Half-Baked Products and Idea Kernels

by Liron1 min read24th Jun 20209 comments

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When I ask someone at work for a project proposal, I never want the person to go silent on me and put in 100 hours of solitary work, and then finally show me something and ask for my feedback. I always want to see a half-baked product.

You can half-bake something in an hour or two, or even in a few minutes.

The advantage of half-baking is that you get a quick feedback loop. The more you think there’s a possibility that I’ll say “no, that’s not what I wanted”, the more half-baked you should make your first effort before getting my feedback.

When brainstorming ideas, my term for a half-baked idea is a kernel. A kernel is usually a crappy idea on its own, but there’s “something to it” that could make it the seed of a better idea. I encourage people to toss out kernels.

There are two reasons why operating this way is efficient:

Diminishing Returns on Time Spent

Say you work on something for 100 hours. While each hour adds value, typically the highest-value hour is the first hour and the lowest-value hour is the last hour, and it follows a curve like this:

For example, if you're going to spend 100 hours writing a long report, spending one hour to brain-dump the key bullet points would give a reader a lot more than 1% of the final value of your report. Realistically, it’s probably more like 20%.

So the less time you spend working before getting feedback, the higher your productivity was in that time.

Efficient Course Correction

When you’re starting out on a new project that isn’t well-understood, you’re unlikely to go in the exact right direction. So you don’t want to go too far before getting a course correction, or you’ll waste time.

The top path shows how most people waste their time by investing too much effort between course corrections. The bottom path shows the efficient approach: you do a small chunk of work, then get feedback from your boss or your customers to correct your course, then do the next small chunk of work.

Once your course corrections become small, you can do larger chunks of work between course corrections. Until then, take small steps that produce half-baked products and idea kernels.

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