Venture Design: The Art of the Start

Download 1.01.ArtOfTheStart.pdf

I’m happy to be hosting Guy Kawasaki’s The Art of the Start manifesto on behalf of my friends at ChangeThis. It’s a great essay on the process of creating cool stuff, and is a snappy piece of thinking and writing. I particularly like Kawasaki’s emphasis on building a successful venture via iterative problem solving – right NOW:

What you should is (a) rein in your anal tendency to craft a document and (b) implement. This means building a prototype, writing software, launching your Web site, or offering your services. The hardest thing about getting started is getting started. Remember: No one ever achieved success by planning for gold.

I’m looking forward to reading the complete book. I think it will be like a tasty mix of The Knowing-Doing Gap, Innovator’s Solution, and Free Prize Inside.

How to Be Creative, from gapingvoid

Hugh Macleod at gapingvoid has assembled a nice How to Be Creative tip list. I’ve pulled his headers into a list below, but it’s definitely worth clicking through to his site for the full commentary. I especially like his “Keep Your Day Job” dictum, which is great advice for all those investment bankers out there who plan to quit and become painters. Not that they shouldn’t, but if you’ve got a good job you can afford to buy paint. And healthcare. But I digress:

1. Ignore everybody.
2. Creativity is its own reward.
3. Put the hours in.
4. If your biz plan depends on you suddenly being “discovered” by some big shot, your plan will probably fail.
5. You are responsible for your own experience.
6. Everyone is born creative; everyone is given a box of crayons in kindergarten.
7. Keep your day job.
8. Companies that squelch creativity can no longer compete with companies that champion creativity.
9. Everybody has their own private Mount Everest they were put on this earth to climb.
10. The more talented somebody is, the less they need the props.
11. Don’t try to stand out from the crowd; avoid crowds altogether.
12. If you accept the pain, it cannot hurt you.

via Joi Ito

Jerry Garcia on Strategy

Brian Camelio, President of ArtistShare, came up with a radical new business model for musicians by asking himself the fundamental question of any strategy generation exercise: what will make me unique and desirable? As he told the New York Times:

I got to thinking: what’s the one thing you can’t download, the one thing that the artist can hold onto? The answer: the creative process. That’s the product I’m offering: the creative process.

What he come up with is ArtistShare, a collection of tools to help artists move from a product-centric business model to one built around continuous, interactive relationships with their audience. In his new approach, recorded music is allowed to do what it does best – be an idea virus that sells the artist – and value is claimed for the artist instead by charging for access to the rest of the creative process. Kaplan says it well:

The creative process is a timeline. It is a living, breathing thing. An artistic product… is just a quick snapshot of that timeline. The moments of brilliance an audience hopes to experience when purchasing that artistic product exist throughout the entire process.

I applaud ArtistShare’s determination to build a thriving venture off of a business model innovation (check out their patent here – respek!). It is a wonderful answer to the strategic question posed at the top of this post. As that notable musician/business guy Jerry Garcia once said (thanks to Tom Peters for the quote):

We do not merely want to be the best of the best, we want to be the only ones who do what we do.

The d.school at Stanford

Wonderful things are brewing at Stanford University in the form of the d.school.  You’re undoubtedbly familiar with "B Schools" (business schools), but the d.school is something entirely different:  its goal is to help people learn to use the process of design to solve problems beyond the traditional domains of industrial design, product design or architecture.

Simply put, the d.school will train leaders who are able to think and do.  And we’ll all be better off for it.

When the Prototype Becomes the Product

The June 18th edition of The Economist discusses using the rapid prototyping technique of building plastic and metal parts layer by layer – someday –  to “print” replacement organs one cell at a time.  Living cells grown in a culture would be loaded into the hopper and then mechanically spit out to create a new liver, tongue or eyeball.

In my mechanical engineering days, I employed this layer-by-layer technology to create prototypes of my designs.  The purpose of these prototypes was to fine-tune the metadesign before releasing it to production, where it would be churned out in the thousands, millions, or billions.  Designers love the ability to print out parts, as it enables a high level of fidelity with quick turnarounds, on the cheap. 

In fact, some designers (for example, Karim Rashid talks about this) go so far as to envision a future where everyone could design, modify, and print out their own special products.  In reality, for most arenas of material culture, allowing anyone to customize and print out products doesn’t quite jive, for a multitude of reasons ranging from safety to performance to IP to aesthetics.  For example, would you really want to mess with the professional design expertise embedded in your iPod just to have a personalized shape or interface?  Myself, I’d gladly pay for Mr. Ive’s aesthetic values over my own.

