Will this idea work?



Some time ago I sat in a school committee meeting.  As usual they were wasting time talking too much.  For about half an hour they were discussing what to do about the graffiti on the wall.  I calculated that in that time we could have actually painted it over at least twice.   By doing we would have solved the problem we were thinking about.  It wasn’t about consensus, it was just that everybody was playing with “what if” scenarios instead of “just do it” solutions.

I have done the same in big business meetings though too.  All too often you come out of a meeting with an idea.  The problem is that the idea that seems better has no data to back it up.  There is no way to differentiate between ideas when they are just blah blah over coffee and stale biscuits at a Monday morning meeting.  That to me seems like a big waste.  If I have spent an hour getting excited about an idea, why leave it to die?

Business is essentially a series of experiments.  Every day you look for “solutions”.  Which means that essentially you are testing a hypothesis.  “Here is a situation we need to change.  Will this work?” is something I just started to help you with that.  How to test ideas quickly, cheaply and with little or no risk.  (Depends how you do it and what “it” is.)  I come out of that meeting and start the project.  That simple.

Anyone who has commissioned a panel knows how frustrating it is.  8 or 10 people carefully selected and coordinated by specialists end up giving you pretty bad data.  You have no idea how accurate or useful it is really.  And it is way too expensive.  Instead of talking about “social media”, I think of them as cheap experiments.  There are ready made tools and keen audiences wanting to partake in your tests.  At worse you get a lot of feedback, maybe some new ideas.  At best you have launched the idea in a spectacular way and proved it works.

It is pretty addictive.  Having done it thousands of times I have remnants of old ideas all over the place.  That product launch page which is still counting down to a launch that never happened.  That other site which just republished content but got us more than twenty thousand unique hits and saved the day with the search data it provided.  The other software idea which seemed fantastic but a month down the line seemed less fantastic as it would cost way too much.  Some of these ideas didn’t even wait until the meeting ended.  I have automated the procedure so much now, I can launch an idea website within five minutes of thinking of the idea.

It’s not always that simple.  So has just started from phase one, all rough and ugly right now as it is going slowly so I can explain some of the challenges at every step.  Try it out.  Just do it.



Business Communication

In defence of experiments

The recent uproar concerning experiments run by Facebook is really worrying.   Because without experiments, there is no business, there is no progress and we learn nothing.   Most of my working day is spent conducting experiments or setting up experiments.   Most of my business advice ends with “well, let’s try it!”  Facebook being accused now is ludicrous.  Google runs much more experiments on a much grander scale and nobody has ever complained about that, have they?

Anything we do on the internet is set up as an A/B experiment.  I, Facebook or Google do exactly the same thing: we send one user to one type of setup and the next to another.  Then we measure.  It is no different to what I did when I was in retail.  You set up a shelf one way, see how it sells, how people react.  You set up a different store differently.   Then you measure.

This attitude really is the only way to learn.  Whether you are Leonardo DaVinci or Bill Gates, this is your tool.  Experimentation.   And of course in business, until animals get their own credit cards, most experiments concern human behavior.    We want to sell more, change attitudes, change beliefs, influence you.   We play music at different volumes to change the speed you walk in the supermarket, we use different colors to change the way you eat in McDonalds, we use even smells to sell more in a travel office.   You do the same thing everyday in your job too.   Two year olds do the same things to test their parents limits.

Much of my best consulting has been in finding ways to conduct experiments despite limitations.   How to test demand for an eshop idea without actually building it for real?  How to find potential buyers for a service which hasn’t been completely defined yet?   How to run a competition for our product without risking the edgy concept backfiring on us?

So give Facebook some slack and stop pretending.   Look at your everyday life.  If you’re not experimenting all the time, you’re not learning.