2 Mental Exercises For Battling "It Won't Work" Syndrome

By Dharmesh Shah on September 20, 2013

Every company has ideas that come up (sometimes frequently).  And, based on the stage of the startup and the degree to which the idea is unconventional, there are always good, rational reasons why the given idea can't possibly work.  There are also bad, irrational reasons too.  The problem is, it's hard to tell the difference.bad idea

Here are some of common reasons why something won't work:

1) We've debated this several times before and have decided it wouldn't work.

2) We've tried this before, it didn't work.

3) Doesn't really fit our sales model.

4) It's not appropriate for our industry.

5) It might work for tiny/small/large/huge companies, but we sell to tiny/small/large/huge companies, and it won't work for them.

6) Our investors/board would never agree to it.

7) It might work, but we can't afford the risk that it won't.  (Note: When someone says “it might work…but…” they're almost always thinking: It won't work)

8) Our team/plan/pitch-deck is not really setup for that.

9) We could try it, but it's a distraction.  (Note: This often means “I've already decided it's not going to work, but I can tell I need to convince you we shouldn't try it…”)

There are many, many more reasons why any given idea won't work, but the above are a sufficient sample for this article. Oh, and by the way, I have at various points in time made all of these very same arguments myself (“I have met the enemy” and all that)

2 Mental Exercises To Try

Now, here are a couple of mental exercises to try when you or you or your team is stuck.

Exercise #1: What if I told you that it's working really, really well for XYZ Company?  How do you think they made it work?

The idea here is to assume the idea is good and has worked for a company very similar to yours.  Then, ask yourself (or your team):  Now that we know it worked for them, what do we think they did to make it work? 

What this does is mentally nudge you to think about how to work through whatever the obvious limitations to the idea already are.

Example: I know that nobody in our industry uses a freemium model because the infrastructure/support costs are just too high.  But, we just learned that XYZ Company is launching a free version.  What do we think they did to make it work?

Exercise #2: What if we had the proverbial gun held to our heads and we had to do [x]?

The idea here is to assume/accept that the decision to implement the idea has already been made — presumably by some higher authority.  Now, assuming that, what would you do to make the best of it?

Example: Our major investors just told us that before they can agree to funding our next round, we need to build an inside sales team.  They think inside sales teams are the bomb.  We can't afford not to listen to them — what do we do to make the best of the situation?  If we had to build an inside sales team, how would we go about doing it?

Note:  In neither case am I suggesting that you mislead your team (or yourself, in case you're like me and have conversations with yourself late at night).  These are meant to be mental exercises, just to help drive discussion and analysis.  Though I'll confess, there is a small part of me that wonders what would happen if one did make the hypothetical seem real (at least for a short period of time).

What do you think?  Any mental tricks or tactics you've used (or thought of using) to help break-through conventional thinking?

Topics: strategy
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The Growth Hacker's Dilemma: Process vs. Tactics

By Dharmesh Shah on August 27, 2013

After conducting nearly 100 interviews with some of the world’s best growth hackers on Growth Hacker TV, I have become keenly aware of a certain tension that is in the growth hacking ecosystem. Some growth hackers choose to emphasize the process of growth hacking while others choose to see growth hacking as a set of tactics that can be applied to various scenarios.


First, let me define the growth hacker’s process. There is no one single agreed upon order of operations, but a growth hacker’s process is based loosely on the scientific method. If you can remember high school, the scientific method is basically the following:


  1. Question - Why do visitors leave our registration flow after the first page?

  2. Hypothesis - They might be leaving because page two has too many form fields present and this scares them away.

  3. Prediction - If we have more registration pages, but less form fields on each page, then our completed registrations will increase in statistically significant ways that could not be the product of chance.

  4. Testing - For the first 2 weeks of September we will run an A/B test, showing 50% of new visitors our current registration flow, and showing the other 50% our new registration flow which increases the number pages but decreases the fields per page.

  5. Analysis - The results show that our new registration flow had 27% more completions than our current registration flow, and this is statistically significant enough to conclude that we should implement our new registration flow.


Here is where things get interesting. Some startups will actually use this scientific method (or something similar) as a means of gaining insights about their product, thereby enabling them to make progress. Others, however, will not have a rigorous process like that listed above, but they will instead use the results of other people’s experiments. Put another way, some startups have a process, other startups just implement the tactics (best practices) that are the results of someone else’s process. If someone read about the above experiment on Quora then they might adapt their registration flow without a scientific process in place to support such a move.scale tradeoffs


The question is, which kind of startup should be applauded and which should be reprimanded? It might seem obvious to celebrate the rigors of the scientific method and side with any startup that uses such a process. However, I think there is a case to be made for both kinds of companies. Obviously, if someone doesn’t run the experiments then we will never arrive at the tactics in the first place. The tactics are the byproduct of someone’s hard work and that should be appreciated, but think about how the scientific community actually operates. The scientific method is a tool that serves the entire scientific community, and the results of that tool are often fair game for the community. Scientists don’t expect each other to run every relevant experiment for their personal endeavors. Newton said, “If I have seen further it is by standing on the shoulders of giants.” Why can’t a startup simply use the results, as discovered by their fellow entrepreneurs in lab coats, as a benefit of the community?


The truth is, there are pros to both ways of thinking, which I’ll list below, but I don’t want us to view growth hacking as only a process or only a set of tactics and simultaneously miss the community aspect of our enterprise. Here is how I see things:


  • Pros of Process Oriented Startups

    • Without process oriented startups we would have no tactics.

    • They are able to find new growth hacks when old ones cease to work.

    • By understanding the process, their implementation of any given tactic will be more nuanced and effective.

    • They are more self sustaining, able to use the community, but not be entirely dependent on it.

  • Pros of Tactic Oriented Thinking

    • Allows smaller startups, with less funding, to implement tactics very cheaply.

    • It is an entry point into growth hacking which is more accessible than experimentation, even though it might lead to experimentation later on.

    • Not every experiment needs to be ran by everyone. Some best practices are near universal and can just be applied. We all do this to some degree whether we realize it or not.


So, what is the answer to the dilemma? Is growth hacking a process or a set of tactics? Well, both, and here is what that means practically. If you are in an organization that has a growth hacking process in place then see yourself as a part of a larger community. We are grateful for your work, but you don’t need to be pompous about your place in the universe. Share what you find, grow our collective knowledge base, and understand that not every company will imitate you, and that’s ok. If you are in a non-process oriented startup that is still trying to use growth hacking principles then be extremely appreciative of the companies that are supplying these best practices, and consider creating your own process so that you can give back to the community as much as you take from it.


Startups aren’t going anywhere, and growth hacking is here to stay as a robust methodology for growing them. Whether you are in the lab, or reading the research paper that was spawned from someone else’s lab, understand that this is a community, not a zero sum game.


This article was a guest post by Bronson Taylor who is the host and co-founder of Growth Hacker TV, where the experts on startup growth reveal their secrets.

Topics: guest marketing
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