Episode 0024 · March 9, 2023

The podcast about what to do next.

Keep Going Until You See the Simplicity

Paul Ford: [00:00:00] Rich, how are you?

Rich Ziade: The word that comes to mind, which is a word that’s made up of two words, is bittersweet.

Paul Ford: Aw, I mean, it’s nice, It has the sweet part.

Rich Ziade: There’s a sweet part. There’s no doubt there’s a sweet part.

Paul Ford: Alright, so what’s, what’s got you feeling bittersweet?

Rich Ziade: You and I have a startup together, we don’t just have this podcast, it’s called Aboard.

Paul Ford: That’s right.

Rich Ziade: And Aboard is this big, beautiful, sprawling, sophisticated software platform. And by platform it means there’s all kinds of things you can do with it. We’ve built 10 square miles of software.

Paul Ford: Aboard does a little bit of everything.

Rich Ziade: Yes.

Paul Ford: It’s got chat and data and all this stuff because we wanted to sort of make it easier for [00:01:00] people to get their work done. But we’re like, you know what will resonate is let’s bring in more of the web. Let’s make it, and let’s make it really easy to bookmark stuff and bring it into this thing, because people are always saving things online.

Rich Ziade: All the time.

Paul Ford: And we made one use case in the demo and it was, “Hey, you’re looking at Zappos buying a shoe”.

Rich Ziade: Yes.

Paul Ford: We thought we were changing the world and we were gonna tell everyone how to work better and be smarter. And it turns out when you show people how easy it could be to bookmark a shoe, including very powerful people, their eyes light up and they get excited.

Rich Ziade: They did [laughter]. Yeah, and that’s the sweet part. People said the magic words to us. “I can think of 10 ways to use it. When can I have it? I really want it”. And so they, when someone tells you, “that’s really cool, good luck”, or, “that’s neat. I can see how that’s worth it for other people”.

Paul Ford: People are always nice.

Rich Ziade: When they give you a personal, when they, when you see [00:02:00] people connect personally to it and immediately in like inject it into their lives, you know, you’re onto something.

Paul Ford: It’s completely different as an experience than the other one where they’re like, thanks for your time.

Rich Ziade: It’s powerful.

Paul Ford: Yeah.

Rich Ziade: And we, we think we’ve we’re onto something there. That’s the sweet part.

Paul Ford: But the bitter part, what’s the bitter part?

Rich Ziade: I built miles and miles of beautiful landscape, beautiful software.

Paul Ford: Spent lots of money.

Rich Ziade: Nobody cares [laughter].

Paul Ford: Nobody cares.

Rich Ziade: Nobody wants to hear about it.

Paul Ford: This is, you know, I have tweets that have gone viral. Somebody sent me an email, they’re like, somebody just quoted one of your tweets to me today.

Rich Ziade: That’s pretty impressive.

Paul Ford: It’s pretty cool, except it was actually copied by some influencer onto their Instagram.

Rich Ziade: Of course.

Paul ForD: Yeah. Anyway, what I’m-

Rich Ziade: What’s the quote? I can’t help but ask.

Paul Ford: Oh, it was a, it’s a, it’s a, this little line I wrote, which is, um, a parody of a song, “it’s when the moon hits your knees and you mispronounced trees, Sycamore”.

Rich Ziade: Ooh.

Paul Ford: Beautiful right? millions of people.

Rich Ziade: That’s an incredibly airtight [00:03:00] little poem.

Paul Ford: It was just, it was just on and it, it completely got stolen and you know, just like, it’s just absolutely, it’s part-

Rich Ziade: Source it Paul [laughter].

Paul Ford: Part of the culture now, right? It’s a little confusing sometimes to have built a career explaining technology sensitively and thoughtfully.

Rich Ziade: Yeah.

Paul Ford: And, uh, spent an unbelievable amount of time learning things so I can write about and convey them.

Rich Ziade: Yeah.

Paul Ford: And then realize that mispronouncing trees might be my human legacy.

Rich Ziade: It, it might be.

Paul Ford: But that is where you meet people, you meet people with a good line, a good joke, something that they can put in their pocket. Now, that doesn’t mean they won’t give you the rest of the, they might give you some time on the other side of that cause like, ah, you’re the guy who put the shoe in the bookmark or you’re the Sycamore guy.

Rich Ziade: Yeah.

