Saturday, September 29, 2007

Ready. Fire. Aim

David Christiansen sent me a good article by Tom Peters on systems thinking and innovation. I couldn't agree more with it. It is astounding how much time is wasted with excessive planning.

Tom's post reminds me of the book The Myths of Innovation. I read it earlier this summer.

I'm a big believer in failing fast and learning. If you want to innovate, you plan a little bit, create a whole team, give them a wiki, foster a collaborative/transparent culture, set a short deadline, try something, measure it, and do it again until you are done.

I whole heartedly agree with this excerpt: I am an unabashed fan of MIT Media Lab guru Michael Schrage—particularly his book Serious Play. His principal axiom: "You can't be a serious innovator unless you are ready and able to play. 'Serious play' is not an oxymoron; it is the essence of innovation." And, in turn, the heart of his serious play is ... fast prototyping: "Effective prototyping may be the most valuable core competence an innovative organization can hope to have." His intriguing connection, which makes all the sense in the world to me, is that true innovation comes not from the idea per se, though it guides the work, but from the "reaction to the prototype." In fact, in a surprising number of cases (the majority?) the collective responses to a host of fast prototypes reshape the original idea beyond recognition—or lead one down an entirely new path.

A more succinct way to sum up how innovation works is Ready. Fire. Aim. Tom's article says he heard a Cadbury exec call his approach to product development. This phrase is often used as what not to do when it is exactly what you should do.

Update 01-OCT-2007 Tom has some follow up posts that are well worth reading: Systems Thinking II: My Summer Vacation and Systems Thinking III.

Here is a great quote:

"For C-sakes, quit drawing those f-ing maps and run some experiments, quick and dirty, and see if anything you are babbling on about actually works or makes the slightest bit of sense in the real world as we know it. And after you've done your real work, then you are welcome to write your 'complete theory of everything.'" (That was close to the actual script, minus many more f%^*s and about 25 minutes of elaboration.)


Anonymous said...

You should read the comments to Peter's entry. He is very confused about the meaning of systems thinking.

fuzzy said...


Thanks for the comment.

Fair enough - I wasn't really focused on the systems thinking aspect of the post though. I was more focused on the innovation part. Thanks for bringing this to my attention.

Reading the comments on Peter's post & re-reading some systems thinking info, I think you are right.

I do think that any methodology / thinking toolset can (and very often is) ruined by heavy process, long time-lines, and ignoring feed back/not steering.

I'm all for planning & use lots of techniques from various methodologies(including systems thinking from looking at it). I'm always on the look out for new ones too. At least in my line of work, however, you can only take planning so far before you need to get to work and get real information. I could see someone spending months or years doing a systems thinking study. I think that this would (perhaps) be ok if they were doing a lot of experimentation in there. But if they were just interviewing people, thinking, and writing documents, the effort would likely result in very little value.

Dave Christiansen said...

Tom wrote two more follow-up posts on this topic - I recommend checking those out as well.

Sarge said...

Sorry to disagree but "Ready. Fire. Aim." is still wrong. Don't fire before aiming. But the "Aim. Fire." phase is a cycle that should be repeated with the aim adjusted for the outcome of the previous cycle.

Think of it in terms of artillery. (That's what I do.) You put a ranging round on the target and have your spotter call out where it hit. You adjust your aim with single rounds this way until you are on target and only then do you fire for effect. Prototypes are those ranging rounds. They are still aimed just as carefully as volleys, but you are minimizing the commitment of resources until you are sure that you have the right aim.

fuzzy said...


I think it is just a semantic thing. Your "ranging round" is my "ready". I think we are really saying the same thing.

And you can clearly mess up Ready. Fire. Aim.

The point is planning can only get you so far - sadly not very far. The trick is to get just enough planning and get into learning, reflecting, and adjusting ASAP.