Further than it looks…
On a clear day you can see forever
In Jul 2007, I was listening to an interesting HBR podcast where Paul Saffo talked about forecasting in the technology space. I believe I was chopping onions at the time (to make broccoli soup — or as my 3 year old calls it “bubble soup” because of the, yes, tapioca). I remember this because as soon as he said “Never mistake a clear view for a short distance”, my entire focus shifted to the podcast and I almost dropped the knife.
I do this all the time
I tend to spend a lot of time thinking about problems. I’ll turn them one way in my mind and then another. I’ll attack them from above and below and then from different angles. Usually, I’ll find a “seam” in a problem and crack it open. This is the point where I have a clear view to a solution. I get excited, take a picture of the chalkboard where I sketch out my ideas, and then grab some candy to celebrate. I say to myself, “Now, all I need to do is implement it. That’s the easy part.”
The Devil is in the details
Well, the easy part is that I know it will work. However, as Saffo said, that doesn’t mean it will be quick. I’ve found that if a problem is tough, there are usually dozens of smaller problems that surround it. You can’t see these smaller problems until you get close enough to the big problem. That’s where things slow down. I tend to take a straight line along a solution. Inevitably, I’ll hit one of those smaller problems and either dispatch it or avoid it. Either way, it’s taken longer for me to get to the main problem, and I find that if I try to sidestep too many of the small problems, I start moving away from the main problem. The path to the solution is longer because it isn’t really straight.
Are we there yet?
Two years ago, when people (i.e. my wife) asked me how long it would take to get to an alpha version of my product, I would respond “Oh, probably a few months. No more than 6. Certainly within a year”. Needless to say, it’s taken longer. I’ve developed 4 major prototypes averaging 5 months apiece. Each prototype has been a different attack on a problem I’ve been thinking about for a long time. Each successive prototype has been more difficult to start than the last. I’m pretty sure I couldn’t do this a fifth time. This month, I have something that can be rightfully be called an alpha. I believe I have a clear view to v1.0… 🙂