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If It Doesn’t Ship, It Doesn’t Exist

If your ideas aren’t on paper, they don’t exist. If the project doesn’t ship, it doesn’t exist.

This simple mantra, which I likely learned from the software industry, should make us think twice about the rewrite and that one last proofread. It should also make us consider how long we’re willing to spend with the white rabbit named Research.

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Frustrated? It’s for a Reason

Sometimes amazing things are started out of frustration. Other times, they’re created because someone wants to make a profit. And at other moments, the new comes to be simply because it seemed like a good idea.

Cameron Strang has some great reasons for creating Relevant, as this video illustrates. (And he rides a Vespa in the epic of MxPx. That dumb joke is for Cameron; don’t worry, he will get it.)

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The Lightbulb Alone is Useless

Scott Cook, the founder of Intuit (makers of Quicken and QuickBooks software), felt that the problem to solve wasn’t making good accounting software, but something else entirely: “The greatest competitor … was not in the industry. It was the pencil. The pencil is a tough and resilient substitute. Yet the entire industry had overlooked it.” … Even if [Cook's] competition had more talented problem solvers, engineers, or designers, his creative framing of the problem gave him an advantage.

Scott Berkun, The Myths of Innovation, pg. 130

We assume that those who win innovation wars are either faster or smarter than the competition. We assume that the winners either work smarter, harder and longer, or are born brilliant. (Talent is overrated, though.) It’s actually those who frame the question correctly that usually win.

Hard work is one part of the equation, and so is smarts—the old “smart and gets things done” adage—but the greatest factor leading to successful innovation is focusing on the right question. Those who look at the problem differently often win.

It’s asking the right question that’s difficult. The best questions take imagination. The right question doesn’t just hit you—Berkun also debunks this myth in The Myths of Innovationit takes the hard work of asking the wrong questions first. We usually have to think of all the wrong ways to do something, and thus eliminate possibilities, before we attempt to innovate.

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Post-Traumatic Ship Syndrome

Post-Traumatic Ship Syndrome (PTSS). A real problem in the real world. Primarily caused by under-preparing, escapism prompted by a nearing ship date, or poor planning.

PTSS Symptoms:

  • Afraid of what “they” might think
  • Hyperventilating
  • Suddenly remembering all the things you forgot to include
  • Worry and anxiety
  • Wanting to change a process, function, or premise at the last-minute
  • A full inbox, and too many sent messages
  • Angry with your publisher, your boss, your editor, or your colleagues
  • Very afraid of what “they” might think

Most likely people to suffer from PTSS:

  • Those who don’t ship often
  • People obsessed with the details
  • Bureaucrats
  • People who love the system

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What Happens after You Publish: The Medieval Rendition

Publishing a book is exhilarating. My favorite work days are those when we send a magazine to the printer. But sometimes we work so hard leading up to ship day that we forget to focus on what happens after the customer receives the product.

Will the customer get it? Will they like it? Does it matter? And perhaps the most important question: Will you be able to laugh if part of the world hates what you publish? Because that’s the risk you take when you publish.

This may help you think about the customer. It may just make you laugh. Either way, it’s worth watching.

(Thanks to Aaron Walters, pastor of The Table, the church I’m a part of in Bellingham, for pointing me to this.)

How will you introduce your next big idea to customers?

Say Hi to the New Guy

I’ve often heard people say, “He’s not worth talking with, he’s new to their company—our ideas won’t get far with him.” I’ve found the opposite to be true. The person new at a company is the most likely to talk with you and promote your ideas.

When you’re new to a company, you want to prove that you’re valuable. Thus, you’re likely to promote any good idea that comes across your desk. Given, some people will just hunker down and do what they’re told instead of promoting new ideas, but these aren’t the decision makers. These aren’t the marketing managers, publishers, editors and vice presidents.

When I want help from another company where I don’t have a contact yet, I try to find the newest decision maker. Like me, they want new friends. And they’re willing to think outside the box, because that’s why they were hired.

The same is true in your own company. The new person on the team is the most likely to have crazy ideas, and to bring a new mindshare. I have a habit of taking the new person at the company out to lunch or to coffee. I genuinely want to get to know them, and let them know that I’m someone they can count on; I also want to hear their ideas, and help them promote the best ones.

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Know Thy Limits–Know Thy Self

I’ve seen too many people say yes to something only to find out six months later that they’re not capable of producing the project. Or perhaps even worse, they weren’t really called to it.

You have to expand before you invent. You can’t just wake up one day and decide to build a rocket to the moon, you have to start with building spontaneous combustion engines. And before that, you have to play with gun powder, and get a little burnt.

Highly-driven people—type-As—have a hard time saying no. This yes-only nature leads to both success and failure. It can help you produce lots of work, but the work won’t be quality, which means only one thing: you will regret saying yes later.

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Failing May Mean Success

Successful people fail often. They generate bad ideas until they find a good one. They launch failing products until one is successful and makes up for all the rest. Nothing can replace the learning curve. Don’t believe me? Watch this video.

Now ask yourself: why not? What have you got to lose? Go try something. You may be successful. You may fail. But at least you learned. Next time, your chances of success will be higher. (It’s as if all hands on deck are telling me this message recently: Seth Godin and Scott Berkun, to name specifics.)

I’m not saying, “Go out there and be stupid. I’m also not saying, “Go out there and create something just because you can. And feel free to go bankrupt in the process.”

I’m saying something entirely different: “You have dreams for a reason. Ideas are in your head for a reason. Stop saying no to them, and start pursuing the best of them.” Because if you don’t pursue your ideas, you may die and the opportunity will die with you. Sounds extreme, but hey, you only get one chance at life. I didn’t make up the rules.

Shipping a Product is a Discipline

“The discipline of thrashing is to refuse to start work on the next step of the project until each item is approved, in writing. ‘Later,’ is not the way you ship.” –Seth Godin, Ship It

The best way to ship a product is to discuss every item of the project, make a decision, and then move forward. “Later” may not happen. People who ship products subject themselves to the decisions they (and others) have already made. They stick with their decisions unless their hand is forced. Don’t compromise, or go back, unless you have to do so. Most “have-tos” are knee-jerk reactions and actually aren’t necessary.

In old school project management, Seth’s method was described as: “Focus on project-critical tasks: the tasks that other things depend upon.” In other words, move the road blocks first.

What methods do you use to move road blocks? How do you move towards ship day, and then ship?

Note: Ship It is an affiliate link. I’ve been using it as a resource for a project I’m working on—I highly recommend it.