Pramit Nairi's Collection of writing
updated semi-regularly

14 January, 2015

A Higher Standard

A day or so ago I had an exchange with someone who decided to do a "social experiment" by buying a recently-released and limited availability $99 product that's undoubtedly innovative and groundbreaking but clearly not ready for prime time and has been universally regarded as something that doesn't do any one thing well. The exchange was cordial and friendly — the person was even surprised that an early adopter like myself wouldn't have one on order already — but it surfaced something that's been simmering in me for a while now. No, I'm not done being an "early adopter". I'm just done with being willing to spend my money on stuff that isn't well thought through and that doesn't do things well.

Someone on the thread referenced the iPad and how they didn't know what they'd do with it when it was first introduced but now find it indispensable. However, I find that a bit misguided. The iPad did a few things incredibly well and that was it. People had a hard time figuring out what tasks they'd migrate to it, but there was no doubt that the product was "complete". Yes, it was a version 1.0 but it felt complete and absolutely something that would evolve (and looking at where the iPad is today, clearly beyond our wildest imaginations) but it was complete. It didn't have a half-assed web browser. Or a half-baked email client. Or a spit and string bound media player. It worked completely, albeit only at a few tasks.

But the rash of products coming out these days — yes, even "cheap" $99 ones — just seem rushed and incomplete. And yet people are willing to buy them. Why? Why don't we have higher standards for the things we buy? Last I checked, $99 isn't a trivial amount — at least not in the global sense. Then there's the it-just-sits-on-a-shelf-unused scenario. Do we have that much extra room in our lives to have extra stuff?

Maybe I'm turning into a curmudgeon and cutting back on the stuff I have, but living any other way just doesn't feel right. I can't, in good conscience, buy stuff only to let it go to waste. It applies to food, clothing, furniture, and pretty much everything that can be bought or acquired. I've started holding myself and what I buy to a higher standard — one where the thing must pass the "regular and useful use" test. If it feels half-baked (not 1.0, mind you), or if it feels like something that wasn't thoughtfully designed, built, and created, it doesn't cut it. A consequence of this is being called a monk by people who visit my home, but hey... I'll take that over being called a hoarder.

I believe as a species we need to be aware of the mark we're leaving on this planet. It's all too easy for us in the "west" to not see the impact of e-waste, or the consumption of resources to maintain our storage units and garages where extra stuff is kept, but it's real. We need to hold ourselves to a higher standard. And hopefully from that will come a sense of awareness of the standards that we will hold those who we buy things from and the things they make.

It's not enough to say "but it's only $99" and "it just takes up a little space on the shelf". Asking the most fundamental and essential questions is what's needed. Companies need to hear those questions. I'm not against rapid innovation, growth, and progress but I'm clearly against and vehemently opposed to sloppy stuff. Fewer things, but better things.

This whole "more is better" and scattershot approach to building things to see what sticks needs to stop. At least at the consumer level. All that experimentation and trial-and-error-ing should happen inside the company first. What gets put out should be complete, finished, and rounded. Now I'm not saying that it can't iterate and evolve, but it absolutely shouldn't be half-done. And I'm not talking about bugs and problems. I'm talking about just plain unfinished stuff.

That's the standard. Does it feel "done"? Does it feel "complete" If yes, release it. And early adopters, by all means buy it. You're the target. You're the one giving important input for the company to figure out what 2.0 can be like.

The higher standard can apply to so much and can be incredibly transformative. Time, projects, interactions, people... you name it. We need to be more judicious about our resources and with that will come greater satisfaction and greater things. Relationships, jobs, things, experiences... all that conform to a higher standard and that don't feel like another mile-marker on this rat race called life.


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