Curing diseases is in many ways, very similar to running a startup company. You define a clear problem. You hypothesize ways of solving the problem. You implement your hypotheses in a controlled environment. You examine the results.
Much like startups, if a surgeon is lucky, he can follow a colleague’s surgery and examine the results of his techniques. If you are lucky, you have competitors. You should learn from their experiments to save time and money. Any new company has a lot of learning to do. Do your best to search for short cuts and learn from other startups’ successful and failed experiments.
In many situations, an experiment will fail. Great surgeons will often follow up with a deceased patient at a postmortem examination. They need to learn what happened in failed surgeries where their patients expired. Great entrepreneurs also need to follow their client’s to the grave and find out what happened if and/or when their solution did not fix their user’s problems. What did the user do next? Did he try another solution? Did he just “deal with the problem” and do nothing?
What a user does after a failed attempt at a solution is very telling about the nature of the problem. If the problem you are attempting to solve is a real pain point, users will look for another solution. If it’s only a minor irritation, users will deal with the problem and won’t consider trying another solution.
“Following your users to the grave” is extremely difficult and there is no one catch all solution. After your solution doesn’t solve their pain point, most users will not answer your emails or offer feedback about your solution. It’s up to you to see what your past users are up to. Make sure you keep a close eye on their twitter, facebook, linkedin, and quora accounts to find hints of other solutions they are trying. Watch your competitor’s support forums and websites for indications your clients have used them. In many instances, you will never find out if your users tried another service, but it’s worth it to check.
If you read this blog, you know that I’ve been reading Genius on the Edge: The Bizarre Double Life of Dr. William Stewart Halsted. It is a biography about the great American Surgeon, William Stewart Halsted. The inspiration for this post is a direct result of reading this book. It is as much about experimentation and innovative problem solving as it is a biography. I highly recommend it for anyone attempting innovation in any field.