Iteration: the Key Ingredient to Innovation

Photo by Pietro Izzo

Photo by Pietro Izzo

When creating something new, iteration describes the process of refining your idea or concept. The spirit of entrepreneurship urges us towards iterating in small steps towards “better” instead of hoping one large step gets us to “best.”

Iteration is liberating in that it removes the pressure to get the “best” idea/business concept on the first try — that the initial idea out of the gate must be a blockbuster. But iteration is also uncomfortable and emotional.  It is uncomfortable in that our institutions reward predictability, whereas iteration emphasizes pivots based on learning. It is emotional in that it relies on feedback – confirming and disconfirming. Have you ever had to hear harsh feedback on your idea? Yuck — it’s no fun in the moment, but it's the most critical de-risker of your project in the long-term.

So, what does iteration look like?

peerinsight_iterate.jpg

In the image above, you see our first idea for a new offering might be a triangle. We treat this idea as just that – a hypothesis, a great guess that this triangle might be the next big thing. And with a hypothesis, we set up experiments to look for confirming and disconfirming data. We talk to customers and stakeholders (the microphone) and poke at different ways to make it viable as a business (the checklist).  This loop leads us to morph (the hammer and nails) that triangle to a square  and then to a hexagon.

Over months (not years), we repeat this spiral until we ultimately find a better “big thing” (for users and for our business), and celebrate with a glass of champagne. We toast for a bit, but know that if we don’t keep running experiments with customers and business metrics, over time we’ll follow the same path as Blackberry, Kodak and many other companies that stopped iterating.

I’ve been lucky enough to be asked to speak at TEDxCharlottesville on November 14th where I’ll be sharing more ideas on iteration. I’m writing some blogs between now and then to help me iterate on my talk. I’d love to hear your confirming or disconfirming feedback!

Leave me a message below or follow me: @natalie_s_foley