Petr Šídlo: On Ethics in Business

Originally, I planned to ask Petr Šídlo, the founder of the Direct People innovation agency, about product development. However, the conversation gradually began to roll from the concept of MVP (Minimum Viable Product) to business ethics. I wondered if it was right to change human habits through products and instill the need in people to always be buying new things. Petr’s answers were so interesting that I felt it would be a pity to leave them out, and that’s why I followed up on the first interview with this shorter interview.

Is it possible to develop a product that will create a new habit in people?

It is suicidal if a startup tries to do it because it is very expensive and complex. What’s more, the question is whether creating habits is ethical. If we want to change the people’s behavior for whatever purpose, there is always a risk that a group of people will be hurt rather than helped. In his book Hooked: How to Build Habit-Performing Products, Nir Eyal describes the way in which products change habits through the example of Facebook, outlining how that works through four consecutive steps – stimulus, action, reward, and investment.

When you receive a notification (stimulus), you go to check Facebook (action) because you are waiting for what will come. Sometimes it is a comment, sometimes a like (reward), but it is the tension that is important. The circle is closed when you respond to the comment (investment) and wait for another notification. This model is based on the human psyche of prehistoric times, when unusual things meant dangers and kept us vigilant. To what extent is the use of this or another mechanism ethical? To what extent is it about making money through a mechanism that was useful in evolution? In the digital world, this mechanism is a subject of abuse.

Petr Šídlo, co-founder inovative agency Direct People

Maybe I should have asked if it is possible to awaken a need in people for a product. I think companies are trying to make people dissatisfied through marketing, and offer them solutions with the help of the product.

This is the target of marketing that works with an existing product – you already have a product and you are trying to create a problem for people or help people discover or realize the problems or needs that they have that will lead them to purchase the product. However, if we are talking about creating new products, it is much better to understand the needs that already exist. I think there is no latent need that one would not know about. At most, it is possible that a person has not found any available solution and thus becomes resigned to the need and defers it. To say that there is a category of problems people do not know about is a product manager’s way to doom. Because at that moment I pass into the role of someone who thinks they know more than their customer.

Take, for example, cellulite – it is an artificially created problem that women did not previously think about. But cosmetic firms have created the idea that they have to deal with it, and therefore they are dealing with it today.

And where are we heading now? That it’s possible to create a problem in the heads of people? Yes, that’s possible, but it’s expensive and unethical. When I say expensive, I do not mean merely twice than a product that solves the problem people already have and know, but a hundred times more expensive. That is why I would once again emphasize that when I have the task of creating a product, I will not build it on anything that I need to first explain to people.

Is it more common for entrepreneurs to figure out solutions to an existing problem, or to first think up the product and then get the problem down?

Do you want to know Petr’s answer to this question? If so, continue reading this interview on the UP21 blog.

Petr Šídlo believes that innovation is not about spells and coincidence, but about the way of thinking and craftmanship you bring to it. He co-founded the Direct People innovation agency in 2010 to help innovative companies bring successful products and services to the market. Among these are Dr.Max, Škoda Auto and Škoda Digital, LMC, Air Bank, Adastra, IDC, WAG, Sazka, T-Mobile, Olympus, Česká spořitelna and many others. Petr Šídlo is the mentor of the StartupYard Incubator​, member of jury in the Social Impact Awards​ and he runs regular workshops on Innovation Leadership within ELAI Institute.

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