When TV takes you to B-school—and beyond

Just when you’re beginning to wonder if what they say is true and that television really is rotting your brain, HBO goes and sets the record straight by serving you up life lessons on the small screen. The wisdom is all wrapped up in the comedy and satire of its show Silicon Valley, but it’s there and we’re likin’ it.

If you’ve seen the show, you probably think that you already know what we’re talking about. The sitcom about the tech boom in the Bay Area is laden with social commentary on the impact of technology on our world and our relationships. But while we find those messages both fascinating and terrifying, they’re not the ones that stand out to us the most.

Hidden behind the playful jabs that Silicon Valley makes at market research (think robotic moderators and SWOT analyses of colleagues) are true-to-life displays of the value our industry can bring to companies large and small. That is, whether you’re nurturing an icon or a unicorn, there is always something to learn from your customers. And what you do with those insights can make all the difference in whether or not you’re around tomorrow.  



Before we go any further, here’s your spoiler alert.



Silicon Valley centers around a start-up that develops Pied Piper, a new compression service that’s poised to revolutionize the way people send and store data. But by the end of Season 3, the team behind Pied Piper is facing an all-too-common challenge: they have a great product that’s not being used—and they have no idea why. Hundreds of thousands of users have signed up. But they’re not using it. What’s going on?

Almost as if they heard us in their ear, the Pied Piper team’s next move in answering that question is one we would have written into the script ourselves.


They turn to their customers.

When the team conducts focus groups with Pied Piper users to figure out what’s not working, they discover a huge, unforeseen gap in the user experience. Turns out, the user interface is intuitive to the programmers who designed it, but the average Joe is clueless on how to interact with it. But, of course, the programmers were too excited about their shiny new toy to even consider that possibility. And now they’re left to lament the fact that they skipped over any UX research before launching the product. Oops.


Sometimes, the truth hurts. But ignoring it hurts even more.

And for the Pied Piper team, this new revelation about an inherent flaw in their product hurts. It becomes clear that it’s too complicated to explain the platform to a layman in any efficient way; there is just no human-centric solution to salvage their product. The team becomes discouraged and worries that they’re on the brink of collapse. But when the team loses hope for Pied Piper, they also lose their focus on it—and thus open themselves up to new possibilities. And again, the script is written just as we would have done it.


They make truth an advantage. 

Now that the team has used consumer feedback to stem the bleeding on their original product, they have a fresh opportunity to rewrite their future. When they take a look at their business from a new angle, they notice that thousands of users have downloaded a simple internal video chat add-on they created just to collaborate with their offshore data team. What?! That wasn’t even on anyone’s radar as potentially being of value to real people outside their company. And had they not course-corrected early on with Pied Piper, it might have been too late before they discovered their real golden goose.



So, how are you using truth to your advantage?

Are you simply reacting to feedback, or are you adopting new perspectives to old problems? If you were Pied Piper, would you have pursued an informational video to explain the platform, just to slap a Band-Aid on the problem even though it’s a doomed solution? Would you have had the courage to go back to the drawing board and discover something of real value?



Say, are you even seeking out the truth to begin with?



Photo credit: Isabella Vosmikova/HBO