For innovation: More prototypes, less powerpoints

rapid prototyping innovationRadically better products don’t stand on the shoulder of giants, but on the shoulders of lots of iterations. The basis for success then, and for continual product excellence, is speed. – Eric Schmidt

Indeed. Scrappy startups are known for acting with speed and conviction, while established organizations are slow and risk averse. When implemented well, speed and surprise are the ultimate equalizers. To achieve surprise, you need an unexpected idea first. Second, you need to have the ability to execute that idea. Third, you need to decide when and how to execute the idea.

It is at the moment of making the decision where most established organizations fail. Why? Because most large organizations don’t empower their employees to make decisions.

Today, it’s become incredibly easy for any company to collect customer feedback. A culture of curiosity can be implemented in a single team or company-wide. And having the hard evidence to quickly end internal debate means less posturing, less pontificating, and more goal-line orientation.

Unfortunately, in most organizations the Highest Paid Person In The Room usually has the last word; no matter if there is evidence to the contrary that his/her opinion is flawed. This is one of the reasons bureaucracy sucks the life out of people’s energy: it is a bottleneck to getting things done; to creating forward momentum.

Evidence-based decision making, on the other hand, speeds things up because it gives people freedom to try things and get an answer to the assumptions they are making. As Scott Cook, founder of Intuit, says, ““When you have only one test, you don’t have entrepreneurs; you have politicians. When you have lots of ideas you have entrepreneurs”.

Don’t tell me, show me

Though making decisions based on “expertise” and title is a universal activity in any place in the world, one thing people in Mexico like to do is trust the experts; the authority figure. It annoys me because it ends up becoming a discussion about how not hurt no ones feelings and simply continue doing more of the same. So, most of the stuff that comes out of these decision making meetings are mediocre ideas that don’t challenge anything. It’s all based on people’s thoughts and opinions of what they think “might work” because “it worked before so it will work again”.

For the purpose of innovation, when you can’t predict the outcome, following expert opinion rarely yields anything new and surprising. To shift to a dynamic decision making approach you have to adopt a “don’t tell me, show me” approach where people are equipped and trained in the art of rapid prototyping.

How does this work?

Simple: More prototypes, less powerpoints.

In other words, evidence beats opinion. So, instead of endless politicking and powerpoints in meetings, you present the evidence gathered from testing out an idea. You then take your findings, talk about what you learned and use that as a starting point to make a decision.

Cultivating evidence-based decision making achieves a few things: it empowers people to try things and learn, and it speeds up decision making. More importantly, it drives trust between leaders and employees. And that’s something that as a leader you can’t buy, you have to earn it.

Bottom line: Experimentation is the shortest path to innovation, without it there is none. To get there, say no to politics and powerPoints; say yes to prototypes.