How to Take Ideas from Concept to Creation

Have you ever come across a product or service that you had the idea for months or years ago?  Perhaps that frustrated you since you had the idea first and yet someone else is earning profits on your idea!

This happens often and makes one thing very clear – ideas are cheap.  Anyone can have an idea; what separates us from the person who is now profiting off the idea is execution.  That is, they took that idea from concept to creation.  I have spent the better part of the last 4 years, facilitating and teaching audiences all around the world how to take ideas from concept to creation.  I break the mission down into four steps, which I will describe below.

C2C Process

Identify the Problem – For any idea to become a viable and sustainable solution, it must address a real problem faced by a specific group of people.  The problem is also known as the market.  Without a market, a solution will not succeed, as it will not actually solve anything worthwhile.  In order to prepare your idea for the next step, it is critical that you: determine the problem you are intending to solve, the audience you intend to solve it for, and how/when the problem is currently measured/noticed.  The following are 5 questions to help guide you through your research.  For additional and deeper questions, read my article, 30 Questions to Help You Identify the Problem.

  • What is the problem as you currently know it? Describe a specific situation (include the people and stakeholders involved and their role/experience)
  • What job or task was the person suffering the problem attempting to accomplish, when the problem happened?  Learn more about Jobs to be Done Theory.
  • How did the person know the problem was happening or happened? Or did the person not even know?  (this opens an interesting possibility)
  • How is the success of the attempted job or task measured?
  • What does the problem cost to any or all of the stakeholders involved in the problem?

Validate Your Findings – All of the work you did in the first step helped you establish a collection of hypotheses related to the problem, however, this must be verified through first hand investigation and data collection.  While you may be absolutely certain that your problem statement is correct, it is almost a certainty that you are not 100% accurate.  Validation of your problem, through surveys, observations, experiments, and interviews, will help you refine the problem ahead of beginning the design of a solution.  Your problem may be made up of 10, 15, or 20 hypotheses; set up surveys, observations, experiments, or interviews, accordingly to confirm each one.  Once you have all of the results, update and finalize your problem statement.  Consider the following questions in your effort to validate the problem.

  • Are the problem stakeholders you identified actually connected to the problem? If not, did you have too many or not enough?
  • Would the person suffering from the problem consider the problem “painful” enough to warrant a solution? Is the job or task they are attempting important enough?
  • What evidence do you have to support the estimates for the problem or opportunity cost?
  • If the problem is one that no one is aware of, how can you verify it is worth solving?

Solution (re)Design – Let’s be honest, you already had the solution in your mind before you began investigating the problem thoroughly.  Thus, with a validated problem in hand, you will need to design or re-design the solution to address the specific elements of problem.  For this step, design a solution that does no more and no less than what the problem calls for.  Product-Market fit is critical to resonating with potential customers/users.  Build too much solution and your customer sees it as too complicated.  Build too little solution and your customer is left having to find the remainder of the solution elsewhere.  Consider the following questions in your solution (re)design.

  • How does your solution allow the user to complete the intended job or task?
  • Which features of your solution address which features of the problem? Are there extra features?  Or not enough?
  • How much does the solution cost in relation to the cost of the problem?
  • In what measurable ways does the solution improve/solve the problem? (refer to problem metrics)
  • In what measurable ways does the solution complicate the job or task of the user?
  • Conduct a cost/benefit analysis of the complications versus improvements.

Design a Sustainability Model – Solutions that are meant to solve problems for people other than yourself must have a way of surviving on their own.  That is, they must have a model for sustaining themselves in the market.  This is absolutely critical if you plan to scale your solution to reach ever increasing users.  Consider the following elements when designing your own sustainability model.

  • Target customer segments (distinguish between user and customer, if applicable)
  • Value proposition for each customer/user segment, what are they?
  • Pricing strategies and models, what are they?
  • Fixed and variable cost elements, what are they? (focus on the big ones first)
  • Distribution channels and methods, how will you get this into the hands of the customer?
  • Competition, who are they, how do they compete with your solution?
  • Customer acquisition, how will you find and secure customers?

Take this process and run your idea through it.  Spent most of your time on the problem.  Solutions are easier to design when the problem is understood clearly, comprehensively, and deeply.

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How Goals Can Distract You From Success

Growing up I was always told to keep my eye on the prize (my goals).  It made sense, so I didn’t really question it.  As I got older I could still see the value in the statement.  Goals are important; they give us a direction and destination to pursue.

