Saying No?

Via Boris I came across a post on Susan Mernit’s blog called the No Patrol. It is supposed to be a defense of saying “no” to things in the product development cycle, but as I read each bullet point it struck me as actually a brilliant summary of why big companies often fail to create anything truly interesting, or put another way, why a product like Yahoo Personals is so impersonal. No one would advocate bloat or cruft in software, but sometimes a little silliness, a little frivolity, a little “novelty outweighs the business impact” is what separates a Youtube from a Google Video. Don’t throw the baby out with the bathwater.

8 replies on “Saying No?”

  1. I understand your point, but I question your examples. I’d present something more along the lines of Microsoft Games v. 3d Realms. The former has all the information you’re after, easily accessible; the latter actually connects with the reader and helps you to “get into it”.

    That said, that’s a lot of food for thought…

  2. I really think the problem you’re having trouble with is not saying “no”, not “bloat” or “cruft”, it’s lack of vision. Products that are truly cool, that excite people, that make you smile when you use them, have these objectives as core parts of their vision.

    Truly great products were created with “cool” as one of the objectives. Think about Apple products, where clearly Steve Jobs forces “that’s not good enough, it needs to be cool” in every product.

    The reason that this happens in startups and less in big companies is that startups are all about people excited about the product, the mission, the vision. Big companies are about other things: building/keeping market share, the stock price, people’s jobs. The vision for their products reflect this.

    So, it’s not about “no”, it’s about yes. As in “yes, it really does need to be cool”.

  3. I agree. But that has always been a tension between bureaucracies and free markets. But be grateful, otherwise, if bureaucracies could innovate like a startup, then there would be no place for startups. If there were no startups, then there would be market mechanics for redistributing wealth from the establishment to the talented!

    Bureaucracies provide stability; Free markets provide innovation. That’s why marketing people like to speak of coop-etition: the synthesis of cooperation, like in a bureaucracy, and competition, like in free markets.

    No one has yet invented an organizational structure that does both well.

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