Even if you have the best business idea in the world, analysis-paralysis can stop you in your tracks
You feel frozen, not sure what to do. So you research. Then you do some more research and educate yourself even more. But that doesn't get you very far, does it? Even famous people like Leonardo da Vinci and Michelangelo would get stuck in this mode, just like you. But they still went on to create great art.
So how do you create great “art” as well? Find out and beat the analysis-paralysis once and for all.
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Re-release: How to Validate Your Idea (Even When It's Brand New)
Original:Validating Your Business Idea: How To Beat Analysis-Paralysis
How do you go about validating your business idea to give yourself the best chance of success?
Can you think of a TV series that's generated over US$ 3.1 billion so far?
If you answered, Seinfeld, you're perfectly right. Except for one little fact. Seinfeld almost didn't get off the ground. As author Adam Grant mentions in his book, “Originals”, two entertainers got together to create a 90-minute special. Despite their abilities, they couldn't find enough material to fill the 90-minute special, and so they decided to create a half-hour weekly TV show. And that's precisely where all the trouble began.
The TV Network folks looked at the script and thought it was terrible
Undeterred, they went on to create the pilot for the series. A hundred viewers dissected the strengths and weaknesses of the show. The majority of the test audience decided they wouldn't watch such a show. But a test audience in one city may hate the show and others may love it, which is why the pilot got screened at four diverse cities. Six hundred people in all saw the show, and the results were dismal.
They all thought it wasn't something they'd ever watch again. And at that point, Seinfeld should have simply died. And it might have if it wasn't for one network executive who doggedly campaigned for them to make and air four more episodes. The drama didn't stop there, and Seinfeld lurched back and forth, always threatening to tip itself into oblivion.
Johannes Sebastian Bach is considered to be one of classical's virtuosos
He wrote over a thousand pieces of music in his lifetime. Not far behind was Beethoven and Bach who composed 650 and 600 pieces respectively. And yet, despite their voluminous body of work, they were as unsure as you and me about what would work and what wouldn't. Beethoven, for instance, trashed the final movement of his most celebrated work in the Fifth Symphony. Only later did he decide to put it back. Could he not tell right from the start that it was an amazing part of the musical piece?
Throughout history, experts have failed to spot the superstars. J.K. Rowling, the Beatles, Elvis Presley. History has hundreds of examples of bad calls, and it's not as though the crowd does better. Despite what you hear about the wisdom of crowds, the crowds are pretty hopeless at it as well. Which is why Seinfeld's early episodes got panned so badly.
1) If everyone is guessing, how would you ever be able to validate an idea?
There are two ways to validate an idea, and they're both reasonably bizarre.
—The first way is not to do any testing with audiences at all. Instead, there's another group that can help you with greater accuracy.
—The second way is to create whatever you jolly well please, but then link it to an existing problem.
Let's start with the first point and figure out which group tends to be more accurate than others
When we sit down to create a product or service, we instantly realise that we're not alone. If you're in marketing, there are thousands, if not tens of thousands of books on marketing. If you're in health, fitness, nutrition, programming, illustrations—it doesn't matter what you pick—it's all been covered. It's at this point we feel the need to stand out and fit it as well.
There's a reason why we need to fit in
If we go too far away from what everyone else is doing, it might just not be viable. Novelty is hard to cope with because we don't know what to make of it. If you ask an expert, they don't see the world the way you do. Back in the early 2000s as we started an earlier version of Psychotactics, there were already solidly entrenched marketers such as Jay Abraham, Dan Kennedy and Brian Tracy.
They were well-established in the field of seminars, delivered their content through massive bookbinders and cassette tapes. If all of these methods of delivery sound archaic to you, it's only because you're looking back in time. Almost no marketer wanted to explore the Internet. It's the very entrenchment that causes you to see something new as a novelty. It's a blind spot. If you were to ask the experts or the audience, you still wouldn't get the validation you seek.
But there's another group that seems to understand the novelty factor a lot better
They're called “fellow creators”. Fellow creators in the very same field have a sense of what's going to work, long before the audience or the experts do. When peers evaluate each other, they are twice as accurate as anyone else. When Justin Berg, Assistant Professor of Organizational Behavior, studied circus acts he found the ones who best predicted whether a video would be liked, shared or funded were when peers evaluated each other.
As a cartoonist, I know this to be true
When one cartoonist sees another great cartoon, the instant reaction is: “I wish I'd thought of that joke”. The same concept applies across industries. Comedians look to their fellow comedians for approval. One of the greatest tribute you can get isn't from an audience or experts, but from a group—yes a group—of fellow cartoonists.
