundamental realization.
Given that this is our new definition of product for every person who's entering this field, the question is then, you know, how can you create change very systematically? So, you're most likely running into these diseases and I list seven of them in the book. A few other examples are Hyper Metracina. Which is where we're all about analyzing data and optimizing for metrics, except that sometimes those wrong metrics.
And things like Strategic Swelling. Which is where your, either your organization or your product just tries to do more and more and more, but it's just a very bloated product and you kind of lose your way.
So, all of these diseases, like it's not just in your product itself, it's in your organization that you might be seeing it. And so, we need to think about product differently as a mechanism to create change. And then think about, are we experiencing these diseases in our organization?
And then finally, if you're seeing it, then it's time for a new approach where you create change systematically and build the successful product systematically, which is what Radical Product Thinking is about as a methodology. Instead of taking this approach of let's just try what works, which is kind of evolved from the venture capital business model over the last decade.
Brian Ardinger: And what I like about the book is you say all the stuff that we're doing when it comes to Agile or Lean or that, they're good tactical stuff to continue to do. But you almost have to have a layer above. That thinks about the vision and thinks about how does the vision fit into, you called it the Sustainability Matrix. Maybe can you talk a little bit more?
Radhika Dutt: You know, one of the things that I've found is, we all know that we need a vision, and it's just that the way we've thought about a vision and what we've learned about, what's a good vision has been so flawed until now. For the longest time, we've heard that a good vision is a BEHAG or a big, hairy, audacious goal. For the longest time, you know, vision statements such as to be the leader in blah, blah, blah, or to be number one or number two in every market.
We're touted as just visionary statements. That this is what you want in a vision. You know, stating your big aspirational goal. And the Radical Product Thinking way, what I realized is your vision should not be about you or your aspirations at all. And so, your vision has to be about the change you want to bring about.
That's really the starting point of a Radical Product Thinking approach. And so, what I mean by good vision is thinking about questions like whose world are you trying to change? What is their problem? Why does that world even need changing? Because maybe it doesn't. And then you can talk about what the world would look like when you're done. And how you'll bring about this world.
And so this is the Radical Product Thinking Approach, where instead of the short slogan you're writing, well, there's this fill in the blank statement that I use for writing such a vision statement. That really makes it easy to do this and answer those profound questions. And once you have a vision, then you can use this vision versus survival.
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Brian Ardinger: Yeah. I'd like to talk a little bit about this Radical Vision Worksheet that you have in the book. It's really almost a Mad-Libs way to fill out and fill in the blanks to get you thinking about what your vision really is and who does it serve and how does it work?
And I've heard you talk about this before. Like it almost creates, what you said is that the source code of your vision. And then that's not what you necessarily have to portray to the world as far as the marketing around it. But it gives you that guiding force when you're in a product meeting, working with your teams. To look back at that source code and say, hey, are we on track.
Radhika Dutt: Exactly. And you know, this idea that your vision statement has to be what you tell the world, is really the marketing vision statement, which, you know, you can figure out the marketing aspect afterwards. But first for your own team, what you really need is the blueprint. If I think about this as a house construction analogy. If your team is actually building that house, would they need is the blueprints of the house.
It's not the 3D renderings that look pretty that you start with. Right. And a good vision statement, gives them a clear blueprint of what exactly are we trying to solve? Why are we trying to solve it? And then how are we going to bring about that before?
Brian Ardinger: In the book, you also talk a lot about this trap that we fall into of iteratively building products and that. And so specifically like big companies and that, fall into this trap of they've been building a car the same way forever, and they don't necessarily think about, are there different ways to do that? Can you give me some examples? I read in your book about Tesla and Volt, for example. And the two approaches that they had to developing an electric car. Can you talk about some of that?
Radhika Dutt: One of the fundamental differences between a Vision Driven Product versus an Iteration Led Product is in an iteration led approach, your iterations are driving where you're going. Where as when you're Vision Driven, right, it's your vision that drives those iterations.
