Bikeshedding, a How to Guide

Everyone I work with and know has a grand idea for a business or product. I like to ask them lots of questions about their idea to see how much they’ve thought through. It seems most people have constructed a fairly detailed fantasy about their idea being wildly successful.

Every detail they tell me, from the most vague and abstract to the most specific is an assumption in their fantasy. If I were to help advise them on how to actually tackle this list of assumptions, they would push back because I would identify the one assumption that if proved false, destroys their business, and come up with a plan to run as fast as we can into that possibility. This is not something people enjoy.

Lets say, for a minute though, that you are someone who is willing to let their idea evolve completely and totally into an actual business that is used and adored by customers. What you’re left with is trying to come up with experiments that are fast and significant enough for you to make a judgment on your hypotheses without bias. This is not something people can just do. It actually takes practice.

I want to offer some ideas for practice, and one came to me recently that I though of sharing. There are plenty of people who now about the bike shed problem, and it’s one that plagues groups of people all the time. Basically it boils down to the idea that the more relatable the problem or topic becomes, the more people will speak into it. This is problematic, because the more trivial the problem or topic is, the more likely it will be that people find it relatable. Here is my suggestion on how to practice experimenting.

Don’t start with a big assumption that is hard to relate to. Pick one that is trivial or relatable, one that you can see all the details of. One that makes sense to you. You will have a list of variables that you know you can account for. An example would be making coffee. You know that the tool, temperature, bean quality, and water all play significant factors into making a great cup of coffee. Make an experiment that addresses only one, while you control for the others. Make the best cup of coffee you can. If that isn’t good, how about putting your laundry away in your dresser. You know that there are some clothes you prefer to wear often, some you don’t, some drawers are organized differently than others. Conduct an experiment where you can maximize the storage and effectiveness of storing your clothing. You can account for all of the variability there. You can do this for you home pantry, your kitchen drawers, how you organize your desktop icons (If you do at all).

The point is, leverage your natural proclivity to focus on trivial details to practice experimentation. Then you’ll be much better equipped to tackle those bigger, harder to rationalize assumptions that will prevent your business from succeeding or not.