Learning and Impact, Over Ideas and Activity

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There are two attachments that are corrosive for growth teams.

The first, being attached to ideas.  It’s core human nature to get attached to your own ideas.  When people challenge your ideas, the natural reaction is to defend, rationalize, and dig in.   A growth team attached to ideas, ends up executing initiatives based on “gut.”  In other words, at random.  You can see this in how initiatives are justified.  Do initiatives stem from the root of  “I found this opportunity/problem/area of impact…” or “I had this idea”?

The second, being attached to activity.  Activity feels like progress, and progress feels good.  A growth team attached to activity celebrates the quantity of experiments completed, features released, metrics gathered and analyzed.  Activity does not always equate to progress.

Instead, a growth team should be attached to learnings and impact.

Learnings are the foundation.  They feed everything and are your compass to your destination.  The more you know about your users, product, and channels the better you should become at coming up with solutions that influence growth.  Activity does not equal learning.  Just because your team is doing more does not mean you are learning more.

[Side Note:  Want the details of how I and other top growth execs at Uber, AirBnB, LinkedIn, and more run their growth teams?  Sign up to my email list for the next Growth Series Program.]

It isn’t enough to just learn.  The purpose of a growth team is to have impact on growth.  If you are “learning” but are unable to measure positive impact then you aren’t applying the learnings or your learnings are incorrect.

Impact doesn’t start with ideas.  It starts with identifying the biggest problem or area of opportunity.  If you start with ideas, you will likely miss the areas of biggest impact.  Areas of impact are justified with quantitative and qualitative data, not feelings or rationalization.

Impact is also not taking on the most time intensive or technically challenging initiative.  That is activity.  Sometimes the most impactful initiative can be the quickest least technically complicated initiative when the area of impact has been properly identified.

These attachments get confused.  It is common for teams to think they are attached to learnings and impact when in reality they are attached to ideas and activity.  The reason is that ideas and activity are inputs, but not equivalent,  to learnings and impact.  You need ideas to generate experiments, and then the activity of executing enough experiments to generate learnings and impact.

Being attached to learnings and impact is easier said than done.

One reason is the difficulty in finding people who can detach themselves from ideas and activity.  The core human nature that draws us to these two things is strong.  They need to be more Data vs Captain Kirk (sorry for getting nerdy, I’m not even a Star Trek fan).  Even the best fall back into this trap.  A key for a head of growth is to challenge team members on the “why” behind what they are working on to make sure they are attached to learnings and impact.

Another reason it is hard to be attached to learnings and impact is the friction it often creates with core product teams.  A lot of core product teams have a craftsmen culture (this might be the right approach for that team) and as  result the two teams seem at odds with each other.  They speak different languages and have different DNA.

While this might seem like a problem it can be a healthy tension. Every team needs to operate with a mix of quantitative, qualitative, and intuition.  Product teams generally operate with a bigger % of intuition.  Growth teams operate with a bigger % of quantitative data.  The venn diagrams are different, but complimentary.  Issues typically arise when there are two competing initiatives and a limited set of resources.  The answer to this is not to change the culture of either team (I learned this the hard way).  The answer is to create a framework for how to solve those decisions in a healthy way.

The third and most important reason it is hard to be attached to learnings and impact is that typical reinforcement mechanisms in companies reward ideas and activity.  Celebrating shipping features, completing sprints, getting a campaign live all reinforce activity.  When a successful initiative is recognized/awarded it is typically focused on the excellence behind the idea of the final solution and no attention is paid to the process of identifying the problem area and everything that went into the learnings that lead to the final solution.

Looking at what/how your team celebrates is the most likely place to understand if your team is attached to ideas/activity or impact/learnings.

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