When Segway was released in 2001, it was supposed to revolutionize public transportation. Instead, it became one of the most noted business failures of all time. Their assumptions had no foundation upon which to achieve their end goal.
- Would consumers really ditch their cars for a $5,000 weird looking scooter thingy or willing to pay $5,000, in addition to their car?
- Would local governments suddenly put in the infrastructure to make the segway a viable city transportation option?
- Where would you keep your segway at work?
Of course in hindsight, it’s easy to point out the reasons why something did not work but Segway’s seem very thin when laid out.
Compare this to Amazon.
Before releasing any new product, product managers at Amazon are required to write a press release detailing exactly how the item solves a problem and who would buy it. Ian McCalister, a general manager at Amazon, notes, “Iterating on a press release is a lot quicker and less expensive than iterating on the product itself."
Here’s an example outline for the press release:
- Heading — Name the product in a way the reader (i.e. your target customers) will understand.
- Sub-Heading — Describe who the market for the product is and what benefit they get. One sentence only underneath the title.
- Summary — Give a summary of the product and the benefit. Assume the reader will not read anything else so make this paragraph good.
- Problem — Describe the problem your product solves.
- Solution — Describe how your product elegantly solves the problem.
- Quote from You — A quote from a spokesperson in your company.
- How to Get Started — Describe how easy it is to get started.
- Customer Quote — Provide a quote from a hypothetical customer that describes how they experienced the benefit.
- Closing and Call to Action — Wrap it up and give pointers where the reader should go next.
While less formal, software management company Basecamp follows a similar practice. Before committing to a project cycle, Basecamp has “idea pitches” to see the impact it will have on their business. These pitches are happening on an ongoing basis where they try to poke holes in a potential idea to make sure it has no glaring weaknesses and if it can be fit into a six-week cycle, their preferred way of structuring work. The default response to when a new idea comes up is, “no, maybe later.”
As Steve Jobs said,
“People think focus means saying yes to the thing you’ve got to focus on. But that’s not what it means at all. It means saying no to the hundred other good ideas that there are. You have to pick carefully. I’m actually as proud of the things we haven’t done as the things I have done. Innovation is saying ‘no’ to 1,000 things.”
Your Personal Idea Lab
The above are all business examples, but what if you wanted to apply it personally?
- What project / goal / habit / career / decision am I trying to make?
- Why do I care about it and what do I hope to gain?
- How will I feel about it 10 minutes/months/years from now from now if I do or don’t do it?
- Make a decision based on what you are most excited about / will have the most impact long term.
- What are the potential pitfalls of you not taking action and what systems are required to overcome these obstacles?
Similar to how Amazon is creating press releases for their products or Basecamp is doing idea pitches, you are selling your ideas to yourself. Because you only have so much time, most will not make the cut.
Investor Warren Buffett is notorious for his 5/25 rule. Write down 25 things you want to accomplish, choose 5, and actively ignore the rest until you accomplish your top 5.
Also, another way to frame your priorities is by focusing on what won’t change, Jeff Bezos’ strategy behind Amazon:
“I very frequently get the question: "What's going to change in the next 10 years?" And that is a very interesting question; it's a very common one. I almost never get the question: "What's not going to change in the next 10 years?" And I submit to you that that second question is actually the more important of the two -- because you can build a business strategy around the things that are stable in time. ... [I]n our retail business, we know that customers want low prices, and I know that's going to be true 10 years from now. They want fast delivery; they want vast selection.”
Akin to how journaling can help you deal with pent up emotions, seeing your master plans on paper can help you evaluate its true potential and the roadblocks you will need to overcome along the way. You need to Waze your ideas from the start!
Now get to work!
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