Whether you’re a bootstrapping startup or a corporate intrapreneur running after a new initiative, new digital product innovation is inherently risky. The bolder and more unique the vision, the riskier the road ahead. There’s bright side though since bigger innovation risks usually reap greater rewards. If you’re cut from an entrepreneurial cloth, you’ll probably agree, the risk is worth it.
I love how Eric Reis defines a startup, and how it sets the context for the work we do.
“A startup is a human institution designed to create a new product or service under conditions of extreme uncertainty.”
Truth. So as innovators, how do we deal with “extreme uncertainty” and get others to join us on a high risk, (potentially) high reward journey? The first step: recognize that, as a human, you have blind spots. We all do.
Maybe it’s our over-zealous passion for an idea. Maybe it’s our pride that gets in the way. Or maybe it’s a collection of past experiences that causes us to believe we already “know” something to be true. The simple fact is, we all have blind spots. The better we are at identifying them, the more likely we’ll be to reach the promised land of new digital product success. On the flip side, not addressing our blind spots and untested assumptions can lead us to hastily get in the wrong lane, to crash and burn.
So what kind of blind spots might we all have, and how can we remove them? There are many, but here are a few of the most common. Identifying and dealing with these early on will massively increase your chances of success.
An innovator’s passion can be a double-edged sword. On the positive side, it takes a tremendous amount of passion, persistence, and energy to bring a new digital product or business to life and to bring others along on the journey. The downside comes when our passion causes us to fall in love with one particular solution early and focus only on bringing that solution to life, regardless of the cost.
To mitigate innovator’s bias, deliberately slow down on the front end of the project. Invest the time to clearly define the problem at hand, and explore possible solutions. Doing so will accelerate your course of action down the road (though it might feel like slow work initially) and will help build a much more committed team that is focused on solving a well-defined problem, rather than blindly running after a singular solution that the marketplace may or may not want.
All too often, innovation or startup teams and their stakeholders can have different visions for what success looks like because they fail to do the work of defining and documenting their vision of success together. This can become a major problem because it sets the team on the wrong trajectory early or makes it impossible to meet expectations later, once considerable time and resources have already been invested. Get specific about what success looks like early, as a team, so you don’t waste precious time or money and lose credibility with your investors or stakeholders.
Doing The Math
You can use all sorts of advanced mathematics when building digital products (our developers really geek out on this kind of work), but if first, the business model math doesn’t hold water, you’re likely headed for a crash. Remove this blind spot early in your innovation process by doing some simple “back of the napkin” math that reveals one or more paths to potential success. Even more valuable is if the math shows there really isn’t a reasonable path to success, in which case you need to look for another model before proceeding.
The numbers don’t have to be exactly right. In fact, there’s around a 100% chance they won’t be. But, they do have to be strategically sound and directionally correct. Share your raw math assumptions early with a few people who are well equipped to poke holes in your logic. These may include future members of your digital product team or potential executive sponsors (or both). Not only does this help you identify more potential blind spots, it also helps others feel more involved in the process and can help you build support for the initiative.
Although making assumptions about your business is common, actually defining what they are and systematically testing them is much rarer. However, doing so is a massively valuable technique for removing your blind spots and removing risks. Early on you’ll be making tons of assumptions around who your customer is, what benefits and features they’re looking for, what costs you’ll incur, how “sticky” your digital product will be, what the best marketing channels are and much more. Make sure you get those all on paper, rank them in terms of risk and start testing them objectively. In my post,10 Questions to Ask Before You Build Your MVP, I dive into this process in more detail.
The truth is, this innovation thing we do is really hard (but definitely worth it). We can make it exponentially harder and a lot more risky if we aren’t self-aware enough to realize we have blind spots, or if we fail to put systems in place to reveal and remove them. No matter what stage of a project you’re in, be honest with yourself about that. After all, you’re only human.