From my time spent in product development, there is an approach that has served me well: "Go ugly early."
This concept involves releasing early iterations of your products so you can allow your customers to interact with them and provide feedback. I'm not talking about releasing unstable or buggy products - I'm talking about releasing stable products that have limited functionality, but which telegraph the shapes of things to come. This can be done on a controlled basis (such as with a limited Beta program)
There are many advantages to this approach. For example:
- You allow your customers to become more involved in the evolution of your product.
- You provide functionality to the market earlier - this is good for the market and your position in it (assuming you release stable product).
- You get early feedback on whether there is even a need for what you've built, enabling course corrections earlier when your sunk costs are lower.
- You discover how your product interacts with other products, processes, etc. in the market.
- You can often increase your thought leadership and influence in the market.
A similar approach can be used for our personal ideas. If you have an idea, concept, etc. you can often advance the development of that concept by going ugly early and sharing that idea with others for input before you think the idea is "done." Many of the advantages are similar to the ones listed above.
Of course, there are risks in early disclosure. You may give away your secrets and your competitors may gain advantage from what you have released. In business, as with your own ideas, there are multiple ways to address this.
- Plentiful attitude. Assume there are enough ideas, money, opportunity, etc. to go around and share the idea openly. This approach also works for ideas you are contributing for the greater good (open standards, for example).
- Scarcity attitude. Assume that revealing your ideas early will expose you to risk of being out-executed, or having your idea show up in others' works. You can control this to a certain degree by limiting disclosure (to a selected group of early adopters, for example), or by putting a non-disclosure agreement in place. In this case, pick your friends wisely.
And there are many shades between these two. Regardless of the end of the spectrum on which you find yourself, there can be a lot of value and "time to market" benefits of going ugly early. Consider this powerful tool in your toolbox - are you incubating any ideas that could benefit from going ugly early?