What do you want to be when you grow up - if you grew up backwards?
When I was 11 and in grade school, I wanted to be 14 and in high school. When I was in high school, I wanted the freedom college was going to bring. When I was in my first post-college job at 21, I wanted to have the experience and confidence a 30 year old had at the company I worked at.
Youth is wasted on the young.
George Bernard Shaw
“What do I want to be when I grow up?”
At almost every stage of our life, we think about growing up. What's the next and better thing we are going to grow into.
It doesn't stop at a personal level either. People love to ask this of non-human things. Business folk and investors love to ask companies: What's your business going to be when it grows up. I've done this over and over again.
The problem with asking this question is that we ask it before we know who we already are.
So a more useful question is to ask yourself: What would remain if everything grew backwards?
Benjamin Button style.
What would you or your company or your product be, if from today it started going in reverse. And all the things that have been added with growth started to disappear.
If you had to go back to the beginning. If you were forced to start all over. If you lost everything you've already grown into. What would remain?
If you look at the companies and products you probably most often look up to, you'll see they've consciously or unconsciously answered that question for themselves.
I imagine if Google lost everything, they'd keep Search. If all of Facebook's code was lost to some freak accident, they'd choose to keep the News Feed running. These observations, of course, are probably obvious to you. And that's because, Google and Facebook have done such a good job of designing their businesses around focus.
The master of answering this question was Steve Jobs. The feature he'd keep if his business was forced to shrink to just one thing? Industrial design.
Apple has innovated every aspect of their business. Not the least of which is how they impressively innovated supply chain management. But I bet Steve would give it all up if he had to and keep design.
Apple's decisions all steer towards that beacon. Design has fueled and trumped everything. If there were quality issues with the iPhone antenna or the fraying of electrical cords, those issues took a backseat to what the designers wanted to do with the product.
It's insanely tempting to keep asking yourself how you, your ideas, the things you build, your business are going to grow. And you'll quickly collect more responsibilities, more features, more functions and types of customers. You'll collect even more ideas on new ways your business or product will generate revenue for you.
If you're growing a business, you'll probably find how everything “needs” to be spelled in bold on your website. Or how five things all of a sudden need to use at least h2 tags. Better yet, let's go h1.
It's natural. As you look back on anything that's grown in your life, aren't you amazed at how much extra stuff has quickly accumulated onto what you started from?
So instead, keep asking yourself the question about the one thing you'll have left if you actually went back to square 0.
You'll know what to rely on in life when things get tough, and you can't depend on some of the things you've amassed. If you have a business, you'll know what the most sacred thing is that can keep it going. If you're creating a product or website, you'll know what users should see when they login. You'll know what needs to be the thing you spend the most time polishing. What needs to be fast. What words need to be front and center on the page.
You'll find all your decisions easier to make, if you determine the single most important thing to take with you as you go back to the very start.
P.S. And if you liked this, you'd probably dig following me on Twitter for more: here.