I was talking with a friend tonight over dinner about the PhD that she is starting. One of the suggestions that I made was to get through the literature review and research design phase as quickly as possible. The reason for this is that data changes everything.
PhD students share a common problem with inventors and innovators – they often get hung up on the value of their ideas.
The problem with ideas is that they are just that – ideas. They are a hypothesis about the way that things work. In order to figure out if the idea is any good, you have to test it. This is scary for a bunch of reasons: it might not work, if it doesn’t work you’ll need to go and have another idea, if it doesn’t work people might think less of you, etc.
In a Q&A session that he did to promote the new paperback version of his very good book The Myths of Innovation, Scott Berkun answered this question:
Q: When a new idea looks strange, how do you tell a great one from stupid? Try them all and see what works, or select one and push it as far as you can?
You [can’t] tell just by looking. You have to put in action. Make a prototype. See what happens when the idea meets the world. Sometimes keeping a strange idea around and poking at it now and then is simply good exercise. It keeps your creative muscles working, so when a weird idea that has the potential to be great comes along, you’ll be patient and persistent enough to discover its potential.
In startups, this idea is referred to as the pivot – the point where your business model makes a 90 degree turn. Here’s a terrific post by Steve Blank describing the process in more detail – you should read it. Here’s part of his description:
Startups are inherently chaotic. The rapid shifts in the business model is what differentiates a startup from an established company. Pivots are the essence of entrepreneurship and the key to startup success. If you can’t pivot or pivot quickly, chances are you will fail.
- A startup is an organization formed to search for a repeatable and scalable business model.
- Most startup business models are initially wrong.
- The process of iteration in search of the successful business model is called the Pivot.
Data changes everything.
See what happens when the idea meets the world.
Pivots are the essence of entrepreneurship and the key to startup success.
Having great ideas is exciting. It gives you a nice adrenalin rush, and it makes it feel you’re doing something. Testing ideas is often tedious, and it is a process that faces failure at every turn.
But in the end, value is only created by ideas that are successfully executed. This is true whether you are writing a business or forming a startup.
Get out there and start testing your great ideas.
(Photo from flickr/Daniel Dale under a Creative Commons License)