Intentional False Starts: Entrepreneurial Gold?

In talking with other entrepreneurs, a consistent theme appears: They started solving one problem, discovered a second, deeper problem, and built a company to solve the deeper problem—not the original one.

It's a pattern I see so frequently that I've started calling it the Intentional False Start model of problem solving: you take a problem, develop the simplest solution possible with the expectation that it will fail, and when it inevitably does, build the real solution to solve why it did.

Why expect failure? Because if the solution were really that simple, it would already be in place by now.

When I started training people on LinkedIn, the problem most of their employers had was How do we extend our brand to our employees' social profiles? But the problem that came up in our programs was, Why would I, as an employee, ever let the company take over my social presence?!

If we didn't solve the employees' What's in this for me? problem, then the company couldn't solve its brand extension problem. We retooled our programs to address the deeper problem and saw brand extension jump by 250% – 900%. All opt-in, by the way—we'd show employees why and they'd sign up to help their employer all on their own.

This approach is not new. It has a more common name that will be familiar to just about everyone with a pulse: experimentation.

But! In business, experimentation can be a dirty word. Companies don't like experiments that fail, and more than that, they hate all the ambiguity of not knowing how things will end.

And yet, experimentation is often critical to finding the best answer to a question... so what's a professional to do?

The answer: Assume that at least one failure will happen when you start executing your "solution." There, you've just de-risked your plan and you've removed ambiguity. Even better, you shrank the time needed to analyze the problem because you'll be analyzing and solving simultaneously.

On one level, it's just a semantic change, I know that. But before you brush it off, look around: how much quality experimentation does your organization truly tolerate... and why?

My hunch is that in your world—especially if you're an entrepreneur—this is one of those shifts in perspective that, without changing much of anything, changes everything.