Monday, June 20, 2011

Product Management - Phenomenon of Dancing Bears

On Saturday, my daughter ran up to me and asked me to watch "Super" - A talent show on TV. On that day, there was an act by a person who has lost both the legs and yet he gave a thrilling dance display. My wife, daughter and all people around (me included) was stunned by his display. Needless to say - he was judged as the winner in the show.

As the show proceeded, I began to think critically and analyze the person's dance. His dance itself was ordinary and I'd say that he was no great dancer, but the fact that he danced - as he was born without his legs was amazing. But if any other person with perfect pair of legs were to dance the way he did, no one would have liked it.

What happened in the show was that, the dance by itself was mediocre - but it was performed by a physically challenged person, and that won the audiences & judges.

This phenomenon is called as Dancing Bears. This was first described by Alan Cooper in his book "Inmates are Running the Asylum"

Remember in olden times (its illegal now), few people (mainly from the gypsy community) would roam from town to town with a bear on the tow. He would play a crapy music and the bear would dance for that music. People of all ages would gather around the bear and few would drop a few coins to the person.

Similar act was also done by snake charmers as well.

Today the dancing bears and snakes have disappeard, and has been replaced by software. Yes software such as Facebook, Talking Tom, Angry Brids etc. are today's example of Dancing bears.

When you really look at it, the bear was really a bad dancer. It was not even dancing, but trying to mimic a few human movements - which for our eyes resembles a dance, and hence we were thrilled to know that other animals can also do what humans can do. And for that thill, people were ready to drop their work to see the bear, and even part with some money to feed the bear.

The Dancing bears phenomenon has its advantages & disadvantages. As a product manager and a marketer it is important to know the basic attributes of Dancing bear.

1. Perform a task which is generally deemed impossible by general public.
2. Do not repeat the same act to the same audience within a span of 6 months.
3. Make the best use of all the opportunity and go for maximizing income.
4. The Novelty factor of the act wears out rather fast.

In the software world, we are often hit by this dancing bear problem. When a new software is being developed and making a software do a task - which till then was deemed impossible, makes the developers and the audience go ga-ga, and forget that the the real dance was rather lousy - i.e., the real utility was very little. Developers rush to release the product, customer rush to buy the product and only later after the novelty factor dies down, customers drop the product for another -which has greater utility.

The dancing bear phenomenon makes the developers, product managers and marketers ignore the apparent shortcomings of the product and rush the product to the market, and the initial success of the product makes them totally blind to the lack of utility of the product. Only later after the customers have dumped the product, everyone takes time to conduct a postmortem.

The problem of dancing bears is commonly seen in the products that was first in the market. Friendster.com, Alta-Vista.com, Excite.com etc. But as the novelty died off, so did those products.

Closing Thoughts

While developing new products, one needs to carefully examine the utility value of the product. Do not get overwhelmed by the novelty factor of the dancing bear and rush. Avoid getting dragged down by all the hype of the novelty and keep a level head to develop the utilty value of the product.

4 comments:

Saras said...

Good one Arun...

Anuradha Goyal said...

I like your random insights.

anky mehra said...

makes a lot of sense

cacs said...

When it rains, it pours.
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