Pop-Up Focus Groups & Asking for Help

Why are startups so reluctant to ask for help?

Let me start that again. Why are PEOPLE so reluctant to ask for help?

A business can fail for so many different reasons but among them, one of the worst in my mind is stubbornness.


In the linked Forbes article above, I’d classify stubbornness under “managerial error”, but you can find the fingers of stubbornness reaching deep into almost every point of failure.

If you are reading this and thinking, “but wait, can’t stubbornness be a good thing?” I’d say, “La-la-la-I’m-not-listening-la-la-la” with my fingers in my ears, just to prove my point.

But maybe you’re right. Maybe stubbornness is a good thing. Steve Jobs was as stubborn as they come and he almost had a really cool yacht. But is it stubbornness, or determination that is the key?

In this article from Business is Pleasure, Stephen Nellas puts the two mindsets in a ring together and “determination” comes out victorious.

The definitions are similar, but the connotation—that is, the relations made with the word—of “determined” or “determination” is positive, since it doesn’t include refusal to listen to reason, hence “informed”. When we say someone is stubborn, it’s generally not a compliment. Stubbornness generally means not listening to sound advice and we connote this adjective to something that is done out of refusal to change views and uninformed judgment.
— Stephen Nellas

Convinced? …Still no?

Fine, be stubborn. But, just to show we walk-the-talk, here is what happens when you remove stubbornness and approach life and business with an open mind.

Last week, Raj and I were sipping on coffee and trying to figure out new and fun ways to engage the Idea Lemon community and create something that would be useful in our lives day-to-day.

Over the past few months we have been experimenting with 30-day behavior change challenges and thought there could be an opportunity to expand on the this and make it more personal, physical and real.

What if, with every challenge, there was a handy take-away that you could keep, collect and refer back to? Something that would help you plan your day, reflect on what you learned and embody the spirit of Idea Lemon. A journal to track your progress as you Challenge Life as Usual.

So that’s exactly what we did. I grabbed some paper and a stapler and threw together a quick mock-up to see how it would work.

Raj and I reconvened at Mariano’s on a Thursday night. Wine was poured and we began to talk about printing costs, promotions, etc. We were stubbornly thinking that we had a good idea and now it was time to execute. But that is where the line between stubborn and determined falls – the last step in the process of asking for help and being open to feedback.

If we had ordered the books at this point, it would have been an uninformed decision and the end user would not have been fully taken into consideration. So what did we do?

Idea Lemon’s roots go back to a simple thought: “Everyone has ideas. Some ideas are lemons. But when you come together to discuss those ideas and squeeze out the lemonade, you can make something great.”

So that is exactly what we did. We had the sample journal. We had a store full of people relaxing, chatting and talking about their day. We had an open mind and thankfully Raj had the courage to walk up to some strangers and ask what they thought.

It was a Pop-Up Focus Group and it was amazing!

A group of 20-somethings sat and chewed on the book for nearly 20 minutes. They came up with questions, suggestions and the best feedback I’ve heard in regards to Idea Lemon.

We spent nearly an hour chatting with them about our 30-day challenges, the journal, their work and personal struggles and even the potential applications of the journal for personal trainers, friendships/relationships, and more.

We touched on the possibility of an app, ways to make the challenges into competitions with friends, and a dozen other fun ways to expand and develop the concept. One comment, from someone who works in Media Relations for startups no-less, was even the inspiration for this blog-post.

She said that too often, she sees the founders of start-ups getting bogged down in their own ideas. Disregarding constructive criticism in order to make the image in their head come true, despite all signs pointing in the opposite direction.

But, maybe that is why it is nice to look at the future as multiple-choice. When people ask what Idea Lemon is, my response is consistently, "a community".

There are any number of ways to segment Idea Lemon, but so long as the core community is growing and people are interested in Challenging Life as Usual, Raj and I will explore the different ways in which to bring this to life.

We started this group as an email chain of interesting ideas and events in Chicago between friends. You made it grow from there. We are not a business. We are a mindset. And we look forward to continuing to find new ways to juice life’s lemons with you as we continue to grow.

If you have thoughts on this post or the concept of the journal, please drop us a comment below. Who knows what awesome ideas might come out of it.  And always:

Keep an open mind. Be determined, not stubborn. And don’t be afraid to ask for help.


Martin McGovern

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Author: Martin McGovern  

Martin McGovern is a marketer, storyteller and designer. He co-founded Idea Lemon and loves connecting people and ideas throughout Chicago.