Caroline Clark

The lightbulb problem, or a lesson in product development

My closet light went out recently. The problem was that I had no idea how to replace it.

It was a particular type of bulb with a particular type of socket, and it didn’t come with a manual – there was no sign next to it saying: “this is a v23423 bulb, look for it at Walgreens aisle 6.” So I wandered aimlessly across hardware stores for weeks on end trying to find the replacement. I tried to eyeball what seemed to be the right dimensions. I even tried to measure it. Every time, at the moment of truth, the bulb didn’t fit into the socket. It caused mild distress, but never enough for me to really sit down and figure it out.  

One rainy day, I decided that I had enough. I needed to really figure out the light bulb problem. I googled: “what to do with your closet light out.” The results showed me a battery powered closet light that cost about $15. I then purchased it, and it arrived within two days. I stuck it on the wall and it turned on. I saw a light cascade over a lot of forgotten closet supplies. I now had a closet light.  

The lesson I learned with the lightbulb applies to learning about how to product development well. Often, we see a problem and get fixated on the solution. The solution quickly proves to be difficult or not possible because of a missing ingredient.  We then waste valuable sprints on trying to fit the wrong bulb into the socket. But all we need, most of the time, is to zoom out and realize that there are great alternative solutions that would solve the same problem in a fraction of the time, implementation, and cost.  

Yes, my closet light is a little ugly. There’s battery powered light next to an empty socket. But it’s a closet. Nobody cares. Most importantly, I have light in my closet and I can now find my biking shorts which means I can go out for a ride when I want, which is far more important.