Using investigative methods to determine a product/market fit
The elimination approach is a process frequently used in criminology. It was popularized by Sir Conan Doyle and his iconic character Sherlock Holmes. Although he is a fictional character, his methods of analysis were inspired by real people such as Joseph Bell, Conan Doyle’s Professor of Medicine.
This scientific approach to the police investigation interested me a lot. A methodical approach to a crime scene alone cannot solve a case. But this search for evidence combined with the investigator’s experience is quite similar to the initial phase of product development.
“When you have eliminated the impossible, whatever remains, however improbable, must be the truth”
- Sherlock Holmes
Let us first establish a table of correspondence to this analogy:
Now that the framework is set, it is interesting to describe how the methodical approach of a criminal investigation is similar to product market research.
First, when a crime is committed. Of course, investigators are dispatched to the scene and the crime scene is circumscribed so the presence of too many actors does not soil it. Applied to the entrepreneur, it is obviously the market that one wishes to circumscribe as much as possible: one must address a market segment.
The investigator (the entrepreneur) therefore scans the crime scene (the market segment) in search of evidence.
Samples can be taken by the forensic police (market studies, audits, articles for our entrepreneur) to come up with hypotheses as to the course of the crime. This research phase is crucial because it conditions the success of the investigation and in particular the constitution of evidence to confuse a guilty party.
The entrepreneur, on the other hand, must scan the market in search of a key problem to solve. He has to read a lot of articles, market studies, audits, … to obtain the clearest possible vision of the market and the opportunities.
The investigator will then interview witnesses and key people. It is the same for an entrepreneur who will need to validate his theory with the opinions of informed people (the famous stakeholders). We take advantage of these interviews to identify the profile of the culprit for the investigator. The more precise the profile, the easier it will be to identify the culprit.
We have the crime scene, the killer’s profile, the suspects, the victim… The culprit remains to be determined. The process of elimination is then initiated among the suspects. We interview the suspects, look for inconsistencies in the testimonies, evaluate the possibilities. Some suspects are eliminated to find the culprit.
One optimizes the chances of finding the answer to these questions through a methodical approach to the topics. But methods and processes are usually not enough. You also need intuition, an ability to make non-obvious connections. What Anglo-Saxons call the “hunch”.
This power is the one that really makes the difference. The analytical processes and methods are known and are more or less well mastered. But intuition is much more personal. Its importance can be observed in every human enterprise: the Egyptologist looking for an ancient tomb, the scientist looking for a molecule for a vaccine, … Indeed, most human enterprises start from an intuition, an idea, a conviction.
The idea then becomes a hypothesis that must be validated or invalidated by applying the method. There lays a danger because one can worship an idea to the point of forgetting that it does not stand the test of facts: it is the identification of the wrong culprit, the product that no customer wants to buy, or the hole dug in the wrong place for the Egyptologist.
But when a culprit remains after the elimination process, we arrive at the manifestation of the truth: victim, culprit, motive, weapon, crime scene, witnesses, and evidence are known. All of this allows us to describe with more or less precision the course of the crime.
For our entrepreneur, the ultimate identification of the product that the customer buys represents, in the same way, the manifestation of a truth that can be described in the form of a narrative that we call “storytelling”.
The right combination of all these elements is crucial. Indeed, it is on this basis that the investigation will make it possible to convince an audience in the context of a contradictory debate. Or a company’s prospects to buy its product. For it to work, the process must be of a quasi-scientific rigor because it must impose itself as an absolute truth not only to the one who seeks it but also to all the others.
In summary, if there is no method to identify a culprit or a product with certainty, it is possible to validate the relevance of a hypothesis through the technique of elimination. The hypothesis, whether it arises from analysis, instinct, intuition, or experience, must be submitted to this method to be retained or discarded. It is only after having eliminated the impossible that the truth then emerges.