(From my Chinese Column, as usual, presented in its original Mandarin and English.)
I want to start by telling you a very delicate story.
Years ago, I had a client who had invented a new technology that they were very excited about. I can’t tell you what it is, but it doesn’t matter, because this product never saw the light of day. But this client truly believed that this technology was going to be huge. Massive. Revolutionary. The Next Big Thing. Our client contact in particular had personally invested lots of time, a couple of years if I’m not mistaken, in nurturing, refining and researching this technology, but I distinctly remember my colleagues and I sitting around a table when we were first handed the brief for the product, shaking our heads and saying to one another: “Nobody is going to want this thing.”
The client excitedly presented us with their ‘research’ tapes, hours and hours of people sitting in bare focus group rooms late at night, being somewhat unsubtly persuaded by their own internal researcher to say positive things about the product. But it was pretty obvious from their body language and the fact that many of them spoke in clipped half-sentences that participants were simply trying to pacify whoever was asking them the questions and go home rather than add any genuine feedback or critique. I think one significant point on the tape consisted of three different people spliced together to make up a sentence.
The client gave us a model of their proposed product, and it was clunky, unusable and ergonomically unsound. They sat, with excited eyes, and said: “So, what do you think?” There was a long silence in the room.
What they had produced was what I now refer to as a dinosaur baby.
Dinosaurs were pretty powerful animals that ruled the earth for a while, but they were not exactly beautiful, most of them were glorified big lizards. A dinosaur baby, as defined, is something so ugly that only a dinosaur’s mother could love it. In other words, it is something that you love because you have given birth to it and nurtured it but, for certain, it is not something for everyone else to love.
Too often people in the world of innovation create their own dinosaur babies: products that they love intensely because they gave birth to them, products seen through a doting parent’s eyes rather than the eyes of a consumer, and in many cases, products created and designed in a vacuum without insight or inspiration from elsewhere. Why? Because the people creating them are so determined that they are right that they continue along a path, refining and refining, trying harder and harder to convince others of their vision. By the time most dinosaur babies hit the world, they have cost the parent a fortune in time, money and emotional energy, and it becomes more about convincing people of what they don’t see rather than asking them what they do see. Taken out of their mother’s grasp, most dinosaur babies don’t fare well.
So what should we do to avoid giving birth to dinosaur babies?
First, you need to bring others into your process as early as possible. You need to make the journey of creating anything as collaborative, constructive and insightful as possible Do not sit alone in a room with a blank sheet of paper - while I am sure that there are Eureka moments where lightning bolts of brilliance hit the lone-geniuses sitting at their desks, I also know from experience that these are few and far between. Bring friends, colleagues and potential end-consumers in: look, ask, brainstorm and create together. It spreads the load and allows for more rounded, discursive ideas to be built together. And really listen to feedback and don’t defend, assuming everyone else is crazy and only you see the brilliance. You need to learn to DWL: Detach With Love, and let go of your concept early if it is not viable. Don’t be a defensive single parent. Be a collaborative family.
Secondly, you really need to bring prototyping into your process, again as early as possible. Prototyping makes something tangible, and by doing so, allows others to react to it in more realistic and useful ways. Put most basically, they are reacting tosomething they can look at, touch and feel rather than words on a page, and you can use that feedback to refine, alter or even redesign your concept earlier. And to bring back the dinosaur mother metaphor one more time, fix it before you fall deeply in love with the thing you have given birth to. We use early stage feedback and create what we call ‘sacrificial concepts’ to show our clients the value of learning, iterating an often letting go as early as possible. “Fail early to succeed sooner,” is a phrase we use a lot.
I bumped into this client years later at a conference: he was now working in a totally different industry. The product he had fallen so deeply in love with never launched, nor did any other competitive version of it, or anything even remotely like it. I asked him how he felt. “Mad at myself for wasting all that time,” was the reply.
To good parenting.
应该让创造的过程尽可能地具备合作性、建设性和深刻洞察。不要自己一个人坐在房间里对着一纸空白搜肠刮肚——我相信有一些灵光一现豁然开朗的时刻，灵感像闪电似的击中了书桌前独自苦想的天才，但经验告诉我这种时刻很少而且很久才有一次。邀请朋友、同事和潜在的终端消费者参与进来：观察、询问、头脑风暴、一起创造。你的负担减轻了，而想法则更加全面、更有综合性。要真正听取反馈意见，不要辩护，不要虚妄地认为举世皆狂唯我独清。你必须学会DWL (Detach With Love，剥离爱念)，如果一个概念不切实就尽早放手。不要变成一个为了保卫宝宝而孤身作战的父母。要拥有一个充满合作的家庭。