There is nothing innovative about fantasy sports, but I love it.
My poison is fantasy English Premier League soccer where I have been playing for 11 years, but it does not stop there. I am also doing fantasy Champions league soccer, fantasy NASCAR, and despite my indifference to football, I have two teams entered in two different office leagues. The obsession has even spilled over into the sporting periphery as I have been known to dabble in fantasy Tour de France and even fantasy professional bass fishing. Skeet Reese was a disappointment at Lake Havasu last spring, in case you missed it.
The name really gives it away with fantasy sports. It is not real. It is a total diversion from life and nothing anyone’s grandparents would be proud of us for. However, as I started to think about fantasy sports I wondered if there was anything redeeming about it.
Is there anything that can be taken from it that could remove it out from under the cloak of a pure waste of time and teach us anything about developing products?
As I mused on this thought, I realized that there are a whole swath of other activities during the week that are not inherently innovative either. Then I realized that there are actually some takeaways from these activities that can make us better, more innovative product developers.
As mentioned, I have a little bit of an issue here. There is a sick pleasure in firing up the live scoring website for my fantasy soccer team on a weekend and watching the points roll in, especially if I am beating my friend Jack. I rarely watch the games and I don’t really care who wins as long as Manchester United and Liverpool lose. I am by no means a pro at fantasy soccer, but it is a very strategic game that requires management of a number of variables that reveals the power of analysis. The best fantasy players know which teams have difficult or easier fixtures coming up, which players may be hurt or fatigued, which defenders offer attacking threats, and which teams play better home and away. Building a team is an educated guess based on analysis in the same way that building a prototype is a best guess at unlocking a new technology. As the season unfolds, my fantasy team is tweaked and honed to bring in the best balance of players, just as prototypes are continually refined until they work flawlessly.
The only fun grocery shopping I have ever seen is when I first got cable in the late 90’s and stumbled upon the game show “Supermarket Sweep”. The sweatshirts were terrible, but there is not a day that goes by that I do not dream of strapping on some Nike Air Icarus running shoes, popping a stick of Fruit Stripes gum in my mouth, and tearing through a grocery store and slinging 20lb hams into my cart like I was being chased by Lawrence Taylor. Sadly, my weekly sojourn to Food Lion is far less exciting.
Despite the time suck, the grocery store is the ultimate proving ground for the power of branding. Every aisle has name brand products just inches from their generic equivalent that are at least 20% less expensive. Surely Dr. Thunder is a suitable substitute for Dr. Pepper, but there is no way it is coming home with me. Conversely, there is no room for name brand buttery spread in my fridge. I always choose “Isn’t it Butter”, the Food Lion equivalent for “I Can’t Believe It’s Not Butter”, even though it is seemingly daring of me to leave it on the shelf with its odd, questioning name and monochromatic packaging.
There is a lot to be learned on how to sell a product by which brand name products make it back home in your grocery bag.
It shows how good products with inferior branding can be passed over by consumers. It is a lesson for all product developers that the road to success does not end when the prototypes are done.
Going to the Bar
I do love a good brew, and there are plenty of great spots in Charlotte to find nice beers. There are about 20 breweries in and around the city and it is difficult not to drive past one on your daily travels. While grabbing a drink with some friends is a great way to unwind, there does not seem to be any redeeming innovative spin to the activity. However, there is something about the dark atmosphere combined with the mind loosening effects of an ale or spirit that makes a perfect environment for innovative thinking.
Artists and authors have known this for years. Dylan Thomas, Ernest Hemingway, James Joyce and Cezanne were all known to be regulars at their local pubs. However, there are also many notable products that got their start in a bar.
The 70s sensation, the Pet Rock spawned from a conversation at a bar…
More recently, the idea for Warby Parker eyewear was born over a few pints of Yuengling. The new beer dispenser called Fizzics that recently got funded on Shark Tank and is crushing it on Kickstarter was the result of a conversation at the Brooklyn Brewery about why beer doesn’t taste as good when it does not come from the tap. So there is no reason to feel guilty about taking a break from your product ideas to grab a brew at your local watering hole.
I have a penchant for garbage television, and MTV programming from about 5 years ago was my heroin. I was a huge Jersey Shore fan and I missed maybe one episode. The season when they went to Italy was lame, but I could watch Snookie get hammered and fall on her face all day. I was also addicted to its sister show, Buckwild, but unfortunately it was canceled after season one, when the best character, Shain Gandee died. I tried to tell myself that I was learning something about the human condition and the architecture of friend groups while watching these shows, but in retrospect, that is akin to saying I learned about gravity from a Wile E. Coyote and the Road Runner cartoon.
In the midst of the TV milieu, there are a few shows that offer some educational value for product developers. Shark Tank is an obvious choice as it highlights many product entrepreneurs and their innovations. It teaches some lessons on the art of the pitch and the importance of knowing your market and your numbers. However, Shark Tank and shows like it are curated for entertainment and only show a glamorous few moments and rarely any of the hard work or sacrifice it takes to bring a product to market.
Everyday Edisons, which ran for 4 seasons and was filmed in the Edison Nation offices, is perhaps one of the only shows that provide an accurate account of how to design products and build prototypes.
Old episodes can be found by searching the Edison Nation YouTube channel.