June 24, 2018

Tips For Turbulent Times: The Biggest Lesson

I was nearing the end of a public dialogue with faculty and students at the Cal State San Marcos College of Business Administration, when a graduating senior was picked to ask me one final question.

The question was: “What upon reflection has been the biggest single lesson you’ve learned over your 40+ years in business?

Good question.

I took a minute to think about it and then said: “How easy it is to be wrong.”

And I meant it.

After you’ve been around for a long time and playing the game (life, business, you name it), it dawns on you that getting things right and not screwing them up takes a lot of energy and attention.

It’s kind of like considering a baseball player an All-Star if he only fails 67% of the time.

Because navigating any kind of meaningful decision-making is fraught with possibilities for error, some very smart folks have invented a process that – IMHO – helps to minimize the mistakes we are all liable to commit.

It’s called Design Thinking…and I have become a fan and a fledgling practitioner.

As I see it, the philosophy underlying the Design Thinking model is one committed to trial-and-error as the key to solving complex problems. Trial-and-error, of course, is also the way evolution works. Many variations are exposed to the rough glare of reality and those that best fit their environment are the ones that get to reproduce. The less viable competitors fade away over time.

In the old days (i.e. when I started out in business), the operative principle was that there was “one best way” to accomplish a task and it was the leader’s responsibility to find it.

But there never is only one right answer.

And, when it comes to innovating in any market, there are multiple paths that might lead to success.

Here are some of the principles I think I’ve been able to distill from the discipline of Design Thinking and my own experience to date about how to best pursue an opportunity to innovate:

1. Engage as many of your team members as possible in the process. It’s easy
for one person to be wrong; less easy for a diverse group of motivated people
with some skin in the game.

2. Engage in active co-creation with the intended users of your product or service.
Permit the people with most to gain from your intended outcome help shape it.

3. Map the experience you’re trying to deliver, whether it’s a guest or customer
experience… or the experience of your team members.

4. Get minimum viable prototypes into the hands of users as quickly and cheaply as
you can. Then ride the learning curve that will quickly accelerate and go vertical.

5. Do deep dives with those same prospective users to understand how they think.
Seek to understand their pain points and where they see opportunities that you
might pursue.

Finally, there is a role for informed patience in this whole journey. As Josh Hotsenpiller and I would constantly remind ourselves in the first months we were pursuing the idea that would become Wisdom Capture: “Don’t try to shape it too fast.” We didn’t really know what we had and we needed to embark upon the process described here to better understand it.