At FailCon, the annual conference in San Francisco, not only is it okay to f*** up, it’s a badge of honor. The bigger the failure, the better.
The conference was filled to the rafters with bright-eyed young entrepreneurs. However, there were a few representatives from household name companies. Corporations like Microsoft and SAP are increasingly investing in their innovation and design teams in an effort to be more like a startup.
Bennett Blank, Intuit‘s innovation lead, is a vocal advocate of “lean startup” principles. To get the rest of the company on board, Eric Ries (the keynote speaker at the event) was invited to the Silicon Valley office to brainstorm with the product design and engineering teams.
According to this account in Wired, with a puckish grin, Ries told one of Intuit’s managers to deliver a report in 48-hours or less about how a new product would be received by customers. Ries’ suggestion? Present prospective clients with a fake sign-up page to gauge their level of interest.
The lean startup method, pioneered by Ries, is characterized by rapid product cycles, “pivots”, and an emphasis on customer feedback. It’s most popular with startups, but if you work at a large company, here are Blank’s tips to cultivate a “lean” approach:
- Embrace the “mechanical turk”: This refers to software that works on the front-end might provide some functionality but behind the scenes, people are manually filling the order. It’s a great way to test a product before bringing it to market. For instance, when testing a new product in India for agricultural laborers to compare pricing, they literally had Intuit employees manually source the information and send it back. There proved to be a real need, so the engineering team developed a way to automate the process.
- Offer employees dedicated “unstructured” time: In a policy borrowed from Google, Intuit’s engineers can devote 10 percent of their time to their own projects.
- Host an idea jam: “It’s a program we have across Intuit that is part hackathon, part lean startup incubator,” said Blank. “Essentially, it’s a 48 hour competition to pitch and develop an idea.”
- Get comfortable with failure: Blank opened up about his own failure at Intuit (see video below). If your idea doesn’t prove to be a hit with customers, don’t take it personally. “It’s not that your work was a failure,” said Blank. “As long as you’re learning and gaining insights from that process….”
In the spirit of Failcon, Blank told me about his most epic disaster at Intuit. Curious? Check out the video.
This article originally appeared on VentureBeat