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Product Delight: Brain Rewiring
This is going to be an ongoing series that highlights some characteristics and offshoots of “product delight”. The concept is critical to user engagement and business scaling, but tends to be amorphous until you experience it in practice. Through these posts I hope to point out trends that can help product builders identify if they’re on a path to generating delight or not.
I’ve been listening to a lot of Brene Brown recently (it’s my pandemic / quarantine sanity playlist), and she had a guest on her podcast recently who shared a very simple yet very powerful idea: the brain can rewire itself (for many reasons through many mechanisms). Since I love to connect random ideas from different disciplines, it got me thinking about a pet theory of mine; successful product adoption is akin to building new neural pathways in the user’s brain, and taking it a step further, product delight means you’ve permanently rewired the brain (hence the feeling of “magic”).
If you think about products in terms of the Jobs to be Done (JTBD) framework, fit is usage for the intended JTBD, and delight is usage for an unintended JTBD. Basically, when delighted, the user starts to see your product less as a single-purpose specialty tool and more as a multi-purpose utility tool.
One of my favorite physical (vs digital) world products is the Swiss Army Knife. The intended JTBD is in the name: knife. But if you’ve ever owned one, you know that slowly but surely you start using it for all manner of unintended JTBDs, even ones where the tool doesn’t make sense. I personally have used the knife for everything from mud-scraping to glassess-repairing to fruit-cutting (not in that order). The point being, at some point, I as a user decided to utilize this product for ad-hoc scenarios because it’s a familiar pathway for my brain’s network to traverse.
Let’s walk through a digital example: Excel. Every SaaS product is ultimately competing with Excel, with getting users to stop thinking of their workflows in terms of spreadsheets. Why is change management in enterprise software so hard? Why are people so unwilling to give up their beloved spreadsheets? It’s because that application has delighted users for decades and completely rewired their brains.
“the most commonly pressed buttons in any SaaS app are ‘OK’, ‘Cancel’, and ‘Export to Excel’”
So the next time you’re thinking about product delight, be aware that you’re attempting nothing less than brain surgery!
I’d love to hear from readers on the ways they’ve delighted their users - please chime in via comments👇. And if you enjoyed this post, please consider subscribing.
further reading / references
here’s a recent post of mine about thinking of products as workflows, which is what Excel allows users to do on their own, and the unbundling of Excel in the SMB segment, when dedicated, functional workflow software comes into play
the quote above is from Shishir Mehrotra on Grelock’s Grey Matter podcast
I love this old Joel Spolsky post about Bill Gates doing a spec review on Excel
NN/g lays out a theory of user delight based on a hierarchy of user needs
HubSpot provides a repeatable playbook for generating customer delight
the first time I read Dieter Rams’s 10 Timeless Commandments for Good Design, I thought of the Swiss Army Knife
childish drawing / interpretation