Optimizing and shipping

August 13, 2014

all the things post it cartoon by ian

Nothing is perfect, but it can be optimal.

I’ve found myself really into economics lately , specifically microeconomics, which looks at how people behave and make decisions in a world with more choices than time or resources.

While a lot of economic concepts can seem like common sense, it’s really helped frame the way I look at things. One thing is optimization. The way I think about optimization is, essentially, realistic perfection.

The definition I heard was something like getting the most possible benefit given the existing resources or constraints. Makes sense. So anything can be optimized, and in a way, constraints can help you. Maybe that’s why I like writing haiku and tweets so much, the constraints help narrow my focus, but doesn’t kill creativity (actually sorta helps). And you know, it’s kind of a fun challenge. But the big constraints are usually time and money, i.e. deadlines and budget.*

Which actions will have what outcomes? What combination of these things will give you an optimal result? What can you actually do?

“The guys at 37signals write in almost everything they talk about…that when you run out of time or you run out of money, you ship.” – Seth Godin (Quieting the Lizard Brain)

View this as a positive thing. It’s not about constraints being negative or positive, they just are. Often what happens in the agency world is you want to make a thing (campaign, website, video, app, etc.) that you think is super cool and perfect, but you don’t have the time, budget, or you’re not actually talking to the right audience (because it isn’t you, dammit!). It’s easy to get hung up here.

Seth really pushes shipping as a thing you need to do. Shipping is finishing, and finishing is hard. So looking at optimization, it’s about not fretting over the inevitable constraints, but figuring out how to do the best possible thing you can given the realities of well, reality. Common sense, right?

If you liked that, check out Pareto optimality and subscribe to my blog if you’re not, then share this post.


*Assuming that deadlines are unavoidable or realistic deadlines are set, but everything has a deadline. And this isn’t to say accept everything at face value – by all means, push for what you want – but when life gives you constraints…

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