Often when a new idea promises to be the next big thing, organizations will throw as many resources as possible toward transforming the idea into a successful reality. But almost as often, the path to success isn’t that simple.
There are telltale signs that pulling back could accelerate innovation and better position you for future innovation.
“Incubation X” (not its real name) was the largest team we were working with, yet it was making the least amount of progress. Their pace was agonizing. It made no sense.
The reason was simple. Incubation X had dozens of engineers developing a product, but they had not achieved problem-solution fit. They had found a problem space that resonated with customers, but their product was not resonating. They needed to get out of the office and learn why.
For the second consecutive “pivot, pause, or persist” meeting I asked them, “If you don’t know what to build, why are you building it?” The founders explained they were building the solution because they wanted to keep their team busy. The very sad irony was that managing that team was taking most of their time; and it was preventing them from learning what they should be using that team to build.
It gets worse. Imagine how demoralizing it would be for the engineers to learn that they had been spending their creativity and effort, and likely sacrificing some of their personal life, for something that would never be used. Many of us have been there. It’s awful to find out you have been wasting your time. And it is irresponsible to knowingly put someone in that position.
We often see this paradox where the “committed bet” approach to innovation is practiced. In a committed bet, a team—normally large enough to develop and maintain a mature product—is deployed very early in the life of an innovative idea. This approach is common in large companies. The intent is to help a creative team bring an idea to market as rapidly as possible.
The irony is that a committed bet can jeopardize an idea’s chances of success by siphoning innovators’ energy and attention away from critical early stage activities. It can also drive focus toward an early solution hypothesis, lead to confirmation bias and—in some cases—drive emotional and resource commitment to building the wrong thing with incredible speed and efficiency.
New startups are not immune. We’ve also seen it there, when founders try to grow too quickly. You can find yourself in the same position if you are disrupted, or need to pivot, and are forced to revisit early stage activities like finding a new problem-solution fit.
What can you do when this happens? It normally starts with making the team smaller. In the Accelerator, we are fortunate to have many alternatives. For example, we can redeploy engineers to other incubating businesses that are growing or to a mature business elsewhere in the company. Depending upon the time required to pivot there may be an opportunity to provide sabbatical training that will benefit the team once problem-solution fit is confirmed. Or even give them a much-deserved holiday.
Ideas must thrive or pause based upon their own merit. As the Incubation X team learned, reducing team size does not guarantee an idea will succeed. Though, whether your incubation pauses or survives, it should get to the best possible outcome more quickly and with fewer resources. And you can use the resources you save for your next innovative idea.