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Does the Challenge of the HOW or the WHAT of an Idea Motivate You?

What's more motivating for you -- learning how to fish or the fish itself? (Image Source: http://thelakemurraynews.net/wp-content/uploads/2014/04/Fishing.jpg)
I was talking to an intellectual yesterday about an idea of his. He’s an entrepreneur in the marketing realm, and wants to get a technology idea off the ground. He’s also an author and PhD with a wide breadth of exciting experiences; hence the “intellectual”.

So we were talking about his idea, and it’s in the realm of politics. I know diddly squat about politics. I’m sitting there and understanding what he’s proposing conceptually, and at the end, he asked me to get back to him if I’m interested in taking on the project in some capacity, but also, if I’m not passionate about it or the subject at all, then no worries.

That little bit made me think about if I need to know or “care” about politics, or if there was another drive that would motivate me to take this on. It made me think of what I’m passionate about, what challenges I find rewarding, and to some extent, what am I scared of – the domain of an idea or building the idea.

Throughout our talk, I was leaning on my experience building startups in thinking about the venture as it relates to marketing, user experience, and largely, the technical mechanics of it. It’s not technically difficult to be honest, but I don’t know politics necessarily. So all this time, the hamster in my head is running furiously thinking about the building aspect of the idea, not really politics. That’s what drives me.

I’ve long called myself an opportunist. I mentioned in prior posts like “The Next Act for an Entrepreneur With Breadth, Not Depth – Am I A Product Manager?” that I don’t necessarily have a specific domain expertise, but look at what I’ve done, and you won’t necessarily find much commonalities in domains. Instead, you’d find the BUILDING part of my ventures as the common thread. It’s the thrill of the strategy formation, hypothesis testing, implementation, learning, and then the recycle.

Thinking about this “domain” vs. “build” concept, I suppose I can relate “build” to the “work”, “implementation”, or “delivery” of other occupations or even in the corporate job world. Or better yet, “domain” would be the “what” question and “build” would be the “how” question. For me, it doesn’t so much matter about what an occupation or idea is in. Instead, I’m interested in the “how”. What scares me when I’m building iOS apps right now, for instance, is how to mechanize an idea. How do I use the iPhone’s GPS, if I’ve never used it before?
Taking the old proverb, “give a man a fish and you feed him for a day; teach a man to fish and you feed him for a lifetime”. But perhaps the more relevant question is if the man even wants fish. What if he’s allergic?! So fishing, in this case, is the “HOW”. And the “fish” is actually the “WHAT”.
And of course, you have more questions that can and will motivate you as you choose a new job, a new venture, etc. including WHO, WHEN, WHERE, and my favorite… the WHY.
  • The Who question can address who you work with (want to work with your best friend?) or who you serve.
  • The When question can address if timing is right – if the market’s ready, if you’re ready, etc.
  • The WHERE question, similarly to WHEN, can address if the location’s right. 
  • The Why question is a tough one, and yet so easy… this can answer if you’re in sync with the purpose of a company. Is the company pursuing a mission you’re proud of and feel strongly about?

But with the Intellectual, the questions that raced into my mind that concerned me the most were that of the domain (the WHAT) and how mechanizing the idea would work (the HOW). At least with this opportunity, I wouldn’t be able to tell if BM would or would not be someone WHO I would want to work with. I will have to consider the WHEN question before I get back to him given my bandwidth now and in the foreseeable future. And as for the WHY, this opportunity would allow me to learn a lot from a brilliant, well-connected individual that would perhaps be a great stepping stone for something later I could be even more passionate about.

Of course, for me, I have to be wary of that the building process only lasts for so long before the product reaches maturity and stability. And thus, the challenge dissipates, but perhaps, the challenge actually transforms into another type of build… like building a company, or building new innovative ideas… but in a better case, the WHAT becomes just as appealing as the HOW.


What are your thoughts about what excites you about your job or a new opportunity – is it the domain or the build? How do you consider the other questions (who, when, why) as you evaluate options?

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