Considering potential losses

We cannot evaluate designs regardless of context without getting into lots of trouble. Situations vary in how much it costs to fail, fizzle out or flop after a brief honeymoon. When losses are insignificant, we can let design evaluations occur by what happens next. When losses are costly, a more formal approach challenges assumptions before placing any bets. By being context sensitive, we can take the right approach and realize the maximum benefit from critiquing our designs.

Negligible losses: When there is very little to lose, we can "just do it" and "bet the ranch". Clay Shirky gave us a wonderful exploration of what comes about when we are "below the floor" of established organizations' limits to what they can afford. Here Comes Everybody shows us how we can take risks and see what comes of our experiments. This approach is evident in creating so much new content for public access that may or may not get any attention, viewers, links, saves, bookmarks, tags, Diggs, downloads or comments. This pattern shows up in launching new groups in social networking sites like Meetup or LinkedIn or new candidates entering the race for public office. The initiator is free to "run it up a flagpole to find out if anyone salutes it". The design evaluation gets Crowdsourced for free and relies on Outside Innovation to filter out the least viable alternatives. The online public becomes the judge and jury. The process resembles a decision market that evokes the Wisdom of Crowds. A design is sized up to be as good as the effects it has on the diverse audience.

Acceptable losses: When losses are a cost of doing the business of innovation, rapid prototyping provides better design evaluations. This context recommends the approach taken in Serious Play, The Elegant Solution and The Art of the Long View. Toyota's development of the first Lexus luxury automobile involved 900 engine prototypes and 450 test models. This obviously takes prototyping to the extreme to support the Lexus brand for "the relentless pursuit of perfection". Less costly development of multiple schemes, models or scenarios can improve design evaluation dramatically. Rather than judge a single design on its merits in isolation, designs get compared, contrasted and combined. I know from my own experiences that evaluating multiple designs together generates more innovations. I see how to achieve the best of both with a winning combination as The Medici Effect champions. It suddenly becomes obvious how to do something more simply or effectively. Insights arise from how two designs differ and have other facets in common. Ideas come to mind as it becomes more obvious what the crucial tradeoffs are, what has to be kept in balance and what needs to be given less importance.

Avoidable losses: When "an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure", a formal design review process is in order. The design is put before an expert panel, focus group of typical users, or a jury of peers. A variety of design principles, criteria and frames of reference get applied to the design scheme before making the big investment. Caution is applied to select appropriate rubrics prior to making evaluations. This process is used in the giving the green light to new Hollywood film budgets, architectural construction projects and legislative spending proposals. Long range consequences get considered. Immediate impacts on various constituencies, environments and societal trends get raised. Return on investment and value engineering criteria seek to justify the massive expenditure.

Inconceivable losses: When losses could be devastating to the entire enterprise, design evaluation goes into denial. Responsible individuals run their "deer in headlights" number. The current design is pursued regardless of consequences, impacts and fallout. The fear of making a mistake eliminates consideration of better evaluations. Sticking to "business as usual" appears to be the only viable choice through the tunnel visioned look at options. This is the approach taken by corporate excesses, industrialized agriculture, the fueling of catastrophic climate changes and countless professional practices which do more harm than good.

Good luck creating a situation with negligible or affordable losses for your creative designs!

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