Tips from IdeaMensch: Bringing your Ideas to Life
I went to an event called IdeaMensch last week. Their goal is to bring together speakers and audience members around the idea of entrepreneurship; the theme of the 4 talks was tips for bringing your ideas to life. The Los Angeles event was the kick-off to IdeaMensch’s 48-state, 50-event roadtrip over the next 4 months. Check them out if they’re coming to your city!
Here are my takeaways and the stories that most inspired me.
Charlie Capen of HowToBeaDad.com, an entertainment website for a new generation of dads (read: not absent, not dumb) using humor “as an anesthesia to get points across.” Examples: Zombie vs. Baby and Baby Sleep Positions (1-10)
- Connect with the community. Think about how you can serve the community. They were constantly tweeting not about the site but about life like crazy before site launch to get out into that community. Recognize that each platform has a different model of message half-life and “viral” spread (Twitter: lots quickly but then dies off. Facebook can have a long tail and longer life.)
- Forget soft launch; do it right. They spent a 9-month gestation period backloading the site with content and making it the way they wanted to see a website for dads.
Josh Dykstra of Strengths Doctors, a consulting firm helping companies create healthier cultures and systems. He shared 4 principles of building healthy start-up cultures. (I also liked his presentation flow: introduce the principle, share a story, provide an action item).
- Strengths: Deliberately focus on strengths. Two groups of school kids given the same speed reading course. One group went from 90 words per minute to 150 wpm. The group that started out at 350 went to…2900. Great becomes excellent; bad becomes not-quite-as-bad. Focus on your strengths, be comfortable with what you’re not good at, and find complementary strengths in your partners and the people you work with. Action Item: Do a strengths assessment like StrengthScope. (Focus on strengths during performance reviews, not shortcomings.)
- Simplicity: Get rid of the crappy stuff and focus on the good by being relentless about your focus. Apple’s focus is “creating better products” and they’re ruthless about cutting the crap. Action Item: Have 1 noble cause. What’s the one thing you do? How would the world be worse off if you weren’t doing what you’re doing? Use your 1 noble cause to focus.
- Space: Build rhythms and cycles into your culture that create space. Rests & space are the difference between music and noise. Alternate really intense periods of activity with rest (think athletes or musicians). What you plant now, grows later. “Hectic cultures don’t grow into rhythmic, restful ones.” Action Item: Build post-production times into your schedule.
- System: Structure determines function. Alignment determines whether you’re spiraling up or down (can’t do both at the same time). Action Item: Ask “WHY?” Make sure all your systems (including meetings and communications) reinforce strength, space, and simplicity.
Shivani Siroya of InVenture, a social enterprise focused on bringing financial access to people in developing countries by giving them tools & data (read: credit score to prove they are low-risk for loans from traditional banks).
Shivani structured her talk around the quote:
“It takes a lot of courage to release the familiar and seemingly secure, to embrace the new. But there is no real security in what is no longer meaningful. There is more security in the adventurous and exciting, for in movement there is life, and in change there is power.” ~Alan Cohen
- Dream jobs are sometimes not enough. With her finance and econometrics degrees, she was working for the UN doing cost-benefit analysis and evaluating the development programs in sub-Saharan Africa. It was a dream job, but she was stuck behind a desk and pushed for a position in the field, talking to micro-business owners. The problem she perceived at the time was: Lack of capital & Lack of tools.
- “I started solving it and ended up with a company.” She started creating InVenture with partners on top of their full time jobs since no one was solving the problem at the level she wanted to solve it (ground level, working with the micro-entrepreneurs in a holistic sense. Not just providing capital, but also asking why and whether they even wanted to start their own businesses. Some people just wanted jobs.) InVenture Fund started as a “micro-venture capitalist” fund with 3 pilots that successfully had a 30% ROI, and the micro-businesses created 3 new jobs each. From there, they grew fast.
- Constantly and relentlessly ask why. They were constantly asking themselves: What is it that we’re solving? Is this worth solving? Are we the best ones to solve it? Do we actually have to provide the capital? Do we have to do the training when dozens of other NGO’s do that? Can we solve the inefficiencies in the system?
- Pivot as your understanding of the problem evolves. Though pivots are talked about a lot in the tech entrepreneurship world, social enterprises usually don’t. They don’t share the story and reasoning of their pivots with the world, leaving the public to figure out why you have a new name or new look for themselves. However, social enterprises who are committed to solving a specific problem will NATURALLY grow, evolve, and “pivot” more than the average new company that is founded around a specific solution. As InVenture talked to more people and were in the space longer, they saw that the real problem wasn’t access to capital but rather lack of access to formal institutions because of a lack of reliable data—people didn’t have credit scores, and banks weren’t willing to take that risk. InVenture created an SMS-based accounting system called InSight. Micro-business owners can use it as a tool for basic accounting, and banks can use it as a source of data to determine credit-worthiness.
- Trust the dots. The dots only connect looking backward; trust that they will connect in the future.
- Her greatest strength? Perseverance. The InVenture team recently used Strengths Finder 2.0, and Shivani’s ended up being “competitiveness,” which meant persevering through criticism and thus being willing to get tons of feedback constantly throughout the journey.
Mark Mertens of SESO, a digital marketing design firm which focuses on designing experiences for purpose-driven organizations in the health, education, science & tech, and arts & culture fields. They started out as a traditional advertising firm (design in service of business), made a decision to do more fulfilling and passion-driven work, and gradually shifted their client base and portfolio over time to design of ecosystems (design shapes nature, culture, and business, like this Bruce Mau diagram).
He shared 4 design tools that anyone could use:
- Design Journalism. (AKA design research.) Build relationships with your community. Prototype early and often in the field. Surface challenges and opportunities along the way. (You don’t know what you don’t know.)
- Imagination. Can’t solve a problem in a new way by playing by the old rules. They make a deal with their clients that for 6 weeks, they throw out all limitations (money, resources, feasability) and design the best, most ideal solution. From there, after everyone’s on board with the big vision, they work backwards. 80% of a big vision is better than 100% of a small one.
- Human-Centered Thinking. People. Use experience maps to think about things from people’s POVs. Example they gave was their experience map for LACMA including a spectrum of low levels of commitment to high levels of commitment. How could they create low levels of demand of a new visitor to the site to ease them into the experience? They came up with a model of “surprise me” —> “explore” —> “experience” for the art museum’s website.
- Rapid Iteration. Example: the new TED Ed. They built it over 4 months, launched it, and are giving themselves a year’s window to perfect it. The plus side is having real users interacting with it and giving feedback, so they can evolve the product for the community.
What big ideas do you want to bring to life? What have you always wanted to learn to meet your goals? HourSchool is all about helping passionate people turn their ideas into action, so let’s get started!
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