Set out to prove yourself wrong

Sep 07, 2017

As far as we know, no one can predict the future. Yet that doesn’t stop us from insisting on trying to prove our hunches. What’s infinitely more useful is trying to disprove our hunches. If you’re building products this is doubly true.

Seek to be wrong

Not all ideas are born equal - the rare few are all that stand out from the crowd. But to find those bright sparks in amongst the mess you need to eliminate the multitude of other ideas vying for a stake in your product. This is best done by analyzing data created through rapid testing and experimentation.

The defining factor of consistently prolific and successful product design teams is how often and how quickly they test their hunches, ideas, and predictions with the total expectation of failure.

It’s a lot easier to adopt this method of product development than you think. A healthy process for testing new ideas for failure looks something like this:

  • Expect all your ideas to be wrong - but test them anyway
  • Test ideas quickly, constantly, simultaneously (where possible)
  • Define clear parameters for what failure looks like (E.g. “If less than 1,000 users use this feature in the next 30 days it’s a no-go”)
  • Celebrate and move on when things fail and invest proper development time in those ideas that work

By having a continuous pipeline of small-scale idea-testing, innovation is incorporated into the most basic of levels, with only minimal risk. Optimizing for small failures and experiments increases the number of paths you can take your product along and enhances your chances for overall success.

Each failure is a success

To truly embrace the idea that each quantified minor-failure is a success it’s essential to shift your mindset and see that small failures fill the gap between the known and unknown. Rather than striving for complete certainty with only one or two ideas, each small failure adds to your overall product knowledge.

This in turn means you can move forward with quantified information showing what definitely doesn’t work, thus increasing your quantified product knowledge.

In a sense, continuously striving for small failures moves you closer toward complete certainty of your overall product than striving for one or two huge feature successes ever will.

Context is king

Experiments and failures only add value if they’re set within a wider context. It is essential to set clear expectations for what makes an idea a failure or a success. Armed with this information you can accurately visualize the impact this small thing has on the overall product vision.

Create data that benefits your product knowledge

As Barry O’Reilly says:

Product development is about creating knowledge about the product

Ongoing small-scale experiments that test your wildest ideas are guaranteed to enhance your product knowledge and move your product forward to its next best iteration. They close the information gap and arm you with abundant data with which to make decisions.

How you collect, analyze, and use that data is fundamental to ongoing knowledge creation and product iteration.

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