Being Awesome, Buy In, Going Forth, Ideation, Innovation Mindsets, Lenses

Two-Faced Prototypes

prettyEveryone has heard a tale or two of people with diverse, opposite appearances. The Frog Prince and the Beast can change form with true love, Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde serve as faceted personalities of the same man, and Hulk smash when Dr. Banner gets mad. While the characters’ appearances serve as moral backgrounds for allegories and folk lore, there is a lesson to be learned here for innovators.

We’ve talked before about how prototyping should focus solely on the verifiable hypothesis.  And we’re not backing down from this stance. You should be out there making the “ugly” prototypes quickly to learn and iterate with your customers. However, is there value to a “pretty” version? A benefit from a Dr. Jekyll over a prototype Mr. Hyde?

You bet there is! If there wasn’t, this would be a boring post. “Nope no benefit. Just thought I’d throw that out there. Thank you and goodnight.” The benefit comes when you need to generate some buy in. You’ll have one version for testing and one for pitching.

Just like any good salesman, marketer, or presenter will tell you, you have to know your audience. When you are prototyping, your audience is there to give you feedback on functionality. When you are trying to generate buy in, your audience is there to judge, question, and poke holes in your idea. And I mean that in all the best possible ways. You are asking for their commitment to your idea so they need to be able to feel as comfortable as they can with it. They have their own set of lenses that they view this trough. Mostly the “Am I impressed enough to lend support or resources to this?” lens.

You need a pretty and shiny version to create a wow moment.

Generating buy in means that you are asking people to jump aboard your ship after it has already set sail. If they are sitting on the dock looking at your wireframes or paper prototypes, it may be hard to convince them to jump. This past weekend I saw part of a quick and dirty boat building competition and I can say that there were a few “boats” that I would wave to safely from the dock. These were literally prototype boats that were testing out new ideas by people who had minimal skill in sailing, and only some entry-level life experience in buoyancy.

You want people to jump on your boat? You have to make your boat a more attractive place to be than the dock.

This is why you build the Dr. Jekyll version of your solution. The classy and marketable iteration. While it may be tempting to throw all kinds of features and version 5 ideas on to it, I would caution against them. Stick with your validated functions, the stuff that has been user tested, analyzed, and solidified. You are taking large risks showing features that haven’t been tested yet because you haven’t proven that the customer wants or will use them. This could lead to a difficult conversation to have with a backer who was sold because of this shiny future feature. Don’t stray from validated mechanics.

Even if you don’t have the time or the resources to get it to the minimum marketable version (the smallest group of validated features with an appropriate user experience that can be sold) a prettier-than-prototype version can serve you well. You can find ways to “Wizard of Oz” your prettier-than-prototype version that makes it feel real. It is more like a mock-up, a scale model, an artist’s representation of awesome.

So when you need to generate some buy in, know your audience and encourage them to come aboard with Dr. Jekyll’s shiny schooner. No one is jumping on a cardboard clipper with Mr. Hyde.

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Being Awesome, Going Forth, Innovation, Innovation Mindsets, Lean, Lenses

Charging Up the Wrong Hill

I was enjoying a morning run while listening to an excellent game design podcast, Ludology. In episode 113, Geoff Engelstein discussed the Sunk Cost Fallacy. It works like this:

You’ve played a boardgame for a little while with your friends when you realize no one is having any fun. You turn to your friends and say “Well, we’ve gone this far lads. Might as well see it to the end.” Then you proceed to spend an evening trudging through a less-than-enjoyable experience, just because you did not want to waste the time you had already sunk into it. Instead of stopping after wasting one hour on something, you decide to spend another hour on it just to finish it, essentially spending twice as much for no reward.

It seems silly here, but it happens often in innovation.

Ed Catmull uses a model of two hills in his book, Creativity, Inc.

“People need to be wrong as fast as they can. In a battle, if you’re faced with two hills and you’re unsure which one to attack, the right course of action is to hurry up and choose. If you find out it’s the wrong hill, turn around and attack the other one.” – Ed Catmull

He goes on to say that the only wrong attack, is to go between the hills. The Sunk Cost Fallacy would have your squad start attacking one hill, realize the enemy is on the other hill, but continue to charge up this hill because they already made it part of the way up. “We don’t want to waste that initial charge, sarge.”

