“Sell a Little, Learn a Lot” is Still Valid in 2020


In the book 2008 book Innovation to the Core, authors Rowan Gibson and Peter Skarzynski share tipsinnovation-business-acumen-1 on how business organizations can design, develop, and deliver best-selling, profitable products by prototyping, launching, and learning before making large investments in new product ideas that could turn out to be costly mistakes.

The premise is that companies spend hundreds of millions of dollars and years of time developing new product ideas in traditional ways only to discover nobody wants to buy the products once launched.

As the leader of one of the world’s most innovative “TechEd” companies, I find myself every day trying to balance to short-term of meeting quarterly goals vs. building long-term platforms and solutions that our clients will use years from now.  Just recently, we had a client ask us about a new digital business simulation idea that was nothing close to anything we had created before.  The idea was to blend a sophisticated business model with a portfolio of decision-based Coaching scenarios that impacted the business model.  We formed an agile team comprising members of our web development team, business modeling team, and business leadership content team to come up with a plan and develop a prototype.  The team was able to shorten the typical development time and present the client with an idea for a minimal viable product (MVP).  Based on three common coaching scenarios, the client loved the idea, so we went into pilot development and delivered an excellent pilot program.  The pilot program went very well and now we are rolling out the full simulation on a global basis to hundreds of leaders in need of coaching skills.

5 Things Your Need to Know about “Sell a Little, Learn a Lot”

Since many of our clients are business leaders who face the same challenge of developing and launching new products, I wanted to share five key tips that are essential to implementing this approach:

Find Innovative Customers

The worst mistake you can make in implementing this approach is working with customers who want an existing, mature product. The road to innovative product excellence is always bumpy road at best and if your customer isn’t willing to go on the ride with you to learn and discover what will work, it’s not going to work.  Innovative customers get the fail-fast-forward mentality and are willing to give you significant leeway.

Hire Innovative Sales Professionals

Selling something that may not actually exist yet is an art. There are some sales professionals who are great at it and then there are the rest who only can sell an existing product or service.  Not all sales professionals are built the same and it’s imperative that if you are selling a new idea that your sales professionals can deal with the ambiguity and create a vision for the customer.  A great sales professional can also help guide the product design and final solution set based on customer input.

Flexible Systems

When developing a new product to test, you must have flexible systems that can adapt instantly and at least 10 times a day. By systems, I am referring to project management tools, communication tools, information gathering tools, and everything else that helps support new product development.

Agile Infrastructure

Innovative organizations launching new products to pilot need agile infrastructures that can leverage resources, flex workforces, and work outside of the common status quo.  For example, we needed to a new way of prototyping the new user interface and experience and one of our team members found a solution that wasn’t part of the existing infrastructure. His discovery reduced the interface development time by more than 50%.

A “Yes” Mindset

I think the most important learning was understanding that you can’t sell a little and learn a lot without an organization that has a “yes” mindset.  It’s to easy to say “no” and come up with every excuse in the world why NOT to try developing a new product.  The negative people in the business world belong on a mature business that is looking for incremental growth or maintenance and not in a business that is trying to design, develop, learn, and grow through innovative pilots and prototypes.


Robert Brodo

About The Author

Robert Brodo is co-founder of Advantexe. He has more than 20 years of training and business simulation experience.