Have you ever noticed a time when you’d start using certain words with greater frequency, for no specific reason?

That’s been happening to me lately with validate (or validation), and to a lesser degree, evaluate.

I’ve been idly wondering why that specific term has come up so much lately, in a variety of contexts, and I can’t say I yet have an answer; there might not even be one. The usage has been mixed: from working through brand positioning workshops, to sketching out and wireframing a site design, to working through a packaging concept, a newspaper layout and, for that matter, even evaluating the recipes I’ve been cooking with lately.

The most recurring thought process I can identify has been that to take one position, use it as a control, and then try something new while keeping that one in mind. For example, having one homepage concept that works; trying something totally different; and then incorporating what makes sense in either a new third direction, or going back to the original and trying it again. Having one package design; trying a different approach in the same theme; comparing that to the earlier, stronger one and keeping what works and discarding what doesn’t. Repeat; repeat; repeat.

It’s not so much about trying to always produce three distinct options for any one problem, which has always struck me as an unnecessarily precise target that inevitably lends itself to mashing together parts of all three into one Frankensolution, whatever the problem is it’s trying to solve. But rather, I think I’ve been trying to take the thought process behind it — go wide, and then go narrow—and iterate on it in smaller chunks as I go along.

I think the danger is in that this approach could conceivably narrow your horizons too much too soon; keeping what works, and building off that, easily lends itself to a more concentrated approach. But instead, I like to look at it like I’m operating from a position of confidence: I have one thing that works, let’s try something either totally or somewhat different, and then evaluate from there. Worst case scenario, I have greater insight into why my original idea is working; best case scenario, I have something even stronger.

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