The new clothes fallacy

I recently came across an article called I hate MVPs. So do your customers. Make it SLC instead.” In it, Jason Cohen advocates for replacing the concept of Minimum Viable Products (MVPs) with the concept of Simple Lovable Complete (SLC) products. Cohen’s gripe is summed up in one sentence:

MVPs are too M(inimum) and almost never V(iable). Customers see that, and hate it.

Instead of shipping the minimum” thing, he says we ought to build something simple” and complete.” And customers should love using it too.

I’m writing about this because it’s a fascinating in-the-wild specimen of both the Strawman Fallacy and something I call the New Clothes fallacy, two things that affect content designers all the time.

Strawman fallacy

The strawman fallacy (not to be confused with a straw man proposal), is where you create a clunky caricature of the idea you are trying to refute and attack that instead. A preferred tactic in strawmanning is the uncharitable interpretation of terminology, seen here:

…Google Docs was simple, but also complete. This is decidedly different from the classic MVP, which by definition isn’t complete (and in fact is embarrassing). Simple” is good, incomplete” is not.

Cohen positions MVPs as flawed because they are incomplete” (which makes them unlovable” and therefore something customers hate to use). Yes, MVPs are not complete” but critical to their nature is that they solve a problem pretty well.

Putting aside that Google kept adding to Google Docs (so it wasn’t complete” as Cohen says it was), he’s deliberately misinterpreting viable.”

The purpose of this maxim in the first place is to challenge teams to ship the smallest morsel of experience that delivers true value. Part of what’s hard is figuring out what viable” means for your product.

The new clothes fallacy

New Clothes is where you take some concept that is being interpreted in a way you don’t like, and rather than challenge the interpretation (or Solve the real problem), you come up with a fresh label and declare the old concept a hot mess. (See: most rebrands, modern political science, and corporate strategy.)

With MVPs and SLCs, Cohen seems to be replacing minimum” with simple” and viable” with loveable” and complete”:

Instead of Minimum” which sounds sad, let’s say Simple.” Fine, I don’t mind this, but minimum” never bothered me.

Next, instead of viable” which Cohen is choosing to interpret really narrowly, lets split that into two concepts: lovable and complete.

As a content designer, this raises all sorts of alarm bells for me. Cohen is framing this as a terminology problem, but it’s really an interpretation problem. It’s not that MVPs are bad, it’s that badly made MVPs are bad.

New words don’t always solve the issue

I’d argue that in this case, we’re worse off.

Finding your MVP is about navigating the tension between two competing forces: what is the minimum amount of time you could spend and still produce something useful?

Now we have three terms to interpret. So you have to ask, is this complete, simple, and lovable?” How is that easier? And is lovability” easier to target than viable”? (Brian De Haaff wrote a whole book on it and I was still a bit confused.)

In my humble opinion, this is reaching into the cabinet for New Clothes instead of doing what needs to be done. Solve the real problem.

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