Lessons Learned At Legoland: How a sense of wonder is an essential building block for better products
We should never get complacent with unlocking incremental value. A sense of wonder paves new paths to delighting our customers.
Let’s start with Mrs Smith.
My first job was working at the Brick Brothers store in Legoland Windsor. It’s the place where my destiny intersected with Angelina Jolie’s - A thrilling escapade where I short changed an A-list celebrity after asking whether she was an Annual pass holder. My self-esteem, gone in 60 seconds.
Minifigures were all the rage back then. These were Lego figurines released in series format, each series containing a limited set of collectable characters. We positioned these in a prime upsell location right in front of our tills, for they were almost sacred to the dedicated annual pass holding families who frequented the Park every weekend.
Now, these Minifigures came in sealed packets, selling for £1.99 each, and were designed to be a lucky dip. There’s roughly 12 in each series so that’s £24 each season if you nail it every time. Unfortunately, the probability of that is 6.19 x 10^-17. a very mini figure.
This pursuit of joy often yielded disappointment, souring family outings and chipping holes in parents’ pockets. Our mission was to make each guest feel extraordinary, but instead, it seemed we were leaving them a brick short.
In the quiet periods of the day, my colleagues and I passed the time by making a game out of predicting what was in each packet by feeling around its contours. squishy lumps, round edges, could this be the boxing glove? After hours spent honing this skill, we surprised ourselves when we realised we could get it spot on every, single, time.
Conversations with customers followed suit. "Which one are you hunting for?" we'd ask, as our smirky youthful confidence was challenged by a stream of doubtful, yet intrigued parents who would all shoot us the “I don’t believe you, but I wanna believe you” faces back. Little did we know, this playful tweak would ripple into a phenomenon. Unintentionally, we birthed value, and to our customers, we transcended the role of mere shopkeepers.
Reflecting on this memory, there’s a couple things that come to mind that I think are worth calling out.
Not everything has to be a tool or a solution. Sometimes resourcefulness and a sense of wonder aimed in the right direction can deliver some fast impact.
Keeping your mind open to workarounds can be such an entrepreneurial asset for the team. Circumventing limitations or challenges, these improvised methods can lead to some unexpected breakthroughs, for almost no resource cost.
In our day to day, so much of the Product backlog that can solve our customer problems gets parked somewhere in the “later” column, never quite winning priority over the exec requests. Could we force the priority up by proving value manually first? Besides, we’re after the same thing here aren’t we?
I was 16 when I had my job at Lego. Measuring impact, and OKRs were as relevant to me as my pension. If I had the time back, I would have loved to have understood how our objectives laddered up, and scientifically gauged how impactful our little workaround was.
In Measure What Matters, John Dooer introduces Conversations, Feedback & Recognition (CFRs) as a sibling to OKRs, and I think this is what my Lego managers nailed. They were so good at provoking the right conversations with us, and endorsing the right behaviours that aligned to our master mission.
Our managers would drop by our shops and ask how the day was going, what were customers asking for, and encourage us to share our ideas on how we could improve their experience. We were rarely told what to do, and being taken seriously at that age, helped cultivate an atmosphere where my work of SELLING LEGO felt meaningful.
“You need a culture that high-fives small and innovation ideas”
- Jeff Bezos
Work with your team to stretch and mold your existing product and bolster your value proposition. Have fun, and think outside the box. As long as the strategy set is something that can be achieved today, your team is unbound to imagine funky ways to get there without a grand overhaul.
Immersion is the best way to understand where new opportunities lie.
For those working on Products that have an in-person touch point, frontline staff are so underrated. In today’s world, we’re blessed with access to rich data and analytics at our fingertips that help us answer a lot of our questions. Yet, lengthy immersion with the customers in person offers an unparalleled education. Chances are, as a PM, you won’t be able to dedicate months to working from a shop.
In absence of this, I’d encourage you to get in front of your customers as frequently as possible, and involve your entire team in the process - This isn’t just for the UXers. Give the team an open canvas, run contextual inquiry research, and absorb new insights from a fresh angle with no preconceived notions of what good and bad is.
Oh also, a gentle reminder to ensure you take the feedback and advice of in store colleagues seriously. As the Polyglot PM, convert that into whatever it needs to be for your product team to make big waves with.
Feels good to give. It also pays to give, eventually.
If the economy was a foot (with toes), the last few years have been a series of economic toe stubbings, ingrown nails and Plantar Fasciitis. It’s been ugly.
In these times where market forces are under strain, businesses feel the immediate pressure to focus on profit margins, growing allergic to any items in the “Later” section of the backlog which smells even a little resource intensive. Even if they are important customer problems to solve, companies will find more assurance in doubling down into their core product offering.
Consider game studios switching their business model to focus more on Microtransactions. This makes sound sense on the income statement, but chopping up a title to sell it piecemeal diminishes the overall product experience for the majority. Who knows what irreparable damage this inflicts onto your overall proposition.
It’s time we saved our companies from this short sighted revenue hungry outlook, and unapologetically prove value without waiting for the next opportunity to justify the software update.
In a time where paying for my heating requires me to ease off on the Starbucks Iced Mochas, how far can we sweat our product, and make every interaction count? How much more can we give before asking for more back?
I think I learned three things from this experience.
Firstly, people are mega resourceful, and when they truly care about a problem, they’ll find marvelous ways to solve them.
Secondly, it’s surprising how much you can do for free immediately.
Finally, It’s incredibly rewarding to delight customers by really overdelivering on their expectations.
Looking back at your own first job, are there any lessons that you would share that could help us as Product Managers today?
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