Optimize to Be Wrong, Not Right

Organizations should optimize to be wrong, not right: they should look to invalidate as many ideas as they can. Limiting initial investments and spreading risk across many possible ideas helps “narrow the cone of uncertainty” and enables the organization to home in on the most impactful solution.

Rigid business plans and road maps force organizations to invest heavily in confirming the existing idea, rather than invalidating it early and moving on. Organizations anchor to those initial ideas, but then succumb to a kind of confirmation bias, looking for supporting evidence rather than objectively evaluating the merits of the idea. This creates waste.

The appropriate measure for progress in innovation isn’t the number of ideas you can execute, but the number of bad ideas you can invalidate.

Investing in multiple inexpensive ideas in parallel helps the organization invalidate a greater number ideas more quickly. With each iteration, the failure makes the product or solution stronger. As Steven Johnson argues, uncovering errors can help us look at things in new ways and rethink our assumptions. We should embrace noise and error.


Related

Citations

Johnson, Steven. Where Good Ideas Come from: The Seven Patterns of Innovation. London: Penguin, 2011.

O’Reilly, Barry. “Optimize to Be Wrong, Not Right.” Barry O’Reilly (blog), April 6, 2017. https://barryoreilly.com/optimize-to-be-wrong-not-right/.


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