February 2014

Ideas that Produce Results #5: Fail Small, Succeed Big

by Sarah Thrift on February 24, 2014

We are making great progress. We have an idea and we know how to express it clearly.

This week’s article focuses on how to test your idea in a way that maximizes learning and highlights potential changes to the product/service.


There are 4 steps to do this. We look at these in turn below:

1. Get clear on what you are testing

Often when we have a new product/service, there are a multitude of things we can and may want to test for, such as the features of a product/service, its look and feel, how it can be purchased, and pricing. The thing is that it is typically hard to test many factors at once. Therefore you need to decide which factors you are testing for at which point. Thinking back to alignment, if you are working as part of a team you also want alignment behind what you are testing. What is it you are really keen to find out?

2. Design the test

There are two elements to designing a test.

The first element is to ensure that you avoid confirmation bias. This is to do with the wording of the test and the way it is framed. You need to be prepared and willing to be wrong. If not, you are likely, whether subconsciously or otherwise, just to be trying to prove your own beliefs or what you think you already know.

The second element is to ensure that the test gives an actual experience of the product/service rather than just talking about it.  For example, it is very hard for someone to tell you if they like your cookies or not unless they are able to taste them! Equally, it is difficult for customers to imagine what an online payment service looks and feels like without being able to access a sample website with sufficient functionality.

3. Read between the lines: see what your customers are actually saying.

When testing, your most important source of information is your customer base. However, the most important thing is not what they say to you, but how they react: for example, what their body language tells you. You should use these observations to ask further questions directed towards a greater understanding of what you are testing. At times, you also want to supplement the information you get from customers with broader desk-based research on customer behavior and trends.

4. What to do with the information you have acquired

Having conducted steps 1 through 3, you will likely have received some invaluable feedback, which you can use to improve your product/service. Again, you want to ensure that you are sharing and getting alignment behind the proposed changes to the product/service. Now repeat steps 1 through 3 with your modified product/service.

As soon as you have a viable product/service, you can launch it. Even once your product is launched, steps 1-3 should be regularly repeated so that your product is continually evolving and meeting the changing needs and requirements of your customers. We will talk more on this next week.

See you next week for our final installment of this Insight Series.


Ideas that Produce Results #4: Keep it Simple

by Sarah Thrift on February 17, 2014

Welcome to week 4 of this series of ideas that produce results. Over the last 3 weeks we have discussed how to ensure your idea meets a need, how to choose the most promising ideas, and why getting alignment behind the selected ideas is so critical.


Now that you have your idea and you have alignment behind it, you want to make sure you have a way to express it simply and succinctly. It doesn’t matter how complicated or technical your idea is, the ability to express it simply remains paramount. This means that you find ways to express it in different levels of detail, ranging from a simple overview to a comprehensive explanation.

The Pyramid Principle

A useful technique here is The Pyramid Principle that was developed by Barbara Minto. This involves building different layers to ‘peel back’ information, starting with the most important fact/governing thought at the top of the pyramid, to the bottom which contains comprehensive information.

Our brains naturally orders information into logical categories. For example, how would you remember the following shopping list?

Shopping List

  • Grapes
  • Milk
  • Potatoes
  • Cheese
  • Butter
  • Strawberries
  • Carrots
  • Apples
  • Yogurt

One popular way is to organize the list into fruit, vegetable and dairy categories. These categories are the “pyramids”.

Below is an example of the Pyramid Principle:

Pyramid Principle

Practice make Perfect

It often takes practice to express your product/service in a succinct yet compelling. Changing one or two words can make all the difference. You need to test this on all sorts of different people to see what works and what doesn’t. Get feedback and tweak accordingly. Where possible, go into the more detailed aspects of the idea, in order to test whether the way you are expressing it works.

Don’t underestimate the importance of this step. Too often, a great idea can be obscured by a poorly articulated or overly complication presentation. A tip I give people on my strategy courses is to test their ideas on a child and see if it is clear to them. This is the litmus test.

Next week we will talk about how to test and pilot your ideas so that you fail small and succeed big. See you next week!


Ideas that Produce Results #3: Align or Waste Time

by Sarah Thrift on February 10, 2014

Last week, we talked about ways to prioritize as a way of focusing on the most important idea. This week we will focus on how to get alignment behind the chosen ideas.


What does this mean?

Alignment is not the same as agreement. Reaching agreement, and indeed consensus, typically requires incredible effort, and can lead to disharmony amongst the group. In addition, in striving for full agreement, compromises often need to be made which dilute the strength of the original idea. Alignment, by contrast, for example behind an idea, means that we can all support or at least live with the idea without the need to agree with it 100%. It is also a much more achievable and practical way of uniting a team behind a concept.

Why does alignment matter?

Without alignment, a team of people will typically continue to work on whatever they personally think is important. This leads to a significant dilution of effort which can be disastrous. At best, it is an inefficient use of resources. Often, however, it can lead to stagnation and the inability to deliver on any idea.

The process of achieving alignment is itself important. A good process gives space for everybody to be heard and so feel valued. We are all much more likely to align behind someone else’s idea if time and effort has been given to consideration of our own idea. Furthermore, it is often through this process that an even better idea emerges from a combination of different ideas and viewpoints.


Ideas that Produce Results #2: Prioritize Your Ideas (Or, Choose or You Lose

by Sarah Thrift February 3, 2014 Ideas that Produce Results

Last week, we looked at how to ensure your idea will meet a genuine need. But suppose you have lots »» Read the full article