Saturday, June 4, 2016

Please, what's that intense need to be original?

Help. My Google is broken.
Since I started at this new place, I have had to sit in at too many product meetings. If one becomes adept at coding simply by hearing people talk about code and the problems it can solve, I'd be a durn good code whiz right now.
Sitting in at product meeting means you get to hear cool things get said, and cool stuff get built, pretty much real time. And every once in a while they listen to liberal arts brain droppings and actually move it forward for implementation.
At times like those, I do this:

When our lead developer called to have my take on a new component on the website, I didn't leave my big mouth behind.
"This is pretty good," I said.
"But..." he preempted.
"I think my experience as a user is broken here," I paused. I looked from the computer to him and back to the computer, using the time to corral my thoughts. "I like this lot, but I'll like to add businesses before I create a list."
"True, but just go ahead and keep using it."
So I did. I clicked through and the site opened to a  beautiful page where I was able to add businesses and edit other details.
You probably are getting lost at this point, but read on. Trust me, this is about to make sense.
I had to admit, the process was smooth, accented with a top class design. And I loved it. But I still felt my user journey was broken. So I opened a different interface that looked like what I thought he was going for.
"I like this one better, " I said. "Why don't you just copy it?" The interface looked to me like it can better get the user through the process than what he was showing to me.
"I don't completely agree with you, but you are quite, right," he said. "I can't copy it, though." He went on tell me he won't feel comfortable if his design is right out of someone else's mental repertoire.
He made great points and I knew he was right. I admitted as much until our conversation left product and fell on gadgets we’d used.
How did we get from new components for our website to phones we used two years ago? No idea, if I'm being honest.
He was sitting back in his chair, with the confident smile of a man happy with where life has placed him.  "I had the phones I used in the past because I knew not a lot of people were using them," he said. "When I realised more and more people were using those phones, I simply dropped them and got new ones."
I "hmm hmmed" and listened on.
"I like to be unique as much as possible and I take that into my design work," he beamed. "This one time I created a component on our site and few days later I saw that this other site was using the same component and it looked as though we had copied them. So I changed it."
And that was when I knew I was up to something. This my codehead colleague is not confident being like everyone else. (Yes, I see the oxymoron in that statement too).
I surmised he'd do anything to be different. And he agreed.
"You have a condition," I told him. I didn't have the name so I told him to Google: "the intense need to be unique or different + psychology."
I was confident some psychologist would have figured an exotic, clinical name for what he had.
But nothing. The search returned nothing relevant.
And that's why we are here.
So what's the point of all this?
I am going to say this as honestly I can: I just wanted to drop this really cool quote I found in a Jon Morrow writing:
"The best writers are the best thieves. Shakespeare stole his plots from Greek and Roman plays. Thomas Jefferson practically plagiarised the Declaration of Independence from John Locke. Oscar Wilde stole from . . . well . . . everyone. And so should you."
The part about Thomas Jefferson stealing the Declaration of Independence cracked me up real good. I do not refuse to acknowledge my own internal conflict to be original. That fight has only become more difficult in a world where the internet exists and the norms are dictated by tweeting teenagers with perpetual acid highs.
But I have learned, maybe a little too late, that "faking it till you make it" isn't only one good hack, it's the hack that made legends and might be the only hack there is.
I think there is so much more to be said for imitating things and people.
So, in my follow-up collection of my brain droppings on this, I'll share my thoughts on copying, adaptation and imitation based on Bill Wyman’s autobiography of his life as a Rolling Stones band member. It's the book I'm currently reading and it's teaching me much on the topic.
I'll like to know your thoughts. Are you faking it? Will you fake it? Or you will rather be original or be nothing at all? And if you found the name for that intense need to be unique, please epp.
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This post was written to the sound of Jain's Zanaka. She's my new obsession. Get a load of her here.

Disclaimer: Quoted statements featured in this article were paraphrases of the actual conversation. I mean, I wasn't recording our conversation or anything. That'd be creepy. C’mon.