June 16, 2014
Great things are done by a series of small things brought together. - Vincent Van Gogh
Rule of Parsimony: Write a big program only when it is clear by demonstration that nothing else will do. - The Unix philosophy
How many of your successes came from complex, massive projects?
The world is made up of simple things, and when we try to create our “big” ideas, we have a tendency to fail. The idea of making something simple does not mean making something easy - it means putting more concentrated attention into fewer details.
WhatsApp. A brilliantly simple concept. I don’t care to discuss the valuation - I care about the fact that it’s used and validated widely. I care about the fact that the design and conceptual approach worked, and all it does is… something small.
At Whiteboard, some of our most effective work has happened over the course of afternoon sprints. This happens because good ideas don’t necessarily rely on a complex network of supporting features, but stand alone. Good ideas often, perhaps almost always, directly address a small, simple problem.
This isn’t to say that we don’t give time to research and fermentation of ideas, but rather to say that we focus on a few ideas intently, and the execution of a solution often occurs very rapidly.
Building small means failure is less painful. Building small leads to a higher volume of ideas and more intentional, deep exploration of single ideas, leading to highly predictable outcomes. Building large, on the other hand, usually means a plethora of poorly executed remixes of previous ideas with little predictability.
Building small means your ideas can easily be combined. It means you can test earlier, and rebuild from ground zero with little to no loss, as the value of your efforts is on the knowledge, not the product.
When you build small, you build less maintenance overhead. It makes debugging easier. It makes testing easier. It makes marketing and the road to profitability clearer (maybe not easier). It makes scaling easier. Ultimately, the things that should be easier become easier with a smaller idea.
Because you have to be good at what you do. Really good. You have to win at making fundamental ideas come to life, because when you build small, there are no bonus features. When you build small, transparency and purity shove your work out into the open. Every small detail is in plain view, because there’s less to get lost in. If you build small, you take on a challenge of creating boutique, focused experiences that ultimately get at the core spirit of the problem you’re solving.
The challenge I present you with is to execute smaller ideas to perfection, and do so repeatedly. Small, beautiful, proper nouns are still in high demand, so make Small Things.