I had an e-mail exchange with William Pietri (@williampietri) back in October that I am reproducing here with his permission. I believe that it highlights a set of issues around “being in the grip of a vision” in a useful way.
William Pietri: I’m wondering how Lean Startup founders handle attacks of vision. Do you just sit still until it passes? Do you take to strong drink? Do you, like a werewolf before the full moon, lock yourself in a cage until you’re no longer dangerous?
Sean Murphy: If you didn’t believe that you could make the world a better place you wouldn’t be effective as an entrepreneur. I think vision is an important component to both inspiring and sustaining successful entrepreneurial endeavors. Necessary but not sufficient as the math majors say.
Pietri: In all seriousness, I keep running across entrepreneurs who have both the blessing and the curse of a strong product vision. So strong that they don’t feel the need to actually ship anything to see what customers think. Because of course it will work. Or at least they keep wanting to delay real-world feedback so that they can get the product “right”. Ha ha, “right”.
Murphy: We call this the “need to leave the Bat Cave and listen to strangers” as a lot of typically introverted technical entrepreneurs feel more comfortable continuing to perfect their craft/technology in a private workspace (or a secret hideout if they are in stealth mode).
Pietri: I occasionally have this problem myself, and I mainly deal with it by writing up ideas in my notebook, sketching out user interfaces, or producing stacks of index-card based product plans. Then I find the smallest shippable thing I can implement and push the pile of paper aside. Generally to be ignored for weeks or months.
Murphy: I think it’s good to explore the limits of the vision as long as you take the time to break it into a phased implementation, that you way know where you are trying to go and can put you first steps in a larger context. If you
were to sketch a “five phase plan” it’s better if you can actually begin in phase two and determine what earlier efforts you are building on (vs. starting from scratch).
Pietri: Do Lean Startup founders have any tricks for breaking their attachment to grand visions? Or even better, tricks for getting other people to wean themselves off self-feedback in favor of real-world feedback?
Murphy: The trick is not breaking your attachment to your vision, it’s breaking your vision it into steps.
I would also take a hard look at why you don’t feel a deadline–and the typical deadline for bootstrappers is caused by running out of money. Sometimes it’s too obliging a wife, girlfriend, parents, wealthy relative that is funding your efforts without asking you when you are going to ship or setting a funding limit. Sometimes it’s having a day job or successful consulting practice that puts off the need to actually make money from a new product.
Sometimes your identity is caught up in being an inventor and you don’t want to find out for real (the product can be a little bit like Schrodinger’s Cat, as long as you don’t open the box and test it in the market you can believe that it’s still alive) if people want to use–much less pay for–your product.
Net net: self-feedback can satisfy many needs but it won’t make you money; when you need to make money you need to have conversations with strangers and get “real world feedback.”
At least that’s what I try to remind myself of when I am in the “grip of a vision.”
- “Customer Development Proceeds In Parallel with Product Development“
- “W. J. King’s Unwritten Laws of Business”
in particular “Develop a “Let’s go see!” Attitude”
Throughout your career people will approach you with all manner of real-life problems resulting from your work. A wonderfully effective response is to invite them to have a look with you–in other words, “Let’s go see!” It is seldom adequate to remain at one’s desk and speculate about causes and solutions and hope to sort it all out.