Way before the Walt Disney Resort drew tourists to Florida like moths to a flame, they needed to buy some land. Had they waltzed over to the East Coast and declared Disney domain over central Florida, imagine what land costs would have been like. No, Walt had a plan to avoid paying “Hollywood upcharges”.
The land he wanted was soon being purchased by other companies. Little companies like Bay Lake Properties, Retlaw, The Ayefour Group, and M.T. Lott Real Estate were buying tracts of land for $80 an acre. The trick was that all these companies were Disney in disguise. Once the veil was lifted, Disney had managed to purchase more than 27,000 acres at roughly $200 per acre. Now before you start thinking Walt was out there fleecing the little land owner, understand that after people found out it was Disney buying the land, the price per acre ballooned up to $80,000.
That’s a 999% increase because they knew he could afford it.
“Ambition can creep as well as soar.” – Edmund Burke
This gets at the heart of taking little bets. Peter Sims wrote in his book, appropriately titled “Little Bets”, about comedian Chris Rock. Rock will test run jokes at a smaller venue, a laugh lab if you will, looking for the five or ten powerful lines to build an entire act around. Like Walt Disney, he’s looking for those little humor land grabs that can add up to a resort of hilarity.
We need to be doing the same thing while innovating. Ideation and business canvases can lead us to the next big things, but we can’t just build the theme park entrance out in the wild. There is some hypothesis testing and market fit analysis that should happen first. Take that big, disruptive idea and start testing those risky assumptions.
The best part is that each smallish prototype you test, only has to connect to the big, disruptive idea to you. Validating your hypotheses only has to look like another little land purchase by M.T. Lott. You’re going to be taking ground in small chunks, seemingly of little value to the market.
It is your big vision that makes the small grabs important.
“To multiply small successes is precisely to build one treasure after another. In time one becomes rich without realizing how it has come about.” – Frederick the Great
The best part of these small land grabs under little prototypes is that no one sees what you’re doing until its too late. It’s like building mini-games consisting of only one mechanic. This game you can only jump. This game you have to solve sliding puzzles. And so on until you use all your validated mini-game mechanics to build the big market disrupting game.
For more than 150 years, the National Weather Service has been providing weather updates IN ALL CAPS. Even as weather forecast technology made great leaps and bounds, the National Weather Service was content in sticking with all caps. It’s due to the old limitations of how they communicated their reports. However on May 11th, the National Weather Service will be speaking more softly.
The change is accredited to “changing social norms” around how we talk to each other. Tweets of all caps are taken people talking with VERY LOUD VOICES for a wide range of emotions. I wonder if there isn’t a missed opportunity here.
Two fantastic examples of owning a unique text style are ee cummings, an American poet, and FAKE GRIMLOCK, a giant, robotic dinosaur. ee cummings was famous for using non-traditional capitalization and punctuation as its own poetic device.
“To be nobody-but-yourself – in a world which is doing its best, night and day, to make you somebody else – means to fight the hardest battle which any human being can fight; and never stop fighting.” ee cummings
FAKE GRIMLOCK proudly makes large exclamations of awesomeness and getting stuff done. He does so with a very direct vocabulary and all caps.
“WHY TALK THIS WAY? BECAUSE AWESOME!” – FAKE GRIMLOCK
This is why I feel the National Weather Service is missing out on something. What if they incorporated ALL CAPS into their brand, instead of abandoning it to fit in with the crowd? They should make no apologies for their loud text. T-shirts would be emblazoned with #PARTYCLOUDY, expressing the irony of a wishy-washy weather system that bombastically declares itself. They could even say “YES. WE BROADCAST IN ALL CAPS. WEATHER IS SERIOUS BUSINESS. WE SHOULD ALL PAY ATTENTION TO THE CLIMATE.” But instead, they chose to fit in; get lost in the sea of status updates.
There is a Scottish proverb that says “You should be the king of your word” and it fits in this case as well. Take pride in the words you choose. They are a reflection of you. Don’t let your words blur the lines between you and the millions of others out there. Supercharge your words to stand out against the grain because that’s when you’ll have a #100%CHANCEOFTHUNDERSTORMS!
