Design for Quick Feedback

“Everyone has a plan ’till they get punched in the mouth” – Mike Tyson

The great thing about business is that you can test ideas quickly to see if what you think or want to do is valuable. Small tests done quickly to get feedback from customers will go a long way towards pursuing or developing an idea further.

Yes, make a plan. Then try it out quickly to see if it resonates and creates interest and engagement.

Most things we see today are needed and businesses exist to give people what are known established needs. Things such as:

  • Car dealerships
  • Cleaning services
  • Grocery stores
  • Electronics stores
  • IT services
  • Banks

There is historical demand among the millions of people out there consuming such products and services.

If you are innovating on a new type of product or extending a concept, think about how to test your idea quickly by proposing and putting it in front of real customers. You can find out quickly via feedback how to further develop your idea or abandon it altogether.

The Egg of Columbus

Monument to the Egg of Columbus.

Yes, you could have done that after you have seen it done. We get that benefit today watching how people put together solutions by benchmarking what others do first.

The Egg of Columbus story where Columbus challenges his mocking critics to make an egg stand on its end highlights the perception of others’ success.

If you discover something and share it or bring a solution that was not readily apparent, it becomes common, likely underappreciated, knowledge.

I think humility all around helps a great deal. We benefit from seeing something done and using it in our work and life. Watch a Youtube video, research a topic or simply ask a neighbor how they did something. The insights can save you pain and time.

At the same time, you are contributing when you figure out and share your knowledge. Others can take a look at your creativity or determination and integrate it towards their pursuits.

Learning and sharing can save a great deal of cost when we are trying to do hard things. We should simply appreciate those that make the egg stand.

This is More Productive

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“It is more productive to convert an opportunity into results than to solve a problem – Which only restores the equilibrium of yesterday.” ~ Peter Drucker

I am a sucker for solving problems. And I have to take heed to the wisdom in this quote. Which one makes more impact? A new opportunity or an old problem?

If my goal is to contribute, be useful and make an impact, then making space in my life for opportunities to present themselves and be acted upon is the priority. Busywork, noise, outdated commitments – these have to be pruned out decisively. Otherwise, like weeds, they clutter the landscape and opportunity for new growth.

Creating value for others comes down to solving the right problems. And the right problems tend to be coupled with timeliness.

Perhaps you have a lot of balls in the air as well. Simply cutting out what doesn’t make sense creates space for the new.

Maybe you’re measuring success by how busy you are rather than how much free time you have. The latter can be an indicator of your capacity for taking on new opportunities.

I have found that there are plenty of opportunities that cross one’s path. But working on old problems allows no space for those to be recognized, entertained and acted upon.

Be Clear About Who Your Customer Is

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In case it doesn’t sink in, remember, you are one of 330M people in the United States. Go to the airport, a concert or any large gathering to get a small glimpse of how minute you are in a sea of people.

The strategy to try and work with everyone is a sure fire way of failure in the marketplace. There’s simply too much competition and it’s hard to understand your offering if you are generalized. It’s the quote,

‘I can’t give you a sure-fire formula for success, but I can give you a formula for failure: try to please everybody all the time.‘  ~ Herbert Bayard Swope

You have to be ok with not making everyone happy or trying to chase every deal. You have to be ok with people that don’t get you.

In sales speak, there is the wisdom of picking a niche or targeting your customer. Both point to being focused, clear and exclusionary.

Ironically, such specificity is a form of abundance. You are thinking how to be the best for the people you want to serve by solving their specific problem you or your company are designed for.

You are not diluting yourself and trying to be all things to all people.

I am about strategy. Many people do not value strategy. But, people that need clarity, business growth or getting rid of pain in their business know what I offer. I try to stay in my lane and not overreach to areas I don’t have passion, expertise or bandwidth for. I have a network of friends I try to share generously with instead in those cases.

So, maybe it would be a powerful time if you could think about, “Things I don’t do.” It could give you conviction around the things you do well and want to specialize in.

Then be clear with your marketing, networking and outreach to make sure that is understood by those that can do business with you or know people that want to do business with you.

Who do you only want to work with and what do you only want to offer?

How Do You Make it More Expensive?

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When we think about a problem, we like to solve it. Our brains are suckers for the open loop and we want to close it. If you are asking how to make something cheaper, you get solutions and thoughts on cost-cutting or quality cutting. And those that are super efficient at making things cheap have extreme scale to amortize such costs.

If you ask how to make something more expensive, you have to think about value. How do you make something worth more? How do you become worth more?

There are plenty of people that crave better. They can easily get cheap merchandise. But, they can’t always get that exquisite taste, feeling of quality or identity to name a few reasons why we pay more for the things we love.

What if you took the challenge to look at your prices? What would it take to make the value worth double? What would that look like? Can you add a thoughtful gift? What if you followed up with custom service at the right timing? The extra effort or concierge service could easily increase the value perception if you package your offering with some creativity.

Increase the value before anyone even asks. Sometimes it’s cost. Other times it’s care. Then, if you get traction that is repeatable, you can see if the value warrants an increase in price.

In a crowded marketplace with so many options for cheaper options, it would be hard to compete in categories that have people thinking about the low-cost option.

Become more expensive. It’s a fantastic way to differentiate and push yourself to be desired more. It’s not free. But it’s worth it.

Credibility

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Does it work?

Was it designed in and for the real world?

It’s critical to take whatever idea you have and see if it stands up to the rigor and texture of people – customers, partners, critics, etc – in the real world. That’s honest design.

Credibility comes from proof that what you conceived can actually work repeatedly in the world.