So, the example of Tesla versus Volt. Specifically, the Model 3 versus the Chevy Volt. You know, there was this really well-known auto expert, Sandy Munro, and so he took five of these cars and he was looking at these cars under the hood to really evaluate, you know, which car is better. And he had a profound reaction to the Model 3. It was like, wow, this car is revolutionary. It's not inching up.
And whereas on the Chevy Volt, he said, well, this is a good little car, and you know, it's value for your money kind of thing. But the Tesla Model 3, like he was just raving about it. But if you look under the hood, like you really get to the why. The Tesla, it has a 40% more efficient engine, and it had this hall effect that Sandy Munro says, you know, I've only ever heard about it. I never seen an engine being built using this approach.
And he couldn't even figure out how they manufactured some of the elements that made this engine. Whereas he looked at the Chevy Volt, he was like, you know, I'm very familiar with all of these pieces. This looks pretty much like a gas car except in an electric format.
And then if you look at why Tesla built this transformative product versus Volt was just an evolutionary thing. It all comes down to their vision. The Chevy Volt was built with this vision of beating Tesla Model 3 to market with a car that had a range of over 200 miles. On the other hand, the Model 3 was built with a more transformative vision, a radical vision, which was about the change that they wanted to bring about. Which was to make it no compromise and give an affordable car to a driver who wanted to go green.
And so, the two visions lead to very different products and being vision driven means taking the transformative vision and systematically just infusing it in every aspect of your product. And that's why the end product is so different.
And so, in the Radical Product Thinking, right, the idea is not just that you start with a vision, but it's a step-by-step approach. So that, that vision is very systematically translated into every aspect of your product, into your everyday activities. So, your everyday activities become connected to a vision.
Brian Ardinger: I'd love to get your input on some of the new trends that you're seeing when it comes to product development. Again, a lot of the stuff that used to be new as far as Lean and Agile has, there's a lot been written about. 10 years ago, it was tough to get tactical in that particular space because it was so new.
You know, now we've seen a lot of folks that have executed on that particular format. What are some of the new trends that you're seeing and how do you see the world of product development playing out?
Radhika Dutt: You know, we're still getting better at doing more testing, more AB testing, optimizing, right. And fundamentally the trends that I keep seeing, they aren't that different. It's more that our tactics have improved in terms of how we're doing this. If I think about product management, maybe 10 years ago, we didn't have all these tools to be this data driven. Now, there are just so many tools to be able to know how well your product is working.
Is your user going through the right journeys? What all are they clicking on? What are they doing on your products? Like we've become more data-driven and have more insight into what our users are doing. We capture every piece of data and work on analyzing it. So those are more of the trends that I keep seeing. Right.
But what I haven't seen is a fundamentally big shift in how are we thinking about the data? What exactly are we trying to learn from these insights? So that's one thing. The second trend, this one I'm excited about. I'm starting to see the first kernels of product people realizing that, you know, we're building products that affect society, and we have to take responsibility for what we're building.
There's a chapter in my book, where I talk about Digital Pollution. And the chapter after that is the Hippocratic Oath of Product. It's fascinating to me that these two chapters are so polarizing. There are people who love the fact that I included that in the book. Because this gives you the superpower for building successful products and it has to come with the responsibility of building products that don't create collateral damage to society.
But there's also, an equally large faction of people who say, you know, that had no place in your book. You should just talk about how to build successful products. You shouldn't be talking about, you know, digital production and this Hippocratic oath of product.
Brian Ardinger: Well, it is interesting because you do see a lot more discussion around what it is that we build and the effects of that. And I think 10 years ago, a lot of the product building was I need to build an app because that's the new technology out there. And we've gotten to a place where a lot of that low hanging fruit of product development has been picked.
And so now it's really about, we're having to tackle harder problems. And whether it's climate change or social media injustice or, or whatever, they're hard problems out there. And I think it takes more radical thinking around what type of products we produce to try to solve this particular problem.
So, I found it interesting that you included that in the book as well. Primarily to get people thinking about, it's not just about solving a particular customer pain point. It's like the larger vision that you need to be including as you develop products out there.
