Saturday, 4 October 2014

Start-ups: How do you go from idea to reality?

How do you help people turn their ideas into real and vibrant products and services? 

I overheard two colleagues last week and they were asking each other 'what is your favourite part of a project?'.

This caught my attention. Rachel said she enjoys the planning, the exploration of values, big sheets of paper, forming groups and articulating dreams.

David seemed visibly taken aback and said 'you're joking I love the first launch. Getting your hands dirty. Meeting customers for the first time. Seeing how they interact with the product.'

It got me thinking about some related questions:
  • How important is it to have a range of people involved in your start-ups?
  • What kinds of people are there?
  • Do different people bring different energies at different stages in the start-up life cycle? Visioning/ideation -- launching minimal viable products - through to customer development - scaling...
  • Is it possible to create an awareness of these differences so that tensions can be harnessed and energy released creatively - rather than destructively?

It's this last question I am still chewing on - groups have always interested me.

The people I work with are all so different, and yet when we are in groups - the same predictable patterns show up. And its like christmas day family rituals - we each think our own way of doing things is the right way.

Why is this?

How can we work with such group behaviours in a way that is creative and exciting?

These questions are important to me. Start-ups often have a short runway to take off. You don't have the time and energy or money behind you to take much infighting or point scoring.

Making room for multiple ways of seeing things is the critical move for start-up leaders. Rachel might want to run away at the thought of meeting a customer - the chaos this can bring to her carefully imagined plans and exciting visions of how things could be is just too much. David may be raring to go, experiencing Rachel's creative meetings as the evil necessary before the real action begins.

How, as leaders and entrepreneurs, can we harness the atomic energy which can burst out as the Rachels and Davids work together in our startups?

Maybe we too have our own preferred stage in our projects? How do we lead and manage ourselves as Rachel and David play out their preferences and anxieties?

One really helpful resource has been the Toolbox in Peter Senge's book 'The Necessary Revolution'.

Senge looks at three different ways we communicate in groups, and how to improve our skills in each:

1. Advocacy - saying out loud, so others can hear what you think/believe is true and why

What to do - make your reasoning explicit
What to say - "I came to this conclusion because..."

What to do - give examples of what you are proposing
What to say - "An example of what I'm talking about is - last week I was talking with a customer and she was saying..."

2. Inquiry - asking others to show how they got to their way of seeing things

What to do - find out what their assumptions might be
What to say - "What leads you to say that?" "That's interesting, what makes you say that?"

What to do - use non aggressive language
What to say - "Can you help me understand your thinking here?"

3. Facing disagreement - what to do if we see things differently to others

What to do - make sure you truly understand their view
What to say - "If I understand you correctly, you are saying that...?"

What to do - raise any concerns and state what is leading you to have them
What to say - "I have a hard time seeing things that way because of my experience..."

[Adapted from Senge, 2010: 263-266]

Monday, 3 February 2014

The Other side of innovation.

There are 5 reasons that I like this book.

1. There is a strong theme - ideas are just the beginning, ideation is in service of a deeper learning journey. Nothing too revelatory about this you might be thinking? And yes that is the point, but the twist comes in recognising just what it is that can get in the way of ideas becoming proven success stories - in the real world.

2. The next interesting argument is this - if you want to innovate, you have to pull together a special team - which might require you bringing in some new hires - fresh faces from outside your organisation. For some - this is going to be the breaker - trust, respecting the status quo, understanding the way things are done around here. But this is the point. To innovate, by definition, requires fresh perspective. It is about facing into the fear of the unknown.

3. Act as if you are building a start-up within your existing company. Yes, this is what makes this an interesting book, the idea that you can actually protect innovation inside a larger organisation - as if you were starting again from scratch. In fact, some have actually cut the innovation team lose in terms of having their own profit and loss account! The challenge of cutting free from the financial security, and trusted larger brands/products or services, is in fact a good way to hang on to your more entrepreneurial people.

4. But make sure you manage the relationship between the innovation team and the rest of your organisation! So this is anticipating conflict - before it hits - and yes, it will hit the fan. This is going to be the hardest part, as there are many processes or functions which your company will be able to handle - without reinventing the wheel - that will support the new innovation. Dividing the work in this way may be perceived badly by dedicated and hardworking staff, if it is not framed well, in advance and during the new learning and innovation that unfolds. Partnership.

5. Keep moving on up. This is where I make links to the work of Eric Reis (lean start up) and validating knowledge through cycles of testing and learning. It is termed here: 'running disciplined experiments'. Learning not results, talk about what you don't know, revise the plan as you go and capture records of great conversations and learning. Seek the truth (not what you think people want to hear) but find ways of promoting accountability!

In short, this is a fantastic and practical read if you are not scared of mixing things up in service of deeper learning: innovation.