By Kaylee Kolditz
Innovation Cultivator, Consultant and Connector
I’ve just read two articles with quite different views.
The first, from Wired, “How the ‘Failure’ Culture of Startups Is Killing Innovation,” by Ericka Hall, proclaims the value of research, counters the claim that it stifles creativity (i.e., innovation), and blames startup mentality for its demise.
The second, “The Product as Market Research,” by Ian Sanders, from the Financial Times, shares the story of Makeshift, a newborn company (just months old) built on the premise of rapid and parallel prototyping and in-field testing, and finding early success, as well as the adoption of this approach by some large, long-standing companies.
So who’s right?
When viewing through the lens of innovation for product excellence, I’d offer two perspectives:
For a company to determine if they can quickly prototype and test in the field rather than going through a research phase, two questions are imperative:
- What will be the impact of failure on the end users of the prototype?
- What will be the impact of failure on the business overall?
Question 1, I believe, becomes moot if your users know that the product they are trying is in the prototype phase. They should have no expectation of long-term use and may actually be very excited to be part of the beta round.
Question 2 is really are about risk assessment. If the failure of a product will not have a significant negative impact on the business, i.e., if the business is stable enough to absorb the loss, if not much will be invested (people, time, money) in the prototyping phase, and/or if the business is set up (as in the case of Makeshift) for exactly this type of in-field testing, then prototype away! The result at the end of the day, according to the Financial Times article, seems to be a very dynamic work environment turning out lots of neat ideas with a potential for some to turn into true successes.
There is also something many large, long-standing companies can learn from this approach. Failure can be embraced as a lesson learned and a part of the process rather than as a, well, failure. There are so many quotes out there from great people about the value of failure and so many statistics about how many times hugely successful entrepreneurs failed before succeeding that I don’t need to add much here.
Bottom line, embracing failure as an important part of product development success is necessary to truly enable innovation. The Financial Times article shares several examples of corporations who now have their own “startup labs” to encourage rapid and parallel prototyping.
While these quick-turn approaches help companies see that failure doesn’t have to be deadly, and despite the excitement of quickly turning lots of ideas into products, Ms. Hall touches on a very important consideration in her Wired article if we are looking through the lens of innovation for product excellence.
Do we really need all of these quick-turn products that are being created?
I do not doubt that many of them will be used; surely “if you build it, they will come” holds true quite frequently. But, I sense that, if we don’t ask “why is this product needed?” and “what problems are we trying to address?” than this approach can lead us astray from product excellence and into the realm of creating products for product’s sake.
Perhaps these two articles should cause us to ask if there is a place for both rapid (and parallel) prototyping as well as research within the same product company?
Can they happily and productively co-exist?
I’d assert that a company can conduct market research to understand its market and the associated product needs, and use those findings to drive rapid and parallel prototyping – perhaps conducting rapid research in parallel with rapid prototyping; or periodic research that impacts future rapid prototyping.
Can research – rather than be looked at as the enemy of innovation – be leveraged as knowledge that equips a dynamic product team to ideate and quickly prototype products their market truly needs?
My overall take away is that there are many approaches to innovative product development; each with its merits and with its downfalls. If we can take the best of each approach, we can truly innovate for product excellence.
About the Author, Kaylee Kolditz
With 18 years of marketing and business development experience, I have worked with companies large and small across a variety of industries, but I get the most energy and joy from working with product development organizations. In my current role, I help product organizations identify and access the resources (trainings, publications, groups, events) to cultivate a culture of innovation. I also help folks network online and in person, and manage an online community and conference for innovation in product development.
Goals: I’d like to connect with companies in the NYC area interested in looking at the gaps in their innovation culture and putting a plan in place to cultivate a culture of innovation throughout their organization.
Kaylee is organizer of the Women In Product NYC meetup.