This past weekend I climbed South Sister in central Oregon with good friends. It was a fun day and a great hike.
I love hiking. There are many lessons to glean from it. Most of them have to do with suffering, persistence and grit. But this weekend, I was especially hit by the idea of the return trip.
Getting to the summit is only half the battle. And, frankly, it’s the easy part. You see the goal in front of you. You keep going till you get there and you stop for lunch. But you are only half way there. What if you stop? What if the summit was the ONLY goal.
You have to get back down. And getting back down is harder work in my opinion. The goal now is to get to your normal life, the rest of your life. You are leaving the pinnacle if you will. You are going back to normal. You are living.
And this is EXACTLY like product development. Shipping it is only half the battle. Once you launch, you are not done. You’ve accomplished a goal, but only one, and there will be MANY more peaks and valleys if you’re going to survive. I’ve watched many products get to launch and then stop. And then they dwindle and die.
You still need to set goals around getting the project shipped, or developing that new feature. But that is only half the battle. You also need goals around living and telling the story. Otherwise, we’ll have very short lived adventures.
Like many nine-year-olds, Stanley Strum spends a lot of time building things in Minecraft, the immersive game that lets your create your own mini-universe. The game has many tools. But Stanley is one of many players taking the game a step further by building entirely new features into the game. And, more than that, he’s…
As you’ll learn, I’m an avid fly fisherman. Calling it a hobby would be a lie and somewhat insulting. I fish whenever I can and have stopped doing other things so that I can have more time to fish. Living in the Northwest makes this a pursuit of deliberate focus on some of the best waters in the world. It’s magical.
This past weekend, My son and I went with the Native Fish Society and Trout Unlimited to snorkel with trout. It was amazing and I learned more that I thought I would. We scooted, clawed and swam through the various holes and structures in the stream. Along the way we saw baby Chinook, Steelhead, Coho and Cutthroat. They swam around us and generally ignored us. It was fascinating to be so disregarded by something that would normally flee from my presence. They weren’t being hunted and they knew it.
As one of the scientists that day said “You don’t even qualify as a seal. You are slow and clumsy.” The fish knew we were no threat, and could care less about us being there.
As you may know, I’m developing an app called TellFly. It’s a fishing diary on steroids. The app allows a fly fisher the ability to geek out on the data that they collect over time and to learn from that data. We’ve talked with fisherman, with our users. I’ve field tested the app for months now. But on Saturday, I got to swim with fish and the experts that study them. One of the folks I spoke with had snorkeled 45 miles of river this summer. 45 MILES!
One morning with these experts radically challenged some of my assumptions about what was important in fishing and in the app itself. To be honest, it was humbling. I was so wrong about so many of the things that I had thought were fact based on 30 years of experience.
I walked away from that experience feeling humbled by the experts that I had talked to. I thought it would be a cool experience with my son. And it was, but it also radically challenged many of my assumptions.
So, sometimes, learning comes by “being” the thing that you are working with. For this example, what does it mean to be a fish? How will what I saw affect the application? How will knowledge about fish help the fisherman and improve the app?
The lesson for me is that learning must never stop. Just because you have a solution doesn’t mean that something won’t challenge what you know and humble you a little, or a lot. And when that learning comes, can you be humble to enough to let it challenge you and open you up to new possibilities?
“Who says I don’t? It’s mitigated risk. I am not a first mover. I’m more of a first follower. I’m going to be really obnoxious: I think I have talent. I don’t know that I have any skills. And I feel like what happens for me is if something is skill-based that needs to be done there is always better people than me to do it. So what is left for me is the problems that haven’t been solved. The problems that haven’t been solved are kind of risky but I approach them slowly. I say to my kids that I used to think I wasn’t competitive and then I found out I’m really, really competitive, but what I don’t do is compete in the scrum. Is everybody over here fighting it out? Then I’m over there finding my own way to wherever it is I gotta go. I really want to win. I really want to be the best at what it is that I’m doing, but if there is somebody else there, I don’t wanna be there. It’s not what I do.”—Want a Long Career? Zig When Everyone Else Zags. - 99U
This past weekend my family and I went to a local performance of Antony and Cleopatra. I won’t lie, I was bored. It’s not that I don’t like Shakespeare. I actually do. I couldn’t hear the words and the outdoor setting proved to be too much for my ADHD. So it wasn’t long before I was thinking about why was I even there? Why did I feel any desire at all to go see the play in the first place.
What is fascinating to me is not really Shakespeare itself. It’s what creative people do with the context. Baz Luhrmann is a great example. Romeo and Juliet is one of my favorites to this day. The constraint of trying to work with script that was essentially 400 years old creates some amazing opportunities for creativity. Baz Luhrmann’s’ version is fascinating in it’s approach. He uses the language in the script as a contrast to the setting. So, to me, it’s interesting from the start. Wait, the actors aren’t in period dress and wearing swords!
