There are certain things I seem to learn again and again. This is one of them.
You know what is total bunk? This idea:
“Build a better mousetrap and the world will beat a path to your door.”1
A simple three step proof to show this is not a true statement:
- Invent a better mousetrap.
- Tell no one about it.
- See who shows up. (Hint: No one).
Beaten paths only lead to KNOWN moustraps. They don’t lead to UNKNOWN MOUSTRAPS.
The most recent chapter of me forgetting this: The Austin Messy Homes Tour.
The Messy Homes Tour is amazing. It is super fun. There are prizes. It was one day away. I was begging people to show up at the last minute.
So what happened?
- I thought greatness was enough. (The aforementioned “Mousetrap Fallacy”.)
- Since I was seeing the project all the time, I had some subconscious idea that everyone else did, too.
- The project evolved in some ways that I didn’t notice.
Greatness Is Not Enough
I fell for the Mousetrap Fallacy: it was so obviously awesome to me that clearly people could not help to be attracted to the project merely by some natural laws of the universe. (It makes me think of underpants gnomes’ logic: Make Messy Homes Tour Event >> ? >> Profit).
It doesn’t matter how awesome things are if no one knows about them. You need to have a plan to promote it. Advertising, Marketing, and PR are big business because they work. I’ve been lucky in that I’ve made some good products in my life that mostly sell themselves. But if no one knows, no one buys. (And geez, the tour was FREE so I didn’t even have to ask people for money!)
Note to future self: Make a real plan to get the right word out to the right people.
Related note: Be prepared for the reality that not everyone will think it is a better mousetrap.
They Don’t See It Like You Do
When you work on something every day for a long time, it becomes a large part of your reality. Even though on some level you know that most/all people have no idea what you’re doing, it’s so so easy to fall into a weird trap filled with bizarre feeling-thoughts such as:
- “I’ve been working on this so much it’s like everyone else practically knows about it already.”
- “It’ll just take a few words of announcement and I’ll be selling mousetraps left and right”
- “I told a couple people and now I think there’s a lot of people talking about this and excited to see it”.
- “The value is clearly obvious. People don’t need me to explain why they need this thing that’s unlike anything else they’ve ever heard of.”
These are insane. But I think they are also very natural and human. When you are surrounded by something all the time, you assume others are seeing it all the time too. That you’re on the same page. These thoughts might not be in your consciousness completely, but they probably exist in some kind of wishful thinking fueled by your own love and familiarity with what you’ve been working on.
Don’t fall for it.
Assume this: No one knows what the hell you are doing. You will have to do a LOT of explaining.
How Much You Value Something Can Change Over Time Without Your Notice
For me this project evolved from “who cares” to “I really care”. But I was late to notice it.
Many of my projects begin with an attitude of “This is just for fun. For me and my friends maybe. It could evolve into something, but I’m just experimenting right now.”
I like this attitude and think it’s great for taking the pressure off, which allows creativity and brainstorming to flow. It also allows you to kill or shelve or pivot projects as you explore.
But sometimes there comes a point where you find that you have started to really invest in the project. Maybe time, money, or the help or collaboration with others.
And when you’ve really invested, you start wanting it to be a success more than you might have at the beginning. This is an inflection point that (at least for me) is easy to miss. Certain needs have evolved over time that weren’t there before. Now, results matter. You expect your efforts to be validated.
This was the case with the Messy Homes Tour. It was sort of a joke at first, then it took a shape, then I got other people involved, then I started doing more work and it started looking really good.
As the event evolved I didn’t check in and ask myself, has the value on I put on this project changed over time and does it now require changes in other areas? It did. I wanted people to show up now.
How to Prevent This
Honestly, I don’t know a full-proof way to prevent this. Sorry for the baited headline. But I think these would help:
- Set a threshold, an if-then, or a date(s) where you will check in and see if your original plan is still the plan and if the project has changed in value. See if your current expected results are supported by the current plan.
- Always assume you will have to promote. A lot. Remember that no one knows anything about your project.
- Understand that you can’t just give them the name of the project. You will have to educate and sell people on it.
1: Often attributed to Emerson.