However, earlier this year I began to realize that maybe my eye shouldn’t be focused too intensely on the prize.  Perhaps I should focus it more on my efforts and actions.  Now, I am not saying to forget the prize (goals), what I mean is that once you know what the goal is, you don’t need to focus on it so much.  For instance, if you want to be a lawyer, you don’t need to remind yourself everyday that you want to be a lawyer.  If you are enrolled in and attending law school, you have probably already internalized that goal.  Your proverbial “eye” should instead be on the actions and efforts that will get you there because ultimately, that is the only thing within your control.  In fact, your goal could become somewhat distracting in a negative way.  By focusing on it a lot, it feels as if you have more to lose with each setback and there will be setbacks.  This causes an unnecessary distraction that can be avoided.

The efforts and actions represent the journey and becoming a lawyer represents the destination.  Given that we spend most of our time on the journey versus the destination, it makes sense that we shift most of our focus to where we spend the most time.  If we do that, we can dedicate most of our energy to the efforts and actions that culminate into the goal.

This doesn’t just apply to careers; this applies to relationships, athletics, personal goals, etc.  Focusing on what is outside of our control creates unnecessary frustration whereas focusing on what is within our control can liberate us from frustrating levels of disappointment. Continue reading

3 Steps for Building a High Performance Team

Successful businesses do well because of their amazing teams, not their products and services.  Many of us will probably agree that people and teams are the most valuable asset any business possesses and also your most critical competitive advantage.  Rowing Team - HPTUltimately, ideas can be copied, modified, and upgraded.  However, it is difficult to copy teams and/or steal them (well, most of the time).  Furthermore, a well-functioning team is more productive and efficient and thus delivers more value and output for the same money.  However, this is all a moot point if you are not unleashing the power of your team.  If your team is not producing and performing at its best, you are not enjoying these benefits and are susceptible to competition.  This puts you in a position to have to fight competition in more dangerous (i.e. costly, detrimental, etc.) battlefronts like pricing and advertising.

Barcelona Team

A great example of a high performing team.

Building and developing a high performing team requires many important ingredients.  However, there is one fundamental element that forms the foundation for high performing teams and that is clear and concise objectives and roles.  To use a sports metaphor, consider one of the most high performing soccer teams in the world, FC Barcelona.  They are very clear about their objectives (i.e. hold the ball, control the flow of the game, take high percentage shots).  For the record, not all soccer teams have the same objectives.  They also have clearly defined roles and operational strategies for how they execute their objectives.  For a better understanding of what this looks like in action, click on the image of the team for a short video.  You can see from the video how their team looks like a thinking and breathing organism of its own.  It’s not about one person.  It’s about an entire team coming together.

The following is a list of steps necessary to ensure you too have a strong foundation from which to develop your high performance team.

1.  Design and consistently communicate clear and concise business objectives.  This typically begins with the vision of the organization – a clear picture of what, where, and how the business will look, feel, and operate at some point in the future.  The vision also includes what the environmental context will look, feel, and operate like in the future.  In other words, this is the future that the organization is running after.  Next comes the mission.  This will clearly communicate “how” your business will run toward the vision.  From the mission, come your specific objectives.  The more clear the vision and mission are, the more easily you can create, communicate, and evaluate objectives for the business.  These clear and concise objectives are critical to the foundation of high performing teams because it gives way to the next important step.

2.  Design the operational strategy, plan, and processes that will define how the business operates in order to achieve its objectives and execute its mission on a consistent basis.  Imagine your business as a thinking and breathing organism.  When you design your business operations strategically, your business takes on a life of its own.  This has many benefits from a competitive and operational perspective.  Competitively, it is difficult to copy or steal an entire operations strategy and process.  Operationally, it means that the business does not rely solely on people like the owners or top executives to operate successfully.  Instead, the leaders can focus on doing what they are supposed to do – lead – while the business is positioned to operate efficiently and effectively on its own.  With this strategy and plan in mind, you are now ready to begin the next critical step.

3.  Design clearly defined and concise roles that support your operational strategy.  With your operational strategy, plan, and processes, you now have what you need to design the most effective roles for your organization.  These roles will be the ones necessary to maintaining the operation and if clearly defined and communicated, your team will have a deep understanding of the essential role they play within your operational context.  Furthermore, when roles are designed clearly and fit effectively into an operational context, it significantly reduces friction (i.e. employee stress, operational inefficiencies, miscommunication, etc.) in the business.

