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Archive for March, 2011

How it Feels to Ship Stuff



If you don’t know what I mean by shipping, you might want to read Real Artists (Plan to) Ship first.

Shipping is hard.  It’s especially hard if you’ve never done it, or simply haven’t done it often enough to know what it feels like.  You suspect that ‘inspiration’ will pull you through it, yet in reality inspiration usually doesn’t last more than a day or two.

Inspiration is an ephemeral feeling that tricks you into thinking it will always be there.  Of course, it can’t be… and won’t be.

Inspiration has never shipped anything.  Grit is how you ship. If you think you’re always going to be inspired and that you can just “lean on” that feeling everyday to power you, you’re going to fail.  It doesn’t work.  Inspiration will disappear as soon as the caffeine leaves your blood stream, you get distracted, or you wake up with a headache.  You need a model for shipping, something that helps get you through the emotional dips you’re bound to experience.

When you’re inspired, you don’t expect to have dips in your motivation.  You’re above that.  You’re made of steel.  The feeling will last forever.  People who ship know better.

The art of shipping is the same the world over, no matter what the subject is.  Paint, code, words, chords, clay, whatever. If you’re creating anything from nothing and expect it to see the light of day, you’re looking to ship something. Creating something without delivering it may still be considered art by some, but it’s not shipping.

When we hire new program managers at Microsoft, one of the most important things we look for is people who are good at all phases of the product cycle.  We expect people to be strong at the beginning, coming up with creative ideas and unique approaches to solving tough problems.  We look for strength in the middle, people who are able to execute and get the team through the grind without giving up.  And we want people who can pull the team all the way through to the finish line, dealing with the (very hard) act of pushing something real out the door to a few hundred million users.

This means that the best people are the ones who can decide what to do, figure out how to do it with the team, and then start it, drive it, and ship it.

Anyone can have an idea.  And just about anyone can write a strongly worded email or document about how “obvious” that idea is and how everyone who doesn’t “get it” is an “idiot”.  But the people who are able to sell the idea, line the people up, and bring it all the way to the finish line, imperfections and all, and then do it over and over again are the real stars. 

The funny thing is how these people usually aren’t the same people who think they’re superstars just because they have some ideas.  The best people are too busy shipping to care what you think.

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Written by Mike Torres

March 21st, 2011 at 10:02 pm

Action Triggers: Getting Back on the Self-Control Wagon

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WagonWith every single bit of forward momentum, there will come a setback at some point.  It’s an inevitability that nothing good will continue uninterrupted forever.  This is the case with everything, human or otherwise, and is a fact of life that most unrealistic optimists don’t embrace early enough. 

If you think there won’t be speed bumps on the road ahead – if in fact, you don’t plan for them – when you hit one, the wheels are going to come flying off.  You’ll be done for.

When you look at self-control, or having the discipline to do the things you don’t necessarily want to do, there’s an expectation that it’s either on or off.  You’re either exercising self-control or you’re not; hot or cold, black or white, Reagan or Clinton.

The problem with this approach, as I wrote about in The Exercise and Science of Self-Control is that self-control is exhaustible.  Which means if you’re always on, you will eventually be off because your muscles, your self-control muscles, will become exhausted. 

If you know this, why not plan for it?

Lots of times these aren’t predictable dips in your self-control momentum.  They’re unplanned, unexpected, and unwelcome.  It’s the cinnamon roll instead of the gym, the Rocky marathon instead of Excel, the impromptu party instead of laundry and dishes, and so on.  It’s the feeling of failure – or just disappointment – that you weren’t able to hold true to the promise you made to yourself.

You spent all that time getting your self-control built up, just to have it come crashing down with a single mid-day cinnamon roll.

And if you’re anything like I am, once you break one or two promises to yourself, you might as well break them all.  For months on end.  It’s so easy… you’ve already proven that you’re not trustworthy.  That you aren’t strong enough to hold up your end of the bargain.  You’re weak and not worthy.  So why bother trying anymore?

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Written by Mike Torres

March 12th, 2011 at 10:45 am