It takes at least 12 months for the average employee to become fully productive in a new job, or, in other words, to figure out how an organization really works and start to focus on what’s most important.

How about figuring out an entire ecosystem, including the aspirations of individual citizens, the needs of organized communities and the constraints of existing structures? That’s what every entrepreneur needs to do, and it’s likely to take longer than 12 months. Much longer.

Figuring out an entirely new workplace ecosystem is likely to take longer than 12 months. Tweet This Quote

In the age of minimum viable products and rapid prototyping, it’s tempting to imagine that a human-centered design workshop with a few members of the community will yield all the insight needed to start solving the problems of those community members.

Molly Melching spent seventeen years studying and contributing to Senegalese culture before starting Tostan, which has since created an enduring new approach to educating and empowering communities across the world.

Muhammad Yunus spent two years with poor families in his homeland of Bangladesh, developing the principles which guided the Grameen Bank’s first project and resulted in the growth of an entire industry of microfinance.

If ample time is not spent understanding the problem, all energy and resources spent developing solutions may be wasted. Tweet This Quote

Mark Zuckerberg spent over a year experiencing the realities of college social life before writing the code for Facemash, which evolved into Facebook and has connected over a billion people around the world.

This post is as much a plea as it is an opinion. Let’s spend the time it takes to understand the communities we wish to help and the problems we want to solve—before we start rapidly prototyping solutions.

12 months would be good. 24 months would be better.

A version of this post originally published on in November 2014. It has been updated and reposted to inspire further conversation.

Rajesh Anandan

Author Rajesh Anandan

Rajesh Anandan is SVP of UNICEF Ventures at UNICEF USA, Co-Creator of Kid Power—the world's first wearable-for-good—and Co-founder of ULTRA Testing, a high performance software testing company that employs individuals on the Autism Spectrum. @UltraRajesh

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