Prototyping your future.
When I was studying architecture at college, I had a tutor who would refuse to meet any student that didn’t bring a new drawing, or model, as a point of reference for the conversation. The thing was, he wanted to meet every day, even at weekends, and that meant 7 drawings or models a week. It was brutal. But it forced the work forwards at a great pace.
For me, it was an excellent lesson. One I have never forgotten:
Being prolific is the best way to ensure success.
Darwin would agree. The more you produce, the more likely you are to succeed. As a species that is. But also as a coder, a designer, or an architect for that matter — the more you make, the quicker you can iterate, and the more chance you have of success.
Darwin, of course, called this process ‘mutation’. And not all mutations work out. But that’s OK. Quantity begets quality. An extra toe. A longer tail. A bigger brain. Darwin reasoned that over a long period of time, small mutations lead to new, more successful species — ones that through the process of natural selection are more appropriately adapted to their environment. And, therefore, more likely to succeed.
This is also true of product development. And, in my opinion, it’s true of companies as well. Of course, we can’t work on an evolutionary timescale — we haven’t got millennia to mutate. Instead we must accelerate the process: move fast — make, iterate, repeat.
It’s not rocket science. Unless you make rockets, that is.
Years ago, while working on a major luxury car brand’s website — there was a period, during a very disorganized build process, when progress had seemingly stalled. Morale was low and meetings started to pop up with red flags and labels like “getting back on track” or “progress delayed — again”. It was in one of these meetings that one of the leads asked “why don’t we all just try and turn the car red?” He was talking about the Customizer — the tool on car websites that lets you pick the color, model, and accessories for your dream ride. It was this moment that galvanized a team of 30+ people to solve a common problem. And guess what? By the end of the day they had done it. The car was indeed red. In fact, they could now make the car any number of colors, at the touch of a button. Progress was made. And it happened fast.
The lesson was clear. Call it a sprint, or call it good practice, galvanizing the team around a single minded problem, and all working toward the same end — with a quick turnaround — achieved momentum and delivered results. Now the team was able to refine and improve the Customizer with a more concrete understanding of how it actually worked. And, of course, a much welcome side effect was those meetings stopped happening and real work started getting done.
Action creates energy, which creates momentum.
As we all know, far too much time and energy is consumed by the corporate swirl of meetings, discussion and debate. And while you’re busy arguing the philosophies of an idea, oftentimes in its most abstract form, the high-speed bullet train of progress speedily passes you by — driven by makers, not talkers.
Just like my architecture tutor would say, a drawing, model — or for that matter a prototype — is a valuable tool for moving an idea from the abstract to a more concrete form. It can be an elaborately coded tech demo. It can be a hastily drawn whiteboard sketch. Or it can be something in between. Whatever it is, it makes an idea more tangible. It makes conversation more productive.
Progress. Not perfection. That’s the key.
Don’t get hung up on perfection. It’s easy to see flaws in any idea. And too often I have seen this scrutiny paralyze the process, stopping things in their track — sometimes permanently. Most ideas, in their inception, seem imperfect. For example, who didn’t think Snapchat was a joke, an imperfect idea when it came out? And now it’s valued at $16bn. Huh?
In evolutionary terms, imperfection is another word for mutation. For example, the Tyrannosaurus Rex was a near perfect dinosaur, and evolution for its species had effectively stopped. It couldn’t get any bigger, and its teeth couldn’t get any sharper. It had no predators. And it lived for millions of years. But, what the T Rex didn’t foresee was the giant meteor that was on a collision course with mother earth. Boom! Millions of years of evolution and predatory perfection were gone in the blink of an eye.
In this age of technology, we see this happen with startling regularity. Except, we’re not seeing meteors heading our way — thankfully. Instead we’re seeing new business models — enabled by new technologies, or cultural shifts — impacting established companies with the devastating effect of a metaphorical meteor. And it’s happening ever more frequently as the rate of technological change gets exponentially quicker — and Moore’s Law proves to be true.
To illustrate this point, in 2008, no-one considered Apple to be a threat to the mobile phone industry. No one saw that meteor coming — especially Nokia, who were the Tyrannosaurus Rex of mobile phones in those days. Fast forward to 2015, and now Apple is the dominant mobile phone manufacturer. And — worryingly for all the established luxury car brands, I’m sure — they are now rumored to be making cars.
Mutate. Or die!
To further stretch the theme of evolution, what can we learn from this? Well, it’s my belief that as companies and individuals we must embrace the weird and unexpected forms that mutations often take. Any one of these unexpected forms could be the key to your survival.
Sometimes these mutations are prototypes, or pilots— designed to test a design hypothesis. Sometimes they are people — the smart sorts that question why we have always done it that way. And sometimes they’re partners — partners like Junior that can help you to rapidly mutate your future.
Thanks for reading.
The optimistic force of new
methods and fresh thinking.
Junior is a design and technology company based in San Francisco.