October 11, 2011

Our little pumpkins

Each year, like most American families, we carve pumpkins in the month of October. In order to be a better steward, I started a compost pile about a year ago. That being said, I dumped the pumpkins into the compost after the holiday.

This summer, I noticed some interesting vines start to emerge from the compost pile. I then realized that they were in fact pumpkins!

Keep in mind, I didn't actively plant these pumpkin seeds. In fact, I thought I was through with the pumpkins. However, life finds a way. Even when through what we discard, life persists.

I found this interesting.

Just because a dream may appear to have died, it may sprout to life again at some point. Sometimes, it just takes us stepping back for a moment and letting the natural progression of things take root.

September 27, 2011

Solving your own problem

Looking for ways to alleviate the problems and pressure in your own life is critical to developing remarkable products. It helps you to understand the real problems that people are faced with, because you have lived them too. Not only does it help you to understand the problems, it helps you to see opportunities that you would not have seen otherwise.

For instance, my friend Shawn at Torqued Racing plans and coordinates track day events where everyday people can come together and get a little bit of frustration out on the track. (They have an event coming up October 2, 2011 at BeaveRUN if you're interested in driving really fast and experiencing the thrill of racing!)

One of the challenges that Shawn experienced with his track days was checking in all of the drivers. Prior to the event, he needed to print all of the registrations so he could check in all of the drivers at the gate. Needless to say, it's an extra step that gets in the way of him being able to do what he loves, which is hitting the track and having a good time with fellow driving enthusiasts.

Rather than complaining that there wasn't an easier way to manage this process, Shawn decided that he would solve his problem on his own by building a mobile solution that allows him to check drivers in at the event. And, because he knew the problem that he was trying to solve, he built the application so it would still work in areas with limited to no internet access.

It is better to solve the problem that you have, and then share your solution with others, instead of looking at the problems that others are experiencing and then trying to figure out how to solve them. By addressing the area where you are experiencing the most pain, you end up creating products that are remarkable. And even if no one else uses your product or solution, at least the problem that you had is taken care of.

Doing work this way helps you to better understand the problem, builds common ground between you and your customers, and provides you the opportunity to test the solution, adjust, and retest.

Ultimately, this makes you products better, which of course, makes your customers more happy.

September 20, 2011

This is broken

In a humorous talk by Seth Godin at the Gel Conference in 2006, he pointed out there are things that are just plain broken and explained what makes things broken.

Some of the biggest takeaways I got from his talk include the following:

  • You don't get to decide if something is broken, the people who use it do.
  • You need to decide ahead of time how much brokenness you are willing to tolerate before you get to the ship date. Keep in mind, you don't really get to decide if it's broken or not, your customers do. It's probably best to get it in front of them to let them decide, unless it is clearly broken and simply needs to be fixed.
  • There might be times when stuff is broken by design. The masses may not understand why you have a giant green button on a screen with 30 point font, but the tribe you are leading might understand completely. To 80% of the population, your application looks broken but the other 20% love what you have done. You have tailored it to them because you understand them. It's all about knowing your customer.
  • Each of us has the opportunity every day to push back on the stuff we think is broken. If we see something that isn't quite right, we should question it. We should ask if there is a way to fix it. Maybe we even need to fix it. And if we can't really fix the root problem, we can at least create a better experience for our customers by providing them an alternate path and making it easier for them.
  • Finally, if you know something is broken, fix it, or else you risk losing your customers. This doesn't necessarily mean you need to drop everything right this second to fix what is broken. It simply means you take responsibility for it being broken, acknowledge what is broken, and let your customer know you will fix it. As a side note, you should keep the dialog with your customer open to make sure they know you haven't forgotten about them, and provide a few alternate ways they might be able to move forward until the issue is resolved. Don't underestimate the importance of communication. 
Here's the video. Enjoy!

September 13, 2011

Building the band

When musicians build a band, how do they find great talent? How do they find a group of people who resonate with the work they do? How do they find others who also share in their love for great music?

