1. Work

    Talent helps.
    But mostly you just have to work at something. You have to put the hours in.
    You have to learn your craft. You have to do your investment years.
    In those years you put in more than you get out.

    These are not easy years. Nor should they be. Self-doubt in one seat. Dumb optimism in the other. And along the way, sucking in all that crazy, beautiful brilliant knowhow.
    Yes, talent helps.

    But talent is only really the ability to work at something until you are its master.

  2. Obsession starts young

    Want to spot the next Steve Jobs? The next James Dyson?
    The next Jonathan Ive?
    The next Radiohead?
    The next Ayrton Senna?
    The next Tim Berners-Lee?
    The next Bill Shankly?
    The next Henry Ford?
    The next Bill Bernbach?
    The next Buckminster Fuller?
    The next Alexander Bell?
    The next Thomas Edison?
    The next Benjamin Franklin?
    The next Leonardo Da Vinci?
    Well, look no further than the hobbies of our children. Obsessions are a good sign of drive, determination and single-mindedness.

    And, as surely as summer follows spring, that energy, that focus, that sheer grit will one day be pushing our world forward another notch.

    Obsession is good.

  3. Switch off

    Want to do more. Then do more switching off. Take your mind elsewhere. Let it wander. Take breaks. Have naps. Just don’t sit there waiting for inspiration. Sometimes the further you get from a problem, the clearer it becomes.

    And by all means work hard. But don’t work dumb. An experiment in the 1940s measured men loading pig iron onto train freight cars at The Bethlehem Steel Company. Each man didn’t stop until they managed 121⁄2 tonnes. By noon, they were exhausted and could do no more.

    The next day, they were told to load the pig iron for 26 minutes. Then rest for 34 minutes. They rested more than they worked. At the end of the day, they had loaded 47 tonnes. That’s almost four times as much as working flat out.

    It feels counter intuitive, but if you want to do more, head for the hills as often as you can.

  4. Love

    Great products have an essence to them, a purpose for which they were made that goes beyond just their function. The essence of a toy is to be played with. To provide fun, entertainment and joy. It’s little wonder we get feelings for them. They become our favourite things. And we don’t grow out of that feeling. Once we love, we love. Yes, we can always buy another toy. But some things cannot be replaced.

  5. Always be Shipping

    Here are a few questions I’d like to answer:

    • Why is it so hard to brainstorm a good idea?
    • Why do committees usually wreck a project?
    • Is it true that the more people work on something, the longer it takes?
    • Why are most products below average (and the rest… meh)?
    • Why is it so difficult to ship on time?
    • Why does time pressure and an urgent deadline allow you to get more done and sometimes (if you’re lucky) improve the product itself?

    The answer to all six is the same thing: The resistance.

    These bad behaviors are the work of the lizard brain, your prehistoric brain stem, the part of your brain that is responsible for revenge, fear, and anger. The lizard brain is eternally vigilant, trying to keep people from noticing you (which is dangerous). The lizard brain hates failure, and thus it hates creativity or the launch of anything that might make a fuss (which can lead to failure).

    The lizard brain creates the resistance, a term first coined by Steven Pressfield. The resistance
    is the name for all that seemingly rational stuff that we do in the name of the devil (“just to play devil’s advocate for a minute…”). The devil is doing fine on his own, he doesn’t need an advocate.

    The resistance is behind all those seemingly benign suggestions you might hear at the conference table when you present to the committee. The resistance leads people to make suggestions that slow you down, suggestions that water down your idea, suggestions that lead to compromises that lead to design death.

    The resistance has a name, and once you call it by name, you have a shot at defeating it.

    Everyone deals with the resistance differently, which is why groups of people will slaughter a great idea, each protecting themselves from the lizard brain in their own way. The resistance loves the status quo, because the status quo is safe, it’s here, it’s now, it’s known, and it won’t hurt us, not as much as the unknown future might hurt us.

    The resistance leads people to make suggestions that slow you down, suggestions that water down your idea, suggestions that lead to compromises.

    You – everyone in fact – have all it takes to be a brilliant designer, creator, or author. All that’s holding you back is the lizard. It’s that little voice in the back of your head, the “but” or the “what if” that speaks up at the crucial moment and defeats the joy and insight you brought to the project in the first place. It’s the lizard that ruins your career, stunts your projects, and hinders your organization.

    The reason that you need tricks, distractions, graph paper, desk toys, retreats, conferences, and a coach is that the resistance will do whatever it can to slow you down and average you out.

    So fight it.

    Defeat the resistance.

    Keep your team small. Smaller than that. No team at all if you can help it.

    Ship often. Ship lousy stuff, but ship. Ship constantly.

  6. There is a horse in the Apple Store

    There is a horse in the Apple Store and no one sees it but me.

    I think, “Why?” What is the villain here that blinds all of these people to this situation? Am I nuts for thinking this is exceptional? Does anyone else see this? Did I accidentally drop acid and not realize? I must take a photo. I must verify later, when I’m not potentially tripping balls.