Cartoonists who have the same calibre or even higher. Peer judgments—when evaluated in groups—are more reliable because they see the very same idea through different eyes. So the first thing you've got to do is seek out peers; people who are in the same field and approximately with a similar mindset.
Yet, that's just one way to handle validation
The other way is not to validate at all but to create what you pretty well please but then match it up to the existing problem. Let's take a company like Tesla. What product are they making? If you think of the cars they're producing, you'll be likely to say: They are building electric cars. Electric cars aren't a new thing. They existed long before the gasoline car and still failed repeatedly.
But apparently CEO, Elon Musk doesn't care about the failure because he's not building “electric” cars.
If you pay close attention to Musk, you'll notice he harps a lot about the speed. It accelerates from 0-60 in 3.2 seconds. You see the problem, don't you?
He's not drumming the “save the planet” message, is he? Instead, he's building the car of his dreams, and tackling the problem of speed. And if you happen to sit in a Tesla, notice what the owner tends to drool about—yes, speed. Which tells you that if you build a product, they will not come. But if you link the product to an existing problem, you can instantly attract attention.
If we were to go back to the much-used case study of Domino's Pizza, you'd notice the same thread of creating what the owner wants. They just wanted to create a pizza, using their own method. Is that a feasible or viable way of succeeding?
Of course not. But marry it to a problem and see what happens. The problem was: the client was hungry and hence the pizza needed to get to the customer's place as soon as possible.
You're likely to have read this or heard it before at Psychotactics, but the product on “The Secret life of Testimonials” isn't exactly what you're thinking about, are you? It's got over a hundred pages, but it's a product I wanted to write about. And so I did. But where's the problem?
We found, quite by chance, that better testimonials get us better clients. Clients that respect our work pay in advance, etc. And so the problem is “crappy clients”.
You see what's happening when you launch a product?
You're trying to make the product or service fantastic, and so it should be. The Tesla, Dominos Pizza or the Secret Life of Testimonials has to be a solid product. But that's not enough. What if it doesn't sell? It won't sell if you simply talk about the obvious. In every instance, whether it be the first car, the first plane, the first trip into space—they're all beyond the imagination of the audience. However, the moment you link it to an existing problem, you immediately get their attention.
2) What makes a viable product? And how do you validate it?
If you're into testing, find a group of your peers. Your peers are big fans of the profession. A group of chefs, evaluating your work individually, are more likely to know more accurately which dish will be a hit than just a group of diners frequenting the restaurant.
However, if you care two hoots about testing, go right ahead and create your product or service and then link it to an existing problem. When clients get excited about the problem, you know you have a winner.
One last word about how this validation bit works
For years I've wanted to write a book about “how to teach more effectively”, and it's called “Teacher vs. Preacher”. But who's interested in such a book? I've done an informal evaluation with others who teach online. Those who do courses, workshops, webinars, etc.
This group are likely to be clients, but they're primarily a group of teachers that really care about their students. They don't just want to sell a course or home study version of their product. They want their clients to be able to get the skill.
They love to sell out their courses, but their bigger focus is to be able to transfer the skill to their students.
And when I bring up “Teacher vs. Preacher”, they love the idea. So on one front, that's validation. But what if I wanted to write the book anyway? In such a scenario, I'll write but then connect it to the problem that we at Psychotactics solve so well.
Though our courses are higher priced than most on the Internet, we can sell them out faster than practically anyone else I know. A $3000 course sells out in less than 30 minutes, and with a single e-mail, while other marketers take weeks of endless e-mails, affiliates and joint ventures just to get any traction. That's the problem the book solves, doesn't it?
Validation can come from two fronts: peers or problem.
Try both if you need to be doubly sure.
But we're still stuck with the concept of analysis-paralysis. How do we get over that major hurdle?
3) How to deal with analysis paralysis?
What trigger played a significant role in human evolution?
If we go back three million years ago to our early ancestors, Australopithecus, we find them to be more like a chimpanzee. Its brain volume is a bare 400cc. If we were to fast forward to 1.8 million years ago, suddenly there's an abundance of hominine species, including Homo erectus. And the brain size is double of Australopithecus.
If we move further to 800,000 years ago, we get Home heidelbergensis and another remarkable growth in brain size from 800cc to 1200cc. And finally, 200,000 years ago, we find a skull called Omo 2, and it has a brain size of approximately 1500cc, which is remarkably close to the brain size we have today.
But what caused those changes in brain sizes?
Each one of those brain sizes occurred when the Earth was at its most elliptical and the climate was horribly harsh and changing. Rivers dried up; food was scarce, temperatures rose and fell in rapid succession. Human evolution is considered to have a direct line to volatile do-or-die situations.
