Startups are efforts to plan and deliver a new project, program, product, or service under conditions of uncertainty. To examine the precariousness implied, pay close attention to five well-recognized organizing views They are known to business development interests in every field. Software services dominate today’s startup business market, but these systemizations of the entrepreneurial spirit probably date to when someone imagined a potter’s wheel becoming a vehicle.RLC
Here are those five views:
Entrepreneurs are 1) everywhere 2) most have management skills 3) and they are subject to “validated learning.” (?) Therefore, the fourth and fifth views focus on 4) implementation as a “build, measure, learn” sequence but rarely are they well informed by 5) innovation accounting.
If you hit that “? link,” you took a peek into the twilight zone of management gurus and a vast array of elegant maxims for ending uncertainty. One of those clever maxim gurus, Eric Reis, The Lean Startup made enough sense to hold a strong place on the NYT Best Seller List (roughly 5-10K sold per week to get on the list, then rising to #2). You will also find his approach transferable to the nonprofit, NGO world. The following is how we read it from that point of view.
Deem it possible to create ventures for an idea in short precise cycles. In that case, the institution, business, or industry size is not relevant. Instead, the key to using these views for a project is to notice changes, savor them and validate what was learned. A startup can perfectly or poorly select the metrics for deciding. Some of the most common are linked below that focus on the more agile sequences.
The startup strategy may seem obvious, but it varies significantly by the project or product sought. The traditional steps are 1) setting the requirements, 2) with specifications, to 3) begin design. As these steps occur, they make the problem and the product solution prominent in the mind of individuals. With this comes the confidence to 1) implement, 2) verify with modeling, and 3) test for maintenance and usability issues. Finally, the practice of fully recognizing the problem/issue leads to trusting the intended solution as understood equally. Unfortunately, these concluding steps tend to involve unsatisfactory participatory bargaining frameworks, even with oneself. To prevent these malfunctions from destroying the whole, innovation accounting is essential, especially to “startup” initiatives. There is a useful introduction to the novelty implied by this phrase from Reis (here).
What is the Account?
The release of a project/program into “the wild” may deploy many iterations for acceptance, rejection, and eventual dismissal into the market and a life of use destined to fail or soar. Trying to understand customers with specific consumable solutions (Joost vs. YouTube ?) share this unknown destiny. The effort to inject something into the world, even if it is a singular, unique item, hopes for approval marked by an exchange. Thereafter, the use and enjoyment, or how likely it will be dismissed or displaced by a competitor, is less concerned. Only the uncertainty seems sustainable. Nevertheless, the practices described above are reasonably successful when the solution and the problem are well known and similar to past endeavors. Injecting the lasting practice of discovery into the “account” requires a diversified approach.
All the iterations of a known solution from the horse and carriage to a self-driving car led to this brief tale on innovation.
Leaving the country estate, Sir Alfred Reid passed out while driving his carriage. He awakens outside his London home, surprised he stroked his horse and stumbled off to his bed. Thereafter, he was happy to tell everyone that he had a good-pony-solution or GPS.
Getting to transformative innovation in transportation doesn’t mean putting everyone into Sir Alfred’s carriage. Instead, this tale represents a singular feedback failure. However, even though creating systems as functional as a horse’s pathway memory appears to be today’s advanced technology, it does not. It merely presses for a known and comfortable solution. Moreover, it ignores innovation accounting disciplines in preference to the useful comforts of validated learning. Finally, it fails by not understanding the customer, only the product. The account is a practice that maintains a reckoning with customers as immediately as possible. In this century, the open-ended practice of dropping sparkling objects ere the consumer’s eye is one of the most self-destructive mistakes to social and environmental well-being ever made. Reis argues it is for the lack of revolutionary innovation. We agree.
What is Innovation?
Successful innovation has two sides of a coin. One moves quickly to understand conditions in short-time sequences. The other side uses data from these compact arrays that define relationships. Thus, two sides of a coin establish opportunity, but you have to move like Mario with new data. (?)
How? First, with your product or service, create a clearly established baseline composed of a minimally sustainable/viable product (MSVP). Sustainable means undamaging to future generations, and viable, in our opinion, means “not dead yet.” Couple the MSVP with the ability to measure customer utilization and behavior as it occurs. Next, collect the short cycle data and measure each trial. Savor the metrics in these cycles, but know they must be carefully selected.
No matter how innovative, a point of diminishing returns occurs. If attention is only paid to the first two components of the accounting effort, trouble will brew. The final benchmark, therefore, becomes knowing when to pivot or persevere. Despite the uncertainty of this decision, recognizing the third side of the coin is critical during this process. The pivot or persevere side is the one on which it spins. Here is one story of the “when, where, and why” of a pivot.