Today I did a few odd errands around the house. A typical Sunday afternoon. I finally went to hang the new tiles with our house number on them. For 30 minutes I bore into the front of my house. I switched screw types and drill bits. The sad truth was I had barely made a dent. The tiles lay on the front lawn mocking me.
I decided to do some research online and found just what I needed. And thus the standard pilgrimage to the local home improvement store rewarded me with some concrete screws. The tiles went up almost instantly.
I had chosen the correct power tool, my handy dandy drill with screwdriver bits, but I failed to be detailed in how to apply the tool. I was using the wrong screws and all that got me were unhung tiles and two shallow, but noticeable holes in the front of my house.
“We become what we behold. We shape our tools, and thereafter our tools shape us.” – Marshall McLuhn
This can be the bane of the innovator as well. Powerful tools within their grasp, but the details about the application and the context evade them. This has two potentially disastrous outcomes:
Problems remain out of reach, still unsolved.
2. You can cause new problems, like holes in your house.
It is important to invest time in identifying the details behind the tools you use. Even if your innovation toolbox is stocked with the best tools around, it’s the details and the context that can throw you off.
“Stop. Hammer time.” – MC Hammer
The following places have excellent tools for your innovation toolbox, and some supporting details to help you know when to use them.
Stratgeyzer by Alex Osterwalder, Yves Pigneur, Greg Bernarda, and Alan Smith- Value Proposition Design is always within grasp. I may keep a spare in my glovebox. From learning cards, to testing matrices, Strategyzer’s VPD is a solid foundation for any innovator.
Designing for Growth by Jeanne Liedtka and Tim Ogilvie – This fantastic book has tools and details around the full innovation timeline. From “What is?” to “What if?” to “What wows?” to “What works?” No matter what your question is, Designing for Growth has something for you.
Joe Greaser has a post over on his blog about some tools for detecting weak arguments.
Also, we’ve got stuff right here at Go Forth And Be Awesome!
New Lenses for finding new ways to look at the world around you.
Donkey Dice for rapidly going through lenses with a little bit of chaos.
Premortems help you prepare for failure before you test a prototype.
Avoid the frustration and embarrassment of drilling all afternoon with nothing to show for it. Even if you’ve got the right tool, pay attention to the little details too.
I remember watching Bob Ross paint his happy trees and powerful mountains and just being in awe of his calmness and lack of fear of “happy little accidents”. When I painted “accidents” usually involved large splotches of the wrong color paint. They didn’t qualify as “happy” or “little”. Bob Ross just made it seem so easy as he pulled palm tree branches out of a single line of black paint.
Recently I learned the picture he painted on television was not the first time he painted it. Bob regularly painted the scene once before, which was kept off-screen as a reference. Now honestly, the difference in the level of skill between Bob Ross and I was huge, but I was at another disadvantage.
I was comparing my first try to his second.
There is a ton of learning that happens between tries. Lines become smoother, decisions are easier, and you have better command of the paint on the brush. And this is something we do all the time. We compare our beginnings to the middles of others.
“Sucking at something is the first step to being sorta good at something.” – Jake the Dog
You’ve got to give yourself permission to fail, to not be good at something. At one point, all experts struggled with the basics. There was a time when Albert Einstein didn’t know his ABC’s. As Laozi said, “A journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step”, and often that first step is more of a stumble. And that’s ok. We’re chasing something new, something better. We don’t have to be perfect at it yet; we’re learning.
As we learn, we’re a bad judge of our own skill. It starts with the “I can paint that!” bravado of someone who’s never painted, an over-estimation of abilities that is part of the Dunning-Kruger Effect. Beyond that peak is a deep valley of doubting your own ability. This is where the Impostor Syndrome lives and it can shake you off the pursuit of learning something new. This is the where most of the beginning to middle comparison happens, and when it is the most damaging.
