Prototyping Your Idea

There’s a saying that the enemy of the good is perfect. The longer I am in business, the more sensitive and skeptical I get of perfectionism. When I hear fixation on some endless detail that is not necessarily going to prove an idea, the less I want to invest in the venture or the person.

Ultimately, when perfectionism that results in diminishing returns becomes the focal point, the more a deal can go sideways.

When there is ambiguity and uncertainty, the goal is to find proof that your idea is valid. Designing a solid prototype that tells you whether you should refine, scale and go forward with your idea is the best strategy to hedge the risk of failure.

A little planning can go a long way. But, here’s a sequence you can use. Go small and get more information so you can go bigger as you overcome the uncertainty.

  1. What is the concept you are trying to sell? See if you can pitch the idea to ten people and see what the reaction is.
  2. Pre-sell the concept and see if you can make a few people happy with a prototype of the idea in in your product or service.
  3. Develop the use case around your delivered prototype.

The goal is to take marginal risk and get massive insight and information from each step. Then invest more as you see how people like or dislike what you are seeking to deliver.

This is true for customer service, business processes and delivered products.

How can I deliver a prototype?

Designing this first phase and watching closely on the adoption of your idea will tell you the next step. You can gain comfort in investing further or killing your idea altogether.

Troy Carter of Lady Gaga and Atom Factory Kept Learning and Unlearning

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I like spending the weekends thinking, learning and relaxing. The weeks are such a grind and intensive with deal making and doing business. Today, I was having some reflections on the NPR podcast, How I Build This: Lady Gaga & Atom Factory: Troy Carter. I embedded it above and you can find the transcript here.

Troy Carter managed hip-hop and pop superstars as well as built a venture fund. He is remarkably honest, humble and sober. I respect him as a businessman and how he kept integrating what he learned and unlearned. He kept parlaying his skills and exploring avenues to create opportunities from hip-hop to pop music to social media to investing in startups. Even with his heartaches and successes, as many an entrepreneur goes through, he self-actualized, as he shared,

And just to be honest with you, the thing was I just said I want to wake up every day and do cool [expletive]. That was the mantra for me personally.

I can relate. We have to keep true to our inner compass and find fresh, relevant ways that we fit, apply our value and create opportunities in this fast-changing world.

In sharing this podcast, my friend Joseph over at InDev Capital and I were having some takes on Troy Carter’s podcast. I like what he said based on his work with emerging market real estate and the inherent skill and push it takes in his business,

Most everyone goes through “The Dip” and that is where the learnings are.

Well stated, for sure. Entrepreneurs understand this too well. They do pay the price for everyone else. Those learnings become cash flow, empires and job creation.

If you get a chance, listen to the podcast while driving or hanging out. Share some of your insights in the comments below. I would enjoy hearing your take. Enjoy and keep growing.

Schedule Working Meetings

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I am a big fan of working meetings. They cut through the back and forth of getting something done. It actually creates time and space to get real work done in real-time with another person or group.

Too often, we talk about the secondary stuff:

What we are going to do.

When we are going to do something.

Who should be a part of the work.

What resources are required.

In actuality, you can save a lot of time and get things moving by simply working.

So, when I see a thread going back and forth too often, my need for closure kicks in. Open loops drive me nuts after a while.

It’s inefficient to hide behind the chatter. Instead, lead. Make working meetings a part of your execution process. It’s energizing to bring together short, focused meetings to accomplish one thing. Here’s a simple way:

  1. Stop. Move an email and conversation that is going back and forth to a meeting instead. “I’m going to get us together to get this done.”
  2. Schedule. I have an article sharing best practices on putting a meeting together using your Google or Outlook calendar.
  3. Work. Open the call, online meeting or in-face time with one goal and let everyone know. “We are here to get this proposal created and emailed.”

In the meeting, simply facilitate and work. Ultimately, this is a process of leadership. You have to lead. Get the decision. Send out what you promised. Write up the new standard operating procedure.

When you find yourself procrastinating, perhaps the task feels undefined and overwhelming. A working meeting can increase the energy and motivation with other people to get clear and move bottlenecks through your pipeline of tasks.

That ability to move from talking to action is critical in an overly competitive and inattentive world. Cut through it with the determination to work with your team and customers. It’s efficient and fits the times.

The Discipline and Joy of Blogging from Seth Godin

It is truly refreshing to listen to candor in a world full of hype and noise. The connected world today feels like high school. We are inundated by popularity and hype continually because of the internet. And we have the sage advice of someone who has been persistent, humble and substantive on why it is important to blog and read blogs in Seth Godin.

I think it’s worth a listen on his podcast on the topic:

 

blogs, platforms and permissions by seth godin

For a time I had blogged frequently and now seek to share on a weekly basis.

I started my blogging many years ago and my last lookup was 1,500+ articles. It’s been a pure joy.

