A Simple Tool to Help You Manage Risk While Innovating

In recent decades, many major corporations disappeared from view because they couldn’t see what lay ahead. Blockbuster didn’t believe renting videos from the internet had staying power, MapQuest didn’t realize that users were interested in driving directions, and Kodak never fully got behind its line of digital cameras. Looking back, these appear to be colossal missteps. But how can you know what you can’t see?

You have to listen, investigate, and listen some more. One way to do that is an activity I call Tip the Scale. Here’s how it works:

  • Identify as many aspects of your product or service that drive usage or revenue for your business.
  • Think of all of the angles that would impact your business: the frontend experience, the back office, everything!
  • What’s the best way to do this? Try creating a wall of Post-it Notes in a group exercise in order to narrow down what do add and what do discard.
  • Group your posts by what you know and what you don’t know. Be honest and critical and make sure your blinders are off.
  • Now it’s time for experiments! Come up with the cheapest and fastest way to learn all you can about your unknowns.
  • Give yourself a timeline — this process should be quick. You need the fastest route to answer your questions, though of course never forgo quality or thoroughness.

Keep revisiting your scale with new insights and learnings — this is a nonstop process. Even if profits are soaring, you’ll need to keep innovating and avoid any obstacles in your way.

Why do so many businesses fail on this front? While well-intentioned, many businesses large and small lack the discipline to explore what they don’t know about their product or customer. It seems illogical but often things get in the way — the pride of authorship, holing up in the ivory tower, resistance to change, and, believe it or not, being tech phobic.

And know this: you have so much to gain from getting deep into the field. The fact is, there is nothing like sitting face-to-face with your customer. Whether that’s feasible or not, there are many ways to learn about your customers’ experience, which is how you will discover new and exciting ways to delight them.

So, why not tip things in your favor? Use the scale and get to work.