Monthly Archives: December 2014

Discovering > Predicting

Many of us are convinced that the crucial early accomplishment in the creatively entrepreneurial process of building something new is producing the Plan.

That is the first step in corporations and has been their model for a long time. Rushing to complete the Plan is a practice most other institutions—schools, non-profits, governments—and many individuals have taken up.

It seems a necessary practice in corporations, this immediate production of the Plan. Because they have many creative initiatives and projects underway, of course each needs a Budget; fiscal responsibility demands it. And to establish a Budget, each project needs a Plan of what is to be built and the resources needed to build it.

That means that when the team is most ignorant about what they could be doing to develop the opportunity—an ignorance that always exists at the start—they have to Predict what they are going to build so they can produce a Plan to arrive at the Budget, so they can get started.

And since all of the environments and communities and markets where opportunities are found are highly complex—made up of systems and networks of inter-related entities that are continually adapting to each other, always changing, always becoming—then the dynamics of an opportunity are constantly changing while the Prediction and the Plan provides us with a static view, as well as an un-informed view.

It’s true that increasingly the most innovative corporations are challenging the tightest strictures of the Predictive model, and so this presentation of the role of the Plan in corporate innovation is perhaps a bit overstated. But it serves as a useful contrast to how experienced and successful entrepreneurs and creative professionals set out Discovering what they will create, rather than making a Prediction. When skilled entrepreneurs want to develop the most useful understanding of a new opportunity, they practice the Japanese proverb: Don’t study it, get used to it.

A Bias for Action and its corollary, Ready Fire Aim, serve as the backbone of effective Discovery, and to help students make their own way I offer proven Bias for Action strategies.

Ready Fire Aim is the best start.

The conventional Ready Aim Fire makes the Plan the priority. But Ready Fire Aim says just get started, pay attention to what is happening as you act, then take your next step in accordance with the new wisdom you’ve just gained.

Ready Fire Aim appreciates that a body in motion tends to stay in motion and that building something of value is a momentum play.

So don’t study, take action. You have an interest, or an inclination, or a gut feeling, about an opportunity, so just act on it. And then keep it up.

There are useful reasons to consider these first steps as Wondering While Wandering. It reminds us of the importance of looking at what others have looked at and seeing what no one else has seen. The open-ended and circuitous searching that comes of wandering, and continually asking new questions from our wondering, assist in that purpose by increasing the chances we come upon the opportunity from a new angle.

Another useful aspect of seeing your first steps as Wondering While Wandering is the playfulness it invites. A playful perspective can be a very creative one, perhaps a unique one.

Find Friends Fast should be the reasons for some of the first action steps you take. Be on the lookout for others with similar or complimentary interests, or with interesting vantage points. Announcing that you’ve begun your Discovery will often result in new friends finding you. And when you practice a little servant leadership with these first friends, when you are genuinely interested in helping them and their Discovery, you are growing strong ties and a generative network of potential strategic allies.

Fail Fast, Fail Often, Fail Cheap
, it’s everyone’s mantra these days, because there is so much wisdom to it. It means that we can just get started, because we have given ourselves permission to take false steps along the way, and because we know we get smarter when we do.

Look for the Ball on the 10 yard line.
Without the structure of a Plan, we can be opportunistic and create advantage from that early easy victory you stumble across that helps you gain momentum.

Don’t ignore Planning. At some point you will Discover the most promising iteration of the opportunity and determine it is time to develop and build it, calling for the Plan to get the resources and to monitor your progress. Just make sure your Planning serves your entrepreneurial action and be careful of the Plan that restricts it.

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Answering Engineers Questions, Pt 2

Another popular set of questions coming out of my time with Dr. Barnes’ class of Masters of Engineering students at Pratt asked about how entrepreneurs use market research. It’s a topic I have thought a fair amount about–one of my ventures, FGI, was an innovative marketing services company with a market research division.

There are of course two types of market research, Quantitative Research, and Qualitative Research.

Quantitative Research, when properly done–a large enough sample size of qualified participants–can result in a statistically reliable finding. Back in the FGI pre-Internet days a survey would be carefully crafted by a trained professional, representatives of the audience or market were identified, and the survey would be administered, usually over the phone. These days it’s less likely a skilled pro is creating the survey, and much more likely it is being administered on-line.

Qualitative Research, when properly done–again, the key is qualified participants–won’t result in a finding that is statistically reliable. Focus groups were a common qualitative research tool then as now, and the strategy was to carefully introduce the idea or proposition being considered, and listen to how participants talk about it, what excites them, what confuses them.

My view, as both a user of research and a seller of it, was that the more innovative the idea being tested the less useful Quantitative Research will be. The classic example of this occurred when Xerox was developing its first copier. It conducted Quantitative Research with likely customers who were asked to imagine a new piece of technology that could easily produce dozens and dozens of copies of a single document. The research revealed that they saw no need for it.

You see, before the Xerox machine it was the typewriter and it’s limited capabilities that shaped the document management strategies for most offices. A typewriter can easily provide three copies of the document–the original being typed, and the two copies made from the sheets of carbon paper placed behind the original and before two blank sheets of paper (the stroke of a manual typewriter had just enough force to create two more copies).

So, the participants in the research responded by wondering why anyone would ever need more than three copies, since three copies were all they could imagine and had long been enough.

When developing an idea that is innovative, where the audience isn’t familiar with the new benefit being offered, I have found Qualitative Research by far the most useful. Working with Xerox, for instance, I could have explained in a focus group setting how the new technology will work, I could prompt them to get them thinking about all their various document needs and all their constituents’ needs, and then I could carefully lead them to a thoughtful consideration of a series of ‘what if’s’ that allows them to begin to imagine what this technology can do for them. I am not looking for an outcome that 7 out of 10 dig the idea; instead I am listening for the words they use to describe its value, to describe their confusion, that points to their interest, and I hope to come away with a much more useful understanding of how I should develop the product.

Another way of stating this comes from an old Japanese proverb–It you want to learn about something don’t study it, get used to it. Qualitative research helps me get used to it, to develop a feel for it, based on the participants reactions and language.

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Answering Engineers Questions, pt 1

I had a great time a couple of weeks ago in Dr. Bob Barnes’ classroom of Masters engineering students, at Pratt School of Engineering, at Duke. It’s a Project Management class; Bob is a great teacher and coach, and I was eager to say yes when he invited me to spend an hour and a half with his students discussing The Generative Way.

When I got to the classroom I found that the students had been urged to visit my work ahead of time and prepare questions for me. I had a chance to review them, and skewed my talk to address some of their common interests–The Generative Way is very flexible, easily adapted.

And then I promised I would take their questions with me and answer more of those most frequently asked.

Why do you think servant leadership is an effective leadership style?

1. Because the most effective authority that a leader can have is the authority others grant the leader. And when the leader demonstrates that authority granted is used to serve, authority is granted again and again.

2. The best people are eager to work for someone who is eager to help them do their best work.

3. When a concept is both altruistic in nature–being a servant first when being a leader make me feel very good about how I am showing up in the world–and highly effective–people will accomplish their best when they are not just appreciated, but appreciating–then I want to be very good at practicing it.

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