Idea killers, how to bounce back


A key skill in my opinion as a product person is to identify “idea de-railers”. Idea de-railers are specific phrases used to block ideas from going further. Once you can identify this pattern, it’s much easier to plan around it, and as leaders attack it head-on. Below follow some choice de-railers from my collection.

Obvious disclaimer, Yes product managers should be empathetic, yes everybody in the company is driving towards the same thing so idea-derailers seems a bit harsh of a characterization, yes this is not ideal company culture, yes yes yes. However, reality is an approximation of the ideal, it always helps to understand human behavior (good and bad) and have a plan to tackle. These are just techniques that have been useful to me ? 

What does the business want?

Who is this mythical business person? and why is not you? How come you don’t know what your customer needs?

Is this approved by the business?

See above

We should stop now and monitor the situation closely, going forward

Wait, so you mean to say you’ve not been monitoring it, at all, all this while? Also what is closely monitoring? is there anything such as – far away – monitoring?

We need to be thoughtful about this

What do you think we were going to do, not think?

We should think strategically about this

Variation of the above.

Somebody (normally not them) should do this

I need to hire this “somebody”

I have grave concerns

This is the ultimate derailer. It’s the death star to your puny lightsaber of an idea

Advice on how to deal with de-railers
I’ll spare you the usual, convince them with data, appeal to the value to the business etc. All of that is true and is product management 101. My slightly controversial take is that in addition to product management 101 you have to address it head-on and lean into the conflict. Leaning into the conflict sets the right tone and actually drives the organization to the outcome that you want.

Here are some anti-derailing phrases that can help!

Thanks for your feedback, what specifically do you have a concern with? Getting to the details will help me resolve the issue

This gets to the meat of it immediately. Forces everybody to articulate the problem clearly. Also sets a clear precedent that details matter and objections have to be based on something tangible. If it’s not tangible, it cannot be solved.

Thanks, those words individually make sense but put together don’t convey anything meaningful. Could you rephrase and help me understand the issue

This is very useful to get to the heart of the issue when dealing with jargon’ers. I guarantee this will clear out the clutter and get to simple articulations of the problem. However, I will caution you to use this with utmost caution and always say it with a big smile!

Would love to hear how other folks handle these situations, let me know via the comments!

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