Equipped with this strong foundation, you can begin to build and develop your high performance team.  This insight is just as important for a three-person company as it is for a 20,000-person organization.  Two weeks ago, I was coaching a startup company that was suffering from some friction and we realized it was due to a lack of clearly defined objectives and roles.

Leaders from successful startup businesses, with anywhere between 2-10 employees, all the way to Fortune 100 companies like General Electric (specifically during the Jack Welch era) have leveraged this framework for building and developing powerful teams.

Start by evaluating your vision, mission, and objectives.  Then look at your business-wide operational strategy to ensure it lives and breaths to accomplish the objectives and execute on your mission.  Finally, take a look at the roles in your organization to ensure you have all of the right people on the bus and sitting in the right seats.

How to Hack Your Ability to Learn Quickly

I recently started reading The Talent Code by Daniel Coyle, a book about unlocking the neurological insights for developing skills in sports, art, music, math, and just about anything. What interested me most about this book was the neurological perspective that Daniel Coyle wrote from. He truly dedicated this book to unlocking our ability to develop skills and talent all the way from the cellular level. His writing style is great and easy to follow.

The Talent Code by Daniel Coyle

In his book he talks about the significant role that myelin plays in learning and developing skills. Essentially, if you consider brain cells (neurons) the data and the connections (axons and dendrites) the reporting, synthesis, and insight from connecting the data then myelin is the auto-reporting feature that consistently extracts and executes on the insight from these established connections even as the data evolves and updates. So imagine an automatically generated report that runs periodically pulling updated data on a regular basis. You have essentially locked down this reporting insight and turned it into an actionable tool. Myelin is the wrapping that insulates the connections made between and among neurons in your brain. It exists in order to lock down skills and abilities you learn so that you can use them again on-demand and at increasingly difficult levels. Significant myelin forms when you achieve a deep level of practice on a regular basis. This is the kind of practice that the best athletes engage in on a regular basis, thus where we get the saying, practice makes perfect. However, Coyle makes a slight change to that by adding that perfect practice makes perfect.

MyelinIn his book, Coyle writes a great deal about perfect practice and cites a case where a girl learned to play a song on her clarinet in 6 minutes. Essentially, she captured a month’s worth of learning in 6 minutes. The student, Clarissa, was considered mediocre and not significantly talented prior to this event. What she did, successfully, was fall into a deep level of practice where she was aware of and worked through every mistake she made. She started by working through the entire piece with all of her mistakes and then broke it down into pieces. She hacked her learning ability in order to produce an outstanding result in a short amount of time.

Speed BagI recently tested this with an experiment of my own. I have wanted to learn the speed bag at my boxing gym for a couple of months now. I attempted it a few times and couldn’t get any rhythm going at all. So the other day I stepped up to the bag and committed to deep practice no matter how bad I looked (ignoring self-consciousness is key to deep practice). Five minutes into it, the on-duty instructor came by and offered some help. He demonstrated the entire skill and then broke it down into the steps. I gave him 110% of my attention. Then he left me to practice. I made so many mistakes but this time I was aware of them and simply kept making adjustments to correct for them. I started to become aware of my timing, the location on the bag I would hit, my positioning (feet and hands), my rhythm, my pace, and my posture. At this point I am adjusting each of these as I correct each mistake. All of a sudden I can hit the bag several times in a row. First I go for 5 in a row. Then what I felt was an impossible 10. Took some effort to get to 10. All of a sudden I am at 20 hits in a row. Then I set a goal of 100. I could not stop until I hit 100 with each hand, straight through, no errors. Thirty minutes later, I did it. I had completely acquired the skill of hitting the speed bag. I essentially compressed a month’s worth of practice into 30 hyper-focused minutes of deep practice. I felt like a video game character leveling up! I went back two days later and tried again. I picked up right where I left off. Except this time I had a new goal. I wanted to incorporate a little footwork into it and move while I was hitting it. Fifteen minutes into the practice, skill acquired. Two days after that, I had a new goal. To hit the bag at least 10 times in a row with my eyes closed. Thirty minutes of deep, hyper-focused practice later, skill acquired, level-up achieved.

