A Simple Way to De-Risk Innovation

Josh Linkner
August 08, 2021

Josh Linkner

Five-time tech entrepreneur, hyper-growth CEO, NY Times bestselling author and venture capitalist.

We know that embracing innovation is the only way to grow and win over the long term, but it sure can feel risky and overwhelming. This is often because we overemphasize idea generation while skipping the most important step in the process: experimentation. Most of us think:

Step 1: Generate an idea

Step 2: Widespread implementation

Step 3: Grit our teeth and hope it works, or horrible stuff will happen

No wonder we're scared of trying new things when the stakes are that high. If an untested idea doesn't manifest perfectly, we could sink our company, lose our job, or tank our career. That level of risk is just bonkers!

Luckily, there's an easy fix: crude experimentation.

After initial ideas are conceived, we can drastically reduce risk by building a test plan. Instead of wild, swing-for-the-fences moonshots, start by exploring how cheap and fast you could test your idea. Could you build a prototype out of Play-Doh? Could you test with a single customer for 15 minutes on a Tuesday afternoon? These early, crude, low-fidelity experiments can quickly tell you if your idea has merit or if it should be tossed.

If an experiment shows promise, just expand the size and scope of the experiment and try again. At each pass, you'll likely tweak and refine your idea so by the time you get to a more lifelike (high-fidelity) experiment, the odds are already in your favor. And when it's time to launch, your probability of success is 1000 times higher. Here's a far better process:

Step 1: Generate a bunch of ideas

Step 2: Select a few ideas to test

Step 3: Crude experiments (cheap and fast). Quickly discard ideas that flop

Step 4: Refine ideas that show promise, test again. With each test, increase the scope, scale, and fidelity of the experiment

Step 5: Widespread implementation, only after your experiment results are stable and predictable

Step 6: Sit back with confidence and enjoy the fruits of your creativity

With this new model, you only go big once the evidence supports it. In other words, you've now radically reduced the risk factor. This approach works for products, marketing, processes, sales strategies, safety measures, recruiting techniques, and just about everything else we care about (including getting your five-year-old twins to finish their vegetables, which I know firsthand).

The experimentation mindset will help you get it right and get there faster. Realizing that every single new idea won't work out, we might as well have the misfires occur during a small test rather than with your most important customer.

Test constantly cheap and fast. Crude prototypes and experiments are the most pragmatic way to drive widespread innovation with a high success rate.

Experiment Constantly. Fail Small. Win Big.

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