In one of the later chapters of Leading the Learning Revolution I draw a contrast between what I call the “Beta Mentality” and the “Dabbler’s Downfall.” I’m betting both of these will sound familiar, but I am also betting that most readers – like myself – may have more experience with the second than the first.
The “Dabbler’s Downfall” is what occurs when you get fascinated by some new technology, technique, or whatever else happens to be trending in your particular world, play around with it, but never really take it anywhere. In my world, I see this happen all the time with people and organizations tempted by the idea of making money with online education and training. There are always plenty of shiny new tools to try out, or new concepts (MOOCs!, Flipping the Classroom!), but trying is one thing, actually building a business is quite another. As I write in the book:
While getting to the point of putting offerings into the market and then learning from the results is critical, it’s relatively easy to never even get to that point. Many of the tools and approaches I reference in this book, for example, have been available for a number of years now. Even so, few people or organizations benefit at the level they could from them. They get excited about the possibilities, and dabble around the edges … They may not fail outright, but they also don’t succeed to any great degree. That is the main issue I see with people who are ultimately dissatisfied with these approaches. Like any entrepreneurial effort, success requires a certain level of focus and commitment. Just dabbling won’t get you very far.
The flip side of the Dabbler’s Downfall could be described “Betting the Farm.” I see this often, too – people or organizations that go all in on creating a product, or an entire company, only to find out that they didn’t get it right and they don’t have enough resources to try another approach.
Fortunately, there is a reasonable path between dabbling and betting the farm, one that is guided by what I call the “Beta Mentality.”
Some readers may realize that I’ve adapted this approach from Google’s belief that its products are “always in beta.” As the company’s official comments put it,
We believe beta has a different meaning when applied to applications on the web, where people expect continual improvements in a product. On the web, you don’t have to wait for the next version to be on the shelf or an update to become available. Improvements are rolled out as they’re developed.
There is no reason, of course, that this viewpoint has to apply only to software – and the possibilities for applying it in areas other than software have multiplied many times over as technology has advanced during the past decade. At the very least, it most definitely applies to the world of knowledge and learning products. Those who embrace the “beta mentality” get the product out into the market
…and then immediately begin working on improvements, additions, extensions, and other ways to keep the experience fresh and relevant. Aside from freeing you to get off the mark and put products into the market quickly, the beta mentality assures that you will stay in continual dialogue with your customers and better know how to provide the content and experiences they will most value. (from Leading the Learning Revolution)
I was inspired to write this particular post because I recently had a conversation with a client who is doing exactly what I have just described. This organization – driven forward mostly by one entrepreneurial individual – has just released its first online course into the market and will soon release its second. These courses have to earn their keep – the organization expects them to generate revenue – but they are also being viewed very much as a sort of beta test, a chance to see how the market reacts and adjust accordingly. Over the coming months, the organization is going to invest in tracking, assessing, and learning from the results it gets. Efforts will include:
- Assessing whether the “on-demand” approach for these courses is the right one given the learning objectives, the content, and the behaviors of the target audience. If it is not on target, how does it need to be adjusted or enhanced?
- Assuming the on-demand approach is on target, assessing whether the mix of formats in the course optimal. These courses are very heavily video driven. Does that seem to be the best approach? What are the alternatives and what are the trade-offs relative to cost?
- Running a variety of tests to determine if the price is right. (I discuss a number of approaches to testing of this type in Leading the Learning Revolution.)
- Determining if the cost structure for producing these courses reasonable. Based on the desired quality and outcomes, are there more cost effective approaches to producing these products?
- Discovering which promotion and conversion tactics have the highest impact. Going forward, will investing in some approaches yield a higher return than investing in others?
It would be difficult, if not impossible, to get reliable answers to these questions without actually having a product out in the market. At the same time, it would make little sense for this organization to crank up the factory and start pushing lots of courses out into the market. Taking a budget cycle to get a few products in the market and then investing in learning as much as possible is simply a very smart strategy.
Score one for the Beta Mentality.
P.S. – Are you applying the Beta Mentality to any of your products? Please comment and share.