The Case of Your-Baby-Is-Ugly Syndrome

The Case of Your-Baby-Is Ugly1 Syndrome

Liam saw no purpose in his boss’s request

Liam’s Problem

His boss insisted he contact me for a B2B customer research study of his product concept. She knew her company was unfamiliar with the concept’s market and technology.

Liam’s Solution

He hired me to do a study of concept’s market and technology. He ignored the study’s findings when he presented his proposal for funding to the Board of Directors.

They saw Liam’s proposal as a bottomless pit of R&D expense. A black hole ringed with unpredictable government regulations. They rejected his proposal.

Background

Liam proposed to license patents held by the Dept. of Energy’s lab in Hanford, WA. The lab was the manufacturing site for first atomic bomb. At the lab, the Federal government sponsors pure science research. Goal of the research? Deep insight into problems of cleaning up radioactive wastes2.

A licensing executive from the lab approached Liam. Liam liked the lab’s patents on in situ vitrification technology. He saw a link between the patents and his R&D groups’ trade secrets.

Using this link, he created a product concept. It targeted the potential B2B market for cleaning up high-level radiation wastes.

Guidelines for the customer research project

Liam and his team met with me to set guidelines for the project.

We agreed:

Project will be a blind study3. That is, respondents do not know the identity of my client.

  • My first task is to build a list of 200 knowledgeable individuals in the radioactive wastes industry.
  • Second task is to chose, at random, people on the list and cold-call them.
    All respondents will hear the following phrase. “My client has created a new concept for vitrification of high-level radiation waste.”
  • Third task is to analyze data collected during the calls. For statistical significance, I analyzed the data using the Central Limit Theorem4.

Executive Summary: In Situ Vitrification of High-Level, Radioactive Wastes

All 30 knowledgable interviewed were not interested in my client’s in situ vitrification concept.

  • Some respondents speculated that concept was like Hanford lab’s concept.
    • They said the Hanford concept was expensive compared to current ways of cleaning up high level waste.
      One respondent said a few Hanford’s pure research tests of the concept resulted in explosions. She gave me references in the open literature that verified her remarks
  •  
  • EPA and RCRA5 rules are a nightmare

“It’s still the most complex and incompressible regulatory system I’m aware of. And it’s getting worse.”
Engineering, Principal Consultant For Solid and Hazardous Waste Management. … DuPont (N.B. DuPont was the first contractor to run the Hanford lab.)

“The system is so complex few understand it, including those in (EPA). It’s becoming a nightmare to deal with its complexity. George, anyone saying they understand RCRA is either kidding themselves or you.”
     Director of Environmental Affairs … ICI America

  • In final report of the study, I included this release from EPA

“In July 1990 the EPA released its ‘first comprehensive analysis’ of the agency’s hazardous wast program. The study found problems. They ranged from insufficient staffing to ambiguous definitions for hazardous solid waste. It’s hard for industry to keep track of the constant changes in layer upon layer of RCRA rules. It’s time to revise our rules to make them more understandable.”
     Sylvia Lawrence, Dir., EPA Office of Solid Waste

Outcome

One month after my final report, Liam made his presentation to the Directors. His positions on the Hanford technology and RCRA regulations were poles apart from the report’s findings.

The Directors saw Liam’s proposal as a bottomless pit of R&D expense. A black hole ringed with unpredictable government regulations. They rejected his proposal. He was stunned.

Lessons Learned

In ensuing research projects I added a mid-course review. This review makes the team aware of how the project’s findings are trending. It prepares them for productive dialogue during the final report meeting.

Endnotes

  1. Your-Baby-Is-Ugly Syndrome.
    Symptoms of a product developer afflicted by the your-baby-is-ugly syndrome are grim. The developer rejects potential customers’ suggestions to improve the product concept.

    In the developer’s mind, his baby is perfect. This mindset hinders up-front discovery of what customers really want … and why.

    The syndrome is an example of confirmation bias. “ The tendency to search for, interpret, focus on and remember information in a way that confirms one’s preconceptions.” Wikipedia’s List of cognitive biases accessed 03-15-2020-
  2. Radioactive Wastes: Wikipedia accessed 03-15-2020
  3. Blind Study
  4. Central Limit Theorem
  5. RCRA (Resource Conservation and Recovery Act): Wikipedia accessed 03-15-2020