The Sunk Cost Fallacy is the enemy to innovation. To understand how to defeat it, well use the Lean Startup principle, the Build-Measure-Learn feedback loop, as a lens.

Build

This is the phase that lets you minimize your sunk cost. Keeping costs low helps you mitigate the opportunities for you to say “We’ve spent so much already on this… we should push forward.” A great way to minimize sunk cost is to prototype as minimally as possible. What are you testing? What’s the cheapest way to validate it? Maybe there is a way to build a Paper Prototype or to smokescreen your prototype? Do not splurge on additional features, functionality, or looks. You just need what is minimally viable.

Measure

Numbers never lie, but we tend to bend their truths from time to time. Set the success metrics for your prototype as early as you can. Do not budge on these numbers and be honest with yourself. If you set a goal of a 5% conversion rate, your test may be successful, but are you really reaching for where you need to go? Be wary of vanity metrics. Focus on the stuff that is going to matter.

For a great model of this, look to baseball and the rise of Sabermetrics. Some statistics are easy to calculate in baseball; like batting average or earned runs average. However, some people started to look at new statistics, ones that really highlighted the value of the player towards creating a winning team. Sabermetrics includes stats like runs created or wins above replacement. You need to find the mechanic or action that your prototype needs to accomplish now, and build a statistic tied directly to that, in its most simplistic form.

Learn

Charging up the wrong hill is ok, as long as when you realize it is the wrong hill, you don't keep charging up because that's what you've always done. Time to find the next hill.
Charging up the wrong hill is ok, as long as when you realize it is the wrong hill, you don’t keep charging up because that’s what you’ve always done. Time to find the next hill.

At this point you’ve tested your prototype, collected your success metric data, and your hypothesis has either succeeded (in which case, ignore me) or it has failed (read on, dear reader!). This is the exciting part. You’ve proven, with numbers, that you’ve charged up the wrong hill and it is time to face facts. Now you get to pivot! This might mean you need to spend more time understanding and building empathy for your customer. This might mean you need to evaluate the constraints of your test. Perhaps your solution has driven too far from the problem. There is a world of opportunity and learning at a pivot point… AS LONG AS YOU DONT KEEP CHARGING UP THE HILL!

But I mean, why would you? You kept your costs low by building a minimally functioning prototype, you set your success metrics early, and you failed/learned. This is a great moment! Celebrate as you get out your tactical map, cross the hill off with a red marker, and proclaim “Time to charge up that other hill!”

Challenge

Has there ever been a time when you charged up a hill even after you new it was the wrong hill?

How did the second half of that charge feel?

What are ways to minimize your sunk cost?

Failure, Going Forth, Innovation

Vanity Metrics & Bathrooms: It’s not the size of your mirror.

Numbers never lie. However numbers can be misleading, even when they don’t mean to be.

One thing that my good friend Joe Greaser has often said “If someone is bragging about their data, it is probably a bunch of vanity metrics.”

Eric Reis (Lean Startup) brought the term “vanity metric” to light. They are the metrics that sound really good, but in the end don’t amount to much. In contrast to vanity metrics are the actionable metrics. These metrics are tied to specific actions or tests and inform you on what to do with them. “My app has had 50,000 downloads.” Vanity metric. “I tested two versions of my app and customers purchased 40% more through the B version.” Actionable metric.

Another one of my good friends, Mike Jarrell, was going to a sporting event where they were promoting stadium upgrades. “87% more female restroom facilities and 20% more male facilities!” At first glance you say “Wow! They really understand that lines for the women’s restroom at sporting events can be painfully long.

But are we falling into the trap of vanity metrics?

Let’s take this to absurdity to prove a point. Assume that Innovation Stadium has 5 female restrooms and 20 male restrooms. Pretty unlikely and unreasonable, I know… but we’re imagining the absurd here. Stick with me. Now let’s agree that Innovation Stadium added 5 more female restrooms and 5 male restrooms. The grand totals are still unbalanced at 10 female restrooms and 25 male restrooms. And yet Innovation Stadium can claim “We’ve added 100% more female restroom facilities and 25% more male facilities.” Sound familiar? Not saying that’s what happened, but sometimes you pick the numbers you want to market.

What sounds better? 5 more female restrooms or 100% more?

