The worst discovery question to ask

  • 12 October 2022
  • 5 replies

Userlevel 3
Badge +1

"But will this scale?" is the worst question to ask during early discovery.

1/2: Scale begins 2+ years post-launch. Any attempt to answer that question sooner is a guess.

2/2: Asking this question shows others that you're operating from a place of fear. Your innovation strategy is to build the thing with the least risk of failing.

Instead, ask questions that encourage deeper thought and curiosity:
- Why is now the right time to do this?
- If we say yes to this, what will we need to say no to?
- How might we fail?
- What would happen if we did nothing about it?

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5 replies

Userlevel 5
Badge +2

This doesn’t sound like a question or request for feedback, but I’ll jump in anyway …

I understand the sentiment here, but this can actually be a really powerful question early on. In fact, it might just rank among the most important questions in your strategy toolbox.

Sometimes the scale question represents fear. Fear isn’t necessarily bad, but it also isn’t necessarily the only motivator. It can be a way of looking at the opportunity from a new angle to see if we’re pursuing the most important facet.

The scale in question might be about operations, systems, or the market application itself. All valid, if not critical, discovery questions. 

I had some really astute strategists ask me this question. In some cases we had to be honest and say “we’re not really sure yet” -- acceptable, but worth remembering. In other cases we realized that we were headed down a wrong turn within a perfectly valid opportunity space. That early question allowed us to reframe our hypotheses and point ourselves toward a more viable offer in the end.

And isn’t “build the thing with the least risk of failing” ultimately what commercial innovation is about? Your discovery experiments might expose failure, but you want the final result to succeed. That’s what the Ulwick and Christensen camps of JTBD are trying address.

Userlevel 3
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What I like about your thinking is more specificity around timing.

Fear of failure in the first days and weeks of discovery feels limiting and short-sighted.

Fear and de-risking over a longer horizon feels responsible.

Asking about scale is important. Asking about it too early, in my experience, sets a tone of needing to be right, early and always.

Userlevel 3
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This doesn’t sound like a question or request for feedback, but I’ll jump in anyway …

Real question here: I’m new to posting here. Is this community only meant for questions? No opinion making?

Userlevel 7
Badge +13

@jaymelone I love the opinion-making but suspect it wasn’t clear as to the response you were looking for to the opinion. If the post ended with a call to action or a prompt to engage in discussion (e.g. what do you think?), perhaps that would make it clearer as to how you wanted others to participate. Hope that helps.

Userlevel 3
Badge +1

That makes sense, @scott.baldwin 👌