Serial innovation starts and ends with guidelines on the wall

I wonder – what would work be like, if you and your team would agree to the following four guidelines?

I thought about having a designer work on a poster but decided it was better to monitor how many actually downloads my Keynote screenshot

I thought about having a designer work on a poster, but I decided it was better to monitor how many actually downloads this slide that I made in Keynote

1. Exploration over back-logs

There, I won’t forget it now. Phuh. Writing down future work is therapy to the overworked innovator.

Six months later I have this huge lists – and this bad conscience – growing with quiet pace. What was I thinking when I wrote “more analytics!!” back in January?  Who put “rethink menu structure” in here? Needless to say, man hours will have to be spent on keeping that list clean, understandable and prioritized at all times.

Meanwhile, your most fierce competitor is out there, exploring the mentality of their customers. In their overzealous outreach they stumble across ideas that were really someone else’s ideas (lucky bastards), change direction a few times before they go ahead and steal our market shares.

When you focus on exploration you remove living conditions for self-inflicted administrative work. The time you used to spend on speculation, is now spent on learning and adjusting.

(Just relax: If your idea is truly brilliant, you will not forget it. I promise.)

2. Experiments over discussions

Which feature should we implement next? Should our product have Facebook-login, Google-login, custom login or all three of them? Are our users mostly male? Will users hate us for putting an ad on the landing page?

Discussions are fine, as long as they a) don’t last for ever b) don’t recur c) don’t become a battlefield for personal conflict.

The best discussions are not about what we think is the correct answer. The best discussions are about how we can verify what is the correct answer. How can we can use analytics, A/B-testing, surveys, interviews or other experimental techniques to design an experiment that tells us what it’s like out there?

When you focus on experiments, you promote ideas over persons: Social dynamics in your team decides less. (The almighty, utterly experienced ex-google technician may not get to call all the shots). Facts decide more.

(If you still feel like discussing, team up with your co-workers on a late night quiz at the corner pub.)

3. Conclusions over kick-offs

A kick-off is the work equivalent of throwing yourself from an aircraft (with our without a parachute). I love kick-offs – especially when they include balloons and I got to craft the playlist on forever repeat.

Finishing something is the only work related thing that makes me feel better.

The trick to finishing is not to start until you’re ready. Start to early, and you or someone else will be put on hold, eventually. Things on hold cause what I heard a customer call organizational erosion: People get frustrated when their stuff isn’t worked on. It makes them feel neglected and unappreciated. The next time we discuss what to kick off, they are a little grumpy. Especially if this isn’t the first time they’re down-prioritized.

When you focus on conclusions, you will kill off bad things before they’ve started. Your creativity revolves around getting the important things done. You get to know what continuous productivity feels like.

(And you can afford even more balloons in the office.)

4. Safe failures over big launches

Big launches are even more spectacular than kick-offs. There is something about that atmosphere, when expensive suits prep the CEO for the media, when we spend the day at the office rolling out roll-ups, folding out white tablecloths, and cleaning out half empty Pepsi cans, pizza boxes and compromising pictures of cats, competitors and co-workers.

Did you know the first version of iTunes on mobile was on a Nokia feature phone? (I guess Apple learned a few things about mobile phones as well in that project.) The things you do under the radar are more easy to play around with. It’s like writing with a pencil versus writing with an expensive fountain pen: As an innovator you want attention from the people who pay the bills, not the rest. The media, your competitors, intellectuals and twitter trolls follow you for other reasons. You need just enough attention to learn what works in your market, nothing more, nothing less.

When you focus on safe failures, you expand your frame of creativity (your thinking box). You pursue more daring ideas, you sleep better at night and you learn faster what that big launch one day will look like.

(There’s a universe of difference between launching something that’s already proven, and launching something nobody has seen.)

How to get started

The innovation mindset is to nurture a culture for exploration, experimentation, safe failures and conclusions. To get started, gather your team and ask yourself what’s more fun:

Days away from the office, or administration work? Watching live user logs, or sitting around in meetings? Going home from work thinking I completed something, or Inflating balloons?

Trying and failing – or just failing?

Anders Haugeto (36) is entrepreneur, engineer and experiment designer helping the customers of Iterate innovate faster. He uses systems thinking, business model generation and Lean Startup to create innovation monsters – intrapreneurs – who’s mission in life is to disrupt their organization from within. Follow his tweets about experiments and entrepreneurship here: @hauge2.

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