Lead With Vision. Test Ruthlessly in the Market.

One day a couple of years ago, my colleague Jono Mallanyk was working on decorating the walls of Neo’s first studio space in NYC. He was hanging a set of posters he had designed and printed, posters that expressed some of the innovation management values we shared and that Jono wanted to amplify. One of the posters was a quote from our colleague Giff Constable. It read “Lead with vision, but test ruthlessly in the market.”

Now I’m sure that at least part of the reason Jono put that poster up was to embarrass Giff, but it was also because that quote so completely captured the spirit we try to adopt in our work.

There’s an ongoing debate in the design world to name our king, our highest value. Are we human-centered? Are we user-centered? Are we data-driven? Are we led by empathy? Are we moral? Are we neutral servants of commerce?

Personally, I’m an idea guy. I love the big idea, I get excited by abstract concepts that connect together to make systems, and if I get lucky, create some clarity about the world, about the universe. Sometimes, a good idea can be so satisfying to me that I can simply hold it in my head, admire it, and end up doing nothing at all about it.

And as I’ve come to understand that I’m an idea guy, I’ve also come to a hard-won appreciation for execution people. People who feel about *doing* the way I feel about thinking. When you pair us up, good things tend to happen.

And one of the things that can tend to happen is you discover that your ideas–which are so perfect and elegant in your head–tend to get fucked up as you work on them. You discover something that doesn’t quite fit, that you have to change, to adjust, to tweak. And in changing it—counter to expectation—you usually make the idea better. Similarly, for people who are doers, I have seen that doing in the context of a guiding idea–a vision, if you want–helps them move forward. Although they often don’t want to take the time to work on ideas—it feels slow, it feels like you’re not *doing*—that vision acts as a rudder to steer actions and helps them avoid moving endlessly in circles.

This complement in personalities–you see this kind of complement in schools of thought. You see it in how Lean Startup brings something to Agile. You see it in how Design Thinking brings something to Lean Startup. Execution and idea. Data and empathy. Confidence and humility. Why would you think you can get by with just one?

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