I’m at a networking event. Somebody asks me about The Reckoner! and I go into my elevator speech. Then out comes the iPhone. “Here come the baby pictures.”
Baby pictures. I like that.
I’m at home with The Official Significant Other of The Reckoner. I rattle off something technically inscrutable that I need to do for the site. “This must be what having a baby is like, except it’s all reversed. You’re the one who does all the nursing, and I’m the befuddled bystander trying to figure out what to do.”
Having a baby. Yes. She’s right.
This metaphor. “Your baby.” “My baby.” It gets used casually all of the time. Especially in the startup world, which is powered by the same combination of love, passion, self-sacrifice, and masochism that parenthood usually is. If your startup isn’t your baby, why the heck do you put up with it? Would anyone bother with kids if there weren’t that intrinsic bond there – the idea of being connected to something that shares your DNA, that shares your vitality? Would anyone bother with startups absent the same reasoning? In thinking on it, the ‘startup as baby’ analogy gets more literal the more thought you put into it:
Your Baby Always Seems Cutest to You
Do you know any nominally sane people who now communicate solely through pictures of their children? What do you see when they inevitably show you those pictures? A cute kid, as almost every kid is cute. What do they see? The nexus of their world, the cutest child ever to pet a dog, hug a cat, or make a mess of their dinner plate. An undeniable supernova of adorability that is impossible to deny and thus must be shared.
For your startup, you are the person with the baby pictures. It’s the best, most sterling feat of engineering and product design ever to grace the electrons of the internet. Why wouldn’t you show it to everyone, to let them glimpse upon the awesomeness? Why wouldn’t everyone’s socks be knocked off by that self-same awesomeness?
Except, what do people see when they actually see your startup? A neat idea, like most ideas are neat. Maybe they think this one is particularly cute. Maybe they think this one is secretly ugly. But it’s just one amongst the masses without the halo you add as a parent.
You’re Petrified When It Seems Behind on Developmental Steps
When you have a child, one amongst the many perpetual anxieties is that your baby isn’t developing fast enough. They’re not meeting the benchmarks. Are they late to talk? Late to walk? Late to crawl? Are they poorer at jamming the right shape through the right hole than they should be at this age? Is it time to panic? Dear God, is there anything I can do? Is there any way I can Baby Einstein them to where they should be?
Startup? Same deal. You lay out your benchmarks. They are blindly ambitious. They contain a lot of hope. But all you can do is provide the best environment you can for it to grow healthily, take it to the doctor for diagnosis if it seems evidently sick, and otherwise just pray it grows the way you think it will. Babies, too, have real-time analytics, and they’re just as agonizing to watch.
You Feel That You Can’t Turn Your Back on It, Even For a Second.
Babies seem innocuous and inert right until the moment where you turn your attention away, whereupon they become Indiana Jones, venturing into dangerous caves in the apparent pursuit of total oblivion. So you never turn your attention away, which is fine, because we’ve already established that this is the most incredible child on the planet. Why wouldn’t it merit undivided attention at all times?
Startups also have this powerful pull, where it seems like entropy and calamity are working together to conceive of its demise at all times. Calamity distracts you, then entropy flanks you while you’re distracted, finding the vacancies in your business plan to rot your organization. So you never turn around. Ever. And that’s fine by you, because it’s your baby anyway.
You love it unconditionally, even as it drives to past insanity.
Yes, you do. Yes, you will. It’s a horrible nuisance, and filled with misery, and everyone who has one will tell you that, and that they still wouldn’t give it up for anything.
All I have to offer The Reckoner! is my love, my endless care, and my vitality – it will have to do the rest on its own. And providence willing, it will.
The Reckoner is built! It goes live tomorrow! It actually – secretly – is live right now, but shhh, don’t tell anyone.
(No, go ahead and tell someone. Tell everyone. Tell some strangers. Cold call people if you have to.)
It lives. It breathes. It cries for attention and mirth and love. It is, and now, like a newborn, all I can offer it are sleepless nights and my own love to see that it survives, that it grows out of its infancy into something that can care and engage and contribute to this world. To make the world a better place – however marginally – than it was when The Reckoner was first born.
