Being uncertain is bad for your project.

In the gap between starting a project and reaching the point where it’s clearly working, there is a lot of uncertainty. It’s easy to fall into the void. Will I ever get out of here. Will this work or am I wasting my time.

Two thoughts on this:

  1. Lean on processes. For example, commit to do the same amount of work everyday. You’re doing the work because that’s the process, not as a feedback loop for success.
  2. Make sure there isn’t a narrative void. I’ve been studying two separate topics, personalities/psychology and story-telling. The more I learn about both, the more I’m convinced that the human mind is a story-telling machine. Write a story about what you’re doing. Read it when you are in doubt.

Exploring the unknown.

There’s been plenty of times where I decided that I wanted to learn about another profession, wondering if I was missing out.

Every time, I was amazed at what I learned and how it made me a more well-rounded person. Writers, marketers, chefs. It all overlaps how the world works. Writers are great at formulating an idea, and fleshing it out. That becomes a process. Marketers are good about figuring out where to show up and how often. Chefs are great at time management, and quality control.

There are lessons abound everywhere you look, and they are always worth exploring when you’re stuck.

Using a bureaucracy against themselves

I’ve noticed that at small companies meetings and appointments are cancelled and rescheduled more often. This is partly due to everyone managing more things, but also partly due to ease of coordination in the company.

It seems larger companies are less likely to cancel. The coordination required to reschedule is a lot of work from coordinating schedules of all the attendees to finding an open conference room at the time.

If your making a trip somewhere try to anchor it with a couple meetings at large customers (by size, not necessarily revenue to you) you’ll find that at least your odds of cancellation go down.

Art is work you find an audience for.

It’s not always clear what art is. One possible definition is that art is work you find an audience for after you make it.

It’s not pandering for the most attention. It’s clear intentions presented uniquely.

That’s why success makes it harder to be an artist, it’s hard not to start asking what your audience wants, however, no one says being an artist has to be the goal. Just be clear in your intention, is this art, in which I’m trying to make a statement for anyone who it resonates with, or is this serving an audience who desires it.

Engineering vs. Architecture

I started college as a double major in Architecture and Civil Engineering. It was a program my advisor assured me no one had ever completed, it was demanding, but more that that, eventually people leaned one way or the other.

While I eventually went the engineering route, it was one of the most important experiences of my life.

I learned two different paths of the world. In engineering, finding the correct/acceptable answer or solution was the key. In Architecture, it was the story, the explanation, and the outworking of the competition. There were creative architecture projects that I scrapped because I saw how much better my classmates projects were. It was mostly against your peers you were judged, not against an acceptable solution. That’s how life is for most, so you have to strive to be the best. As an aside, it’s also my theory on why good Architects have a stereotype of being egotistical.

Long story short, sometimes your job is to find an acceptable solution, other times it’s to be better than the competition. Knowing when to do each is a skill that should be polished.

Why SOLIDWORKS was popular.

I’m sharing a story of a failed attempt at marketing that will reinforce the following concepts: Smallest Viable Audience, Network Effects, and Product-Marketing Integration.

SOLIDWORKS was released in 1995. It was a 3D CAD tool, making it easier to visualize product designs. The software had huge implications down the supply chain, making engineers lives easier when designing the tools (molds, dies, etc,) to produce the physical goods people consume. SOLIDWORKS’ smallest viable audience, mechanical engineers (not civil, not structural, not electrical) rejoiced. SOLIDWORKS would go on to sell over 5,000,000 licenses worldwide, becoming the world’s most adopted 3D CAD program. 

The success of SOLIDWORKS was due to affordability, a widely available platform (Windows instead of Unix), and a network effect. If an automotive company like Ford used it to design cars, their suppliers benefitted from adoption by being able to open the Ford models. It made everyone’s lives easier. Since everyone loves easy, SOLIDWORKS grew rapidly in capability and the network effect lead to continually rising adoption rates.

After 15 years, SOLIDWORKS started seeing a ceiling. The upper bound was becoming visible, adoption rates tapered. SOLIDWORKS turned to acquisitions, buying related products to integrate. They bought products for: 

  • data management and revision control. 
  • simulating product prototypes without having to build them. 
  • analyzing injection molds. 
  • technical documentation. 

Only the data management tool, SOLIDWORKS PDM, was even close. It is the Github of SOLIDWORKS, successful because it had an identical audience to the CAD tool. Not every mechanical engineer could benefit from the other tools, and while PDM is popular, adoption hasn’t been as fast as SOLIDWORKS because PDM doesn’t have a network effect, vendors don’t share their vaults for security purposes. 

The other 3 products all served different audiences and have no network effects, in terms of dollars, they are blips in comparison to the CAD product and it’s associated data management. They are financial failures. Network effects and audience continuity are important.

At GSC, a SOLIDWORKS reseller, where I’ve worked the last 7 years, we’re tasked with marketing all of these tools, and it’s a challenge. Our marketing is slashed up, segmented by product, then audience, and also use case. It’s reached a state where it’s near impossible to create any specific content with the goal of adding to the bottom line of the business. The marketing has to be done in-person via face-to-face interaction, with a custom message crafted for each sale. Pretty traditional outside sales stuff, though we can also do some events. This is what I consider a marketing failure. 

