I recently borrowed a drift boat from a friend to take my dad on the McKenzie. The drift boat is, of course, a McKenzie drift boat and it’s a thing of beauty to drift with. It made my dad happy to be in a McKenzie drift boat rowed by his son on the McKenzie with his grandson along for the ride.
I’ve had an itch to build a boat for years. I’ve mentioned before the boat I built as a kid and the single epic day that I had it on the water. My dad’s wisdom kept me from using it more and getting myself in a lot of trouble. I’ve had the desire to build again since then.
But this past week, something switched. It was similar to the feeling of a deadbolt sliding into the receiver, or the thud of a large book on the floor. Solid. Confirmed.
I’m going to build a drift boat. And it may take a while, but I don’t care. Because I will finish it. And I’m excited for the entire process.
Building a boat is a romantic process. The craft and beauty of something SO purpose driven. Drift boats only do a few things really well, but those are magical to experience. I took my wife and all three kids down a section of the river a few days later. It’s a particularly twisty section. I could park the boat in the middle of a rapid, change directions and choose a different path. All while the family lounged in comfort.
It’s like using any beautifully designed tool. Using something designed for only a few things and doing those few things really well. It allows you to completely focus on what is happening and getting the most out of the tools. The tool disappears and the moment becomes something more than using a tool, it becomes a joy.
Of course this has implications for me as a designer and developer. Coming away from this experience I’m even more convinced that my products need to be simple and transparent. I must create a tool that disappears and the experiences of life become the focus. By being deliberate and keeping it simple, the experience becomes more than my app, it becomes the user’s life.
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?