Quirky has rapidly accelerated the traditional product development cycle, but perhaps the better example of rapid iteration is how I have launched three businesses in five years. Five years may not sound like very rapid anything, but trust me, it was. In the spirit of the 99U, I want to share some of the tenets I live by – the ones that have enabled us to accelerate product development and make so many ideas materialize.
1. It is very much about ideas.
It’s been said that it’s not about ideas, it’s about making ideas happen. Who could disagree? Me. It’s very much about ideas. Lots and lots of good ideas. The trick is killing good ideas quickly and swiftly in an effort to focus on great ones. This requires being a ruthless prioritizer and relentless critic. You need to be able to sift quickly through a long list of ideas both good and bad, slicing and dicing until you end up with a great, effective, and elegant solution.
2. Find great critics.
Part of the idea-killing process is surrounding yourself with critics who aren’t afraid to give it to you straight. Quick, educated opinions, even if they’re harsh, are key to picking up and moving forward to your next iteration.
3. Don’t worry about the new, focus on the next.
Fail and fail fast. At Quirky, every product we develop, whether it’s a runaway success or a huge flop, teaches us valuable lessons that we can apply to future iterations of that product or other products. Whether it’s a failure, success, or something in-between, there’s always something to learn from each iteration. We’re never “done,” which allows us to stay on our toes and figure out what’s the next step for that initiative, instead of worrying about what was just delivered.
4. Set unrealistic deadlines.
This is where people start to think I’m nuts. Put ambitious goals on the table and publicize the heck out of them. This may force you out of your comfort zone, but that’s the best place for a creative person to be. Knowing that people are expecting great things will motivate you to actually make those things happen. And hey, if you fail, at least you’ll learn a good lesson for next time.
5. Distract yourself from your unrealistic deadlines.
It’s natural to get too caught up in an ambitious or unrealistic project. Make sure you take regular breaks to pursue other interests – reading, sports, cooking, or anything else that uses your brain in a different way. Doing other things allows your big project to percolate in the back of your mind in a way that can be surprisingly productive. The inspiration you’ll need to meet your unrealistic goal – that “a-ha!” moment – usually comes when you least expect it, especially when you’re trying to do something that’s never been done before.
6. Know what options D, E, and F look like.
Even if you follow all of the tips listed above, you’re probably not going to get it right each and every time. Most people will tell you to have a Plan B and C; I’d take it a step further and say come up with a Plan D, E, and F as well. You want to be flexible and always look as far down the pipeline as possible. If A, B, and C fail, use the best elements of those plans or experiences to create newer, better plans. There’s no shame in making an F if it’s better than A, B, C, D, or E.
7. Take a deep breath.
Living a rapidly iterative life can burn you out pretty quickly. It’s important to give yourself time between iterations to pause and regroup. Use this break to evaluate the previous project(s) and gather your thoughts so you can take on the next one. — Ben Kaufman is the 23-year-old founder of Quirky, a social product development company that launches a brand new consumer product each week.