Bruce Mau’s Incomplete Manifesto for Growth

Written by Sean Murphy. Posted in Blogging, Rules of Thumb

Bruce Mau wrote 43 statements in 1998 to articulate his beliefs, motivations, and strategies in what he called “An Incomplete Manifesto for Growth.”

His focus is on “growth” in the sense of increasing both craftsmanship and artisanship. I have selected eight that I think are are the most applicable to folks in software startups. I kept the numbers from the original, adding comments and some hyperlinks not in the original because that’s what bloggers do.

Incomplete Manifesto for Growth: Eight For Entrepreneurs

1. Allow events to change you. You have to be willing to grow. Growth is different from something that happens to you. You produce it. You live it. The prerequisites for growth: the openness to experience events and the willingness to be changed by them.

Don’t assume you have all the answers. If you can’t be surprised by events you probably aren’t taking enough risks. As Proust advised: The real voyage of discovery consists not in seeking new landscapes, but in having new eyes.

10. Everyone is a leader. Growth happens. Whenever it does, allow it to emerge. Learn to follow when it makes sense. Let anyone lead.

Only hire folks whom you are willing to follow as the situation warrants and allow for situational leadership.

11. Harvest ideas. Edit applications. Ideas need a dynamic, fluid, generous environment to sustain life. Applications, on the other hand, benefit from critical rigor. Produce a high ratio of ideas to applications.

Good writing is re-writing, whether it’s English or software. Rapid prototyping is how startups innovate, this is different from perpetual beta in that at some point you have to commit (“harvest”). More from Leander Kahney’s “Vaporware Better Late Than Never” critique of Google’s approach:

Google–betas galore: Google makes the vaporware top three for all of its products in perpetual beta: Gmail, Groups, Froogle, Alerts, Blog Search, Book Search and Scholar.

  • “Any program that’s in a never-ending, pre-release, beta-testing stage is considered vaporware, even if it’s widely available.” Leander Kahney
  • “Google’s endless beta cycle is the 2K’s equivalent to putting the yellow and black ‘Under Construction’ sign on a website you just didn’t quite finish in the ’90s.” Jason Tracy
  • “The list goes on and on, Google never seems to release a final version of anything.” Jennifer Scott

Leander Kahney’s “Vaporware Better Late Than Never”

I think slapping beta on an application is the equivalent putting the anti-litigation yellow strips on steps and wet floor signs, it’s a suggestion you are not responsible if something goes wrong. Leaving a product labelled beta for years was an effort to say “new” or “leading edge” that ultimately fell flat.

16. Collaborate. The space between people working together is filled with conflict, friction, strife, exhilaration, delight, and vast creative potential.

Hire folks who spark your potential. Be wary of values conflicts. Michael Schrage observed in a January 2000 interview with Tom Peters that the Serious Play of Shared Minds needs a “shared space (any collaborative medium—cocktail napkin to computer modeling that serves as communication space that two or more people share),” so give everyone their own white board marker and let them draw from as well.

17. ____________________. Intentionally left blank. Allow space for the ideas you haven’t had yet, and for the ideas of others.

You start with a collection of hypotheses, many of which will be revised, expanded, or superseded. Others on your team will contribute if you let them.

20. Be careful to take risks. Time is genetic. Today is the child of yesterday and the parent of tomorrow. The work you produce today will create your future.”

If you never stretch you never learn and you end up working in increasingly narrow areas. Another way to unpack this advice is to consider where you have to be standing to take the last step in a project, and then the step before that, working backward to a path you can see from today.

22. Make your own tools. Hybridize your tools in order to build unique things. Even simple tools that are your own can yield entirely new avenues of exploration. Remember, tools amplify our capacities, so even a small tool can make a big difference.

Focus your tool making (or methodology making, or intellectual property creation) on the core of your product. Avoid the amoeba like instincts of a large company product team to absorb peripheral requirements into the product as you encounter them.

30. Organization = Liberty. Real innovation in design, or any other field, happens in context. That context is usually some form of cooperatively managed enterprise. Frank Gehry, for instance, is only able to realize Bilbao because his studio can deliver it on budget. The myth of a split between “creatives” and “suits” is what Leonard Cohen calls a “charming artifact of the past.”

Engineering is about managing constraints: budgets come in dollars, people’s time, the team’s creative enthusiasm, and calendar time. It’s as important to achieve a working team as a working product. Also, if you are bootstrapping this is the key to your independence and continued success.

Why 43? It’s slightly more than half of the magic number 95 that Martin Luther or the Cluetrain team needed, but it’s explicitly labeled “incomplete”, so perhaps he will “double up” at some point. On the other hand there is David Allen who thinks 43 is just right for Getting Things Done, and even though he’s no longer blogging, his disciple Merlin Mann continues to spread the good word number.

Postscript: William Gibson gave up blogging for while


Time for me to get back to my day job, which means that it’s time for me to stop blogging.

I’ve found blogging to be a low-impact activity, mildly narcotic and mostly quite convivial, but the thing I’ve most enjoyed about it is how it never fails to underline the fact that if I’m doing this I’m definitely not writing a novel – that is, if I’m still blogging, I’m definitely still on vacation.

But he returned about 13 months later, commenting on Bruce Mau’s Massive Change in his first month back (there’s the connection to the title), and blogging regularly thereafter.

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