About 10 years ago I spent a few summers working at an orphanage in Maputo, Mozambique. That year the entire area had been devastated by floods. The UN had declared it one of the worst humanitarian crises in the world. I had never seen anything like it. An already impoverished nation had literally been swept away. The surrounding misery held tremendous power as one searched for coping mechanisms, so as to not be completely overwhelmed. The experience was just that intense. The organization I was with understood this reality, and in response they developed a mantra that they shared with all the volunteers and wrote on all the doors of the orphanage. The statement was, “Stop For The One.” The assessment was that one could not process the scope of the situation, and that it would be too much for any person to bear. So they tried to bring the focus back to the single individual, as opposed to the grand need of the collective. We might not be able to take on this whole situation, but we can stop for the one. In this situation the principle worked great and opened up areas for people to make a difference.
Now, if you take this principle and apply it to a business, it has the power to bring your business crashing to the ground. If you stop for every comment or suggestion that you are offered you will never be able to implement the idea that you started out to create. People are always going to have something to say about an idea, product, or service you are producing. Sometimes the comments will absolutely be on point, and in line with the big picture idea you are creating. Other times this will not be the case. The question comes down to when to say yes and when to say no. I see a lot of people and businesses struggling with this question when they themselves don’t really understand what their product offering is. We all know that person who tries to please everyone all the time. The saddest thing about these people is that in an effort to be something to everyone, they never find out for themselves who they really are. A business is similar, and successful businesses always understand the core product that they offer. Commentary from the outside is always important even if they are not in line with the idea. At the very least they force the creators to understand correctly what it is they are creating, and more importantly what it is they are not creating. We get a lot of great comments, suggestions, and feedback from our software users. Some of them in line with our overall vision for the software and other times not. If we don’t clearly understand what we are offering then we will try to implement every feature request that comes our way which would eventually destroy the whole idea. This is not to say that we are not flexible and responsive to the good ideas/challenges that come our way.
We just need to be able to separate the wheat from the chaff. If we don’t know where we are going then we will be unable to do this.
It is important to state that just because we don’t implement an idea, does not mean the idea is bad. It just means that it is not in line with our service. Humility goes a long way in explaining this to your clientele (or doing anything in life, frankly). It is our belief that any person who takes the time to write in and talk to us about our product absolutely deserves a response. We are honored every time we get a comment or feedback about our products. Sometimes we get to tell the user we have this on our list and you can expect this in the future. Sometimes we get to tell them it is a great idea and we have added it to our list. Other times we have to tell them that while we appreciate the suggestion we cannot and will not be implementing that feature and explain why it doesn’t stay in line with the product we are offering. It never ceases to excite us when people want to get involved with what we are doing. Even when we have to turn a suggestion away, we are honored that people take the time to offer up ideas.
At the same time, it is important to the idea, our business and to our users that we know where we are going. I have come to believe it is even more important to know where you are not going. If not, you will be forever stopping for the one in an effort to implement something that is not in line with the identity of your product thereby never reaching the full potential of the idea as you watch it disintegrate into something it was never intended to be.