Iterate and Evaluate
I hope you’re seeing that your journey to a breakthrough idea is less an intuitive process and more a systematic one—less the result of being genetically predisposed and more of developing the right strategies and mindset.
Speaking of the right strategies, the last, but certainly not least, of our strategies is the practice of iterating and evaluating. This goes hand in hand with yesterday’s mantra, “Fail fast, fail often.”
• Iterating can be thought of as the continuous repetition, building, changing, enhancing, scrapping, and refinement of your idea, product, or process.
• Evaluating is engaging your critical judgment to determine how to go forward after each iteration. You’ll want to be extra aware of the possible influence of your cognitive biases in the evaluation phase.
Iterating and evaluating should be incorporated throughout your breakthrough idea process, with the exception being when you are generating ideas. It is best to suspend judgment and evaluation in order to generate a long list of ideas, including silly and unreasonable ones. If you engage your judgment and evaluation here, you’ll stifle your creativity, and many potentially fruitful ideas will get overlooked.
Once you have enough ideas or when you’ve exhausted your creative process, then you use your evaluative thinking to select the best ideas. You can now be critical and analytical. You compare your ideas against clear criteria (e.g. desired by consumers, feasible, sustainable) and make judgments as to which you think will succeed and which will not.
This beginning evaluation phase of the process is essential and typically needs as much time and attention as the idea generation stage. You need a way to whittle down your ideas to a short-list of actionable items to pursue.
After you’ve decided on an idea to pursue, you’ll want to create a prototype or a close approximation of the product or service as soon as you can and as cheaply as you can. Start small, as it won’t be perfect. The purpose is to have something that allows the iteration process to begin. For example, if you have a breakthrough idea for a mobile app, you can prototype, get feedback, and iterate what the screen interface looks like, way before you are at a point to test how the actual app works. If you have a breakthrough idea for a particular service, you can test, get feedback, and refine the name and assess the target market well before you develop your entire line of offerings.
The idea is to do small experiments. Incorporate the ones that work into your offerings. When incremental improvements are stacked on top of each other, they can produce big results.
Iteration and evaluation help you move away from what you believe you know to a more objective understanding of what you do know. If you operate only from your ideas and a sample of one (yourself), you’re invariably going to miss or be unaware of many key dimensions of the issue—including possibly when your breakthrough idea may need to go back to the drawing board.
When to Call It Quits
Okay, this might not be what you want to hear, but I think it is sage advice. Before you start your breakthrough idea process, you should think about how much time and money you are willing to invest. In their book, Decisive, Dan and Chip Heath call this a trip wire. They recommend that you establish a time to stop before you start. The alternative is to get caught in an endless cycle of thinking that with just a little more work, everything will turn around. Instead, with an established time or amount of money set up as a stopping point, you’ll add in an extra layer of objectivity to your breakthrough process that just might be the turning point for your actual breakthrough!
Go Forth and Conquer!
Going forward, make a plan to incorporate the tips, tools, and practices found in these lessons as part of your day-to-day. I can’t wait to hear about your breakthroughs and experiences!
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