Friday, October 28, 2005

Screw the Outliers

I had an idea today. It doesn't matter what it was, for the moment. It was something where I thought, "Hey, that would be useful to me. Therefore it's likely that it might be useful to someone else, too."

And here's what I thought next: "But I can imagine people for whom it would be useful, but the way I'm thinking about implementing it, it wouldn't work."

Such thoughts can just kill your motivation. You immediately shift gears and now you're thinking about why something won't work, instead of why it will. Even if there are customers for the product that you're thinking about, you're focused on the people who aren't your customer. Sometimes it's good to think this way. If you're trying to engineer the solution to a particular problem in software or hardware, for instance, it's good to stop and think about whether your solution will indeed solve the problem in all cases. It's almost natural for engineers to do that.

Screw that. Those are the outliers. This isn't designing in a vacuum where you can come up with a perfect solution for the universal audience. If you've found any audience at all for your idea, then worry about them. Don't distract yourself by saying "Gee, it won't work for people who do it this way instead of that way." Fine, you're right, it won't. But it will work for people who do it your way, and there probably are people like that. Make your product and get it to them, and then maybe if you're lucky you'll find yourself with the resources to expand what your product does.

You'll often see this illustrated when a technical person with an idea talks to a business person. The techie explains the idea in the most modest way possible, "It only does this, it will only work in the following cases, it doesn't do this that and the other thing." The business person doesn't even hear the second half, because they know that's not where the money is. They say, "It will help people? They'll buy it." I've had that conversation with business people, and it took awhile for me to get it into my brain. I'd say, "But it won't work for everybody," and the business guy would say, "So what?"

Once you grasp that concept and can relax and let it go, you've made a giant step toward being able to make something real out of your ideas instead of keeping them in your head and wishing that they'd get to see the light of day.

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