Paul Ford: Accepting this is hard.

Rich Ziade: I think we do it because we’re technologists and we love the idea of creating, I’m going to throw out a catchphrase, maybe this is the title of the podcast, you’re the editor, you decide– a possibility engine. [00:04:00]

Paul Ford: Well, okay, so this I, this is the meat of it and this is the advisor’s part, which is that there are all these moments in the history of editorial work over the last 15 years where editors sit their teams down and say, “we have a pretty popular blog, but it’s not as popular as it should be”.

Rich Ziade: Yeah, yeah.

Paul Ford: I need more viral hits.

Rich Ziade: Right.

Paul Ford: Right, Who, can you get me viral hits?

Rich Ziade: Yeah.

Paul Ford: And, uh, that, why doesn’t that work?

Rich Ziade: It do- because that’s not, that’s not coming from the core of the thing.

Paul Ford: Certain things are only emergent.

Rich Ziade: Exactly.

Paul Ford: Gotta do ’em every day, and then you get a sense of the form. And then it’s funny as someone who can occasionally do things that get spread pretty far and wide.

Rich Ziade: Yeah.

Paul Ford: You know, you know, you’re not, it’s not a hundred percent accuracy, but every now, like I still write for Wired, I know which columns are gonna kind of quote, hit and pick up speed on social media or not.

Rich Ziade: But there’s something else that I think that that, that you do that is [00:05:00] not, is less common, which is you do not sit down, and I’ve seen you work through your articles on a monthly basis, you don’t sit down and say, how do I get a big bang out of this one?

Paul Ford: You can’t, it doesn’t work.

Rich Ziade: It doesn’t work. It doesn’t work.

Paul Ford: You turn the wheel, they’re not all hits. They’re not.

Rich Ziade: They’re not all hits.

Paul Ford: I mean, think of, pick up any artist’s albums, right? And, and if you’re lucky, you have one hit per album, if you’re a superstar.

Rich Ziade: If I may obs, if I may, uh, observe you Paul Ford and talk about you, you are one of the few people I know whose superpower you happen to be a great writer, but your superpower is what you’re missing, which is ego, which is where the bitter comes from, I want everybody to love all my ideas unconditionally [laughter].

Paul Ford: Oh.

Rich Ziade: And all the software I built unconditionally [laughter].

Paul Ford: Trust me, rich, I work with you.

Rich Ziade: Yeah, I-

Paul Ford: I know you do.

Rich Ziade: [00:06:00] It’s not easy to toil away in the woodshed and build a thing, wheel it out to the neighbors and they just kind of shrug and say, “that’s sort of neat”, and they walk away, I’ve been working on the thing for such a long time. I’ve, I’ve been doing software for a very long time, It is, it’s much easier for me today, I used to get angry, I used to get upset at people for not buying into my vision of how the world is supposed to work. Now I’m very happy, the sweet has completely overwhelmed the bitter, to be frank.

Paul Ford: I think so, you wait for this moment. So, so there’s a great, there was a poet named Don Marquee who, who did a series of poems about a cockroach and a cat named Archie and Mahi Abel, but also wrote other kinds of poems as well. His line about poetry was that publishing a book of verse is like dropping a feather into the Grand Canyon and waiting for the echo, right?

Rich Ziade: Yeah [chuckles].

Paul Ford: Like there’s just, and he was a hit, He had hits. He was successful.

Rich Ziade: Yeah, yeah.

Paul Ford: You, [00:07:00] the fantasy of the hit, the fantasy of things locking in is so pervasive, and the reality is that 99% of the most successful people you see, you don’t see the, you don’t see the 99.5% of it that is meaningless grind.

Rich Ziade: And failure.

Paul Ford: And failure.

Rich Ziade: Outright failure. Going into a meeting and knowing of 20 minutes into a three hour meeting that this is gonna go badly is rough and you have to power through that and-

Paul Ford: [laughter].

Rich Ziade: And I think we’re diverging from what the, the real message here is, which is how like, put the ego aside, speak simply and empathetically to what’s gonna connect for people no matter what it is. We’re talking about software, but the best, the best, best marketers, best communicators, really keep shaving it down and sanding it down. Less words [00:08:00] simpler. You’ve told me this in the last few weeks as we think about marketing Aboard, one idea at a time.

Paul Ford: Well this is-

Rich Ziade: Which can sound arrogant and condescending, but it’s not.

