Sarah Blakely Thought Real People would Work Better than Mannequins

I recently listened to a Masterclass by Sarah Blakely and was very impressed with all the ideas and perspectives she offered on business and entrepreneurship. I’m making data-management software and she makes shapewear for women but there was still a ton of ideas I can apply to my own mission.

She told a story about going into a manufacturer where they were producing clothing and found they had three mannequins they used for sizing. A big mannequin, a skinny one, and an in-between. So Sarah asked something like, “Well where are the people? Real people wear garments very differently from mannequins because they’re moving around all the time. Clothes shift. How can you get a comfortable garment if you’re only testing on mannequins?”

They responded that “this is just how it’s done in the industry”. But she had the initiative to demand a better way of doing things with her product. That mentality is how she became a billionaire selling leggings.

This got me thinking about just how easy innovation can be and just how easily we can go down the wrong path and make things too complicated for ourselves.

In the software industry we have something called test driven development, where all your code is based around a series of tests that you write ahead of time, then you run every single test again every time you build your app, which is supposed to guarantee your code never breaks. This methodology is all the rage in the industry right now.

I know this isn’t going to win me any interview points but I’m not so sure test driven development is the way to go. Automated testing has some clear advantages but so do mannequins. I think we should be basing our development around real human users.

Sometimes I wonder if the reason so many apps and websites are so frustrating and bug-ridden is because developers are spending all their time writing unit tests instead of running focus groups. I’ve been in software development over fifteen years and can only think of once where I ever saw a focus group. The best we do is browse online forums to see who hates us or field complaints from customer service (assuming we even have customer service).

Plus, most quality-assurance professionals are making nearly six figures and have as much computer experience as I do so they’re about as far removed from regular users as you can get. The best quality assurance testers I’ve ever worked with were two teenage girls making nine dollars an hour who had never used the internet before. They represented actual, real users.

I am a huge fan of efficiency and automation but so many industries have lost their human connection. We need to find ways to recapture that without losing the efficiency.

So I guess the point I was trying to get to is that we should all be on the lookout for these things, in just about any industry or area of society. I’m confident they are numerous. But it’s not something we need to get angry or sad about. It’s just the opposite: these are opportunities we can seize to build a better, more efficient, human-connected future. If we can point these out, and find better ways of doing things, that can be our avenue toward success. We’ve just got to have the courage to trust our common sense and do things differently.

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