On failing, confusion, and the near future 10:28 on Sunday

If I had to sum up my summer months in one word, that word would be “confused”. It’s difficult to write a blog when you’re confused, and not blogging for weeks hasn’t exactly made it easier to start again, either.

Even if I have been quiet, it’s hardly been for a lack of topics to write about. I’ve faced lots of challenges in the last months, some of them highly interesting, and some of them humbling, if not downright humiliating.

This post is a collection of thoughts, written in an effort to make some sense of the now. If you’re looking for me to make any kind of a clever point in this post, you might as well stop reading now.


I’ll start with the more positive news: There’s now three of us working for my company! Juise joined in May, and has since been banging out ActionScript code non-stop, building the UI for a new application our startup client is putting together. I look forward to revealing more about this exciting project, when they decide to come out of stealth mode.

Expanding my enterprise a full 50% brought small, but completely unexpected changes in my work. Of course there’s now 50% more responsibility, but the unexpected part has been how much more I’ve felt the need to think about the future of my company, and where I want to take it. It’s not like I haven’t thought about it before, or that I would now really need to have a clear direction. One could describe it more as a wakup call, or as a kick in the pants, or in a more positive way — as gained momentum. Yet as of now, it’s all in my head.

I tend to take work, the hours of labor spent every day, very seriously. Sometimes maybe too seriously, but then again, I think it is very serious if work is not motivating and fulfilling. I feel a great responsibility (maybe a too big responsibility for my own good) for taking out half of the awake time of the people who make money for my company. Yes, we’re all getting paid for our efforts, but work is such a huge part of our lives, that not one hour of it should be less than energizing. Still quite a bit to be done in this respect.

Another challenge is finding a direction for our work. All three of us are pretty handy with ActionScript, so we could happily stay around serving clients who need something programmed in Flash. While this is what we’re going to continue doing as of now, I don’t see this as a viable long term plan.

There are some interesting avenues we’re exploring, including Unity 3D, tackling simple computer vision problems, and delving deeper into the world of industrial automation.

Yet I think the common denominator is not going to be found in any technology, or a specific industry, but using all of our capabilities for serving the end users. It doesn’t sound like much of a vision statement, now does it. But I do believe, that while there are thousands of well-meaning designers and developers with differing specializations, there are not enough people who really hold the end user benefit as the first priority in every twist and turn and detail.

Concentrating squarely on the user benefit is not dismissing business priorities at all, quite the contrary. Doing business is all about creating value, and benefit is value. The more value you create per effort, the bigger part of it you can keep as profit. How to reframe this in non-abstract, real-world language, and how to make something successful out of this, I do not yet know. The underlying idea can be seen as polishing the same old with new semantics, or as a transformative tool to alter how clients conduct their business. Up to you.

Then the humbling and humiliating part.

To put it in short, most of the work done last year resulted in disappointed clients. To say this in public is not something I do lightly, but I do believe in admitting rather than hiding your mistakes, and learning from them. I’ve learned the hard way that while people talk about business priorities, they act based on emotion and self interests. And that’s okay. That’s human. It’s what all of us do as people. I write it down as my mistake not knowing how to work with these realities of life.

I’ve learned that standing up to your beliefs and principles, and not bending over backwards when requested, can truly piss people off. Big time. I’m not sure what I should do about this; I don’t want to compromise my values, and I’m not seeking to deliberately piss off my clients either. I’m truly sorry for anyone who has been offended.

I have accumulated a feeling that there are two schools of vendors:

  1. Those who do anything for clients to please them, even if it is harmful to the client’s business, and
  2. Those who do anything to help the client succeed, even if it means doing the opposite of what the client is asking.

I know there are vendors who can pull the latter off, and there are clients who appreciate, even expect it. But boy does it feel like you need to be ready for a beating if you want to stay in the latter group.

I feel like I should have learned a lot more, but I haven’t. I’m still quite baffled how we ended up screwing our projects so badly, or how we ended up in projects that were destined to fail (you never really know which one is true). In either case, there should be more lessons to be learned.

3 Responses to “On failing, confusion, and the near future”


  1. Niina Says:

    Brave wiriting. I also believe it should be experts responsibility to fight for the best result for users. Or at least I thought that earlier, before I found how tricky it is and how many arguments it needs. Of course the question is to compromise users and clients needs, but well it isn’t as easy to do as said and usually it doesn’t guarantee the best result either.

  2. Jukka Says:

    My “kiesism” is that clients are like women: Do as told and you shall be rewarded – Boss ‘em around and you end up sleeping on couch.

  3. Marko Says:

    Great post Niko! Seems like you’ve done some deep self exploring. That’s really great. Too many people go with the train without thinking anything until all of a sudden the last stop comes.

    I’ve also seen customers like you described in your list. If you want my opinion, I’d stick with your beliefs and tell the clients clearly what you mean by them. If there are vendors who are hiding from what is best for them, their companies are in jeopardy.

    Backing up the status quo isn’t the answer. Of course no need to deliberately hurt people! :) Good social and communication skills and a stable relationship with the customer helps a lot.

    Sometimes it is just so that people don’t like to hear what you are saying, but know inside it’s the truth. Sucking up hasn’t helped anyone to achieve real victories, not at least those you can really be proud of.