How to Avoid Innovation Paralysis: Get Started! A Lean Primer by @djstomp

One of the most difficult things to do is to achieve behaviour change. Whether it is to quit smoking or stop drinking, adopting a more active lifestyle or change your eating pattern. Of course these examples are on a personal level, but with introducing new elements at your event the same underlying principles apply: moving away from existing patterns introduces new (and potentially unknown) risks. That is the interesting part because maintaining the status quo obviously has it’s drawbacks and risks too. But how to move forward without killing your business or spoiling your wonderful event? How do I gradually make the shift towards applying all those dazzling technologies the new generation attendees are raving about and which seems so amazing yet difficult to understand?

If you want to introduce new technologies at your event, the Lean Startup methodology might bring to you some helpful insights.

Lean startup
The lean startup has been designed to help tech startups get their product to the market before they run out of money. One of the main principles is to create a ‘build-measure-learn‘ loop, very similar to the ‘plan-do-check-act’ quality circle of Deming. The idea is to gradually improve the product you’re working on guided by the user feedback and results of so called ‘experiments’, rather than trying to deliver the perfect product to the market at once.

Minimum viable product
The Minimum Viable Product is also one of the pillars of the Lean Startup. It is the most elementary version of the product that starts to deliver the desired value to your customers. Think of your end product as containing different small elements that together form the ultimate experience. So a minimum viable product is not meant to be the perfect end product, but rather the start of the journey towards it. For events I suggest this translates to a question like: “what is the minimal way that I can use technology at my event to deliver extra value to my attendees?”. Notice the subtile difference between asking yourself: “what is the most advanced piece of event tech software available that will ‘Sock Rock’ my attendees?”.

There’s a different mindset needed to implement new technologies into your events. The shift that’s needed will go from risk avoiding to experimenting and learning. Of course this is easier said than done, but it’s more in the process rather than anything else. As an event planner you should be willing to add some experiments in order to learn. The paradox I observe in the industry is the fear of establishing the ultimate change by plunging in head first. “It better be perfect the first time”. That of course is scary, highly risky and the root cause of the so called ‘innovation paralysis’. Rather than failing big time we do nothing or procrastinate.

Fail small and fail smart
Wouldn’t it be nice to reduce the risk of failure? Sure it would! And by taking baby steps you can. Do you want to implement an event app? Don’t try to go totally paperless all at once but gradually do. Start plain and simple, create a mobile version of your existing website. Then survey your attendees what their extra needs are. Want to use social media at your event? Don’t throw overboard all your traditional communication channels. Try and experiment with different channels until you find an optimal mix.

While experimenting bear in mind that you ask the right questions and measure the right things. Sometimes you’ll need qualitative measures (for example if you want attendee feedback about things to add to your conference), and sometimes you’ll need more quantitative metrics. Multivariate testing is great for gathering quantitative data. Determine what metrics are applicable (determine vanity metrics vs actionable metrics). Always search for metrics that ignite action rather than boost your ego. For example if you want to measure perceived engagement at your conference, you can setup a small experiment. In different parallel sessions experiment with different interaction techniques: one session gets the traditional format. Second session gets a Catchbox, third session gets live app voting and so on. Collect attendee data on different aspects of the session, especially quantitative data on perceived engagement metrics (directly at the end of the session to avoid contamination) and draw conclusions on what works best for your attendees, and act accordingly.

Build, measure, learn
Try to find out what matches your attendees. Detect the little steps. What is the big picture, the main thing I want to achieve, and how can I get there, step by step? An interesting concept in getting at the core of what you want to know is by asking why 5 times. Crucial is measuring the impact of your step, in order to learn and adjust the next step. Small steps also prevent big failure. Every small step is an opportunity to involve your attendees and make them a stakeholder, not a subject. I’m sure your attendees don’t want to feel like a Guinea Pig, but they do want to be involved in making a conference better.

Time for action!
Now what’s next? You need to learn how to walk before you can run is an old proverb. And walking starts with the first step. So build, measure and learn, together with your attendees. Don’t be afraid, make sure that there is a chance to fail. But remember to fail small and smart!


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