The dirty secret of innovation

The secret to innovation is in the metaphor.

Publishers find, edit, and distribute books. They aim for a perfect product before going to market. Their process is slow and thoughtful. What they create may sit on a shelf for generations.

Scientists create hypothesis, test, and learn. They look for opportunities to learn. A scientist’s work is never finished, because the boundaries of their ignorance are always being stretched.

If you want to innovate, think like a scientist. Don’t just fail fast. Fail forward. Test, learn, adapt, and repeat.

Instead of trying to make something big, ask what is the cheapest way you can learn if it will work. Fail fast, fail forward, and fail free.

Here’s how:

  1. Identify a clear problem to work on.
  2. Gather courageous people who can try new things.
  3. Test your experiments.

If you aren’t part of the experimenting, then get out of the way. Don’t ask them “did it work?” Instead, ask “what are you learning?”

Caution: if you haven’t defined your values and vision, you’ll have a difficult time evaluating your experiments (next week I’ll show you how).

If you aren’t in charge, then test your ideas away from the spotlight. Your goal isn’t to show off your new idea, it’s to find an environment to see if it works.

To innovate: think like a scientist, not like a publisher.

This is one of the principles of design thinking, which I learned through my friend Shawn Cramer.

Subscribe today! Next week I’ll show you one question that can wake up your team’s motivation to innovate.

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