Note on innovation: Fatal flaw

To add to my previous post, I do think it is a good practice on any project to identify and attempt to address fatal flaws and even not-so-fatal flaws.

In his book, How to Fail at Almost Everything and Still Win Big, Scott Adams says that many times if you are onto something, the signs are clear from early on. His example sticks with me: cell phones. In the early days, they were really bad, but there still was enough demand to keep it going. That is a great early signal that cell phones was onto something big.

I’ve worked on a couple of projects that similarly had early signs of success that turned out to be good predictors of what happened when we scaled.

Before we scaled, however, we “red teamed” them. While the project were big wins, it required a bunch of folks in the organization to buy into something that seemed a little crazy and against what your gut would tell you.

When we red teamed these ideas, we flew in some of the most vocal critics we knew in the organization and spent a week with them identifying their objections and work shopping ways to address them.

We didn’t try to BS them. We just tried to figure out ways we could show them how these things were winners in ways they made sense and addressed their objection.

The red team efforts turned out to be a big success because it got 96% of their peers to buy in and participate.

But there was a lot of tense discussions and a lot of setting your own biases aside to listen to what other folks thought and why they thought it, which doesn’t happen when the rah-rah culture forms around a project and doesn’t allow for such critical feedback.

It was awesome to see how those efforts paid off. When we presented the initiatives to the larger audiences, all the objections identified by the red team were raised and we were ready to address them head-on. It was like magic. You could feel the tension leave the room as the body language went from “no way in hell!” to head nods and, “okay, this sounds pretty good.”


Notes on innovation: Fatal flaws, check for demand and having the right attitude

Interesting thread here:

I, too, have been a member of such teams and I have seen the danger in believing in your BS too much.

I’m not so sure about the fatal flaw hypothesis. In hindsight, it’s easy to blame failure on a factor like a fatal flaw and to credit some factor for success.

But, I don’t think either are so obvious before it hits the market.

I’m interested to know how these ideas were tested in market before launching to try to get some signal on what actual customer demand would be.

I’m sure a company like Google knows to do this, but on the same teams that I’ve seen with the rah-rah culture, I’ve also seen them avoid getting it to market until it was ready for prime time for various reasons.

Maybe they’re concerned a competitor will catch wind and beat them (which I don’t think is necessarily bad), they’ve been burned on releasing something before that wasn’t ready for prime time and felt that hurt the company’s reputation and sometimes they just assume it will be successful because it sounds like such a good idea.

It reminds me of what Barb Corcoran on Shark Tank said once.

An entrepreneur spent all his time getting the production ready so he would be ready to fulfill orders when they started rolling in, but hadn’t even tried to sell it, yet. If you watch Shark Tank, then you know the Sharks aren’t just looking to invest in great sounding ideas. They are looking for some proof points, like early sales and customer acquisition costs, to help them predict if people want the product.

Barb told him (paraphrased), You remind me of a lot of people we see here on Shark Tank that come from the corporate world. You are very smart. You know how to get the nuts and bolts of the operations of the business running really well. But, you did all of this work and forgot the most important thing: checking to see if it’s something people want.

Here are a few more thoughts:

One way for leaders to quell the rah-rah culture is to understand the odds. Most things fail.

Legend-status contestants on Naked & Afraid exemplify the attitude needed for success in a long odds game when they are trying to acquire food. They know the odds are low, which gets them through the disappointment of failure. But, they keep trying.

It’s also a good analogy for business because they only have limited calorie reserves and time so they are constantly calculating risk/reward and ROI on their food gathering efforts, trying things on small scales and spreading their bets.

I think some leaders think the key to success is simply getting everybody on board. And, maybe a lot of business success stories have been narrated in such a way to make people think that’s true.

But, it isn’t.