There are plenty of observations on the process of building The Reckoner – enough to power this blog endlessly – but there’s one worth mentioning now:
The hurdles of building a business get shorter once you start running up to them.
Initially, the most imposing hurdle of starting ReckonLabs seemed to just be taking the risk in the first place. Eventually, I decided that regardless of how tall the hurdle seemed – and there were times where it seemed like the secret third Petronas Tower – I’d get a running start on it. And as I ran and got close enough that my choices were either to vault it or crash into it, I realized that it was mostly shadow. I wouldn’t even need to break stride.
Building The Reckoner followed a similar pattern. I knew that the site needed an enterprise-scale solution if it was going to be an enterprise. And it needed to look good. And for a single-person project, those hurdles seemed large – in fact, they seemed impenetrable. So I sat down and ran at it. I did the research. I drew up the architecture. I mocked out the design. I built out the stories. I estimated them. And it was doable. The hurdle was mostly shadow. And the site is done on time, and I’m even reasonably happy with it, perfectionist that I am.
It’s all mostly shadow. We fear the dark, and yet we’re born into it. Our minds are the only source of light that we get. If you point it in the right direction, you get the real measure of what you’re facing. Or you can turn your mind off and live in the darkness. Those are the options.
I’m now facing another imposing hurdle – perhaps the last and biggest. In the finishing drive to build The Reckoner, it was never the technology or the deadline that were stressful – those hurdles had already wilted into the ground. It’s this moment right now – building a business out of a piece of technology. And I think it’s going to be okay.
The Reckoner roars along on schedule! The Beta Release is still on track for November 30th, and much of the site already has life!
In last month’s flurry of design of wireframing, I’ve put together full prototypes of how all of the site pages will look. In addition to providing the blueprint for the front end of the site (which is methodically gaining life through October), these also provide a handy preview of what The Reckoner is all about.
Take a look for yourself! Each thumbnail leads to a link of the corresponding mockup -- a sampling of what The Reckoner will look like in 50 days!
The best part has been in successfully surmounting the late-middle innings of the Reckoner construction effort. All long-term undertakings, regardless of subject or size, encounter a crisis point, where the task of constructing a quality outcome seems insurmountable. This point generally occurs when the following three conditions hold true:
Enough of the overall effort is complete to make the existing pieces a concrete entity, with observable flaws that can be contrasted against the original intentions.
The amount of work remaining is still large and abstract enough where it can’t be easily digested at a glance.
The amount of time remaining is small enough to conceptualize.
Condensed, it means that you’ve got enough of a something to see the flaws in it, not enough of a something to see the final product in it, and enough of a deadline to feel that the gap can’t be bridged. These are cases that reveal the kernel of truth in a classical Crash Davis-ready sports cliché – take it one day at a time. Partition the work in front of you as best you can, match those partitions against the work you’ve done to make sure the essential parts are refined, and dispel the fog as much as possible.
This is one the better advantages of Agile-based projects. Carving work into stories and carving stories into sprints forces the project into partitioning the work so that you’re no more than a few weeks from a checkpoint. At this point, with three sprints to go, I’m confident the Reckoner is going to make it because I can see and intrinsically understand every remaining component in front of me. And with the screenshots noted above, I can see the final product as it gets animated, one page at a time.
Seven weeks to go, and I'm loving every day of it.
Decision-making power is finite. You can use up your decision-making capability over the course of the day, and the resulting mental fatigue makes you more likely to dodge future decisions or make bad ones.
The biological basis of this is probably blood sugar. Low blood sugar means a tired brain that can’t make decisions.
Intuitively, this makes sense, which is why I originally approached this article with a banquet dinner of skepticism. People generally love when science backs our collective intuition – it makes us feel more secure in our understanding of the world, since science is merely affirming the knowledge we’ve derived on our own. People hold fast to conventional wisdom – when science undercuts it, it undercuts us. It means real truth only belongs to the scientists, who are not terribly distinct from wizards for those on the outside of the tower (to bastardize an Arthur C Clarke quote). And nobody likes a wizard, or wants to listen to one.