Good times, on the other hand, don't seem to lend themselves to rapid change
Think about your situation on a daily basis. As long as you have enough food in the pantry, it seems perfectly reasonable to lounge on the sofa. The moment you're out of food, there's no analysis-paralysis. In fact, even dwindling supplies causes you to act with increasing focus and rapidity. While there are many reasons why we get into a rut of analysis-paralysis, the biggest reason for the rut is the glut or excess.
So what does this excess look like in real life?
Let's say you walked into an ice-cream parlour and you have to choose between two flavours: mango and strawberry. How long did you take to make that decision?
If we wanted to add confusion, we simply have to add excess. Let's add 18 flavours to that list. Now you have twenty flavours to choose from, and you go, at least partially, into analysis-paralysis. You want the coffee flavour and the mango at the same time. You can't decide whether they are suitable, and so back and forth you go.
In reality, you're going through a series of rejections
To get to your unique flavour, you have to, theoretically, reject 19 flavours to pick one. A similar set of phenomena plays itself out when you're trying to achieve a goal.
You've been told it's important to learn about Facebook advertising, that e-mail is important, storytelling is critical and so on. It's normal to jump from one thing to the other like flavours of ice-cream.
What you really need is a lack of choice
People who get things done are not hampered because they create situations where they can't do everything. They are forced to do just a few things, with usually one thing as the big focus. And if you want to get out of paralysis-analysis, here are three elements you need to consider. They are:
a) Let's start with drafts
Michael Lewis is a relatively unknown name as authors go, but his projects are well known because they're quickly transformed into Hollywood blockbusters. “Moneyball”, “The Big Short” and the “Blind Side” are reasonably well known. When interviewed about the struggle involved in writing,
Michael gets slightly philosophical. “The writing isn't a problem,” he says. “Instead, it's the drafts that require work”. Lewis talks about the multiple numbers of drafts he has to make to get a project going. And in layman's terms, that's simply an outline.
Yes, the very same outline most people hated to do when in school, and still avoid doing whether it involves writing an article, creating a product or giving a presentation. It's one of the biggest hurdles that get in our way time and time again.
An outline has stages of clarification. When we first begin the draft, we are grasping at straws. With every following outline, the brain has a chance to get a greater level of clarity. Three, four, six, eight—it doesn't matter how many drafts you create, as long as you create drafts.
Drafts seem like such an odd idea when you're dealing with analysis-paralysis
When we think of it as a grocery list, it's easier to understand the concept. Show up at the supermarket randomly, and you either end up buying stuff you don't need or end up totally confused about what you have to buy. But a little prep work goes a long way. When you consider a grocery list, it's a reasonably uncomplex set of items. An article, a project, a book—they're so much more complicated and we merrily walk into these projects without going through a bunch of drafts.
J.K. Rowling had zillions of drafts for Harry Potter. Michael Lewis pretty much works his way forward through drafts.
Pixar, Disney—every animation company will create storyboard after storyboard. The reason why professionals work their way through drafts is for one simple reason. When you start a project, your brain has random sets of ideas. Without the drafts, it's easy to get stuck, and no one; not you or me likes being in that situation. So we move along to something else easier to cope with. And the failure looms large, resulting in almost certain analysis-paralysis.
But drafts are only one of the elements we have to deal with when working on a project. The second super-duper favourite has got to be the lack of information.
Let's look at information, shall we?
b) How information plays a role in analysis-paralysis
Back in 2009, I re-wrote Version 3 of the book, The Brain Audit.
It should have been an easy task, shouldn't it? After all, I'd been through hundreds of examples of clients using The Brain Audit. I'd also spent years refining the concepts over and over again as I implemented them in my own business.
But even as I'm describing the trouble of writing Version 3, you get a feeling of déjà vu, don't you? And it's because most of us have experienced this struggle of having to explain the same thing in a different way. We know too much. We have the curse of knowledge, and it's slowing us down considerably.
Knowing too much means you feel the need to stuff everything into your information
Let's take The Brain Audit itself as an example. The book is pretty comprehensive all by itself. However, if you look at the chapters (and there are about seven main chapters), every one of those chapters can be a book all by itself.
How do we know this to be true? Let's take the chapter on uniqueness. We've conducted a three-day workshop on uniqueness alone with separate audio and notes. If we were to choose the topic of testimonials, we have 100+ pages on testimonials in a product called “The Secret Life of Testimonials”. Any of those chapters in The Brain Audit could be expanded into 100-150 pages each. In reality, The Brain Audit could easily be a 1000 page book.
