Some children have imaginary friends. I had an imaginary town. It was called Butterfly Grove. Between 2nd and 4th grade, I worked on this multi-faceted project in which I envisioned the life and times of an entire town. Read more about it here.
In those formative years, Butterfly Grove taught me a lot and allowed me to experiment in ways that I have applied since then. The second is this:
Don’t Limit Yourself to How
As an amateur city planner, I had no idea how to build a city. I didn’t know the ends and outs of running these businesses. Designing the city was play and I was free to envision boldly.
This is reflected in some of the design choices I made. The high school was designed in the shape of a football (as I had envisioned a very strong sports program, apparently). The residential area of town was in a single “neighborhood” with streets named after wood varietals: maple, rosewood, and pine. I didn’t build a single major employer (or several) in the town, besides the various service businesses that I dreamed up. I guess I envisioned a community that just shuffled our money around, showing a lack of understanding of economics and the future eventuality of internet commerce.
As I grew up, however, I gained more skills. Like you, I became more capable. I now knew how to do things and have increasingly found my ideas constrained by the questions “How would we implement this idea?” or “How would we get started?” I can see the flaws and potential in things more quickly. I am quite accomplished now with coming up with an idea and then turning immediately around to make a list of all the steps required to execute. This has made me both an effective (and sometimes infuriating) leader. It has helped me communicate complex and bold visions to people by breaking down the steps necessary to get there. And it has caused me to unwittingly close off feedback or concerns early in the ideation process. It is never my intent to have my enthusiasm overwhelm a better idea or a word of caution, but I admit that it can at times.
These were not problems that my 8-year-old self encountered. I could dream unencumbered by the realities of execution. I could build, sketch, paste, and draw without worrying about the details. I could think about alternatives, seek inspiration from multiple sources, and most importantly, engage experts if I wanted to switch to the implementation phase (which I never really did).
The best and boldest ideas are ones that people might not have known how to do, but they knew clearly why they wanted to do them and what they would feel when the product or service was a reality. We see examples of this throughout the world of design and industry. I recently toured a factory where they employed a department of engineers to design the equipment used in the factory to move materials around (they were too big to do with conventional conveyor equipment so had to be invented). Large manufacturers, like those in the semiconductor industry, regularly have design all the production equipment in parallel to the processes that they will deploy the make the chips smaller and faster in the future. When they start designing the processes, they don’t know how they will do it, but they know it must be done.
A vision of where they are going is more important than having all the answers about “how” they will get there. It is precisely the “how” that the team is assembled to solve. But without the “why” and the “what could the future hold?” visioning, they have nothing to aim for.