When your idea dies, hack it out

Jun 12 2015

Abandoning our first idea was the most liberating and frightening experience the data team had in weeks.

After pursuing a concept one of our team members had pitched during the second week of working in the Lab, we were close to exhausting all of our possible customer segments. We split up and spent the day talking to potential customers, and it was clear: nobody would buy our product.

Our idea was dead. We had been told that this time would come. Surely the first idea we haphazardly pitched with minimal experience in the Lab wouldn’t be strong enough to last until the end.

So there was comfort in knowing that, at least, we had moved forward far enough to exhaust one product to death.

But that didn’t tell us how we were going to come up with a better, stronger idea. We had our old brainstorms, but those were mainly lists of slapdash concepts — certainly not lists of ready-to-bake products.

Kendra Benner, data team member, discusses the value prop of a new idea.

Kendra Benner, data team member, discusses the value prop of a new idea.

That same day we latched onto an idea and listed out how we were going to pursue it. It was instinct to look for the easy way out: something we knew would produce immediate results.

Tuesday, we realized we were playing it safe, and instead of jumping into something new, we had to trust in the process. Back to the drawing board it was, with the brainstorming tools we had honed in those initial weeks.

But though our process was coming full circle so that it looked as if we were starting from the beginning, in reality, we moved more efficiently than we had ever before, thanks to our familiarity with our topic, as well as the structure of the Lab.

Tuesday was the headache inducing part of brainstorming, involving our team members pitching “safe” ideas: ones that were more repetitive, less innovative. During the first cycle of our process, this lasted for days. This time? Half a day.

Wednesday our brainstorming started picking up. After briefly talking about ideas, we jumped into an idea matrix in three 10-minute segments, and found our ideas were strong enough that our analysis of the matrix took us the rest of the day.

Thursday morning we were faced with the result of our enhanced skill sets: too many good ideas to choose just one. How were we to decide what idea would be the best to pursue?

Since we had no established solution to this problem, we did what Reese interns do best: we innovated. Enter the mini hackathon.

The author pitches a new idea at the mini-hackathon. Photo by Samantha Harrington.

The author pitches a new idea at the mini-hackathon. Photo by Samantha Harrington.

We chose four of our best ideas: not meaning which ones sounded cooler, but which ones seemed like they would function best. An idea about restaurants that we originally thought was fun was thrown out because the restaurant industry wasn’t ripe for innovation the way others were.

Then the four of us took 24 hours to pursue an idea. Four intent interns engaged in healthy competition, attentions locked to research, make calls, and prepare for pitches the next morning.

Then we did what Reese interns also do best: pitching. After presenting our now-researched ideas to the Lab in a competition for the most desirable, feasible, viable product, we chose which of the four to pursue.

And now we do what Reese interns also do best: research.


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