Being Awesome, Going Forth, Innovation, Motivation

Feed the Furnace

On a foggy night, he started his run 95 minutes behind schedule. He was determined to never arrive late vowing to “get there at the advertised time”. Illinois Central’s engineer had the tough task of making up over an hour and a half between Memphis and Canton. The engineer’s name was Jonathan Jones, but he went by Casey.

Casey Jones feeding his furnace.
Casey Jones feeding his furnace.

Casey Jones’s heroic tales were reimagined in the 1950 Walt Disney Studios animated short, The Brave Engineer. In the cartoon, Casey Jones at one point jumps onto the front of the train to save a woman from the tracks. This was based on a true story where real-life Casey rescued a child in the same manner. Perched precariously on the cow catcher, his outstretched arms would scoop up the child who was frozen in fear on the tracks. Another exploit of animated Casey shows him ripping every part of his train down, from the cab to the caboose, and throwing it into the furnace of the locomotive… all in an effort to arrive on time.

We all have our own furnace inside of us. It powers our drive and brings our motivation to a boil. We do not have the convenience of a coal car that carries our fuel with us and Casey Jones had to tear down his own baggage car to get more out of his furnace. What can we do?

At the center of the furnace is a fire and fires in their own right are pretty great. You can build a camp fire and it will bring you warmth and light. If your fire is strong enough, others can gather around your fire. Go check out FAKEGRIMLOCK’s post about being on fire at FeldThoughts. The article is old by internet standards, but so is fire.

It boils down to this. You take the successes that you have and you take the failures that you have, and you use them as fuel. They help your fire burn stronger and brighter. But a fire on its own can burn low or the spark can go out. That’s why you can’t just feed it successes. Your fire has to burn off of the failures too. Especially in innovation where you will fail many more times than you will succeed.

Use failures as learning and fuel.

I don’t want my fire to just be sending energy out into the dark night. I want to use those Joules (unit of measurement for energy.. thanks Physics!) to make myself, my prototype, my blog, my quilting club better.

A furnace puts your fire to work.

Envision a furnace door mounted on your stomach. When you pull the door open, your internal fire can be seen. This is where you are going to toss in the successes and failures of your work. As a side note, I’m not saying to ball up your failures deep inside so that no one can see them. Hardly. I’m saying let those failures burn in your internal fire so that you have more Joules and you burn brighter. Then every one can say “Wow! You sure are glowing today!” to which you can reply “THAT’S BECAUSE I AM EMPOWERED BY THE EMBERS OF MY OWN FAILURE AND SUCCESS!” Or, you know, something to that nature.

Feed your furnace

When you feed your furnace, as Casey Jones did, you pick up steam and momentum. When your furnace is heated, your purpose starts to percolate. Purpose is one of the key components to motivation and when its is vaporizing because of the heat of your furnace, everything you do becomes more powerful. Sure you may need to pivot and persevere, here and there, as you fail and succeed with your innovations. However, neither one will be able to slow you down. You are an iron horse pulling 85 tons of ideas down the track of tomorrow. You’ve got a full head of steam and nearby towns can hear your whistle coming.

Just keep feeding the furnace.


Identify some places that you may have failed or succeeded.

How can you leverage them as fuel and keep moving forward?

Going Forth, Innovation, Persona, Pre-Mortem, Testing

I’m not dead yet!

I enjoy a good scary movie from time to time and zombies are everywhere. Zombies cause a load of difficult situations for folks. Imagine that you’ve just pronounced Steve* deceased, when all of a sudden, Steve sits upright and starts expressing his sudden love of brains. “My bad everyone” you might say sheepishly “I could’ve sworn he was a goner.” Then everyone rolls their eyes at you and it just gets super awkward. If only you had done a little more checking before, you might have a plan for when your “deceased” diagnosis failed.

Whether it is zombies or innovation prototyping, you need to do a pre-mortem.

The whole point of building prototypes and testing them with customers, is to see if you solution succeeds or fails. Yet we often wait to get our “failure folder” before we start thinking of why it went wrong and where the pivot opportunities are. There is no need to wait to make decisions when you conduct a pre-mortem.

Pre-mortems can help you plan if your prototype fails and comes after your brains.
Pre-mortems can help you plan if your prototype fails and comes after your brains.

Pre-mortems occur after your prototype is ready for testing, but before you do any actual testing. They allow you to take a glance at your work from a different angle. To this point, you’ve spent your brain power finding ways to get the prototype to work, how to demonstrate your hypothesis, and how to collect the data points you know are important. A pre-mortem let’s you stop those thoughts, and think “How can this prototype fail during the test and what am I going to do after it does?”

Pre-mortems focus your thoughts of failure to a single test of your prototype, not your end product. By keeping the scope of your vision on just one test, it is way less scary to envision the many ways it can fail.

A simple pre-mortem can be done by yourself as long as your prototype is in its testable state. However, it is very beneficial to have other people look at your prototype during the pre-mortem. These people are not your testers and they may not even be your target customer. Your pre-mortem pals are chosen because they have candor (which means that if it stinks, they’ll tell you… to your face… with no hesitation.) This group isn’t hyper-critical necessarily. They want to see you succeed, so they won’t inflate your hope with false niceties to avoid hurting your feelings.

If a person will tell you that your shirt is ugly, sign them up for your pre-mortem crew.

Executing a pre-mortem can be an informal process, however it is possible to ruin the validity of the pre-mortem. Be cautious to not “lead your witness” by building a worldview where your prototype is the only solution. You are best off not even telling them what your solution is or how it works. It is natural for us to go into pitch mode when we have someone looking at our prototype, but you wont be at the point of sale for your product every time. They will have to use your product by themselves, and “get it”.

