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Pretotype: How Your Business Stays Innovative

“Plans are worthless, but planning is everything” – Dwight D. Eisenhower.

This truism is as accurate in battle as it is in business – especially in rapidly changing markets. Why? Because a business plan is a bet on what is assumed will happen.  As another great warrior once said, “Everyone has a plan ’til they get punched in the mouth” – Mike Tyson.

In today’s fast-paced and fluid times, where the invention is almost continually being achieved, the stoic effort of developing a standard business plan has become more a hindrance than a help when the real goal is to find innovations that will drive your business in the right direction.  The greatest value is in the process of becoming and the steps taken towards completion.  Through the exercise of developing a business plan, it is the steps that challenge assumptions, fix old problems and uncover new potential that are true catalysts that ignite breakthrough ideas and take companies to another level.

Changes to the core foundation which influences a company’s day-to-day activities, attitude, and decisions can be represented on a one-page business model canvas – which is a subset of your entire business strategy.

Tangible Business Strategy

“Make sure you are building the right ‘it’ before you build ‘it’ right.”- Alberto Savoia

Including a pretotype in the process of developing a strategy and business model that support your innovative goals allows you to see blind spots and clear opportunities hidden in plain sight.  The pretotype approach to business planning helps you build your way forward, crystallizing soft concepts to more stable foundations.   Ambiguity, uncertainty, and unknowns can be tested, and strategies can be strengthened by collecting insight along the way.

So what is a pretotype?  It is a concrete manifestation of your BIG idea, assumptions, and underpinnings all rolled up into an object, subject, or tangible your market can experience first-hand. The thought is to give them a chance to provide you with the feedback you need to iterate and course correct during the development process.  This pretotype is often rough and unrefined but obvious enough to identify as an answer to pent-up demand, or a key to unlock latent yet easily recognizable needs.  Pretotype is the pre-beta to a prototype that is the prerequisite to “Make sure you are building the right ‘it’ before you build ‘it’ right.”

From “If we build it, they will use it” to “If they use it, we will build it.” 

By making the product or service “real”, your team will face questions that may never have been asked, resulting in more alternatives which will lead to better answers.  It is important to recognize that the early stages of development are generative with a focus on “alternatives” or many potential answers, not THE answer.  This is a phase of testing hypotheses and exploration, not a final destination.  The pretotype is a starting point for initial reactions, and should not be taken personally, so it is equally important not to get vested in your pretotype.  This subtle but important distinction prevents an individual or team members from framing the outcome of initial efforts as “failures” if the feedback provided is negative.  Market responses should be considered “neutral data” that perpetuates the process forward towards greater progress.

During the process, you need to consider many of the concepts that the traditional business plan addresses, such as: what is the problem you’re solving, who you are solving it for, how will the product create value for the user, and how they will apply it (what job your product would fill – which is often different than its intended use).

This step is really critical because you gain clarity during the stages of its development.   For a pretotype to be effective, you have to build out a set of interactions that help tell the story of your product/service in a linear, narrative fashion.  The context in this case is as important as content.  Think of it as a storyboard for how the product/service works.

  • What is the event – moment of truth between awareness and approach?
  • What triggers would bring users to the intersection between problem and potential?
  • What changes in a person or company’s existence after they discover this solution (What, how will they do things differently, better, faster cheaper, etc., and what could they now avoid once the new product, service, the process is adopted in their everyday life?

In today’s dynamic, fluid and unpredictable world, it is better to be vigilant about the vision and responsive to the known conditions than married to a business plan that is blind to reality. A pretotype approach puts innovation in the driver’s seat of your company’s future and allows you to build, test, assess, and iterate on your proposed business model quickly, to turn on a dime as your competitive landscape, market, or industry requirements.


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