    I think, “Would they notice if it were a tiger?” Or a lamb? Or an anaconda? What would it take to shake the haze from around their eyes? A sale sign? A new iPod Touch? Would they notice a new iPod Touch?

    Are they just divinely focused? Are they meditating in a retail environment? Are they distracted by something shiny? There is so much shiny in the Apple Store. Is it enough to distract everyone from the little tiny horse that is at the Genius Bar?

    Can horses type? Probably not. But, you know, that clip-clop sound that their hooves make sounds an awful lot like the clip-clop sound my fingers make when I’m writing. I like that sound: it denotes progress. I wish we would still ride horses, because then we could have a sound we associate with progress and getting closer to somewhere we want to be. I didn’t know where I wanted to be, but I was glad I was here. Because there is a horse in the Apple Store.

    I made a lame joke in my mind about how the horse is there, but it’s not the one wearing the blinders. And
    then I pictured what would happen if the horse pooped in the middle of the floor of the Apple Store, because I am nine. I laugh to myself. The woman next to me looks up from the 17″ laptop in a judgmental fashion, probably because she could feel the immaturity radiate out of my body. She looks back down and Facebook looks back at her. “Great, the one thing she notices is me being a moron.”

    Play it cool, Frank. Play it cool.

    THERE IS A LITTLE PONY IN THE APPLE STORE. What the hell? A beautiful little pony, with a flowing mane, the likes of which my sister would have killed to get for Christmas when she was 7 or 8. And, NO ONE is looking at this thing. I wondered: if there were kids in the Apple Store, would they notice? “Yes,” I say. “Yes, they would.” Kids have a magnetic connection to animals. But there are no children in the Apple Store, for the same reason you would not see a child in a jewelery store: things are small and fragile and expensive and shiny. And if you have a child, you probably can not afford Apple products.

    But, if a child were here, they would see the pony, because when you’re a kid, you notice everything, because everything is new. My niece is like this. “Did you see that that dog loves that other dog because they got their leashes tangled up outside and then they laid down beside one another?” Or, “Once you have a baby, you can’t put it back, can you?” Or, “When I play hide and seek with my friends I have to hide, but if I don’t want to be seen by grown-ups I just have to be quiet.”

    And maybe that’s what the horse is doing. Not a sound. But, there it is.

    An employee comes over to help me. I’m buying a new laptop today. I ask him questions about the differences between the 15″ and the 17″. Could I get a matte screen? I hate the shininess. He shoots me down. “Okay, about the processing speed, is the…”

    “OH MY GOD, THE LITTLE TINY PONY,” I think to myself. He says that the processing speed matters, but it’d probably be wiser for me to invest in buying more RAM.

    Is John seeing this? He came with me. I wonder. I mean, we walked here together. Surely he’s not as blind as everyone else? No, he’s distracted by a 30″ monitor. It pretty much wraps around him. He mumbles to himself, “I can see forever.”

    “Okay, one last question, Jason,” I say to the acne-smacked employee. He looks sharp in that t-shirt.

    “Shoot.”

    “Do you realize there is a little tiny pony behind you?”

    He sighs at me and says, “Yes, she’s in here all the time.”

    And then John sees it too. “Oh my God!” he yelps in delight. “Why?

    What? Huh?” He says he can’t decide which is more unbelievable, the fact that there was a horse in the Apple Store, or that he didn’t notice it.

    Since then, John and I have a term called a “tiny pony”. It is a thing that is exceptional that no one, for whatever reason, notices. Or, conversely, it is an exceptional thing that everyone notices, but quickly grows acclimated to despite the brilliance of it all.

    Cell phones and the ability to make a phone call to anyone from anywhere is a tiny pony. The instant gratification provided by being able to have almost any question answered immediately is a tiny pony. Airplanes are tiny ponies. A black president, whose father is from Kenya and mother is from Kansas, being elected President of the United States is a tiny pony.

    When does the magic of a situation fade? When do we get acclimated to the exceptional? Is this how we get by? Would anything get done if we were constantly gobsmacked? Is this how we survive, how we stay sane? We define a pattern, no matter how exceptional, and acclimate ourselves to it?

    No. I don’t want to believe that. Because there is a horse in the Apple Store.

    This originally appeared on Frank’s blog in 2010

  7. 10 Lessons for a web startup

    1 BE NARROW

    Focus on the smallest possible problem you could solve that would potentially be useful. Most companies start out trying to do too many things, which makes life difficult and turns you into a me-too. Focusing on a small niche has so many advantages: With much less work, you can be the best at what you do. Small things, like a microscopic world, almost always turn out to be bigger than you think when you zoom in. You can much more easily position and market yourself when more focused. And when it comes to partnering, or being acquired, there’s less chance for conflict. This is all so logical and, yet, there’s a resistance to focusing. I think it comes from a fear of being trivial. Just remember: If you get to be #1 in your category, but your category is too small, then you can broaden your scope — and you can do so with leverage.

