We’re hearing that lousy times are good times for creativity, for building new things, precisely because the mainstream things aren’t working. Well, and maybe you’re out of a job too. If you’re building something new, who should you build it for? [This is part of the Tough Times series.]
Build It For Yourself! · This is a point I’ve made before in this blog, but recently, Steve Yegge made it again, brilliantly I thought, plus he’s funny. On the other hand he’s extremely long-winded and it took him several thousand words. So I’ll summarize here; but I’m nowhere near as entertaining as Steve.
How BigCos Do It · When big organizations sit down to design new products, they put in huge amounts of time obsessing about who the users are and how to meet those people’s needs. One common practice—strongly identified with Microsoft—is inventing some fictional “real people” who are going to be the users, giving them names and personalities and strengths and weaknesses, then reasoning about product features in terms of how these people will react to them and use them.
All of which mostly doesn’t work. Most successful innovative new products aren’t produced by large organizations, they’re cooked up by little startups or, if in a big company, by guerrilla groups in skunkworks mode.
Who Do You Really Know? · It’s like this: There’s only one person in the world whose needs and problems you really understand and whom you know exactly how to satisfy: that would be you. So build something that you use all the time, and, unless you’re really weird and different from everyone else, you’ve got a potential winner.
I can relate to this message myself. Everything I’ve done over the years that’s worked out well—software, standards, writing—everything, without exception, was something I did for myself. I’ve done the other thing too: built things based on guesses about what people out there might want or need. Never worked, not once.
I bet if you did a survey of successful musicians, artists, writers, or any group of creatives, you’d hear the same story. Sometimes you can guess what people want, and you might get lucky. But probably not, so go ahead and build what you know for sure one person needs.