Friday, February 29, 2008

Building castles

Few things in life are more enjoyable than watching kids build stuff. Children are wonderful, imaginative creators. They need few materials, little motivation, minimal (check that: no) direction, and not too much time. Whether it’s a tree fort, a sand castle, a spaceship, or a backyard game, they create. (Think about the beginner's mind, which we wrote about here.)

What’s cool about kids – aside from their terrific creativity and lack of predisposition to norms – is their absence of fear, disdain for perfection, robust resourcefulness, and expediency. Entrepreneurs and companies can learn lots from children.

Successful entrepreneurs and prosperous companies creatively collect and connect dots without succumbing to societal norms. They are courageous, less than perfect, resourceful, and swift in their execution. They create, rather than perfect; they conceive (untested) algorithms, rather than doing math. They build forts first, iterate and create castles later.

Marissa Mayer, Google's VP of search products and user experience, credits her company’s success (in part) to, “innovation, not instant perfection.” She shared (with Fast Company) nine principles of innovation Google employs. A taste:

There are two different types of programmers. Some like to code for months or even years, and hope they will have built the perfect product. That's castle building. Companies work this way, too. Apple is great at it. If you get it right and you've built just the perfect thing, you get this worldwide 'Wow!' The problem is, if you get it wrong, you get a thud, a thud in which you've spent, like, five years and 100 people on something the market doesn't want. Others prefer to have something working at the end of the day, something to refine and improve the next day. That's what we do: our 'launch early and often' strategy. The hardest part about indoctrinating people into our culture is when engineers show me a prototype and I'm like, 'Great, let's go!' They'll say, 'Oh, no, it's not ready. It's not up to Google standards. This doesn't look like a Google product yet.' They want to castle-build and do all these other features and make it all perfect.
Reminds me a bit of a story -- Preparing to fish -- we shared many moons ago, along with our Fail fast, fail better post. Mayer continues:
I tell them, 'The Googly thing is to launch it early on Google Labs and then iterate, learning what the market wants--and making it great.' The beauty of experimenting in this way is that you never get too far from what the market wants. The market pulls you back."
Post-script (1 March 08): Quick contribution from Tom Peters r.e. entrepreneurial spirit:
Fred Karl, designer of the Viking range and owner of that company said, "I was a weird kid—I began designing towns when I was 12." We all know that "weird" can be good, if we don't judge others through our lens ... Being weird increases creativity if we allow it to flourish. Fred Karl, founder of Viking Range, let his weirdness flourish abundantly.

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