You have to remember that you are learning and maybe you haven’t mastered it yet. But the key word is “yet“. You determine your own finish line. You can even determine your own starting line. Instead of wishing that you had learned something earlier in life, get started! Now is better than tomorrow.
Just from the act of trying something new we have the ability to practice the beginner’s mind (Shoshin). Without years of practice or knowledge, our eyes are untainted with preconceptions or the “ways things have always been done”. If we let ourselves be openminded, we can see the forest AND the trees, instead of only one in lieu of the other. This is a time when we might find new ways hidden from the experts, when we might challenge even the most foundational tenets, when we might ask “Well why not?”.
Get out there. Start painting trees on your landscape. They may not be the best trees but you’ve got the power of “yet”. And always welcome happy little accidents on your journey to learning something new.
Curves are the enemy of fast moving trains. Just ask Denzel Washington and Chris Pine in Unstoppable. Nearly 30 years before the movie, The British Rail Research Team unveiled the APT. The APT was a train that tested out at an amazing top speed of 160mph, and could safely sprint 40% faster than any other train through curves. And it failed.
In 1981, the first public riders traveled aboard the APT and felt motion sick from the uncommon tilting that allowed the train to rip through the bends. Data, speed, and savings aside, the customers did not feel cool while leaning and the train quickly picked up a nickname. The Queasy Rider.
“If people are made to feel uncomfortable in the kitchen, they won’t go in there.”- Giada De Laurentiis
The APT was technically a marvel, doing something that the long, rigid rectangely trains never could before… lean into the curves like a well-trained sprinter. However it was the user experience that lacked the sparkle. It’s hard to argue how neat it is to go 40% faster when the rider is busy holding onto their lunch. The user experience is a major key.
Design thinking encourages us to find the real root problem for customers, and to evaluate what jobs they need a solution to do. Yet if your solution solves the problem at the expense of user experience, then it is doomed to fail. There is a famous quote by Leo McGinneva, while talking about how customers don’t go to the hardware store to buy quarter-inch drill bits. He said, ‘They don’t want quarter-inch bits. They want quarter-inch holes.” It’s easy to abstract this into a postulate:
Customers aren’t buying products, they are buying a version of their life with a problem solved.
People purchase products because they can make life easier, more enjoyable, more rewarding. This is why medicine comes in flavors now. Why choke down an unpalatable tonic when you can get the same benefits with bubblegum flavor?
It is easy for us to focus on the tangible features when developing a prototype. But it is crucial to bring user experience into the equation as early as you can, and for as many steps possible. There needs to be devoted thought to the future user and making them feel like they’re getting ahead of the game by using your product. Fast Company has a great article tackling the marketing angle of this. In it, Belle Beth Cooper (co-founder of Exist) says “A feature is what your product does; a benefit is what the customer can do with your product.”
“Empathy is about standing in someone else’s shoes, feeling with his or her heart, seeing with his or her eyes.” – Daniel Pink
APT eventually returned in 1984 after some work to shore up the uneasy feeling in the tilt. This time the reviews were much better, but not good enough to save the train. The negative user experience and nickname lingered, and all APT’s were removed from service by 1986.
Think about your project. Is it full of fantastic features but leaving the core customer queasy? Maybe it is time to lean into some user empathy and tilt your solution in a different direction.
After all, our customers shouldn’t just be able to go forth. They also need to be awesome!
I learned something that I already knew but never knew when I read the book, “Make the Big Time Where You Are“, by legendary football coach, Frosty Westering. He called attention to the often-overlooked, magical third side of any and all coins.
A coin is nothing more than a squashed cylinder. It has two circular faces we call heads and tails, but it also has some thickness that becomes the third side. THE EDGE! Coach Westering would use the analogy of the coin to explain how the edge is used to go from “doing your best” to “being the best”, but we’re going to borrow it for a slightly different purpose.
Imagine you and your brother are flipping a coin to see who gets the last dinner roll. Picking heads, you’ve predetermined that one side of the coin is success, while the other is embarrassing failure. As it floats in the sky, moving slowly through its parabolic arch, you salivate thinking about the melted butter on that last roll. And in this moment, the coin becomes kind of like Schrödinger’s cat’s coin, existing in a state of heads and tails at the same time. Both success and failure.
