There are two ways of building your thing… the idea, the book, the course, the painting, the business, whatever your thing is.
In this article, Julie Zhuo (product design director at Facebook) lays out the two ways like this:
The Macro Way: looks for trends and opportunities in the broad market, zoomed way out
The Micro Way: looks at trends and characteristics in individuals, zoomed way in.
Here’s how they compare to one another:
- Research: Macro loves big data. Micro loves human stories and personal accounts.
- Preparing for the Future: Macro extrapolates from the past. Micro imagines what’s missing.
- Weakness: Macro can lead to “sprints on a treadmill,” busy going nowhere, no soul, no vision. Micro can lead to preciousness, building something only valuable to a small group of people, missing out on vastly bigger ways to have impact.
- Examples: Macro leads to the Chrome OS (success) and Ping, the music social network (failure). Micro leads to the Nest Thermostat (success) and Google Reader (given up).
Here’s how she ends the article:
There is power in both. Neither is more right or wrong.
If you can see both the micro and the macro simultaneously, you’ll have a significant advantage in building products.
These are stellar ideas for us to think through our businesses and opportunities with. Like two different lenses you can look at your projects through.
- Are you macro or micro?
- Are you drawn toward the swarm or the individual?
- Your idea, which way are you treating it?
- How would a macro view change how you proceed?
- How would a micro view change your focus?
It seems easier, more natural, for most of us self-starting, self-funding, indie types to default to a micro focus. And, as Julie mentions, that can lead to tons of human insights and success.
But blind spots and weak points can develop and, over time, cut your legs out from underneath you.
I, at least, am very micro-focused by nature. In my designs in the past and in Fizzle now, any success I’ve had has come from insights about and empathy with a small group of people using the site.
Fizzle is principally, in my head at least, about me 3 years ago. A lot of heart. A lot of skill. Charming, immature, reckless, clueless, capable. Likely to be successful with or without anyone’s help, but at a significant cost of time effort and pain (not just to myself).
That’s who’s been in my mind as we built Fizzle. Every element of the design. The simplicity of the layout. The responsiveness. The kinds of courses. The way the courses are designed… entertaining and educational, built to dip into concepts, connect to deeper meaning and insights, extract tactics, and then get the learner’s hands dirty with worksheets and progress logs.
All targeted at a specific crew of people.
And as we grow, as we move up from the “is this possible” question into the “what does greater impact look like” question, I look at other companies. Lynda.com, for example. They’re very macro at this point (they weren’t always). Massive amounts of courses for massive amounts of people. I can picture the data teams with dashboards and spreadsheets trying to maximize for the swarm instead of the crew.
Both are good. Both are valuable. But they’re different.
I think I can learn from Lynda and the macro view; maybe get less precious about the crew I serve.
I also think they can learn from us.
Learn from these two lenses. See the distortions and strengths of each.