My personal project history now spans over 100 projects. These projects range in topic from sports-related services, to games, to social tools, to mobile apps, to browser extensions, to utilities, to web services, and beyond.
When looked at on the surface, I think this volume and variety causes many people to have the perception that I’m a bit ‘unfocused’. That I’m probably easily distracted. That I’m hacking without a purpose or a core mission in mind.
However, I feel this perception couldn’t be further from the truth.
I think if you look at my body of work as a whole, on an abstract level, you see that there is in fact a general focus on building 'really useful’ and 'highly adopted’ internet-focused software.
That is, the core mission I’m *really* working towards is building internet-based software that is useful, interesting, widely-used, and ultimately world-changing.
And I think if you’re serious about a mission like that, like I am, and want to be in a realistic position to make it happen, you’ve got to have a lot of knowledge and a lot of experience about a lot of things.
When I woke up to that realization a few years back, and knowing that I personally learn best through activity and experience in the wild, I started forming a plan.
I started thinking about all the areas, the technologies, and the concepts that I didn’t really understand yet.
I started thinking about all the things that I wanted to have more real-world experience with.
And most importantly, I started thinking about how I could go about filling all those gaps.
My solution was basically to stop playing Checkers and to start playing Chess.
That is, I began to focus on the larger, more complex game. To start trying to think about the moves two, three, or even four steps beyond just my 'next’ move.
I began to focus on really understanding how the pieces work. What moves could actually be made given my current position? What options did each piece provide? What trade-offs did each piece bring with it? How could I use the board as it is right now to attack? At the same time, what did I have to do to defend?
I haven’t been that concerned about owning or operating within a specific vertical (though I obviously have my favorites and ones I’ve found easiest to gain traction within – and I’ve clearly avoided many that I just have no personal knowledge or interest in).
I have been more focused on playing with a concept, understanding a model or an idea, like virtual goods, subscription-based services, or big-data opportunities.
When you take into account the fact that my personal work history involves a lot of agency and client work, and that I’m highly interested in marketing and branding as well, I think you can start to get an understanding of why a large part of this process also resulted in many 'new’ projects.
A 'new’ project gives me a clean slate to test and understand 'new’ things.
Plus I think it just makes sense from a marketing/branding perspective (it’s much easier to define something new to a person than it is to change a pre-existing definition of something for a person – and that’s HUGE when it comes to trying to gain traction).
As an added bonus, starting a 'new’ project each time also gives me the ability to test/understand various technologies…as well as to test and understand new approaches to branding, marketing, and advertising (and of course, by often picking different verticals I get yet another opportunity for learning and experience).
All of which plays perfectly into my larger goal of positioning myself to have 'a lot of knowledge and a lot of experience about a lot of things’…so that I was not only ready, but also actually capable, when the 'real opportunity’ presented itself.
But what was my plan for that 'real opportunity’?
Well, honestly I wasn’t sure…and so once again, that’s where this volume and variety approach has been a real benefit.
It’s given me a lot of insight into a lot of different verticals. It’s given me a lot of opportunity to explore, identify, and ponder potential 'big hits’. And to rule out bad bets and really small fish that I might have otherwise been easily woo'ed by or accidentally sucked into.
So while some might look at all of this activity and learning as 'unfocused’ or 'easily distracted’, I simply view it as core to my understanding and properly playing the game.
And while there have been ups and downs, throughout it all I’ve continued to 'gain a lot more knowledge and a lot more real-world experience about a lot of things’.
All of which is the long way of saying:
There is a plan, I feel that the plan is working, and that’s where my *real* focus is.
So what about you? What’s your approach to focus? And now that I’ve revealed a bit of details around it, what do you think about my long-term game plan and focus?
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Kevin has a day job as CTO of Veritonic and is spending nights & weekends hacking on Share Game Tape. You can also check out some of his open source code on GitHub or connect with him on Twitter @falicon or via email at kevin at falicon.com.
If you have comments, thoughts, or want to respond to something you see here I would encourage you to respond via a post on your own blog (and then let me know about the link via one of the routes mentioned above).