Radhika Dutt: Exactly. And my goal was to provide a framework so that we can think about, you know, how are we affecting society with our products. And ways to identify digital pollution that we might be contributing to as only if we have that awareness that we can actually do something about it. But I want to go back to something you just said in terms of trends.
What you talked about, you know, it's basically that we seem to be commoditizing the skillset. When you said we've picked all that low hanging fruit, all that I was saying about, you know, we've gotten better at doing data analytics and AB testing, et cetera. I think that is really like to articulate that trend, it's that those skill sets are becoming commoditized. And what's really going to set people apart is doing that next level, which is what you are just saying.
Brian Ardinger: If there are people listening, they're maybe working in an existing company, iterating through their products and that, but they want to be more radical. They want to be more transformational with what they do. Are there tips or tricks that they can start introducing into their team or into the product development that can help start moving that needle?
Radhika Dutt: I'll share two types. One is, you know, if you are working in a larger organization, it's always hard to bring change. When you bring a radical new idea, it's like you're introducing a foreign body into this organization and you'll see organizational immunity that tries to attack this foreign body.
And so, the first start that you need is to be able to talk about why are you even introducing this new body, so there's more acceptance. So, start with a discussion around product diseases. Very often, like the way I've even approached this, and sort of this slightly sneaky way is, you know, you do a book club where people start to think about these product diseases and kind of like, oh, that's what we're suffering from. So that gives you this first entry point to start talking about, you know, maybe we need a new, radical way of thinking about this. That's one step.
The second is with your world, where you have control, you can start to develop a radical vision and start to use that with your team. You had talked about vision versus sustainability. Maybe, you know, in the book, I call it Vision versus Survival to make it really much clearer in terms of what we're trading off. So having a vision is good, but using your vision in everyday work, that's where the real power comes in.
And so the way you use your vision is if we think about our own intuition, what we're really doing is we're balancing the long time against the short term. Which means that we're thinking about vision versus survival in the short term, where vision is the longer-term picture. And so things that are both good for the vision and survival they're of course ideal.
But if we always focus on just the ideal, then we're just still being short-term focused. And so sometimes you have to invest in the vision where it's good for the vision, but not good in the short term. For instance, if you're refactoring code for three months or working on technical debt, you're investing in the vision. And the other quadrant, right, is Vision Debt. Basically, if you're finding this Obsessive Sales Disorder disease, it's because you have too much vision debt. It's where you're doing things that are good for survival in the short term, but it's not good for the vision.
And so the way you can infuse your vision in everyday actions is you start to talk about your decisions on this two by two matrix of Vision versus Survival. If you find yourself taking on a lot of vision debt, then you know that, okay, maybe something needs to change here. And talk about your decisions so that everyone is aligned on what are the right trade-offs for your particular company. There aren't any right answers, but those discussions are what really are most important.
The tips that I have for our listeners is you start with product diseases and a discussion of why you need a new approach. Then work on a vision and then use that vision and making decisions as you trade off long-term against short term.
For More Information
Brian Ardinger: I love that. And I encourage anybody who's listening to grab the copy of the book, because it does walk you through the process. It gives you some great frameworks. Some exercises and a lot of great examples as well. So, if people want to find out more about yourself or about the book, what's the best way do that?
Radhika Dutt: So, the book is on Amazon. It's Radical Product Thinking: The New Mindset for Innovating Smarter. The free tool kit is also available on the website. It's radicalproduct.com. And then finally, if people want to reach out to me on LinkedIn, I'm easy to find there. And I always love to hear stories of how people are applying Radical Product Thinking in their innovation journey.
Brian Ardinger: Radhika, thank you very much for coming on Inside Outside Innovation, to talk about the book and all the new things that you're seeing out there. I'm excited to see where the world is going when it comes to product development and appreciate your time today.
Radhika Dutt: Thanks so much for having me on this has been such a pleasure.
Brian Ardinger: That's it for another episode of Inside Outside Innovation. If you want to learn more about our team, our content, our services, check out InsideOutside.io or follow us on Twitter @theIOpodcast or @Ardinger. Until next time, go out and innovate.
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