No doubt you'll have seen it already: the young man who spends a semester in Paris, forever changing his life. No doubt you've also seen the Tiger Woods and Sarah Palin parodies. Genuine or spoof, the commercials hone in on one of the fundamental characteristics of search: that search is a tool for us to hone in on the core of what is bothering, amusing, or intriguing us at any given moment.
We have to hone in when we search. By definition, we don't know where we're going -- otherwise we'd just go there. And so, like skiers tracking an avalanche locater beacon, we start with the general direction in which we think the answer will lie, and then use the tool to help us narrow it down.
Yesterday, I had the privilege of attending an all-day workshop with Eric Ries of IMVU and Startup Lessons Learned fame. Unsurprisingly for those who are familiar with Eric, the day was spent talking about lean start-ups: how to abandon the top-heavy, frontloaded, build-a-perfect-product start-up model for one that focuses on failing as fast and as often as possible, minimizing risk and testing against the only metric that matters: whether customers want what you've got. This process is another form of search, even more random than the budding Parisian's or the frantic snowsporter's. Tiger Woods might not have known which site to go to, but he knew he needed grille work on the Escalade. When you're in a start-up, you don't even know that. And so the entire process of building a business from the ground up is a process of searching: for the right product, the right service, the right market, the right business model.
With online search, we expect to have to hone a bit, and you'd think that our life experience (which time and time again reminds us of our complete inability to predict the future) would also prime us for the need to refine. But it doesn't. Somehow, we still hold ourselves accountable for our forecasts, our budgets, our predictions of market uptake and consumer adoption -- even in the conditions of extreme uncertainty that define a start-up.
I'm involved with a start-up virtual world at the moment, something with which I have no prior experience. We're using those lean principles: get the Minimum Viable Product into the hands of customers as quickly as possible, find out what they care about and don't care about, and then refine.
It seems to be working, but even if it doesn't, we can change tack so quickly that it won't kill us, unlike the traditional vitual world model: "40 people working 40 months to deliver a product."
How on earth, with the ever-increasing pace of development, adoption, and obsolescence, can anyone possibly afford to take that kind of 40-person, 40-month gamble? More importantly, why would you? Our first customers have become part of that search-and-refine model of business development, and I'm certain this early wave is getting as much out of the journey as others will out of the final product.
If there is anything Google has shown us in the past decade, it's that humans love to search. So look at the uncertainty in your business, and ask yourself how you can turn the need to "hone in" into a delightful collaboration rather than a frantic solo effort. If you can pull it off -- no matter what the final result -- your search will have been successful.