Recently, TechCrunch posted about the math behind startup valuations. This is an amazing article, especially for a mathy like me. And I have no doubt that these calculations are reliable within certain parameters. I want to point out my one concern. The article says that without enough customers, a startup has to use estimations. Believe me, I get it. You have to estimate sometimes, especially in a new business. However, if any startup bragged about data calculated from estimates, then they too have been wooed by vanity metrics.

It reminds me about how quark-sized some baseball statistics have become. Almost to the point where a batter can walk to the plate while the announcer tells you his batting average in the month of August, with runners in scoring position, against pitchers with a weekend birthday this year, when they’ve gotten a call from their mom before the game.

Vanity metrics may look good, but they lure you into dangerous assumptions of success.
Vanity metrics may look good, but they lure you into dangerous assumptions of success.

In innovation, we don’t have the kind of time baseball has. They have a 162-game season to see their statistics play out. In innovation, you’re lucky if you have a couple weeks. Build, test, measure, learn… sprint, sprint, sprint. So how do we avoid vanity metrics?

  1. Establish what hypothesis you are testing, before you test.
  2. Identify what metric, or metrics, would absolutely validate your hypothesis.
  3. Now you can test your prototype.
  4. Collect, reflect, observe, and analyze.
  5. Be ok with failing forward.

By setting the hypothesis and success metrics before you test will prevent you from latching on to bright spots. Also, by being alright with failing (as long as you are failing forward) then you feel less pressure for each test to be successful or be validated. It is a tough practice, because you’d like your idea to be a winner, but this is all part of the process in finding the right solution. Remember, you’re refining an idea that will work, not just pushing your favorite to the finish line. So be modest, avoid the vanity metrics, and keep it all actionable.

UPDATE!!!

So here’s something pretty applicable. Early today, another good friend of mine, Adrienne Campbell, and I had a great conversation about this post. I am lucky to have many good friends who:

  1. are deep thinkers
  2. challenge me and make me think deeper

We were talking about vanity metrics and if there really was a good use for them. Maybe they don’t need to be avoided at all costs. Perhaps they could provide some value.

Take a look at this example.

A vanity metric for blogs would be the number of views. This is a great statistic if you are looking for overall exposure and reach. “Should we promote on Blog X? How many views do they get?” A great actionable metric would be “How many excellent conversations came out of a post?” (that’s one from today!) or “When I write about Subject A, how many views do I get compared to when I write about Subject B?” I get more views in WordPress when I write about writing. I get more retweets when I write about innovation processes. This is data I can act on.

Something Adrienne brought up was (and I’m paraphrasing) “Different metrics are appropriate depending on the purpose.”

  • Want to know if your prototype is working? You need to locate actionable metrics to test.
  • Want to promote your solution to an outsider? There may be some vanity metrics that get the conversation going.

It brings it all back to the stadium restroom example. They probably justified the construction based on actionable metrics such as length of wait and restrooms per person, but they promoted vanity metrics by promoting the percentage increase.

That means both can be a welcome tool in your innovative tool box. You just have to know when to use which one. ~GFandBA

Going Forth, Innovation, Innovation Mindsets, Sustaining versus Disruptive

Thinnovation

This past week, I was talking with the main man in charge at Mastermind Games, Mike Jarrell. He has recently released a trailer for the upcoming game, Affliction. In the midst of the conversation, Mike paused and shared his snack of choice that day. They were Oreo Thins. He commented that they had spent all those years double stuffing, and max stuffing, to come to this… half stuffing.

I don’t know if you’ve had Oreo Thins, but they are quite different. I expected just less filling, but the cookies themselves were slimmer and crisper. It actually lends itself to a different experience. Now before you wonder if I’ve gone off on a cookie-fueled foodie rant, let me ask you this question:

Are Oreo Thins an innovation?

When I stood in the cookie aisle looking for the Oreo Thins, I noticed that there were no less than 15 or so different varieties of Oreo. From different amounts of stuff to different flavors of stuff to different types of cookies. But can remixing and slight alterations to an established product really amount to innovation?

Yes… and no.

There are two types of innovation: sustaining and disruptive. Sustaining innovation is what Oreo is good at. It is slight manipulations to keep the product fresh, introduce new features or variants. Sustaining innovation goes after the existing market and strengthens their position in it. Oreo is using sustaining innovation because they are operating with a red ocean strategy. This is an ocean they are already in, competing with other snack food “sharks” in a feeding frenzy for consumer dollars.

