Op-Ed: What Obamacare Should Have Learned from Silicon Valley (and Entrepreneurs in General)

What follows might be the most apolitical thing ever written about American health insurance reform.

What follows might be the most apolitical thing ever written about American health insurance reform. What follows might also save you a lot of heartache, time, and money on your next product launch.

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In my mind, there is nothing worth building that should be built all at once.

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That’s what has really stunned me about the roll out of health insurance reform here in the United States. Politics aside, the company building the website–the primary interface for the reform–should have known better than to try to build something so complete all at once.

The result: “The country’s top computer experts in Silicon Valley are mortified that the federal government can waste at least $400 million building an Obamacare website that is so terrible.”

This was especially true here in Oregon where the state government went all in. Cover Oregon wanted to be the most complete, most comprehensive health exchange in the nation. They invested millions of dollars in a really great, “you-know-you’re-in-Oregon-when” marketing campaign.

As of January 1, they had not enrolled a single customer via the website. In fact, as Politico explains, “Oregon’s Obamacare sign-up is an ‘epic failure’“.

Meanwhile, “Matt Mullenweg, the co-developer of WordPress, said the Canadian firm that oversaw the healthcare.gov website received ‘more money than all the revenue of most Silicon Valley start-ups combined.'”

 

Developing a Truly Great Idea

Everything that serves, everything that has value, everything that has a message worth sharing has been built in pieces. Test upon test upon test. Ideas, features, details all carefully fashioned together one at a time.

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Sculptures, transformational programs, jewelry collections, menus, books… all reach their fullest potential when they are reduced to a single “this-is-what-really-works” element. And especially when that element is not just what the creator wants to create, but what is created to delight the customer.

Bottom line: Don’t try to build something all at once. Don’t let your ambition, your vision, or your perfectionism side-track the proper development of your idea.

Silicon Valley figured this out a long time ago, relatively speaking. It’s the essence of the Lean Startup mentality: Build. Measure. Learn. It’s why your new favorite app doesn’t actually do everything you’d like it to do (they’re working on it).

When you launch something all at once, you have to stop at “Build.” You have no time (or data) for measuring. You have no energy (or experience) for learning.

 

Practical Lessons in Product Development

When designer Megan Auman sits down to design a new jewelry collection, she doesn’t try to create the whole thing at once. It starts with a single piece, even a singular idea. Maybe it’s a change in the way she designs the shapes, maybe it’s a shift in the way she composes the metals.

She plays. And then she completes… something. What she does next is extremely important: she wears it. She takes it for a test drive. She starts to understand how it feels, how it changes the way she dresses, how it attracts compliments and “gotta have its!” That’s solid data to measure.

Then she learns and adapts. Each piece that derives from the initial prototype is a new iteration on that single idea. She constructs each piece knowing that it’s built on a proven idea.

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All to often I see people with brilliant ideas spending too long trying to realize the full brilliance of their idea. Businesses that bring truly valuable things into the world know when to stop and analyze.

It’s a leap of faith. A big one. But it’s one that pays off in the long run. It’s a little light bulb that goes off and says “this is enough.” For now.

So, before you embark on your next big project or idea, remind yourself to look for that first stopping point. Quiet your perfectionist’s brain enough to hear when a potential prototype is whispering to you. Challenge yourself to think beyond big and, instead, reach for small.

Before you begin your next big project, figure out the small thing you’d like to accomplish first.

This article has been edited and condensed.

 

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