How many? Just how many people come up with big ideas that will “for sure change the world and make billions”?
Within minutes, or even seconds, most us find find that 95% of these ideas are truly poorly thought out, out of context and with almost no concept of priority or place.
Lean Startup is supposed to help but alas it does not beyond confirm that usually your idea will never see the light of day. Pivot? Most don’t do that and the one’s we see have pivoted so much it’s clear that it’s a totally new idea with no connection beyond the folks learned what to consider upfront, before the Lean Startup process ever begins…and that’s where the truth begins.
Specifically, these past few years we’ve counseled dozens of startups, collaborated with numerous clients and partners and mentored and lectured 100’s of college students in entrepreneurship. It’s often been painful for all yet terrifically rewarding. When your brutally honest but also provide positive, simple, practical advice, you see a spark of excitement – a renewal and hope. They are seeing suddenly, often the first time, the most basic principles behind which great innovation occurs, the concept of being a catalyst for not for adoption but adaption, then you see their minds literally changing before your eyes.
Needs allow abstraction of the job to be done…
You see, they suddenly focus not on ideas, but needs. Not on the what, but the why and the how. That leads to ideas tailored to a need versus an idea searching for one.
The best ideas become contexted within global trends and their trajectories, often emerging changes not noticed by many and where a real opportunity exists. In there is the key – adaption to a changing world with realistic, practical, abstracted solution sets where you seek not the idea but the abstracted elements to serve that specified need.
Clayton Christensen’s recently co-authored book, Competing Against Luck with Taddy Hall, Karen Dillon and David S. Duncan, focuses on context and the jobs to be done in life and business and how they intertwine. Commenting in a recent Forbes interview, Christensen said:
“I realized that historically, innovation seemed to have been unpredictable, almost like a role of the dice. It didn’t seem right that innovation should be a crapshoot. Then I realized that what causes innovation to appear unpredictable is that at business schools, we have taught people that understanding the consumer is the right unit of analysis. What you need to understand is rather that every day things happen to us. Jobs arise that have to be done. Understanding the job is the right unit of analysis.”
It’s big context, as we’ve written many times before, that keys everything. Our work over 40 years as well as those of many others already knew that and the best design firms solely focus on the job to be done. But without an even broader, deeper holistic context, bigger ideas still fail repetitively.
The Bigger Job
It’s not just the job that’s the unit of analysis, it’s the context of the job – is the job even necessary, what’s the bigger picture. We’ve written before about our founded firm Sirrus and it’s likely massive global impact. A technology that allows billions to be cut from automotive production costs by eliminating or vastly reducing energy use and eliminating solvent use via a little to no heat cure does not simply eliminate mile long car paint ovens and 25% or more of a plant’s energy use. That would be focusing simply on the job, painting a car. The real context is eliminating energy, eliminating most of the heat allows new materials to be used, new materials to made, new designs, and new pathways towards energy efficient cars and on and on. In other words, it’s not the job of painting a car – it was from the very beginning about eliminating energy from tangible object manufacture.
Strategy Impact – Big Context Transforms the Firm, Not Just Innovation
That’s the big job, the big context. Looking for ways to abstract needs – eliminating energy from manufacturing – and understanding the benefits, the intangibles, and then looking for where such products, such technologies could have a big impact allows one to specify the product abstractly. The big opportunity there – now ideation and innovation, product development and research are not only more effective, more focused and they are now strategically positioned.
Look at your own word, the one your company occupies, it’s place in that world. Now look at the big trends and the emerging ones, the fading ones. Where do you, your team or your firm’s unique assets and capabilities intersect those trends and how they impact needs – how they impact jobs to be done. Now the ideas flow and damn, they’re good ones, better ones. Now the ideas are generating within the context of not only the job to be done, but the environment within which the job’s being done.
The Lean Startup Chasm
This is where Lean Startup needs a big giant pre-amble, a foundation, something that gets us to actually needing to use Lean Startup. There’s a huge chasm. Using Lean Startup as some magic elixir with millions spent in training can help a lot, but not if it’s vetting lots of poor ideas talking to a hundred stakeholders (no, not just customers, but that’s another story) that never had a prayer, or a need, a job to be done, to begin with. Again, we need to start with needs first.
Furthermore, while Lean Startup has some great basic principles on discipline and approach – like Plan, Do and Study – when taught by the clueless and those who’ve never innovated a thing in the lives, it can fail gloriously. The basic principles of figuring out why you exist are lost – it’s instead coldly presented in part as a “Business Canvas”, not an engaging story built on top of solid principles filling a compelling need transforming lives. Indeed, the canvas concept as presented to most does not even directly address the base needs of the globe, of time and its nature, of how an idea has contexted value. Fast and low cost are relative things and meaningless outside of the latter. The canvas not only misses a lot of context, like a box for neatly placing competition, but indeed seems to wholly ignore global context – why does anyone care at all?
It’s not the idea. It’s the why before it that matters
With the why, the need before, the ideas become better by default. Lean Startup is great, but misses that. It starts in the middle. We need instead to start with the idea of stripping a job down to it’s most basic elements – the actual base needs and then looking for the bigger need, the bigger job it represents or exemplifies instead.
From Serving Needs to Strategic Principles
It’s those bigger needs and those bigger intersections that then can lead to principles, those core behavioral elements that based upon this world and how we fit guide what we will work on, what we see as opportunity and how we will help our customers and their world. Accordingly, great innovation, big strategy impact and general success is then about powerful leadership continuously developing, managing and communicating these base principles. Maybe then we can get to empowering and understanding, tolerating failure versus shooting for it and employing intoxicating stories that convey purpose, rationale and excitement for the cause.
Get Principled Yourself!
When you sit down and clearly enunciate and understand your own self, your own life principles, your own purpose, your own context in this world, then you will start to find contentment, some happiness, some true purpose and thereby see the world for yourself in context. What are your big needs? What are your family’s? How can you make a difference with you as the product? Stand for something, be resolved about what you will and can do and what you will will never do and will stop others from doing. That’s the beginning of a purposeful life, one with a deeper meaning.