I saw this tweet recently:
Don't hire optimizers when you need problem solvers.
— Keith Rabois (@rabois) July 16, 2016
Great thought. And while this particular Tweet speaks to hiring, I think the sentiment applies to a whole bunch of things in your business — including your business itself.
What mode is your business in? Are you honing in on something? Have you already found a good product/market fit? And now you’re optimizing? Tightening? Going from good to great? From close to almost there to just right? Working on moving conversion from 12 to 13%? Working to get life time value from $1000 to $1100? Average ticket response time down from 38 minutes to 30 or even 20?
Optimization mode is like tuning an old radio with analog knobs. The station is 93.1, and you’re turning the dial around 93.0 and 93.2 to get the signal just right. Tiny movements back and forth until you eliminate the static and hear it loud it clear. Precision matters. When you hit it perfectly you know it.
Or are you in discovery mode? Setting out for all new territory? Trying a radical new idea? Going for something crazy just to see what happens? New business model? Launching a second product? Building up a team you’ve never had to do things you’ve never considered before? Branching into a new market? A new country?
Businesses can swing between honing and exploring, optimizing locally and trying brand new things generally. But it’s probably a good idea to know where you’re at right now. You’ll think differently about what you’re doing when the intent is clear.
The same applies to product development. Are you spending the next 4 weeks working to improve an existing feature or experience? Or are you working the next 4 weeks on something brand new — something your product never did before? A better version of an existing idea, or a brand new idea? The skills and approach and diligence you apply will be different.
In many ways this is about the scale of precision, of accuracy. If you’re in optimization mode, accuracy to the single digit — or even two decimals — matters. If you’re in exploration mode, you’re often starting from zero so anything is interesting. You just want to know if you’re roughly on to something. Headed in a potentially fruitful direction? Or going nowhere fast? When you’re in exploration mode, It doesn’t matter if you’re slightly off course as long as you’re headed somewhere entirely new.
Just know. You can be both at once, but each team should know which mode they’re in. Two teams working on optimization, one on exploration. I don’t think it’s realistic for the same people to be both at once.
We’re doing both at the same time with Basecamp 3. Every 6–8 weeks we start on a new set of work. Some of the work is about honing in, tightening something up that’s already there. And some of the work is exploratory — building something. brand new that we’ve never had in the product before. Check out what we’re up to.