But let’s remove more variables here and not flip the coin in the air. You and your brother decide to stand the coin on its edge, and when it falls, whomever’s side is up, they get the roll.
The coin balances on its edge like an Olympic gymnast on the balance beam, and it sits. Here we are, like with the coin flying through the air, perched between success and failure, and it all rests on the edge.
There are all kinds of things you can do when the coin is resting on the edge to encourage it to fall your way. You could blow on it, tap the table, try to create some distinct movement in your favor. But why?
When the coin is on its edge, there is still a chance for victory.
Life, my friends, is a coin on the edge. You are constantly between success and failure everyday and the worst thing we can do is sit idly by and watch others take our dinner rolls.
Well not today buster.
This is just like the prototype that we want to test with our early adopters. Every prototype (no matter how ugly, how duct-taped together, or how functionality barren) has a chance of success. You’re setting your success metrics early and you know if you epically fail, at least you’re failing forward and learning. You let your prototypes live on the edge of the coin, why not you?
If you felt you had control over your success, wouldn’t you tap the table, scoot your chair, do anything you could to create enough movement to have the coin fall in your favor? Yes you would. So stop feeling like success or failure is written in the stars, or the deal of a deck of cards. Life is a coin on the edge, and you have to power to make it fall your way.
The 1984 Columbia Pictures classic, Karate Kid, obscures an awesome tidbit that I had not caught before this week. The movie glosses over quickly the fact that Mr. Miyagi had never taught anyone karate. Not until Daniel needed to learn that the secret to karate is in the heart and mind, not in the hands. This is the movie’s most memorable character arcs, as Daniel learns karate while sanding the deck, waxing the cars, and painting the fence.
Mr. Miyagi does not have years of proven methods to train Daniel with. No, he thinks outside the box to give Daniel hours of practice developing strength and muscle memory. That’s because Mr. Miyagi, whether he knew it or not, was employing shoshin (the beginner’s mind).
The beginner’s mind is something we need to embrace as well. No matter if we are trying to convince an innovation from the caves of our minds to bask in the light of day, or if we are just looking to go forth and be awesome.
Try taking on a new skill and expanding what you can do. Broaden your T-shaped self. By venturing into new territory, you activate your student mindset. You look at items with fresh eyes. You are unburdened with years of “this is how we’ve always done it”. Of course those first few steps in your chosen new skill are awkward and unstable. But you get to revel in the fact that this is part of the learning process!
“Dude, suckin’ at somethin’ is the first step towards bein’ sorta good at somethin’.” – Jake the Dog, Adventure Time
Thinking differently is at the root of innovation. It happens in multiple ways. The traditional way is when someone gets so upset with the status quo that their thoughts break the boundaries of the typical box. They start to think of how everything can be better. These are the heretics that go against the rules. (Heretic in this sense meaning someone who goes against what is generally accepted)
Another road to innovation is when the tide of shoshin rises. Seeing things as a beginner means you don’t shy away from the boundaries. In fact you push on them to see if they give. This often leads beginners to solutions experts can’t see. Experts are weighed down by proven paths to success. To a beginner, all paths are viable from where they stand… so why not try a few?
So engage your shoshin, be a beginner at something. Then start applying that new viewpoint to your innovation. Who knows what solutions you’ll uncover?
What skill would help your innovation move forward?
What can you do to start learning that skill?
Early in your learning, look at your solution again. Are there new hypotheses to validate?
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.
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
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.
Evaluate your daily activities
Identify some times where you can work on your innovation
Set a reminder on your phone/calendar/refrigerator
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!
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?
I think we can all agree that Disney Pixar’s newest film, Inside Out, doesn’t merely tug at your heartstrings. Rather it grabs hold with a death grip and shakes them with a vigor that would make the Grinch weep, even prior to his heart enlargement. If you’ve not seen it yet, prepare your “It’s dusty in here” and “I got something in my eye” crying cover stories and go.
