You have probably heard the adage, “If you want to get somewhere, you have to know where you are going.” This is a reasonable statement to take both literally and metaphorically. Say you live in Silicon Valley (i.e., northern California), and you decide to drive to Albuquerque to see the flowering cacti. You load your car with snacks and a suitcase of clothes and head down I-5 towards Los Angeles.
As you approach the Grapevine, the place where you rise out of the Central Valley over a mountain pass that leads to the Los Angeles Basin, a thought occurs to you. The dessert is hot and dry. Wouldn’t it be nice to go somewhere that is cool and moist, like Seattle?
So you refuel and change direction, heading north on I-5, which will take you conveniently all the way to Seattle. Now as you are driving by Mount Shasta, you realize that sunshine is really quite lovely, and you have heard that Seattle is rather gloomy. Isn’t there a place where you can have it all? In a fit of despair, you head south again, but not wanting to look foolish, you turn east on I-80 and head for Reno.
Many times our software projects take this approach. Someone has a grand vision that includes a land of rainbows and unicorns. Even a portion of the vision would be worth realizing, so people willingly work toward that end. But the visionaries get impatient, and meanwhile more great ideas are had. And then comes the question, more of a challenge, that starts with the phrase, “Couldn’t you just do…too?”
Creative people can come up with solutions to any problem, and usually creative people are happy to work toward a vision, producing incrementally more and better results on the way toward that vision. What gets tricky is when you’re laying tracks because someone asked for high-speed rail, and then you’re suddenly asked to build an airport. Sure, it’s possible, but it means completely disrupting the work toward the original vision. With software, or any other form of “magic,” explaining the disconnect to people who are not technically savvy is one of the biggest challenges we creatives face.
Try using the metaphor. Ask, “Do you want to go to Albuquerque or Seattle?” Because if the person in charge doesn’t know where he or she is going, the whole team might end up in Reno.
(And that might not be so bad, come to think of it. Reno has unicorns, right?)