Whenever I’m working on an idea for a new product or a new business, I want to fail as quickly as possible. Plan to fail? Let me explain.

Paul Burri

Paul Burri

Say you’re driving to a place you’ve never been to before. You come to a Y in the road, and you don’t know which way to go. You think about it, and then you take the road to the right. Unfortunately, you should have taken the road to the left.

Now you’re driving down the wrong road. Would you prefer to go five miles or 150 miles before you realize you’re on the wrong road? See? You want to fail as quickly as possible when you’re on the wrong road.

Product development is like that. (As a matter of fact, life is like that, but that’s the subject of another column.)

If your idea for a fancy new widget isn’t going to sell, you would like to know that before investing too much time and money. Or, if you’ve chosen the wrong method for manufacturing your widget, you would like to know that before spending a lot of money on tooling or development.

That philosophy has always worked for me. Whenever I get my latest brainstorm — whether it be a new product or an idea for a new business — I give a lot of thought to the pros and cons of the idea. Sometimes this is referred to as a SWOT analysis — strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats.

Doing a SWOT analysis is simply a matter of making a list of everything you can think of under those four categories, and using them to decide whether to proceed — or to figure out ways to overcome the weaknesses and threats.

I also give a lot of thought to alternate methods of manufacturing, alternate designs and alternate “templates” of business structure.

Now for the key step. I proceed with what I consider my “best shot” and give it everything I’ve got. I have heard people refer to this as, “Do something, even if it’s wrong.” Of course, I’m hoping my decision will be the right one, but I’m also hoping that if I’m on the wrong road, I will find out before spending too much time, energy and money.

— Paul Burri is an entrepreneur, inventor, columnist, engineer and iconoclast. He is not in the advertising business, but he is a small-business counselor with the Santa Barbara chapter of Counselors to America’s Small Business-SCORE. He can be reached at pburri@west.net.