Ruminating on design principles for new ventures

Having spent the past 18 months of my life launching five new ventures here at IDEO, I’ve been thinking a lot about the design of new ventures. Meta design thoughts, if you will.

I don’t have any big revelations to share with you yet, as this post is the beginning of the process of pulling all of that together, but what I’m trying to pull together is a personal take on how to create new ventures on a routine basis. I have this for how to design and lead a creative culture at scale, I have a personal take on how to lead teams, and I have my own take on hardware and software product development. I’ve had a working model of new venture design for the past eight years, but it was largely tacit, so I’m going to take some time over the next few months to hammer it out as one would a sword of the finest Valyrian steel.

I suspect this will lead to a rethink of my Principles for Innovating listed down the side of this blog, which would be cool, as I haven’t rethought those in a few years, and during that time I’ve definitely rolled up more than a few new miles on the life experience odometer.

I just discovered Andy Weissman. How has the universe been hiding this guy from me? Or more apt, what rock have I been hiding under? No matter, on the point of making decisions about and in a new venture, I really like his post titled The Chaos Theory of Startups. Here’s my favorite passage:

Your framework for making decisions matters as much or more than the decisions themselves, because the “chaos” of the system makes most outcomes indeterminate (again, chaos theory: “long-term prediction [is] impossible in general”).

So you need a framework, a set of first principles. That then guide your decision making and problem solving.

Taken a step further, I’ve always thought the most useful thing a venture investor can then do for a company is simply help them come up with that framework, that scaffolding, to throw all those choices into. And not specifically to help make the choices themselves. After all, one of the primary ways venture investors can add value is through having seen dozens and dozens of these chaoses. Presumably, we are well-suited to help determine frameworks for decision making in future, similar chaotic scenarios.

I think there are lots of different frameworks or first principles for decision making; it’s not a limited set. This may mean that figuring out the framework may be the hardest question of all.

Scaffolding: that’s the metaphor I need to move this thinking forward. What’s a set of component parts (first principles), that I can assemble so that they can be used to construct decision-making frameworks to fit any situation? I don’t aspire to create a perfect framework at all—what I want is a bunch of stress-tested, bullshit-detected, thoroughly vetted building blocks that can be tailored to any design situation you may find yourself in.

I’ll be writing about this a lot over the next few months. Would love any thoughts, ideas, and inputs you may have. By all means, please drop me an email or leave a comment or send me a tweet.