The Heart of It
When you're bringing something new to life, can you separate the means from the end?
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?
For individuals and artists, there can be a certain amount of disconnect and the result still be what was intended. An engineer can help create a groundbreaking new game without being a gamer. An artist can draw a fantastic logo for a product they have never used.
For a team, though, I think the answer is different. The passions and values that you want expressed in the product (whether a site, service, app or anything else) should be aligned with the passions and values of the team making 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, this question came up regularly. The dream of Uncommon was 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.
But I wanted that right away. Though Uncommon was a labor of love and we were free from VC expectations and payroll obligations, my instinct was to do things the way it's always done. To seek the attention of influencers, promote and over-promise, and work late into the night. There is a way that new things for the web are typically built and promoted, from Sign in with Facebook buttons to gamifying username reservations.
But can a site determined to support people in finding a healthy balance online be birthed out of imbalance? Can a community embrace patience if the people working on it are anything but? Shortcuts and temptations abound.
Thankfully, the team and community understood what was at the heart of it. They reminded me often that we can't create something uncommon by doing things like everyone else.
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.