One core skill of product discovery is observation.

Look at this photo: what can you see?

Observation is the ability to see what is there, to pay attention to things that others won’t notice.

I took this photo a couple of weeks ago, baffled by the view.

Can you see it too?

This picture was taken, in Paris, on the Trocadero esplanade, right across the Eiffel Tower.

You had noticed it, right?

The area is under renovation. Big wooden panels prevent people (mostly tourists) to walk into it.

Those high panels are blocking the view. So the renovation company cut some windows through the panels, to allow tourists to get a glimpse at the iconic tower.

But that’s not what grabbed my attention.

Zoom on the window. What can you observe?

The company added a metal grid to the window — to prevent garbage being thrown into it, probably.

And what did tourists do?

They attached locks to the grid. Locks with their names on it. Couples wanting their romantic stroll to leave a trace forever in the city of love.

Read that again: As a symbol of their eternal love, people attached locks to a construction panel that will be gone in a few months.

The cynicals will snark.

I don’t. Quite the opposite, in fact.

What I see in this photo reminds me of this fundamental principle of product discovery: when people talk about an unmet need but don’t seem to do anything about it, be careful about building a solution addressing that need.

When people have a strong need, constraints don’t stop them. They figure out a scrappy way to solve the problem. Unmet needs that vanish at the first obstacle are not needs, they are fantasies. Those are deadly discovery traps.

Tourists in Paris want to attach symbolic locks. Their need is clear. Their actions speak for themselves. Nothing will stop them.

You want to get better at discovery?

Maybe you should stop refining your interview guide and start finding some practical inspiration in the people who are selling those locks next to each touristic location in Paris.

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