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The Rocky Mountain Scrimmage Round-Up

“Don’t fail. Learn…

Don’t guess. Learn…”

Tom Chi’s advice in the advance of the Rocky Mountain Scrimmage was to scratch the concept that ‘failing is good’ from the minds of the attendees.  For a man who has spent his professional career in Silicon Valley, this is unusual advice, given that so many tech entrepreneurs have been inundated with the opposite–to “fail cheap” and to “fail fast.”

The idea behind Chi’s thinking is that saying you “failed” darkens a whole area around a concept, so that related ideas are immediately counted-out. But if you learn, the idea is not a failure, but merely a work in progress, and there is no concept that is off-limits.

And to be fair, Tom Chi knows what he’s talking about. He’s one of the brains behind Google’s top-secret Google X Lab, which has produced projects like heads-up displays (Google glass), driverless cars, learning robots, and other gadgets the public doesn’t yet know about, but so badly (and so obviously) wants to find out.


As an expert on rapid-prototyping (his team tries to produce 15 prototypes/week at Google), Tom Chi was a perfect fit to lead Colorado entrepreneurs in the first-ever Rocky Mountain Scrimmage, hosted by ReWork on November 3 at Galvanize in Denver. In August, ReWork was awarded the TEDxMileHigh Prize, which helped to support the day’s planning and programming.  Rapid-prototyping seeks to get things done, fast. But not in a careless or reckless way, but in an approach that is measured, tested, and practiced.  Tom Chi’s keynote touched on the main areas of the concept before the entrepreneurs dove in, head-first.

The Rocky Mountain Scrimmage was an all-day, intensive rapid-prototyping and problem-solving boot camp that brought together 17 local organizations and 70+ community members interested in changing perceptions, accelerating local business, learning new skills, and helping to advance the state of Colorado.

After the keynote address by Chi and 30-second pitches by each organization that identified areas of need (ie marketing, front-end web development, identifying sales channels, product prototyping), people broke off into groups depending on the skills desired.  Each person at the Scrimmage paired up to create a diverse team of 6+ members that sought to, yep—you guessed it, RAPIDLY solve the problems of the organization with whom they worked.

Rapid-prototyping is all about breaking down our 20th-century concept of time.  How long did it take to prototype Google glass?  According to Chi, one half-day of furious exploration. For the entrepreneurs and many attendees, the idea that BIG things can actually get done in 2-3 hours of crushing it is a relatively new one.

Rapid-prototyping tosses the “sleep on it” concept out the window—instead, it pushes the idea of furious passion in a limited time-frame.  Rapid-prototyping is saying, “Here’s an idea” or “Here’s a challenge,” then, with immediacy, pushes you to relentlessly discover, challenge, change, create, develop, construct, tear-down, debate, and critique. It’s a completely new way to problem-solve; a new way to overcome hurdles in the early (or late) stages of business development.

The Sessions

For me, after 2-3 hours of working to identify a target market, coming up with a marketing strategy, messaging, mediums, and designs for an organization I wasn’t familiar with, my brain was fried and I didn’t know if I was “doing it right.”  But, like anything, the concept of rapid-prototyping takes practice.  It’s not just an idea, it’s a skill.  It’s a skill to take something that generally takes weeks (marketing strategy) and develop a framework in an hour. It’s a skill to look at an opportunity and say, “let’s do it–now” and keep from getting frustrated by early, weak results. It’s a skill to have endurance to continue a difficult pursuit, ask the right questions, and stay focused for long stretches.

At the end of the two sessions, each of the organizations presented their takeaways from the day. Some made ENORMOUS shifts in their businesses, others made little tangible progress but took away the concept of rapid-prototyping and a community of involved stakeholders…but ALL learned something new, memorable, relevant and real.  Let’s do it again.

 Were you at the event? If so, what did you learn?  Is rapid-prototyping relevant to your business?

If you weren’t there, what are your thoughts on the process? Have you had experience with rapid-prototyping?

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