Lessons Learned: Obviously, it’s not Obvious
To say that the Wizard has not been answering his mail would be a dramatic understatement. Woe betide the person that has mistakenly turned to me for guidance over the past couple months. What can I say, there are only so many hours in the day, and I only get about half way through my to do list by midnight.
One of the questions I received over the past few weeks was “What are the biggest lessons you’ve learned in the past five years?”…. when the question came in there was no question mark at the end, but through my amazing powers of grammatical intuition, I have perceived that it was meant as a question, so I’ve taken the wizardly liberty of adding a question mark to the end. Onward.
I have a bunch of different answers to this question, but I’ll start with one that came up in a conversation with Fred Wilson in regards to some random topic, and Fred noted that I should post it. I’ll try to keep adding to this as a series of posts over time.
Lesson #1: What is obvious to you is not necessarily obvious to others (and vice-versa).
….and this isn’t as obvious as it may seem. I remember the first time I saw Twitter and thought “I don’t get it”, and then somebody explained it to me and I thought “uh-huh. I don’t get it”, and then somebody explained it to me again, and I thought “Ah!... I don’t get it.” Only after I saw somebody using it in a way that I found valuable did I finally get it.
It isn't always the case that I'm on the slow boat; sometimes I'll hear an idea that seems so obvious to me that I can't understand why nobody'd come up with it sooner, while other people will hear the same idea and think "I don't get it".
When we built FeedBurner, I would tell people about it, and some people would say “hey, that sounds very cool” and others would reply “uh-huh”, which is web2.0-speak for “huh?”. It was obvious to us that FeedBurner was a very powerful concept around which an ecosystem could flourish. It wasn’t obvious to most other people until they actually saw several examples of people using FeedBurner in powerful ways.
What’s the point? The point is that “build it and they will come” isn’t true. You need to build it, and then show them exactly how it can be used, and then show them several explicit examples of why it’s powerful, and then they might come.
Why is this so? Here I stray *way* outside the bounds of my knowledge and pretend to be Malcolm Gladwell, but without the cool retro afro. We all have mental models that we’ve built up over the years and we use these models to judge new ideas and services that we see, and this is the reason people came up with terms like “horseless carriage” when cars were invented….we try to make things fit into our existing models, and we all have slightly to very different mental models. Make sure you provide explicit examples of the powerful use or implementation of your service and don’t just expect people to ‘find’ it on their own. Similarly, pay careful attention to the things that people do with your technology/service/product, because some of them may have discovered a powerful use for it that has completely evaded you. Note that this is another reason to strongly believe that services and products that are more open and adaptive will always prevail over solutions that are less open. Open solutions enable the ecosystem to discover the optimal value of the solution, whereas less open systems are at the mercy of their creator having guessed at the optimal solution in the first place.