Wanting to be, not to do
It’s about a month and a half until my 10th wedding anniversary, and I’ve been reflecting on how I was feeling before I got married. I distinctly remember telling my now-wife several times during the wedding planning that I wanted to be married, but I didn’t at all want to get married. During a long cab ride to an airport this morning, I was thinking about that, and I realized that it’s one instance of a more general truth that a lot of people are realizing or discovering in other contexts.
Take the (encouraging) trend towards user- rather than feature-focused communication in product design. We’re discovering (again?) that pitching products based on the person that the user will be with their help is far superior to pitching them based on all the things that the user can do with them.
Or look at Kathy Sierra’s discussions about writing and speaking, where she continually focuses on helping the audience be awesome, instead of telling them what to do.
Or consider basically any research on habits, willpower, and practice, where people will repeatedly tell you how committed they are to quitting smoking (being a non-smoker), losing weight (being healthy), or playing an instrument (being a musician), but all-too-frequently fail to do the work.
There is, of course, an exception to this: experiences. There are some things that people do, not to become something different, but just to do them. Skydiving, for instance. Heck, weddings for many people are just that – where for me the wedding was a means to the end of being married, my wife loved the entire experience of the day.
Experiences like that – ends in themselves – are pretty rare, though. In business, few startups are selling to that angle, and in life we’ve all got commitments and needs that, most of the time, prevent us from pursuing things like that.
So, I’m committing to myself to reframe how I think about my work in terms of who the people who consume want to and will become, as opposed to how they’ll use it. I think it’ll be a much more successful worldview in the long run.