Macro & Micro Views

Macro & Micro Views

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., 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.

Expand the vision of your business with macro and micro lenses.
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Photo via USNA
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  • Andy Bargh

    Nice article Chase. I can definitely see how having both perspectives could be a killer approach to setting your business apart. Definitely something to think about.

  • Carolyn Mycue

    So true, with one caveat: “Micro can lead to preciousness, building something only valuable to a small group of people, missing out on vastly bigger ways to have impact.” I don’t see this as a weakness: simply a decision to be made. Do I want to indirectly serve the masses or do I want to directly, unscalably help those I can realistically fit in my day?

    If something is valuable to a small group of people, like exchanging ideas in real time with another person versus learning a theory second-hand in a video, I feel that “small connection” has a vastly bigger impact than I could ever know. A contained, yet meaningful, connection with a small group then leaves room on the stage for those people to go out and affect the world in their own way.

    I sensed a bit of melancholy in your words: “maybe get less precious about the crew I serve.” The decision to cap an audience is just as viable as a decision to continue growing one. No wrong answer, just simply a choice: what degree of engagement with your audience feels most aligned with the fullest expression of yourself in this lifetime?

  • Jonathan

    Thanks Chase, another tip, another vision to approach what we’re trying to set up…
    And as Queen would say, “one man, one goal, one mission” ;)

  • nigelbanks

    One tool that is handy for working through both of these lenses is to work on the underpinning conceptual model of the system / opportunity / business….. How does this system work? What are its components? What are the mechanisms that connect these components? Which of both of these represent leverage? What would I change about one or more of these areas of leverage to make a difference? Can I develop this into a metric for tracking progress towards my new found goal?

    Reflections of this quality are always likely to engage readers in worthwhile exploration – thank you – keep them coming :-)

  • Jose A Gonzalez

    Excellent insight. I’ve found myself many times thinking of a “great” product idea based on what I see in the macro world, without making the solution relevant to specific users/customers/people. That’s a good way to burn many cycles and resources. I would say keep the macro in mind, but ALWAYS make sure your work works for some crew at the micro level.

  • Jade Nagaraja

    Awesome. Perhaps to transform an idea into a product or a service, one has to clearly understand both – micro and macro lenses. By weighing the pros and cons, a path can be created.

    My question is, how different it is for a designer or a product manager to find the right window or timing to transform their design, understanding and focus of the product from one lens to another?

  • Aqilah Norazman

    Great article Chase. Definitely something to think about. It all comes down to a matter of choice and a conscious decision after weighing the pros and cons specific to the business.

  • Harold Glascock

    Perhaps I’m wrong and/or skewed/skewered. To me it’s simple, if you are a lone wolf/wolfette micro is the only way to go. Focus on imagining what exactly is missing in your passion plot. You gotta lasso what could be.

    In saying this I am building on Duarte and her presentation insight about the Steve of Apple where she reveals the story arc from what
    is to what could be. I think its a Ted

    If on the other paw, you are in-coin or have VC’s ears than macro/data is a necessary parameter.

    The hungry micro wolfs amongst us could band together in a pack ‘a collaborative penumbra’ which is what Clay Shirky is talking about in his latest McKinsey Piece: or we could harnass Crowd Storming to achieve a facsimile of the data monster.

    I’m so enamored with the neuronal aura of ‘imagine whats missing’ that I just checked namecheap to see if the domain name is available.

  • mwayland

    I became intrigued about this kind of a perspective when first exposed to the ideas around right brain/ left brain thinking.

    Rather than “like 2 different lenses” my take on this is that they are 2 extremes of a continuum and what we experience is a paradox…. sometimes micro is better…. sometimes macro is. Often the reality is that it’s a combination of the two or more excatly a flow between the two. It’s like the classic paradox of “I want to be treated the same as everyone else” and “I want to be treated differently” and how it depends on how much of each we desire at a particular time.

    The other classic example is flow between yin and yang.

    F. Scott Fitzgerald summed it up nicely when he said … “the test of a first-rate intelligence is the ability to hold two opposed ideas in the mind at the same time, and still retain the ability to function.”

    For us it’s our ability to reconcile the paradox (in this situation… micro:macro) for the particular situation/ environment we are in and move forward.

  • Ryan Biddulph

    Neat stuff. I am a micro dude, digging the personal stories over the bigger macro approach. Cool post!

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