This simple experiment helped me realized we can all do this for just about anything we choose. We simply need to spend time in deep practice and not care even one bit what others think. I have already begun a new experiment for taking penalty shots and direct kicks with a soccer ball. In my first two hyper-focused practice sessions I saw dramatic improvements in my consistency and accuracy with the ball.

Breakdown of the steps I took:

1. Decide that you truly want to learn something.  This is important because deep and focused practice requires dedication and commitment.

2. Observe a demonstration of the entire skill in action by an experienced person.  This is very easy thanks to YouTube.  Focus on all of the movements, steps, etc.

3. Break up the skill into smaller chunks (i.e. steps).  Ask someone or yourself, what are the steps this breaks down to.  Watch the demo carefully for these steps.

4. Attempt the entire skills with mistakes and all.  Just run through it so you get a feel for the entire skill you decided to acquire.  You MUST not care what others around you think.

5. Begin practicing and pause with each mistake, reflect on what the mistake was, make corrections and start again.  Focus 110% on this step.  No distractions, just you and the desired skill at hand.  Each time you will notice different steps that need tweaking so that they all come together for successful execution of the entire skill.

6. Repeat step 5 as many times as you need to complete a full demonstration of the skill.

7.  Celebrate with a big HELL YEAH when you can successfully execute the entire skill.

8.  Don’t stop there, keep increasing the challenge and practicing.  Myelin can eventually break down and with it goes your skill. This is why the best athletes practice even the simple skills (i.e. free throws) every day.

I share this with everyone because this is something all of us can do with almost anything we choose. Don’t allow yourself to be overwhelmed by the learning process. While high levels of mastery do take time, you can acquire the necessary skills a lot faster than you think.

What skill are you going to experiment this method with first?

5 Steps to Planning for Success

I’ve learned something over and over again. It seems no matter how much I plan for success, it never quite happens how I planned. In fact, my success turns out better than I planned.

To be honest, some things went according to plan, however, with reflection I realized that I never planned things quite as well as the situations that simply just happened spontaneously. When I strictly followed the plan, I was focused more on the individual tasks or objectives. And sometimes I would wonder what the purpose of all of this was. I was so focused on “the plan” that I would lose sight of “the goal.”

So, here’s what I learned about how to plan for success.

1. Decide on a goal and make sure it is as clear as can be at that moment. Truth is our goal today will never be as clear as it will be tomorrow. Tomorrow we will know more, we will have experienced more, and we will see things differently. It’s ok if your goal is not incredibly detailed. Just make sure you can share the essence of the idea with someone else. With each day that passes, it will become clearer.

2. Make a plan. This probably sounds contrary to my introduction, however having a plan is essential. A plan maps out the steps that you believe it will take to achieve your goal at that moment in time. You need a plan for things to NOT go according to plan. So make a plan 🙂

3. Be mindful. Be mindful and aware of your growth and development. Each day you learn something new based on the steps you detailed in your plan. With that development comes new ideas and new interpretations. What you know today is not what you knew yesterday, nor what you will know tomorrow. So stop for a minute to be mindful of your development.

4. Pay attention to the distractions. What may seem like a distraction from your plan may be a great opportunity to bring you closer to your evolving goal. When we allow our minds to step away from our goals for a little while we gain more perspective on them and begin to learn new frameworks from which to reflect on them. This is why TED is so successful, it provides people with an opportunity to step out of their comfort zone and take a delightful journey into someone else’s comfort zone and broaden their perspective. That distraction also gives your brain a break from your goals and allows you to process your thoughts and ideas in the background.

5. Be flexible. This is perhaps the most important step. As your goal evolves, as your framework expands, as your perspective widens, you will see more and think differently about your own goal and plan. You will have ideas for altering your plan or what will seem like “deviating” from your plan. Be flexible. Allow that to happen. This is your brain and heart’s way of saying “I have a better idea now.” Listen and be flexible enough to “deviate” from the plan because you aren’t deviating from your goal, which may or may not be the same as it was on day 1. And that’s ok. Most of the startup founders I have spoken to say that what they eventually created was quite different from what they originally set out to do. Their advice was to be flexible and let the idea evolve along its journey.

Consider your goals and previous plans you have set.  Often these 5 steps occur naturally, but resisting them may be limiting your potential for success.  Decide on a goal, set a plan, allow some distractions, develop your idea, and readjust your plan.  As long as you are moving toward your evolving goal you will be on the path towards success.

Oh, and please take the time to enjoy your journey.  The journey is where you will spend most of your time, so make it fun.