My Complex Relationship with Buzzwords
Last week, my team thought we had a viable solution that we were excited to refine, prototype, and test. But after interviewing several stakeholders, we began to realize that it wasn’t a problem in the way that we thought it was, and that our solution was therefore not needed.
One of the central mantras in design thinking is to “fail fast, fail early, and fail often”. So, after a week of heading in one direction, we decided to make a sharp turn to different one. In design thinking, one might say we “pivoted”. This was tough to do, and, frankly, the path has not gotten significantly easier since. We’ve started back at square one in terms of contextual understanding, professional contacts, and knowledge of the issues.
Of course, I’d rather fail fast than fail slow. But I would also rather succeed slow than fail fast. As my team forges off into our new direction, I’ve been wondering how to balance the dutiful effort and research that is required for innovation, while respecting the “fail fast” mantra.
Maybe the issue is about the standards that we hold our solutions to. These standards must be rigorous and conclusive, while simultaneously being patient enough to allow for creativity and persistence. I know I haven’t been able to figure out that balance yet.
By the way, when I looked up the idea of “pivoting” for this blog post, I found some article claiming that “pivoting is not desperation.” And it isn’t. But it can sure cause a lot of desperation.
In my group we’ve also been talking a lot about our business model. Last time around, we had come up with several start-up ideas, but it was hard to convince stakeholders that there was even a problem to solve in the first place. This time, it feels like the opposite. We know the problems, and I would even argue that we know the solutions.
We have pivoted to migrant workers in India; these workers face massive challenges every day, and are some of the most exploited populations in this country. These workers need access to health care, education for their kids, psychosocial counseling, and legal services, to name a few. But many of those solutions require the time and labor of highly trained professionals, something that is difficult to bake into our solution.
I remember distinctly when I first realized the emphasis that GCIL would place on financial sustainability and innovative business models. For context, I would describe myself as many things, but I would never call myself an entrepreneur, innovative, or business-minded. To me, this emphasis on financial sustainability had felt like a necessary evil; it was a concept that I accepted in theory, but one that I planned to stay as far away from as I possibly could. Creating a financially sustainable business model was a hurdle that I needed to be crossed, instead of the race track itself.
But my views have shifted. I care about making an impact, and making one in a way that is contextually sensitive and technically thoughtful. I believe in community-owned solutions that give the power to the people most affected. I see now that we don’t talk about business models because we like buzzwords, or because we believe money lies at the root of the solution. We talk about them because they can give your solution legs to walk—or run—on.
Ultimately, the ability of your start-up to be self-sustaining is the thing that gives it power beyond your own—it is what allows an idea to continue, grow, and thrive, long after the original cast has moved on. And this, I’m sure, is something to strive for.