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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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.

A corporate Shark Tank that might work

In the previous post, I covered what folks miss when they want to implement a corporate shark tank.

This post covers some ideas on how to bring shark tank into a company that might work.

First, folks with ideas should do groundwork to prove an idea, just like the contestants on Shark Tank

In one place I worked, field leaders presented lots of promotion ideas because they were rewarded for presenting ideas. They got kudos for being forward-thinking, engaged and thinking about the success of business, even though many of their ideas had been tried and failed. So, they tossed plenty of ideas over the wall, not caring whether the business actually tried them or not.

Because so many of those ideas never went anywhere once thrown over the wall, we started asking the field leaders if they would fund the trial on their own P&L to prove it out for the business.

We were surprised with how that changed things.

It cut the number of ideas down by 80%. Talking about an idea is one thing. But, it turns out, putting some stakes on the table to prove your idea is another.

When people were forced to think through how an idea might impact their own wallet, much like founders on Shark Tank, they filtered their ideas more carefully and were more interested in learning about why some ideas had failed.

It also resulted in a few brave souls some ideas that were different and they signed up to try it at their own risk, achieving the original results we were after, bypassing red tape to test more ideas.

One of those ideas ended up being a grand slam home run and a few were pretty good.

Second, everyone is a shark

Most folks envision a corporate Shark Tank as an innovation committee made up of mid to high level managers who will act as gatekeepers.

But, I think this will result in the same red tape as the typical innovation methods they have now, but it will just be more showcased.

I would open the Shark Tank to anybody in the organization, to create an idea marketplace that can connect up the idea generators and champions with folks that want to try them in the real world and on larger scales, on their own P&L, or contribute their own time, effort and expertise.

I do see a need for a committee, just not as a gatekeeper.

The committee would collect the ideas, help idea generators conduct early testing and connect the idea folks with people who want to try them in the business or contribute more.

The committee could maintain an online, searchable list of ideas, like Kickstarter, so folks in the organization can search them when they are looking for ideas, along with organizing regular meetings where ideas that have shown good signs in early testing are pitched to gain champion for larger scale trials.

I think the committee can also enforce some key principles of innovation

Ideas don’t die until they’ve been tried. The primary criteria for product and marketing ideas is how customers respond to it. I’ve seen lots of ideas killed for lots of other reasons, like management didn’t like the idea, it was thought the idea didn’t fit with the vision of the company and so on.

Remind everyone that the the odds success are very low, somewhere between 1-in-10 and 1-in-10,000. That’s why we don’t kill ideas until tried, why we try as much as possible on very small scales and encourage as much trial as we can. Good innovation is much more about playing the odds than beating them. It’s a lot like fishing. Even the best fisherman don’t catch a fish on every line.

Corporate Shark Tank?

I’m a big fan of Shark Tank and so are folks I work with. Though, I’m surprised when we discuss it what they don’t see.

Some co-workers want to bring a shark tank-like process into the company to generate and vet new ideas.

In their corporate version of Shark Tank, they see employees pitching their ideas to a committee of leaders, who ask pointed questions, like the Sharks, to ferret out the best ideas and then cast votes for the best ideas to proceed, ‘just like Shark Tank.’

I think they miss key incentives from Shark Tank that make it work.

I suspect their version of Shark Tank would end up looking a lot like the political and bureaucratic processes that already govern capital and resource allocation in large companies.

For those who like the Shark Tank committee idea, consider the following questions.

What do folks pitching the ideas have at stake? What groundwork have they done? Who is on the committee? What do the folks pitching ideas have at stake? How do ideas advance?

What do the folks pitching the ideas have at stake?

These Shark Tank fans haven’t seemed to notice that the folks pitching ideas on Shark Tank have a good deal of their own money, creativity and effort at stake. It’s well beyond idea stage.

Their idea passed an important first filter: the founders thought enough about it to sacrifice their time and money for it, over all the ideas they may have had.

Ideas without proof are just talk and talk is cheap.

What groundwork have they done?

They also miss that startup founders have done a good amount of groundwork of proving their ideas — often into prototype or full product mode with real sales, which means the ideas have been put through a second important filter — do customers actually want it?

One of the classic speeches on Shark Tank was given by Barb Corcoran, directed at a founder from the corporate world who spent all of his time making sure the operations of his business would be ready to fulfill when the orders started rolling in.

Corcoran said something like, you are like many we see from the corporate world. You’re very smart, but you spend all your time solving getting the back office set up that you skipped checking the most important step: is it something customers actually want?

