Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Giving Your Innovation a Stress Test

So we have a new concept in our dictionary thanks to the recession and its challenges - "Stress Test." We have heard the government talking about giving the banks a stress test to see if they are able to recover and serve their customers. This phrase is part of a long line of phrases that enter our vocabulary through the media. Think about the concept of a "carbon footprint" as another example. We could go on and on.

Well, since we have this new phrase in our media stream, why don't we use it to talk about innovation in mission. What does stress testing have to do with innovation? I'm glad you asked.

When we come up with a new idea and prototype it, the environment we are testing in is very limited. It is limited by those who are testing it as well as the volume of people who are experiencing it. This means that your idea is going to be encountered first by people a lot like you and only a few of them.

But if your idea takes off, then it will run into people very different than you and in large numbers. Here is where we usually make our mistake. When we do our prototypes and tests, we assume that if we received positive results we should expect these when we launch our idea to the wider world. That is an assumption that can ruin a good innovation.

So I am recommending that we stress test our innovations to see if they will hold up to the success we are praying for. Here are a few thoughts on how to do that:

1. Test your idea with those in your circle, but then do another test with part of your audience that is very different than you are. For example, if you are creating a small group material for churches, test it with those in your church but then find a church that is very different from yours to do another test.

2. Do some role playing to consider how you would handle bandwidth. When you do your tests, figure how many hours you spent providing service for your idea. Now multiply that by several hundred or thousands (taking into account automated systems and familiarity) and imagine how you will support your innovation. If you can't imagine doing it, then you need to build in some automated systems or get some more people involved.

3. Consider how you will handle both praise and criticism for your idea. Can you effectively take advantage of endorsements and fans and build on them? Can you provide interaction and explanations for those who will complain?

4. Define how you will judge success with your innovation. How will your service, tool, resource transform lives and engage people with Jesus? Are there elements of your process, product, delivery that will keep you from reaching that ultimate goal?

I could write many more stress test items, but you get the idea. The better you do at vetting your idea before you go live, the more effective you will be in serving those who God has called you to. So as you develop your idea, make sure you stress test it!


JC Christensen said...

Thanks Jon, this is something we're dealing with right now as a company. We're getting ready to launch a new product from our rug yarn making machine that we'll display at a trade show this weekend. These questions were helpful in helping us think through potential hoops we'll need to jump through this weekend. I'd encourage you to add other "stress tests" as you have time! (c:

Actually our business as a whole is going through a stress test before we launch it as a portal into other countries so it was helpful on that plane as well.

Be God's to TEOTE!,

Paul Nethercott said...

The Internet provides a very wide arena to "stress test" innovations.

Good, innovative use of a new phrase Jon!

Jon and Mindy Hirst said...

Paul, you are right the Internet allows us to bring an idea to the masses and see what will happen without the significant costs of a physical launch. Obviously not every innovation can be brought to market via the Internet - but a great many can.

Jon and Mindy Hirst said...


Glad this idea was helpful. I will work on a part 2 for later. Please post again with a report on how your trade show goes and how these ideas helped.