Rapid innovation, “license to kill”?

ReadWriteWeb is conducting a series of interviews on product innovation and the people driving it. Richard MacManus talked with CEO and co-founder of Betaworks last September: John Borthwick.  Betaworks products are the following: Bit.ly (the leading link shortener), TweetDeck (desktop Twitter client), Chartbeat (real-time analytics service) and SocialFlow (a social messaging service).

What drove my attention is that it’s not so frequent to read the words “rapid innovation” presented as a philosphy of product development.

The article Rapid innovation, the philosophy of Betaworks” (2010, Sept) says:

How Betaworks works is by providing a platform “to help rapidly iterate and innovate in the early stage of a company, so [that] we can be fairly aggressive about instrumenting products.” Using this method, which Borthwick calls “rapid innovation,” Betaworks knows when a product is taking off .”

“Or we know when to take it out back and shoot it.”

This approach also applies to the scaling of a product. “When things start to scale,” said Borthwick, “we scale them fairly cheaply and fairly fast.”

The first product at Betaworks was called Findings. Borthwick told that it shipped it as an alpha product, but it wasn’t a success so “we took it out back and shot it.” However, Betaworks then iterated Findings into something else: Bit.ly.

As defined by Berkhout (2000, “The dynamic role of knowledge innovation: an integrated framework of cyclic networks for the assessment of technological change and sustainable growth”), innovation is based on cyclic interactions with various communities :

  • external communities: technology & science, regulation, and market;
  • internal communities: product development projets team, and surrounding company departments.

Key succes factor for rapid innovation lies in fast cycles which means fluent circulation of knowledge within theses communities, including ability to prototype and to iterate as mentionned in rapid innovation thesis in the creative tension principle: knowledge circulation in short cycle will be carefully monitored, notably by fast prototyping, looking for incremental development at fast pace.

Ideo tells us a lot about prototyping and “Deep Dive” video (at ABC Nightline, 1999) provides a wealth of insights.

Also, license to shoot a project must be allowed! Put these words in Steve Jobs mouth and you’ll get: “Get rid of the crappy stuff“. In this extract from “The Innovation Secrets” (2010) of Steve Jobs by Carmine Gallo, we see that Apple’s approach is to put its resources behind a few products and commit to making those products exceptionally well. Steve Jobs says: “We tend to focus. Focus means saying no to the hundred other good ideas that there are.” And it takes courage to reduce the number of products a company offers.

Experiment (prototype and test), select (eliminate), and iterate: another lesson for rapid and succesful innovation.


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