If we build it, will they come?

Computer programming has come a long way. It used to be that you’d make software that did your taxes for you, and it had to just do that without breaking. The question used to be ‘Can we make this’ and if the answer was ‘yes’ then, it was common sense that people would come. 

Now the question has changed to ‘Will people use this?’

So many services you use today come from bold experiments that changed something. Making software is the easy part now, knowing what will work is difficult /(or impossible). Or maybe they had to pivot before they made an impact.

Scott Adams (he created Dilbert) wrote a blog post about the pivot where he puts his points forward (please read the full post, it’s worth the read) 

  • A start-up in 2014 is a guess- testing machine
  • The Internet is a psychology experiment
  • In a complicated environment, systems work better than goals.

We thought computers will change the world. Turns out that’s only partially true, what computers make potentially possible only lasts if  our latent psychological needs/urges are met.

Why you will never understand the greatness of Bruce Lee

If you’re like me, you know Bruce Lee for being a bad ass in kung fu movies and not much else.

Here’s what you probably didn’t know about him:

  • He created a martial art system of fighting called Jeet Kune Do
  • He’s considered the father of mixed martial arts (MMA) by Dana White, the creator of UFC
  • He’s considered the first Asian male lead to have been successful in Hollywood
  • He’s the one who bought the idea of Kung Fu films to Hollywood
  • He has trained Kareem Abdul Jabar, George Lazenby, James Coburn and Steve McQueen
  • He introduced and popularised nunchaku to the western world (maybe influencing Michelangelo (the ninja turtle) to take them up)


This doesn’t even begin to cover why he was significant. But I’m not trying to list the reasons.

My point is this. Bruce Lee is a celebrated artist in your eyes, but you don’t necessarily know why, and that’s OK.

He was influential enough to the people who matter, the ones with the influence and taste about martial arts and kung fu films. Now, it’s difficult to find people who have never heard of him. 

It gives me a better idea of how ideas spread, and what happens to them when they end up in the mainstream.

Embarrasingly enough, I don’t know why Micheal Jackson is so popular (maybe you don’t either?) but I’m sure he, like Bruce Lee, broke boundaries and raised the bar for what it meant to be a pop star.

Don’t obsess over the Hammer, but over your vision of the table

There is this prevalent, unfortunate myth that its the tools that make the artist.

So the beginner guitar player spends his time looking at reviews of the perfect guitar pedal that will make him sound amazing overnight instead of putting in the time knowing her scales, modes, chords to then move onto play songs.

The beginner web developer looks for the perfect software that will make him a rock star developer instead of putting in the time hand coding sites on notepad.

Websites like lifehacker now publish weekly articles on the tools artists use to create their art.

This is a shame, because tools never made groundbreaking art, what makes your work groundbreaking is putting in the human hours, having the human passion, facing the human fear of failure and doing the thing anyway.

You have more of a chance of sounding like Jimi Hendrix if you put in the time on an old guitar from the pawn shop than to spend time replicating his exact setup.

Just for the record, I think you should spend your time looking for your own sound. Jimi Hendrix’s place is already taken.

Nobody never listened to the yelling lunatic

You’ve seen them, they yell in the streets for people to wake up and see the truth, the one he’s willing to tell you, for free. Nobody stops or pays attention, all that passionate yelling for nothing.

The cult leaders do the opposite. Get the first follower, then the second, and so on. No, it’s not for everyone, and no you can’t get in easy. That’s how you build an army of followers who will drink your special kool aid when you need them to.

If only the yelling passionate lunatic knew better, he could have his own cult.

The story of you

The brain doesn’t (and can’t) remember everything that ever happened to you. Its difficult to even remember what lunch yesterday smelled like, what you did between the hours of 4 and 5. Stuff from a month ago is even more blurry – a series of fleeting highlights.

You tell ourselves a linear story of how you got here. A lead to B which lead to C. Our culture doesn’t seem to like grey areas, uncertainties or failures so they get dropped from the story.