The less popular softwares SOLIDWORKS produces also suffer from not having product-marketing integration. Working at a reseller, I can go to 10 companies who all say, “The product seems okay, but we really need a certain feature to buy it.” Passing that information on, and it goes into the product development void, never knowing when that will be implemented, if ever. The lack of product-marketing integration creates lost sales, and lackluster products. 

This story is meant to reinforce the concept of network effects, product-marketing integration, and smallest viable audience. Without nailing those, your product is sunk before it begins.

Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs Applied to Society

If you’re not familiar, review Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs.

I believe in America, as a society, removing the outliers, most people have physiological needs covered, and are moving towards the self-esteem phase, with more people than ever heading towards self-actualization. That’s not to say that things are peachy all around and that everyone is doing great, but if you had to average things out, this is where I think we stand.

Consider, at one point 80% of Americans worked on farms. That was necessity to produce the food needed for our physiological needs. Today, less than 1% work on farms and there is enough food to go around. Our efficiency went up 80X. With that shift thanks to industrialism owning a home became the American dream. That’s a shift from physiological rungs, to the self-esteem rung. Being an owner is about our ego.

Then, out of nowhere the Internet brought social belonging. It connected groups that weren’t connected before. Created havens for like-minded individuals. Everyone starting connected to the web, and over the last couple decades, we’ve reached the love/belonging stage of society. Those that don’t find their groups are the “trolls” of society, and they are highly vocal making it seem more people are unhappy than ever.

It’s tumultuous for sure. Most people are living longer, have more possessions, are connected to more family than a few generations ago, but it’s not always viewed that way. Everyone is looking forward not backward. They want to move up the rungs of the hierarchy. They see more people than ever finding their purpose and want that same feeling, or respect, and if they don’t see it immediately, they become negative. This is the real reason why so many feel there is a degradation of society happening. It’s counter intuitive but my thought is we’re getting more of our needs met, pushing society higher up the pyramid, but the higher tiers of pyramid are harder to access, and a lot of society feels stuck as a result.

For something based on a pyramid, and the idea that not everyone gets through all the rungs, speculatively, the largest amount of the people in history are reaching the self-actualization or transcendence stage with the growing rise of things like social entrepreneurism, building companies that support others who can’t support themselves. Doing work that raises those on the lower rungs of the hierarchy up.

This entire post is broad strokes. These things happen in waves that are measured over generations, so it’s hard for any person to truly see it all. But, I believe the future, often painted as dystopian, actually has a lot of positive going for it, we just have to solve some problems along the way.

Why didn’t we evolve immortality

Evolution happens because animals with traits that lead to higher survival produce more offspring with similar traits.

Perhaps we didn’t evolve immortality because we need a new way from a new generation. Immortality doesn’t allow us to get stronger as a species.

It’s a bit metaphysical, but seeking a way to be immortal, is seeking a way to allow yourself to be weak and survive. Instead, seek to be strong while you live.

What do I already know how to do?

That’s a place that most people start at. It’s the lowest effort, and the strongest likelihood to be completed.

But it’s not usually the leap we’re looking for.

Most everyone is looking for what they know how to do. They’re not looking to the future, and the new paradigms emerging.

Ask yourself, if I didn’t know what I know, and have the skills I have, would this be the place I start? If yes, proceed with your skills, if not reconsider a new path.

The work that isn’t likely to work

One amazing type of art is hand-blown glass. I was reminded of this when watching Blown Away on Netflix. The works are beautiful, and the amazing part of it to me is how even if these artists tried to produce the same work twice, it wouldn’t be exactly the same.

In other ways, sometimes they even start by what the “blob” wants to turn into.

And finally, at times, even with the best intentions, things break.

Glass blowing is a beautiful analogy for work in the modern world. If your work isn’t like this, it’s likely in process of being automated. This concept can be extrapolated for coding, sales, engineering, or other works.

When did you drop out?

Some people drop out of high school.i

Some drop out of college.

Some drop out of graduate school.

Dropping out might be a shame. It might be something that’s pointed to in a series of connected events to develop a pattern. Or it might be that it’s a good thing. That what you dropped out of wasn’t helping get you where you wanted to go. Or to provide what you needed to develop as a person.

If there is a trend of quitting when things get hard, obviously that’s not good. But if quitting opens up another path, it may be to go that other direction if the benefits outweigh the consequences.

No one who surpasses Rembrandt matters.

The camera made sure of it.

Rembrandt may have been the most realistic painter of his time, but the camera has come far since. People don’t value the realistic painters any more. The art changed.

To matter, artists need to bring something new. Extending someone else’s work when the world has already surpassed it usually doesn’t do it.

Who will vouch?

Rental homes are about someone vouching to the bank they will take the responsibility to pay the mortgage. They’ll figure out a way.

Tie this to taking responsibility in life. Most people are looking for someone to step up and say, “I’ll be responsible for this.”

It’s not who has the right answers because for the stuff we really need, there is no paved path. Instead, it’s who’s going to put their reputation on the line that they’ll figure it out.

What will you stand up for?

Choose. Create. Connect.

That’s a mantra that gives a way out for anyone who is stuck in life, and figuring out how to be more valuable, successful, or happier. It turns out in life, when we feel in a rut it’s because we’re hesitating on a decision, we’re not creating or doing things we enjoy, or we’re not connecting with other people. Those who do all three tend to be happy and fulfilled.