Create Your Organization's Learning Advantage

I have to credit the co-founder of my last company who said that in building a business we have to create the ripples and the ripples may turn into a wave and a wave may turn into a rapid and propel us down the river.  If we aren't creating ripples there is no chance for a rapid to emerge.  Another friend once told me that when he started his company they knew they needed to "carry their own water" for some time because they couldn't expect someone else to do it for them.  I don't know what's going on with these water metaphors but the takeaway is that great start-up companies do two things really well:  They limit dependencies (carry their own water) and they constantly run experiments in the market (create the ripples).  In effect, they instill a high velocity learning advantage for their organization.

Limiting dependencies has been a hard fought lesson.  If my service or product is dependent on me working with someone else's service or product in order to get to the end customer, I'm at a disadvantage.  First, I am reliant on another company that may not have the same guiding principles as our own.  Second, I'm too far removed from the end customer to get feedback that will help me learn and improve quickly.  Third, dependencies slow you down in the early days.  My own experience on dependencies was amplified when I ran EveryMove.  We were building an application for consumers that was sold through insurance companies.  I was totally reliant on them to reach the end consumer but our motivations were not aligned.   As such, I spent most of my energy trying to figure out how to work through them.  Lesson learned.

Running experiments are the "ripples".  Experiments need to have a hypothesis, a method of measurement, a timeline, and an owner.  They need to be planned and documented but quickly executed.  Small, frequent experiments create the ripples and maybe one turns into a wave.  At EveryMove, we launched a ranking index for how well health insurance companies engaged consumers.  It was an awesome experiment that we pulled together quickly.  It didn't create a rapid but it did create a wave.  Building experiments into the language of business will have a profound impact on velocity.

Whether you are carrying your water or creating the ripples, you are moving decisively.  Some organizations don't move because they get sucked into the planning vortex and just can't seem to execute.   Other organizations seem to be moving but individuals are not aligned on the strategic goal(s) so there is motion but no progress.  Organizations that have more control  to move quickly through limited dependencies and a culture of ripple creating experiments will have a significant learning advantage.