- Being in Permanent Beta
By Chipp Norcoss
While reading Wired on a flight to Boston, I came across an article about Reid Hoffman, the founder of LinkedIn. As I read about the advice he gives in his book, The Start-Up of You, one of his main points just leapt off the page at me. He urges people to be in a state of “Permanent Beta.” For those of you who are not familiar with the software industry, “beta” refers to the final stage of software development just before the product is launched to the marketplace. In this stage, the product is typically highly functional and is being used by a community of “beta users” to test it out and provide feedback before the product is finalized. In recent years, because of the ease of distribution that the Internet provides, the line between beta and final product has blurred.
Today, products like Gmail exist in beta for years in widespread use by millions of customers, with the development team making constant tweaks to functionality and appearance based on how they see the users interact with the product.
In a fast-moving world, the rules of work are constantly evolving, and today’s highly valuable skills are tomorrow’s minimum requirements. If you “craft iterative, flexible plans,” as Mr. Hoffman suggests, you’ll be more marketable and, presumably, successful as marketplace conditions change.
I believe always being in beta applies successfully not only to software and career planning, but also the realm of ideas in general.
I found a deep connection to the Synectics concept of Best Current Thinking (BCT).
Much like being in a state of beta, we use BCT to represent the current state of someone’s thinking about an idea they have. It could be about a new product concept, a new path in life they are considering, how they plan to approach a difficult conversation…anything really.
In practice, I find the idea of acting in a BCT mindset to be a particularly powerful tool for several reasons. From a personal standpoint, it keeps us loose, avoiding the trap of becoming too anchored in our existing thinking. It also recognizes that there is always new information to be learned—it creates openness and a pathway to incorporating the new information into our current point of view. Perhaps most importantly, it allows us to keep making forward progress without shutting out the feedback that we are hearing from the outside or waiting until our idea is “perfect” to begin working on it.
A BCT is also a wonderfully inviting way to share a new idea with someone. It reflects that my own thinking is not complete, and signals openness to hearing another’s builds and ideas to further my thinking. By inviting someone else to think with me, it short-circuits the feeling of a “sell-job.” We’ve all experienced the sell-job. Those conversations start off with “tell me what you think about this idea….” This phrase is typically code for “I have an idea and I’m either going to convince you to like it or get angry when you don’t.” In my experience, no one likes a sell-job. Most people, however, like to be part of thinking about a new idea. It’s an important difference.
Whether we call it being in beta or BCT, the idea of considering our ideas and ourselves a work in progress is a wonderfully liberating way of thinking. It is a definite shift in mindset compared to how most of us were taught to think as young people—taking action quickly and avoiding over-thinking options feels like a winning move in today’s fast-moving business world, but the inherent flexibility that a BCT mindset provides allows us to do just that.