Put Yourself into Perpetual Beta

Whatever your product or service think of it as a piece of software. Now put it into a state of perpetual beta. This is a term used by software developers meaning that the product is never fully finished. Although it is released the software remains in a permanent state of advanced development and customer testing. A key part of its development is iterative improvement based on user feedback. According to open source advocate Tim O’Reilly, ‘Users must be treated as co-developers, in a reflection of open source development practices. The open source dictum, ‘release early and release often’, in fact has morphed into an even more radical position, ‘the perpetual beta’, in which the product is developed in the open, with new features slipstreamed in on a monthly, weekly, or even daily basis.’

Much of the software on your computer or mobile device is developed this way with frequent downloads of fixes and improvements. Think of Adobe Acrobat, Flash player, Windows, Facebook, Google etc. Software companies see themselves as continuously evolving service providers rather than producers of finished packaged products.

Two key components of the perpetual beta philosophy are trusting users as co-developers and harnessing collective intelligence. These same principles will serve you well with your product or service. Unless you are providing something which is absolutely mission critical then you can experiment. You can work with your user community to continually update, refine and improve the offering. Threadless and Lego are two celebrated examples of companies who trust their users and harness their inputs to shape new product releases.

In a sense we are all in perpetual beta. The most dangerous people are the ones who think they know it all and who stop learning. We are not yet the finished article and never will be. So we should open ourselves to learning, to input and to feedback – especially if it is critical. The most vulnerable companies are those who think they have cracked it – with a perfect product for their marketplace.

Perpetual beta leads to perpetual innovation which leads to kaizen – continuous improvement.

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Paul SloanePaul Sloane writes, speaks and leads workshops on creativity, innovation and leadership. He is the author of The Innovative Leader and editor of A Guide to Open Innovation and Crowdsourcing, published both published by Kogan-Page. Follow him @PaulSloane

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