Design By Ideal

I find myself asking the question, "How would this work in a perfect world? What is the ideal here?" more and more lately. It seems to fit in so many discussions, from architecture to process to meeting formats to feature development. Each time i ask it, i am learning just how powerful of a question it can be.

The reason this question is so powerful is because it frees people stuck in the details and the traditions. For the purposes of defining a hypothetical ideal, we are not limited to "well traditionally we have..." and similar such statements. It allows everyone in the discussion to stop and ask themselves, "free of all constraints, how should this work?" What you will find is that some fantastic ideas generally surface from posing this question to a group.

Once you field the question, ignore logistics entirely. What would the ideal be? It may surprise you how nice the result of that discussion will sound to everyone. Once you find your idea, view it as the goal of the meeting. Start finding a way to get there.

Remember those traditions we ignored at the start of this process? It is time to start paying attention to them again. This question is not being asked as a way to throw the baby out with the bathwater. Using the existing setup, what has to change to achieve the ideal? Do meeting agendas need to change? Maybe who is responsible for things should shift. The sheer flexibility of this makes it hard for me to even imagine the possible cases you will encounter with it.

When people identify that something needs to be changed, the finish line is generally defined as "has improvement happened". That is bogus. Instead, the finish line should be "the absolute ideal". The job of changing something is not to make it marginally more serviceable. The goal should be approach the ideal. That begins with defining what the ideal is, and working backwards from there.

Perhaps the ideal is not something you can achieve all at once. In that case, make sure people understand the target. Over time, make changes toward that goal. Rome wasn't built in a day. But no one ever shot the moon without first understanding where the moon even was.

tl;dr: When changing a process or meeting format, you should have a finish line more ambitious than "how can this be better". This is how to find it.

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Written by Ben
Ben is the co-founder of Skyward. He has spent the last 10 years building products and working with startups.