Marimekko is one of my favorite stores 1. Whenever I go in there, I get filled with excitement and urge to swallow the entire collection. I’m fascinated by the vibrant colors and the unique, yet simple, patterns. I’m compelled by the layout of the store and by the arrangement of the items. When I’m there, all I’m thinking about is how to make my home a replica of that store.
Figure 1: Marimekko on 5th Ave., NYC
Unfortunately, I can’t afford taking over Marimekko yet, and even if I could, I don’t know what would I do with hundreds of yards of beautiful fabric 2. And so I have to limit my focus to only one, maybe couple, of items at a time. But when doing so, much of the early excitement vanishes.
When looking at each of the items separately, they don’t look as compelling. A colorful serving plate loses its charm when I figure it won’t fit our current portfolio of dull white dinnerware. A Puisto-osasto print bag looks great, only until I see it’s a tote style bag, which I would never dare to carry. A sofa pillow with colorful flowers’ print, which is Marimekko’s signature, is stunning, yet won’t make it to our subtle, minimalist living room.
So beautiful as a whole, less so when zooming in. And so I usually leave the store empty handed (sometimes with yet another espresso cup).
I use this metaphor occasionally when talking about the difference between vision and the parts that make this vision a whole. I use it to explain to my team why is it that an inspiring vision turns into a list of less exciting projects: improving our api by exposing more resources’ types or adding attributes to existing ones, keeping high standards with our internal tools, even if they don’t add direct value to our users, or designing and developing pixel perfect internal reporting dashboards. These are efforts that don’t always make sense if you look at them in disjunction from the bigger picture, and see how they become part of a comprehensive product in aggregate.
At other times I use it to give some perspective to a feature owner who feels disappointed when the feature she just released didn’t take the Internet by storm. I explain that when building a platform, it’s unlikely that a single feature will “steal the show”.
A vision, like the Marimekko store, excites and inspires only when viewed in its entirety. When you dive into the details, the products and features that comprise it, you might loose your initial enthusiasm.
If you’re in a leadership position, remember that while you live and breathe vision, your team is soaking in the details, and in the day to day tedious work that is anything but exciting. Your challenge will be to inspire them, and keep them inhaling the dream. Otherwise, your team’s morale and its motivation to follow your lead towards fulfilling your vision will quickly evaporate. Thus, the collection you envision will turn into an incoherent pile of items that look bad anyway from near and far.