Principle 10: Baby Steps vs. Too Many Questions

Scott Anthony has a great post over at HBR called How to Kill Innovation: Keep Asking Questions

In it, he says:

It's just hard to have robust answers about an unknown future state.
Too frequently, taking the time to answer "What about…" questions
doesn't bring you any closer to achieving the goal of creating booming
growth businesses.

I like his essay because it is a nice way to frame the importance of Principle 10: Baby steps often lead to big leaps.  By asking too many questions, Scott says, firms avoid taking the kinds of small actions which would actually yield answers.  As I noted in my writeup of Principle 10:

As obvious as it may seem, starting something is essential to its
completion.  But often times people can't accept the challenge in front
of them, and so they find myriad ways to avoid doing something:  budget
reviews, scoping meetings, taking sick time, eating pizzas, buffing
that feature on your last project, surfing Facebook… all fine ways to
delay dealing with reality. 

The problem with shifting from "smart talk" to "right action" is that you may end up not looking so smart, at least in the short run.  You may do everything right, but you'll still fail, at least in the short term.  The trick is to be able to take a longer-term view in which each small failure becomes part of a stairway to success.  We learn a lot when things go wrong, because we're forced to reexamine our beliefs and assumptions about how the world works, and in doing so we are more likely to arrive at a hypothesis which, when acted upon, will create value in the world. 

For the solo entrepreneur or inventor, this is as easily said as done.  For the rest of us who live in large organizations, we can't expect to fail over and over and succeed unless the larger organization is set up to understand.  For that we need another innovation principle, which I will discuss here soon.

1 thought on “Principle 10: Baby Steps vs. Too Many Questions

  1. In many ways if one keeps talking instead of doing, then no mistakes have been made…..yet. If the first actions are small successes, then they just look obvious, not that those making the actions are genius. If the first actions are failures, you are clearly right, those taking the actions easily end up not looking smart. Failure is scary beause the end point of a series of failures is unknown. When will it be solved if ever?
    Sometimes I think it is best to show that you can tack, before you show that you have been buffeted by headwinds. This would be another reason to make sure that the first steps are blazingly quick. You can move on to find a successful step and then be able to tell the story of failures leading to success. Otherwise, if the first steps are too slow/big and are failures, then you’re stuck in the failed state for far too long and thus will be noticed.
    If the larger organization is not set up to understand the stairway to success (via small failure steps), what is it set up for?

Comments are closed.