Why Perfectionist Tendencies Are So Bad For Innovation
It is so much easier to innovate new products or services when we stop trying to be perfect.
This can be really hard for those of us who have perfectionist tendencies. If you are familiar with the Enneagram, which is a personality framework, I am a “One.” The One-type is literally named the “Perfectionist”. The upside is very high standards, commitment to improvement and strong internal drive. But it also has a strong downside.
For example, many organizations lose money on new product development or get lapped by competitors because they take too long getting a product to market. Worse, they invest too much time and money in a product with a poor market fit. These organizations often use long waterfall development processes with “stage gates” to advance to the next investment level. It can take many months, if not years, before they start receiving real market feedback on their ideas.
Successful product innovators adopt a more rapid, experimental approach to product development and develop a test-and-learn mindset in their new product teams. This approach comes from The Lean Startup by Eric Ries, which posits that iterative, agile techniques should replace traditional, linear waterfall development or R&D stage gates. Ries saw similarities between the more agile, iterative way of operating and the Toyota Production System, known as Lean Manufacturing. Hence the name “Lean Startup.”
Ries proposes that organizations adopt a MVP or Minimum Viable Product approach to product development. An MVP is defined as “the smallest experiment that either proves or disproves [our] assumptions about a business idea.” Ries calls it a “build, measure, learn loop.” Breaking that down we:
- “Build” a product we think customers want
- “Measure” if and how they use it
- “Learn” from what customers do and say about the product
- “Loop” back to the beginning to build again
It allows us to test our products in real life with real buyers and users to validate their core value. The MVP is a version of our product (or product idea) with the right balance of features to satisfy early customers and provide learning. It contains the minimum number of cost-effective features to deploy while fundamentally allowing us to test our product and validate the product’s core value.
A real-life example of the MVP in action comes from Vecteris client, The Garage Group. The Garage Group is a consulting organization with decades of experience helping big companies innovate like startups. In 2020, they set a goal to use technology to scale their services to a broader audience.
Their MVP brought together their experience and their intellectual property into a five-module Entrepreneurial Learning Program. Since its launch in August of last year, they have worked through several “build, measure, learn” loops to better understand positioning, pricing, and packaging. By bringing an MVP to market faster, they got real, in-market feedback on the product’s need with a minimum investment. Now, they can quickly iterate for further development.
MVP tests like these are designed to prove or disprove a wide range of hypotheses about the product, such as technical feasibility, market demand, or pricing. (If you want to learn a little more about MVPs, you can check out our blog: What Kind of MVP is Right for You ).
The point is that our products do not have to be perfect to go to market. A Lean Startup approach is a new way of working for many of us. But the payoff can be huge. A recent survey of 170 executives who work in R&D, strategy, and new product development roles at large public companies found agreement on several benefits of taking a test-and-learn product development approach:
- Speed. A faster cycle time for developing ideas.
- Making decisions based on evidence and data, rather than executives’ instincts.
- Better quality feedback from customers and stakeholders, often because we’re asking them to buy and use something, rather than just spout opinions in a focus group.
- “Getting out of the building” to speak to and observe real customers and stakeholders.
- More flexibility about making changes to ideas as they progress from concept to MVP to finished product.
Many leaders and organizations struggle to adopt this approach because it means changing what we mean by “done.” It also requires building our capabilities to quickly collect, aggregate, interpret and apply customer feedback to the MVP (and future versions) to evolve our product as quickly as possible. Testing and learning at speed takes a lot of work. It takes highly specialized analytical skills and a deep understanding of smart product development. This is where many organizations benefit from outside help.
Find out what to look out for next when innovating new products and services in 2021. Read our white paper on the Top 7 Product Innovation Mistakes to Avoid in 2021.