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Agile Marketing Series: Ready, Fire, Aim

Can I admit something to you?
I procrastinated writing this post like you wouldn’t believe.

I straightened up my desk. I walked around the office. I got a coffee, then a cookie, then more coffee.

I convinced myself that I left my copy of Harvard Business Review in my car so I could go outside. Then I pretended (to myself alone, mind you) that I forgot what I had gone out to my car to retrieve, only to come back and see the magazine had been sitting on my desk the entire time.

Why, procrastination…WHY?

The Rider, the Elephant and the Path

Chip and Dan Heath, authors of Switch, would probably recognize my procrastination right away as a “Rider versus Elephant” standoff on the Path.

  • Path—I know what the Path is: Write a blog about how Agile marketing means action, not procrastination!
  • Elephant—And I’m pretty passionate about the topic, so the Elephant is ready to run. Let’s do it!
  • Rider—But the Rider, he’s sitting there holding the Elephant back: over-analyzing how to start, over-analyzing what to say. “We can’t start anything, unless we know our goal and what the ending should look like,” the Rider says.

Over-analyzing is so often the problem, especially for those of us who love to break things down and study them before we turn the Elephant loose on the Path.

Certainly, this is not the agile way.

Just do something.

Try anything once, I always say. As luck would have it, that motto is a fairly apt summary of how entrepreneurs approach new ideas, according to Babson College’s Leonard A. Schlesinger’s summer Harvard Business Review OnPoint issue, New Project? Don’t Analyze—Act.

We live in an age of data proliferation. According to Schlesinger, rather than making decisions easier, this abundance of data does the opposite: Too much information makes decisive analysis impossible.

Add to that our hyper-connectedness – where faraway events can have immediate and unexpected impact –  or global economic worries – that make everyone afraid to take risks on unproven ideas – and it’s no wonder our poor Rider sits atop the Elephant with the brakes pulled tight.

Agile Marketing means loosening the reins: Action before analysis.

That sounds irresponsible and risky, but it’s not. The key is to take small steps to reduce the risk, time, and cost of trying new things. Another safeguard is to frequently test whether the new idea is working early and often throughout your experiment.

This is not the same as the traditional approach for new project development!

  • Traditional approach: analyze, forecast, model, plan, and allocate for a “big” project and then hope it reaches a predetermined goal.
  • Agile approach: act, learn, build until a small project either reaches a goal, you realize you can’t continue, or you change direction based on what you’ve learned.

Schlesinger admits It sounds obvious. It’s the way the mind of a two-year-old works.

  1. Touch stove.
  2. Learn it’s hot.
  3. Touch teddy bear.
  4. Teddy bear = better than stove

This is also how the minds of great artists and scientists work, too. “Try something, see what happens, and try again with new information.”

But this is NOT the way most business organizations work!

Analysis paralysis happens when our level-headed friends come in (lawyers, engineers, MBAs, etc.) and kill a fragile creative idea with “That won’t work,” “That’s not our core business,” “That’s a stupid idea,” or worse.

6 Tangible Steps You Can Take Right Now To Avoid the “Won’t Works” At Work

Schlesinger says to use a series of quick, small, inexpensive steps to try that idea you’ve been holding your Elephant back on with over analysis.

Of course, a lot of this depends on being politically savvy within your particular organization’s culture, but a little experimenting—as long as your boss and your boss’s boss know what you’re up to—can lead to huge rewards.

  1. Use the means at hand with the people and skills you already know
  2. Stay within an acceptable limit of loss, both in terms of real and opportunity costs
  3. Get the least amount of commitment you need to move forward
  4. Only bring in volunteers who share an interest: the make-it-happen and help-it-happen people. (Leave the let-it-happen and keep-it-from-happening people out of it.)
  5. Link what you’re doing to a business need and show results early
  6. Don’t over-promise what the final results will be

If you’re a manager with some agile stars on your team who want to try something, keep them from getting crushed by the hardliners in your company. Protect them. At the same time maintain transparency, and make sure the real costs and opportunity costs aren’t getting too big in the process.

It’s just crazy enough to work.

Using an Agile, small-step entrepreneurial method, you might create the next big-product idea. Schlesinger cites a case study for two employees in marketing at Clorox who wanted to see if they could make a greener product. Viola! It became Clorox’s new line, Green Works. It went from being a small pet-project—too small to have been green-lighted in a traditional marketing process at huge, corporate Clorox—to a $60M brand.

This Is the heart of entrepreneurship.
Ready, Fire, Aim!

  • Ready: Entrepreneurs move quickly on positive results, seeking more. They embrace failure over success, because negative results can clearly show the direction not to go. In fact, negative results often show how to save money by readjusting to avoid further losses.
  • Fire: Don’t worry with over planning, instead plan and model when the time comes. Stay fast and loose with hypothesis testing (like the quick and messy two-sample Z-test in my earlier post).
  • Aim: Most importantly, know when something isn’t working and when to walk away.

After all, this is Agile.

The odds don’t have to be 100%. If they did, your Rider would never let the Elephant get started…and I would still be surfing YouTube instead of finishing this post!

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