As you shed tears for Bing Bong (and you will) think of one simple fact… At one point, this story sucked.
One key takeaway here is that we, as innovators, must start our creative idea somewhere, tell the story, and figure out how to get it “from suck to not-suck”. In fact, the faster we do this, the better. We don’t want to spend needless hours putting all kinds of sheen, gloss, and functionality into that first prototype because we will likely fail and need to pivot. That is why we need to prototype on paper.
I’ve prototyped a few games just as a means to get an idea down, get it moderately functional, and to give the game idea some quick playtesting. I do not want to spend time or money in making beautiful, final quality game pieces because there are still many aspects that will need developing, balancing, or discarding. In order to prototype quickly, I keep a large stack of 3 by 5 notecards nearby (along with shiny glass beads, sparkly sticker books, and a plethora of dice). These become my makeshift game pieces. The best part is, they aren’t limited to prototyping games. A notecard could represent an app’s splash screen, an email template, or whatever you are innovating. There is always a way.
One quick note: Paper prototyping is a method, a way of making your ideas tangible in a quick, low-cost manner so that your innovative hypothesis can be validated. It does not HAVE to be paper, but whatever material you use should have the same inexpensive and recyclable nature.
Let’s take a look at some reasons why you should prototype of paper early, and often.
YOU CAN PROTOTYPE CHEAP
Notecards can be bought for several on the dollar. This definitely beats the time and effort that would go into developing a digital or physical first version of your innovation. Imagine spending resources to have a first iteration of your innovation built, only to put it in front of some customers and find out that your solution needs some big time overhauling. Instead, if you had paper prototyped that primary version, you might be out a couple dollars. That’s a pretty decent Return on Investment for all the learning you can do with a first prototype.
YOU CAN PROTOTYPE FAST
There you are, sitting with a target customer, showing them your idea. You watch them interact with your prototype and you notice a huge flaw that needs to be addressed. If you’ve built a more elaborate prototype, this pivot can be costly and put a huge delay in your deliverable timelines. All those items in your kanban or development pipeline now have to sit and wait for this first one to be addressed. If you prototyped on paper (and remembered to bring notecards and pencils to your focus group) you can mock up the new screen or feature within seconds! Remember that you are just telling your innovation’s story so these don’t have to be marketable graphics. They just need to be enough for the customer to see how it works and for you to watch them “interact”. Plus this reduces your iteration time to something very minimal.
YOU CAN BE DARING
When you aren’t worried about cost of developing a prototype, and you aren’t worried about the time it takes to pivot and persevere into iteration two and beyond, then you can be as adventurous with your prototype as you want to be. You aren’t risking a ton of resources so put those ugly ideas out there! Be disruptive, do things the way no one in your industry does them. If your “out-there” idea crashes and burns, all you are out is a handful of notecards.
YOU CAN PUT THE FLOW IN THE CUSTOMER’S HANDS SOONER
The best time to learn about your solution’s fit with your customers is when they are holding it in their hands. When your prototype only lives internally, it will always appear perfect. You need to kick it out of the nest and see if your idea can fly on its own. The faster you can do this, the less time you spend on bad ideas. Even if you don’t have it all figured out yet, get your core mechanics on paper and start asking your customers to look at it. It opens up new idea avenues for you to explore and it helps paint a better picture of what jobs the customer needs your innovation to do. We can all work on understanding our customer better, because they are always changing. Opportunities to learn and grow are valuable, especially when your innovation is in the very formative stages of its lifespan.
Later, we’ll go into some methods on “how” to prototype with paper… but for now, grab your notecards and start iterating!
For this challenge, you will need 10 notecards.
Take 6 notecards and prototype the flow your customer will experience with your prototype.
Show it to someone and have them “pretend” its the real deal.
Iterate right then and there on any pain points they experience. Use your remaining 4 notecards for any additional or replacement steps in the flow.
Identify places you need to pivot and persevere and use more notecards to craft the next version!
What materials do you use to prototype with? I’d love to see what is in your bag of tricks down in the comment section.