Vision vs. Details

December 14, 2015 | By

Sometimes I meet wannabe entrepreneurs who describe themselves as “big picture thinkers” who admittedly don’t understand the details of design or development. They’ve never built a website or app. They don’t know HTML from CSS, PHP from RoR, Photoshop from Illustrator.

A visionary can’t get caught up in the details, right? They have a vision for product. They work up some numbers and figure something like: “I see an industry that’s ripe for disruption. No one is doing this. It’s totally reasonable for me to get a 10% market share of this $10 billion dollar industry. Investors will be lining up if I just build the product.”

Sounds great, right? Go for it. Download Balsamiq and put together some wires. Hire someone to build it. That’s the easy part. Once they build it, you can just do some growth hacking and you’ll start getting traction, and then a groundswell of usage. The money will start rolling in.

Stop. Just Stop.

Yesterday, the WSJ published an article in which Apple senior engineer Greg Christie gave some insight into the early days of the design and development of the iPhone. It’s worth a read. What struck me was that there was little “big picture thinking” about the early days of the iPhone. Christie had been working on Newton, so the touchscreen wasn’t new — the big idea was the pairing of a phone and Newton. Steve Jobs gave Christie’s team two weeks to show progress, or he was going to give the project to a different team.

Christie’s team worked furiously for two weeks and they didn’t focus on concepts and visions, they obsessed over little details. The power supply and processor. How you unlocked the phone. How the scrolling would work (with a little bounce at the end). How the text messages were sorted. These details were enough for them to keep the project. Then Jobs joined them in obsessing over the details right up until the launch.

You can’t shortcut the process, and the process is all little technical details. And yes, everything starts as in an idea and some ideas are bigger than others, but nothing is usable until you execute. And execution is never a given. The development language you choose. Where you put the buttons. The copy on the homepage. How you structure the data. These are the details that make success possible. And how do you make these choices correctly? You learn this from experience. You learn this by diving into design and development.

Not every entrepreneur needs to be a designer or a hacker, but many successful ones are. Successful entrepreneurs that don’t know design or code usually have the foresight and vision to join forces with designers and developers that they see as true partners, not vendors for hire. If you’re a “big picture thinker” with a tremendous vision, that’s great; but that’s only part of the process, the rest is blood, sweat, tears, code, colors, and copy.

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