But no, the article does a surprisingly good job of avoiding the Malcom Gladwell school of Science By Intuitive Assertion. There’s some legitimate and well-conducted research that suggests that this is really true – that our brains only have a limited amount of decision making mojo, and that when it’s gone, the only way back is through judicious oral deployment of Snickers bars.
One of the more interesting anecdotes in the article deals with buying a car. Buying a car generally involves a tremendous number of clear, sequentially delivered decisions – do I want the base model or the sport model? Better wheels? Keyless entry? AM radio or splurge on the AM/FM variant? What the article discovered is that the ordering of these decisions is important. Front-load with trivial things – gearshift knobs and seat warmers – and the mind will exhaust itself with all of the permutations so that when it gets to the important decisions – four-banger or V6 – it’s extremely suggestible and liable to spend more money.
So what does this mean for The Reckoner? Doesn’t this make The Reckoner irresponsible – a way for people to exhaust their decision-making power on other people’s problems so they can then – mentally exhausted – blow all their money on lottery tickets, extended warranties, and Mike Tyson-style facial tattoos?
No. One of the themes of the article is agony. We burn the most mental energy in agonizing over tough decisions, pushing against the hinges of our own constrained perspectives and thought processes. We agonize over just about anything regardless of how trivial, and that leaves us without the energy when we need it.
The Reckoner is designed to relieve agony. People post questions that they’re agonizing over to a crowd that individually will not agonize over the question. Collectively, through the diversity of perspective and the wisdom of the crowds, these individual non-agonized viewpoints aggregate into a good decision that can relieve the agony of the poster. Thus, the net sum of mental energy is conserved. And entertainment is provided. And decisions are delivered. And a good time is had by all.
Also, you can consume as many Snickers as you like in front of The Reckoner. Go ahead. I won’t care. Snickers are delicious, and I don’t care who knows it.
So now, demons of the past exorcised (or perhaps merely exercised), we turn away from the past to the golden future. And the future is The Reckoner.
The Reckoner is the Raison d'être for ReckonLabs, the showcase for the whole carnival. The concept is simple enough, and best explained by the bevy of shiny happy clip-art Fisher Price people on the current Reckoner placeholder site:
Have a binary decision?
Take the job, leave the job?
Good headshot, bad headshot?
Happy Days better with Chachi or without Chachi?
2011 Maserati GranCabrio or 1985 Plymouth Acclaim?
Post in on the Reckoner.
The world – using the awesome power of Democracy – makes your decision for you.
Everything in our world is composed fundamentally of decisions. From infinite branching paths, we winnow out a selection of how to proceed with our lives and our businesses. And from the moment we start making decisions, we start making mistakes. That’s being human. There just isn’t the time, the perspective, and the information available to pick the best course of action at every juncture.
And usually, that’s fine. Because most decisions aren’t that important, and you’ve got to move forward.
But what about for the important decisions? One of my conclusions from the Meetings – Proctoring the Hellmouth series is that for the important business decisions – decisions that we take with great deliberation (nee trepidation), with great money at stake – we still stink at them. We hold extended meetings, we don’t have the right information, we demur from making the tough calls, we deliberate and deliberate and deliberate until we groupthink ourselves into a choice (from which we’re now too close to the problem to have the right perspective on), and then we forget the justification and input for next time.
And it isn’t a cakewalk in our own lives either.
And also, sometimes, you’ve just got to confirm that Superman really could beat Batman (I mean, come on, for Chrissakes, Superman could push the planet that Batman was standing on into the sun.)
That’s what The Reckoner is all about. If we entrust Democracy to run our governments – governments which have access to nuclear weapons and control the world’s Sacagawea dollar coin supply – maybe we can entrust it to make the decisions in our own lives easier. So keep your eyes peeled.
The Reckoner is currently ahead of schedule for a Beta release on November 31st, so follow @TheReckonerSite on Twitter or email me at (koch (at) workingdan.com) to catch the latest and get on the mailing list!