Version 1 Is Never the Answer

I create for a living. I make presentations and software and books… Even my hobbies are creation hobbies. I make tools and furnishings and, these days, “museum quality aviation replicas.”

Many of the things I’ve made have worked out really well, but one result I can count on: my version 1 of pretty much anything is rarely going to be a keeper. My good work is almost always a v2, or v3, or beyond. When I succeed, it’s usually more a persistence thing than a genius thing. 

For the past couple of weeks, I’ve been working on a 20-minute session I’ll present at P99Conf. Creating a presentation, for me, is a mostly private experience. I simulate in my mind what an audience might like to see. When either I think I’m finished, or I feel stuck, the next step in my process is to find an audience and go through the material. In other words, I use the material in front of other people.

Today, because I felt stuck, I showed my P99Conf material to the audience on my Tuesday Zoom call.

Here’s what I learned. The slides I had made were awful. Not nearly relevant enough to match my audience. I was already off the rails by the fourth slide. In the discussion though, the discussion helped to put me on the right track. The group was very helpful, identifying a couple of slides that were actually pretty good, and suggesting fixes for the worst parts. I went into the call, stuck. I came out inspired, ready to get back to work.

The thing that I suspect might surprise you, that did not surprise me, is how this process felt. I did not feel insulted or denigrated or “vulnerable.” The feelings I did have, because of the call, were these:

  1. Gratitude – I was appreciative that the group would lend me their time
  2. Motivation – I was inspired now, and interested; instead of stuck
  3. Shame – I was a tiny bit embarrassed that my v1 hadn’t been better
  4. Confidence – I knew my work was going to be better because of the review

I did not feel surprised, because I don’t expect any v1 to be a production release. Most of my v1’s I expect to throw away. A v1 is simply part of the process; you can’t have v2 without v1. More precisely, and this is the critical realization in the whole process: 

You cant have v2 without feedback, and you cant have feedback without v1.

My job, then, is not to try to create a v1 that is production worthy. It is to create a v1 that is feedback-worthy. And then go get the feedback. That feedback loop is essential. It’s not a step that I aspire to ever “optimize away.” It is a vital part of the process that I embrace.

If you’re interested in this story, then you might be interested in a paper I wrote in 2011, called “My Case for Agile.” 





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