Pre-mortems allow you to test your prototype, without any guiding, to see if it stands up on its own. A pre-mortem is like the first few shaky steps of a gangly giraffe; it looks like it will topple at any moment and you want to run over and prop it up, but you shouldn’t interfere if you want it to be running across the savannah someday.

To avoid the “let me just show you how this amazing product works” scenario, I’ve crafted a guide for you. This guide can be used whether you are “pre-morteming” by yourself, or with your group (the ones who are ok saying they don’t like your haircut).


  1. Refer to your customer profile so that you or your group can get in the customer’s mindset. Make sure to explain the pain points you identified for the primary persona.
  2. Let your pre-mortem pals interact with your prototype while you sit silently.
  3. Observe and document how they interact.
    • If you are doing this step virtually, have them write down or say everything that comes to mind including “Ok now I am clicking this button because it looks like it needs to be clicked… and now I am going to do this other thing”.
  4. Pretend to be in the future and your prototype has just failed in its most recent test.
  5. Have everyone participating in the pre-mortem write down how your prototype failed. Aim for lists with multiple failure options.
  6. Share and evaluate the responses. If you are doing this in a group, one person may see the prototype failing one way, and that may spark discussion on other ways no one had thought of.
    • I will warn you that this is a tough conversation to be a part of. However, you must encourage the dialogue. “This is great! Tell me more about how my prototype will fall on it’s face during the test!”
  7. Take your list of possible failures and start thinking of ways you can pivot.
    • Take no action now, unless a failure is eminent and will ruin the test. If that’s the case, you have to fix that! Otherwise, the list of failures is not guaranteed. Keep in mind that your pre-mortem pals may not be representative of your testing group.

If you are pre-morteming by yourself, you can skip steps 2 and 3. You should probably also skip any of the open discussion parts unless you want to talk to yourself out loud. And that’s totally fine if you do.

I enjoy pre-mortems. They teach you in so many ways. They serve as mini tests before your real test. They open up your eyes so that you can see your prototype from the customer’s point of view. They help you identify ways your prototype will stumble during the test. They let you plan pivots ahead of time, that you can act on later if your prototype does actually fail. I don’t dread testing prototypes because I know if it fails, I have a plan or two ready to go.

I challenge you to be vulnerable and find some folks who will look at your prototype with a critical eye. Plan for failure now instead of later.

*You may or may not know a Steve but I assure you that the names have been made up and any likeness to someone you know is purely coincidental.

Being Awesome, Going Forth

Baby Godzillas

“Daikaiju” is a Japanese word that means “giant monster”. Daikaiju smash many cities, battle for Earth supremacy, and duel with giant robots from time to time. Daikaiju are forces of nature that are almost beyond control.

Sometimes innovative products get built like daikaiju. They achieve a grand scale before getting in the hands of the user. Yet innovation requires a delicate balance. You need to push towards disruption and you need to be able to get a functioning version into the wild.

Innovation’s delicate balance happens in a minefield of paradoxes. Think big, but test small. Build robust, but prototype fast. It is sometimes difficult to find a sweet spot because you could always be creating bigger / smaller.

No matter what medium you innovate in (technology, material goods, or pizza), it is too easy to push to the extremes.

  • Push your prototypes too far towards a final product and you risk missing some customer pain points.
  • Push your prototypes too small and your customer isn’t able to provide you any useful feedback.

And that is where baby Godzillas come in.

Yes, baby Godzillas. Not grown, adult Godzillas setting giant space slugs aflame in the middle of the Pacific. Definitely not just babies, with their drool and pudgy legs that look sturdy but are not strong enough to hold their own weight.

Baby + Godzilla = Sustaining + Disruptive


Let me explain.

You may want your product to grow up and be the biggest and the best giant lizard there ever was. Yet you can’t wait for it grow up before you unleash it. It wont know how to swat down fighter planes from the fishing line that keep them in the air. You have to unleash it early and make innovative steps towards the grown Godzilla.

A big Godzilla is what your product can be. The big vision with the fully realized business model. A big Godzilla is your product emerging from the waves and striking fear into the Late Majority and the Laggards alike. It is a well-oiled product decked out in features (refined and sophisticated) with a mind set on success.

A baby Godzilla hasn’t completely developed all the features you intend it to. In fact, it may have more bugs than features, more questions than answers, more stinky diapers than flame breath. Yet a baby Godzilla toddling down the street is nothing to be laughed at either. It still causes a distinct reaction from those who encounter it. A baby Godzilla still functions, although in a potentially limited sense.

To some, a baby Godzilla is the best innovation they’ve ever seen.

The market is a delicate ecosystem. It takes prototyping, testing, pivoting, and persevering to get your product ready for success. If you develop a big Godzilla first, there are far too many unknowns and he could trip up before he ever sets foot in the city. Unleashing a baby Godzilla allows you to put something out there, see how everyone reacts, and then look at the potential to grow. Even though it will still have those awkward pre-teen years.

Baby Godzillas are:

  • Big enough to get the idea across (“I mean look at it, its clearly a Godzilla.”)
  • Big enough to have some functioning features (“He doesn’t have laser blast yet, but did you see him stomp that car?”)
  • Small enough to be sustainable for now (“We wouldn’t  have any room in the city for a much larger giant lizard.”)
  • Still innovative (“Yes I know it is just a baby Godzilla, but do you have one? No, didn’t think so.”)

Take a big, innovative idea and write down what the baby Godzilla version looks like: 

  • What features does it have?
  • How does it stand above and apart from the competition?
  • How it is minimally functional?
  • Doodle the baby Godzilla!