In 1987, the movie Fatal Attraction was shown to a test screening audience with the original ending that had the villainness commit suicide off screen. The audience did not like that ending and director Adrian Lyne changed it. The cinematic prototype captured timely feedback that ensured the movie’s success.
But I’m getting ahead of myself. Before we talk about the final product -- although we’ll get to that in a moment, let’s first consider how we refine ideas. If you’ve read a book recently, you probably noticed a section titled “acknowledgments”. This is where the authors recognize those people who have contributed to refining and massaging the ideas contained in the book. By providing feedback from different perspectives and experiences, these friends test the ideas in the book with the authors.
Another way to create opportunities for dry runs is by talking to the people in your network who you chose as informal or formal advisors. Experts in your field, investors, mentors, and professionals who have a vested interest in your success are all ideal to fill this role. These people will help you get over the curse of knowledge and distill the core of your idea by discussing its viability. This works also when the roles reverse -– when you listen to someone’s idea with an eye to providing feedback from your point of view.
As you listen to the advice of people you trust, remember to check in with yourself. They may have good points to contribute, however you are the ultimate champion of your ideas and will need to protect them until they are strong enough to be tested. Kill an idea one moment to soon and you may never know if it would have worked. As you explain and articulate how the idea might work, remember to test for values and purpose: is your sense of purpose clear? What and whose values does the idea align with? The answers to these questions and the advice will help you when it’s time to sell your idea. In fact, in many ways, you are already selling it.
These questions will also help you discover and keep in mind your target audience. Who will this idea resonate most deeply with? As you visualize how your idea will take shape in the marketplace be mindful of the fact that a great way to growth is to change the game. We’ve already said that ideas come from anywhere and that what we bring to the table may be a different use for something, a new implementation.
Your hook may be changing the customers’ expectations so that you are the only person or company who can deliver on that promise. What makes your idea stand out? How will your create a memorable experience, an emotionally-compelling connection between what you offer and your potential customers? As you move through this research phase, I encourage you to test as much as possible and not let yourself become a victim of analysis paralysis.
Some good ways to test the marketplace is by running a simulation and building a prototype. Both methods will help you make an idea concrete and that will help you both test its viability and sell it. They will afford you a glimpse of how the world around your idea might unfold. In June 2003, I met Keith Yamashita of Stone Yamashita Partners at Fast Company Real Time in Miami. Their labs are designed to generate ideas and accelerate innovation. At the same conference, Michael Schrage talked about the value and use of prototypes from his book Serious Play: How the Best Companies Simulate to Innovate.
IDEO’s CEO David Kelley as quoted in Schrage's book said: “one of the most difficult problems we face as designers are clients who haven’t figured out how to integrate the process of delivering a new product with the way they actually make money selling it.” What a simulation and a prototype will help you do is figure out the trade offs, make them more explicit, measure the paybacks, and serve to create a new relationship with yourself and with others.
Prototypes are not “information engines” as much as they are ways in which you can view the prism of human behavior. These models are battlefields on which relationships are created. That was the biggest aha for me. The spreadsheet that a CFO runs as a model for the budget is in fact a prototype. So the big question these tools help you answer is: cui bono? Who benefits? Who are they for? A prototype helps you sell an idea through the corporate organization, to investors, to your potential customers. By showing what you have, you can observe the dynamics of how people may interact with the project *and* with the end result: your product and service.
This post is meant to unleash your creative juices and invite your perspective to this conversation so I would like to add a couple more thoughts. How do you rank ideas? In other words: is your idea potentially a platform that can sustain a business in scope and reach? Is it a new product or service? Think in terms of umbrella or subset to be folded into an existing offering, for example.
What does it mean to execute? Implementation is taking the idea, developing a platform for it to go to market through a process/system complete with timelines, and projected and sustainable cost and profit positions. The consideration of sales cycles in your industry and for your product plays a key role for its success. If your idea is viable there is a marketplace for it, people are willing to pay for your product and service and your cost position is fair relative to the value put forth by your brand.
For your brand to shine, you may find that the market segment that matters most is not always the dominant segment in terms of revenues or the largest in terms of sheer volume. As a blogger you probably know that success means your stated purpose and message matches the needs of your key audience(s). When you have chosen the people you want to invite to the conversation, ask yourself: What do you want them to do?
We don’t create in a vacuum. To make the most of an idea it takes hard work and commitment. How do you know which ideas will work and which ones will not? That is the difference between an Academy Award and an embarrassing flop -- although a failed venture can teach us volumes about what it takes to succeed. Paul Williams at Idea Sandbox reveals the secret of knowing when to quit and when to stick (via John Moore at Brand Autopsy) by providing the scoop on Seth Godin’s new book: The Dip.
There are no guarantees that by doing everything by the book (pardon the pun), you will succeed. You will surely fail if you keep that brilliant idea on the shelf and never let it see the light of day. What is your action plan? What are your major milestones? How do you plan to uncover and mitigate challenges? Close the gap between what you envision and what you can do and maybe one day you too will say: “I would like to thank the Academy.”