January 23

The Messy Middle

The following insights were gleaned from a presentation at INDUSTRY given by:

Scott Belsky of Adobe

Creating something from nothing is a volatile journey. The first mile births a new idea into existence, and the final mile is all about letting go. We love talking about starts and finishes, even though the middle stretch is the most important and often the most ignored and misunderstood. This is known, as Scott Belsky puts it, as “the messy middle.”

How do you get through that messy middle, though?

Endure the lows. Build a muscle memory for your team. Leverage the friction to come closer to one another. Stick to it long enough to figure it out.

Once you figure out what does work, optimize it — no matter what it is. Teams, processes, and products — those are all things that can and should be optimized.

When your product ends up in the hands of users, keep in mind that your final mile with your product is your customer’s first mile using the product.  If you accommodate first mile desires, you engage more fully and have a better chance at retaining those customers over time. Three principles that lead to an incredible first mile customer experience:

  1. In the first 15 seconds, we are all lazy, vain, and selfish.
  2. The newest cohort of customers can help us stay grounded.
  3. We favor novelty yet cling to familiarity.

People need to be able to navigate and use your product. Adopt familiar patterns, but remember that familiarity is the enemy of innovation. Transformational products are 90% accommodating and 10% retraining. But do have faith in your customers. Scrutinize the defaults. Be innovative, but keep the core mechanics and language familiar. And remember, you’re creating for people that have real problems.

And remember — nothing extraordinary is ever achieved through ordinary means.  Don’t be afraid to be extraordinary.

To view Scott’s presentation about The Messy Middle at Adobe’s 99U conference, visit: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bN7E44j7Xl8




Paul McAvinchey

About the author

For over 20 years, Paul has been building and collaborating on digital products with fast-growing startups and global brands, including AOL and WMS Gaming. Currently, he's a co-founder of Product Collective, a worldwide community of product people. Members collaborate on in the exclusive Member Hub, meet at INDUSTRY: The Product Conference, listen to Rocketship.fm, learn at Product Interviews and get a weekly newsletters that includes best practices in product management. In recent years he led business development at DXY, a leading product design firm in the Midwest, and product innovation at MedCity Media, a publishing startup acquired by Breaking Media in 2015.


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