September 9, 2022

Transitioning from creation to iteration


Everything has two births.

First as an idea inside your head, and then as the real and tangible output of that idea in the world.

And not surprisingly, most ideas never make it to that second stage. Execution is difficult and, therefore, rare.

Considering that only one sperm out of nearly two hundred million make it through to fertilize a single egg, this shouldn’t be a surprise.

However, if your idea is fortunate enough to be among the minority that makes it to that second birth, you better be ready for what comes next.

Because once your business goes live and customers start paying and using your product, everything changes. Not unlike having an actual baby, now you’re playing for keeps. The stakes are higher. You’re responding to supply and demand, listening to customer feedback, cleaning up poop, essentially watching people need something from you in real time.

And it’s totally different. You’re seeing if your meaning can survive contact with the market. Yikes!

One of the advisors on my board of directors riffed on this topic recently. He was delineating between birth number one and birth number two:

Prior to your launch, everything only exists in your mind, with a question mark about how the thing is going to work. But once you actually have data and experience, a shift happens internally. You move from creation to iteration. You’re forced to make the uncomfortable transition from the right brained, whole cloth artist to the left brained, scientific method research analyst. Now your daily work is in making an observation, asking a question, generating a hypothesis, predicting results, running a test, arriving at a conclusion, and then starting the whole process over again.

Does that process sound like a bundle of joy or what?

Edison famously said that genius was one percent inspiration, ninety nine percent perspiration, and this is exactly what he was talking about. At a certain point in the creative process, the pressure is on to deliver the value you promised to people. Even if you’re not sure what that promise is, you still have to ratchet up.

You have to start doing the things that cause motion in a positive forward direction, reaching the point of no return from which your company can reinvest and create more leverage for itself.

This whole journey may sound scary, stressful and exhilarating, as it does to me. But as my advisor also told me, if you want to keep the lights on, then it’s the only path. Eventually you have to spend more time iterating and less time creating.

Apple is a company that brilliantly models the balance between the two. They’ve invented products that both invented and disrupted entire industries. That’s the creation part.

But then again, they’ve iterated many of their products as well. Their personal computer design evolved multiple time over many years, changing its look and functionality. Same goes for digital music players and cell phones.

Each incremental repetition of their process became its own single iteration, the outcome of which became the starting point for the next one. Apple essentially learned to ask themselves an important question.

Do we risk company profits on this massive new innovation that might set us up for the next ten years, or do we settle into a rhythm of surefire wins with gradually dwindling rewards?

It’s no picnic, that’s for sure. When the idea that once lived inside your head now lives outside in the world, it’s a vulnerable place to be.

How willing are you to shift between creation and iteration?