Posted by: Dr Churchill | November 2, 2014

To Innovate is to Iterate

A study by Saras D. Sarasvathy of the University of Virginia’s business school shows that innovative serial entrepreneurs — people who have successfully started two or more companies — typically follow the same methodical approach in their efforts to build a great company.

From that study, am reasoning here, that if that type of methodical effort has worked for the serially innovative entrepreneurs — it may very well work for you too.

But what is their approach?

It is truly a simple one and something of what we have spoken about before in a different posts where I shared the Three entrepreneurial innovation Panoisms: VISION, MISSION & METHOD.

The truly good and great Innovative entrepreneurs out there; all they really want to do in life is what they set out to do in their business. That shows singularity of purpose. That shows desire. That shows commitment. And then they go out and execute by iterating like crazy. They follow and repeat the same simple tasks they see as working.

But you’ve got to put your heart into it because if you don’t have sufficient desire, you won’t give your best effort to the project of the 3 company building Panoisms: 1) Your product creation, 2) your team building and 3) the ultimate customer satisfaction.

If you take a good look at the world’s most successful entrepreneurs, you’d probably conclude there isn’t much to be learned from studying them. Yet the paths they took to become uber successful are vastly different but the method such different people used is very similar.

Take for example entrepreneurs like Amancio Ortega (Zara), Larry Page (Google), and Carlos Slim (TelMex) who are as unique as they are.

But while the behaviour of each is truly idiosyncratic — their method of thinking and acting is not.

These great innovative entrepreneurs, began by taking a small step toward their goal that is different from anyone else’s. And they take measured risks. Of course starting anything new is risky. You don’t want to move too far too fast. Everything you have probably read about entrepreneurs says they love risk, and that is not always the truth, because innovative entrepreneurs always take calculated risk. And that is vastly different than being a dare devil, Evil Kenievil, cascader, stunt-man extraordinaire, type of dude

Innovators building great products and services and pursuing entrepreneurial company building, are always iterating their first steps and measuring and iterating again their jump to the next lillypad. They are taking reasonable risk and jump just so far, only because they’ve been wet before falling into the drink — and don’t want to repeat the experience. So after taking that small jump, they stop briefly to take their bearings, to see where they are, and absorb what they have learned.

So Far — So Good.

Maybe by now the Innovative Entrepreneurs have learned that their product needs tweaking. Maybe they’ve learned that their team need shuffling. Maybe they learned that their initial goal needs retargeting. Maybe their Vision needs recalibrating. Or maybe they’ve learned that their the mission is still a good one. Or maybe the market has told them they need to go in another direction. Maybe the product is too far ahead of the people that the innovation is just an invention and needs twenty five years of maturity on the public’s behalf to be accepted — like the fax machine — and maybe they’ve come to see that they don’t have the requisite desire anymore to buck the tide and be in the avant guard so long…

So whatever they receive from their environment about their VISION, MISSION, METHOD, and the product — has to be iterated through the cycle of business many many times, for their entrepreneurial innovation to flourish.

The point is, after taking that first small jump, the innovative entrepreneurs come to a small rest, in order to consider everything that has happened, while iterating wildly in the background…

Once they understand what they have learned, they take another innovative small jump, in the general direction of their Vision, and go through the cycle once again.

In other words, the “formula” for success is figuring out what you truly want to do: The Vision. And then the Mission follows from that. And once you know, what it is you want to do, then follow my Method herewith: Act, Learn, Build & ITERATE.

The mantra am sharing with my company builders, is this:


What does this mean:

Act, Learn, Build & ITERATE is the method by which all great innovation comes to market. And implicit in this approach is that in business enterprise building — your initial idea is going to morph over time, given what you learn in the marketplace.

Take as an example Starbucks: Initially, Howard Shultz had extremely beautiful Italian opera playing always as background music at Starbucks. Michael Dell began his company by doing nothing more than assembling IBM personal computer knockoffs in his apartment unit. Carlos Slim had his start by buying up penny stocks and small shares of down and out companies in Mexico. The Zara founder had his mother and his wife’s mother and other people’s mothers, knit pullovers and dresses for him in their spare time, and changing the design frequently and getting it to the people’s hands fast — all because the product was always created close at home and delivered to where the consumer bought it immediately.

That’s how the most successful innovators built their product, and their enterprises, by selling whatever they could fast and repeating the task that worked well…

The best Innovative entrepreneurs don’t wait until their product or service is perfect. They prototype, they demo, they get the product ready “close enough” and launch. They iterate daily, hourly, by the minute, and change whatever it is they have to change as they go, based on how the market and the people respond to them.

The key is to get started and follow the Act-Learn-Build and iterate like crazy, approach.

It looks like this:

Take that small step toward your goal. In the Starbuck’s Howard Schultz case this might be the innovative goal thinking that follows: “I am going to offer the best coffee I possibly can, within a retail environment that replicates as closely as possible what someone would experience if they went out for coffee in Italy”.

Then take a breath, stop and pause, to see what you have learned from taking that small step. “People love the idea of an upscale coffee shop, but they hate the opera soundtrack. Let’s drop that, and maybe add some oversized comfortable chairs”.

Then iterate again and again through learning: “OK, the chairs were a success; what else can we add, and what should we take away to make this environment better and get the coffee good for our native customers?”.

Act. Learn. Build. Iterate.

This is how every successful innovative entrepreneurial company has been built.



Iterate on your product and service and the rest is easy.
But learn from other people’s failures and successes and all uber successful innovators had their share of both while building their enterprises.
So learn from the best Innovator Iterators out there.
And although you always want to borrow ideas from the best — you also need to learn from their worst failures…

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