The Deep Similarity Between Creating Products and Giving Gifts

Creating a product is a like picking out a really good gift for a large number of people.

Picking good gifts is hard – really hard. It usually requires a deep understanding of someone: what they really want (as opposed to what they tell you they want), what their interests are, what their problems are, what they’re willing to do. It predicts things about them, it anticipates their desires. It makes their life better.

This is, in principle, exactly what you’re trying to do when you’re creating a product – albeit for a larger group of people, and for a price. You’re solving people’s problems, you’re extrapolating people’s desires, you’re predicting people’s interests. You’re trying to make their lives better. And it’s also really hard.

The best gifts are usually intensely personal. If the gift isn’t for you, you probably wouldn’t want it. The best gift I’ve ever given is probably what I gave my wife on our wedding day. It was a $15 ceramic plate from Ebay that said “You Are Special Today”. Everyone in the room cried when she opened it. If you’re thinking “I don’t get it”, that’s exactly my point.

The best products are the same way: they are made for a very specific market. I love my pair of Nike Alphaflys (image below). They are one of my favorite shoes ever. They look preposterous: like neon orange clogs. You can hardly walk in them. If you don’t love long distance running you’re probably thinking “I don’t get it”. That’s because you aren’t in the target audience. They aren’t for you.

nike alphafly shoes

The best products tend to feel like gifts. They’re exciting. They bring you joy. You leave your new iPhone out just because you like looking at it. You pick it up just because you like holding it. You delight in its existence, like a kid under the Christmas tree just “taking in” his or her presents. It’s a joy just to be around them.

There’s also a lot of luck in gift giving. No matter how much you inhabit the mind of another person, you’ll never know whether your gift is going to be a hit. Some gifts that should work don’t. Some gifts that shouldn’t work do. It’s the same with products. Creating successful products takes a lot of luck. Many of the best products started as completely crazy ideas. Many products that sound amazing never caught on. The only way to know is to try.

And maybe that’s the takeaway here. You can practice one of the hardest parts of product creation (finding product-market fit) by trying it on a much smaller scale. It’s actually something pretty ordinary – something that social obligations require you to do anyway: try to give someone a gift that they really, truly love.

On the flip side, if you’re one of the rare people who is already really good at giving gifts, you probably have an incredibly valuable skill – perhaps the most valuable skill of all. What are you doing for your day job?