Drew Smith: ethnographer, strategist and host of Rising Minds

Seth Godin on Testing

Seth has an annoying habit of encapsulating some ideas so succinctly that you basically need to copy and paste a post to get it out to your own audience.

He also has an annoying habit of… well… annoying some people ’round these parts but that’s another story.
Nevertheless, his post today hit one of the biggest innovation nails on the head. It concerns traditional processes of testing new propositions, something that anybody who works with more traditionally aligned clients on innovation strategy will have to deal with at some point.

Netflix tests everything. They’re very proud that they A/B test interactions, offerings, pricing, everything. It’s almost enough to get you to believe that rigorous testing is the key to success.

Except they didn’t test the model of renting DVDs by mail for a monthly fee.

And they didn’t test the model of having an innovative corporate culture.

And they didn’t test the idea of betting the company on a switch to online delivery.

The three biggest assets of the company weren’t tested, because they couldn’t be.

Sure, go ahead and test what’s testable. But the real victories come when you have the guts to launch the untestable.

Testing is surely one of the quickest ways to kill truly innovative propositions. Chuck something revolutionary out into your traditional consumer base for testing and it’s hardly surprising if it fails; most people wont actually be able to get their head around what you’ve presented them with.

A better bet, perhaps, is prototyping and designing iteratively with early adopters. These are the people who are actually going to drive mass-market adoption down the line and are a far better resource for refining innovative concepts into marketable propositions.
Image: Alforque

Category: Design Strategy

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One Response

  1. Ben Kraal says:

    Your last paragraph sort-of describes the idea of perpetual beta:

    But perpetual beta has an implicit assumption of refinement, rather than radical change.

    In my academic work, I occasionally invoke the horribly named “technomethodology” which is a way of poking at the world to see what happens when you do something new. (That definition is horribly reductive, but will do for a blog comment.)

    **Technomethodology, a primer**

    1. Put a new thing in the world
    2. see how the world has changed
    3. ???
    4. rinse; repeat.

    The trick can be to put radically different new things in the world on future iterations, rather than refinements.

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