However, there is another wide open ocean out there, a blue one where disruptive innovations could take them. Disruptive innovations take the existing flow a customer expects and breaks it in a new, exciting, and unexpected way. Oreo’s don’t seem to explore blue oceans very often, so let’s take a moment and pretend they did.

Alternate Futuristic Oreo Timeline

Remixing the same ingredients is ok for sustaining innovation, but what if you want to disrupt to cookie business?
Remixing the same ingredients is ok for sustaining innovation, but what if you want to disrupt to cookie business?

When I went to purchase the Oreo Thins for “product knowledge” I was instructed to bring home some Oreo Double Stuf as well, because that is the Official Cookie of our house. I can only imagine that across the globe, there are homes divided by their Oreo preferences. Imagine if Oreo planned to ease this tension with the Oreo Your Way. The Oreo Your Way is a pack of just the cookie wafers, all clean and crisp, and separately sealed tub of cream filling. Commercials would feature everyday people talking about how they Oreo. How much Stuf they use, the different configurations. Oreo then solidifies itself as a snack food that allows you to express yourself. The onslaught of selfies with unique Oreo combinations alone could topple servers from here to Walla Walla.

Then Oreo would take it even further. By starting with the Oreo Your Way, they’ve unlocked the whole hand-crafted, artisanal movement that has ensnared almost every other food group. This is when they unleash Oreo’s Manhattan Craftsman Biscuit. The design harkens back to Oreo’s humble beginnings in 1912. Each cookie is composed of top-quality ingredients, and assembled by cookie architects who sculpt the filling. They are artists themselves and sign each bag since each artist has their own style; a signature flair. This sleeve of cookies sells for nearly twice the traditional sleeve of Oreo’s.

And now Oreo has found two blue oceans. One where they let the customer take part in the personalized assembly of the cookie, and one that caters to the high-end and scarce, hand-crafted market. And while I enjoy a box of Oreo Thins that need some more “product research”, I will await your call Nabisco.

Challenge

  • Is your innovation a sustaining or a disruptive one?
  • How can your innovation use the red ocean strategy?
  • How can your innovation sue the blue ocean strategy?
Going Forth, Innovation, Motivation

Any Given Second…

Time wages war against us innovators with an endless army that surges forward, claiming the hours, the minutes, and the seconds we could be using to change the world. They get consumed by Time’s horrific horde, never to be seen again. Insomnia sometimes feels like a blessing because you can get up and work on your project undivided. At least it beats laying your head on your pillow, ruminating that every minute spent sleeping is another minute your prototype sits undelivered, undeveloped, and untested. But if you’ll allow me to remaster Al Pacino’s speech from Any Given Sunday, “The seconds we need, are everywhere around us.”

Innovation, reinvention, lifehacking… what ever your angle is on it, needs time. And unless you are part of the lucky few who get to professionally power think tanks with battery-like brains, you need to find time in the nooks and crannies of your schedule. It may be small, but time is there for the taking. Take a look at the newest illustration by Zen Pencils.

Is that not worth exploring? by James Rhodes, Illustrated by Zen Pencils

What I like best about what James Rhodes said was that the time was still spent on the required activities; work, family, sleep. Even after all that there were still six hours in the week that could be devoted to something personal. In the context of this illustration, it was learning the piano. In our context, it will moving your innovation forward.

“Lost time is never found again” Benjamin Franklin

Seconds melt away and in the hourglass of life, it doesn't get flipped over. You have to make each. grain. count.
Seconds melt away and in the hourglass of life, it doesn’t get flipped over. You have to make each. grain. count.

If you are a weekend warrior innovator or you scratch your creative itch at work with side projects, this post is talking directly to you. I myself have a creative role, and yet in my spare time I find creative pursuits that I don’t get to chase at work, like boardgame design. Whatever your dream is, whatever your product is, the longer it sits in your brain is the longer your dream goes unrealized. Who would have thought that the biggest obstacle to your goal, would be you? I want to encourage you, to get your idea to go forth.

