Monday, August 16, 2010

Vision: A Story and a Fortune Cookie

I first learned about 360-degree feedback in 1987. It was a new technology at the time, used primarily to give bosses what was called "upward" feedback about their leadership and management. I explored some of the "instruments" of the day, but I had a concept for a variation of the technology that would be less expensive and easier to use. To create the software, I partnered with another retired Army officer, who happened to be a genius with computers.

Product development involves numerous cycles of improvement, because building the product teaches you how to make it better. My friend and I worked hard on the idea. When we finally got a prototype that worked, I explained how some new capabilities would vastly improve its usefulness. My idea was to create a new kind of 360-degree feedback system that was so easy to administer and so flexible and so affordable that it could be used to provide performance feedback to everyone in an organization--not just top-level managers. I envisioned a "universal feedback system."

To my surprise, my friend balked.

“No,” he said. “I’m not making any more changes. I’ve been working hard on this for months and I have nothing to show for it. I’m not writing any more code until we make some money with what we have right now.”

I explained to him that the new features would magnify the usefulness of the product ten-fold. We would make a lot more money if we improved the product.

“No, we need to get it out there, make some money now. We can think about improvements in a year or two. By then we’ll have feedback from our customers.”

With my vision of a dramatically improved product clearly in my mind, I honestly didn’t believe there would be many customers for the prototype. And if we waited a couple years to build something better, the window of opportunity would close.

But he was adamant. And I wouldn’t give up on my vision. So we parted ways. I gave him the rights to sell the prototype, and he gave me the right to develop a more elaborate product. I was disappointed at this setback. But two really wonderful things happened.

First, my son agreed to take over as software engineer, and he has been with my company ever since—over twenty years. We have a wonderful personal and professional relationship, something I never dreamed would happen in my life.

The other good thing that happened was that we created the revolutionary new kind of 360 feedback system I envisioned, called 20/20 Insight. And it was a huge success. Over a million people in the workplace have used it to give and receive performance feedback. As for the prototype, it still exists in the same form. Over the decades, I doubt that it brought my friend more than a couple thousand dollars.

This experience taught me the importance of having a vision for my business. And above all, having faith and commitment in the vision as I follow through.

A Fortune Cookie for you...

Dream by day, and see things unknown to people who dream only at night.

The story behind the Fortune Cookies...

Post by Dennis E. Coates, Ph.D., Copyright 2010. Building Personal Strength .

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