The Sharks hone in on many signs of early sales, customer demand and the cost of acquiring paying customers. Products that people want have a very low or zero cost of acquiring paying customers because customers instantly see the value prop, then they tell their friends and family (word of mouth) and they also repeat purchases.

These are products that sell themselves. Most successful products are products that sell themselves. Chipotle, for example, didn’t spend much on advertising until after it had already saturated the market with restaurants. Prior to that, simply opening new Chipotles was enough to get new customers.

Sales signals are 1,000 times more telling than whether or not the idea just sounds good and the sharks know this.

All the Sharks have changed their mind on a product where the idea didn’t sound good to them but the sales said otherwise. They know enough to know that their personal assessment of the merits of the product isn’t as good as the market’s assessment.

So, by the time the ideas see the Shark Tank, most have passed two important filters — the founder’s sniff test and markets/customer tests, in some form or fashion.

On occasion, Sharks do invest in products that are still in the idea phase. It might be a product that complements another product in their portfolio well, so they have a read on potential sales from that.

More often, Sharks dismiss the idea saying it’s “too early” for them. That means, they don’t have enough of a read on the second filter and it’s just too big of a guess for them.

Who is on the committee?

The corporate shark tankers envision executives on this internal Shark Tank committee.

These Shark Tank fans haven’t noticed that the sharks earned their way onto the panel with their own startup and business performance.

Most corporate executives do not have this experience. They may be good at delivering projects on time and under budget and playing office politics, but that doesn’t mean they can sniff out a good idea as good as a Shark, especially when they don’t have much at stake.

This is an easy mistake to make. Business leaders are often confused as good business people, but that’s not true.

It’s also important to notice that the Sharks are betting their own money on the businesses. They aren’t just giving a simple yay or nay vote with no consequence on whether the idea succeeds. That changes the decision-making considerably.

Without these incentives, the corporate shark tank would turn into more or less a venue for mental tennis.

How do ideas advance?

In the corporate shark tank, ideas advance through committee by majority vote.

Again, these folks miss that it only takes one shark in Shark Tank to buy-in. In this sense, the bar on this filter is lower on the real Shark Tank.

But, it’s balanced out that the Shark is putting their own money, time and expertise into the deal, which causes them to be a lot more careful in their decision.

Compare to the executive committee majority vote. Nothing is on the line for anyone. If a project they voted for fails, it costs them nothing.

When a Shark is wrong, it hits their pocketbook.

But, I do like the idea of bringing Shark Tanks in corporate worlds as one avenue of ideas. But, here’s what I would recommend to execute it to keep the incentives and filters that make Shark Tank (and venture capital) work.

More on that in the next post.

Innovation notes

From Luca Dellanna’s EconTalk appearance on Compulsion, Self-Deception and the Brain:

Try a lot of things and see what works, see what sticks. And, at the beginning, don’t necessarily look for effectiveness. Look for what sticks, what you keep doing. And then, only in a second step, you can look for effectiveness.

One common mistake in the startup world is to optimize before having found a product/market fit–a product that the market really wants, that they start pulling. And, only then you can think how to advertise it better, how to make it cheaper, and so on. But, if you try to optimize too early, there is just too much friction because you don’t have a good product enough. You don’t have a product that the market wants; and you push it, but the market doesn’t get it.

And, the same applies in some way to our habits. If you try to look only for the habit which is the most effective, but it’s not a habit that your brain is, like, receptive to, then you might waste a lot of effort.

I agree. I’ve been involved in a lot of idea generation sessions, one this week even, where this happened.

There’s a strong tendency for people to want to think down the road to the finished product or write-off an idea if they can’t immediately see how it can fit into the current system or if they think it will cost too much to make.

It’s often hard to reel them back to step 1. Forget about finished product, cost troubles or how it will fit in the current system. Step 1 is to figure out if you got something that works, on a really small scale.

This is another hurdle. Lots of folks still want to jump to step 3 or 4, imagining what a market test would look like.

Think smaller. What’s the minimum you would need to do for a proof of concept and very small pilot? That could be as simple as mocking up the idea on some paper and talking to 5 or 6 random friends about it.

Many think this is too small. They want fully baked market research.

Some of the tendency to jump over the early steps comes from folks who just don’t know better. In big companies with big resources, they large test is considered a gold standard.

But, I think some of the tendency also comes from another incentive. I’ve worked in companies where people got brownie for simply proposing smart sounding ideas, but had not ownership of whether the idea got tried or worked, or not. That was someone else’s job. But, they basked in the glow of of their great sounding ideas.

Talk is cheap. Have them put their money where their mouth is.

