The Einstellung Effect describes how people can fall into a single way of thinking about solving a problem, ignoring equally valid alternatives. It can be particularly detrimental in the world of software design... Software engineers think up a hypothetical use case and design their product to suit that application. Then a user comes along who wants to do something a little different and is told that the software can't support their needs. This is usually accompanied by a dismissive phrase such as "Most of our customers don't do that." Of course most of your customers don't… The people who need to do "that" find a product that can support their needs, and it's not yours. Your justification is self-rationalizing and self-perpetuating.
I see this phenomenon all the time as I work with various web conferencing products:
- "I need to offer 7 poll choices, but you only have space for 5."
"Most of our customers are fine with 5."
- "I want participants to enter a meeting with cameras off."
"Most of our customers are fine with cameras on when the meeting starts."
- "I would like to be able to sort comments by user name."
"Most of our customers are fine with seeing comments chronologically."
I'm sure the conferencing company's responses are factually correct. Most of their customers use the product according to the limitations designed into it. But wouldn't it be great to be able to sell to the additional potential customer base that isn't choosing you because you don't recognize the validity of their use cases?
There is an argument to be made for simplifying product operation. It shortens the learning curve for new users and makes support much easier if there is only one way to do things. But a compromise does exist… Make the product work one way "out of the box" and allow an advanced user mode to enable additional flexibility and options. New users don't have to be overwhelmed until they are ready to explore the advanced functionality.
From the user side, Einstellung can limit creativity and freedom in crafting interesting and engaging web events:
- "We have one webinar per month. It is 60 minutes long, occurs on a Tuesday at 3pm, and is 50 minutes of presentation followed by 10 minutes of Q&A."
Are you losing potential attendees who would show up for shorter webinars or webinars offered on Friday mornings? Is your default structure and format stopping your presenters from thinking about ways to work in more interactivity and engagement throughout the session?
Vendors, think about where you are limiting functionality and use options in your product. You might need to hire outside help to help you consider alternative use cases and demands. Asking your existing customer base what they want is a great way to encourage retention, but it doesn't necessarily translate to expanded customer acquisition.
Webinar hosts and presenters, think about the times you have shrugged and just gone along with a preconceived way of running your events because it's easy. It's vitally important to give your vendor not just bug reports, but requests for new capabilities or options.
Break out of your preconceived notions. The way you think things should be done is not the only way to do them. Whether you are a product manager, a software developer, or an end user, I urge you to explore additional possibilities and dare to dream!