Paul Ford: No, no, it’s not. It’s actually, um, and it’s, it’s, I gotta be frank, it’s difficult because I, what I worry about is that all sorts of ethical, cultural, emotional aspects of the things we built, will just get swept under the rug because people will see it in a certain way and that’s all they will understand.

Rich Ziade: They’ll appropriate it.

Paul Ford: And that will be success.

Rich Ziade: It will be success.

Paul Ford: Our job will be if people do appropriate this and say, this is mine now.

Rich Ziade: Yeah.

Paul Ford: Our job is to support them, now that doesn’t mean that we have to give them exactly what they want, giving people exactly what they want is how you get Facebook.

Rich Ziade: Yes, yes.

Paul Ford: Okay, so like-

Rich Ziade: You can bring them closer, hear them, and still have an opinion about the direction of your platform, for sure.

Paul Ford: What I want to build are tools, I don’t want to create perfect human happiness. I want to create really good tools that-

Rich Ziade: [00:09:00] Good luck with that.

Paul Ford: Yeah, exactly, right? Exactly. What I think we’re saying is that, look, you’re gonna work you, you’re gonna have this set of goals, and they’re probably gonna be pretty aspirational and pretty abstract, and then you’re gonna crank along for a while. Then you might see something that locks in with people.

Rich Ziade: Yeah.

Paul Ford: And it’s probably gonna feel really reductive. It’s gonna feel too small.

Rich Ziade: Yep.

Paul Ford: But that’s your starting point. That’s your act, you actually have to look at all the other stuff you did and say, that was just prologue, and now we finally got to the first chapter.

Rich Ziade: Absolutely, and that takes discipline and humility.

Paul Ford: I don’t love it cause now I have, uh, another couple of years of work to do. I’ve seen consultants, I’ve seen product managers, engineers, designers, I have seen every kind of person blow themselves up on the deck where they need to convey every aspect of ambiguity in their discipline.

Rich Ziade: Let’s go back to what you said earlier. If [00:10:00] people aren’t buying in, you’re not gonna force them to buy in.

Paul Ford: No, no, no.

Rich Ziade: Put aside power dynamics, there are people who, who are like, “boss, that’s a great idea”, put that aside, that’s nonsense, right? If people aren’t buying in, you’re not gonna convince ’em to buy in. And when you, when you’re sampling, a dozen people, they’re probably signaling to you how a thousand are gonna react. So just take it in. It is what it is. You’re not gonna convince them they’re wrong. Customers, users, however you want to characterize the other side of the, the, the screen, frankly, uh, they’re right, they’re just right.

Paul Ford: Let’s be clear, we haven’t launched this software yet, but the story we’ve been telling for the last few years, people have been saying, oh, it’s workflow. Well, I need these five things in order to organize my teams.

Rich Ziade: And, and, and it’s five different things every time we talk to a different person.

Paul Ford: And it turns out that what they really wanted was a place to put their shoes.

Rich Ziade: It’s fundamental, it’s basic.

Paul Ford: Yeah, but there was no way, nobody would ask us for that.

Rich Ziade: No, no, no. You gotta kind of keep banging away [laughter].

Paul Ford: That’s right, [00:11:00] and so that’s what I’m saying, like it can be really hard because the advice here sounds like, oh, go f– essentially, you’re not gonna get the viral hit, you’re not gonna get people to lock in unless you do all the grind and get it through.

Rich Ziade: Yeah.

Paul Ford: And then you’re gonna say, “Hey, I think this might work”. And then when their eyes light up, double down.

Rich Ziade: Yeah.

Paul Ford: And it’s the, the actual truism is that people can handle exactly one idea at a time.

Rich Ziade: Absolutely, and if it’s the wrong one, don’t dig in. It’s not gonna help you.

Paul Ford: No.

Rich Ziade: They’ve done, they’re done, they’ve moved on [laughter].

Paul Ford: And then you’re gonna have a couple weeks where you need to, like, you can come back with another idea a couple weeks from now.

Rich Ziade: Oh yeah. I mean, you see this theme over and over again, great filmmakers leave a lot on the cutting room floor.

Paul Ford: Did you watch, um, Apocalypse Now Redux?

Rich Ziade: I have not seen. What is that?

Paul Ford: It’s the special edit. It’s the director’s cut of Apocalypse Now by Francis Ford.

