30 January 2017 | Life
8 min read
Iterate in public: closing the gap from idea to execution
Having a great idea is worth very little unless you plan on executing it. You could have an idea that would change the way clean water is spread through disparate countries, but unless you have the confidence to seek out how to execute that idea, that idea is worthless. Once you act on that idea, even a rudimentary execution starts to increase the value of your idea.
It’s not easy to put your early work out there, but for most things, it’s great to iterate and act on these ideas in public. There are plenty of benefits from putting the work you do out into the world than bottling your idea for “later.”
Giving your “great idea” value
At times, I wonder how many people have had the same idea that I recently had. It’s not anything new to start thinking about becoming more confident as a designer. It’s not new to have an idea of a newsletter about design, nor are the topics I write about new topics. There’s really nothing new under the sun except me. I’m the outlier and I am in charge of my idea’s execution.
Having the idea is a great place to start. This beautiful idea is planned and mapped out in your mind. It could be an ongoing conversation between you and a friend where each person builds that idea up. However, having an idea sitting in your mind has one big flaw: it’s untested. And being untested means it has a very small chance of succeeding if you go all out without testing it.
Best person I know about executing an idea is Justin Jackson and his MegaMaker List. He set out to make 100 things during the year. This is a goal that was pretty ambitious because he would have to make 1 thing every three days. The reason I started following him and his work was because he would take one or more of these ideas every week and execute on them, reporting his progress back in the form of a podcast. He would test each idea by actually going out and doing it. Each execution was a new iteration which would lead him to closing that gap between the idea and the execution.
This is what I set out to do, I take my inexperience as a designer and I turn that into my strength. I iterate by taking what I learn and apply it to the work I am currently doing. Then I bundle what I learn, write an article about it, then I send that out in a newsletter fixed around a topic of becoming more confident. I’m putting these iterations of writing out there in public and refining my skills as I go.
Not everything I touch will turn into gold and I have to be okay with that.
Get your idea written down. In fact, start an “idea book” with things you come up with. We’ll call this the “first step” towards acting upon the idea.
If your ideas are grandiose, it is best to break that goal into smaller steps. Treating these large ideas like a goal will help you start to break it down and test the smaller pieces of the grand picture.
Sean McCabe said recently during a podcast:
… work backwards from the result that you want until you get down to something so small that it would be absurd not to take action.
Along with this idea, Justin Jackson wrote a great snippet on what starting small looks like.
Want to write a book?
Start small: write an essay.
Want to be a rock star?
Start small: sing in the shower.
I was not a confident communicator when it came to presenting my ideas towards design projects. To become more confident, I had to start taking small steps towards presenting my work. I started first by uploading my work to twitter and private design groups I was a part of.
I then started to iterate more in public by posting my work to other places like Dribbble and Facebook which led to some pretty harsh but much needed feedback.
Once I started writing about my experiences as a designer, I started to realize that my confidence was growing and I was gaining some good feedback on my direction as a designer overall.
The thing is, your goal has to be broken down so that the first steps are simple enough to start working towards the big goal.
If you wanted to start a global company selling sugar cubes:
- First start by learning to sell a box of sugar cubes
- After selling a few boxes, learn to sell a case of boxes
- Once selling cases feels easy, start moving pallets of cases
- After selling pallets worth of sugar cubes, start moving semi-trucks full
- When selling semi-truck loads of sugar is comfortable, let’s get freight carriers full of your sugar and sell it across the globe
I’m working really hard at building my skills as a designer to start building educational material so I have to allow each iteration to become my new normal. My articles have started coming out weekly, I started a newsletter on top of the articles, and I have more ideas on where to go that will get me towards executing my big idea.
Allow each iteration to become your new “normal.”
Let’s give them the secret of our work
When you look at people who are huge in your industry, it can be easy to want their “secret.” You see them like your overnight successes that “got lucky” or found his big break. And to be honest, a large portion of people are popping up all over the place like magic. But you can’t bullshit a track record.
Looking at someone like Gary Vaynerchuck, who is popping up all over the place in media about his company and his ideas on entrepreneurship, one might think that he just showed up out of the blue. But what really happened was he has iterated in public over the last 10–15 years. You can see where he started with his videos back in 2006, and where he is at now with his current YouTube channel.
Building a backlog where it shows improvement over time re-humanizes you. It’s the opposite effect of the pop stars that feel de-humanized because you see where they are now with no idea where they came from. By iterating in public, you can see where someone’s first ideas were at and how they started to improve over time. You can relate more easily to the people and they have more merit on the things they start to teach about.
After a while of actually building upon your ideas, and executing the ideas you have. Moving into A/B testing can start to hone in on how your ideas are resonating with people.
A/B testing is splitting the experience you might give someone when reading, signing up for something, using a product… You give some people option A, and some people option B and see which one resonates the best with people. It cuts down a lot of the latency between finding something that works. But to get here, you have to have a steady understanding on getting ideas out to the public.
Every A/B test, regardless of how valid it might be, requires the same amount of care when handling it’s execution. You want to avoid throwing spaghetti at the wall to see what sticks. Give people the options you plan on spending some care in creating.
This may be the fastest way for you to find if you have a diamond in the rough, or a lump of coal presented on a silver platter.
Sometimes a poor implementation keeps a good idea from succeeding. Conversely, a great idea can succeed in spite of a poor implementation.”
Best time to start is yesterday
If you are doing any kind of work, the best time for you to start has probably passed. Don’t worry. The second best time to start is now.
What ideas do you have just lying around that you could do something about this week?