Friday, November 11, 2005

The Physics of Passion--Drink the Koolaid

I stumbled across this in a blog by Kathy Sierra, editor of Java Servlets and JSP--great stuff

Physics of Passion: The Koolaid Point

You don't really have passionate users until someone starts accusing them of "drinking the koolaid." You might have happy users, even loyal users, but it's the truly passionate that piss off others enough to motivate them to say something. Where there is passion, there is always anti-passion... or rather passion in the hate dimension.

If you create passionate users, you have to expect passionate detractors. You should welcome their appearance in blogs, forums, and user groups. It means you've arrived. Forget the tipping point--if you want to measure passion, look for the koolaid point.

And it would appear that 37 Signals has hit it. Within 48 hours of one another, independently, three groups reviewed the company: this blog, Salon, and Paul Scrivens' blog. Two of the reviews glowed. The other... provided balance in the universe.

Remember folks, we aren't going for user satisfaction. We aren't going for happy. We're going for all-out passion. And that comes with a price tag. Detractors. Lots of them. And they talk. For every passionate user out evangelizing you to everyone they meet, a koolaid-hunter will do his (or her) best to make sure everyone knows that your passionate users have lost their minds. That they're victim of marketing hype. Sheep.

But consider this...
The most popular and well-loved companies, products, and causes have the strongest opponents. You'll know when you get there, because the buzz goes from pleasant to polarized. Moderate, reasoned reviews and comments are replaced with stronger language and more colorful adjectives on both sides. Those who speak out against you will be referred to as "brave" or "having the balls" (see the comments on Scriven's review) for daring to criticize. They're hailed as the smart ones who finally call the emporer on his buck-nakedness.

Should you ignore the detractors? Diss them as nothing but evidence of your success? Should you just wave them off with a "just jealous" remark? Absolutely not. Somewhere in their complaints there are probably some good clues for things you can work on. But if you start trying to please them all or even worse, turn them into fans, that could mean death. Death by mediocrity, as you cater to everybody and inspire nobody.
It is physically impossible to have everyone love what you do. And the more people do love it, the more likely it is that you'll have an equal and opposite negative reaction. X = -Y the physics of passion.
Would you want to be in 37 Signals' shoes right now, taking all this heat? You bet. Look who's been there before:

* Apple (see the wonderful Cult of Mac blog)
* Extreme Programming (see Matt Stephen's Software Reality blog)
* The Sierra Club
* The Red Sox (see the Yankees Suck site)
* NASCAR (read instanpundit's notes)
* The Hummer (read the official F*** You and your H2 site)
* Britney Spears (see the I Hate Britney Spears site)
* Java (see the delightful No-one-cares-about-my-language-and-therefore-I-hate-Java note, or my special Java fan site, javaranch)
And on it goes.

Oh yeah, besides the "koolaid" word -- another word the detractors will use to marginalize something: "fad". As in, "Oh, that's just a fad. It'll be over soon." I remember hearing that in 1998 about Java, now the leading programming language. The iPod is a fad. Our Head First Java book was just a fad (yesterday on Amazon, out of all 32,000 computer books, there were two Head First books in the top ten). Hip hop music was just a fad. Skateboarding. Snowboarding. The web.

So we'll see. But remember during those dark days when you're fending off the detractors (especially when they have legitmate complaints), that -- as Seth Godin tells us-- "Safe is risky and risky is safe."

You'll never be perfect.
Apple isn't perfect.
Java isn't perfect.
Our books are far from perfect.
37 Signals isn't perfect.
But you can be brave.

Posted by Kathy Sierra on August 10, 2005 Permalink

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