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I think we all have been in the situation, where a decision was coming from up high – the Highest Paid Persons Opinion. The decision was made, that this new feature has to be developed now and the product manager and her team is expected to just follow suit.

This of course contradicts all notion of an empowered product manager/team, but even in the best environments this can happen.

The decision is not the problem, it’s the missing context

The only problem with this decision is that it is contradictory to our own believes. Therefore the idea always looks irrational.

There are two sources for the HiPPO effect:

  1. A person who just can’t communicate correctly
  2. Someone who actually think their ideas are the best since sliced bread

Bad communicators don’t do it deliberately, but they suffer from the “curse of common knowledge” most of the time. They think everything in their head is also already in everyone else head – everything is common knowledge.

The other source is more difficult. Because it feels like there is no way for a proper discussion based on facts.

“We need facts!”

Many believe that the best tool to combat the HiPPO is the use of numbers.

But I see this working only in rare cases, because it can only work if we already are collection the correct data for this decision. Especially if we have to work with the type 2. Don’t get me wrong, I love to underpin any decision with facts, but there has to be a different first step.

Humans are wired to think in stories. It’s stories, positiv or negativ that provoke emotions, which then lead to decisions. Be it with marketing/advertising or even in form of propaganda, the best working examples are always stories delivered in a clever format.

Most of the time that’s also the trigger of the decision: The decision maker was just in contact with a customer or something just got escalated to her. In these situations, there is no quantitative data it’s just a big enough story.

Therefore if we want to battle this with quantitative data it’s like bringing a knife to a gun fight. Not a good idea.

So, what then?

We have to level the playing field. First we have to put our empathy hat on and try to understand the trigger for this decision. Sometimes just asking for the why might be enough to get more information.

If this is not working we need something more impactful.

Let’s imaging the following case:
Your CEO has just talked with one of your biggest enterprise accounts and they want to have integrations into a new social network.

But of course this does not fit in your strategy and there is nowhere near you roadmap.

Now it’s your turn. If you are able to provide stories from one or more other enterprise accounts around this topics you will be able to get a discussion started.

Which might lead to one of two outcomes:

You might be able to convince her that it is not a good idea right now. Or you might trigger her to explain in more detail why this is important right now. Because when humans here a contradicting story we will explain ourselves with a different or more in depth story.

Think about how kids argue, it’s always “but when you did…”. As mentioned, humans are wired to think and relate to stories.

That’s why it’s so important for you as a product manager to build up an arsenal of stories which you can pull out when ever needed.

Therefore in the next article we will look into the most overlooked source: your customer support.