What Product can learn from the Marvel Cinematic Universe – Defining a product core

Okay, I am just writing this post, so I can write about the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU), but I really have a point to make, because there is something really fascinating to find within the MCU.

It’s the kind of coherence and messaging they are using to create a huge arc across their movies.

Let’s look at the first MCU phase (the infinity saga)  – spanning from the first Iron Man movie to the Avengers End Game movie – across 23 movies in total.

When you take a step back and look at them, you can definitely find an excellent written core message, and this core message also becomes even more clear when you look into what kind of new topics they are now starting to evolve for the next MCU phase.

I would summarize the first MCU phase with the core topics of power and balance.

The main characters within this phase is on the one hand, Iron Man, who started the phase with his first movie, and also basically ended the phase with his ending in Avengers End Game.

And on the other hand, there’s an Thanos as the antagonist.

Both characters are spinning around the question about power and balance. Iron Man has discovered that he can use technology to create power that tries to balances the powers in the world. In Iron Man Two, he is basically the cause that no other conflicts are breaking out because he’s so powerful that he can control everything (and that goes wrong in the end – no surprise).

On the other hand, this power is, of course, unbalanced because he has too much power. So all these Iron Man movies are always about developing too much power and then overdoing stuff. I would say the whole first MCU infinity saga about this is trying to find the balance of power.

Especially when you look at Iron Man’s agony, after the events of the first Avengers movie, where he sees that there are forces from space that come and attack earth. So he has the feeling that he has to increase the power until earth can defend itself, and it’s driving him crazy,

The interesting thing is Thanos on the other side has the same issue. He has this weird idea that the universe is unbalanced, and there’s too much of everything, and this is why he comes up with this idea that he goes to a planet and wipes out half of it’s civilization.

At some point, he finds the ultimate power weapon, which are the infinity stones, and he wants to collect them all because once he has them all, he can just wipe off the half of the universe with a snap of his fingers.

He’s doing it because he thinks it’s a sacrifice; he’s sacrificing himself for the universe to bring back balance, which is weird, but yes.

Iron Man and Thanos, basically, in the end, sacrifice themselves for their cause.

What is really interesting that in all the different movies (without Iron Man or Thanos) the question about power and balance shines through.

In my opinion, this is the thing that made the infinity saga of the MCU so strong, and in the end, was one of the reasons, for their success. Because this is something what other big movie universes usually miss. It’s coherent core message.

For example, in my opinion, the last Star Wars movie, or the last three Star Wars movies, definitely missed that. It never had a really strong core message.

The interesting part is, and this was the trigger why I write this post, that you can now start to see what might be the new core concept in the next phase.

I would bet that time and choices are the core topics that come up in the next MCU phase, at least it looks like this (watching WandaVision (which pauses time), Loki (just saying the TVA), What if…).

When you look at the new Spider-Man trailer, you can already see that Spider-Man together with Dr. Strange are doing some time-meddling.

So it will be quite interesting to see how all this will play out. But in general, it looks like that they, again, work with an overarching core idea. I can even imagine how they took time off after the infinity saga and sat down to find these core concept and how to plan and sketch out the next 20 movies in the next five to seven years.

I’m pretty sure that the next phase will be as strong as the phase before and maybe even stronger. My prediction everything will be centered around Dr. Strange (as it was around Iron Man). On the other side Loki might play a good sidekick, and the tv show already introduced the new antagonist with Kang, the conquerer (who looks a lot better than Thanos).

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NOW coming back to PRODUCT.

What I find fascinating about the MCU is this core system they put into their movies.

I think the hardest part when creating a product is to define the core values of the product.

Why it’s so hard? I guess, because it takes a lot of time and iteration to really get to the core of the product, and I can see it in my product developments.

The initial product ideas I have, of course, they are raw. They are not defined in the a precise shape. It takes iterations of thinking, discussing with other, testing, prototypes, more testing to condense the product idea to a core concept. I am doing this step-by-step by cutting off the pieces of the product positioning or the product idea that are too weak or really feel consistent.

So in the end, I get rid of the features, that I have in my head but then think, no, they don’t really fit good enough…

In my experience, when you look at successful products out there, the really successful ones that always have a very strong core concept.

And they start to suffer more and more, the farer these products go away from the original core idea. I think it’s possible to reinvent a core, completely new, or to reposition a core. It’s a hard way, but it’s possible.

But what you see pretty often is a product that is very well-defined and that has a very defined core, but then it starts to extend. It creates new features and so on..

So you then see how the core gets more and more diffused and gets weaker.

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Slack is a good example for that.

Slack’s core, I would describe as bringing teams together.

It resonates really well with so many teams out there. So they became famous and successful in a very short time.

I assume the tricky part started for them, when they reached the first plateau of growth. Then they needed to start to figure out: Okay, where do we want to go?

So they started to experiment, and a major experiments was to become the central the place of everything. Let’s move everything that was around communication and sharing stuff from other places in this place.

But this was a significant step away from their core. Because it was not really so much about bringing a team together but instead of centralising communication and operation.

Of course this idea was quite fascinating, and I was also experimenting with this as well, but it never really took off. It never really resonated; only the integrations that were about team communication like daily stand up bots really worked. I still use them. But everything else, for example, having bots that post system updates into the channel – never really worked for me. Because it just broadcasting and no bidirectional communication.

The interesting part for me, and maybe I’m over-judging this, is when Slack has introduces the new connect feature where you can easily extend your setup to bring the teams outside of your company together with you into one space. A feature so close to the initial core of bringing teams together.

Finding and defining a core concept for your product is hard. And I don’t really have a good framework for it. At the moment I only have this slight idea that it’s a powerful concept. And it might explain why some products start strong and become weaker the more stuff they add. Salesforce spends a lot of energy to point out that at the core it’s about the customer. And every service is build around it. I guess this holds it together (and I don’t really see how Slack fits into it).

So spent plenty of time to ask yourself, your team, your company and your stakeholders. What is the core problem we are solving?

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