They don’t want to test the idea because they want credit for coming up with the idea. Actually giving it life, even in a small way, terrifies them because it might fail. So they try to optimize for what the final product will look like because they know that finding out is in some far out future and nobody will remember who had the idea by the time everyone finds out it’s a dud.

In one company that I worked in, field management had lots of discount ideas, many of which have been tried many times without. We had a hard time getting them to pay attention to that info as they were too busy accepting the praise for having an idea.

When field managers came to me with ideas, I started asking if they would fund a trial from their budget.

About 90% of ideas died on the spot. When faced with the prospect of paying for their idea, they became more interested in the results of previous attempts, calculated the hole that would put in their budget and refrained from spitting those ideas out in meetings for brownie points because I might ask them to fund it.

One time a field manager did have an idea that hadn’t been tried before. We asked if he’d be willing to fund it to try it.

Yes.

I was skeptical of the idea, but he was taking the risk. Also, I know I can be wrong, so I didn’t let my skepticism get in the way.

It turns out it worked, spectacularly. He never let me forget my skepticism. I never let him forget that I didn’t let that stand in the way of trying it, nor did it keep me from digging to discover why it worked.

To Luca’s point, when we tried, it wasn’t fully baked. There were lots of problems in execution. It was late getting out the door. There were systems problems.

But, there were strong signs that he was onto something. None of those early problems hurt the signal that. The signal was one of the clearest signals I’ve seen in all my years of looking for things.

Folks who haven’t seen such signs tend to get excited about 1-2% bumps. I don’t anymore. They can have those. I’ve seen too many statistically significant 1-2% bumps that evaporate into the noise of the real world when they are rolled out and they have to resort to the smart sounding, but empty defense, “just think how much worse it would have been if we hadn’t done it.”

These are the same folks that want to optimize before finding out if they have something.

If innovation isn’t easy, you’re doing it wrong

After some time working in mature companies it occurred to me how difficult companies make their innovation.

There is more action in just getting ideas through the political and operational hurdles. Ideas compete for executive approval and company resources. Ideas that win executive buy-in are then treated as if success is a fore drawn conclusion.

That’s how it worked at one of my former employers. My group went to the executives each year during planning with a list of 10 ideas to have them pick the 2-3 they wanted to try.

One year, we had a new CEO from a company with a healthier innovation culture (though he didn’t know it and neither did I, at the time).

We presented our 10 ideas and sat there with an awkward silence. He broke the silence after a bit, “So, what do you want from me?”

“Which 2 or 3 should we try?”

He responded, “Is there a reason you can’t try them all? I don’t know which one is going to work. Figure out ways to try them, even if on small scales, to find out.”

That completely changed how we approached our work. While he was there over the next three years we tried lots of stuff and found a lot of success. We spent zero time on the politics of trying to get buy in and almost all of time trying to figure out how to market research, proof of concepts, pilots and tests to figure out what would work for customers.

I now call this the ‘discovery innovation culture.’ It has some basic underlying principles, like the chances of success of any one thing is low, so try lots. Also, an ounce of customer reaction is worth 5 pounds of executive politics.

Sadly, I don’t think he knew the impact his innovation culture had on the business. He also did the typical CEO, top down ‘5 point plan’ like his predecessors and when that failed to make an impact, as most of such plans do, the board soured on him.

Ironically, the month after he left, the board approved rolling out one of the projects we discovered under his discovery innovation culture. It had a major impact on the business. He didn’t get a lick of credit for it.

It wasn’t his idea. It was a crazy idea that wouldn’t have seen the light of day in the political innovation culture. But, he didn’t stand in its way when one of the field leaders wanted to test it, like his predecessors would have.

Thinking back, I think he could have bought himself more time as CEO if he recognized what was happening and told the Board, Look, when I got here the innovation pipeline was bureaucratic and anemic. Innovation is the way to grow, but you have to be extremely lucky to grow if your pipeline only has 1 or 2 projects in it at a time. No wonder you have been struggling. I’m going to change that, but it’s going to take 3-5 years to see scalable projects coming out the other end of the pipelin. This is how we did it at the company I’m from and it works. Be patient.

After he left, his replacements brought back the political innovation culture.

In the 3 years under him my group alone rolled out about a half a dozen things that has stuck with the business.

Since he left about 10 years ago, the business has been going sideways and they’ve just been tweaking the stuff we rolled out. The energy has gone back to the politics of getting executive buy-in rather than just trying stuff and nothing new has come of it.

When I see organizations that are struggling to stay relevant, I tend to see the political innovation cultures that result in anemic innovation pipelines that usually do not produce enough successes to keep the business ahead of its evolving competition, which is innovating at faster rates in more discovery innovation cultures.

