Thursday, April 21, 2011

Is Your Vision An Hallucination?

Most successful innovation has three common ingredients at its roots:

  • A vision,
  • Ideas to execute on that vision, and
  • A strong belief in both the vision and the ideas.

The very same ingredients, however, are also at the root of most unsuccessful innovation.

There is no single and fool-proof recipe for successful innovation.  But to improve your odds of coming up with the right ‘it’, your vision, ideas and beliefs should be tested early and tested often.  That’s the core message of pretotyping.

Without some grounding in reality, it’s very possible that your vision is nothing more than an hallucination – a mirage you keep chasing through the surreal desert of Thoughtland* until it’s too late, and your dried-up carcass joins the many others that litter the gray and desolate landscape of failed innovation, where visions evaporate, ideas turn to dust, and the vultures of failures circle the sky as they await to feed on the dreams and hopes of over-optimistic innovators.

Hmmm, re-reading the last sentence, I realize that I may have been reading too much Cormac McCarthy ... So, before you get too depressed, let’s see what you can do to keep those vultures away from you – or at least have them work extra hard to get a few morsels from the flesh and blood of your innovation.

The best way to make sure you don’t venture too far into Thoughtland and lose your way is to complement your vision, ideas and beliefs with reality, pretotypes and data.

Below is the slide we use to conclude many of our Pretotyping presentations:

If all you have to share with people is ideas, the only thing you’ll get back is opinions – and you'll be making your decisions in Thoughtland: proposing an abstraction (your idea) and getting back something even more abstract – and distorted (I.e., an opinions based on the other person’s interpretation of your idea.) I can already see the vultures of failure licking their beaks in anticipation.

Opinions are a form of data, but they are the weakest and lamest possible form of data for innovators. Seventy people out of one-hundred telling you that your idea for, say, a mobile app is great and that they would buy it, is nowhere near as valuable as three people out of one-hundred actually buying it (or at least downloading it.)  Positive opinions are easy to get.  Actual money or downloads are much harder to get.  How many innovators have burned through their life savings (or VC funding) and wasted years of their life pursuing some vision and ideas because of a false belief fed by the positive opinions from well-meaning family, friends – and potential customers? [Note: In my experience, most potential customers remain potential customers.  I.e., they never cross over to become actual customers.]

It’s hard to innovate without spending at some time in Thoughtland – the danger is when you spend too much time in there.  So, by all means, indulge in fantastic visions, fantasies and ideas that you can believe – they are essential to innovation.  But, as soon as your ideas and beliefs begin to crystallize, turn those ideas into pretotypes, put those pretotypes in the hands of your target users, and see if the data you get back matches your beliefs.

Good luck!  Even the best innovators and pretotypers need a good dose of luck.


* If you are not familiar with the concept of Thoughtland, see Patrick Copeland’s QCon keynote on pretotyping and advance to 8'45" where Thoughtland is explained.

Wednesday, April 20, 2011


I don't (think I) know Andy Latham, but I think I'd like the guy.  Apparently he heard Patrick Copeland's QCon's talk on pretotyping and to prepare for something called Capital Libraries Hack Day, he decided to create some paper iPads  – presumably for pretotyping iPad apps.

Nice going Andy.  I hope the iPretoPads help you come up with some good candidates for the right 'it'.  We'd love to hear back from you after the Capital Libraries Hack Day.


How to take user feedback (the Cro-Magnon responds)

In a recent entry in his Coding Ergonomics blog, Ryan Eccles, made the following comments on the pretotyping manifesto: 
I tripped across another software Manifesto–a term I cannot stand as it emphasizes political or religious opinion– called Pretotyping and is written with the same structure as the agile manifesto:
  • innovators beat ideas
  • pretotypes beat productypes
  • building beats talking
  • simplicity beats features
  • now beats later
  • commitment beats committees
  • data beats opinions
It is regretful that they chose this format to explain pretotyping because I think the usefulness of the concept is lost in such a simplified set of Cro-Magnon dichotomies.
Pretotyping is all about getting feedback, good or bad.  While I am not going to immediately jump in and replace the term manifesto with – say – cheat-sheet (even though I kinda like that term), I am going to give it some serious thought since I also think that the term manifesto is a bit too heavy and overused by now.
I like the way Ryan writes; "Cro-Magnon dichotomies" is a great description.  While pretotyping is a neologism, I have to believe that the practice has been around for a while.  Here's a Cro-Magnon pretotyping:
Unlike the feedback on the manifesto word, however, I think I'll stick to my Cro-Magnon dichotomies for now.  Yes, they are a "simplified set" but that's exactly what I was after.  Besides, I don't think that a Cro would use the "X beats Y" pattern.  Here's my interpretation of a Cro-Magnon dichotomizing the manifesto/cheat-sheet:

Here comes the REALLY useful part of Ryan's blog entry:

