Monday, June 30, 2008

Needs, Tools, Horses, and Carts

This is part one in an accidental three part series. I couldn't get it all out in one shot. Or two, it turned out. Here are links to part two and part three.

Twitter made a nice little indirect contribution to my thinking about the brand comparison project last week.

Ever since my attempt at tweeting an adventure back in May, I've tried to be a better microblogger. I'm still a little shy about jumping in on other people's conversations, but I'm paying closer attention, following more people, doing my best to tweet narratively and entertainingly, and looking for others that try to be serious about the poetry of their posts. And I'm glad I've done it. I've made a bunch of new Twitter connections, and, among other things, they've provided me a couple of sets of fresh eyes on the blog.

Last Wednesday, one of those connections, Lynn, @organicmania on Twitter, and the brains and fingers behind organicmania.com, left a comment on my post about personality and multi-voiced blogging. She told me it is possible for personalities to thrive in a multi-voice environment, and, to convince me, she referred me to The Buzz Bin, a well respected marketing-focused blog that made a successful switch from a solo publishing project to one with many authors.

After reading her comment, I cruised over to The Buzz Bin and started to poke around. Before I could formulate any thoughts on the pros and cons of its multiple personalities, however, I read an article by Qui Diaz called Tools Are Only as Useful as Their Users, and it stopped me dead. It shifted my thinking to horses and carts.

The article notes the impressiveness of online social action tools and networks (a group of sites that, if I understand Qui's distinction correctly, includes, in addition to the sites she mentions, Kiva, Wiser Earth, and The Point). It wonders why they haven't achieved greater prevalence. And it proposes a hypothesis, a hypothesis that I think Qui articulates best in a comment in response to some questions from her readers:

I think the issue is that we’re trying to teach the tools rather than teach the need. If we focus on educating people about the issue, and why it’s worth their time/talent/treasure….and then back up what we’re saying by giving them the resources needed to spread the word, raise money, or any number of other actions…then they will determine the best tools/channels.

We're putting carts before horses.

We're building powerful, thoughtful, high-potential tools, and we're assuming that people intuitively understand our big visions, the motivations behind the creation of the tools. But, of course, we're getting ahead of ourselves. People don't intuitively understand. Not immediately, at least. Not without education. Not without proper focus on storytelling. Not without a horse. So the tools lie dormant and, eventually, tragically, rust and crumble.

And that gives me pause, for I'm building a social action tool, and, every day, I feel my attention being yanked from the big vision and into the cart-building details. It's what the project commands right now and what, I imagine, it'll command for a long time. It's what I have to do, but it's scary, because I can imagine a perfectly natural path that could lead me to a horseless cart.

In our attempts to be entrepreneurs, we scrap and hustle to move our projects forward, and, as we do that, our big visions drift out of our everyday lives. And, for us, that's ok. We've already done heaps of thinking and brainstorming and arguing. We already have strong feelings and opinions about the big problems and big solutions. Conceptually, we've arrived. We understand. We don't need a constant reminder of why we're doing what we're doing. It's second nature, something we can take for granted. So we move on to the details.

And that's fine, too. It's a necessary part of the startup process. We need the details. Without intense focus on the details, the wheels are going to fall off. And we can't expect horses to drag wheelless carts.

At the same time, however, the details are dangerous. They suck us in. They stick in our minds. They dominate our conversations. And, potentially, eventually, they displace the big vision in our evangelical outreach.

We think everyone gets the big vision. Everyone sees the need. Everyone knows the world can't live without the tool. And everyone understands perfectly exactly what we're talking about when we talk details.

But we're wrong. As clear as the concepts underlying our projects might be to us, as easily as we can see the needs for the changes we seek, we have to be humble about the intuitive brilliance of our ideas. We have to tell our stories and tell them well.

We need to feed those horses, keep them fat and happy. We can't afford to have them wandering off.*

And I'm going to end this here for now. It's the observation portion of the thought. Tomorrow, I'll write about what I'm doing and why I'm doing it the way I'm doing it. I don't think I've necessarily escaped this cart horse problem, for, as I said before, I'm barely breathing above the details. I do know, however, that I'm excited to post it up here and see if anyone has any thoughts to share. It's good to have an audience, even if it is a small one. There's a lot of peace of mind to be gained from throwing things out there and seeing how people respond.

*Note: As I'm sure you've noticed, this has been some seriously haphazard metaphoring. I've never worked with horses and carts before, and I think I'll have to come have a reread tomorrow before deciding what I really think. Sadly, metaphorME, our sandbox extraordinaire, is down right now, and, given the pre-Olympics chinabites rewrite and the fact that he's working for me now too, Wiley's too busy to fix it. Hopefully, once we do get it running again, we'll launch some in depth cart and horse exploration.

4 comments:

OrganicMania.com said...

Very well put. Glad you're enjoying the Buzz Bin (and OrganicMania - thanks for the link love and nice words!)

I'm interested to learn more about what you are up to...

And another thing - always remember that people don't NEED your tool...they're managing without it now...so keep your eye on the competition - even if the competitive response is to do nothing. Too many entrepreneurs assume they have no competition. Wrong. You always have competition - you just may not know who it is yet.

Jefferson Parke said...

Great post, Jake.

Jake de Grazia said...

Sorry for the delay. I waited to respond to this until after I made the follow up post (and the follow up to that).

They should answer part of what I'm up to. If you want more info, feel free to email (moreperfectmarket at gmail dot com) or direct message Twitter me, and I'll get right back to you.

As for NEED, you're right. People definitely do manage without it. Most often, however, they manage by resigning to helplessness or drifting into denial. I did that for a while, and I still do, to some extent. It's a bummer for me not having the tool, so I reckon the only reasonable response the bummer was to see what I could build.

And there's certainly plenty of competition (which, I hope, is a sign that people won't manage without the tool or something like it for all that much longer). Quite a diverse group, in fact. Exciting to watch the others, talk to them, and learn. It's much more fun to compete when most people's grand goals aren't making money. I wonder if I'm crazy to think that rooting FOR your competition is a greater motivator for you than rooting AGAINST them. Hmmm.

Jake de Grazia said...

And, Jeff, dude, thanks for the thoughts.