In contrast, there’s an obvious and compelling value proposition in using rapid prototyping to create custom versions of anything that becomes part of the body.  In some ways this degree of customization is already being achieved today, albeit with ancient casting techniques, in the domain of custom replacement dentures.  But just imagine what happens when we get new organs designed, built and delivered expressly for a market of one. 

Strongly-Held Beliefs of Lutz

I consider Bob Lutz to be the epitome of the designer/product guy as business person.  He gets great product at an elemental, instinctive level, and couples that facility with deep execution skills in the business arena.  As evidenced by the changes he’s wrought at GM (400 horsepower, 6-speed Cadillacs!), he’s a walking, talking example of what happens when you smash Knowing-Doing gaps to oblivion.

And how can you resist the dissonant charm of a Cohiba-puffing, Cobra-driving, jet-flying ardent vegetarian?

Lutz’s "Strong-Held Beliefs" memo, published upon his arrival at GM, is a classic piece of product development wisdom.  Here are the big ideas:

Strongly-Held Beliefs, by Bob Lutz
1. The best corporate culture is the one that produces, over time, the best results for shareholders.
2. Product portfolio creation is partly disciplined planning, but partly spontaneous, inspired all-new thinking.
3. There are no significant unfilled "Consumer Needs" in the U.S. car and truck market (except in the commercial arena).
4. The VLEs (vehicle line executives) must be the tough gatekeepers on program cost, content, and investment levels.
5. Much of today’s content is useless in terms of triggering purchase decisions.
6. Design’s Role Needs to be Greater.
7. Complexity-reduction is a noble goal, but it is not an overriding corporate goal.
8. We all need to question things that inhibit our drive for exceptional, "turn-on" products.
9. It’s better to have Manufacturing lose ground in the Harbour Report, building high net-margin vehicles with many more hours, than being best in the world building low-hour vehicles that we make a loss on.
10. We need to recognize that everything is a trade-off, that we can’t maximize the performance of any one function to the detriment of overall profit maximization.
11. Remember the Bob Lutz motto: "Often wrong, but seldom in doubt."

See the full memo here

Venture Design, continued

I’ve been writing about how anything can be designed and prototyped, even a venture or a business.  Nailing a concept design is critical to long-term success, as both flaws and strong points telescope out far into the future.  A rich example of how very critical concept design is can be seen in this thought from Dr. Mario Theissen, Director of BMW Motorsport.  Here he’s talking about the design of their Formula 1 car:

"If you look at this small line between success and failure – the big difference there is whether your concept is right or not. If the concept of the car or the engine is not right, you won’t be able to fix it in the running season, you’ll have to come up with a new concept and that takes time and it requires total focus. If the concept is right – and that’s what we found out last year after a few races – and you just have not been able to exploit the potential of the concept, then you can make it."

Imagine if BMW Motorsport didn’t have to wait until the Formula 1 season started to know – really know – whether or not their fundamental car concept was quick enough to be a winner.  The payoff would be tremendous, as it takes about $300 million to campaign a season of Formula 1, and for that kind of money, you might as well win a few races.  You can prototype anything, and should.  But doing it is quite another thing.

Knowing by Doing at Pixar

I used to say for years that story was the most important thing to us.  Then I realized that all the other studios were saying the same thing.  They say that and then they go and produce crap.  What you say doesn’t mean a damn thing.  It’s what you do that matters.”
                                                                                        — Dr. Ed Catmull, President, Pixar

(Pixar gets things done using a “fail early to succeed sooner” rapid prototyping process where story concepts go to the big screen early so that bad ideas get surfaced fast)

Why not innovate NOW?

Innovation is a big word in business these days, but the phrase "let’s be innovative" can trigger a flood of procrastination and fear which does anything but encourage innovative behavior. 

The good news is that you can become more innovative just by taking some action, however small, today.  My favorite book on this subject is The Knowing-Doing Gap.  In one section of the book, 49ers coach Steve Mariucci explains how he stamps out inaction by not sporting a watch:

I always know what time it is. It is always NOW. And NOW is when you should do it.

Go on!  Go innovate!  Just do something, no matter how small it may seem to you.  Worlds will open up. 

Catch my review of The Knowing-Doing Gap at 800-CEO-Read-Blog