(Readin’ time: 7m30s)
OK, we’ve covered the three ideation pathways that can help you generate ideas that fit within a proven specialization framework. Now onward to the first of four validation approaches. (BTW, if you’re like “what the heck is this guy talking about”, I’m continuing a series that started here.)
I think of this first validation method as introspective validation. In fact, let’s just call it that.
In short, introspective validation is looking through the list of ideas you’ve generated in previous steps, and looking inward to measure your intellectual and emotional reaction to each idea. How interesting or fascinating is it to you? How do you feel about focusing on that kind of problem or doing that kind of work?
Introspective validation is both risky and useful.
It’s risky, because introspective validation can lead to all sorts of boondoggles; all sorts of services or products nobody actually wants. This is why I’ll recommend that you use introspective validation in combination with at least one of the other three validation methods, which are extrospective, or market-facing, in nature. That way you get out of your own head.
Introspective validation is useful, though, because it’s a good way to shorten a long list of ideas. It’s a good next step after you build a list of ideas because it gets you from a potentially long, overwhelming list to a much shorter, more useful list.
In my work with clients, I’ve found that your efforts at specializing tend to fall into one of two buckets: successful or unsuccessful. If as part of this work I was required to take an equity stake in your business or do some sort of revenue share and in exchange I was given total control over how you decided to specialize, then I would use one simple heuristic to decide if a potential specialization is good for both you and me (since I have that equity stake and want that to fund my retirement).
I would want to know if you love the problem almost as much as you love your own children. Or if focusing on a market vertical, I’d want to know if you really love something significant about the market vertical.
OK, I’m kidding a little bit about the “as much as your own children” bit. Your love for the problem/market doesn’t have to go quite that deep. And there are cases where even this sub-love-for-children level of emotional care for your clients isn’t 100% necessary. More “mercenary” types are totally capable of building great services businesses that produce tremendous value for their clients. And a less emotional, more “Vulcan” relationship with your clients can also work.
But underneath all of those is, at the end of the day, a real dedication to either a specific market vertical, the people in that market vertical, or a problem that you find compelling or fascinating or important. And in my experience, this love, or dedication, or fascination is what differentiates successful from unsuccessful specialization efforts.
Yes, there are specialization ideas that will never work because there’s no market for them. Extrospective validation will help you ferret those out and kill them. But even if you find the most amazing market opportunity in the world, you will be held back if there is a lack of love, dedication, or fascination on your part. You won’t be held back from basic competence, but you will be held back from exceptional value creation, because that requires that you take risks on behalf of your clients, and that risk-taking becomes much easier, more sustainable, and more effective when you care deeply.
How might you quantify how deeply you care? After all, haven’t we all “cared deeply” about losing 20 pounds, quitting some bad habit, or finally cleaning up the basement this weekend, and found ourselves not accomplishing that goal? How do you know if your feeling of caring deeply about a problem or market is real; that it will cross the brain–world barrier?
Brief aside: In animal biology, we have the blood–brain barrier, which according to Wikipedia, is abbreviated BBB. The BBB regulates what moves from the bloodstream into the brain.
I propose that there is also a BWB; the “brain–world barrier”. This regulates what moves out of your brain and into the world of action and shit that actually gets done.
I know of exactly zero simulations or hypothetical experiments what will reliably determine what ideas will successfully cross your BWB. Sorry. However, I know of two good action-based experiments that will help you understand your BWB better.
So let’s say you’ve done some introspective validation. You’ve sat down with your long list of ideas and spent some time with each idea. You ask: “how interesting is this? How do I feel about it?” Based on those questions, you would rank each idea, perhaps using a simple 3-point scale.
So now you have a short-list, or perhaps an idea that clearly seems like the best fit for you. Now you want to quantify how deeply you care about this problem/market.
Here are two action-based experiments that could help you gauge whether this idea is likely to successfully cross the BWB.
30-day daily writing challenge
Spend 30 days writing about the problem/market. Aim for 7 days/week, be happy if you hit 5 days/week. Ideally publish this stuff online so it’s more real, but if nothing else do the writing and don’t publish it.
In the writing, strive to say everything you can about the problem/market in question. Come at your writing from a place of trying to be of service; of trying to make things better for the problem/market.
Do everything you can to make the writing technically easy. In other words, don’t focus on the quality of the writing, focus on what the writing is meant to accomplish, which is to make things better for the problem/market. Don’t try to build multi-part series or explore elaborate themes. Assume that your readers (there may not be any if you’re not publishing this stuff online, and even if you are publishing there may not be many readers, so you can feel free to take risks with your writing) will not even notice spelling mistakes, sloppy grammar, and other technical shortcomings in the writing (I certainly assume y’all will! 😉 ). Assume that they will look past imperfect expressions of your thinking and focus on the main idea you’re trying to convey. Hopefully this keeps you from getting stopped by “1-inch high speed bumps” and keeps you focused on what matters with this experiment, which is understanding how deeply you care about the problem/market. To get a sense of this, ask yourself:
- How quickly do you run out of ideas to write about?
- Do you recover from “hitting the wall”, or do you give up in discouragement?
- Are you generally motivated to continue, or are you motivated to quit?
These are the indicators you’re looking for as you attempt to understanding how deeply you care about the problem/market.
At the end of the 30 days, do you have more fight in you? More desire to keep digging, keep trying to serve this problem/market? Or are you relieved the 30 days is over?
There’s no benchmark to compare yourself to here. This is totally subjective stuff, but again at the end of 30 days you’ll have a much more visceral feel for how deeply you care about the problem/market.
180-day weekly service challenge
An alternate approach is to do something that is a way of directly serving the problem/market. One approach that I keep seeing used to good success is a weekly newsletter that’s meant to serve a specific market or those focused on a specific problem. Here are some good examples from folks I know:
These are weekly emails. They are, for the most part, link roundups. What makes link roundups good is not the volume of links, it’s the quality of curation (often less is more when it comes to volume of links) and the context the curator might add to them. In other words, the work the editor puts into the publication is much more important than the quality of the stuff you link to.
As an example, Matt Levine links to articles that bore the crap out of me, but his point of view and sense of humor are so delightful that it makes his daily emails a must-read for me. There’s a way in which Matt is serving folks like me by making the world of finance interesting and accessible.
This is the basic idea behind a weekly newsletter. You’re going to spend 180 days serving those who suffer from a problem, or those who are members of a specific audience. And in so doing, you’re going to discover how much you actually care about them.
If you find out that you don’t care enough to sustain this work for 180 days, then you fold up tent on the newsletter and walk away much wiser, with no harm done.
And if you find out that you do care enough to sustain this work for the duration, several wonderful things have happened as a by-product of the work:
- You’ve learned a lot about the problem or vertical, because you’ve read a lot about it in the course of curating and commenting on those links.
- You’ve possible learned who the big “players” are in the space you’re exploring.
- You’ve perhaps learned which problems in the space are easy, and which are not easy to solve.
- You’ve started to cultivate a reputation as a smart, generous contributor to the space.
In other words, you’ve done market research while cultivating a reputation while also validating how deeply you care about the problem/market. That’s quite the triple-threat!
If you try this challenge, there are two items that are mandatory reading, from a client of mine:
If you complete either of these challenges, you will know how deeply you care. You won’t wonder if your idea can successfully cross the brain–world barrier (BWB); you will feel it in your bones. You will know.
Tomorrow I’ll start walking you through the extrospective validation methods. Even if your idea can cross the BWB, you still need to do some extrospective validation to make sure there’s a market for it, or to at least understand the market conditions that currently exist.
Need help with this stuff? I might be your guy. Just hit REPLY.