Learning Loops

This past week, I had the opportunity to participate in a half day workshop with Tom Chi - co-founder of Google X - who shared terrific thinking around Rapid Prototyping (more on that later). There was one idea in particular that caught my interest: what if you could improve 10% every week? The concept sounds deceptively simple - the obvious question is, how?

One answer is to treat these initiatives as short, thoughtful learning loops. This idea is consistent with what's evolving to be common wisdom:

  • I’ve long studied and practiced Lean Startup (along with many of you) and in particular, considered how best to deploy the Learning Loop espoused there: Build -> Measure -> Learn (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lean_startup). Note: Not as easy as it looks.
  • Perhaps, not coincidentally, I’m reading Great at Work which shares a similar loop: Do/Redo -> Measure -> Feedback -> Modify. Great start to the book, I'm halfway through and fast closing on the finish.
  • Tom Chi endorses a method of Rapid Prototyping to get feedback and learning from an idea - and to do so in minutes, not days or weeks (or months). You can see this here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DkyMCCnNI3Q

These sound great in theory, but actually doing is really quite difficult. Here are a few things that I’ve learned can help:

  • You need a goal. Learning for the sake of learning can be fun, but if you want to improve through a learning loop, then you need a clear objective to focus your energies into.
  • You need to measure. This has always tripped me up. In sports, the rules are well-understood by all participants and the objective is clear. Life isn’t as clear. Great at Work shares some examples on how to do this.
  • You need external feedback. Tom Chi said, “Thinking is a terrible way to think. Doing is the best kind of thinking.” The concept is to spend a little time creating an experiment that gives you feedback from people other than you (and possibly other than your company) to guide you in the evolution of your idea.

Lots of stuff to unpack here, but I’m excited to try.