Innovating Backwards & Forwards

Among other things, I’m an advisor to startup’s and ‘intrapreneurial’ ventures. I’m no sage, so what I can offer them is advice on where to focus and specifics on how to apply best practices.

I rarely have an advisee where I recommend a change in strategy. Most of them operate in specialty niches they know well and I know poorly or not at all.

Most of what we spend time on is processes to help them innovate faster. One way to look at those processes is in terms of moving backwards and forwards with regard to the core concept:


Innovating Backwards

How do you relate your activities back to advancement of your core value proposition? How do you know that what you’re doing on an hour-by-hour basis actually matters?

Most of this work has to do with making the core concept itself more explicit and then structuring the work related to its advancement as experiments with explicit assumptions, methods, time periods, and success/failure criteria.

Let’s say you’re looking to sell something to mom’s through your website. A normal set of things to do might be to update the site and then to run some ad’s to try to generate sales on the site. There’s nothing wrong with that, but how will you know if it’s working or if you should try something else?

It’s important to have specific assumptions on what you think those changes and those ad’s are going to deliver, and an experimental design with metrics that describes how you’ll know if you’re changes are passing or failing your success criteria.

I’ll be honest: emotionally, it’s kind of boring to keep track of all your work as experiments. It’s way more interesting to just make the changes, place the ad’s and then hope that this roll of the dice delivers something amazing.

The issue is that’s just creating output that way is not a reliable or effective way to build a business, product, or even a tactical initiative. The tortoise that plods along with explicit success criteria and new approaches to ‘failed’ experiments will almost always beat the hare that hops around whimsically trying things.

Innovating Forwards

How have we established the relevance of this idea for our buyer? What is our explicit view of who that buyer (or buyers) really is, what makes them tick, and what problem we’re solving for them? In most cases, we don’t go deep enough.

More investment in persona development and needfinding is well worth the investment. It can help us focus, eliminate wasteful efforts, and focus and interpret our experiments when we’re innovating ‘backwards’.


For more on how to do this, please see the Venture Design landing page.