I like to move to action and engagement quickly. And here’s what I find works:

  • Always be engaging the world and gathering ideas
  • Write those ideas down. I keep a list.
  • Think fast and hard about a next step – reaching out to a friend, posting a thought, starting a project
  • Watch the reaction. And if there’s positive results, build momentum with another action. If not, kill your darlings.
  • Push

Clarity comes through engagement. It’s partly why I don’t think professional writers who are in these magazine content farms are necessarily helpful if they haven’t actually done things like build businesses, drive revenue or worked with teams. They are researching and writing.

Where’s the rejection? How do they know where the land mines are and tune for the chaos?

Look for the credibility with people that move to action and push until results happen. Otherwise, you can have a lot of misinformation from feel good content when what you really need are results.

Be a Lateral Thinker

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When we are buried in the details of our work, it’s hard to look around and see connections to worlds outside ourselves. We can be talking to the same people within our crowd, read the same blogs, and look at the world through a myopic lens.

Some of the big ideas of today such as taking software platforms, connectivity, mobile and cars can produce inventions like Lyft.

A company like Stripe took their expertise in coding and made connections into financial tech and banking. It was daunting, but rewarding as they brought their lateral thinking to the problem of making online payments easier.

If you straddle different worlds, know the culture and nuances of different segments, you can powerfully introduce solutions that connect the dots that might escape a specialist’s trained mind. Lateral thinking is value add in this increasingly complex and polarized world. There’s extreme efficiency and speed occurring on one end of the spectrum. On the other end, there’s high complexity which requires creative, consultative solutions.

Bringing outside, fresh perspectives can change the way a problem is solved.  If you are a lateral thinker, you can open up the conversation to new possibilities.

You can notice and exercise a few approaches in your work and interactions:

  • Be sure to play in different worlds deeply rather than invest fully into one area of work day in and day out.
  • Meet new and interesting people that think about their fields intensely. Ask great questions and learn.
  • Keep great notes and think of how new perspectives create new solutions for your problems. Test them out and see what comes of trying different approaches. Then share them to help others.

If you can connect the dots you become valuable to others that are conventional in their practice. Your contribution increases.

Think about your domains you invest in. How can they merge or collide in a way to create even more value?

The world is getting more efficient on the whole. But, the creativity and lateral thinking opportunity is there to be applied to multiply those efficiencies.

Don’t Do Grand Openings

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I don’t do grand openings. If you have an idea, skills and the hard work to persist, simply get your first customers and start serving them.

This idea that we are anything special out in the marketplace of hundreds of thousands of options is absurd. You have to earn that over time from learning, iterating and contributing.

Whether you actually contribute is yet to be determined and a celebration before it happens is bad manners.

Instead, when you are ready to be useful, how about:

  1. Developing a path for your customer to be successful. Get buy-in.
  2. Executing towards the plan.
  3. Communicating when things happen or when things change.

Then do it again and refine as you go.

I think you’ll use your energy and everyone’s attention in a much more productive way.

Collecting and Testing Mental Models

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Principles prevail in a world of chaos. Much of life is indeed chaos. I think the importance of collecting and testing your mental models – how you problem solve and approach the world – is critical to drive success.

The 80/20 rule can help you focus on what has the best payoffs.

Eliminating drain people can help you be free from drama and the downside of dysfunctional relationships.

The law of diminishing returns can keep you from wasting energy and time where marginal returns are the leftover.

These are tested tools that create results when practiced intensely and regularly.

Have a place to collect your mental models. Test them in the course of doing business. When they work, that positive reinforcement along with learning the nuances of each principle, can embed themselves as habits in your psyche and routines.

I like to write down thought processes and mental models I learn from books and people. I like to write blog articles of my learnings. I like to share what works to help others. These practices get me results.

Everyone operates from mental models. May are not intentional and miss out on magnifying the effects of focused outcome thinking. Some mental models have downside. Total hedonism, for example, has plenty of upside, but can also ruin ambition.

Perhaps your results are elusive because some of the things you know are not regularly practiced. Or if you are scattered and not getting the outcomes you want, a few focused practices could be the game changer.

Keep a notebook or use Keep to start tracking the mental models you learn and apply. It’s a simple practice that can quickly yield desirable outcomes.

Alignment as a $36M Running Value

The SaaS company WorkBoard announced it closed a Series B round for $23M to total out its fundraising to $36M to date. At this point with their revenues tripling year over year, they have market validation. With more complexity and faster growth, keeping the main thing the main thing is a core business challenge for many of today’s businesses. They are providing extreme value.

Even if you outline the steps and processes for your team, you don’t necessarily have alignment right away. That challenge of alignment is part of the continuous hard work of leadership. Having tools that align work with goals with strategic priorities is a giant help.

Business intelligence, Salesforce.com Dashboards, analytics and SOP’s are helpful tools to creating clarity on what needs to get done for team alignment. I think most managers have the responsibility to create clarity and then get alignment from their team members. It can be a grind. What’s in one person’s head as important may not necessarily be true for others on the team. That can create breakdowns or mediocre outputs.

Also, team members can be working on things that simply don’t matter or have much lower priorities.

Everyone I know that is growing their business has the problem of alignment and clarity. The problem is amplified by the speed of change and volume of information that clouds our thinking.

If you can be in the alignment business, which is largely the work today, it’s big money and opportunity. Knowing what to do, doing it well and doing it consistently with a team is often elusive.

We have plenty of knowledge, tools and connection. We need the leadership to make what we often know are important items work like a machine based on what we value as important.

Are you in the alignment business?