Friday, September 28, 2012

Don't Skin the Turkey

It doesn't matter if a cat is black or white, it only matters that it catches mice. Deng Xiaopeng

I came across a variation of a common question the other day on the Front End of Innovation LinkedIn Group.

"What is more relevant for a start-up? 1) creating a prototype, test marketing and modification of prototype, or 2) extensive market analysis prior to prototyping".

Variations on that question often ask about timing of intellectual property filings, when to raise money, what type of financing to obtain, etc. 

The root question is 'what is the best way to bring a new product to market'?

As I read through the well written responses, it brought back memories from my academic days studying entrepreneurs. Over a decade I had the pleasure of interviewing hundreds of innovators in dozens of industries. Here's what I found:

1) Their conviction that the best way to do it was the way they did.
2) Their condemnation of other peoples' approaches
3) There was no (obvious) common path to all and little in common between any two.

I considered that there was more than one way to skin a cat. Upon further reflection I decided that everyone was skinning a different animal. Finally, I decided that each innovation, each business, is it's own, unique monster, some in need of plucking, others in need of skinning and most defying stupid metaphors.

To take extreme examples: The regulatory issues of a new therapeutic drug create different obstacles to prototyping than a new smart phone app. A new weapons system requires a very different approach than a new house paint.

Even potential products that on the surface would seem to be very similar will follow different commercialization pathways because of competitors reactions, intellectual property landscape, production input costs, government regulations, corporate ownership structure and strategy, cannibalization of existing business, technological weaknesses, availability of capital, structure of capital, human capital availability, existing customer relationships, etc...and, importantly, luck.

Perhaps, at some very high level, one can argue that all innovation pathways have something in common. Some type of generic model that can be packaged and sold as a model by a consulting guru. 

However, at the level of execution, the only common denominator I can find is the very human factor of sifting through hundreds of inputs, identifying those more important to solving the problem at hand and making a decision.

In the end, it requires a human to make a decision and be committed to the belief that it could BE different.

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