As a writer there's too much information floating in your head
If you were to take any topic, be it photography or karate or any topic you're familiar with, you'd find a consistent problem to nail down what you're going to cover. I remember taking on an esoteric topic like feedback, and that generated well over ten chapters.
The more info-product you have in your head, the more you're going to get derailed. Which is why it's a good practice to write down all your ideas, and then just choose three of them. Which three? It doesn't matter. Any three will do. Any three will connect. All of the three are valuable to clients, but more importantly for you, as the creator.
Most software is bloated; most books are loaded with information we can't use. If we just had three topics to focus on, we could get going as creators, and the client would be happy.
A vague topic like feedback can be a monster in itself. But really, can we pick any three? Try it yourself, and you'll see you can match any three together. And just in case you think I wrote this up right now, I didn't. I made this mind map back in early 2016, and because I didn't pick three, I've still not started. The irony is not lost on me.
However, what if you're just starting out?
Back around 2008, a client of mine wrote his first book. In it, he put everything he knew, which wasn't a lot. He was exhausted by the time he finished the book, but he was also scared. He felt he'd given his all and there was nothing left in him.
When I wrote The Brain Audit back in 2002, I felt the same way. I couldn't manage more than 16-20 pages (and that included fillers and cartoons). Today, you can see I have the problem in reverse. If I were to write The Brain Audit like it should be written, I'd struggle to keep it to fewer than 1000 pages.
All of us believe that we either have too much in our heads or too little
But there's also a third factor that comes into play. Take, for instance, the series on pricing called “Dartboard Pricing”. It shows you why people pick your product over others, how to construct the pricing model and get 15% more, as well as the sequential pricing structure. In short, it's a very solid (and entertaining) series that pretty much guarantees you'll get higher prices than whatever you're charging today.
When I sat down to write the book, I wasn't sure it needed to be written. If you head to a search engine and type in the terms “Psychotactics” and “pricing”, you'll get enough content to fill up at least a day of reading and listening.
What else could I write, I wondered
Information stops us in our tracks on multiple fronts. We know too much, seemingly know too little, or we've given away so much that we feel another book or course won't make a difference. Incredibly it does make a massive difference. I could sell the Dartboard Pricing series as it is, and do a webinar series and clients would sign up. If I did a workshop in your city, you're likely to attend.
How do we know this to be true?
Because when I was presenting The Brain Audit workshop in Washington DC for the first time, many years ago, I was going through the same fear-ridden routine.
Most of the attendees in the room had not only read The Brain Audit, but many of them had read Version 1, Version 2 and Version 3. What else could I bring to the table? There's always a new angle, new examples, new insight that you as a creator don't even realise you're putting forth. Even if you've published a lot of the information before, the audience receives it from quite another angle.
To get going, you must start with drafts
Write down all the ideas in draft after draft. Even so, that draft must have a deadline by which you start writing. When you write, put everything down into three categories.
What can you fit in those three categories? You'll see how we've done this on the Dartboard Pricing page and also the ‘Black Belt Presentations' page.
Those topics, like any topic, are vast and the only way I know of getting them down to size is to pick three topics and write about them. If I need to write more, I can just write three more later. Or you can expand the topics all by themselves as we have done with The Brain Audit, where topics like uniqueness or testimonial now have their own books or courses.
Easily the biggest thing that stops us in our tracks is that the information already exists. Either we have put the information out there, or someone else has, and no one really needs our product or service. As alluring as this fact may appear to us, it's patently false. There are many ways to present the very same product or service and clients want to find out all the possible ways.
But even if we were to conquer our fear of drafts and information, we still have one great hurdle to conquer. A barrier called “deadlines”.
c) Why External Deadlines Reduce Paralysis-Analysis
Imagine gong to the supermarket with a list.
Yet it's not a typical list. That list has about 150-200 items which you'll need to purchase. Notice the fact that you're not doing anything overly dramatic. All you're doing is picking the item from the shelf and putting it in your shopping cart. Even so, as you get deeper into the list, there's this overpowering urge to quit the task and do something else.
A decent sized project usually has about 150-200 embedded tasks. We start off most projects with a fair bit of gusto, pretty much like picking items off the shelf. Then for no particular reason, we seem to lose momentum, and we get distracted. The more distraction we run into, the more we seek to do some more research. We somehow feel if we do our homework, things will get better. And they rarely do.
The only consistent way to get things done is to adopt the mindset of a programmer
Any programmer on a project knows there's a date to ship the software. Will the software have bugs? Almost certainly it will have a fair number of bugs. A programmer has little choice. They've promised the software will be ready on a particular date and so it launches more or less on time.
