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Technology to help you fail will soon become a huge success

There's a thin line between failing and succeeding. Finding that line is the challenge.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu tries out Google Glass during a meeting with with Google's chief business officer Nikesh Arora at the annual meeting of the World Economic Forum (WEF) in Davos, January 24, 2014. (Photo credit: Kobi Gideon/GPO/Flash90)
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu tries out Google Glass during a meeting with with Google's chief business officer Nikesh Arora at the annual meeting of the World Economic Forum (WEF) in Davos, January 24, 2014. (Photo credit: Kobi Gideon/GPO/Flash90)

I believe it is fair to say that no one welcomes failure. It is often seen as an extraordinary characteristic of a person, when that person can arise even after a major fall. Many great writers and speakers have commented on the significance of failure. Generally, the message of these great people was the same: failure is most often a necessary step towards success.

On a philosophical level, one can appreciate the need for failure. If every human being was successful in every endeavor, it could very well create a malaise across the world. Humans crave a challenge. Even the most noble and modest of people would say that they need to compete in order to achieve more. For such people though, they compete with themselves. They do not need to see others suffer in order to rise higher.

I have spoken previously about a methodology in the tech world called “Lean Development”. The concept behind lean development is that a group iterates over an idea many times within a short interval. With each iteration, information is gathered in order to assess the value of the concept.

So, let’s say that you have a new idea for an information service related to the latest in medical technology. You have shown your idea to a close circle of friends and family, and of course, they have all said that this is the greatest thing since sliced bread. The problem is that a successful business must have an income for more than family and friends. Therefore, one needs to seek feedback from people who are not emotionally tied to the developers.

The beauty of this approach is that it does not require a great deal of research at every step of the way. Asking a few random people whether they would use such a product and more so would pay for it, very quickly gives practical feedback that includes a necessary and heavy dose of reality. It is a standing joke in the software development world that programs are perfect until you let a real-life user touch them. Despite months to years of development, a fresh user somehow manages to uncover a whole series of bugs and basic problems within the first few minutes of use. The key is not to wait years to discover this. Ideally, you should identify such issues within hours and before any major investment in development has been made.

If after a few interviews, it becomes clear that only a very small subset of people would have any interest in a specific product, then the developers need to seriously consider one of two options: a radical change in the product or even abandonment of the entire project. As drastic as this sounds, it is far less problematic than coming to the same conclusion after millions of dollars in investment and years of time.

One way to minimize failures is to learn from others. The more that people share about their successes and failures, the more that new developers can jump ahead. A classic example would be a topic that I just recently discussed, namely Google Glasses (GG). I feel confident that a technology equivalent to GG will succeed. Developers working on such equivalent technologies can learn from the problems that GG faced. They can skip over those failures. Of course, even with this new group’s version of smart glasses, they would still need to iterate through testing phases to see who would be interested in their product and what changes would be necessary before the first prototype is produced. If it should be that this new attempt fails altogether, then the next group should learn from this failure and jump past it as well.

If such a lean development is widely adopted, then a new market has been created. Developers will need to have tools that allow them to iterate faster. For example, we will likely need some type of shared whiteboard that is easy to update and review. This whiteboard would need to be virtual so that distant members of the group could participate at any time. I would suspect that a mobile version of such a whiteboard would also be necessary. It could very well be that one of the group members has an epiphany while on the bus. The worst thing is to have a great idea, not record it and then forget it. So it is clear that there is a need for a new kind of product geared towards lean developers.

One other technology that has very recently exploded onto the market, is extremely valuable when wanting to iterate quickly. 3-D printing allows for the creation, generation and testing of prototypes within hours, if not less. Five years ago, manufacturing a single prototype was a major endeavor and was extremely expensive. Therefore, developers relied on virtual 3-D visualizations in order to sample the product. Today, even a small development group can afford a basic 3-D printer and hand out prototypes to a small testing group. Nothing compares to holding a product in your hand. If we returned to the GG example, a prototype of a whole new version of smart glasses could actually be held in the hands of the testers. They could place the prototype on their faces and get a real life sentence of the experience. Nothing compares to this. Therefore, 3-D printing allows for far cheaper and faster iterations towards finding the most suitable type of product that will be welcomed by the community.

There are a number of compact motherboard products that allow developers to create entirely new CPU driven solutions. For most people, the motherboard is a slab of electronics hidden within the bowels of your desktop computer or mobile device. Development kits like Raspberry Pi allow developers to fit together various components and to test a real life product. These motherboards are inexpensive and extremely modular. Therefore, the engineers working on it can quickly iterate through entirely different hardware constructs until they find one that is sufficiently small, power efficient and processing capable enough to be marketable. Combining this package with a 3-D printed shell or even moving parts, would once again make it very cost-efficient to hand a prototype over to a tester to get feedback on the real life experience.

Failing is only a problem if you fail to learn from it. This phrase has been said many times before in multiple different versions. Today’s technology needs to provide developers with tools that allow them to fail cheaply and quickly, in order to achieve success as quickly as possible. Nothing compares to handing potential investors a working prototype of your product. Such a prototype could literally be the key to getting millions of dollars in investments.

No one likes failing. But everybody loves succeeding. The key is to make this transition as seamless and painless as possible. Expect many more products to appear on the market that will focus specifically on this transition.

Thanks for listening

About the Author
Dr. Nahum Kovalski received his bachelor's of science in computer science and his medical degree in Canada. He came to Israel in 1991 and married his wife of 22 years in 1992. He has 3 amazing children and has lived in Jerusalem since making Aliyah. Dr. Kovalski was with TEREM Emergency Medical Services for 21 years until June of 2014, and is now a private consultant on medicine and technology.
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