I think I will take heed to Seth’s encouragement to blog each day to help people and make the connections from what I am experiencing inwardly to an outward, outside platform. Fantastic way to give a gift to the world and myself. It’s true, that I have seen that pattern emerge. Write to help people. It’s pretty simple.

I don’t write for SEO, popularity, likes, clicks, etc. I love hearing that a thought, strategy or idea helped in some way in business and life.

Anyways, I hope you can start the habit as well. When everyone is seeking to game some system, it’s refreshing to hear real thoughts and sincere pursuits. I want to continue to stay on that track. Much like Shakespeare said, “to thine own self be true.” aka, blog authentically.

Pursuing Work That Has No End

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I heard a fantastic interview of an entrepreneur that adopted this motto in his ventures by Avot de Rabbi Natan,

“Do not be afraid of work that has no end”

I like closure and results. The kind of thinking that creates big movements, such as ensuring every human being has clean water, is daunting, to say the least. It’s the kind of commitment that stirs the soul to action, if we can find such a cause.

The hard part is to get above the noise of all the demands we have already committed to. I do think it’s good to periodically look up from our work and ask what direction we are headed.

We may find that we have emotionally shifted and that our priorities are misaligned.

Do I still care about this work?

Is there a new reality and opportunity to pursue?

Am I making an impact?

I think modern work moves at a dizzying pace, and it’s hard to get above the fray. Purpose, meaning and vision take deep thought, and that can be challenging, especially in the grind. However, I do often sense I am likely off course most of the time when it comes to work I have committed to. It’s that hunch I feel in the back of my mind while I maintain productivity around my commitments.

So, I try to keep some simple disciplines to keep thinking broader:

  • Morning routines. With coffee in hand, I like to be silent and let my mind and heart think and align on what is going on and where I am headed.
  • Constant questioning. I always ask myself and use conversations with others to evaluate my choices. Is there something better? I’m looking for better.
  • Perspective. I ask myself frequently, “Knowing what I know now further down the journey, would I have started this project?”

I think at a core level, we are deeply inspired with work that has no end and provides impact and meaning. It beats year after year of subsistence thinking.

Is there bigger work you should consider?

Build Dealmaking Empires

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The willingness to fail is important, because no matter how good you become at the nuances of dealmaking, your bottom-line results are tied to the law of averages. ~ Robert Ringer, essay on Dealmaking Empire Builders

I bet there is a way to leverage, scale or parlay the skills or assets you have in business now into something broader. If you read the article above from Ringer, you can see the backstories of commodity businesses or early software projects. Those assets, transformed through dealmaking, turned coffee into Starbucks, software into Microsoft and bricks and mortar into real estate empires.

However, you can’t simply be working hard without imagining. Creativity and vision help you see something beyond what you are doing, arguably at a lower level of return.

What if you could turn your team into a larger profit center?

What if partnering with your competitors could lead to a bigger stage?

What if selling your product in an entirely different manner or market changes the profit equation?

What if you took your years of specific industry knowledge and shared it in podcasts and books?

It takes dealmaking prowess to see and push the idea into a new venue. Instead of earning a paycheck, you can create a distribution system or revenue stream.

Can you think about what you have going and what you know in a completely different light? Who would you need to talk with to get a different kind of deal going?

I tend to be an optimist and I can see different types of deals. I find it’s less about some novelty and more about curiosity and creativity. I want to make use of assets in the most profitable ways. That often takes understanding upside opportunities and who to talk to in order to make the deal a reality.

Yes, the law of averages is at play. So you have to do a lot of deals and keep that mindset of pushing on your ideas with others. That’s why practicing with frequency is the key to building dealmaking empires.

One Bad Deal Equals Ten Good Deals

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Have you ever noticed that drama people, those that welcome a life of continual crisis, can’t seem to ever escape their problems? It’s sad to watch a life full of crisis.

I think it can happen to all of us if we don’t protect our downside. Getting involved with crummy people and bad deals is hard to dig out of. Take a simple subscription for cable. It’s easy to sign up for. It’s a lot of hassle and steps to get out of. There’s a disproportionate aspect between enrollment and dissolution.

The same goes for relationships. They are easy to get into, but it is often an ulcer trying to unhinge from shady characters.

I often tell friends, “One bad deal is worth ten good deals.”

That’s a simple rule of thumb from business observations I have had over many years. If you work hard to avoid problems, build a boring business and be a little wiser to protect your downside, the upside tends to take care of itself.

So what about risk taking and entrepreneurship? I think that doing a bit of thinking to protect your downside is part of pushing against uncertainty. Throwing caution to the wind can be costly. Taking on what looks like a sweet upside deal without considering the costs can get you entangled in something like quicksand. The struggle to get out of a contract or undo the work you have put out into the world takes an immense amount of energy.

