“We tried it it doesn’t work!”

How would the world look if babies would decide walking wasn’t worth it after trying once or twice and failing?

There is a silent vision killer I have seen in action more times than I can count. It is true for personal vision and for company/product visions alike. It is called the “We tried it it didn’t work” syndrome and it is killing visions by the millions.

We never get it right the first time

Look around you. The computer I used to write this post, the electricity that powered it, the internet that delivered it, the phone you’re using to read it… What’s common to all of them is:

  1. They can all be traced to a single “crazy” person or group of people with a vision of an incredible future that looked impossible when conceived.
  2. Most people around these visionaries told them they will never succeed when they started.
  3. Most importantly, they never got it right the first time! They actually had to fail tens, hundreds sometime thousands of times to get it right.

Vision=change and change is unpredictable

The reason it is so hard to unlock a vision is that at the heart of every vision there is CHANGE. Vision is essentially an image of a CHANGED, better reality.

And change is extremely hard to predict or produce. It takes time, a lot of time, and experimentation to create any type of lasting change.

And when it comes to unlocking visions we are often talking about changing people's minds, behaviors or habits, which are all extremely hard to changes to produce.

Delivering a change vs. delivering a product

So if a vision is an image of a changed reality, then the first question we should ask ourselves when planning to unlock a vision is:

What needs to change in the world for our vision to become a reality?

But because we humans hate uncertainty and failure, that are both integral parts of any change, we choose to ask ourselves an easier question:

Instead of asking “What needs to change?” we ask: “What will we need to-DO to unlock our vision?

And suddenly everyone in the room takes a deep breath and relaxes. Because DOING, unlike changing, is predictable.

And that is the moment roadmaps are born. Lists of projects, stacked on a timeline that are supposed to magically, once we deliver them, create the desired change in the world and unlock our vision for us.

0.2 x 0.2 x 0.2…

Companies like Google, Microsoft and Facebook that have committed themselves to outcome-driven development, and have done so for years, know that 2 maybe 3 out of any 10 initiatives will actually deliver the predicted outcome. Failure is baked into their plans.

Now, if we know that statistically, only 2–3 in 10 initiatives will actually deliver the predicted outcome, what are the chances that breaking down a vision to a set of projects and lining them on a roadmap would deliver the desired change in the world? 0.0000000000…

The “We tried it is didn’t work!” vision death spiral

And now that we have committed the company to a list of “To-Do”, instead of a list of “To Change” the death spiral of our vision starts.

  1. We start working on a project/product.
  2. We have a deadline.
  3. We meet the deadline and everyone celebrates the delivery.
  4. A month later, when the numbers come in, we realize the project didn’t deliver the predicted outcome (because most projects statistically don’t).
  5. Instead of trying again and committing to achieving the original desired outcome (change), we HAVE to move on to the next project because we HAVE to hit our next milestone.
  6. The project is “filed” under “We tried it and it didn’t work!”.

“We tried it, changing the top of the funnel doesn’t work!”

“We tried it, incentivizing users to share doesn’t work”

“We tried it, people don’t like that we send them emails”

And on an on… Paradigm after paradigm the company develops its notion of “how the world works”. People start finishing their sentences with exclamation marks “!” instead of a question mark “?”.

Discovery and the uncertainty that comes with it dies, and 100% of our resources are spent on delivery. The dream of unlocking an exponential change and vision is replaced with predictable ROI and linear growth.

Every time you say “we tried it doesn’t work” a vision dies

Each time you say “we tried it it didn’t work!” a little part of a vision dies. Even worse a person standing next to you starts to believe you. That person is gradually buys into the notion that trying once and failing is a signal you should quit. He stops believing in change.

Creating a roadmap of “To Change” instead of “To-Dos”

Roadmaps are lists of To-dos stacked in a timeline. Building a strong team that has a proven ability to deliver those roadmaps is critical to the success of any company because vision-delivery=nothing.

That said the secret to any exponential progress is vision. The ability to imagine and leap into a future that doesn’t exist yet. The ability to produce change.

So what if instead of committing ourselves to roadmaps of to-dos we will create and commit ourselves to roadmaps of “To Change”…

Instead of aligning our resources around delivery alone, we will ensure that at any given time what guides us as a team is the next CHANGE we are trying to drive in people's lives, the business or the world?

Then and only then, once we are clear about the change we are creating will we create delivery roadmaps that get us closer to that desired change one step at a time… “Roadmaps” that facilitate failure, experimentation and retries.

Because you never get right the first try.

What have you tried and now think doesn’t work? Are you sure?



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