In the video below, Savoia talks about why companies today must become apex innovators to succeed.
“Most new ideas fail, and successful companies have many failed products,” says innovator and author Alberto Savoia. “Why do they fail? It’s usually not because the products are poorly made or marketed. It’s not because they don’t work properly. They fail because people built the wrong product.”
Savoia has made a study of product innovation, following a successful career as an engineering executive and CTO for companies such as Sun Microsystems and Google. “Usually, at the beginning, there is one idea,” Savoia says. “The temptation is to jump right from the idea to the end product, making a big investment. But since most new products fail in the market, a better strategy is to find the simplest-possible experiment to validate that there is a market for your idea.”
Keyboard or Voice?
To illustrate this point, Savoia cites his favorite example from computing history. “Decades ago, IBM thought they should introduce speech-enabled PCs because conventional wisdom said no one would learn to type just to use a PC at home,” Savoia says. “Since speech technology was not available at the time, IBM needed another way to test the concept. They hid a very fast typist in another room while test subjects interacted with a PC monitor and microphone to ‘dictate’ a letter.” The findings were unexpected: even after experiencing what they thought were excellent speech-to-text results, people preferred to interact with a keyboard.
This story can be considered an early forerunner of a process called pretotyping. While a prototype is an early but full version of a product, pretotyping is a way to test a product idea quickly and inexpensively by creating extremely simplified mock-ups.
Failing Fast and Moving On
Savoia has helped develop pretotyping into a complete system. This system emphasizes the importance of objectively judging actual pretotypes based on data rather than attempting to evaluate ideas based on thought or opinion. It is designed to help you decide what features can—and should—be simplified and mocked up. Mock-ups are used to test and collect feedback and usage data systematically. Usage data is then analyzed to determine whether the idea should be pursued.
The first step is to break down an idea into key hypotheses, each of which must be true for the product to succeed. For example, in the IBM speech-to-text case, the pretotype hypotheses would be:
- The speech-to-text results must be accurate.
- People must be happy using the device.
The next step is to design the least-expensive experiment to test the hypotheses.
“The question is, which of these two hypotheses is quicker and easier to prove or disprove?” Savoia asks. “Developing a solution with 99 percent speech-to-text accuracy would take years and millions of dollars. But with IBM’s experiment, it only took a few hours and little investment to test whether people liked talking into a PC. What IBM found was that even if the company engineered a speech solution that worked perfectly, people would still not choose it. The goal is to find that out as early as possible—to fail early and move on to the next idea.”
Since pretotyping lets you weed out flawed ideas quickly and inexpensively, you can test a large number of ideas. “To win in today’s marketplace, organizations must find new ways to attract customers and compete with disruptive rivals,” Savoia says. “With the low-cost approach of pretotyping, they can afford to test dozens or even hundreds of innovative ideas a year with just a small portion of their research and development budget.”
An Opportunity for CIOs
In their role as chief innovation officers, CIOs have an opportunity to leverage pretotyping as a way to drive innovation on a shoestring. “Quantity, scope, and speed are the keys,” Savoia says. “CIOs should aim for testing a lot of ideas from a broad range of possibilities—small and big, incremental and disruptive—in a short time.”
In addition, pretotyping doesn’t have to be limited to new products. It can spur internal innovation in a wide range of areas, including IT infrastructure, marketing, human resources, and business intelligence.
“Technology developments are exponentially increasing the pace of innovation,” Savoia says. “To face this challenge, companies must become the ‘apex innovators’ in their industry or domain. Apex innovators attack new markets, do not stick solely to their core competencies, and act quickly to experiment. And they never forget that most released product failures are based not on execution but on a misunderstanding of the premise behind the product.”
Watch the video below to learn how the process of pretotyping helps companies build the right products.