How to pick Apples

“Our company is pivoting from being in healthcare to designing custom bike frames.”

Wait. What?!

The failed attempt pivot

A pivot, as defined by StartupsCo, is essentially a shift in business strategy to test a new approach regarding a startup’s business model or product after receiving direct or indirect feedback.

The pivot is a core principle in the Lean Startup methodology. You should course-correct as you learn something new about your customers and their needs. Pivots can also be the result of a non-feasible idea or a non-viable profit model. No feature or aspect of your business is safe in this iterative process. The main intention of this pivoting and course-correcting is to avoid failure through an approach that is fast and cheap.

All well and great. But what’s up with teams ‘pivoting’ from solving global warming, to prototyping an app that keeps track of your socks so they don’t get lost? It seems like anything that doesn’t work is pivoted from, and the team tries its luck doing something else. In the most ironic fashion, this leads you to spend more time before finding a product people want. It also means you’ll be spending more money figuring out what sticks.

The harsh reality is that you’ve either failed to find a problem worth solving, or don’t have a proper understanding of the problem. And that, in itself, is a problem. You will end up being in an unfavorable position where you’re jumping all over the place trying to find anything that works.

Now I want to make it clear that I have nothing against The Lean Startup methodology. I actually approach prototyping and testing with the mindset it advocates. What I’m against though, is the lack of proper design research and problem validation that is required before moving to ideating and prototyping.

What’s it like solving a problem without understanding its environment first

Imagine two brothers, Omar and Tariq, trying to pick an apple from a tree. Omar, in an effort to be fast in his first attempt, starts looking for rope to sling over a tree’s limb so that he can start climbing. Tariq, weirdly smartly, starts by surveying the garden – spending time looking around. Omar has already found a rope, and seems to be far ahead in his pursuit of an apple than Tariq is. He slings the rope and starts climbing. Unfortunately, his left foot slips as he tries to push off of it to lift himself up. Luckily, he doesn’t get injured, but figures he needs a shoe with better traction. Omar sprints back home to get his shoes. When he comes back, he glances over at Tariq and, surprisingly, finds him still taking his time looking up multiple trees. He scoffs at his brother’s approach, and continues with his. As Omar begins his second attempt up the tree, Tariq has decided on another tree to climb. Learning from his brother’s mistake, he sprints home, gets his shoes and some rope, then comes back to the tree he decided on climbing. Omar successfully climbs up his tree only to be met with apples that weren’t ripe yet. On the other hand, Tariq just finished climbing up, and picks a perfectly ripe apple for himself.

It seemed like Omar was doing the right thing: quickly experimenting and ‘pivoting’ according to his first attempt (getting shoes). However, this pivoting and iterating of ideas only works if you have properly understood the problem you’re solving for, and have taken the time understanding the context in which it lives in (just like Tariq has).

When you have an idea for an app or product, make sure you have taken the time to validate the problem. Spend some time learning why the problem exists, how have people attempted to solve the problem before, and what factors influence the problem. You don’t want to be wasting your time iterating an idea that solves a non-existent problem.

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