Learning By Doing

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25th March 2024
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5 min read

Photo by Markus Spiske on Unsplash

I'm a chronic tweaker.

You may have noticed the layout for my Journal page has changed again in the last week. I'm always making changes and tuning things based on some small improvement I can make here or there. And I'm almost always busying myself with these small and insubstantial changes when I feel like I should be doing something bigger and more meaningful.

But I shouldn't feel the least bit guilty, because the website is already up and running. Now I'm just improving and refining as I go, based on what I learn along the way.

I knew my first go at the website design was mediocre.

I knew the copy was awkward.

I knew the content was thin.

It's probably still those things, to a lesser extent. And in a few years from now, perhaps lesser still.

But the website needed to be finished, rather than perfect. I needed something I could [quite literally] put my name to and then get on with business.

You could say this website started out as little more than an MVP - Minimum Viable Product. We talk about MVP a lot in Industrial Design. An MVP being the minimal implementation of the minimum feature set needed to still have a product. The most bare-bones, feature-light, resource-efficient version of the thing you're trying to do, that still meets its fundamental requirements.

But the value of an MVP goes beyond just being quicker and cheaper to get to market. It means the product gets into customer's hands sooner. That means feedback sooner (and revenue sooner).

It also means your product isn't overburdened with features that prevent the implementation of new feedback; you don't paint yourself into a corner. Building an MVP as a platform onto which improvements and new features from real-world feedback can be incorporated is a sure-fire way to make a good product great.

But the problem is most creative people are, like me, chronic tweakers.

We want the most perfect version to be the one we release into the world. Whether it's a website, an artwork, or a product, it doesn't matter. If we try and make our creation perfect before it ever sees the light of day, it will never actually be perfect.

Sure, there's always merit to being diligent - making sure everything is done properly before letting it out into the world. There is a point, however, where perfecting our creation just tips over into delay tactics. Covering up a fear of risk, or a fear of judgement, or a fear of the unknown.

Don't Be Afraid Of Being Judged

Criticism hurts.

Even for someone like me who has made a career out of having my creations judged, being able to take criticism and use it wisely takes substantial self-awareness.

I suspect a large reason why creatives, or anyone building something, prolong the thinking and delay the doing is because of a fear of judgment. If only we spend a little more time perfecting our creations, we're shoring it up against criticism.

But the opposite is true.

What happens instead is we're committing more deeply to our chosen path, from which it becomes harder to pivot away from. By spending more time honing our creations into what we believe they should be, once (if) we release them into the wild, criticism is harder to take and harder still to implement.

Initiating The Feedback Loop

Instead, meeting that fear head on will allow us to initiate the feedback loop necessary to create amazing things that meet real people's needs.

We need to swallow our pride, and whatever we think we know, and let the people we are trying to help, help us. We need to share with them our ideas, and let them shape our creations with us.

There is only so much research you can do. The sooner we initiate the feedback loop, the less investment is made in the wrong direction, and the less investment is required to pivot. Not only do we produce a better product, we save money doing it.

That's why we create proofs of concepts (POCs), and MVPs; to learn things we don't know. And the only way that's possible is to brings those creations out into the light and test them in real scenarios with real people.

The first version will suck.

The second version will suck.

The tenth version might also suck, but probably a lot less than the first.

By holding onto our ideas and polishing them to perfection, we're locking out the people that could be giving us those pearls of wisdom that could make our products better than we could ever do on our own.

No good things come from a vacuum.

Fear Of The Unknown

At some point you have to commit without knowing the outcome.

I felt this no more acutely than when I started my own design consulting. It's absolutely terrifying to have no guarantee anything is going to work. An idea and a bit of a plan, but no amount of tweaking can ever fully prepare you for taking the leap.

Sooner or later you have to take the training wheels off.

We always talk about the power of hindsight. But usually we talk about hindsight like the by-product of a lack of foresight. Yet, nobody in the history of mankind has complete foresight.

Instead, we need to be open to insight. As we create and build, we pick up insight along the way. We must be open-minded and flexible enough to fold these insights into our creations as we go.

Rather than look at these insights in hindsight and wishing we had the foresight.

Be The MVP

There is so much to learn by doing.

Just start with your minimum viable product.

ⓒ Lincoln Black 2024

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