Innovation Is A 4-Hour Process

innovation is a 4 hour processMost people (including yours truly) get an idea, start working on it, and then realize 40 hours later that it really wasn’t that great of an idea in the first place. This is only after the feeling of “Oh Crap!” settles into your stomach and makes you never want to try working on your own idea ever again.

The inventing process is really a lot like growing up. Just because you fell learning to ride a bike doesn’t mean you never hopped on the Schwinn again. Aren’t you glad you pushed through? Aren’t you glad you overcame your fears?

The fear of failure is one of the most crippling fears we can have. It keeps us mediocre, unchallenged and bored. Here’s something that you may not have heard before: Innovation is based on failure. No really, it is! You see, there isn’t any way to do something completely foreign right, without doing it wrong first. Unless you make a lucky guess.

You see, most of the world’s success stories are found in the deepest failure. In fact, most of those inventions were discovered by accident. Penicillin, the telephone, milk… well I’m not for certain about milk. But you have to hope that the guy who discovered dairy milk for human consumption did it by accident.

Nevertheless, innovation can only be looked at as a trial process. If most of the best are rooted in failure and chance, odds are your first attempt at creating something isn’t going to fly too well. But don’t let that get you down! Learn from it and move on.

37Signals seems to have time evaluation down to a science. They have a great measuring stick for deciding whether or not something is worth working on before they even attempt to create it. The secret to their success is the 4-hour rule. They’ll work on the idea for 4 hours, and then evaluate whether they should continue or scrap it. The benefits are huge, according to Matt Imbriaco.

Four hours lets you get your toes wet. Then you ask questions. Is this worth continuing? Are you on the right track? Is there a way to judo this? Should you bring in another set of eyes?

If it’s all good, then keep on going. But a lot of times this forced break can reveal hidden solutions and/or lead you in a different direction.

It’s easy to get excited about solving the problem at hand, even if the solution is complex. But then you can wind up spending way too long on a problem that’s just not worth it. Sometimes you’re better off restating the problem or even tabling it and moving on to something more important. The four-hour upfront technique prevents you from going too far in the wrong direction

The concept of the 4-hour rule is awesome. It’s just enough time to test the water, yet not enough to invest too much time into something that won’t work anyway. And that can save a lot of failure down the road.

Having to admit sometimes that our ideas aren’t that good isn’t necessarily a bad thing. Sure, the initial swallowing of pride is a little hard, but once it passes, you can regroup and move on.

Personally, I feel a lot better about rejection when I look at people who have made even worse decisions than me. The cure: American Inventor. There are plenty of examples of people who probably shouldn’t rebound and keep inventing, but they do anyway. Here’s one such example.

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{ 5 comments… add one }
  • lol February 2, 2008, 2:22 am
  • Helene K July 3, 2007, 11:33 am

    Wow, it almost makes sense that we have lunch at a near four-hour mark when we start work in the morning, and then are *supposed* to leave after another four…

  • Andy C July 2, 2007, 3:13 pm

    Birthing of new solutions to a problem is an awesome thing to watch. It’s even better when you’ve got someone to match wits with you and go head to head on different subtle nuances of an idea. You bash your heads together, take down all these new cognitions and get highly debateable over them. Then (if you didn’t destroy each other) you go have a beer, or coffee, come back and look at your paths of creative destruction and everything looks simpler. You pick up some fragments of the original thoughts and realize only a few concepts matter, or hold up the new idea.. that’s when you can smile and know you’ve got your gold.

    The process can be painful as all get out, and at times may not net anything. However the rewards for finding something in your gold panning after you blow the mountain to smithereens is enough to let you do it again and again in the search for an elegant solution.

    The fact that we even have this ability makes me grin.

    -a