The Heart of It
When you're bringing something new to life, do the values you want reflected in the result have to be part of its creation?
If you're building a travel app, but you've never left the country, will that show in the end result? Can you paint a serene scene in the midst of a chaotic life? Will a political campaign dedicated to changing the status quo be successful if it's run no differently than the campaigns that came before?
I don't know that there is a simple answer to this question. For individuals and artists particularly, there can be a certain amount of disconnect and the result still be what was intended. A star engineer can help create a groundbreaking new game without being a gamer. An artist can draw a fantastic logo for a product she has never used.
For an organization, though, I think the answer is different. The passions and values that you want expressed in the product (whether a magazine, app, site, game, service or anything else) have to be the same passions and value of the team behind it. When the two are not aligned, the product will fall short of what it was meant to be. A company without a love of games in its DNA is unlikely to create something people will love.
While working on Uncommon in Common with a group of friends for the last five months, this question has often been on my mind. (You can catch up on the story so far if you're curious.) The dream of Uncommon is a slow web community that celebrates favorite things, curates the best parts of our week, embraces limits and rhythm, and encourages time away from our screens.
That is a fine goal, but I want that now. I want to hurry up. Uncommon is a labor of love for all involved. There aren't VC's to please and we don't have to meet payroll every two weeks. Nevertheless, my instinct is to seek the attention of the right people, promote and over-promise, and work late into the night. I know there is a way that new things for the web are supposed to be built and promoted and expectations for how any new community should work if you want to be successful, from Facebook sign-in and rows of share buttons to ads and username games.
Those expectations often present a dilemma. Can a site determined to support people in finding a healthy balance online be birthed out of imbalance? Can a community embrace patience if we are anything but? There are shortcuts and temptations at every turn.
Thankfully, everyone helping create Uncommon, from the advisors and core team to our amazing founding members, understands what is at the heart of it. They know that we can't create something uncommon through methods that are anything but. And each time I find myself unclear or make a wrong move, they don't hesitate to remind me.
What are the values at the core of what you're building? Let them guide what you do and how you do it. In the end, those values are your product.