“What do you mean your life is a series of accidents? Get out of my office”

The parts of the story that get dropped (the bits that don’t explain the journey from A to C) are as much a part of your story and make you who you are. Don’t chisel away your humanity to fit it all in a story that had purpose built into it from the start.

Jiro dreams of sushi

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I watched ‘Jiro dreams of sushi‘ yesterday. If you haven’t watched it, I can’t recommend it enough. Jiro’s dedicated his life to perfecting the art of sushi making. He’s the oldest chef to be awarded 3 michelin stars for his restaurant that seats 5, that costs $300 a plate and is booked a year in advance. Jiro’s not average, he’s extraordinary.

How does he do it?

By not serving anything less than perfect, by having extraordinary standards and having the courage to say no to mediocre sushi.

By paying attention. He’s spent years perfecting the order he serves his sushi in a way that is the best experience for his customer’s palate.

By saying no. He’s refused to starting a chain (although his younger son does run an identical looking sushi restaurant, but they don’t share profits).

By seeking out and connecting with people like him. The documentary covers his suppliers of tuna and rice, both of them seem equally extraordinary and not interested in selling their tuna/rice to everyone. His rice dealer claims to have refused to supply rice to the Hyatt.

By being consistent. I doubt Jiro had any marketing budget. He’s made it the hard way, building trust – one customer at a time. He hasn’t had a day off in the recent past apart from national holidays or emergencies like funerals.

By constantly reinventing himself. Jiro’s constantly in the pursuit of perfection, the cutting edge in the art of sushi.

By building a reputation. Jiro has apprentices (including his oldest son, pictured above) who work under him for at least a decade to be called a sushi chef

I think these are lessons that apply to any field of work be it creating music, graphic design, business or selling widgets. You can choose to be Jiro, or you can choose to make conveyor belt sushi but don’t expect documentaries to be made about you.

 

 

If its hard to do, maybe its worth it

Something being hard is a good indicator that not a lot of people are doing it, or doing it well.

If you can do the hard thing better than the others, maybe there’s an advantage there.

Choosing the hard thing to perfect is the real talent. It can be difficult but totally worth it.

You don’t need everyone

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You don’t need everyone, you never have.

If you’re selling bottled water, maybe you need everyone, but you’re probably not.

A restaurant doesn’t need everyone walking past to eat there, it needs 100 who absolutely love the food they make.

A musician doesn’t need everyone to like her/his music, s/he/they need a 100 people who absolutely absolutely love it.

A TV show doesn’t need everyone watching from the first episode, it needs 100 people who absolutely love it.

If a 100 people absolutely love what you do, they will probably tell another 500 people. They might tell another 1000. Ad infinitum.

Would you have a million people who don’t know you or care about you see you when they’re watching TV, commuting to work or would you rather be part of their (albeit smaller number of) conversations where earnestly discuss what you do?

Think long term impact, not sheer numbers.

Here’s Steve Jobs talking about marketing back in the day.

Do they really trust you?

Whether you’re a company or a singular person, it has never been easier to have as much access to your connections. You can measure your likes, followers, open rates, conversions and work towards getting those numbers up. That’s not necessarily a bad thing. what gets measured gets managed.

There’s a downside to that. Asking yourself if they trust you (define ‘they’ as you will) is hard, and harder even to measure but more important in the long run, I think.

Turning Up Vs Overnight Successes

I’ve recently been thinking about overnight successes, people who ‘make it’ in their world. Overnight Success stories are scarce, making them remarkable to hear. The media thrives on spreading stories like these.

The ‘other’ successes, the ones who turn up to do their chosen art, craft or work day after day and put in their time. These stories aren’t as sensational so we don’t hear about them often . Sometimes, these stories are covered as overnight successes when they’ve reached the tipping point to make them sound more interesting.

In my intuition, this is probably done for aspirational reasons, so you think you can become the great painter, author, musician, businessperson overnight. This is possible of course, but is it likely?

Ira Glass puts this in an interesting perspective.