Innovation: Getting things done

I’ve been digging deeper into the Lean Startup method and associated practices, including Lean Product Lifecycle and the Mission Model Canvas (an adaptation of the Business Model Canvas), over the last couple of weeks. This had all started with the question can you teach innovation?

There is plenty of material already available that can help you understand the Lean Startup approach and so I won’t repeat it here. One of the core concepts is the build, measure, learn cycle. It’s important to note that you can only effectively use this cycle when you start by defining what you need to learn, which is best done by thinking about the riskiest assumptions that you’re making.

The danger with any model is that you can read a book, hear a talk, see someone apply it and think all you need to do is replicate for success. That is rarely true and my view is that models are all wrong, they just help you be less wrong. It is the conversation that takes place around the model that is often much more valuable than the model itself.

To use a model like build — measure — learn you need to have some understanding of its purpose. This is where you shift from knowing something to being able to apply that learning in new situations.

As I continued to think and explore these aspects of innovation, I stumbled upon the site Four Minute Books. I’d been told about, but not used, Blinkist and then became aware of getAbstract. The purist in me had frowned upon such services, believing that you needed to read a book in full to understand the points the author was making. In a similar way that music artists argue that you should listen to their album, in full and in the original order, not picking out specific tracks.

Time to take the growth mindset option and not let the old way of doing things become a barrier to trying something different. It is as if Four Minute Books knew that this was something they could help with since they have the option to jump to a random summary. A small setting change in the browser and you can get this page to open up something new at launch. Wikipedia has a similar function to give you a random article.

Two of the first summaries that came up were Flourish and Superfreakonomics. The key lesson around accomplishment in Flourish stood out — four things which support accomplishment:

  • Speed of thinking
  • Ability to plan and revise what has been done
  • Fast learning rate
  • The effort you put into the tasks you handle

Alongside these four attributes were the three key points from Freakonomics:

  • Incentives rarely work out as planning
  • Simple solutions to tricky problems can be found by zooming out
  • Collect as much data as you can, you can never have too much

(Though worth noting on the collection of data that GDPR and other legislation guards against speculatively collecting data without reason.)

It is in these two summaries that we understand the build — measure — learn model. The focus of the The Lean Startup approach is around moving quickly to better understand a situation before you have spent vast sums of money. The method builds out to ensure you put the effort into the right tasks that will validate (or disprove) your hypothesis and to get to a point of greater certainty of the demand of the product as quickly as possible. You aim to build the minimum thing needed to learn the most possible — it isn’t to deliver a solution to the market with the fewest number of features to sell it.

In building your tests thought you need not only to plan to pivot and make that possible but also to make sure you are collecting the right type and right volume of data to inform that decision making.

The last comment is that as great as the method is, the wrong application of it can do more harm than good. Sometimes you can find a better solution to the problem by taking a step back and thinking about what it is you want to achieve rather than just following the processes in all situations because we have shown it to work in some situations.

Fighter pilots can only break the rules because they know them inside out and they know how far beyond the ‘normal’ range they can go. If we will adopt models developed by others, we need to achieve fighter pilot status before we apply them to situations beyond their intended use.

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An experienced senior digital business leader with experience of delivering transformative change.

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