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  • Writer's pictureNathan Kirchner

Nothing works, get over it & make it better

I used to get very stressed tying & failing to get things to 100% work as I could never quite achieve it; maybe I have high standards, maybe I am not so great at doing stuff, anyway! Over the years, I noticed something pretty interesting. The more and more I slaved, agonised & obsessed in the pursuit of 'Works' the more people around me would go out of their ways to tell me that it already did.

This was of course initially meet with me simply writing those sentiments off as those of good willed people that just wanted to make me feel better & that didn't care as much about the solution as I did. However, as I grew I've come to realise something that has quite literally reframed my view on the world - Nothing works, everything can be better & that's ok. So I should get over it & focus on how I can make it better.

I'll be honest, I still find this a bit counter intuitive. I think my formal schooling is largely why. Over the years I have had it drilled into me to get something to work requires effort & that there is a correct answer to give in the final exam. This all seems reasonable enough but it you drill into it you get the simple equation that 'X amount of Effort' = 'Works' & that there is a critical answer that absolutely must be given at a specific time or you will fail.

This framing not only suggests 'Works' is a solid, tangible & quantifiable destination that can & must be achieved before we can proceed. It goes further to suggest that 'Effort' is the units on the continuum 'Work'. It produces a view that one's existence will be (unnaturally) punctuated with perform now or perish moments.

The reframing above challenges this. It gives permission to let the concept of the final destination 'Works' go and replaces it with concept of perpetual improvement. It goes further, this reframing moves the target of 'Works' to that of 'fit for purpose'; from 'does it do X?' to 'is it useful?'. It suggests that demonstrable progress is more viable & is thus inherently rewarding than the perhaps unobtainable destination of 'Works'

I have found much relief in this. I've grinded through way too many years unhappily failing to achieve my definition of 'Works' all the while being tormented with assurances that 'it is ok to fail' & 'you are being too hard on yourself'. The realisation that something didn't need to 'Work' to be fit for purpose & that there will be nothing but rewards in continuing to iterate & improve on what I have done has freed me!

<the ubiquitous 'honest question'> "If the goal isn't to get the thing to work then why bother trying?", I get this a lot... a lot! My goal is to make something useful, something valued, something that helps, a solution people deeply want, something they won't leave home without. Something fit for purpose - perhaps so much so that it will redefine that purpose and open new possibilities. Something surprising, compelling, addictive, essential, valuable, vital; notice there was no "w" word in there!

<the insight> Something doesn't have to 'Work' to be fit for purpose, to be valued, to be successful. Nearly every time I say that I get hit with numerous serious & sometimes angry challenges to the contrary. My answer is generally one word delivered with a frustrated tone (and sorry if this rubs anyone the wrong way, pls take it as the loose example it was meant as. No nefarious intentions are at play). That one word, "Microsoft".

Does Windows 10 work? Did XP? Did Vista? Did 3.11? I think I could put on some form of argument for any of them that they didn't... but.. Microsoft is a pretty big company, and Bill Gates a pretty rich man. So what happened? They were fit for purpose, they did enough to get us somewhere and Microsoft doubled down trying to make it better at the same time. They maintained a positive tension between the Engineering & Product teams so that the output satisfied enough of the needs of the customers & at level of performance that didn't turn them away. Less stress - more success!

This allows the time to do a good job, the compromise (or in my case the permission to breathe) was accepting there needs to be a regular cadence of iterations, a stage pursuit towards excellence, visible progress where each step has value in and of itself - Nothing works, everything can be better & that's ok. So I should get over it & focus on how I can make it better.

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