    2 BE DIFFERENT

    Ideas are in the air. There are lots of people thinking about—and probably working on — the same thing you are. And one of them is Google. Deal with it. How? First of all, realize that no sufficiently interesting space will be limited to one player. In a sense, competition actually is good — especially to legitimize new markets. Second, see #1 — the specialist will almost always kick the generalist’s ass. Third, consider doing something that’s not so cutting edge. Many highly successful companies — the aforementioned big G being one — have thrived by taking on areas that everyone thought were done and redoing them right. Also? Get a good, non-generic name. Easier said than done, granted. But the most common mistake in naming is trying to be too descriptive, which leads to lots of hard-to-distinguish names. How many blogging companies have “blog” in their name, RSS companies “feed”, or podcasting companies “pod” or “cast”? Rarely are they the ones that stand out.

    3 BE CASUAL

    We’re moving into what I call the era of the “Casual Web” (and casual content creation). This is much bigger than the hobbyist web or the professional web. Why? Because people have lives. And now, people with lives also have broadband. If you want to hit the really big home runs, create services that fit in with — and, indeed, help — people’s everyday lives without requiring lots of commitment or identity change. Flickr enables personal publishing among millions of folks who would never consider themselves personal publishers — they’re just sharing pictures with friends and family, a casual activity. Casual games are huge. Skype enables casual conversations.

    4 BE PICKY

    Another perennial business rule, and it applies to everything you do: features, employees, investors, partners, press opportunities. Startups are often too eager to accept people or ideas into their world. You can almost always afford to wait if something doesn’t feel just right, and false negatives are usually better than false positives. One of Google’s biggest strengths — and sources of frustration for outsiders — was their willingness to say no to opportunities, easy money, potential employees, and deals.

    5 BE USER-CENTRIC

    User experience is everything. It always has been, but it’s still undervalued and under-invested in. If you don’t know user-centred design, study it. Hire people who know it. Obsess over it. Live and breathe it. Get your whole company on board. Better to iterate a hundred times to get the right feature right than to add a hundred more. The point of Ajax is that it can make a site more responsive, not that it’s sexy. Tags can make things easier to find and classify, but maybe not in your application. The point of an API is so developers can add value for users, not to impress the geeks. Don’t get sidetracked by technologies or the blog-worthiness of your next feature. Always focus on the user and all will be well.

    6 BE SELF-CENTRED

    Great products almost always come from someone scratching their own itch. Create something you want to 75 exist in the world. Be a user of your own product. Hire people who are users of your product. Make it better based on your own desires. (But don’t trick yourself into thinking you are your user, when it comes to usability.) Another aspect of this is to not get seduced into doing deals with big companies at the expense of your users or at the expense of making your product better. When you’re small and they’re big, it’s hard to say no, but see #4.

    7 BE GREEDY

    It’s always good to have options. One of the best ways to do that is to have income. While it’s true that traffic is now again actually worth something, the give-everything- away-and-make-it-up-on-volume strategy stamps an expiration date on your company’s ass. In other words, design something to charge for into your product and start taking money within six months (and do it with PayPal). Done right, charging money can actually accelerate growth, not impede it, because then you have something to fuel marketing costs with. More importantly, having money coming in the door puts you in a much more powerful position when it comes to your next round of funding or acquisition talks. In fact, consider whether you need to have a free version at all. The TypePad approach — taking the high-end position in the market—makes for a great business model in the right market. Less support. Less scalability concerns. Less abuse. And much higher margins.

    8 BE TINY

    It’s standard web startup wisdom by now that with the substantially lower costs to starting something on the web, the difficulty of IPOs, and the willingness of the big guys to shell out for small teams doing innovative stuff, the most likely end game if you’re successful is acquisition. Acquisitions are much easier if they’re small. And small acquisitions are possible if valuations are kept low from the get go. And keeping valuations low is possible because it doesn’t cost much to start something anymore (especially if you keep the scope narrow). Besides the obvious techniques, one way to do this is to use turnkey services to lower your overhead—Administaff, ServerBeach, web apps, maybe even Elance.

    9 BE AGILE

    You know that old saw about a plane flying from California to Hawaii being off course 99% of the time — but constantly correcting? The same is true of successful startups — except they may start out heading toward Alaska. Many dot-com bubble companies that died could have eventually been successful had they been able to adjust and change their plans instead of running as fast as they could until they burned out, based on their initial assumptions. Pyra was started to build a project- management app, not Blogger. Flickr’s company was building a game. Ebay was going to sell auction software. Initial assumptions are almost always wrong. That’s why the waterfall approach to building software is obsolete in favour of agile techniques. The same philosophy should be applied to building a company.

    10 BE BALANCED

    What is a startup without bleary- eyed, junk-food-fueled, balls-to-the- wall days and sleepless, caffeine- fueled, relationship-stressing nights? Answer: A lot more enjoyable place to work. Yes, high levels of commitment are crucial. And yes, crunch times come and sometimes require an inordinate, painful, apologies-to-the- SO amount of work. But it can’t be all the time. Nature requires balance for health — as do the bodies and minds who work for you and, without which, your company will be worthless. There is no better way to maintain balance and lower your stress that I’ve found than David Allen’s GTD process. Learn it. Live it. Make it a part of your company, and you’ll have a secret weapon.

    This post originally was blogged by Ev in 2005 here.

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