Thursday, April 7, 2011

Choose Failing Over Filtering

My problem is that we have too many good ideas. We're overloaded with them! I need filters to help me deal with this overload. So went the comment in today's class at IMD. The speaker, a CEO in a good-sized, technically-focused, firm went on to ask what "filters" would I recommend to screen new ideas? To be honest, I think that it's the wrong question.

If we are facing S-curve disruption, it is unlikely that our finally-crafted filters will work as well as we might hope... Afterall, in disruption, we're typically being surprised with something that we hadn't thought about before. If they do work, it might be a sign that we are too late: that the disruption has moved from a potential to the immediate; so much so that our filters now recognize it. Instead, I would suggest an entirely different approach.

When we face surprising, disruptive challenges, that we haven't foreseen, much less prepared for, how can we filter effectively? I say we probably can't. In fact, to be more emphatic, in such situations, I believe that traditional market-based research methodolgies will fail us. What is required is that we take chances:

  1. First, in the face of not knowing things, it's always a good idea to invite others in to help us. More "inclusive"innovation, even to the extent of really being open in our idea-sourcing, will raise the likelihood that others can help us see things that are invisible to us at the moment.

  2. Then, combine more inclusive innovation with testing these new ideas against evolving market possibilities using prototypes -- fully recognizing that this means learning through failure, but failure that is inexpensive in terms of time and/or cost (taking the risk out of failing) -- and we have a fundamentally different approach to learning to the more traditional, but badly suited for disruption, approach of "filtering."

My advice: in the face of uncertainty, invite others to help you find good new ideas, and then fail more rather than "filtering" in an effort to test their merit.

The accompanying image to this post about "filtering" (or building more effective screens) is an image of a man working with a net, in this case to catch deer. It was created in Assyria in about 645-635 BC, Nineveh, North Panel, and is presently in the British Museum.

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