I love constraints. So much so that I will add them to a project if it doesn’t have one. When I was younger I imagined the awesome client that said money and time are no object. Do what you want. Then, as a young artist, was commissioned to do some paintings. “Do whatever you want”. I was stumped. I had no idea what to do. It was one of the worst projects I have ever worked on.
So by having constraints, we have boundaries that we can react to, limits we must embrace. The constraints can be time, metaphor, functionality or budget. Each provides a unique twist on the creative process. If the constraint is that you must build the application in a week, you can decide on how to execute immediately. If the constraint is to build a product with only one material, you already know that you must learn as much as possible about the material.
See, constraints will guide us, not limit us. They give us the terms of the deal, the way that we can act. So having constraints is freeing. It shows us where to start.
No money, no time? There is still a solution. It just has to fit in those constraints.
So why is Shakespeare still important? For me, it serves as a constraint that helps creative people come up with solutions. So I enjoy Shakespeare in the original language not because I like English Renaissance or poofy costumes. I enjoy it cause I like to see how creative people react to the constraint.
What if the local performance used the audience as the armies of Anthony and Caesar? That one change and I would have been much less bored.
What constraints do you have that will help you produce a creative solution? Two that I will put on myself are color or time. If the deadline is really far away, I’ll create deadlines for myself. And there are times when I will limit the number of colors as well. Each constraint is unique in how it helps me focus and develop creative solutions.
The trigger can be good, or bad. Regardless, you know now that something is different. In THIS instant, you are tapping into something primal. Maybe not completely controllable. As an entrepreneur, I have these ALL THE TIME. A user loves what I did, a user hates what I did, the server is hit by a DDOS attack or a potential investor actually gets what we’re doing.
My typical reaction is to fight. Kids, marriage, work, driving cross town. I want to dig in and get whatever needs to be done to solve what this thing is that is making me feel this way. I want to solve problems through brute force. There are times when this is a great asset. Like when I’m building software. And there are times when this makes me look like a lunatic screaming about the sky falling. Like when I’m parenting a teenager.
My business partner is the exact opposite. He’s calm and laser focused. He stops and thinks. He has this uncanny habit of cutting through everything and seeing what needs to be done. Or more importantly, to not do anything until we actually know what the right answer is. I respect the hell out of his ability to do that.
We’ve both developed habits over time that match our skill sets. And these habits are framed around what we are good and what we’ve been practicing.
Fly fishing is a great example. I’ve tossed feathers to fish for 30 years. I’ve caught thousands of fish. Each an adrenaline rush. Some big, some small. I’ve developed a reflex when the rush comes. That reflex has come from thousands of hours practicing. When the rush comes, my reflex takes over and does the right thing.
So what do I do when the rush comes?
I talk to my team. Lord, partner, wife.
I do what I’ve practiced and I stick to what I know.
When I don’t know, I get help.
I DON’T try and do everything
Without my team, and the practice I’ve developed, I’d be lost. And being lost is where I want to learn, but it’s not where I want to try and solve new problems from. Besides, if you build a team that can help you in other areas you aren’t good at, you can develop more in the areas you need to and get even better at what you do well.
Everyday someone clever comes up with a better, faster, easier way to do something. Keeping up with it all is like trying to drink water from a fire hose. Sometimes its easy to see what’s important and other times it can slip past you unoticed. Often, you don’t even know that a service or technology exists. If you had, it could have saved you hours or brought your product to the next level. That freaks me out… until I remember this.
There will ALWAYS be someone smarter, faster or stronger than you. But that should never keep you doing what your passion propels you to do. You can discuss the difference between inventor or innovator, or idea convergence. Does it matter? Just do what you are supposed to do.
Instead of worrying about not knowing, turn it around. What do you know? What do you know that you can use now in order to figure out things faster. If you’re spending less time worrying about some of the basics you have more time to focus on the difference makers. The detail, the nuance.
This is why I love tools like Django and Twitter Bootstrap. Many of the things that are needed are done. And there were designed and built by smarter people than me. There was a time when I turned my nose up at Twitter Bootstrap. I erroneously thought that I needed to hand do everything that touched my precious HTML. Boy was I wrong.
Because, what’s important? Is it the latest whizbang library? Is it the newest service or widget?
Nope. It’s shipping. If you can include the new potential in your product great. But don’t do it at the cost of shipping. To me, shipping is EVERYTHING. It’s the reason I create. Who cares if I have an idea? Ideas are everywhere. But if I can show you what the product is, that is a VERY different conversation. Now we are talking about how to make it better. And maybe the potential can help in that case, or maybe you just need to change where a button is.
So, look around, explore. Don’t be ignorant of technology. But don’t let the constant movement stop you from shipping. Because none of it matters if you don’t ship. Ideas are a dime a dozen. Execution is rare.
Speaking of shipping, We’ve (Pure Blue) launched an app for fly fishing people. If you fly fish, or know someone that does, we need help testing the app. Click the google form link if you’re interested in helping test or pass it to someone you know might be.