Purpose, Protocol, People (Ricky Weekly #82)
This is where I share 3 things every week with my friends and anyone else interested.
A picture from my life:
I got a text last week to join for lunch the next day to celebrate my newlywed friends. They drove to Santa Barbara, got married, then kept going up to San Francisco to attend a work conference and see some friends. Everything was organized last minute and I love that!
A thing on my mind:
One underrated thing about Flow Club I was reminded of recently is how intentional we were about designing the norms and choreography of our live sessions, and baking that into the product to help orient everyone to the protocol. It’s one of those things that no one would call out specifically but contribute a great deal towards the magic.
When designing experiences, you have to pay attention to the relationship between Purpose, Protocol, and People.
What is the purpose of this experience you are asking people to partake? Sometimes it’s very clear, like the purpose of a surprise birthday party is to surprise a friend and celebrate their birthday. You know how it'll be done (we'll hide and yell "surprise" when they walk in, and then we'll hang out while eating cake), and the reason you'd join is primarily because you like your friend.
Sometimes the purpose is left up to interpretation. 750words.com is about writing 750 words a day, but why would you want to do that? The Pomodoro Method is about focusing for 25 minutes followed by a 5-minute break, but why would you want to do that? Just because the protocol seems clear, the reason is left up to the individual to identify. Sometimes that’s easy, like if you’ve been trying to get into a writing habit, but most people probably can’t find a reason that fits easily.
Sometimes the purpose is vague and lofty to make all kinds of people think they have a reason to participate. I see it from ambitious companies. On Deck's website, for example, says that you can "Meet other founders. Build great things." Pretty vague and lofty, but coupled with Twitter hype and successful testimonials, people will find a reason to convince themselves to join. Another example is Write of Passage. The course promises to "[Change Your Trajectory, 2x Your Potential, Transform Your Life, etc] by Writing Online," which is so lofty it’s easy to write off (ha), so again, they have to build a lot of hype in order to sell it.
The loftier the purpose or the more you leave it up to interpretation, the more variety of people and intentions you'll catch, but it also results in downstream problems of failing to deliver.
Every experience has some sort of protocol to deliver on the purpose. The simpler the protocol, the easier it is to experience, and sometimes that's all you need to deliver. Of all the productivity techniques, the Pomodoro Method is one of the most popular ones because it's easy and doesn’t promise the world. It doesn't prescribe what you should work on. There's no official book written about it to tell you the right way from the wrong way. It simply asks you to start a timer for 25 minutes and focus on the task at hand, and the promise is that you will be more focused during that time. That’s it. My hot take is that every productivity technique that comes with a book to try to sell its purpose end up increasing the complexity too much.
As the protocol becomes more complex, it’d require a stronger purpose if you want participation. It also becomes harder to see if the protocol even serves the purpose. For a lot of experiences, it feels like there’s no protocol or a convincing one. Say you are trying to "build great things" by joining an On Deck cohort, does participating in a Slack of thousands of people and attending some events over 10 weeks really help you build great things? Not that it can’t, it’s just complex and your mileage varies dramatically.
So at the end, experiences that promise the world end up being primarily about something other than any particular protocol. That seems to be what’s happening in education. Going to school and participating in the protocol of “classroom learning” is starting to look pretty suspect in its ability to deliver a better life outcome. What seems to be more reliable is just the elite pedigree. Instead of classic metrics like "faculty-to-student ratio,” the only thing that matters in a pitch from Stanford is the Stanford brand and "residential education," which is code for "party and network with other people with elite pedigree." If you can build prestige, problem is mostly solved.
When all else fails, people is what we look at to evaluate the intangibles. When the purpose isn't clear, or the protocol is too complex or unconvincing, then the only reason you might do something is because of the people. I'm sure a lot of you have experienced waiting until last minute to attend a party, and then dragging your feet on your way out while texting a friend, "are you on your way?" This is because the purpose of the experience is not enticing and protocol is uncertain, and you're trying to at least hang on to the idea that you may have a good friend there to catch up with.
Sometimes purpose alone is enough. A birthday party for one of your best friends. That's probably good enough. You don't need anything else.
Sometimes protocol alone is enough. I remember going to an event hosted by my friend Susan for the first time, and hearing someone say how much they love Susan's events because they are amazing experiences.
Sometimes people alone is enough. There are some good "people curators" in the world where you know if you attend their event, you'll meet some high-quality folks.
The best experiences probably have strong alignment across all three elements? Can you apply this to an experience you’ve had recently? Could be a product you tried, a social gathering, or something else. I’d like to know.
A piece of content I recommend:
Old Enough! on Netflix and the 99% Invisible episode about it called First Errand.
I love this show because it’s only about 15 minutes long and puts a big smile on my face. The podcast talks about how the built environment and culture in Japan contribute to early independence.
Bonus: Flow Club is a meme on Reddit
As always, you can find out what I’m thinking in more real-time on Twitter and my essays are on my website. My primary focus (and where I focus) is on Flow Club.
Thanks for reading Ricky Weekly. I write for fun. You can subscribe, or not!
OMG that reddit meme hahahhhaha