But this deadline isn't restricted to programmers alone
You get to your destination, because planes, trains and buses are mostly based on a non-negotiable deadline. The Olympics don't start one week later than planned. And even those 200 things you had to get off the shelves needed to be put there by someone who was following an external plan.
If you make internal plans, paralysis analysis is the default setting
When I first started out writing articles for Psychotactics, I hated writing with a passion. It would take me two days and would involve an enormous time and energy. However, I'd promised that I'd deliver the article on a twice-monthly basis and so I had to finish the job. I'd battle through the process, hating every fifth word with a passion, but the job would get done.
Almost all of us start off a project with a lot of excitement and then struggle to get to the finish line
When we have nothing to lose, we fill our days with something else. The only way anything can done is to have this external deadline in place. Most of the time it involves a cash transaction. When you sell a course, you have to show up and conduct the course.
When you promise to deliver software you'd better be shipping on the day itself or clients will be on your tail. Is all of this a source of constant pressure? Sure it is, but then great work is usually not done with a lot of leisure in hand.
The advice being given to you isn't particularly new.
You already know that a project is going to have 200 sub-tasks. You have to work out the tasks and go at them with gusto. You also know that if you keep the project to yourself, nothing is going to happen.
Very few people have the ability to finish anything if there isn't a fixed deadline, often with a penalty if the job doesn't get done. And whatever you're shipping is going to have bugs. You can fix those bugs later.
There's just one tiny note
We often underestimate the time we need. We take on too much and we struggle. Over the years, I've had to learn that making space is an important part of getting things done. If you're constantly battling all sorts of deadlines, you're running out of energy on a monumental scale. Without space, you have no recovery period. So I create space and set an external headline. And things get done.
Well just as a parting thought, Michelangelo didn't want to paint the Sistine Chapel. Neither did Leonardo da Vinci wanted to paint the Last Supper. They were made to do it. That's why we have these works of art. Now get your work of art finished.
Epilogue: The Segway Syndrome
One of the most spectacular failures of modern times has been the Segway.
In a world that longs for non-polluting transportation systems, the Segway seemed like the perfect answer to our travel woes. It moved swiftly, quietly and after a bit of practice, was easy to handle.
Even so, Segway sales barely got off the ground and have stayed relatively stagnant
If it's evident that the Segway solves a problem, why should it have failed? Sometimes the problem lies not in the product or service itself, but in the distribution or infrastructure, instead. Take for instance the electric car. In 2017, a Tesla now has the ability to go 335 miles on a single charge (compare that with a gas-burning-fuel car that can only do 300).
That, to many people is the infrastructure part that needs to be taken care of. Superchargers have to be built so that they quickly replace gas stations and these super-chargers need to sit near cafes or stores, or in a parking lot. Without all of these elements in place, the car itself becomes redundant.
The Segway struggled for many reasons, including its high price
However, even if you did own a Segway, you couldn't use it on the road or on the pavement. Without setting all the infrastructure and paperwork in place, it was doomed to failure. And this brings us to an important point: creating a factor of destruction.
When we try to validate an idea, we head in one direction
We list all the reasons why the idea, product or service can and should succeed. But we rarely, if ever, create conditions for failure. If you're about to do a copywriting course, what can you do to cause the course to fail?
What infrastructure would you need to remove so that the course crashes and burns? If you're starting up a website business, what would you need to have in place so that clients show interest but don't do any work with you? These are the elements we have to consider before we put our product or services into the marketplace.
Ideas are super fragile
The creator of the product or service may waffle between fear and reason when in fact everyone who launches a product is fearful. Everyone, without exception, feels the same uncertainty. Then we have the issue of validating the product or service, which for the most part is impossible.
However, your peers review can help and it's a powerful form of feedback. Later, when the product launches, clients will tell you what you need to fix. Instead of pretending like the problems don't exist, we need to roll up our sleeves and fix the problems.
Finally there's the issue of analysis, and yes, paralysis. Those that do endless research and wait for the right moment, almost always fail. Instead you need to set a deadline, get your product or service into the market and fix the glitches later. Preselling the product or service ensures that you keep to a deadline and don't wait forever.
The great works of genius in science, maths, language, arts of business weren't fully formed. They were mostly half-baked and got better as they went along. You may decide to start later, when things are perfect.
It's a decision that almost never has a good ending!
Imagine if you invented a set of tyres and they were ridiculed. They called them pudding tyres”. Would you go ahead? Now you can because of the information we've covered so far. So what did we cover?
-How to distinguish between your own voice of fear, and voice of reason
-How to go about validating your idea to give yourself the best chance of success
-Tips for getting over analysis paralysis.
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