Their ‘what is’ section has better statements describing what it is:
Less formally, pretotyping is a way to test a product idea quickly and inexpensively by creating extremely simplified versions of that product to help validate the premise that “If we build it, they will use it.”
I think a traditional thesis statement would go much further to describing what Pretotyping is and why it is useful. For instance, here’s a refactor of their position:
Preotyping Assertion:
The most accurate way to discover the appeal and usage of a product is to observe opinions and interactions of users that have experienced that product. In the absence of an actual product–due to the fact the product does not exist yet–the next best approach is to simulate the experience with a facsimile.
A Corollary:
A facsimile that can be modified quickly and cheaply will produce more appealing products because a greater number of variants can be produced than a facsimile that is slow and expensive to produce.
Now we are talking. Ryan has a way with words.  I will take this feedback and wording and will probably integrate it in future versions of pretotyping material.  Which brings me to one of the key points of pretotyping: using feedback.  If you ignore feedback, or only listen to positive feedback you might as well go ahead and productype (i.e. skip ahead, build the product you are thinking of, and cross your fingers that people will actually go for it.)

One of the best indication that you are on to something with your idea or product is that people are willing to invest their valuable time to give you feedback.  Ryan obviously took some time to write his blog post and craft his Pretotyping Assertion and Corollary.  He would not have invested that time if he thought that pretotyping had no merit.  The not-so-implicit message I read in Ryan's post is: "There's something interesting here but, IMO, it's presented poorly.  Here's a way to improve it."

Thank you Ryan!


Monday, April 18, 2011

Pretotyping will save your life?

Great blog post on "Thoughtland" and pretotyping by Andreas Hallberg.  He saw Patrick's QCon presentation and it clearly 'got it'.

I love Andreas' use of imagery: 
"I bet you and your great idea are having a fantastic time in Thoughtland. You've probably invited some of your friends too, and you're all tall as trees from the Group Think hookah."
I'll have to use "Group Think hookah" image in future presentation:

Andreas continues:  
"Those 43 minutes might just save you months - if not years - of disappointment. Sigh. If only I had seen this before I wasted all those nights on that special interest community site which I am too embarrassed to even give you the link to."
And summarizes it nicely:
"Short story: Pretotyping is a method for vetting your million-dollar idea in hours or days instead of weeks and months. Can you, in the simplest way possible, test your idea without actually going through with it?"
Andreas, you got it. Thanks for sharing it.

Pretotyping is no longer a typo

For over a year, searching for pretotyping on Google returned a "Did you mean prototyping?" suggestion.

Well, we've reached another milestone in pretotyping – it's no longer considered a typo by Google search.  Yeay!

Alas, pretotype still returns a "Did you mean ..."

But it's only a matter of time ...


Tuesday, April 12, 2011

More presentations on pretotyping-based innovation by Patrick, Alberto and Jeremy

People love the pretotyping message.  So far, every time we've given a talk on pretotyping-based innovation, we've been invited to give at least another talk.  We've been busy.  Fortunately there are three of us (Alberto, Patrick and Jeremy) to share the load.

Here are two upcoming presentation:

Copeland Does Copenhagen

Patrick Copeland's keynote at the latest QCon was a big hit, and he'll be repeating it this May at the GOTO conference in Copelandhagen - ahem - Copenhagen.  Below is a photo of Patrick trying to sell his $1B idea.

Savoia and Clark Do Silicon Valley

In the meantime, I (Alberto Savoia) and Jeremy Clark have agreed to be the keynote speakers at the next Global Innovation and Leadership conference (GIL 2011) - the title of our presentation is going to be: "The Pretotyping Manifesto – Rules for lean innovation."

Stay tuned for even more public events.

Monday, April 4, 2011

First ever Android Pretotyping Hackathon at Google

On March 31, 2011, Google's AppInventor and Androgen teams joined forces to put together the first ever Android Micro-Hackathon.

According to Wikipedia: "A hackathon, a hacker neologism, is an event when programmers meet to do collaborative computer programming. These events are typically between several days and a week in length. A hackathon refers not simply to one time hacks, but to a specific time when many people come together to hack on what they want to, how they want to - with little to no restrictions on direction or goal of the programming."

A micro-hackathon is for people who don't have a few days or weeks to spare.  In this case, the teams - with no prior knowledge of App Inventor or Androgen, had 3-4 hours to learn the basics and create a working pretotype.  That's what rapid-prototyping tools like AppInventor and Androgen (which is still an internal tool) make possible.

We can't yet share some of the cool pretotypes that people came up with, but I was impressed with how people took our basic functionality and mashed it up with other Google cloud-based services like Fusion Tables, YouTube and Picasa, to create some convincing and useful (or just fun) working pretotypes.

One of the things we'd love to do is an Android pretotyping hackathon open to non-Googlers.  Stay tuned!

Here are a couple pictures from the event.