Think of your idea on a treadmill in your head. There it is, churning away. “Wouldn’t it be cool if…?” Yes, yes that would be cool! So let’s get some traction going. Yet, your idea continues to churn on the treadmill. You see, if it keeps heading in the same direction it’s always gone, it will stay where it has always been… in your head. For your idea to move to new places, it has to step in a different direction. And you need time to move in those new directions. So grab the time when you can find it. Don’t miss an opportunity to be awesome.

We spend so much of our free time consuming the awesome that other’s have created. We binge on shows, we like our friend’s witty posts, we spend hours watching other people play video games on You Tube. And there is nothing wrong with that. They say to be a good writer, you must be a good reader so it would make sense that to be innovative, you must be involved in other people’s innovations. However, let’s look at what Stephen King said.

“If you want to be a writer, you must do two thins above all others: read a lot and write a lot.” Stephen King

It isn’t about just consuming, you have to create also. It is two parts: you must research and you must do. So take some of that free time and put it towards your innovation. Start paper prototyping your innovation. Plan out some testable hypotheses. Just talk to potential customers about their pain points. it is all about gaining traction, moving your idea ahead, going forth, and being awesome.

Challenge

  • Evaluate your daily activities
  • Identify some times where you can work on your innovation
  • Set a reminder on your phone/calendar/refrigerator
  • Stick to your appointment!
Failure, Going Forth, Lean, Learning

Making the Fear of Failure Disappear

While learning powerful, mathemagical incantations, I feared failure more than any dragon.
While learning powerful, mathemagical incantations, I feared failure more than any dragon.

When I was a young mathematics apprentice, learning at the feet of some true numerical wizards, I feared the scarlet letter F would be burned into my forehead like many before me. F for Failure. My grades were good, my test scores were solid, and I picked up topics quickly. Yet I clung to my homework, afraid to turn it in. I would make up excuses like “I forgot it” or “I misplaced it” but the truth was I feared failure.

Chances are, many of you were like me. It may not have been math, but there was some Zone of Fear that dampened your growth in some area. I was bold and not afraid in other areas of my life, but math had my number. (See what I did there?) What I should have done was apply what I learned from my dad on the football field, and applied it to math class. He taught me to “Try your best, you will be glad you did.

Somewhere in our brains, we don’t ever want to be proven wrong. We balk and drag our feet when new, daring opportunities arise. We would like things to be nice and manageable so that we can be successful. Dr. Carol Dweck wrote an amazing book on this called Mindset: The New Psychology of Success. She identifies this behavior as the Fixed Mindset. Failure means I’m not good enough, that I am dumb and out of my league. Dr. Dweck goes on to explain the Growth Mindset as one that feeds off the challenge, isn’t afraid of failure because that’s when the most learning and growth happens.

“The secret to being wrong isn’t to avoid being wrong! The secret is being willing to be wrong. The secret is realizing that wrong isn’t fatal.” – Seth Godin, Linchpin

The Growth Mindset philosophy blends nicely with strong trends in the startup culture. In startups, and really all innovation, we are supposed to develop quick, minimally viable prototypes to test. You put your innovative hypothesis out there and see if it fails. In fact, I’ve come to love the failures with prototypes more that the successes. Failures give you so much insight into what is and isn’t working, while successes only cast doubt that your idea isn’t innovative enough.

“This is one of the most important lessons of the scientific method: if you cannot fail, you cannot learn.” Eric Reis, The Lean Startup

Losing your fear of failure will feel awkward initially. That first time you tell yourself “Self, it’s ok that I failed because if I don’t know something, it is a chance to learn.” After a short while though, it starts to become second nature. You will start pushing your innovations further. You will beg and plead with the startup muses for a good failure. Not only will you gain valuable learning and find the proverbial “10,000 ways it doesn’t work”, you will also be able to feed those failures to your furnace.

“But I keep cruising. Can’t stop, won’t stop moving. It’s like I got this music, in my mind saying, ‘It’s gonna be alright.'” Taylor Swift, Shake It Off

I was able to overcome my fear of failure in math, and in my innovation work I embrace failure as an old, wise friend. So today is the day that you too start eating failure for breakfast. Shift your brain into a Growth Mindset high gear. Because even if you fail to lose your fear of failure today, you’ll learn a better way to try again tomorrow. Now go forth and be awesome!

Challenge

  • When was a time that fear of failure stopped you from going forth?
  • Last time you failed, what did you learn?
  • How can those lessons help you find a better way for the next iteration?