What going to the theatre taught me about prototyping

Last year I saw 110 theatre plays in 10 months. It was soul enriching and lower back straining (I have now a complex ranking of London theatres based on how comfortable their seats are, but that’s for another blog post).

It also made me think of innovation in many different ways. This is one of them.

Seeing so many plays allowed me to notice trends that a lower “sample” might not have highlighted. Like actors “waiting” for the audience on the stage. Apparently doing nothing (most of them) or praying (Gemma Arterton as St. Joan at Donmar) or arranging  chairs for something like a board meeting (King Lear at Old Vic with the amazing Glenda Jackson).

Busy chatting with my date or checking in on Facebook I missed it a couple of times. But I got exposed enough times to this phenomenon to start noticing. To start paying attention. To get myself engaged with the theatre experience 15-20 min earlier than usual. That allowed me to unpick the ideas offered by the play differently. When St. Joan stopped her pray and the play started I already knew a lot about her devotion.

When more is more

In innovation and entrepreneurship we are told again and again to stay focused. One idea at a time. One concept to validate. One feature to prototype. One market to fit. Less is more, right?

The MVP approach has the advantage of focusing your resources on the central user needs, but it can have catastrophic implications if or when it becomes a bubble, closed to any other external stimuli or challenges. I’ve seen so many bad MVPs becoming too big to fail by focusing on building “the best possible product”.

While I’m a big fan of razor-sharp focus while prototyping, I also think that a bit of inspiration overdose is good in the decision mix. Don’t fall in love with ideas, fall in love with the place those ideas can occupy in people’s minds and hearts. And for that you have to know what other things are there already. Experience them. 10 times, 50 times, 110 times (but be careful with your back).

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