If you’ve got your ears peeled to innovation musings in Australia, you probably heard about a men only co-working space opening its doors recently.
While I’m not opposed to gender specific initiatives such as female-only gyms or single sex schools, I’m in favour of sustainable innovations that create value for society. A co-working space whose mission it is to harbour domestic violence perpetrators, regardless of gender-specificity, raises questions for all.
In a fast moving landscape where victory is reserved for the nimble and agile, it’s worth exploring how the concept of a ‘men only’ coworking space might have committed a number of cardinal sins when it comes to innovation and new product development.
Fail #1 – Jobs to Be Done
Harvard professor Theodore Levitt famously said, “people don’t want to buy a quarter-inch drill, they want to buy a quarter-inch hole.” This summarises Clayton Christensen’s Jobs to Be Done theory, which focuses on identifying deep customer needs rather than productisation and features. The founders at Nomadic Thinkers got it wrong by failing to uncover the underlying needs of their abusive colleague. They focused on the ‘effect’ (domestic violence conducted) as opposed to the deeper root cause of the physical abuse (e.g. drinking habits, aggression and controlling behaviours). Thus, focusing on the wrong problem led to an arguably sub-par solution (i.e. isolation, a gym and no girls allowed) rather than seeking professional advice and counselling to solve the root cause of the problem.
Fail #2 – Lack of Due Diligence
The issue of domestic violence is one that continues to receive widespread attention and is a national concern. That the two Brisbane entrepreneurs lacked the hard evidence attributing physical violence to depression, puts their reason for being on thin ice. Tackling the subject of domestic violence by making sweeping assumptions (gender isolation reduces domestic violence) and making ill-informed statements (physical abusers are all depressed) indicate a lack of robust research into their proposed solution. Thus the business was all too easily slammed by media outlets and Australia’s broader community.
Lesson learnt: Founder of Dell, Michael Dell once said “ideas are a commodity, execution of them is not.” Take the time to thoroughly explore the landscape and learn what you can from those who may have attempted the same idea before you.
Fail #3: Features versus Value
Any good product manager versed in Design Thinking will advise you to deliver a product or service with the fewest features but the most value. Rather than creating something new and unique, Nomadic Thinkers took the existing co-working value proposition and added some inconsequential (gym) and offensive (no women allowed) features. This lack of genuine differentiation failed to remedy the broader issue of men's’ health and domestic violence, that they alleged to be solving. Examples of real value that they instead could have offered might be subsidised counselling or, alcohol and drug support services.
Lesson learnt: Success is not adding a new feature, success is solving a customer need.
Fail #4: Hypothesis unknown
Before investing large amounts of time and money into an idea, it is a basic tenet of Lean Startup methodology to test the underlying assumptions and leaps of faith that exist around the idea. Disproven hypotheses identify weaknesses in an idea. Hypothesis testing is also critical to acquire ‘validated learnings’, which dictate whether to proceed with, fundamentally change or abandon an idea.
For example, Nomadic Thinkers’ founders who sought greater personal productivity could have tested whether their output increased as a result of working in an existing co-working space, rather than necessitating their own prejudiced version. Testing this basic hypothesis may have also cost them far less in time, money and public embarrassment.
Lesson learnt: Aim to get customer feedback as early as possible and learn as much as you can prior to launch.
Fail #5: Lost Learning Loop
Lean Startup’s ‘build, measure, learn, repeat’ learning loop is captured in fast forward mode by Google Venture’s ‘sprint’ process. ‘Sprint’ co-authors Jake Knapp and John Zeratsky promote their method of building fast and learning quickly to ensure that months or years are not wasted on the wrong idea. Had Nomadic Thinkers’ founders tested their idea in a five-day sprint, they could have looked into the future to see just how their proposed co-working space may have panned out, with minimal social and financial risk.
Lesson learnt: Undertake a ‘sprint’ and do the hard yards up front for long term benefit.
Fail #6: Building products no one wants
Unfortunately, not all ideas are necessarily good ideas. Thus, testing an idea is critical to minimizing the amount of resources invested into said idea. Launching a product or service without ‘getting out of the building’ to speak to customers has proven treacherous for the founders at Nomadic Thinkers. By taking the crucial step of testing a minimum viable product (MVP), which could have taken the form of, say, a men-only entrepreneur meetup group, they could have failed much smaller.
Lesson Learnt: Rapidly build a minimum set of features to test customer behaviour and interactions before going to market.
Where the future takes Nomadic Thinkers has yet to be determined. They may heed the lessons learnt so far to pivot themselves out of a tricky PR situation, or the market may determine whether or not their value proposition solves an existing, or large enough, customer need. Of course, the biggest failure of all would be to scoff at Nomadic Thinkers without taking heed of the lessons learnt and avoiding the same mistakes with your next big idea.
Within co-working spaces, it’s critical to get the ‘vibe’ right to ensure people ‘feel good’ being there. What constitutes ‘vibe’ is not quantifiable and varies between people. It can come down to the music, plants, a hammock or availability of caffeine. When choosing a co-working space, many also consider the space’s ‘mission’ or purpose. At Collective Campus, our mission is to help people, private companies, Government entities and not-for-profits understand how to innovate in order to allocate resources effectively, deliver better outcomes and drive prosperity for all. If this speaks to you, come check out our space, we’ve got a place for you here.
To help you avoid stepping into these all too common pitfalls, we’ve reflected on our five years as an organization working on corporate innovation programs across the globe, and have prepared 100 DOs and DON’Ts.