Can you gather a set of possible ideas, prioritize and experiment with them, and only implement the absolutely best ones? Apple people sure can.
If you want to be great, you need to learn about all the possible relevant ideas that have worked for others. You need to create new ideas, blend, adapt and prioritize them, and constantly test the best ideas to see which ones work for you. Only then can you fully implement — while continuously adjusting — the ideas that really work.
That’s what putting a dent in your universe is all about: Finding the best possible ideas that really work for your business, function, or role. It’s a major key skill that only 1% of people master. For the other 99%, the process is just too mentally taxing. They find only one or two ideas that really move the needle after learning about and creating hundreds of them, and testing a handful of those. And even then, they can’t deal with the idea that most of their work is left on the cutting room floor.
If you want to be great, you need to:
- Find all the relevant ideas, which is hard work by itself
- Creatively find new ideas yourself
- Work diligently to determine how those ideas might work together
- Objectively prioritize your ideas
- Implement some tests/experiments with your best ideas
- Measure/evaluate the results
- And, lastly, only fully implement the few ideas that will really move the needle
You have to turn off tests or experiments that you were sure would turn out well, but didn’t. You also may have to “go back to the drawing board” more than once and, in some cases, you may even need to wait for technological advances before you can implement some of your ideas (in this case, that means monitoring technology developments to find the right breakthrough). Finally, you need to avoid the trap of “if this is such a great idea, why aren’t our competitors doing it?”
This is really difficult for people to do, as it requires them to have faith that there will be an idea that can move the needle. They can’t be afraid to fail and they have to be prepared to kill off a lot of ideas that they have worked hard to generate, understand, evaluate, and test.
Quite simply, 99% of people just can’t do this.
Why? Because it’s often too difficult of a skill for most people to master and they fall into one of a number of traps, including:
- They try to do too many things at once and don’t put the proper effort against one or two things amazingly well, only then moving on to another one or two things that they can do amazingly well.
- They don’t put in the time to aggressively understand all of the great ideas that are out there that relate to their product, role, function, or business. It takes too much work or they haven’t mastered the skill of self learning.
- They don’t think/brainstorm to come up with new twists on ideas, completely new ideas, or combine the DNA of different ideas to come up with a completely new idea. Perhaps it is just too mentally taxing or they aren’t passionate enough about doing something great? Perhaps they believe that all the good ideas have already been implemented or they just don’t have the faith that they will discover a new one?
- They don’t keep track of ideas in idea backlogs, designs, or mock-ups. Perhaps because it takes too much discipline?
- They lack the judgment and/or analytical skills to prioritize their ideas, allowing their highest probability ideas to rise to the top.
- They don’t properly consider their ideas as experiments that need to be tested, but rather think of them as ideas that need to be implemented.
- They don’t kill off the ideas that don’t work well. Perhaps this comes from lack of metrics or lack of judgement, but it may also come from them falling in love with some of their ideas and not being open-minded to the actual results from their tests/experiments.
- They don’t continue through the process in an iterative cycle, continuously gathering ideas, prioritizing, testing, and only rolling out the ideas that really work.
The “1%” have figured all of that out and understand that this approach creates significant competitive advantage over time because:
- The small number of great implementations becomes a large number of great implementations. In Apple’s comeback, the company produced the iMac, followed by the iPod, iPhone, iPad, iTunes, iTunes Store and iCloud over the last 15 years. It was one great thing at a time, but their great things accumulated.
- The great implementations lead to new opportunities for great implementations. For example, once Apple had iPod and iTunes, they were able to partner with the music companies to create the iTunes store.
- The more you execute this approach, the better you get at executing it and the number of great results accelerate over time.
Just to be clear, this key skill can apply to a full company, a functional unit within it, or any role or person in those units. I have used Apple products as my example, but I could have just as easily used marketing examples, customers service examples, professional services examples, or even administrative assistant examples.
Every individual in every company has the opportunity to build and apply this skill to become a master of what they do, but only 1% of people actually do it.
I can’t count the number of times that I have attended operating reviews where department managers talk about their great operating results. Very rarely do I hear this story: here is what we set out to do, here is all the work that we did to try to nail our idea list, here are the tests that we executed, and here are the very few really great things that we have actually implemented successfully. Talking about great results is great, but what I would really like to understand is what they are doing to get better at what they do.
When I do hear from someone that is passionately and effectively executing a strategy centered around being the best, I am impressed. So is everyone else that meets that person. The bottom line is that everyone possesses endless potential to get better, but only 1% have mastered the skill that will actually make it happen. When I do meet that 1%, it is inspiring!
Apple’s 1% have dented the universe. Can you?