Rich Ziade: It’s two hours longer?

Paul Ford: It’s like another, like hour and a half longer and it has like two whole sub narratives.

Rich Ziade: [00:12:00] Of Marlon Brando rambling in the dark?

Paul Ford: No it’s like they go to, they go to this French colonial house up the river and they-

Rich Ziade: I think I need to see this, that’s one of my favorite movies.

Paul Ford: I’m gonna tell you something.

Rich Ziade: It’s not good? [laughter]

Paul Ford: You don’t need to see it, you don’t-

Rich Ziade: Just a bunch of extra clips.

Paul Ford: Oh, and everybody, you know, the, the film critics were like, well, this, this just restores a vision of Coppola, and so-

Rich Ziade: It’s academic, that’s nonsense.

Paul Ford: I just, you know what you want to see? You wanna see Robert Duvall and the helicopters will fly to the Val’s place.

Rich Ziade: Yeah.

Paul Ford: Like, like, okay, yes, if I want to, you know, truly invest myself in this Vietnam narrative. Sure, okay, I need to see what was in Coppola’s brain.

Rich Ziade: You see this theme over and over. It’s actually fascinating. Uh, I’m, I’m a huge fan of the band Low.

Paul Ford: Yeah, sure.

Rich Ziade: And a mutual friend of ours, which, bugs, the shit outta me was hanging out in the studio while they were recording their new album, and he was telling me how about how Alan Sparhawk would walk up to the, the mixing board.

Paul Ford: Sure.

Rich Ziade: And just turn off track after track [00:13:00] to see if it mattered. And if you listen to Low’s music, it’s very spare.

Paul Ford: Right.

Rich Ziade: Kind of open and airy, and he’s like, he’s a genius. I’m like, he’s a genius, he’s just deleting stuff.

Paul Ford: But that’s genius.

Rich Ziade: But that’s genius. Great, great directors cut it down to the bone. Great musicians cut it down. So simplify.

Paul Ford: But Low is kind of a musicians band too, and the musicians are like, okay, he does that one thing

Rich Ziade: And he does it beautifully, I don’t think he’s doing it, and to your point about like you can’t aim for the hits, he’s not doing it thinking, okay, I’m gonna really pull this one. He’s genuinely having an interaction with a thing to simplify it to its essence. That’s hard.

Paul Ford: I think we can say with tremendous confidence that Low is not aiming for hits.

Rich Ziade: [laughter] We’re done-

Paul Ford: I think-

Rich Ziade: And then, they turned the cord.

Paul Ford: Let me, let me, here’s a top five Low song. It goes like this KHHHHHH.

Rich Ziade: Yeah, no, careful, one of my favorite bands in the world.

Paul Ford: It’s a great [00:14:00] sound. It’s a great sound, it’s a great sound, but it is never gonna be on like Hot 105 drive time.

Rich Ziade: No, I always thought they were very cinematic. I, I’m surprised they’re not in more movies and shows and stuff.

Paul Ford: That’s fair, like the scene where you know someone is walking home after a terrible-

Rich Ziade: It’s windy…

Paul Ford: Romantic nightmare. And Low starts to play, I’m sure it’ll happen.

Rich Ziade: Keep it simple. Keep it TLDR For this is the Ziade and Ford Advisors podcast.

Paul Ford: Yeah, but it’s not as simple as keeping it simple.

Rich Ziade: Embrace rejection, try again.

Paul Ford: Keep going until you see the simplicity.

Rich Ziade: Okay, see, I thought I had the good title, you have the better title. Keep it simple and keep going.

Paul Ford: Yeah, that’s you, you’re, you can’t start simple. You can’t.

Rich Ziade: It’s hard. We we’re convinced we are discovering a new continent, all the time.

Paul Ford: It’s, it oscillates, we should, I mean, what are our states? Narcissism, failure, despair, occasionally we just relax and go out to lunch.

Rich Ziade: [laughter] Look, ma I discovered a [00:15:00] continent reaction– Ooh, coconuts,

Paul Ford: Looks like a website, yeah. Alright, friends well, if you need any advice, get in touch hello@ziadeford.com or check us out @ziadeford on Twitter.

Rich Ziade: Yes, uh, give us five stars if you feel so inclined. Uh, have a great week.

Paul Ford: I hope so.

Rich Ziade: Bye.

Paul Ford: Bye.

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