The fun of not knowing the answer

The best part of the current startup landscape is that we have no way of knowing what will and won’t work. In fact, the situation is the same for established organizations. Between social, mobile, cloud and an Internet that now reaches billions of people, there is enormous change on the horizon.

We know from recent history that seemingly crazy ideas will break through and what seems like a safe bet will go nowhere. That’s the beauty and terror of the rapid changes we’re seeing.

Given this uncertainly, how does a small startup go from ‘nowhere’ to ‘now here’? (Love Guru reference for non-movie-buffs) How does an established company shift to meet a changing world?

Stay nimble

The first idea can often be just the precursor to the breakthrough. Look no further than Flickr, which set out to create a way to photo share as part of gaming. What they stumbled upon with photo sharing dwarfed the original plan in both creativity and financial value. What matters most about this story is that the founders were willing to see the market for their ‘accidental product’ and change gears and course.

Nimble companies change direction when the cues dictate.

Fail fast, fail cheaply

The ability to get to a great idea can require several attempts at products or services that may not work out. There are countless stories of inventors who found success on their 10,000th attempt, but that’s not the point. Get ideas out quickly and as painlessly as possible so that the good one comes to the surface sooner. The longer an idea takes to develop, the more costly and higher risk it becomes. We cherish the things that have taken our biggest investment, our ‘babies’, which can easily blind us to whether that investment was a good idea or not.

While on the topic…reward those who fail fast and don’t punish willingness to try out an idea. You’d be getting rid of your innovators.

Focus on the important things

What matters most is that the idea has market value and that you have the people to realize the vision. To that end, build a smart, creative team and avoid turnover. The longer you work to solve a problem together, the better you’ll get at it. The team will become experts at moving an idea from inception to market and will get faster and better each time.

Unless you’re one of the few who has unlimited funding (and therefore, time) and a first, perfectly conceived idea, your moves will need to follow these patterns to be successful.

Sure, there’s lots more advice about how to create or change your business. I would argue that this is the core of the problem…this is the hard stuff.


Categories: Disciplines, Disruption, Featured, Startups, Strategy

Author:Jeanne Roué-Taylor

I'm fascinated by disruptive technology and its impact on our world. I manage sales operations for an excellent startup with a unique team of highly experienced data scientists.

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2 Comments on “The fun of not knowing the answer”

  1. May 23, 2012 at 10:09 am #

    Jeanne, some great work is being done around lean startup – applying lean (ex. removing waste) from the startup process as well as making it a well understood process with stage gates. The goal is to make the whole process much less of an “art” or a hit or miss type of endevor and instead make it more predictable. Some of the more influential work in this area comes from Steve Blank (Four Steps to Epiphany) and Eric Ries (

  2. Ron Webb
    May 23, 2012 at 2:49 pm #

    Jeanne, it is funny to me that this post reflected more to me as a manager. This was one of the biggest issues I had to deal with as I became a manager, and as the problems I dealt with in business became more complex.
    I basically got to where I was by being able to assess situations quickly and make solid decisions. I was the guy with the answer. I quickly realized I wasn’t going to be able to be that guy any longer. There was just too much complexity to be able to make the right call using the same approach.
    The items you line out for start-ups were very similar to those I had to put in place for myself. It was a very eerie similarity.

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