Action is the best research

Are you thinking about doing something innovative?

If so, stop that. Stop thinking, and act.

It is tempting to greet an idea with a call to “think things through”—to research, consider, and consult. And of course, some thinking at the start is important. But in order to take your thinking to the next level—to really understand what needs to happen to make your idea successful—you must act. A single experiment is far more valuable than a mass of information.

I’ve used this “act first” approach for many decisions I’ve made as the CEO of Rakuten. It is how I’ve handled decisions as large as starting a baseball team—at the time in 2005, the first new entrant to Japan’s professional league in 50 years—and as small as what to serve in the stadium’s concession stand.

We were one of the first stadiums in Japan to serve hot wine. I’d seen the idea in my travels to other countries, and when I mentioned it to a team executive while watching a game during a chilly night, he didn’t think it sounded appealing at all. But we approached the idea by taking action: within a week he located a vendor and we added hot wine to our stadium offerings. Soon we had the data we needed: hot wine was a hit. It stayed.

We didn’t research the product. We didn’t launch a focus group or field a study. We had an idea, and we acted. The results informed our thinking.

My “act first” process is not foolproof. It can result in mistakes. In other areas of my business, we’ve changed policies that drew criticism from our customers, launched services too early, and pursued acquisitions that failed to close. But I consider these necessary risks, taken in the pursuit of innovation. In business, there will always be ideas that fail and projects that disappoint. But we learn these things by acting.

Not every first action must be big. Say you have an idea for a business model. First, you should develop it on a small scale and base your next steps on the results. This kind of small experimentation is the key to innovation.

Don’t let thinking stop you from acting. It is through acting that your best thinking will emerge.


Ed. note. This post is inspired by Principle 9 from Mickey’s latest book, Business-Do: The Way to Successful Leadership.

Originally published by Quartz At Work.

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