Last Updated on September 13, 2017 by karwisch

When a company, team, or individual goes about creating a strategy, they like to have as close to a full picture as possible of all the details to give themselves the best chance of heading in the right direction. But what about times when you don’t have a full picture?

When I am working, there will be constant course corrections as I move forward on a given project. What I hope to avoid is not the course corrections, but instead, to avoid missing the vital moment when we need to start moving forward.

To sum up, in most cases I will not have the full picture of the need, the obstacles, and the solution so I will need to make a logical leap using the data I have gathered at that point.

This is where things get tricky because as we mentioned the average person is not comfortable with making decisions without all of the facts. So how do we fill in the gaps in our knowledge enough to know we aren’t jumping blindly to our doom?

The Metaphor

The frog DNA metaphor is taken from the novel and subsequent film Jurrasic Park by Michael Crichton in which he describes a world where scientists have collected enough dinosaur DNA to clone a dinosaur. Their problem is that they are missing sections of the DNA strands and must fill it with bird, lizard, and frog DNA to make a complete picture. Haven’t seen the movie? Shame on you! Want to remind yourself what I’m talking about? Here is a video for a 3 minute refresh.

In all fairness, due to a plot device, the frog DNA turns out to have been a tragic error, but the metaphor is just far too fun to let go just because of the movie’s outcome.

So in this situation I ask myself “what is the most logical data to include that is the most similar to the data I have already collected?”

What I use as frog DNA:

  • My knowledge of the customer or user of the end product.
  • Existing research from another similar field.
  • Existing research from a very different field that aligns with this project.
  • What we know about humans from the fields of psychology, sociology, and neuroscience.
  • What I know about myself and those closest to me.

Applying Improvisation

When I am improvising a scene in front of an audience, I must play characters as close to the reality that we have created so far in the show.  But when I do not know a character would do, I try to envision a version of myself or someone close to me in a situation where I might this choice might be a reality.

I am realistic about myself and how imperfect I am in the right circumstances, so I can usually come up with a scenario that would cause me to act boldly enough in a given scenario to match my character. If not, I try to do the same work with someone that I know that is different from myself but similar to the character.

High Velocity Decision Making

Why would I want to use frog DNA instead of just waiting for the remainder of the information? Why take the risk in order to get moving? Jeff Bezos of recently filled in a great explanation for me in his annual letter to shareholders:

“Most decisions should probably be made with somewhere around 70% of the information you wish you had,” Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos said in his annual letter to shareholders, released Wednesday. “If you wait for 90%, in most cases, you’re probably being slow.”  One of the tenets of the Day 1 mentality is to make faster decisions, he said. But it’s not just about speed. Anyone can pick things fast willy-nilly. You have to somehow make high-quality, high-velocity decisions,” Bezos wrote. “Easy for start-ups and very challenging for large organizations.” -Jeff Bezos

In improvisation we defer judgment, accept the ideas presented, and play them out to the best of our abilities. Working with improvisation allows us to make the types of high-velocity decisions that Mr. Bezos speaks of.

Third, use the phrase “disagree and commit.” This phrase will save a lot of time. If you have conviction on a particular direction even though there’s no consensus, it’s helpful to say, “Look, I know we disagree on this but will you gamble with me on it? Disagree and commit?” By the time you’re at this point, no one can know the answer for sure, and you’ll probably get a quick yes. – Jeff Bezos

Beginning improvisers disagree and commit so often that they eventually start skipping the part where they disagree (the judgment) and jump straight to the commit (yes, and.)

So what happens in improv when something we do doesn’t work well right away because of the frog DNA that we use? We course correct and refine. We add in additional data that we learned along the way and use it to make the overall story better and stronger. This is all done without ever pointing at someone and saying “that is a bad idea!”

The steps for using frog DNA

  1. Get as close as you can to the 70% mark on the data that you need.
  2. Examine the gaps in your data and define what you are missing as clearly as possible.
  3. Fill in those gaps with frog DNA. Whatever you have, and as close as you can get to the original source.
  4. Run the strategy as if it were a reality and look for logic issues.
  5. Jump back to #3 again and continue with other frog DNA until the strategy is as stable as possible.
  6. When stable, run the strategy.
  7. Be prepared to course correct, and course correct, and course-correct again.

In conclusion

So what are some high-velocity decisions you made and what was your frog DNA? What decisions that you have been sitting on because you want all the facts first, but you are realizing you might never have in time?