By now it is startup and innovation project folklore that if you are not sufficiently embarrassed by the first version of your product, you have launched too late (apparently LinkedIn founder Reid Hoffman said this first). This catchy piece of advice goes well with a tasty serving of the Lean Startup concept of the Minimum Viable Product (MVP).
Much has been written about how MVPs might not really be the best way to go — as you face the danger of turning your valued customer into a lab rat, who might object to the treatment and often has a different view on what constitutes an acceptable level for “minimum”.
Right now I find myself on a long flight to Lima, Peru and am going through a set of old presentations decks — it is fascinating to see how they evolve: When I develop a new model, framework or concept, I tend to first mull it over in my head, take a bunch of notes in a paper notebook, sketch out a flow and draw (often on my iPad) an initial set of slides. This is my early “product development” — the material is clearly not ready for public consumption yet. I take this initial “prototype” to the team at be radical and a few trusted advisors. I have them poke holes into it, ask questions, point out areas which aren’t clear or don’t make sense. I also pay close attention to my own thought process as I verbalize the material.
Once I feel sufficiently good about the material, I put together an initial set of slides and embed it as a small part into an upcoming talk/session. Once in front of an audience, I pay close attention to my own explanation, the audience reaction, the energy in the room (are folks leaning in, taking notes or pictures or are they frowning or being distracted) and the overall flow. From here it is iteration after iteration – it regularly takes me around ten subsequent presentations (after each I go through my slides, make changes, add material where clarification is needed, remove material where it just adds confusion or is superfluous) until I get the slides into a state which I consider “stable”.
Looking back at the slides from all those different iterations it is pretty fun and remarkable to see how much they change – I often start with more slides, remove a bunch (applying Occam’s Razor) and then add new ones as I identify holes and areas which benefit from clarification.
Looking back at all my successes and failures both in startup as well as corporate innovation land, I see strong similarities to my content development process: It all comes down to your tenacity in rev’ing over and over again — until whatever you are doing is great. Because one thing is for certain: For most of us, our first version will always be pretty bad. That being said: Never let this stop you from putting your work out there! It might be uncomfortable, but real-world feedback is what will make your product or service what it deserves to be.