Probably by hanging out with other musicians and listening to a lot of great music. And truth be told, probably listening to a lot of crappy music as well.

Sure, there may be some bands that have been formed because some friends were hanging out and decided to bang on some drums and pick up some guitars, but I have a feeling most of the best bands have been formed by talented people coming together to achieve a common mission.

Of course, the mission may not always be a noble one. It might be just coming together to become big time rock stars. Regardless, they are coming together to push through as a team, doing the hard work necessary to achieve a common objective.

Finding the right people to join your team and to help you achieve the mission is hard work.

Here are some fundamentally important tips for building a great band:
  1. Know what it is you want to achieve and communicate the message clearly. In other words, know your mission. This is critically important.
  2. Hang out where others who share your passion hang out.
  3. Find others who inherently want to achieve the same objective as you. Achieving the mission is less difficult if you are able to find people who want to achieve the same objectives, while it is more difficult if you have to spend a lot of time convincing people who don't share your mission that it is one worth pursuing.
  4. Find others who are willing to work as hard as you to see this thing through. This might mean staying up all night to practice your art together (even when the neighbors call the police), and then getting up early to hit the pavement to reach the world.
  5. Find people who will help you to be the best you that you can be. When you feel like sleeping, they will push you through. When you feel like giving up in the last 20%, they will lift you up and carry you across the line. Of course, you need to be there to push them too. It works both ways.
  6. Find people who fill in the gaps. Each of us have unique gifts, talents, and strengths, so it is best to play to your strengths, manage to your weaknesses, and allow others to do the same. 
  7. Find teachers. These people will inspire others to want to learn to play better and to become better professionals. The best part is they teach for the love of the art, and because they love seeing other people grow. They realize they have been given a gift, and understand it is not theirs to horde away like a miser, but instead, something to be shared with the world.
  8. Find real learners. No one has all of the answers, and to become a true artist, you need to listen, watch, and learn from others. It should be noted, a lot of learning comes from practicing your art. A real musician knows she or he is responsible for developing their own sound, and because of this, practices even when the band is not formally practicing together. 
If you have a mission you need to accomplish, consider building a band. Going it alone is hard work, and it is more fun to have a group of friends who share in your mission and are willing to put in the hard work to make it happen.

September 06, 2011

Outside of the box

There is a lot of discussion in the world today about getting outside of the box. About thinking a different way, seeing things from a different perspective, and understanding a broader picture. Truly some of the greatest solutions to your most difficult and challenging problems are discovered when you look outside of the box.

However, once you have spent some time discovering the world outside of your box, it is equally important to remember to get back into the box. It is when you return to the box that you are really able to create a great solution to your problem.

Going outside of the box to get ideas and inspiration from others, to learn from their failures and successes, and to see things as they see them is a great practice to get into. There is so much wonderful beauty and creativity and inspiration to be found outside of the box. Brilliant minds, crazy ideas that have been discounted, failed attempts to revolutionize an industry or even the world. All of this is found outside of the box.

Yet, if all you do is hang around outside the box learning and discovering but never creating, you are missing the point of the exercise completely. And worse, if you stay outside the box and attempt to create, not including a piece of yourself in the algorithm, you aren't really doing anything new or remarkable at all. You are merely copying what you found.

The real value that you hope to achieve by climbing outside of the box is gained from soaking up all of the experiences, ideas, and influences found at the edges of the world outside of the box. The best ideas, and the worst ideas. The most creative and the most common. The safest and the riskiest. Once the gathering is complete though, it is time to return to the box. Your box.

Getting back into your box allows you take the experiences and observations that you encounter while outside of the box and mash them up with your own personal insights and ideas and experiences. Your own vision and mission. Your own pain and failures. Getting back into the box, allows you to create something that no one else in this world can, because no one else is like you.

Getting back into the box is necessary to produce the art that you are responsible for creating. The art and work that we are desperately waiting for.

Don't stop looking for inspiration, but likewise, don't stop creating from your own perspective. Your voice is needed in the conversation, so bring it.