The Definition of Insanity (In The Product World)

by Sean Boyce
person holding head facing capability trap

There are countless pitfalls to watch out for when trying to build a successful product business.  Some are obvious, while others most certainly are not. One of the least obvious pitfalls to watch out for is something called the capability trap.  

Have you ever found yourself trying a product strategy that seemed to work previously that for whatever reason now just isn’t?

If you have, then you’ve experienced the capability trap.  

The reason why we fall into the capability trap is because we become comfortable using the product strategy that has worked for us before.  However, simply because a product strategy has worked for us before doesn’t mean that it will work for us in the future (even on the same product).  Remember, the problem our product solves is a moving target.

Adding to this problem, is the fact that the unknown is scary and problems that we see for the first time are the hardest to solve.  However, if you’re to succeed in building a successful product business, you must get comfortable solving problems you haven’t seen before with solutions that you haven’t tried previously.

So now that we know what the capability trap is, what can we do to avoid it?

Get comfortable with brutal honesty

You must never jeopardize your ability to learn valuable insight from your target market.  To put yourself and your team in a position to experience these valuable lessons you must foster an environment that is comfortable processing direct feedback from your target market.  

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Your customers are going to give you feedback that challenges your product strategy.  This is a good thing and means you are on the right track. Your success will ultimately come from constantly refining your product strategy to make it stronger.  Don’t shy away from these experiences, embrace them.  

Treasure hunt for insight

Make learning a game for you and your team.  Encourage team members to hunt for data that challenges your product strategy.  If a pattern is ultimately found, use it to update your views and create a new product strategy.  Share this as a win with your team. Make this process core to your company culture.  

Build a company culture around learning

Learning new information that challenges your product strategy can be scary for you and your team members, but it shouldn’t be.  Develop a process that is core to your company culture for using this information to improve.  

Learning about new problems experienced by your target market should be primary among your list of objectives for improving your product strategy.  Communicate this vision throughout your company to make sure everyone is on the same page.

Want to know what you can do to get out of a capability trap that is affecting your product business?  Let’s talk it through, email me at or visit us on the web at NxtStep. To get product stories like this one delivered right to your inbox – sign up for my emails or subscribe to my YouTube channel.

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