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Insights / March 6, 2017

Conduct a Field Test

By Software for Good

This week, find an opportunity to conduct a field test, and then test something. Too often, we build and create and overthink when we could have done a simple field test first. Complexity, however warranted you might believe it to be, may not be necessary after some additional thought.

I have a new hobby—ultralight backpack camping and hiking. And by hobby I mean that I’ve spent the winter making summer plans and figuring out what’s involved in this sport, while also obtaining some equipment. In terms of actually getting outside, I’ve gone on a single 11-mile city hike this year. That’s it. Well, and I took a few car-camping trips last summer with my family and the Boy Scouts.

But this venture has gotten complicated. For example, I’ve decided to use a hammock instead of a tent. For just over $20 you can get a brand new hammock off of Amazon. Cheap! Sleeping equipment is set!

Well, no. Not really.

If you buy a hammock, you’ll want tree straps so the rope doesn’t damage the bark. And you’ll need an underquilt if it’s cold. And a bug net because most hammocks don’t come with bug nets. Oh, and a rain tarp in case it rains. And maybe a little ground tarp to put all your things on. And some extra carabiners to hang your sandals up over night, plus those cool solar powered lanterns!

Suddenly, this $20 sleeping solution is pushing $500.

Wait a second. Why do I need to hang my sandals over night with carabiners? Can’t these just, you know, rest peacefully on the ground while I’m not wearing them?

And therein lies the easy mistake. I’m trying to plan a perfect trip, with all of the right equipment. But despite the theoretical goodness of these “needs,” most can be skipped. Every piece of equipment needs be worth the weight it imposes on my hike, and if I am carrying it for 10+ miles, all the more so. Sandal carabiners? Let’s hold on those for now. Underquilts, tarps, and bug nets? With a little bit flexibility, perhaps I can go hiking and camping when the mosquitos are at a minimum and when the overnight forecast is warm and clear. Maybe all I really need for sleeping is that $20 hammock. So let’s start there. Get outdoors now, and worry about the perfect gear for later. A short shake-down trip (a field test!) will help me figure out what really matters.

Right now I have this sweet, super-light 20oz camping chair on my Amazon wish list. But I haven’t bought it yet. And in the time it has been on that list, a really simple, really dumb thought crossed my mind: Maybe I can use the hammock I already have as a chair AND as a bed! This seems obvious now, but wasn’t when plans were first forming.

Conducting a field test (or many!) will give you time to contemplate your needs and potentially discover other solutions. So my decision on the chair won’t be made until I’ve had a chance to relax in the hammock after a long day of hiking. We’ll see—maybe the hammock really is all I need.

My challenge to you this week: Don’t rush into a decision simply for the sake of progress. Think about the software, projects, or discussions you are involved in, and consider which of those could benefit from a simple, slow, and intentional field test.