Managing Design Innovation

with Matthew Beebe

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Execution = a lot of little ideas

Matthew Beebe

Design & Idea Expert, User Experience, Human-Centered Design

Lessons Learned

A lot of decision-making happens without considering the full range of options available to you.

Once you have a whole lot of ideas, take each one to the next level of understanding.

Execution is hard because it takes a bunch of little ideas, which are often where things go awry.


Lesson: Managing Design Innovation with Matthew Beebe

Step #9 Decide: Execution = a lot of little ideas

I think that design projects are really hard at these decision making moments. When I had this kind of light bulb go off, in the course of trying to make a bunch of hard decisions during idea projects. I was like, "Well wait a second! It's always hard at these same moments. Why is this so hard? Oh, it's cause we don't know what decision to make."

And I thought, "Okay well what are the decisions that we need to make and, in an ideal world, what information will be available to us basically to help us make these decisions."

That was where it started. I was like, "Hmm, so, it seems to happen every time we get to this point in the project, but how can I make this easier so that next time I can just focus on the content of the project and less on basically arguing about what to put in the PowerPoint," which is where you are going to put your, these are the decisions we come to, is the report.

And documenting the project is so hard and it is not fun. It is not really value added so what could I do to ease that part of the process so we could spend all that energy making our ideas better.

I think a lot of decision making in design projects happens without an understanding of a full set of options that you come up with. Let's say you are trying to figure out where you want to use your research. Usually that decision is made, without a thorough understanding of the things you're deciding not to research.

So basically, informed decision making around user research would be - let's put up all the different ideas we can think of for user research that I want to do and pick five of them. That would feel to me, an informed decision. As opposed to, what is maybe more common, one person sits there and writes a research plan and doesn't necessarily leverage the knowledge of the group to come up with all the different possible research targets.

To me, that is why part of the product definition is hard, or important. Because you need to know what your time frame is basically and what resources can you bring to it.

I do think there is a point of diminishing returns where you should probably not do more research then that but I think where that point is is highly variable depending on the project. We've got all these ideas. We got 100 ideas from a series of brainstorms. How, I think an informed decision making process for moving forward with this.

First, you would spend some time taking each one of those very early stage ideas and taking them to the next level of understanding. What really is that thing. Because sometimes, it's probably not going to be something more than a scribble on a post-it note. And so, being able to bring the next level of clarity to that prototype will help you look at it and be like, "ooh, is that something we should do or not?"

So first of all, you have to take everything up, add a little bit more fidelity to the ideas then we can do in the course of a brainstorm. And then, having that library basically of ideas to choose from is how you do informed decision making at that point. As opposed to the one that strikes your fancy the best at the moment and just running with it.

Execution is full of ideas and I think what people might mean when they say "ideas are a dime a dozen" is that the big ideas are a dime a dozen. There are no new ideas in a sense, in terms of big ideas that might be like founding ideas for companies. They have all kind of existed in one form or another; all the big ideas are kind of derivatives of something else I think. Executing that idea is full of a lot of little ideas and the reason why execution is hard is because we have bad ideas at the execution level.

The idea at Palm was a new mobile operating system. Well that's not a new idea. Those existed for a long time. And Palm, you can argue whether or not it was a success. But it wasn't the success we all wanted it to be.

So, what happened? I don't think it was a problem with the big idea. It was with some of the ideas that we came up with along the way toward trying to execute on the big idea. And so, I think, it leads to some kind of laziness around all the little ideas that are as important, probably more important, then the big ideas when it comes to executing stuff.

I'm not going to point out any one of the ideas that was wrong with Palm, but maybe we shouldn't have had Sprint as an exclusive carrier for the first year. Maybe we choose the wrong technologies, maybe any number of other things. Maybe we should have had a smaller minimum viable product. Maybe all these other things. But each one of those things were ideas that were part of littler ideas that were part of the big idea and some set of those things was wrong.

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