The business world is often quite impressed with itself when it comes up with a new conceptual framework. Kaizen, total quality management, agile development, all the way to lean – these principles are lauded during their time as cutting-edge and revolutionary. Only they’re often not cutting-edge at all. Comedians for example have been using what is basically cutting-edge data driven product development for hundreds (if not thousands) of years. Only they call it joke writing.
Any comedian, from the Jerry Seinfelds to the woman angling for a spot on an open-mic night, have a defined process for developing a joke. First comes an idea or spark of inspiration, no so unlike the moment of brilliance when someone first conceives of a new product. Next comes the comedian’s best attempt at crafting the joke into something that will get the most laughs. Now, instead of rolling it out into their act they test it first. This could be on Twitter, Facebook, or with friends during normal conversation. This way the jokesters learn that they are (likely) all wrong about what makes something funny. Their idea wasn’t what the market wanted, but they learned that in a small, controlled setting. This invariably leads to tweaking or wholesale changes to the joke, then back in front of a limited group of their “customers” for more feedback. They tweak and change this way until a bit finds consistent market success (laughs), wherein it gets launched (put into their regular routine).
This is modern day data-driven product development writ small. Comedians have no massive marketing budget to push a bad joke onto an audience. They have to find resonance every single time. They have to meet a market need with every one-liner and punch line. Only now is the wide-spread business press embracing this same system for product development. Running lean and pivoting do not give you what your customers want. Giving your customers what they want is the only way to give your customers what they want. So you have to ask yourself, is your product a killing joke, or a just warm up?
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