Give luck a chance

In his book, How Innovation Works, Matt Ridley adeptly captures an idea that I’ve struggled to articulate well:

“Serendipity plays a big part in innovation, which is why liberal economies, with their free-roving experimental opportunities, do so well. They give luck a chance.”

Later, he described how nuclear energy has not advanced nearly as far as other areas, like electronics, because not many folks want to give luck a chance with nuclear since because of the risk.

In a world where improving requires trial-and-error, failure, learning and luck, nuclear energy remains in a state close to where it started because it does not have the luxury of errors and failure.

I’ve witnessed this same limitation in many organizations. Managers of mature companies, for example, too often think their job is to keep the company healthy by using their skill to beat the odds, rather than to play the odds. So, they squelch trial-and-error in the company in favor of their grand plans. They don’t give luck a chance. The thought of admitting that the future of the company depends on a bit of serendipity seems like madness to them.

Sometimes they are lucky to beat the odds, but more often the house wins and they leave the business less healthy than where they started.

Those in charge of US Soccer also do not give luck a chance, while soccer federations in other countries do. I believe that’s the the #1 or #2 reason why U.S. men’s soccer has trouble cracking the top 10 and has to generally rely heavily on dual citizens, that as a product of their dual citizenship spent good chunks of their lives in those soccer environments that do give luck a chance.

A huge eye opener in my early days in soccer was how dual citizens seemed well over-represented at the top of our player pool. That was the first hint something was up and I believe Ridley’s view helps explain why.

Great ad/magazine article innovation

Magazines have always been more upfront with their connection between content and ads that other forms of journalism.

I mean, it never surprised when a bicycle with good review from a bicycle magazine’s writers was also advertised in the same issue. I figured that was part of the deal. Buy ad space, supply a bike to be tested and you get a review along with your ad.

A trend over the past decade or so has been to be even more upfront about this connection, with magazines giving advertisers more reign and input over content, with blah results, in my opinion.

I’ve read articles that seemed like legit articles and then realized a few paragraphs in it was an informercial and felt deceived.

I’ve seen sidebars to articles contributed by sponsors that were wholly whatever plain vanilla would be if you took out the vanilla.

But, the latest Bicycling magazine had the coolest attempt at this that I’ve seen.

Suburu wanted to advertise its Outback, and Bicycling editors sent a couple employees on a trip to a cool place to ride — they ended up at a mountain climb near Tuscon, AZ that I never heard of — to ride it and write about the ride and their experience in the Outback. Plus the whole thing was foldout ‘centerfold’.

It’s also a good example of good innovation. In hindsight this seems like an obviously good way to combine interesting content and ads. But, I hadn’t seen this variation before. It’s taken quite a few years and trial-and-errors to get to this, what seems like an obvious and natural, mutation.

Why many companies don’t innovate well

While discussing this post about innovation with a friend, it occurred to me why so many managers “don’t put enough hooks in the water” with their innovation efforts.

That post likened primitive survival fishing to business innovation.

A good primitive survival fishing strategy is to put 10 or more hooks in the water. This recognizes that any one hook has a 10% chance of catching a fish each day. If you want to catch a fish every day, you need to put 10 hooks in the water.

This is also a good business innovation strategy. Each innovation experiment has a low chance of success (even the ones that sound like sure winners), so best to get as many hooks in the water as possible, to improve your chances of finding a few that work.

Many primitive survivalists don’t consider those odds or think they can beat them by knowing the best spots to fish. This is like managers who think they know how to pick winning innovations.

These types of managers tend to view the ‘putting more hooks in the water’ strategy as a sign of weakness, an admission that they don’t have the answer to lead the organization forward. And, they believe their job is to have that answer.

Sometimes they are lucky and catch a fish. They then mistakenly view that as a success of knowing where to fish instead of chance.

Over the course of their career they are likely to hit a one or two successes, which is enough for them to believe it was their skill, instead of luck. The failures, though, they write off as bad luck.

When they fail, they move on to their next employment and hope for the best.

The core problem is with who hires them. They hire people who exude confidence in knowing where to fish and, like the less successful primitive survivalists, don’t find putting more hooks in the water as desirable.

I can envision how these interviews go.

“What are your ideas for moving the company forward?”

“I don’t know. I like to try a lot of stuff and see what works.”

If your mindset is in the ‘knowing where to fish’ camp, this does not sound acceptable. You might think, ‘Well, if it was as simple as that, we could do that without you. Why do we need you?”

More on how I would answer that in a future post.

