Speed or Accuracy? The BETA Debate

June 5, 2009

STS100-LAUNCH1Nowadays, when an internet company wants to release something to the public before it is finished, they call it a “beta” version.  This means that the product is working and ready for use, but its not finished yet.  Maybe there is some functionality still to come, maybe there are bugs, known and unknown, that still have to be fixed.

It’s become quite popular to release entire websites in beta because it allows you to get a product to market, let the real consumers use it and learn about it, all while you continue to add features and make it perfect.  Some services and websites, including a number of Google Products, seem to stay in beta forever.

This is a relatively modern phenomenon, brought to us by the internet, mostly because a beta version of a real life product is not sensible.  But the more these products are hooked up to networks, the easier it becomes to update products after a customer purchases them.  For example, Apple can update your iPhone whenever they want.  Comcast can update your cable services whenever they want.  So the question becomes, for those products and services (online and off) that can be updated after their initial release, is perfection as important as speed to market?

There are definately two defined sides to this argument, both with their merits.  The accuracy people will tell you that if a product is “too” flawed, it will get bad reviews and hurt performance down the line.  They’ll tell you that a product should be double and tripled tested to make sure those first consumers are completely satisfied, and so impressed that they share it with friends.

The speed people worry about competition.  First to market is a huge advantage in any industry.  It gets people’s attentions, builds your brand awareness, and stifles competition.  These people say get a working model, give it to people, and then wow them with updates.  And for online products and services, what better way to test something than to release it to the public and let them tell you what needs to be improved.

So let’s hear it. If you were the CEO of a company that was about to release a brand new website to help people do this thing or that thing, what method would you be pushing?  Would you be pushing your team to get a working version of the website up as quickly as possible or would you wait until the whole thing was built and tested to perfection before getting the public involved?  Answer below, and use the comments to tell me why.


When You Need an Innovative Leader

September 18, 2008

Turmoil. That’s the state of the financial industry right now. Just a few months after the collapse of Bear Stearns, and a few weeks after we were told that the “crisis” was not as widespread as we thought, Merril Lynch was sold to Bank of America, Lehman Brothers went bankrupt, AIG was bailed out by the U.S. government, and Washington Mutual and Morgan Stanley are struggling to stay afloat. Needless to say, this is not your average week on Wall Street.

I had a conversation with a friend about the kind of leadership that huge corporations need in times like these, and the kind of leadership both inside and outside of the company that allowed this to happen. We had mixed thoughts on the matter but what came out of this discussion was an interesting debate on government as well as corporate CEO’s.

Let’s start with Government and Industry Leaders. The current situation did not just pop up out of nowhere. It is the coming together of years of decisions, good and bad, that have shaped the financial industry in our country. It is the result of self-regulation, meaning no regulation, of an industry perhaps most responsible for the wealth of this country. It is the result of risky moves by companies that are supposed to be safe and secure. It is the result of pushing too hard affordable loans to people we knew would never be able to pay them back. And it is a direct correlation to the mindset we have taken in this country when it comes to money and debt, that we can buy today with the hope of tomorrow’s fortune.

In America, we have a history of being far too nearsighted, seemingly ignoring the future implications of our decisions today. It’s a flaw of the system in which the leaders lead. Election and appointment to government positions are temporary, and temporary positions lead to short term solutions. Even when long term solutions are put in place, there is nothing forcing the next in line to maintain those initiatives. So they usually get changed, or cancelled, or replaced with new solutions. The market crisis has been a long time coming.

As for the question of leadership within the companies at this time, there were two points argued. I will always argue that companies need innovative CEOs, or at least CEOs that empower innovators around them. In a time like this, it seems that innovation may be less important as compared to a steadfast determination and calmness, someone who possesses the power to ease fears and show us the light.

Why can’t that be both? Isn’t that a part of innovation? When you think of innovation in a leadership role, you have to consider things outside of product and service innovation. CEOs must be able to motivate and inspire in times of utter chaos through innovative thinking and new ways of communicating old ideas. The CEO who stands in the face of conflict and struggle and leads his team through it must have the insight and courage to think differently. Good luck.

Can One Innovator Lead to Another (And does it matter?)

August 17, 2008

Companies founded on innovation and creativity have thrived in this world from the dawn of time.  It’s easy to see that, and easy to see why.  The world needs people and businesses to come up with the new gadgets, devices, products, foods, and services that take us to the next level.  What’s the next great thing, and when do we get to have it?

Sometimes it can be tough to tell, however, if the company is innovative, or just the founder or CEO at the time.  And there can be a big difference, especially moving forward past that individual person’s tenure.

The best example I can see is Apple.  I have mentioned them before, and they continue to stand out as a truly innovative company in every move they make.  And at the top of all of that is Steve Jobs, probably one of the greatest innovators of our time.  But we saw once already that without Steve Jobs at the helm, Apple suffered.  They became less exciting, and created less change.  They became stagnant.

How can a company set themselves up for future success, even after their heralded leader has moved on?  This is a question facing companies like Apple.  And the truth is, there is no surefire way to make it happen.  Potential successors may all be extremely well qualified, bright individuals.  But to replicate successful innovation from one CEO to the next is never a guarantee.

It’s a dangerous game you play when an innovative company becomes boring.  Loyal fans and customers are sure to notice.  Shareholders run scared, employees may lose focus, and everything the company built is in jeopardy.  For a company founded on innovation, a life without innovation cannot exist.

Steve Jobs will not be at Apple forever, and where will they go when he leaves this time?  In my opinion, Steve Jobs last job at Apple will be to secure a successor that is not only qualified, but shares with him the passion for new technology. 

And if it hasn’t started already, the best time to start looking is now.  Build a relationship up with your potential successor and show him the way.  Lend him your vision and knowledge of the industry and allow him to be great.  Then sit back and see if it works out, because you can do all the preparation in the world, but performance will define the future.

Open Your Mind, Open New Doors

July 21, 2008

“The citizens of Gotham deserve a new class of criminal, and I’m gonna give it to them,” uttered Heath Ledger (The Joker) just before the final scene of the new Batman movie, The Dark Knight.  He makes this comment about the state of the so called bad guys in Gotham being too obsessed with money that they miss the whole villainous point of being evil.

This is not a movie review, nor is it comment on villains.  It’s about innovation from another point of view.  The batman comic, tv show, and movie series has been a staple of comic lore for decades.  But just like any other large “organization” that has been around for some time, the mystique began to fade.  People were losing interest as quality began to falter.  It was judgement day for the long-standing enterprise.  Either innovate, or fall to the wayside.

Along comes co-writer/director Christopher Nolan, with a new vision of the heroic series.  He took everything about the famed tale and turned it on its side.  He changed the way we thought about heroes and villains.  He put the story of batman into a realistic world where good and bad are cloudy and difficult to judge.  And in doing so, he revived a dying brand.

When something gets mundane, and people begin to lose interest, something drastic needs to happen.  Change can be difficult, but it is the only way to revitalize dying products, services, brands, companies, etc.  Christopher Nolan saw that, innovated, and succeeded.

Imagine Batman is a corporation, and Nolan is it’s new CEO.  Quite the turnaround.  Sometimes you have to change the way you think about a brand to see the opportunities that lay ahead.  Open your mind to alternative points of view and let the creativity begin all over again.