The Devil is in the Details

We had a windstorm last night and I live in the Pacific Northwest. So, I expected to lose power. And for the hundredth time, I thought: "Why don't they just bury the power lines?"

I don't work for the power company or know anything about power lines. However, I know that I'm not the first person to assume that we can just bury all the lines and that would fix everything. The truth of the matter though is that it's probably far more complicated and expensive to bury power lines than I'm assuming.

I don't think I'm alone in these wild, uninformed assumptions. It's easy to see something we don't understand and make bold claims about how it can be fixed. I think this is the appeal of douche-bags like Musk and Trump. They sum up and solve a problem in one or two tweets. Want to rescue kids trapped in a cave? Build a small submarine and send it in. Makes sense, right? The problem presents itself when you get to the details—when a life-long diver with more experience than anyone else in the world says that this won't work, maybe they know something you don't.

But it's not just Trump and Musk, it's not even narcissists in general, it's most of us. Most of us want to be Picard in the captain's chair saying, "Make is so."

In corporate culture, it's common to have these grand ideas. The problem is that most of time, the people who create the vision doesn't actually implement their own ideas, and a lot of the time, they never did. They've been "managing" or "directing" through most or all of their career.

How it can be

The people implementing those ideas should have a seat at the table and have time to investigate and vet those ideas. Is it a viable product? Can it be built? How long will it take (including to design it right)? Most importantly: is there a need for it?

I've seen this last one ignored so often. Just last week I found out that I'd been spending time redesigning a page that got zero traffic through the front door and was blocking robots. Instead of working on that page to "fix" it, we should have been deleting it. But we have to keep working on it, because the PM isn't going to admit that a team of engineers and a whiny designer have spent so much time fixing something that should have just been thrown away.

Assuming that it's a viable product people actually want (and this is a bold assumption, there is no harm in validating that if you can), the next step is to start with research. What are other people doing? What is the benefit of your product over another? How is it unique? And if it's not unique or better, then it's trash to begin with. What would a success from this product look like? Once you know the answers to this, you need to figure out your team. You almost definitely need a designer and an engineer. And maybe that's fine, but generally you need more. Do you need a writer? A Product Manager? Advertising? If you build it, they will come seems great in movies, not so much in real life; so, how will people find this product?

There are so many little details associated with products, and while I'm a huge fan of bold ideas and moving fast, I've spent far too much of my professional life making pretty pictures so that someone can look good in front of their boss for a product that doesn't have a snowball's chance in hell of ever being a success.

It's fine to want to be the great idea person. But if you can't actually do the work, you need to listen to those who can. That's the difference between a leader and some jackass with a title in a corporate org chart.

A Crazy Idea

While I'm preaching on this subject. If you've done the homework and this shiny new product is really that good of an idea—do it right. I think that the concept of an MVP has become awful. From a designer's standpoint, it's code for: this is going to be a half-baked piece of shit and we don't care how it looks except for how it looks on our promotion document.

The criticism of the MVP approach has led to several new approaches, e.g. the Minimum Viable Experiment MVE, the Minimum Awesome Product MAP, or the Simple, Lovable, Complete.

Just have pride in your work. Do it right. Give your people time to design and build it. Don't be an asshole.