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.”

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