Written by Madonna Dennis

At the latest TechTO, Dunford talked about the importance of context, especially when pitching a new idea. She gave the example of a joke her son told her.

“My ten-year-old says ‘Yeah I’ve got a joke. What’s brown and sticky?’” said Dunford. “And I’m thinking hmm sticky and brown, maybe not appropriate for City Hall. But OK, what’s brown and sticky? He says ‘A stick!’”

“People make assumptions based on the context within which they’re pitched and often those assumptions are wrong.”

Dunford said the reason the joke is funny is because a ten-year-old told it. The context of the joke causes people to make assumptions that his joke will be potty humour. This can be applied to a startup, too.

“The same thing happens when we pitch new products. People make assumptions based on the context within which they’re pitched and often those assumptions are wrong,” said Dunford.

Dunford said that entrepreneurs and product developers are constantly trying to deliver something that no one has ever seen before. This can be difficult because the new product can be very hard to understand. With her experience launching 15 products, the entrepreneur says she can give others a hint as to why this happens.

“Whenever we have an idea, it comes from the thought process that we can improve on something that exists already,” she said.

With all of the ideas and revisions that happen, the entrepreneur often ends up with a product that is nothing like the product they were originally trying to improve. The change happens so gradually that it can be hard to notice.

“We don’t notice that our database now looks like a QA tool. We don’t notice that our email now looks like chat. We don’t notice that our car now looks like something else,” said Dunford.

This can confuse the customer, since they’re given the context of the old product, rather than the new one.

“We say ‘Hey how do you like my car back there? Looks good right. It’s Car 2.0’,” said Dunford. “And meanwhile our customers are sitting there going ‘I dunno man. You said it was a car, but all I’m seeing is a murderous robot and I’m confused. Not only am I confused but I’m frightened.”

Dunford offered some advice on how to fix this, which is to give customers the right context for the new product.

“It’s not enough to just build a new product, we actually have to think about building that product, and a way to think about that product at the same time,” said Dunford.

Dunford added that when entrepreneurs bring the old way of thinking into their new ideas, the old way will win. Audiences will think that there is nothing wrong with the original product and reject the new idea.

“Instead, what’s awesome about the thing that I just built? Not about the thing I was trying to improve on, but the thing that I have now,” said Dunford. “Giving us a new way to think about (the new product) allows us to put the things that are special about it at the centre.”

Watch the full presentation below:

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StartUp HERE Toronto is a publishing partner of Betakit and this article was originally published on their site.