In the mid-1980s, a well-known university architecture and urban planning program offered its students two studios entitled Community Design and Social Action to be taken sequentially. The courses were supported by a small administrative office that vetted requests for planning and design assistance from local community development organizations throughout the city. One prospective client approached the office with an idea for an extensive training and education center. The center would heighten the skills of volunteers from neighborhood associations and the staff of community-based development corporations.
The Community Design course provided the planning and research for the concept. Within fifteen weeks, the idea of a training center proved positive, as confirmed by a study of community needs, availability of participants, and a line of probable funding for training people. However, capital for a new or rehabilitated physical location was not available. As a result, the client’s dream of a bustling center of social change agents faded. New questions were asked in the next fifteen-week Social Action cycle. Is space of any size available to demonstrate the training idea? Eventually, a location previously thought of as undesirable was re-identified. It was small but in a convenient location. It represented a minimal but sustainable opportunity. At this point, a clearly identified program baseline was defined. The product became the design and construction of a flexible set of inexpensive, lightweight tables and vertical surfaces adaptable for small-group workshop areas and moderately large presentations.
Tools for Resilence
The first distribution of sequences occurred in fifteen weeks, involving traditional steps. The project could have produced one process: presentation drawings for an extensive training center design along with a hearty handshake and a good luck smile. However, the metrics to demonstrate successes/failures would have been obscure. So instead, the Social Action component in the ensuing fifteen weeks asked to identify a minimally sustainable product. It was assigned metrics and benchmarks to sustain a record of accomplishment lasting years. In this process, multiple layers for understanding “the customer” occurred in just thirty weeks. The project selection process for access to this planning and design resource used a detailed online questionnaire. In brief, it incorporated the organization’s characteristics, the type of assistance requested, background logistical data, timeframe, names of committed participants, mission statements, and extra-investigative elements. It was the minimum sustainable product for establishing essential data to define opportunities for a close customer relationship.
The project began with students, faculty, and a client/customer. The customer/client transformation into a training director was possible because the initial selection and interview process and research confirmed the client’s skills and experience in attracting customers. In this training center case, a modest effort was launched with volunteers and staff. Unfortunately, the process came face-to-face with the spinning side of that coin, and rather than persevere in hope. There was a pivot.
In the decades since this example, the capacity for a deep exploration of the relationship between technical assistance needs of all kinds and the desire of leaders to improve the quality of change is available for development. It lies in a vast digital matrix for expediting the delivery of products and services with a built-in capacity for rapid change. With the thirty-week sequence, including uptake and administrative follow-up support, this customer joined a growing movement of nonprofit local development corporations, community-based organizations, businesses, and companies dedicated to mission-driven change in metropolitan areas.
Feedback is best when it is unhesitating in a social setting. However, moving quickly from idea to building and measuring, gathering data, and leaning back into a conceptual idea should also be immediate. Developing a digital backbone for networks is extremely useful but demands new techniques. The links below can be explored for ideas on how to gather and share data on a platform.
From the fine artist or artisan to the builders of the new, new thing, the content of a post-product relationship varies dramatically. These relationships are vital but can be as simple as “how is that ‘it‘ working out for you” to the millions of data queries accessible by grouping values that aggregate items using the discrete categories of mathematical functions. Functions such as arithmetic mean, median, mode, range are available to anyone that decides to count things and, with their customers, build a platform to do so. A startup can establish a relationship with all those interested in acquiring a mutually useful set of products or services with prepared resources. These systems can focus on money solely, but the metrics are available to include other views such as those expressed by the term 3BL (?).
Whether for a social change training center or alternatives to a self-driving pod, the practice of innovation demands a careful selection of metrics. Moreover, the choice to engage in social change training or urban transportation engineering requires interacting with people and serving investors of all kinds. The following links will take you to a set of choices. Some of them may be uniquely suited to your program, project, or product development. Most will not. The options are many to choose from. They tend to focus on digital products. However, even the smallest product and service endeavor will have a digital existence. Transcending the customer-consumer model begins with the challenges of mutuality, transparency, and environmental intelligence. Understanding new and extraordinary ways to establish reciprocity in the exchange is the central provocation.
The following needs vetting. Each link is a rabbit hole to peek into for one reason. A fast sequence could list clients to compile a customer/client archetype and possible recommendations and referrals. A fast measure could be to prepare a split test occupied with a fast build unit test. If you have a website, you have an SQL database subject to refactoring. As mentioned above, these are rabbit holes. Choosing by adding information is not.
We are interested in personal reactions and recommendations useful for NGO B Corporation efforts. If you have some to share, please use the contact link (here). For example, becoming a Certified B Corporation® (here) does not refer to tax status at all; it describes a business with a particular mission to promote the public good in certain ways. Another post (here) examines New York City B-Certified businesses and seeks reviews.