The one great opportunity of the Digital Age is to be able to take an idea, test it out against reality and get valuable feedback quickly and cheaply. To be able to fail fast and move on is the greatest potential force for liberation that we have available to us right now.
We can destroy false assumptions with a free or almost free web page; we can crush bad ideas that seemed oh-so-brilliant by getting real feedback in real time. We can blow away any notion of what we think we should be doing and focus on what we really need to be doing by simply putting those ideas into a shared digital form.
A very simple example: I put up a whitewall on tumblr last week to provide a scrapbook for ideas for this site. My assumption was that the more I read about Social Media the more new ideas I would have for articles. Within two days I realised that this was not the way to go. All I had available to me were comments and clips that everyone else was passing around. There was nothing new. I have now repurposed that site so I can store clips and links to things outside the Social Media world that I think might affect or be relevant in some way.
The point here is not that I was wrong in the first place. Incidentally, the idea of being wrong or right is meaningless until you have checked out your ideas. Nothing is a good or bad idea until it has been found to work or not. Then it is just an idea that works or doesn’t. Labeling ideas good or bad seems like a limiting approach. The point is that I found out fast. Over the period of a weekend I had changed my approach to a given task 180 degrees. The whitewall makes a lot more sense now.
It seems like a small thing. Some guy’s scrapbook, who cares? But this idea of fail fast applies to big ideas as much as it does to small ones. Considering the costs involved of big ideas, perhaps even more so. Take my Twitter account. I put most of my links through bit.ly which gives me a handy tally of click throughs. My average is about twenty clicks a tweet. Not surprisingly it shoots through the roof if I put anything celebrity-related out – which is rare. On the other hand there are things which interest me deeply which consistently register zeroes.
I don’t care. I am not marketing anything through my Twitter account. But if I were I already have enough information to make a fair guess at what would appeal to my followers. This is gold. Not because of the potential upside but because you don’t have to spend precious hours, days, weeks, months even, of your life fumbling around in the dark trying to guess if your idea is worth anything and if it has a market.
Of course there is pain associated with this approach. We all have a tendency to fall in our love with our ideas. After all, they seem to appear magically inside our heads – how amazingly intimate is that? And it’s a cruel thing when this crucially arranged set of neurons prove to be of no value in the world out there. Although a fail-fast is cruel and somewhat ego-denting, it is at least quick. Just look at all the terrible ideas that we now have to live with because either the feedback processes weren’t there or were overridden by maniacs.
Don’t be a maniac. They’re no fun.