We're currently doing two projects with a lot of similarities. Both involve using the web to get information into the hands of people who can do something useful with it. Both involve pulling together people, resources and expertise to deliver a genuinely useful service.
And yet, at the same time, the two projects couldn't be more different. The organisations involved, the overall aims and the experiences we're trying to create, call for very different approaches.
I've always envied those diagrams and descriptions that companies put on their websites, the ones that show, in clear steps, how they approach and deliver their projects. It makes me feel like I'd know exactly what to expect, what I was getting. It ticks the marketing boxes, clearly articulates the proposition.
And so, on occasion, I've gone away to write these things myself. I've thought about the stages of a project and the route we'd take with a new client. But nothing ever comes of it. Or at least it's so general ("we talk about it and then we do it") that it serves no purpose. I can list all sorts of principles and tools but never a process.
And so, thinking about those two current projects, it seems that perhaps we don't have a process at all. Or at least all I can say is that we start with talking about the project and something comes out at the end. In between the two is a mixture of what we know works and what new things we can try out.
What I've realised is that you can waste a lot of time trying to fit what you do into boxes. The neatly packaged product, the clearly articulated proposition, something obvious to sell. Straplines. Diagrams. Statements.
I'm not saying that these things don't have their place, but how many people are trying to shoehorn their work into other people's shoes? How many people are trying to summarise what they do to make it snappy? Most importantly, how many people are stripping away subtle complexity for the sake of communication?
The longer you've been doing your own thing the more you realise that the solution is more complex and simpler at the same time.
It's complex because trying to think about it all, the marketing messages, the different perceptions, the relationships you have with people in business and the different routes you could take to achieve things, is beyond comprehension.
And it's simple, very simple, because all you have to do is keep going, keep learning, keep talking to people. You have to care enough to want to start from scratch every time. Look at everything like it's the first time you've ever seen it.
And then, hopefully, it's not a conveyor belt, it's a journey.