1 May 2013

Importance of context – takeaway from Dustin’s post

I came across Dustin Curtis’s latest blog post on how he first thought of Pinterest and Vine as stupid ideas. There is plenty of discussion on this at HN, but I wanted to add one more view point that seems to be missing from the discussion.

The take away for me from Dustin’s post is that there is a lot of context that one requires to be able to evaluate someone else’s idea. Ideas, even those expressed as a prototype, convey very little meaning to someone who does not have the background information needed to process them. In this case, I really wonder how much Dustin actually knew about Pinterest’s target market (middle aged women) to actually offer any meaningful feedback.

We can see the importance of context in various other parts of our life. On the morning of January 12, 2007, virtuoso violinist Joshua Bell stood on a Washington D.C. subway platform and performed classical music for passersby for 45 minutes. He collected a total of $32 from his performance. I don’t think anybody knew that Joshua had sold out a theatre in Boston just two days ago, with an average seat cost of $100. Yet, very few even bothered to listen to him (read more about this social experiment). Perhaps everyone was rushing for their work, but it’s hard to dispute that a lot more people would have lingered around if they had been told who this man was and what it would take them to watch his performance on any other day.

If you’re looking for feedback, simply showing a prototype and explaining WHAT the app does is not enough to gain constructive feedback, unless you’re already speaking with a potential customer. The same goes for pitching to potential investors. More often than not, investors will not know about your target market, so the onus is on you to tell them the WHY and HOW parts of your idea.

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