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Be Wrong Often

By Carl Kritzinger Aug 20, 2015

People at FireWorks often do rather “menial” things.

Install a solar light in a township. Buy 20 items using online classifieds. Phone a yoga instructor to make bookings on behalf of someone.

These might not seem like productive work for highly qualified designers and developers. But they are critical to the success of the products we create.

Scaling Success vs. Starting Something

Successful companies are built for efficiency. They are like a huge ship, designed to move as much cargo as cheaply as possible from point A to point B. Every process and every system is geared towards that straight-line efficiency.

This makes complete sense when you understand your direction perfectly. Your business is just a question of driving that strategy as hard as possible. Life may not be totally predictable but the rules of the game are well understood. So whenever you do anything, you need to ask how you can repeatedly do that same thing a million times over.

Start-ups and growth hacks are different. Never mind the rules of the game. When we’re starting something new, we don’t even know who the players are.

The path to our success lies in taming the chaos, making sense of the situation and picking out the important things from the noise. Executing on the plan is less important than reacting sensibly to new information. It’s a dogfight (think aeroplanes, not pit-bulls).

Air Combat and Agility

It turns out that a smart guy called John Boyd figured out a really good approach to winning dogfights. He became pretty famous for betting all comers that he could beat them in a simulated dogfight. In under 40 seconds. And he never lost.

When you are in a dogfight, you repeatedly go through the following process, called an OODA loop:

  1. Observe
    Measure the situation around you. Where is your opponent, what speed are they going, are they turning? What else is around you? Where are you headed, what is your plane doing?
  2. Orient
    Figure out what the information you just got means. Is the opponent trying to turn inside you? What is she thinking/trying to do?
  3. Decide
    What should your next move be?
  4. Act
    Make your move as quickly and decisively as you can.

Boyd’s genius (and the key to his success) was realising that in the chaos of a fast-moving and uncertain situation, the quality of each of these steps does not matter very much. What matters is that you need to be going through the OODA loop faster than your opponent. Then you act on the evolving situation faster. Then you win.

And the speed of the OODA loop is more important than having a better plane or a better starting point (in his bet, he allowed his opponents to start on his “six” - right behind him). Boyd said that the secret to his success was “getting inside his opponent’s loop” - going through the cycle faster than his opponent.

At some point someone realised that OODA loops are equally relevant to business.

Failing Fast and Failing Forward

“A good plan violently executed now is better than a perfect plan executed next week.”

George S. Patton

We do things that don’t scale because we can do them FAST. And in the game we play, where everything is an educated guess, the most important habit to cultivate is speed.

In our game, speed is a critical part of quality. Perhaps the most critical.

Speed is why it is better to hack out an “ok-ish” press release ourselves instead of waiting 3 weeks for a “professional” to write a perfect one. Speed is why we do things manually or with a bash script, rather than using a tool that takes a week to build and could scale to a billion records. Speed is one reason why it makes sense to have an engineer doing tech support or a designer dropping leaflets in mailboxes.

In the context of a big, successful company that is operating in a known game, none of the above hacks makes any sense. They are all incredibly inefficient uses of resources.

But when the game is moving faster than the speed of sound and chaos is the order of the day, your only hope of survival is to get inside the loop.

The only mistake that will definitely kill you is not moving fast enough.

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