The Learn, Do, Share Feedback Loop
It’s good to have a plan with a clear idea of where you’re going. Whether you work off a napkin or go all out with a 50-page document with forecast spreadsheets and market analysis pie charts, it’s essential that you have something to work towards. A whim is not good enough. If you don’t have a destination, you’re going to meander aimlessly until you fall.
The caveat to this is that you also have to be open to change. As you learn, do and share, it will become apparent whether your plan is working or not. If it’s not, it’s usually a wise move to change direction. ‘Learn, do, share’ creates a feedback loop that will become invaluable to you.
Learn by reading business books and guides such as this one. Soak up as much knowledge as you can. Read articles and subscribe to business newsletters such as Farnham Street and the Heavy Chef newsletter (www.heavychef.com/subscribe), and download podcasts with interviews with other Heavy Chefs.
Once you’ve gained knowledge, dive into the work and apply the lessons you’ve learned. Try new things, observe the results and then share them with your colleagues, mentors, business coaches, or trusted friends.
You’ll find that the feedback you get when you share is not always what you want to hear. That’s okay. Be open to harsh criticism, it’s valuable currency in the beginning of your journey.
This feedback will lead to necessary course correction, and there are two ways this can happen: small increments or major pivots.
Mostly, your course corrections will be in smaller increments. The feedback loop contained in ‘learn, do, share’ will often lead to tiny shifts in your strategy. It might mean cutting a certain product feature, changing your website home page, swapping a brand identity colour or altering the wording on your packaging. The impact of small shifts cannot be underestimated. Think of it like a the launch of the Falcon Heavy, the world’s most powerful operational rocket, in early 2018. Its destination was set to be Mars, but the course it set on was ever-so-slightly off. As a result, it is headed for the asteroid belt between Jupiter and Mars. A tiny change in direction can result in a massive difference down the line.
Of course, the ‘learn, do, share’ feedback loop can sometimes result in a necessary 180 degree turnaround. If you discover that your strategy is really not working, it might require a significant change. Investors often call this a ‘pivot’.
When Heavy Chef travelled to Silicon Valley in February 2018, on our annual Inspiration Delegation, we were impressed by the story of Stewart Butterfield, during our visit to Slack’s headquarters in central San Francisco.
Butterfield is a true Heavy Chef. He is the cofounder of both Flickr and Slack, and is one of the most respected entrepreneurs in the world.
In 2002, he and his cofounder launched Game Neverending, a online game in which no one really won and the aim was really to have fun in a light-hearted, distracting way. The game lasted two years before Butterfield and his team ran out of money. In desperation, they focused on a small, under-utilised feature of the game where users could upload photos. This photo-sharing function predated Facebook and gave owners of shiny new digital cameras a place to store their hundreds of digital pictures. Out of the realisation that the original idea wouldn’t work, Butterfield and his cohorts pivoted to an offering that eventually became known as Flickr.
Flickr became a success and Butterfield later sold it to Yahoo for an estimated US$35million.
Butterfield wasn’t finished with his beloved game, however.
After leaving Yahoo in 2009, he raised US$17-million from investors to reignite Game Neverending, but soon afterwards Butterfield realized it wasn’t going to end well. He pulled the final plug on the game. This time, he noticed that the system his team had created to communicate with each other on project features had enough value in it to pitch to investors. The system became known as Slack, which stands for “Searchable Log of All Conversation and Knowledge”.
“We didn’t succeed at first, but we were super-efficient,” Butterfield said. “When we realized we would never work without a system like this again, we decided it could be a product.”
Butterfield’s second pivot resulted in one of the fastest growing startups of all time, and in 2017 - less than five years after its inception - Slack was valued at over US$5-billion.
Pivots may be scary at first, but it’s important to take stock when something is failing. Butterfield’s lesson shows that there may be a kernel of value in what you’re doing, but you need to extract the stuff that’s working and eliminate the stuff that’s not.
How Do I Recognise Failure?
The feedback loop is again important here. You need to share what’s going on with your company. I’ve met too many founders who suffer in silence with a clear realisation something is wrong but no idea of what to do about it.
It’s critical that you share your challenges with trusted people within your circle. These conversations become integral to understanding your issues and coming up with answers. Through sharing your problems with the right people, the solution often becomes self-evident.