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At FailCon, the annual conference in San Francisco, not only is it okay to f*** up, it’s a badge of honor. The bigger the failure, the better.

The conference was filled to the rafters with bright-eyed young entrepreneurs. However, a few representatives from household-name companies were also attending. Corporations like Microsoft and SAP are increasingly investing in their innovation and design teams in an effort to be more like a startup. And they got some good advice on how to act like a startup from Bennett Blank, Intuit‘s innovation lead

Bennett is a vocal advocate of “lean startup” principles. The lean startup method, is characterized by rapid product cycles, “pivots”, and an emphasis on customer feedback. It’s most popular with startups, but if you work at a large company, here are Blank’s tips to cultivate a “lean” approach:

  • Embrace the “mechanical turk”: This refers to software that works on the front-end, but behind the scenes, people are manually filling the order. It’s a great way to test a product before bringing it to market. For instance, when testing a new product in India to help agricultural laborers compare pricing, they literally had Intuit employees manually source the information and send it back. There proved to be a real need, so the engineering team developed a way to automate the process.
  • Offer employees dedicated “unstructured” time: In a policy borrowed from Google, Intuit’s engineers can devote 10 percent of their time to their own projects.
  • Host an idea jam: “It’s a program we have across Intuit that is part hackathon, part lean startup incubator,” said Blank. “Essentially, it’s a 48 hour competition to pitch and develop an idea.”
  • Get comfortable with failure: Blank opened up about his own failure at Intuit (see video below). If your idea doesn’t prove to be a hit with customers, don’t take it personally. “It’s not that your work was a failure,” said Blank. “As long as you’re learning and gaining insights from that process.”

In the spirit of Failcon, Blank told me about his most epic disaster at Intuit. Curious? Check out the video.


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