A good innovation lesson from “Naked & Afraid XL”

I’m a fan of the Discovery Channel show, Naked & Afraid. I have a lot of respect for anyone that can make it a single night on that show, let alone going the whole distance.

I just remembered something from last summer’s Naked & Afraid XL season that is a good lesson on innovation for business.

First some background on the show…

The regular Naked & Afraid show pairs a man and woman on a 21 day primitive survival challenge in a remote wilderness. Participants start with no clothes and one survival item of their choosing.

The XL version of the show puts several groups of previous Naked & Afraid participants in the same wilderness for a 40 day challenge. The groups eventually meet over the course of the 40 days and decide how to work together, or not.

In last summer’s XL, a super skilled pair, Jeff and Laura, started 20 days ahead of everyone else to try for a 60 total day challenge (spoiler alert: they succeeded).

Participants lucky enough to survive the 21 day challenge usually do it by starving most of the way, while burning calories stored in their body fat. Most are lucky if they get a few bites of food in the 21 days.

How does this relate to business and innovation?

I think the show provides an apt and tangible analogy to how business works.

The participant’s fat stores, survival item and skills are like the existing value proposition of a business, those products that are selling well enough to keep the business going.

On the show, this is translated into making and maintaining a shelter, fire and obtaining water. This activity takes a good deal of the participant’s energy resources.

Acquiring food on the show is like a business’s innovation efforts. Acquiring enough calories in an unfamiliar wilderness to maintain body weight is a low probability game of chance.

Few participants ever have have enough success at gathering calories to make it out of the challenge without consuming a good deal of their own fat stores (i.e. losing weight). At the end of the show, the narrator summarizes how much weight each participant lost over the course of the challenge. It’s usually 20-30 pounds.

This caloric deficit is okay for a challenge with a definitive end. But, to survive longer participants would need to find ways to take in more calories than they burn.

Good innovators

Jeff and Laura were very successful at finding food, which is a key reason they made it 60 days.

After they met some of the other participants, they chose to live separate, for awhile. But, they were in close proximity of the other groups.

Those groups got annoyed at Jeff and Laura’s success at catching eels in a creek. Those groups were also trying to catch fish in the same creek and near the same spots.

This is my paraphrased recollection of how Jeff explained their success:

One hook as a 5-10% chance of catching a fish each day. With one hook, it might take you 10 days to catch something. With 10 hooks in the water you should catch something on one of them every day or two and with 20 you can catch 1-2 things a day.

In other words, it’s all about playing the odds. It paid off because he and Laura were catching something about every day or two.

The other group caught one thing after 5 days of anguish.

At one point, earlier in the season, another guy who (like Jeff) had brought a set of fishing hooks as his survival item, spent hours on the ocean fishing with one hook. He really, really wanted to catch something for his teammates.

He didn’t catch anything except a really bad sunburn that put him out of commission for a day or two.

Jeff and Laura’s success resulted primarily from having 10-20 hooks in the water. The other groups were using 2-3 hooks at a time.

The odds never seemed to occur to the other groups. They just kept plugging away with their belief and hope that they should get enough food with 2-3 hooks.

The difference in recognizing the odds and not recognizing them reminded me of how various company managers approach innovation.

Companies that innovate well tend to approach innovation like Jeff and Laura approached fishing in the wild — put out as many hooks as possible. They see it as an odds game and they play the odds.

They know the odds of any one project succeeding are low, so it’s best to try lots of things.

Companies that don’t innovate well remind me of the less successful Naked and Afraid XL groups, who put two to three hooks in the water at a time and hope for the best.

Sometimes, they even remind me of the guy who spent the day fishing in the ocean with one hook, hoping for the best, with the only result being a really bad sun burn.

They simply don’t know the odds or they think they can overcome them by doing “smart” things like picking good spots to fish or choosing the right bait.

In the business world, this is called market research and consultants that help devise plans that are ‘sure to work.’

Eventually, these companies starve themselves because they don’t find enough viable innovations to keep the competition from getting an edge on them.

When they look back on the decline of their business, they often mistakenly attribute the lack of success to picking the wrong spots to fish.

Even then, they don’t realize that they were putting an order of magnitude fewer hooks in the water than they needed to survive the long-term.

I will add that Jeff also was good at picking out spots. With many more trials behind him, because he used more hooks each day, he learned about good spots faster.

That may have helped him, but it still didn’t materially improve his chances over the 5-10% chance per day of catching something on one hook.

The lesson there is that doing smart sounding things might help your odds, marginally, but that is likely to be an order of magnitude less effective as getting more hooks in the water.

Get more hooks in the water.