Furthermore, when we get vested in projects and commitments, we develop a sunk-cost bias that blinds our decision-making.

If I’m the cable company, I want you vested and emotionally committed. I want you paying your bill every month.

If I’m your business advisor, I want you to be smart and stay free so you can keep growing without friction.

Simply protect your downside vigorously. It will take ten good deals to overcome a bad decision, otherwise.

Getting Caught Doing the Right Things

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How do you know if you had a solid day or week of output? We can easily get deluded into thinking we were highly productive, but we may have simply stringed together fleeting days of busy activity. Sometimes, simply maintaining that appearance of effort can make us feel justified.

Productivity makes you a reliable person who gets things done that need to be done. There are things we have to keep doing in order to keep tasks and projects moving along because of the commitments we made to ourselves.

However, what about moving the needle on a much larger level? You have to have space to think about such context.

What makes an impact?

Are the projects and people I am involved with helping me get to where I want to go?

Does this project even matter?

It’s that pull between doing things right vs. doing the right things.

When I find myself unenthusiastic or lax in my work and interactions, it’s likely because something does not make sense anymore in the context of what is important. I have to disengage and do a gut check on what I am giving myself to.

With the world moving so quickly and the ease of others pulling on you with requests, I think it’s a trap anyone can find themselves in.

So, if you feel that kind of misalignment, take a breather and pull back rather than push in. Think about where you are headed and cut things that don’t make sense even though they might have been a good idea before.

We are always needing to be dynamic because we are living in a fast changing world.

Maybe it’s less about hard work and much more about hard thinking.

Don’t Get Fooled By Heroics

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We humans tend to live by emotion more than logic. It’s why politicians, business leaders and religious authorities can sway the masses too often.

You may have heard that famous saying, “A crisis is a terrible thing to waste.” It’s an opportunity for heroics to come into play. And those affected by a crisis are vulnerable.

Never mind asking, “How did we get here in the first place?” or “Could we have avoided this crisis?”

It’s the blind spot we are prey to. We like heroics. Those that fix things can get praise without much scrutiny.

Maybe we accept that there are inefficiencies, waste and bubbles as part of the natural cycle of life. After all, we tend to accept mediocrity in people’s actions and work. It’s easier to overlook the fault of others because of compassion or to avoid the pain of dealing truthfully. We don’t want to appear as a bad person.

So, we get buildups of problems and crises and enjoy praising heroics. After all, who actually says, “Look what I prevented,” and gets praised for this? Better to say, “Look what I did.”

If you can see ahead, it can create internal conflicts. Do you take the job, money or relationship on because you have the opportunity to perform heroics when your incentive is to shine and be a savior after a crisis? Building robust and preventive strategies, processes and systems doesn’t pay off as well. It’s too abstract.

Security companies, IT managed services and insurance firms get paid for prevention and just-in-case. It’s an inverted emotional incentive because the threat is large and can be imagined readily.

It gets tricky trying to be preventive, wise and prudent in environments that reward heroics. You can show up envious coworkers or burn a lot of energy trying to get a decision maker to value what hasn’t impacted the immediate.

There are certainly no shortage of problems to solve and bring your value towards. How we package and ensure the value we bring is recognized is often determined by context, timing and mindsets.

I would rather avoid disasters than spend all my time and energy playing savior, regardless of the arguable misplaced perceptions others may have.

What do you do when you see something coming?

Give Them What They Want

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If you spend most of your time trying to convince people of what they need, you may be in for a highly expensive and wasteful lesson from the marketplace. I get it. When you have an idea that you love, you think others should love it as well. But, we have to take heed of what William Faulkner said, “you must kill all your darlings.”

Your darlings may be the idea of special native plants in your ingredients or how you believe people should socialize. In your mind, this may be the most beautiful, reality-changing screenplay to yet become a part of our everyday lives. But going broke pursuing it is not smart business.

Giving people what they want takes observing, listening and detachment. You observe how people react to your offering and integrate the feedback to refine it further.

You listen when they tell you they like something or dislike something. You read the Google Reviews or Yelp. The painful ones have insight.

You detach from your own idea of what is good for everyone, and simply serve people where they are at.

Even if you are right, you may be creating psychic pain by insisting on something people don’t want or are not ready for.

I think people forget there are another 300M+ people in this country. We get in our own heads wanting to be special or stand out. That’s not likely with that many people and with the ridiculous amount of options. And guess what? We are all connected. A hit quickly gains a ripple effect.

There may be a few people brilliant enough to get people to understand something they did not know they needed and now want. But that stardom, though highly celebrated, is what movies are made of, not necessarily what entrepreneurship and business rewards.

It’s a jungle out there. One of your best senses to develop is paying close attention to what people’s emotions, feelings and expressions are saying about what they want and like. Your job is to give it to them in the easiest or most exquisite way.