4 Steps To Develop Brutally Intellectually Honest Learning About Your New Product

Perhaps the greatest problem entrepreneurs’ faces is not funding or soft markets and heavy workloads but rather their own bias and their inability to develop brutally intellectually honest learning.


This critical failure point is something authors Nathan Furr and Paul Ahlstrom explored in their book Nail it Then Scale it.

Although learning is a crucial aspect to all success in business it is seldom the focal point of strategic operations, market validation and product development.

The most important kind of learning is viewing the artificial startup world through the lens of brutally honest learning.

The best way to develop brutally honest learning is to place you thoughts, actions and energy into a framework for learning.

This learning framework consists of four components:

  • Rationale
  • Analysis
  • Strategy
  • Evaluation

These four elements become the framework in which all learning can be acquired and applied through the startup process, within established businesses ventures and even at an individual level.



What Simon Sinek coined as the “why” of business should be the central driver of the energy and the purpose of learning what markets want to buy.

This reframing toward learning, rather than building something first, is a powerful concept.  What can occur is that your organization will develop a learning culture where failure is reframed into learning opportunities.

What is the big problem you are trying to solve, what makes you get up in the morning and what to work?  What gives you energy to want to learn? If you have no purpose for learning then you have no drive and no accountability to the greater good either for yourself or for others.

What is your Big, Hairy, Audacious, Goal (BHAG)?  The term was proposed by James Collins and Jerry Porras in their 1994 book entitled Built to Last: Successful Habits of Visionary Companies is still as valid to learning as it is to building something (product or service) that will change the world.


According to Nail in then Scale it, there are four learning traps that often derail intellectually honest learning:  To avoid these you must become cognizant of them how they affect your decision process.


The traps are:

Confirmation bias is the tendency to search for, interpret, favor, and recall information in a way that confirms one’s preexisting beliefs or hypotheses.
Motivation bias is a close cousin to confirmation bias but differs as motivations filter all information and blinds you to certain realties.  Tim Harford called this chasing your losses and doubling down when you know your failing.  For example, poker players who’ve just lost some money are primed to make riskier bets than they’d normally take, in a hasty attempt to win the lost money back and “erase” the mistake.

Overconfidence is the twin to confidence.  It takes confidence to even play the entrepreneurial game, however overconfidence can also blind you.  Furr and Ahlstrom caution that you don’t confuse determination with overconfidence.

Compatibility traps explores our myopic viewpoint of the world.  It is often manifests in the business world by asking this convention wisdom question:  “what can we build that people will buy.” Instead you should ask “what do people want to buy?”  Or “what problems do my customer have that I can’t solve?”  Sometimes the solution is outside of our box of compatibility, reason, and comfort.

The heart of this analysis learning frame is to acquire posture of fact based data driven learning.


At the early stages of a new product the strategy should be to learn, not produce.  Yes, the market rewards execution not ideas, however too often the strategy of a new venture is build a business plan or business models instead of learning real market problems.
To win you need to reframe your strategy to develop an attitude of learning.

“At the core, entrepreneurs must develop an attitude of learning—brutally honest learning. By this we mean you need to learn how to seek and really receive feedback, because ultimately feedback opens the door to developing a product or solution that customers really need rather than just what the entrepreneur imagines that customers need. Furthermore, down the road, as the founder, you will set the culture of your organization, and creating a learning culture leads to a great organization rather than a one-hit wonder. But how do you develop this attitude of honest learning? The first step, which we have already described, is to recognize the learning traps discussed above. The second step is to develop an attitude of learning that has four basic components: 1) becoming an expert novice, 2) reframing the learning purpose, 3) real-time feedback, and 4) data-driven perspectives.”


The virtue of evaluation should stand on its own but for the purposes of this learning framework feedback works to refine your learning not just the stale commentary on your process, product or features.

Failure is often manifest through feedback but in reality that feedback is the roadmap to success if you can only learn from it.

“Above all, feedback is essential for determining which experiments have succeeded and which have failed. Get advice, not just from one person, but from several. Some professions have built-in feedback: reviews if you’re in the arts, sales and analytics if you release a web product, comments if you’re a blogger. If the feedback is harsh, be objective, “take the venom out,” and dig out the real advice.”

Adapt Why Success Always Starts with Failure by Tim Harford

Significant amounts of real-time feedback help correct overconfidence, increase pattern recognition and help us see the truth.  The truth is the product of  brutally honest learning.


Learning Frames are simple yet powerful cognitive alignment models that help you develop not only an attitude of learning but a desire for brutal intellectual honest learning.


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