Do stuff. Fail well. Learn more. Repeat.
I have been a designer for 5 years and if there is one crucial thing I have learnt, it is how important simply ‘going for it’ actually is. There are so many young professionals out there who are vastly more skilled that I am, yet the majority of these people seem to be content with getting on with life and never truly push themselves to see what they are really capable of. It appears there is a growing culture of risk avoidance stemming from a lingering fear of things going wrong. But I have come to a realisation that failing is by far the best way of learning.
It is incredibly easy to do things that are within your skill set, within your job description, or in an area you know about, and this does lead to progressive learning with some personal growth. But pushing yourself well outside your comfort zone means you find your own limit, forcing you to rely on others, and crucially, it then gives a fantastic opportunity to learn. I have summarised the way I do things into 4 clear stages: Do stuff. Fail well. Learn more. Repeat. And I would honestly love everyone I know to give it a go on even the smallest of projects.
Start something, anything
This could easily be the hardest of all stages, mainly as an idea is easy to have but the hardest thing is actually acting upon it. So don’t focus on the end goal, focus on the next step. Whether this is having a meeting with someone, starting a twitter account, launching a basic site or making the first component. It really doesn’t matter how small it is, just do it. And do it now!
Expect it to work
If you listen to the startup podcast (you totally should), you will know how the people behind an idea have to be the biggest advocates of it. You have to love the idea and you have to know it needs to exist in the world. Because if you don’t love it, why should anyone else! But if you do, you’re already setting yourself apart from so many others, as very few people actually think that what they are doing is awesome. You need to go into it expecting your idea to have impact.
Make it real
Now it’s time to put something out there and launch it. Again it doesn’t matter what it is or what format it is in, but it simply needs to be made real. The reason for this is that you can never know if what you are doing will work until the people you want to be using are actually able to use it. Don’t try and make it perfect, don’t try and over think it and don’t expect it to work first time. You just simply need to get it to work in the most basic form.
Know when it’s going wrong
Things are going to go wrong and the sooner they do go wrong the better. But don’t wait for them to hit you, actively look out for these problems and definitely don’t ignore them. Every small hiccup you witness is a great opportunity to improve what you are doing, allowing you to continually adapt and develop your idea into something much better. It’s the same process as how a company puts so much value on a product a user has returned due to it failing. It allows them to discover what went wrong and then use this information to improve future variations.
Know when to stop
Sometimes things go really wrong and this is when you see a company do a full recall or take a project offline. Practically this is when you need to take a big step back, look at the big picture of what you are doing and work out how/if to move forward. Often this is where new ideas begin, formed around the failings of a previous attempt. Even though you need to expect something to work, you have to be prepared for it to fail!
Failing is not a bad thing when you have properly committed yourself to what you are doing. There should be no negative connotations to things going wrong, so long as you have done everything you can to make it work. This won’t be your only idea, your only project, your only job, so relax and work out what’s next.
Reflect and analyse
When things have gone a little bit wrong or drastically wrong the best way to learn from them is to take a deep dive into what you did and to not stop until you have worked out why it didn’t work. You may realise it was due to something that you did, the people who did it with you, or the assumptions you made about the idea. But whatever it is you need to look back and work out why not how.
The internet is a vast network of people who have more than likely done something extremely similar to what you are doing. Read everything related to your idea and become and expert in that field. Then read things that are completely irrelevant to what you are doing, as it will help you understand more about how other people think. Watch TED talks, listen to podcast and go to lectures to get inspired by the incredible people who we have the privilege of sharing this planet with!
Listen to people smarter than you
One thing I have quickly come to realise is how little I know about everything and how no matter how much you think you know about something, there will always be many, many people who know more about it than you do. The best possible advice I have ever been given is to surround yourself with people you can learn from. Get inspiring mentors, work with new people and continually see how and why they do things differently to you. Never stop learning.
Do it better
When something goes wrong there really is only 3 thing you can do. You can do pretty much the same thing with a few tweaks here and there based upon what you learn’t from the mistakes. These are often small iterative improvements that overall make a positive change to what you were doing, making it achievable.
Do it differently
When these small changes don’t work it’s time to hit the same goal but with a completely different process of getting there. Often this is when listening to people more experienced than you will lead you to doing something that is outside of your comfort zone, or at least very new.
Do something else
However during these stages it can become apparent that the goal is either wrong, or that it actually shouldn’t be the goal at this time. This is when you should adapt and evolve what you are doing to make it achievable, but you shouldn’t stop, you should just set a new goal and go for it.
How I’ve put this into action
After looking back at the 2 companies i’ve started, the way I lead a design team and my general approach to giving new ideas a go, I can see that this process is what I’ve been subconsciously doing all along. The best in-progress examples of this process is how I started working at PowaBand. 3 months ago, James King (the Founder and CEO) found my website and within a few days of him emailing me, we were sitting in a Café in London chatting about the idea. 2 weeks from then, I was in San Francisco, at the Wearable World Accelerator with my new position of CDO at PowaBand. And now, only 5 months from receiving that email, we are a team of 9 designers, developers, and entrepreneurs in our own studio in London, heading towards a product launch in September.
In short: I did something — by joining the team. I expect PowaBand to work — the product will improve the way kids pay and play, so I committed to a 4 year vesting period. And we are making it real — I am currently sitting in an apartment in New York, after spending the day assisting our Design Researcher with PowaBand’s ethnography research!
The team knows things will go wrong to some degree, but we are not scared or worried about that. We take every single failure in our stride, seeing each of them as great opportunities to improve both individually and as a company whole. We will learn how to do it better, how do it differently or how to do something else. And by listening to our advisors, investors and mentors, we can avoid them becoming too big to manage!
Do stuff. Fail well. Learn more. Repeat. These 4 steps have helped me to grow as a young designer, to ensure I am always willing to learn, to have the confidence to try something new and to always be in awe of talented people I’ve worked with. Give it a go, and at the very least you will learn from it not working!