Lately, I was pleasantly surprised by one of the conferences I attended involving decision making and startup development: I was expecting the generic speech about entrepreneurship, monetizing one’s idea and incorporating innovation in one’s thought process. But I ended up with insightful techniques and a quantified understanding of the process of creation, brainstorming and prototyping – rapid prototyping to be more specific. Tom Chi was behind the conference and it went so well the crowd requested more time with this funny genius. We ended up spending the morning in discussions and Q&A.
In EngineeringClicks we have talked about prototyping before and rapid prototyping in particular. But Chi’s approach to rapid prototyping doesn’t involve management charts or use of manufacturing technology to make the process more efficient. He addresses the core issues in the ideas behind classic prototyping and shows the alternatives, such as rapid prototyping, and how they work. He also provides personal examples of how old methods end up giving half-results vs ones that shed a lot of the clumsy chains that surround our thinking process. Chi also addressed how we take ideas from concepts to physical prototypes.
A prototype is not a year affair:
In fact, it is not even a month affair, it might be an hour to a day. Once you have an idea don’t overdevelop it or look to nail every detail before releasing it to the outside world. Don’t cocoon the concept in your mind. Produce the first draft, as rough as it can be, and test it using rudimentary means. A first rough look will save you enormous hassle further down the line because what you may think is a brilliant gem, may turn out to be a piece of coal once exposed to the reality of another human being. This brings us to the second concept.
Others different from you should test your prototype:
According to geometry’s basic rules, if you want to define a line you need two different points. If you want to define a plane you’ll need three different ones. Three Galilean referentials will pinpoint the absolute Copernic one and the salesperson, the janitor and the PR specialist will provide you, the creator, with an unbiased view on your prototype. This view can be a more accurate assessment as to how the outside world will react to your baby, rather than you or your peers testing it. Having the perspective of colleagues who speak your language is insightful, but at the end of the day, if you are creating a product for a group that accounts for more than engineers, you will definitely need to meet with the janitor.
When you catch yourself guessing, switch to learning:
If you dwell on a question for more than five minutes, you are most likely no longer computing your acquired knowledge but rather guessing. If you guess, you diverge from facts to personal impressions, if you voice them out, ego can intervene in the equation as well. The result is a room full of vocal opinions about personal guesses and their defenses, because suddenly, everyone’s reputation is at stake and afterwards people forget that his guess was just that, a guess. At such time we need to move from guessing to learning: a quick checkup (whether theoretical or practical) of the idea or a prototype should be the next move. You may exit the boardroom with a guess as a potential path but never sign on it unless you have tried it.
If your concept is not growing, then throw it away:
Technology is at a phase where process is more important than results and drafts more argumentative than clean versions. The VCs that would meet with you might give you two spaced meetings, to see if between the first and second one your idea evolved, but they will be ruthless. It’s not just a matter of taking into consideration all observations, pivoting or adapting your idea, or even exploiting its potential. It’s a matter of growth rate. The 21st century doesn’t allow for stagnation or a one idea company. Your idea should, just like a human, expand, improve and be an embodiment of change. If you have been working for six years on a project that hasn’t changed much between its first draft and the version you are currently showing, then it will most probably fail. Even if it gets the investment you have longed for it is no longer the 1$ billion dollars idea – it’s the growth by idea that you can sell.
Tom Chi innovates the way one thinks about prototyping and rapid prototyping in particular. Throughout his conferences he brings up the memories of the drafts of 17th century inventors and cartoon characters. It is all very fascinating to see then how those drafts helped an idea evolve, very quickly, and turn into new modified drafts before coming to the final product. The most important aspect of rapid prototyping is its speed. On that point, no one puts it in better way than Tom when he says: “Building fast is exciting, but far more important is to understand why we build. We live in a world that is ever accelerating, and we must consciously choose what exactly we accelerate.”
Check Tom Chi’s TED Talk where he describes the Google Glass prototyping process and gives insight on his decision making and rapid prototyping school of thought: